This is the poem I shared on Sunday, January 12 before I began my sabbatical.
In between the Old and New
History’s course was being laid
For sovereign work and grace did brew
Incarnate love for sin’s debt paid
In between the cloth and straw
Condescended glory in view
Choruses sung and gifts were brought
Infinite love to make men new
In between manger and wedding
Perfect life quietly on display
Work of priest and lamb perfecting
Obscure love now in the fray
In between the orders of men
Truth pierced and divided hearts
None without thoughts of Him
None able to discern His parts
In between a court and cross
Life strode up a barren hill
Human weakness brought Him loss
Divine love drove Him onward still
In between the two thieves hung
One whose wrath He gladly bore
While being reviled and spit upon
A thief would be a thief no more
In between tomb and resurrection
Followers grieve in full despair
Seeming victory of insurrection
Dying love their hopes forbear
In between two men He walked
Speaking His truth from ancient script
A strange familiar way He talked
Revealed love their hopes uplift
In between the now and then
Sheep anxiously listen for the One
As if confined to spiritual pen
Living the battles of a victory long won
Written by Mike Lumpkin (2008)
On November 15, I celebrated the privilege of being UBC’s pastor for the past 7 years. The longer I serve in ministry the more I realize that I am less a gift to you, and you are more a gift to me. Thank you for putting up with, praying for, listening to, even following me over this season.
One thing that is afforded me (upon recommendation by the Personnel Committee and the elders) at this season of life and ministry with you is a sabbatical. A sabbatical is not an extended vacation, though it does provide rest and rejuvenation. A sabbatical, for the minister, is a time to break from the regular duties of ministry in order to be refreshed and refocused for another season of ministry. For many, it includes time to focus on writing and advanced studies. My hope is to do all of these things.
The elders have recommended that I take my sabbatical from January 13 – March 31, 2014. I have agreed to the timing and want you to know what to expect. Below are some of my goals during this upcoming sabbatical:
- Reflect and journal on the past 7 years of ministry, taking note of successes, failures, and hopes for the future.
- Take care of my family. Ministry is arduous and hard on family life. For us, the greatest benefit will most likely come in the form of a “reset” in our daily schedule, bolstering our time together in family worship and fun. Also, I look forward to being more “hands on” in homeschooling our kids.
- Develop leadership skills. I know that I am both called and gifted to lead, but it doesn’t come as naturally to me as shepherding you through teaching. I plan to visit other pastors who I see as unusually gifted at leadership in the local church to gain insight, ideas, and encouragement.
- Work on a discipleship book. Since finishing my doctorate in 2009, I have long desired to put my dissertation into a more accessible book. I hope to spend time writing during this break.
Most of my time will be spent here in town, with occasional trips to seminaries and churches for meetings and study. In my absence, the elders will give leadership to preaching, counseling, and the overall membership duties I regularly exercise. John Mueller will assume leadership of the ministry staff. This is a great opportunity for you to pray for me, your elders, and to embrace being led by a group of godly men rather than one.
Thank you for affording me the opportunity to be refreshed and refocused in this way!
Making Disciples with You!
This past Sunday we began a new series in Matthew’s Gospel entitled, Kingdom Community: The Story of Jesus Christ. I like overviews because of what they accomplish in me and in the body, specifically the BIG IDEA of the book is better understood and the connection to the consistent story of the whole Bible is made. I hope and pray that’s what was accomplished in the hearers this past Sunday.
However, I also find the overviews a bit difficult because as much as I desire to preach the theme, it is easy to veer into teaching the academics. I felt like we accomplished the point of the text (in broad strokes) on Sunday morning. I believe that we all gained a greater perspective that Jesus is the single, glorious Messiah prophesied about throughout the Old Testament, and that He has established, is establishing, and will finally establish His kingdom. I can only pray and labor to keep the bigger picture in view as we begin to dive into the more specific texts starting this Sunday with the “begets” in Matthew 1:1-17.
I wanted to also give credit where credit is due for source materials for this past week’s message and, I’m sure, in subsequent messages. I would strongly recommend any of these sources to you, particularly the ones that are single-volume works. I believe each home (dad in particular) should systematically gain a library of single-volume reference materials that will give appropriate, and accurate, interpretation leading to credible application in your own families.
(Note: The images are linked to Amazon for more information)
I’m writing to call you to a special season of prayer for one of our families. Andy and Patty Grove have been going through an awful ordeal that has hit them physically, emotionally, mentally, and certainly spiritually.
Catherine, the Grove’s daughter, disappeared from Fayetteville on July 2, 2013. She left everything and found her way to Wells, TX to join with a group called The Church of Wells. She had been corresponding with leaders of this group for several months and was led to believe that she needed their help in her spiritual journey.
Time and space does not permit a full explanation, but I’d like to give you as much as I can at this point. The Church of Wells has “elders” that are all young men in their older 20’s / early 30’s, who studied at credible institutions. Their theology (to a point) is somewhat orthodox, but their methods and practices are not, which reveals the reality of their theology.
The “church” speaks of what true conversion looks like, and will go to extensive means to see someone “convert.” They will “preach” to an individual for hours on end in one sitting with to no contact from loved ones. They will not allow the them to have ongoing contact with others who could sway them to leave the “church” home. The young person in their midst is called to renounce their parents who try to rescue these sons and daughters.
Catherine is in the middle of all this, and the Groves have been completely cutoff from contact with Catherine. They remain in Wells to garner support and encouragement from the community of believers in the town and region (north to Tyler and south to Lufkin). Media outlets are picking up the story, and this is not the first time this group has made headlines. Authorities are aware of the situation. It must be stated, however, that Catherine (26) has not requested to leave, which has complicated the hope to rescue her. She is weak, apparently deceived, and in need of rescuing from outside of herself.
While I encourage you to get updates from a newly created Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/prayforcatherinegrove), here is Patty in her own words:
We still have not been able to or meet with Catherine “one on one” and converse freely with Catherine since she arrived here in Wells Texas. Her cell phone has been cut off from being reached since she disappeared from Fayetteville on July 2nd. AT&T phone records show someone else took over her phone number on June 21st. The problem is not that we can’t see or talk to Catherine, it’s that NO ONE can freely see or talk to Catherine.
On an “earthly” level the Groves are trying to draw as much attention to the situation, particularly through the Facebook page. We know, though, that the only hope that will bring complete rescue and healing is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. Church, pray!
- that God would strengthen and bring clarity to Catherine’s mind to choose to leave with resolve
- that God would bring deliverance to all those deceived, including those supposing to lead
- that God would move among civil authorities to protect the weak and captured
- that God would shut the mouth/voice of deception in The Church of Wells…causing only His truth of justice and mercy to prevail
- that Andy and Patty would be strengthened, comforted, and encouraged while depending on the work of the Holy Spirit to rescue their daughter
Lastly, it needs to be said that until the Facebook page when live a few days ago, the family had requested the situation be kept private for various reasons. Now that it is public, we pray that God would provide all the persons of peace He may choose to use to free the captives and bring glory to His name in their restored lives.
Please visit and follow the Facebook page (linked above) to keep up with the latest reports and regularly encourage the Groves during this incredibly difficult time.
Praying with you,
Baptism ≠ Discipleship
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)
Without a doubt, baptism is part of making disciples, but just baptizing alone does not ensure faithfulness to the Great Commission. The measurement of faithfulness to the Great Commission to baptismal numbers has always been misleading. At best, it represents the beginning of the disciple’s journey, but even then the veracity of being a disciple is seen in perseverance. We need to examine if our discipleship processes actually help the believer persevere.
As we baptize new believers into the life of the local church, we are to teach them to observe all that Christ commanded. Only when we are teaching baptized believers to live out the commands of Christ are we actually making disciples.
This would mean that evangelism is not merely a precursor to discipleship, rather the beginning phase of discipleship. Let me unpack that statement for a moment. When Christ calls sinners to repentance, 100% of the time it is an imperative, a command. The initial evidence of one becoming a follower of Christ, a disciple, is obedience to His command to repent and have faith. Of course it is the Holy Spirit who enables our obedience, but it is nonetheless obedience. The disciple is taught to obey Christ’s commands.
Next, Christ commands believers everywhere to be baptized. This, again, is an imperative, not a suggestion, and certainly not a religious rite to attain conversion (not even in part). The true believer is to publicly acknowledge the sovereign, gracious, saving work of the Savior through baptism before the community of saints, the church. The (true) disciple obeys Christ’s command and is baptized.
As this new believer is brought into the communal life of the local church, the church should be geared to make sure this new brother or sister in Christ is walked alongside indefinitely, life-on-life, helping give instruction (with accountability) what the Scriptures say about the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. This is where another disciple does what a disciple does, make disciples.
Too often we chop up discipleship into phases cheapening the meaning of “disciple” and, therefore, taking a risk that we are not wholly fulfilling the Great Commission. We speak of evangelism, discipleship, and missions (or being “missional”) as if these are separate from one another. I would contend that what we are trying to communicate is the fact we have lost the weightiness of what it means to simply be a disciple, a follower of Christ, and feel the need to promote an aspect of discipleship in an attempt to recapture the biblical nature of being a follower.
If we are to simply follow Christ, we will command men and women everywhere to repent and be baptized; we will serve the poor, seek justice, show deference to loving our church brethren, get on planes to do the same in lesser reached places. We will realize that making disciples “as we are going” (Matt.28:19) is more about the disciple on the go than it is about where the disciple goes. We will have to realize that we are actually always on the go and always making disciples. We just have to make sure it is Christ (of the Scriptures) we following and lead others to follow.
I’ve only attended 4 Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings in my lifetime. The first time was in the 80′s as a youth in Dallas. Next, came New Orleans in 1990 when the conservative resurgence was really gaining traction and succeeding. The third time was a motorcycle ride from Memphis to Nashville in 2005, where I began to meet more theologically like-minded (soteriologically reformed) brothers within the convention. And just this past week I flew to Houston to take part in the annual meeting.
I have been a Southern Baptist since day 1. I have been blessed with Christian parents who modeled a love for the church in regular attendance, giving, and service. My parents still live in the same house where they would host their annual 10th grade class spaghetti luncheon. I’ve lived through the turnover of a church from a 45 year pastorate by a (then) SBC legend, Fred Swank, to a mix of faithful and not-so-faithful pastors. I’ve heard fighting, sat through countless revivals, made a boat-load of rededication decisions, and could still locate the wasp-laden hedges in the courtyard where many of our deacons would “hide” cigarette butts in between services. Yep, I’m pretty steeped in the SBC.
The meeting in Houston in many ways was a reminder of what I love about the SBC, with a smidgeon of what annoys me. Here are some reflections on the meeting, in no particular order of importance…
The theme for this year’s meeting was “Revive us…that we may be one” based on John 13:34-35. For the most part, this seemed to be honored throughout the meeting. Much of this theme seemed to be derived from theological tensions building over the past couple of years between those who espouse a more Calvinistic soteriology (doctrine of salvation) and those who do not. There have been many “straw man” attacks from both sides and ridiculous amounts of vitriol. As a result, a task force was created last year to find some common ground. The task force was made up of SBC leaders on both sides of the issue. The statement they released was a good one and, after a panel discussion on the subject, appears to be consistently felt and genuine.
I, for one, was gladdened by the agreement and friendly spirit of open discussion. Hopefully, we keep having theological discussions and partnered support for missions. It’s telling that our convention has tension over interpretive issues of the Scriptures, as opposed to infighting over the veracity of the Scriptures witness and its inerrancy. The discussion / tension is actually a reminder to be grateful to those who fought battles 30 years ago to help preserve our passion for the true Word of God.
The most glaring possible challenge to unity at the meeting was the attendance. It was a mere 5100+ messengers. I believe that’s the second lowest attendance in the SBC’s history. On one hand, it could be that people didn’t come because there was no real fight brewing (we are kinda the MMA of denominations), so folks just left it alone. On the other hand it could show disinterest. Some of the membership, baptism, and giving numbers support this to some degree.
I had the joy of meeting up with several new and old friends. As well, meeting new friends and partners in ministry is all part of the best of attending the annual meeting of the SBC. One great joy was spending a half hour with a dear friend from that blessed SBC church I grew up in Fort Worth, TX. My dear friend, Mark Bearden, has worked with Life Action ministries for a few decades and was instrumental in my early Christian walk. Mark is 6-7 years older than me. When I was in high school he was in college and poured into my life in a significant way. We prayed for hours together for the revival of our home church. We went on mission trips together and played some softball together, which served to remind us how far we still had to go in sanctification. It was a joy to visit with him.
I spent several hours with dear brothers from 9Marks ministry. I’ve been a part of the 9Marks network since 2008, and it has served me and churches I’ve served, well. I love that ministry and the love they have for the local church, as well as the driving passion to see churches become healthy. I served alongside these brothers, visited with them, worshiped alongside them, and just enjoyed their fellowship.
I ran into several old friends, former members of my doctoral cohort, former professors and the like. Friendship is a gift indeed.
I only use this term because it would grab your attention this far into this post. We could also entitle this the “bless their hearts” category. Yes, there are some interesting folks who show up at these things. Better still, there are interesting folks that actually speak up before thousands with resolutions that nobody cares about. Yet, the diversity in the room is a sweet reminder of the diversity in our local churches and God’s grace has saved us and made the “sheep from other folds” his own children. We are all redeemed freaks to someone.
In early 2004 I wanted out of the SBC. I had visited a church in New England as a prospective pastor and, though all the meetings were quite positive, some SBC entity leaders (from outside the church, but aiding in funding) encouraged the church to reject my candidacy due to my Calvinistic theology. I tried to persuade the powers that be that I had a ton of “mission” miles and their (straw man) concerns were unwarranted…to no avail. I left very discouraged and frustrated, wondering why I should work so hard to be accepted in a denomination that I’d grown up in and knew well.
After a bit of wound-licking I remembered two simple things: Doctrine & Missions. These really are the two things that have kept me “SBC” all these years, particularly the partnership for missions through the Cooperative Program and it’s resulting works, like church planting. We really can do more together than apart! I believe it! I drank the Kool-Aid (at VBS)! With all of our foibles, we have the greatest resources of people and funding on the planet for missions.
I’m grateful that while we have some distinctive doctrinal discussions / debates, our overall purpose for doing so is to better cooperate together for the gospel throughout the world.
So, though the numbers were down at the convention meeting, the spirit was good and there were signs of real health. Our burgeoning theological unity speaks well of greater cooperation for missions. Sure, as autonomous churches we will seek partnerships with other churches that are like-minded with core convictions for church planting, but we will also seek the support, and seek to support, our SBC entities like the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the International Mission Board (IMB) to see disciples made locally and globally.
You don’t need to apologize for being Southern Baptist (or Great Commission Baptists, or whatever we may call ourselves). At the same time, there’s no reason to wave a banner or denominational flag. Simply be…in cooperation…for the gospel.