What to do when your pastor leaves (or when anything outside your plans happens)

Dear Harbins Family,

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I know Sunday came as a difficult blow to many of you when Pastor Steve announced that the Lord is moving he and Heather into a new phase of life and ministry away from Harbins. There were many tears and broken hearts. That is to be expected. Pastor Steve and Heather have poured their lives into our lives for many years and our hearts have been knitted to theirs. Some may even wonder how can something so painful be from God? Isn’t it best for ministers to stay with their flocks forever?

Sometimes. But not always.

Sometimes God gifts a people with a special servant for a brief season to lay down important teachings and foundations before God moves him on to a new assignment. The departure of the minister makes way for God to raise up new leaders to carry the torch and for the congregation as a whole to build on the foundation that has been laid.

imagesThe Apostle Paul, whom we often regard as someone who was constantly roaming around and on the move, was actually led by God to minister in Ephesus and stay put there for three years. He had an incredible and fruitful ministry there. Yes, there were trials and difficulties along the way, but Paul remained faithful, pouring his life into the Ephesian believers. Paul unabashedly says,

…I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:20-21)

In fact, Paul wasn’t interested in just teaching certain aspects of God’s truth to people, focusing on his “hobby horses” or the “easier” portions of God’s revelation, instead, he says,

I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:27)

And,

…for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. (Acts 20:31)

Paul gave his all to the Ephesians for three years; he held nothing back. There is no doubt that the Ephesians absolutely loved and cherished having someone as godly, as loving, as kind, as gentle, as the Apostle Paul, minister to and shepherd and guard them. There is no doubt they became deeply attached to Paul and had deep affection for him.

And yet the time eventually came where God directed Paul to leave.images

That’s when the tears and heartbreak came. Indeed we are given a powerfully emotional scene in Acts 20 where the Ephesian elders pray with Paul as they send him out. We are told that,

there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again… (Acts 20:37-38)

It was a painful parting, yet it was all a part of God’s plan.

What do we do now?

The parting of a beloved pastor who has served and ministered to us in so many ways can cause a wide range of emotions: grief, confusion, anger, and even fear.   Often churches are tempted during such times to become anxious for themselves and for their church. We feel as if the ground beneath us is giving way and we long for stability and security. Probably the church at Ephesus felt similar things. So how do we, at Harbins Church, respond to something that is very different from our own personal hopes and desires and plans?

You know the answer. But if you’re like me, it helps to hear someone else encourage us to embrace what we already know.

The way that we weather the storms of life is to take shelter in the only strong, reliable, safe refuge we have, which is a God who knows us, loves us, and is 100% for us and on our side. Are you feeling like the times are unstable?  That you lack the strength and wisdom to move forward?  That the best days are behind you? The Scriptures tell you that,

…he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is Zion’s treasure. (Isaiah 33:6)

Are you anxious and weighed down with many cares? The Psalmist tells you to,

Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22)

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 Do you feel the need for protection? The prophet Nahum reminds you that,

The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. (Nahum 1:7)

 Do you lack peace? Isaiah reminds us that the real battlefield is not in our circumstances but in our mind and thoughts. He says of God,

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)

Do you feel that darkness surrounds you? Did you know that in reality, if you are a child of God, you are actually surrounded by God’s love and faithfulness? The Psalmist says,

He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. (Psalm 91:4)

Have you cried out to God in prayer, pouring out your heart to Him, and laying before Him all of your requests and desires? Even your requests and desires regarding the departure of a pastor you love so much? If so, Jesus has told you how your Father will respond.

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

Jesus promised that your Father would respond to your prayers, and that in exchange for your requests He would give you nothing but good things! God will always give you exactly what you ask for…..or something better!

And here is where we need to trust God when He says,

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

We have our own thoughts and ways. We have our own ideas of how the script of our lives should be written. But because God’s thoughts are higher than ours, and He sees reality more clearly than we do, often He will erase what we write on our scripts and put in something else, something He knows is better, even if we can’t understand it. That’s where faith comes in. That’s where our hope in His faithfulness comes in.  That is where we must join the prophet Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, who saw and endured difficulties that most of us will never face. We must declare in faith, with Jeremiah,

imagesBut this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:21-24)

We hope in God because we know He is good, we know He is faithful, and we know that He knows what He is doing, even when He ordains something to happen that goes against our script and plans.

Hopeful expectations

imagesAs painful as Paul’s departure from Ephesus was, only time would tell the good that God would work through it. The Ephesians, in releasing Paul, unknowingly would participate in the spread of the gospel in unlikely ways to unlikely places. The good news of Jesus Christ would reach the ears of Felix, the Roman governor (Acts 24), to the evil king Agrippa (Acts 26), and even to the very heart of Rome (Acts 28, Phil 4:22). Indeed it is during this post-Ephesian period where Paul experiences an incredibly fruitful period of writing Scripture, including what many say is his greatest theological treatise of all, the mighty book of Romans.

What’s more, after Paul left Ephesus, God would not leave the Ephesian church alone. He had good plans for them. Indeed, Paul’s departure would lead to God raising up others to lead the church in the days ahead, including a timid, inexperienced, but promising  and godly young pastor named Timothy, to whom Paul would entrust some of the most important doctrines of the Church in the epistles of 1 & 2 Timothy. And to this church Paul would write the book of Ephesians, a masterpiece full of the truth about salvation, Christian identity, and spiritual warfare.

Of course, like every church, Ephesus was not without its problems and challenges, but we also know that God empowered this church to remain faithful to sound doctrine and the truth, to be bold in the face of dangerous false teachers, to be faithful during times of persecution and difficulty, not giving up, and to be steadfast in the labor of the Lord’s work.

But during that tearful departure, neither Paul nor the Ephesian church knew the good plans God had for them in this difficult situation.

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God has good plans for Harbins Church too. We don’t know exactly what they are. We just know they are good plans and things we would never dream up on our own. Thank God that He is the author of the script.

So, as we process everything we heard Sunday from Pastor Steve, know that it is appropriate to weep, it is normal to feel pain and heartbreak, and it is good to grieve. But it would not be good if that were all we did. As the People of God, we must also put our hope in God. As ones who know God, we are to, with great expectation and trust, look forward to the good that our Father has in store both for Steve and for us. If the Bible is telling us the truth, then there is no question that what is happening is for the maximum good and benefit for everyone involved and for God’s maximum glory.  Therefore, there is great reason for abundant, joyful hope.

If it seems odd to be sad and hopeful at the same time, remember that the Apostle Paul himself describes the Christian as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” (2 Cor 6:10). There are things that happen (like persecution or painful goodbyes) that remind us that we are not in heaven yet and so we are sorrowful. On the other hand, we know that our good God is actively working even in the most difficult of situations for our good, and therefore we always have cause to rejoice and be thankful.

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For the LORD God is a sun and shield…No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! (Psalm 84:11-12)

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.

A Maundy Thursday Message (2016)

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The following is a transcript of Pastor Demer’s Maundy Thursday message at HCBC

It’s Maundy Thursday.  If you don’t know what Maundy Thursday means, Maundy comes from the Latin word that we get our English word “command” or “mandate” from.  Jesus gave a special mandate the evening before He was crucified. And the mandate was this,

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:33-34, ESV)

Now, this is a bit unusual because when you look at this verse you might think, “New?  What does Jesus mean by a new commandment?”  Loving people is not new.  God has always wanted people to love other people.  Take for example Leviticus 19:18

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18, ESV)

Thousands of years before Jesus we have clear commands from God to love others.  It’s not like Jesus forgot about Leviticus 19:18.  He knows about that Scripture.  He’s not thinking, “Well, the Old Testament is all about hate so I better tell people to love because they’ve never been told to love before.”  No.  That’s not it at all.

When Jesus came into the world He didn’t come to change the commandments of God. But He did come to fulfill the law.  Typically when we think of Jesus fulfilling the Old Testament we tend to think of Bible prophecy, or we tend to think of Jesus fulfilling ceremonial law, such as Jesus’ death on the cross being a fulfillment of the Old Testament animal sacrificial system.

But just as messianic prophecies find their imagesultimate meaning, fulfillment, and expression in the person of Christ, and just as the ceremonial law finds it’s ultimate meaning, fulfillment, and expression in the person of Christ, so it is with God’s moral law. The laws of God and the commandments of God revealed in the Old Testament find their ultimate meaning, fulfillment, and expression in the person of Jesus Christ.

All things previously revealed in the Old Testament become clearer in light of Jesus, including God’s commandments.  In the Old Testament God speaks to us by His word,  but in Christ, God shows us His Word.  Indeed, John chapter 1 tells us that Jesus Christ is the Word of God.

God doesn’t just tell us to love God and love our neighbor, God sends Christ into the world to show us what that means and what that looks like.  Jesus knows that God has already told us to love, but through Jesus we see a fuller explanation and a fuller demonstration of love in a way and to a degree that had not yet been revealed.

Again, consider Leviticus 19:18:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18, ESV)

What does that mean?  Does that mean, “Just don’t do bad things to people?”  That, by the way, is the direction that rabbinic Judaism went.  And shortly before the time of Jesus, you had Rabbi Hillel, one of the most famous of rabbis say, “Whatever is hateful to you, don’t do to others, this is the whole law.”

But when Jesus comes He gives us a fuller understanding of God’s law and He gives us a fuller understanding of love.  In the time of Jesus the conventional wisdom said, “Don’t do things to others that you don’t want them to do to you.”  Jesus turns that conventional understanding on its head and says that’s not the essence of love.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12, ESV)

You just don’t refrain from doing to people all the bad things you don’t want done for yourself, instead you proactively step forward and you do for others the same things you’d want done for you.  Jesus says that this is the essence of love and sums up the law of God.

So God in the Old Testament tells us to love,  and Jesus in the New gives us a clearer explanation through His teaching of what that means, and then Jesus does something amazing.  He actually gives us a demonstration of what that looks like in action.

He says, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another”

Jesus is pointing us to Himself as the ultimate expression and definition and picture of love.  He says “You want to know what love is?  You want to know what it looks like?  Look at me.  Look at how I have loved you. That’s what it means to love others, go and do likewise”

And in this way Jesus’ command is a new commandment in the sense that Jesus holds up Himself and His actions towards others as the gold standard of what love looks like.

So then the next logical question is, how exactly did Jesus demonstrate love?

We see it earlier in John 13 don’t we?  What does Jesus do?  He takes the role of a servant. He wraps a towel around His waist, He gets on His knees and He washes the dirty, dusty, smelly, sweaty, disgusting feet of His disciples.  And then He says something very similar to what we’ve already read,

If I then, your Loimagesrd and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. (John 13:14-15, ESV)

 Jesus says we are to love one another by serving one another, by treating others as more important than ourselves, by setting aside our own comforts to meet the needs of others, thinking about what benefits them more than what’s good for me.

Jesus shows us that love is not just being nice to someone.  Rather, love is going to extreme lengths to bless and benefit someone else even at extreme personal cost.  The greater the cost, the greater the love.

This is why Jesus, two chapters later says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends…” (John 15:12-14, ESV)

Jesus pushes us to the limit and says if you want to love, if you want to really love, you lay down your life for your friends.  That’s love.  Jesus sets the standard for love…. and then He exceeds that standard!

For while we wimagesere still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:6-10, ESV) 

If greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends, how gloriously great then is the love of Christ that He lays down His life for His enemies?

Scripture teaches us that no one in and of themselves is a friend of God.  As Paul says in Romans 5 we were enemies of God.  In Romans 3 Paul says no one seeks after God.  In Genesis 6 Moses says that every inclination of man’s heart was evil continually.  It is not for good, God-loving, righteous people that Jesus laid down His life for but for rebels and insurrectionists.

Jesus died to pay the price for your wicked, self-centered, cold-hearted lovelessness.   Lovelessness is the essence of our sin.  A lack of love for God and a lack of love for our neighbor.

And why did Jesus do this incredible thing?  Because He loves you.  Because if He didn’t endure the wrath of God on the cross it would mean you’d have to endure it forever in Hell.  If He didn’t pay your price, you’d have to pay it.

And now, because of what Jesus has done, all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved not just from the punishment of sin, but saved from being slaves of self-centered lovelessness.  God’s not interested in merely rescuing you from wrath but He’s intensely interested in freeing you up to be someone you could never be apart from His salvation, namely, a person who loves others as Jesus loved you for the glory of God.

Jesus says,

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, ESV)

Jesus is telling the disciples that their self-sacrificial, self-denying, radical, Jesus-imitating love will demonstrate to the world that they belong to Jesus.  Their love for one another is to point people to Jesus and exalt Him.

You see, ultimately the purpose of our love for one another as a church family is not so we can all just feel good and warm and fuzzy and sing kumbaya around the camp fire. The purpose of our love for one another has a strategic, missional, evangelistic, God-glorifying component to it. Jesus, just a few chapters later in chapter 17, is praying for all believers of all times and places. He is praying for Harbins Church, and He is praying that we would have a unity rooted in love.  He prays that the church,

may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me (John 17:23)

Jesus is saying that when the world sees the church loving one another, serving one another, treating one another as more important than themselves, laying down their lives for one another, it will be a testimony and a witness to a watching world that Jesus Christ has been sent from heaven to earth by God Himself.  It will not point to the church as much as it will point to, exalt, lift up, and glorify God.

So Jesus, in His love for us, dies to free us up to love one another, so that the world may see and know that Jesus was sent into the world by God so that they too may receive Christ and enter into that love.

imagesIn 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, ESV)

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12, ESV)

The work that God does in our hearts is not just for our benefit but for the benefit of an unbelieving world.  There are those that will come to repentance and faith in Christ and will glorify God through the witness of the church’s behavior and Jesus is telling us in John 13 and 17 that particularly they will come to recognize Jesus through our love.

And one outward expression of the loving unity we as Christians share is by taking communion together.

You’ll never see Harbins Church making the announcement that, “From now on we won’t be doing communion gathered together, instead you can do it at home, with your family…or you can just do it by yourself during your personal devotional time.”

imagesWe’ll never do communion that way. We will always gather together and do it as a community of faith.  In taking the communion elements…the bread and the cup at the same time, we are saying something significant.  We are announcing that we are all one.  We all have the same Lord, we have all been saved by the same broken body, we have all been saved by the same shed blood, we have all been adopted into the same family, by the same Father, and we await the same inheritance to be received at the end of the age.

This is why we discourage anyone who is not a believer from taking the bread and the cup, because an unbeliever taking the bread and the cup is announcing something that is not true.  He has yet to experience the benefits of the broken body and shed blood of Christ and remains outside the family of God.

But this is also why we discourage any believer living in a state of unrepentant sin from partaking of the cup.   Paul says in 1 Cor 11,

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. (1 Corinthians 11:27-28, ESV)

Paul is speaking to a congregation that is struggling with arrogance, with division, with lovelessness towards one another.  He’s telling these people to take communion seriously and to examine their own hearts with an attitude of humble repentance.  Why?  Because when the unrepentant believer who doesn’t love his brother takes of the bread and cup he too is announcing something that isn’t true.  And what he is announcing, whether he realizes it or not is that this shed blood and broken body of Jesus didn’t really reconcile me to my brother…. and that we can be a part of the same family and not be reconciled…and we can go on being unloving towards one another.

If you are in a state of unrepentant sin tonight, I urge you to do business with God right now. Pray, seek God’s help and forgiveness, confess your sin to Him. We all struggle with sin, we all stumble and fall down.  But do not stay down.  Repent and humble yourself before God.

And if you are here tonight and you are an unbeliever, you can, right now, enter into the family of God.  You don’t have to jump through hoops, sign a card, or raise your hand.  All you have to do is receive Jesus.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (John 1:12, ESV)

Receiving Jesus means trusting Him to save you from your sins.  It means asking Him to change your heart so that you want to go His way instead of your own way.  It means trusting in His payment on the cross for your sins instead of trusting in anything else.  Oh how I pray you’ll receive Him now, and if you do,  you too are welcome to enjoy communion for the very first time as a child of God.

Scripture tells us that after Jesus and the disciples took the bread and the cup they sang a hymn together and went to a place called Gethsemane. And the gospel of Luke says that,

images ….when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 

 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” 

 And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22:40-53 ESV)images

 Jesus says this is the hour of darkness.  The time when the power of darkness is at it’s
most terrible strength and might, all of the twisted and fearsome and terrifying malice of Hell is bearing down at this moment.  It is the hour of the forces of darkness. It is their hour.

But for those who were listening very carefully to Jesus and hanging on his every word, would have remembered that just a few days ago, Jesus also described this same moment as His hour!  Jesus says,

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…” (John 12)

imagesThe moment of Hell’s fiercest and most devastating attack is also the moment of Jesus’ greatest glory and triumph.   God predicted in Genesis 3:15, thousands of years prior to this dark night, that the serpent would strike the heel of the offspring of the woman, wounding Him terribly.

But in the process of such a wicked attack, the serpent’s own head would be crushed and shattered by the mighty foot of the Offspring.

Thursday night is a trying and painful trial and affliction for Jesus and His disciples. It is hard, it is difficult, and it is very dark, and it’s about to get darker.

And all the while things are going according to plan.  What the forces of darkness mean for evil, God means for great good and great glory, and we will celebrate that tomorrow night during our Good Friday service.  Don’t miss it. God bless you. Thank you for coming to worship.  Go in peace.

Grace and Peace

Pastor Demer

Embrace the Weirdness!

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I want to introduce a new Sunday morning Bible study that I will be leading for the adults at Harbins starting this Sunday, January 10th.  The study will use Russell Moore’s new book, Onward, to guide us as we consider what Biblical Christianity looks like in a culture that is rapidly changing. With the ever-divisive “culture wars,” increasing terrorism fears, and rapidly approaching elections, this Biblical study is certainly designed for such a time as this!

As our culture changes, it is no longer possible for Christians to pretend that we are the moral majority. That may be bad news for America, but it can be very good news for the church. Nominal Christianity won’t work anymore. Nor can Christians double-down on the status quo or retreat into isolation. Instead, the church must boldly speak to the defining social and political issues of our time with a much bigger vision in mind: that of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As Christianity seems increasingly strange–and even subversive–to our culture, it’s time to embrace the distinctiveness of the Christian faith and to be marginalized for the sake of the gospel.

Here’s a short word from Russell Moore:

I hope you can join us this semester as we push onward with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In Him,

Pastor Steve

 

Community Groups to Launch Soon!

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And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

A church thrives best when it’s members strive to connect more than once a week on Sundays.  We were created for community, and the above verse tells us of some of the blessings that happen when Christians make a habit of meeting together.  It helps produce love, good works, and encouragement.  That’s why I’m excited that in a few short weeks Harbins Church will be launching another season of Community Groups.  I’m excited to say that our Community Group ministry is expanding to five groups.  All of them are providing excellent studies to help you grow as a disciple of Jesus.  Here are your choices:

Responding To Relativism- Launches Wednesday, Feb 3rd, at Matt and Marietta Pritchett’s home, 7pm. 2290 Marshland Court, Suwannee.  Led by Todd UpChurch. 

imagesIt is a popular notion that there is no such thing as absolute truth, or even absolute good and evil.  How can you winsomely and intelligently engage with friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors who hold to the idea of Moral Relativism?  This study provides help from apologist Greg Koukl that will equip you with a strong defense for the concept of absolute truth against the fallacy of moral relativism.

Click here to sign up for this study!

Battling Unbelief- Launches Wednesday, Feb 3rd, at Jeff and Beth Thomas’ home, 7pm.  2700 Angel Oak Circle, Dacula.  Led by Steve Doyle and Jeff Thomas

imagesWhen faith flickers, stoke the fire!  No one sins out of duty.  We sin because it offers some promise of happiness.  That promise enslaves us-until we believe that God is more desirable than life itself (Psalm 63:3).  Only the power of God’s superior promises in the gospel can emancipate our hearts from servitude to the shallow promises and fleeting pleasures of sin.

Battling Unbelief, one of the most powerful and popular studies ever done at Harbins Church, is being offered for a 3rd time for believers who seek greater growth in godliness and greater power to kill sin in their lives.  Pastor Steve, with help from John Piper, will guide you through this terrific study that can revolutionize your walk with God.

Click here to sign up for this study!

Click here to order the required study guide!

Life Is Best- Launches Tuesday, Feb 2nd at Toby and Kristin Larsen’s home, 7pm.  438 Hoke Okelly Mill Rd SE, Loganville.  Led by Peter Salas

imagesLives are at stake. Souls hang in the balance. Some Christians are engaged in the battle, but
many are not.  In this engaging study tackling the issue of abortion, the Life Is Best study will thoroughly equip and inspire you to join the fight for lives and souls.  We need to be more than anti-abortion, we need to be pro-gospel.

Check out the trailer for the study here:

 

Click here to sign up for this study!

Christian History Made Easy- Launches Thursday, Feb 4th, at Demer and Dana Webb’s home, 6:30pm.  514 Bentley Circle, Bethlehem.  Led by Demer Webb

imagesDo you know the real life stories of people such as St. Patrick, Martin Luther and Augustine?  How did Constantine and Charlemagne change history?  How did the early church recognize the canon of Scripture?  How did the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches come to be?  What can we learn from the doctrinal and cultural battles of the early church that can better equip 21st century believers to handle the challenges of our times? How has Christianity spread worldwide?  This study will address those questions and much more!

In this 12 week study you’ll take a fascinating tour through the most important events in Christian history from the time of the apostles to today.  Don’t worry, this study isn’t dry names and dates. It’s instead full of dramatic stories told with a touch of humor, combined with Bible study. We’ll tie in spiritual lessons believers can glean from the past, and we’ll be encouraged as we discover how God was (and still is) working in his church despite all the ups and downs.

Here’s a short trailer explaining why you should consider this study.

Click here to sign up for this study!

Click here to order the required study guide!

Praying with Paul- Launches Thursday, February 4th, at Todd and Carol Harrison’s home, 7pm. 1480 Bradley Gin Road, Monroe.  Led by Todd Harrison

imagesIt’s doubtful that there is any Christian who has not sometimes found it difficult to pray. In itself this is neither surprising nor depressing: it is not surprising, because we are still pilgrims with many lessons to learn; it is not depressing, because struggling with such matters is part of the way we learn. God doesn’t demand hectic church programs and frenetic schedules; he only wants his people to know him more intimately. The apostle Paul found the kind of spiritual closeness in his own fellowship with the Father that is available to all of us.

“Praying with Paul” leads group members into the Epistles to see what Paul taught in his “school of prayer.” Group members will be exposed to the priorities of prayer, a God-centered framework for prayer, and practices for a more meaningful and dynamic prayer life. Christians today can still achieve the confidence Paul enjoyed by following his life-shaping principles and searching for a deeper devotional experience.

Here’s author and teacher DA Carson sharing a bit about this outstanding study.

Click here to sign up for this study!

Click here to order the required study guide!

Prayerfully consider which group might be best for you, sign up for one, and then be prepared to be blessed and to be a blessing to others as you cultivate the habit of meeting together with other believers, encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Steve & Demer

 

The End of the World As We Know It

the-endHow will the story end? How will God bring history to a close? When will God finally bring justice to the world? When will Christ return? How will God make all things new? Questions like these have intrigued God’s people since sin came into the world. End times questions involve matters that Christians love to think about, talk about, and debate about. Unfortunately these questions involve matters that some Christians like to fight about.

Oftentimes the discussion about eschatology (end times studies) degenerates into fruitless speculation and foolish quarrels about non-essential details, yet we are told to be ready for the return of our Lord, and we are told to take serious what God has revealed about the consummation of human history. After all the Apostle John introduces the book of Revelation with these words: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Rev. 1:3).

returnofchristStarting this Sunday, August 16th at 9:30 am, during Adult Bible Study, we will be embarking on an unique study of Revelation that will, Lord willing, broaden our understanding of and love for what the Bible has to say about the “end of the story.” The study is entitled Four Views of the End Times and was written by Timothy Paul Jones from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Here is a description of the study provided by the publisher:

Although you will gain much knowledge about the end times, the primary purpose of this study is not to raise your eschatological I.Q. This study focuses first and foremost on Jesus the Messiah, the One through whom God the Father will make all things new. Woven through this study of Jesus in Revelation, you will find straightforward, Scripture-centered examinations of four viewpoints that Christians throughout history have embraced as they looked toward the end of time.

We invite you to come along this journey with us starting this Sunday, August 16th at 9:30 am. You can watch a trailer for the course here.

FourViews

Counseling Others While Seeing In A Mirror Dimly

This past Sunday at Harbins Community Baptist Church Pastor Demer preached the third sermon of our new sermon series in which we are examining the Old Testament book of Job. This week’s sermon was entitled “Job’s Miserable Comforters.” WebJPGOutoftheWhirlwindIn that sermon Pastor Demer examined a large chunk of Job showing us how Job’s three friends erred in the counsel they gave to their friend Job. As always, this week’s text applies to us individually but I also think that this week’s message has very important implications for us corporately as a church body.

We have begun to put together Biblical counseling ministry at our church, and we’ve encouraged our members to get good training in Biblical counseling. But the kind of counseling we desire to see at Harbins is nothing like the counseling Job received from his three friends. As Pastor Demer showed on Sunday, the friends’ counsel was harsh in its tone, and it was born out of a bad theological system that lacked a proper understanding of spiritual warfare and grace. At one point Pastor Demer mentioned the lack of love that the friends demonstrated toward Job and he referenced 1 Corinthians 13 which reminds us that our theological knowledge and our even our sacrificial service is useless if it’s not driven by genuine love.

Later in 1 Corinthians 13 in verse 12 Paul says this, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” The “then” of that verse is referring to the second coming of Jesus, and Paul wants us to see how limited our knowledge and giftedness is on this side of that great Day. Knowing that we see things “in a mirror dimly” should humble us. Knowing that we see things “in a mirror dimly” should affect how we counsel one another. Job’s friends acted like they knew it all. There was no humility in their counsel, and there were no mysteries in their theological system. For them the universe could be boiled down cause and effect, and since Job was suffering he must have done something to bring that suffering upon himself.

accusatory-fingerWe can only imagine how Job’s friends would have counseled other sufferers in Scripture. What destructive advice would they have given Joseph? What sin would they have accused Jeremiah of? What would they say about the Apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh? And I am confident that they would have stood right beside the Pharisees as they concluded that the Nazarene on the cross surely couldn’t be the Messiah.

I say all this to urge our church to be very careful as we counsel one another. As our Biblical counseling ministry grows we must guard ourselves from falling into the presumptuous and reductionist thinking that Job’s friends had. Eastern mysticism may allow for that kind of thinking, but Biblical Christianity does not. The one true God says,
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Part of the Creator/creature distinction is manifested in the fact that we often cannot comprehend the way God chooses to work. We don’t have a simplistic formula that decodes His hidden purposes. Rarely can we fully explain another human being’s suffering. What we do know is that our God is righteous and just and He always does that which brings maximum glory to Himself and maximum good to His children.

Counselling+05+copySo when it comes to counseling we must counsel with much charity and care. We cannot assume that a person’s problems are due to some sin in their life. Sometimes that might be the case, but many times it is not. That’s not to say that suffering can’t reveal other sins of the heart. That was the case with Job as we’ll see in upcoming sermons. Suffering often does refine us and reveal areas where our hearts need attention, but not all difficulty is a direct result of sin.

So let us learn from the negative example of Job’s friends. Let us learn to be good listeners. Let us learn to be patient. Let us learn that sometimes good counsel consists of weeping with those who weep. Let us learn to cover our mouths when we don’t have good answers. Let us learn to pray for wisdom and discernment. Let us learn to avoid the lazy path of making simplistic presumptions. Let us learn to counsel with love!

In Him,

Pastor Steve