Reflections on Church Planting: Reflection #2

Milestones

If ever there was a Bible verse that the Lord was going to teach me the meaning of during the first years of planting a new church it was this one: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

Glancing in the rear-view mirror at the path we’ve traveled to this tenth anniversary of Harbins Community Baptist Church, I can certainly say that my plans have often, sometimes quite radically, been redirected by our good God. There are several key milestones in the history of our church that are nothing more than God taking our plans, tearing them up, and then re-writing them for our good and His glory.

Plan #1: Northwest Arkansas

Perhaps the most radical modification to our original church planting intentions was God changing the physical location of the church plant. Heather and I had lived in the Atlanta area for about a year and a half before we decided to plant a church. We had come to Georgia from Northwest Arkansas where, prior to coming to Georgia, we had put down some significant social and family roots. So when God began to stir our hearts toward church planting we immediately had a desire to head back to Northwest Arkansas to start a new kind of church in that rapidly growing region of the country. At first it seemed that our plans were coming together quite nicely.

We had friends from Georgia, the Teffertillers, who were going to go with us to help pastor the church. We had two other planters on board who already lived in Northwest Arkansas. We even had a core group of about 25 people ready to go. So far along were our plans that we had already packed up our houses and movers were scheduled. Then God stepped in. All four of us church planters gathered together for a planning meeting in Memphis, TN (the midway point between our two locations). In that meeting, which would not be helpful nor appropriate for me to blog about, the Northwest Arkansas plan collapsed. Deep differences emerged which made it clear that to move forward with the church plant would be foolish. Greg Teffertiller and I drove back to Georgia with our plan in tatters, but God’s plan was marching forward.

After some soul-searching and looking into church start-up options in other places, such as North Carolina, we met with the Gwinnett Metro Baptist Association (GMBA) who encouraged us to plant a new church in the Harbins area. The pieces began to fall into place. The association made us their key church plant for 2007. They connected us with Steve Hammack and Anchor Church who decided to be our sponsoring church. And a core group of families emerged who were ready to be a part of a new church. And so we launched out. We began meeting with our core group in November of 2006 and officially launched the church April 8th, 2007. But if we thought that God was done tinkering with our plans were fooling ourselves.

group-photo-1Plan #2: Cool Name

Before planting, Greg and I were looking for a unique name that would capture who we were as a church. Having come out of highly programmed, age-focused church structures (which we considered to be unhealthy) our new church was going to place a strong emphasis on integrating the whole family for worship, discipleship, and missions. We also embraced a soteriological framework that emphasized the absolute sovereignty of God in all things. These aspects of our DNA as a new church led us to choose the name “Milestone Community Church.” The idea behind the name was that God sovereignly puts milestones in our lives that we as parents should look back upon and thus use to teach our kids about the goodness and mercy of our great God. Plus we thought that the name was unique and cool.

The Scriptural impetus behind the name came from Joshua 4 where God told the Israelites, as they miraculously crossed the Jordan, to take twelves stones from the riverbed and make a memorial. The purpose of the memorial is explained in Joshua 4:21: “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”

Little did we know at the time that a big mega-church in the area was already in the planning stages of using that same Scripture text to rename their church, and I must say that the name they came up with was much better than ours. But I still maintain that we were the original “stoners.”

For the time being, however, we patted ourselves on the back for our clever name and started the church. Pretty soon it was clear that the name wasn’t having the effect we wanted it to have. First of all, the area in which we planted the church was not exploding with hip, young families like our association had anticipated it would be. In retrospect this was due in large part to the housing market collapse which was only in its initial stages in the Spring of 2007. For the next four years or so there would be at least a dozen subdivisions in the Harbins area filled with empty houses that were supposed to be holding young, middle-class families ripe for the harvest. So, the cool-factor of the name (I know that’s debatable), designed to connect with that demographic, was moot. Of course, as church-planting trends demanded, we didn’t have “Baptist” in our name either, and to our surprise it turned out that many of the people in the area who were used to traditional church norms were hesitant to visit a church that, at least on the surface, was a denominational crapshoot.

Perhaps even more jarring than all of that was the fact that so many people thought our name was Millstone. And the image of a millstone was not what we were going for: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). So the name needed to change, and it would, for God had ordained another step that we never saw coming.

Plan #3: We don’t need a building

Everyone knows that the church is not a building, its God’s people. Because of that some church planters wear the fact that they don’t have a building as a badge of honor. That wasn’t necessarily us. I firmly believed that we didn’t need a building, but I wasn’t philosophically against them either. Frank Viola and George Barna had not convinced me that buildings OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwere pagan. But there weren’t many meeting places in the Harbins Community, so we had to have our Sunday gatherings at Harbins Elementary School. We figured that we would be there for several years at the very least. After months of doing church out of a trailer I began to dream of what it would be like someday to have our own building. The school administrators we very nice and accommodating but the rent was high, the flexibility was limited, and setting up and tearing down each Sunday was extremely tiring. So we began to put land and a building on our “Himpossible” prayer list.

No sooner had we begun to get serious about praying for these things did I get a call from Sid Hopkins, our association’s Director of Missions. He asked me to meet him at a 1522 Harbins Road, about a mile from the school. When I got there he informed me that someone had given that land to our church, all 17 acres of it! The only condition was that the donor wanted the name of the community, Harbins, to be in the name of the church. After gathering with our core group and praying about the possibilities we voted to accept the gift of the land and rename our church Harbins Community Baptist Church. The issues with the name Milestone were now gone, and our hope was that in the next several years we could save up enough money to build a building on our new land. We hoped to build within a decade.

God had other, and quite spectacular, plans. Shortly after giving us the land the donor also decided to give us 1.5 million dollars to build a church building. He was quite elderly and wanted to see the building built as soon as possible because he felt this was the last thing God was leading him to do with his money before the Lord would call him home. We were still only six families so the thought of building a new building so soon was not on our radar screen, but again God was constantly establishing our steps where we hadn’t expected them to be planted.

0417dad011After a couple a years of hard-work and planning, done largely by Dee Bryson who was instrumental in our church building ending up with the unique design it did, we moved into our building in April of 2010. The donor of the money and land passed away just few months after attending our dedication service.

Moving into a new building presented us with other challenges. The donor had only given enough money to build the building, and had clearly stated that he wanted us to furnish the building ourselves. We began to make plans and try to fundraise to that end. But the day we opened the building it was fully furnished without us spending hardly any money. God had once again gone before us through yet another one of our plans that He providentially redesigned.

Plan #4 – Merger

It seems that all major milestones in our church’s history have happened in April. April of 2009 was no different. That was the month that we voted to merge with Woodland Creek Church, a small Baptist congregation from the other side of Dacula.

The merger made complete sense, at least it did on paper. Woodland was a church about our size, they were theologically aligned with us, and if we combined forces we’d have a good-sized congregation with which to begin meeting in our soon-to-be-finished building. Well, as you can probably guess by now, things didn’t pan out quite the way we had hoped.

The merger was sweet…for about a month. Then a variety of different conflicts began to emerge that demonstrated a lack of foresight and blind naiveté on the part of both churches. To make another long story mercifully short, the merger didn’t take. Some families from Woodland did stick with Harbins, but most began to search for other church homes just a few months after the merger. It was a painful experience, to say the least, but God’s plans are always good, even when they come packaged with wrapping that is painful. As it turns out, God would bring much good from the failed merger.

First, he brought another elder to Harbins. Demetrius (a.k.a. Demer) Webb was one of the two elders from Woodland that became elders at Harbins after the merger. As the merger began to disintegrate, Demer would stick with Harbins and his ministry would be instrumental in helping our church heal from the wounds left over from the merger. In Demer I found a kindred spirit and like-minded brother who became, and still remains, a key part of our church and a close friend. I have always said that if God’s only purpose for the merger was to get Demer to Harbins then all the struggles that came packaged with the merger were well worth it.

img_0968The merger brought some other benefits as well. Namely, stuff! Stuff like chairs, tables, sound equipment, curriculum, and other resources. Shortly after the merger another church in Dacula closed its doors and gave us all their material resources as well. God had, in the blink of an eye, given us all that we needed to furnish our new building and we hadn’t spent a dime! Yet again God was moving despite, and sometimes in spite of, our plans.

Space prevents me from listing the many other plans God has altered and the hundreds of other steps He has orchestrated over these past ten years. I don’t have space to write about the broken souls he brought into our church all in one summer which He used to launch us into Biblical Counseling. I don’t have time to write about the challenges He used to refine our theology and ecclesiology. I’ll simply conclude by saying that all I am qualified to do at this point is write a book entitled, How to Screw Up a Church Plant, but God has worked all things together for our good and for His glory. He has providentially put all things in place to firmly establish our church in the Harbins Community and we praise Him alone for it.

This post is part of a series of reflections on ten years of church planting that I am doing leading up to HCBC’s tenth anniversary. To read the introduction to the series go here, and to read the first reflection click here.

Reflections on Church Planting: Reflection #1

The Priceless Value of a Godly Wife

There were several church planting books that I read before starting Harbins. Most of them had similar lists concerning what is most important to have in place before starting a new church. The lists included things like: sufficient funding, a parent church, a large core group, a compelling mission statement, etc. The one thing that was not on any lists in any of the books was this: a church planter needs a godly wife.

Now, let me say right of the bat that I am not saying that you must be married to start a church, or to pastor. What I can say is that God will use marriage to equip and strengthen a pastor for the ministry. I can also say that having a godly wife as a partner in the ups and downs of church planting is invaluable. I know that I would never have been able to plant Harbins and I would never have been able to survive the pastorate up to this point without Heather’s support, encouragement, and partnership.

After 20 years of pastoral ministry and 21 years of marriage, I can say that it took me a long time, too long, to understand how important my wife was and is to my ministry. In the early years of ministry, and of planting Harbins, I was brutish and ignorant and I took my wife and her faithful support for granted. It was during a season of challenge at Harbins that God graciously allowed me to see how important she was to the work He had called me to do. God opened my eyes to see that she was a gift to me to be my partner in life and in ministry. Her strengths made up for my weaknesses, and her support didn’t waver when it felt like everyone else’s was. To this day words are insufficient to express how absolutely vital she has been in my life, in my family, and in my church.

So here are some things I love about my wife which highlight how important she has been and continues to be to the work at Harbins.

  1. Her sacrificial generosity. My wife is the most generous person I’ve ever known. She exemplifies what it means to give of one’s time, treasure, and talent. I came home one day to find out that Heather had given away all of our living room furniture. She gave it to a young lady who was being forced to abruptly move out of her parents’ 10549263_10204234518048849_6494350707199033210_ohome because of her refusal to have the abortion that they were demanding she have. Many a person at Harbins can testify to Heather’s generosity and selflessness in countless other ways. She has rushed to help friends who are facing a crisis; she has stayed up all night in the hospital calming the nerves of an expectant mom; she has spent hours in God’s Word counseling and discipling younger women. Heather’s sacrificial heart led her to envision a series of well-baby clinics in Honduras called Health Matters Honduras. Although it’s just in its infant stages dozens of children in Honduras have already had their lives changed and perhaps even saved due to her compassion. God continues to use the selfless generosity of my wife to  challenge and stretch me in many ways!
  2. Her wisdom and discernment. My wife sees red flags before I do. I swear she has “spidey-senses” when it comes to trouble. The Lord uses her to see things I am sometimes unwilling or unable to see. Beyond that, she often has better ideas on what the next steps are whenever challenging situations arise. Early on I ignored her discernment to my own detriment and to the detriment of our church. She has a God-given instinct for knowing the right thing to do, the right time to do it, and the right words to say that befit the situation. Her sensitivity to the way God is at work, and her sturdy faith in His Word continually push and challenge me to grow.
  3. Her protection and discipleship of our children. Pastor’s children often have it rough as the pastor’s family lives in the proverbial glass house. A pastor’s home is often under a blinding light with every move being analyzed and scrutinized. Heather1909492_1079763439419_1006_n has provided godly counsel and discipleship to my children which has allowed them to grow and thrive amidst the unique pressures of a pastor’s home. She is momma bear when she needs to be, but she has also mastered the spiritual discipline of letting God be our first defender. The aroma of Christ fills our home and that is due to her steadfast and steady management of it.
  4. Her rest and trust in the Lord. Being a Doyle means a new adventure is always around the corner. Throughout the wild ride that is the Doyle household she has always exhibited a unique mixture of adaptability and advance planning. From the expected challenges of parenting five kids, to the unexpected challenges of church relationships, she has kept her eyes on the Lord and has clung to the promises found in our favorite family passage: Proverbs 3:5-6. It is not uncommon for the challenges of church and home to cause pastor’s wives to become bitter and disengaged, but by the mercy and grace of God my wife has prayerfully avoided those pitfalls. Her trust is truly in the Lord.
  5. Her ongoing, progressive sanctification. My wife is not perfect. She has her share of shortcoming and makes plenty of mistakes. And for that I am thankful. She would become an idol in my life if it were not so. She’d be the fist to tell you that she still has plenty of areas to grow in and plenty of sin to continue slaying. But she also knows “whose she is,” namely, that she is child of the King and that He is faithfully, continually, conforming her to the image of Christ Jesus our Lord. Some pastor’s wives feel like they have to be theological giants and fall into insecurity and fear, but913995_10201241532425470_2133027097_o Heather will be the first to tell you that she knows what she knows and she grows as she grows. She worries little about what people think and instead exhibits grace-enabled, faith-fueled effort to mature in Christ. Nothing stirs me to tears more than to sit back and think about how much my amazing wife has grown in the Lord over the past 10 years!

For these reasons and many more, the importance of a godly wife is my first reflection on ten years of church planting. I plan to share nine more leading up to the 10th anniversary of Harbins on April 8th. Harbins would not be Harbins without Heather Doyle, and I would be much less of a man!

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.(Proverbs 31:10)

Spring 2017 Community Groups Coming Soon!

images

One of the things I love about HCBC is how eager our folks are to study the Bible.  Many people have been coming up to me lately asking when our next round of Community Groups will be launching.  I’m happy to say we’ll be relaunching the week of February 5th.  As usual we’ve got a terrific lineup of studies.  Here’s what we’re offering this time around:

1 Peter: Maintaining Our Hope in a World That’s Not Our Home

imagesLed by Steve Doyle at Barbara Coleman’s home.  1830 Jessica Way, Winder.
Launch Date: Tuesday, February 7th, 7pm.

Do you ever feel like an alien and a stranger in a land that is increasingly distant and even hostile to Jesus Christ?  That’s normal.  The Apostle Peter begins his letter by saying he is writing to “To those who are elect exiles…” (1 Pe 1:1).  To be a believer is to be an exile longing for their true home in heaven.  But in the meantime, how now shall we live?  This Bible study will equip and encourage all pilgrims who are passing through this difficult world in route to their ultimate destination, the New Heavens and the New Earth.  No study guide necessary, just your Bible!  Sign up here!

Lessons from the Upper Room

 Led by Jeff Thomas at Karen Lindsey’s home.  2515 Harbins Mill Drive, Dacula.
Launch Date: Wednesday, February 8th, 7pm.

Knowing the time was fast approaching for Him to imagesdepart this world, Jesus spent His final hours with His closest friends. As the disciples sat with their master, unaware of what would soon take place, Jesus served them, taught them, and prayed for them.  In this 12-part teaching series, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson paints a vivid picture of the disciples’ final moments with their Savior. Carefully walking through John 13-17, Dr.
Ferguson reminds us of the centrality of Christ in all of life.   No study guide necessary, just your Bible!  Sign up here!  For more information, view the trailer below:

 

God in our midst: The Tabernacle and our relationship to God.  

Led by Mark Pierce at the Pritchett home, 2290 Marshland Ct, Suwanee.
Launch Date: Wednesday,  February 8th, 7pm.

How does an ancient tent in the wilderness of Sinai relate to our relationship with God? The description of the tabernacle, God’s Old Testament dwelling place, spans sixteen chapters of the Bible. Yet many of us pass over this extended description without understanding its significance. In this series, Daniel R. Hyde encourages us to consider this “tent of meeting” (Ex. 27:21). By studying the particulars of this first tabernacle, we will better understand Jesus, the One who dwelt, or “tabernacled,” among us (John 1:14).  No study guide necessary!  Just bring your Bible!  Sign up here!  For more information, view the trailer below:

 

What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

Led by Demer Webb at the Sims’ home, 3605 Wynter Frost Walk.
Launch Date: Wednesday,  February 8th, 7pm

imagesIt won’t take long for you to be disappointed in marriage. It won’t take long for your dreams to be dashed. The reality is that you can’t escape the brokenness of this
world. You won’t be able to avoid the sin of your spouse.

The Bible teaches that we all bring something destructive into our relationships – sin. But as Paul David Tripp explains, we buy into the delusion that our biggest problem is outside of us. We blame our spouse. We blame our circumstances. We rarely take seriously the nature of our own sin.

‘What Did You Expect?’ challenges you to look into the mirror of God’s Word and see yourself with clarity. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you love yourself more than your spouse. Maybe you love your little kingdom more than God’s big Kingdom. When you reach that level of honesty, you’re at the edge of real good things for your marriage.

Sign up here!  

After you sign up, get your FREE study guide here! (required)  

To go even deeper, click here and order the book! (optional but recommended)

For more information, view the trailer below:

 

Behold Your God

PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF THE STUDY THAT BEGAN LAST SEMESTER.  

Led by Todd Harrison at the Harrison home. 1480 Bradley Gin Road, Monroe.
Study resumes Thursday, February 9th,  7pm.  

Are we sure that the God we serve is the imagesGod described in Scripture? Is rethinking Him biblically really necessary? How do we do it? How would it affect our views of Christ, the gospel, holiness, worship, evangelism, service, and revival?

Behold Your God is a study that focuses on God’s self-revelation in the Bible, helping the believer to apply the descriptions of God to all of life. Each week features a short biographical sketch of the life of a significant figure from Christian history whose ministry illustrates the truths that you will be studying weekly.  They include A. W. TozerGeorge MullerRobert Murray M’CheyneCharles Spurgeon,  Jonathan Edwards, and more.

dudes_byg_lineup_940

In addition, each week’s lesson will reinforce what you have been studying in the Bible on your own time throughout that week.  Finally, you will be able to listen to highlights from interviews with contemporary ministers whose lives and labors reflect these same truths.

This study is written with the conviction that our fundamental need in Western Christianity is to repent of our low and unworthy views of God, to return to the biblical descriptions of the true God, and to risk it all in order to live upon Who He is. Nothing in this study is new truth.  Instead, everything is meant only to help you to take the biblical descriptions of God seriously and to see how they form the foundation of Christian living.

***Because this is a study that began in the Fall, you are encouraged to consider another one of our study options.  However, if you are still interested in joining this study midstream,  order the required daily devotional and then sign up here!***

For more information, view the trailer below:

To preserve strong group dynamics and intimacy, Pastor Steve and I are trying to keep the groups from becoming too large.  Therefore, our preference is to have a maximum of 12 participants per group.  (This does not of course, include babies and other children who won’t really be participating in the study!) With that said, we want to make sure everyone is in a group, so if there is only one that you desire to participate in due to day of the week, location, interest, etc, then we will of course increase the size of any group to make sure that everyone is included.  With that said, please let us know as early as you can which group you’d like to participate in.

I’m thrilled that HCBC is able to offer such amazing studies that will draw you closer to God, facilitate transformation in your life, and sink your roots deeper into the precious Word of God, through which we are able to more clearly see and savor our Lord Jesus Christ!

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

Babel Revisted (post-sermon reflections)

One reason Pastor Steve and I have launched this joint venture in blogging is that we see it as a means to expand upon our teachimagesing ministry, supplementing and adding to things we are sharing through sermons and Bible studies.  It’s been great to receive affirmation through readers who have shared how various blog articles have blessed and encouraged them.

Before we are too distant from last Sunday, I’d like to share a few additional thoughts to the sermon I preached on the Tower of Babel.  If you missed it, you can listen online here.  While I hope I was able to capture the essence of Man’s problem and God’s solution in the rebellion at Babel, here are a few final reflections that I hope will further aid our understanding of this important Bible story.

The literary structure of Genesis 11:1-9

In the story of Babel, Moses uses a literary style known as antithetical parallelism.  Allen Ross gives a helpful definition of this type of writing and how it is used in Genesis 11.

“In the antithetical parallelism of the narrative, ideas are balanced against their counterparts.  The story begins with the report of the unified situation at the beginning (11:1) and ends with a reminder of that unity and its resultant confusion for the scattering (v.9).  This beginning and ending picture is reflected in the contrast of the dialogues and actions: verses 2-4 describe what humans proceeded to do; verses 5-8, beginning with the contrastive “But the Lord…,” describe how the Lord turned their work aside.”

Here is a helpful visual breakdown of how Moses contrasts Man and God in this story through his parallelism.  Notice how “top A” corresponds to “bottom A” and so on…

A The whole earth had one language (11:1)

     B …they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. (11:2)

          C  And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks…”(11:3)

               D  …a city and a tower… (11:4)

                        E  And the Lord came down to see (11:5)

               D …the city and the tower (11:5)

          C And the Lord said,”Come let us… confuse their language…” (11:6-7)

     B They were scattered from the plain of Shinar (11:8)

A The Lord confused the language of the whole world (11:9)

This type of antithetical parallelism further underscores the point that I made in the sermon, that what we have at Babel is Man and God completely at odds with one another.  The very structure of the passage demonstrates Man’s battle against God.  Notice also the center of this parallelism.  Letter E is in the middle and is meant to mark the turning point of the story.  The central focus is God.  Despite Man’s attempt to be at the center of all things, what matters most is the Lord’s response to all that is happening.

The literary theme of “journeying eastward.”

imagesIn Genesis, Moses employs reoccurring themes and motifs that will reappear throughout the book.  Such themes help to underscore and emphasize what he is teaching and the points he wants to make.  Themes such as blessing and curses, the expectation of the offspring of the woman, and salvation through judgment weave their way in and out of Genesis.  One such theme that makes a reappearance in the Tower of Babel story is “journeying eastward.”

The ESV translation is a bit unclear.  It says the people migrated “from the East.”  (11:2) However, consulting with a number of other translations such as the NLT, the NIV, and the NASB (the latter tending to be the most literal of our English translations), one finds agreement that what is being communicated here is that the people are going in an easterly direction.

This mention of moving to the east could be simply a mere geographical point of little significance, if not for the fact that there appears to be a pattern in Genesis of connecting the move eastward with something negative.images

Adam and Eve, exiled from God, are driven out of the garden, settling eastward from Eden (Gen 3:24)

As the murderer Cain goes out from the presence of God, he dwells in a land “east of Eden.” (Gen 4:16)

When Abram and Lot separate, selfish Lot journeys east, unable to resist the land there which appeared to be like the “garden of the Lord.” (Gen 13:11)  Of course the chief cities in that direction were Sodom and Gomorrah.

And in Genesis 11, of course, we see the people moving eastward, settling in what will become known as Babylon.

Moses appears to have a “theology of geography” in Genesis.

Movement to the east suggests a moving away from the enjoyment of the presence and blessing of God.  Old Testament scholar John Sailhamer suggests that such a literary device, “…contrasts God’s way of blessing (e.g., Eden and the Promised Land) with humanity’s own attempt to find the “good.”  In the Genesis narratives, when people go “east,” they leave the land of blessing (Eden and the Promised Land) and go to a land where their greatest hopes will turn to ruin (Babylon and Sodom).”

Therefore, the movement of the people eastward, in Genesis 11, already provides us with a clue to their spiritual condition even before they begin constructing Babel.

Comparison and Contrast

imagesRead in it’s context, it is helpful to recognize that the story of Babel in Genesis 11 immediately precedes the story of Abraham in Genesis 12.  (This may be one reason that Moses put the Table of Nations in chapter 10 before giving us the story of Babel.  Even though chronologically, Babel should come before the Table of Nations, thematically speaking, the story of Babel works as a great foil to the story of Abraham, and their positioning back to back makes it easier for the stories to be compared and contrasted.)

There are three particularly interesting and instructive points of contrast in these two stories.

First, the Babylonians start in the west and move in an easterly direction, which, if we are to accept the idea of Moses’ “Theology of Geography”, indicates a spiritual movement away from God.  On the other hand, Abraham starts out in the east, in the land of Ur as a pagan, but comes to know the One True God.  And he begins to journey into the West towards the Land of Promise.

Secondly, the Babylonians, out of fear of dispersion, want to settle and remain at Babel,  refusing God’s call to fill the earth.   Abraham, however, has faith in God, and “…went, as the LORD had told him.” (Gen 12:4)

Thirdly, the Babylonians are seeking to make a name for themselves but in the end are humiliated.  Abraham was seeking no such thing, but as a result of his obedience to God, the Lord promises to him, “I will make your name great.” (Gen 12:2)

The Rise and Fall of Babylon

Genesis 11 isn’t the last we see of Babylon in the Bible.  Like a reoccurring nightmare, Babylon, in all of it’s prideful anti-God “splendor” continues to rear it’s head throughout the Bible, and serves as a representation of Man in general, in his arrogant yet futile insurrection against God.  From the tower of Babel onward, we see man’s foolish attempts at exaltation overthrown by God.  Isaiah 14 addresses one of Babylon’s arrogant kings, saying,

“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the pit. (Isa 14:13-15)

Like the original Babylonians who would seek to build a tower to reach the heavens, this king arrogantly seeks to exalt himself to the heights of deity, but like the people of Babel, this king is humiliated. Indeed,he is “brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.”images

Or consider King Nebuchadnezzar, who arrogantly boasted,  “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan 4:30).  And yet as with Babel, God responds, and humiliates Nebuchadnezzar, laying him low by afflicting him with insanity to the degree that he acted like a beast for a period of time.

And Babylon appears also in the book of Revelation, in Man’s final attempt at rebellion against God.  But again, Babylon, described as a “dwelling place for demons” (Rev 18:2) goes down in shame and defeat.

Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying,“So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more… (Rev 18:21)

Seeking a true home

We all long for home.  A place where we can dwell in safety, security, peace, and prosperity.  In Genesis, we see people like Cain, those of Babel, and later on Lot, banking their hopes and dreams on the things of this world.  Since Genesis 11, people have, either literally or figuratively, sought to find their home in Babylon, “east of Eden”, hoping to find life in their own autonomy away from the presence and rule of God.

imagesIn Genesis 12, God calls Abraham out of his home and sets him on a journey to find a new home.  The Promised Land that God promises to give to Abraham and his descendants was a good land, a land flowing with “milk and honey”  (Lev 20:24).  But by the time Abraham dies, all he has in this land is a field and a cave which is a burial plot for him and his family.  (Gen 23:20)

But Abraham wasn’t disappointed.  He knew that the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises was yet to come.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Heb 11:8-10)

Eventually Abraham’s descendants conquer Canaan at long last, but life in the land ends up being a disappointment and falls far short of the paradise of Eden. That’s because Canaan was never meant to be the final destination for the People of God.  It was but a type, a shadow, a downpayment of something better to come.

The Patriarchs of Israel, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, knew this better perhaps than their  descendants.  We are told that,

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Heb 11:13-16)

For those of us who repent of our Babylonian ways, trusting in Jesus Christ to deliver us from our sinful pride and from a dying world, we, with Abraham, await with hopeful expectation for the city to come.

And at the end of the Bible, we see that the corrupt, failed city of Babylon is replaced by the glorious heavenly city in Revelation 21.  We don’t have to build a tower up to the heavens.  Instead, a day is coming when heaven will come down to earth.images

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:2-4)

And those who will inherit this city are not the proud and arrogant.  Instead the people of this city are a people who are forsaking the ways of Babel by humbling themselves and embracing their need for a savior and forgiveness of sins through the cross of Christ.  Those who will enter into this city will be a people not interested in making their own name great, but instead a people who will enjoy making His name great forever.

May that day come soon!

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

 

 

 

Reflections on Church Planting

Ten years ago…

In 2007 the smartphone revolution truly took off when the first iPhone was introduced. In 2007 three-year-old Facebook overtook Myspace as the most popular social media site in the world. In 2007 Michael Vick’s career as a Falcon came to an ugly end due to a dog-fighting scandal. In 2007 George Bush was the President, Taylor Swift was singing country, and Donald Trump was running beauty pageants. A lot has changed in only ten years!

Over the span of the past ten years a lot has changed in my family’s life as well. Ten years ago we were a family of five. Little did we know that 18 children would come in and out of our home through the Safe Families for Children program. Little did we know that two of those children would become permanent members of our family. Ten years ago my son was playing with little green army men, today he’s a Marine. Ten years ago we were Arkansans trying to get used to Georgia, today…well, we’re still Arkansans trying to get used to Georgia. Ten years ago my beard was a goatee without an ounce of gray hair. And ten years ago Heather and I launched out on a crazy adventure called church-planting, which may have contributed, at least in part, to the gray.

doylepiccolorIt’s hard to believe that it’s been that long since the Lord graciously allowed us to start Harbins Community Baptist Church. God has brought Harbins a long way, and a lot has changed in our church as well. Our five core-families who helped us launch the church are no longer with us. We moved from setting up church in a cafeteria to having land and a building. Our name has changed. Our theology has been refined. Our methodology has adjusted. Our church has grown. Our lives have been transformed.

Over the next ten weeks, I hope to write ten blog entries containing ten reflections on ten years of planting and pastoring Harbins. I don’t imagine that there is anything unique or special about any of my observations, matter of fact I know that many of my experiences in regard to church planting could be echoed by other planters of other churches in other places. My desire isn’t to unveil hidden profundities about starting new churches, but to simply share my heart, perhaps make some pastoral observations, and most importantly give honor and glory to God for all that He has done and continues to do.

God has taught me so much. He has taught all of us so much. Some of the lessons have come from doing things poorly. Some of the lessons have come from doing things well. The classroom of church planting includes unexpected joys, and unintended mistakes. But most of God’s lessons have come subtly and quietly through the mundane, day-by-day, non-flamboyant work of the ministry. Those lessons are the ones that we didn’t even realize we were learning. Those lessons are the ones that can only be discovered by reflecting back on the faithful work God has accomplished. Those lessons undergird the reflections that I hope to share over the next ten weeks.

During this decade-long journey my family and I have had to continually rest on the promises of God’s Word, our favorite of which is found in Proverbs 3:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The funny thing is that God’s straight path sometimes feels more like a twisting and turning roller coaster: undoubtedly scary, yet utterly exhilarating! So join me over the next ten weeks as I reflect on ten surprising yet satisfying years of having the distinct privilege of planting and pastoring Harbins Community Baptist Church.

Weekend Resource Roundup 12/17/16

Here are a few of the better resources that have been floating around in cyberspace the past few days:

What I’ve Learned from Being Isolated and Allergic to Everything – Sometimes God surprises us by withholding healing, only to give us something much better.

3 Marks of Righteous Anger –  If you need help distinguishing between righteous and sinful anger, this might be useful.

There’s No Such Thing As Chance – “…the Providence of God, as taught in Scripture, is opposed to fortune and fortuitous causes.” John Calvin

Even If He Doesn’t – “Our position as His creation cannot be that He should do as we demand. It cannot be that He is only good if He gives us what we want. It cannot be that His love is spelled out by how satisfied I am with His answers to my prayers. Yet, it is possible to have great hope and security in His ability to rescue us while also having great faith that even if He doesn’t, we can trust Him and He is good.”

Joseph Did You Know? – Mary often gets a lot of press, and rightfully so, during Christmastime, but I really appreciated these reflections on Joseph, and I think you will too.

Weekend Resource Roundup 12/3/16

Here are a few of the better resources I’ve seen floating around cyberspace the past few days:

Husband, Learn Your Wives.  A good word for husbands. I for one have much room for growth here. Hope this pushes other men as well…

Ingratitude, Ethics, and Porn.  “It could be that much of your spiritual striving is taking place in an unhealthy atmosphere of ingratitude and entitlement…Being thankful is not abstract, pie-in-the-sky spirituality, it is the daily battle to see the world correctly in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

When am I Ready to Become a Christian.  A good resource to share with someone considering Christ.

Does God Promise To Feed And Clothe Christians?   Jesus tells us that God will give us everything we need, but how are we to think about Christians who even now are starving in other parts of the world?

I pray one or more of these resources will be helpful to you as you seek Christ.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer