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How to Know When Sunday Was a Success

2015-01-25 09.44.02

This past Sunday, Grace Hills had our big Premiere Sunday at the Malco Pinnacle Hills Cinema. We had less than three weeks to prepare for the big move after making the decision to switch locations, so the last week or two have been fairly stressful, but when the big day arrived, our minds were a little blown away by the response. God showed up in a powerful way!

Here’s what my mind has been processing since we left the theater…

God

I have to point out up front something I repeat often when people are expressing gratitude for how well things went: “We blame the good stuff on Jesus.” He guided our planning and preparation, energized our team for the task, and His Spirit filled the theater with His powerful presence and blessed His truth.

Prayer CircleA lot of prayer

Not only had our staff been praying hard during the days leading up to Sunday but the whole church was praying that God would use the day in a powerful way. When our set up teams were finished prepping the theater, we gathered for prayer and then fanned out to pray over every room and every seat. I believe that heavenly things only happen on earth in response to prayer.

An overwhelming number of volunteers

I even observed that if the only people who showed up were the volunteers, it would have been a well-attended day. There were a dozen people who helped us move our things into storage and/or out of storage to set up the theater. There were more than a dozen people greeting, handing out welcome brochures, directing parents through the check-in process, and guiding people into the main auditorium. There were a dozen more caring for the 16 babies, 29 preschoolers, and 71 elementary-aged kids. And a dozen more worked with the main auditorium equipment, sang and played, and worked security. Best of all, they were enthusiastic volunteers.

A collective spirit of expectancy

That is, there was an energy that could be felt. Some people came in already broken by life and others arrived with gratitude for how God has been working lately. Even those checking us out for the first time seemed delighted to be welcomed with genuine love and appreciation.

Grace Hills StaffAn incredible staff

I believe our rather small team of four official staff members and their spouses are some of the best on earth. There’s nobody I’d rather be in the trenches with that Neil, Angie, and Meredith along with Lauren and Clayton. I’m humbled to get to lead them!

The Word of God

I’m reminded of how the Thessalonian believers received God’s Word when Paul wrote to them, “you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit…” I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever felt an anointing quite that powerful overwhelm me for boldly preaching the Word. Jesus was exalted. Needs were met. Lives were changed.

Showing off our humanness

Baptizing In a Theater FountainThere’s always a hitch, and the hitches keep us human. I had bought a new cattle tank to use as a baptistry, but wound up heeding the advice of my wife, fellow staff members, and pretty much everyone else that the risk of flooding the room or electrocuting someone by placing it where cords were spread everywhere was too much of a risk. So, we baptized two people in the fountain in the lobby of the theater. Jennifer, first up, placed her full trust in me not to drop her, but drop her I did. It was a poorly executed moment that resulted in a lot of laughter and a “do over.” In the end, Jennifer and Garrison were both immersed in an unforgettable celebration of their new life in Christ.

Leaving, but not wanting to, and with a sense of anticipation about next Sunday

“I can’t wait to see what happens next.” I said that myself and heard it from others. In all, it was a record-breaking attendance for us of 318, just three years into the church planting journey. Angie and I whispered to each other during the music that it was a “dream come true.” On my way up to speak, however, the Spirit of God nudged me with a gentle reminder. It’s a dream coming true, in the present, continuous tense. We celebrate yesterday, but we anticipate great things from God tomorrow!

So what’s next? This weekend, we kick off a series called Overwhelmed, and we’ll be talking about anxiety, depression, stress, and worry. Would you join me in praying that God’s Spirit would draw, through the invitations of friends, the people who desperately need this message to the theater next Sunday? I’m expecting great things.

See a few more pictures on our Facebook page.

You Need to Know Balthasar Hubmaier

Balthasar HubmaierBaptists sometimes miss out on great ancient resources found in some great theologians and leaders of the past who probably impacted our theology as much or more than the Reformers, but the Reformers get all the kudos.

Take, for example, Balthasar Hubmaier, an early anabaptist leader. (It’s not capitalized because the word “anabaptist” was never a particular sect or denomination, but rather a term loosely applied to those who “re-baptized” those who had already been baptized as infants. They were also called “radical reformers” and many lived and died martyr’s deaths before Luther and Calvin walked the earth. But I digress…)

Hubmaier was heavily influenced by Erasmus and other Swiss leaders early on, but soon found plenty of platforms upon which to debate, particularly on the issue of believer’s baptism. Hubmaier had the gaul to assert that people should be baptized as responsible adults who were making the decision to follow Christ on their own, and that such baptism should be by immersion, and further that such baptism accomplished no particular saving work but was rather an act of obedience to Christ. In Hubmaier’s own words…

Baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost is when a man first confesses his sins, and pleads guilty; then believes in the forgiveness of his sins through Jesus Christ, and turns to live according to the rule of Christ, by the grace and strength given him from God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. The he professes this publicly, in the eyes of men, by the outward baptism of water. He is then truly baptized, even if the baptizer did not speak these words over him.

via Hubmaier “The Christian Baptism of Believers.” In The Writings of Balthasar Hubmaier, by Davidson, 128.

What really catches my attention most in Hubmaier’s writings is his assertion that religious heretics probably shouldn’t be burned at the stake, be-headed, thrown in the stocks, or otherwise tortured, maimed or killed by the church, or by the state, or by the church-run state, or state-run church (it all gets so convoluted since Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and many other “reformers” who left Catholicism continued to rely on state powers for the prosecution of heretics).

And on the issue of sola scriptura, Hubmaier again pushed a crazy agenda – that the Bible alone should be the authority in regards to God’s pattern for the church and for the individual believer’s life. He often used nothing but Scripture in his debates with leaders who relied as much on the writings of church leaders and fathers as they did on the inspired testaments.

Hubmaier was a pacifist, but not entirely so. Though he opposed war, he did recognize the allowance that Scripture made for military defense, but clarified that this power rested in government alone and never in the church, and further that military might should never be a means of imperialism, even in the name of “converting the heathen to Christianity.”

Hubmaier wasn’t perfect in his theology by any means, ever-clinging to his belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary and a few other odd details, but on the whole, he looked like a modern-day Baptist.

His death was, like so many others, a sad testament to a portion of Christian history that we may as well be brutally honest about. He was killed by Christian leaders in Austria because of his beliefs about baptism and because he baptized Zwinglian adults who converted to his teachings. Yep. Jesus is perfect, but His bride can have a nasty side. As Patheos bloggers Fred Sanders writes,

Balthasar Hubmaier (born around 1480) was martyred on March 10, 1528. Hubmaier was trained in Roman Catholic theology on the eve of the Reformation, earning a doctorate with the Johann Eck who would later be on the front line of attacking Luther. He became convinced of Protestant doctrines and allied himself with the Zwinglians at Zurich. As he continued his studies, he became convinced that water baptism is for adult believers, not babies.

It’s hard to remember how radical this view, believer’s baptism, was considered to be back in the sixteenth century. If you became “baptist,” you were considered not just doctrinally wrong or unpopular, but a positive danger to the foundations of civic order in Christendom: an enemy of the state. The Roman Catholic church and the Protestant churches agreed that you should repent or die; the best you could hope for was exile from established civilization. Hubmaier himself had the distinction of being imprisoned and tortured in Zwingli’s Zurich as well as in Catholic Vienna.

When placed on trial, Hubmaier prepared a careful statement that emphasized the common beliefs held by all Christians. But he was burned at the stake for the handful of points that deviated from the consensus of the day.

via Fred Sanders’ Patheos blog

So many of my Baptist friends claim that our traditions must be rooted in the Reformation or else we have no roots at all. To this I would say, first of all, that what matters most is our doctrinal, practical, and missional alignment with the church as it is found in the New Testament, even if nineteen hundred hears of total heresy had to be skipped. But I would also say, read up on the radical reformers and the anabaptists of six hundred-ish years ago and I think you’ll find some fathers with whom you identify well.

As it stands in the present, in 2013, the church has spoken about whom she hails as a hero. Unequivocal proof is found on Facebook, of course, by looking at the “likes.” At present, it’s:

So here’s your chance to help an pretty cool old dead theologian out…

And you may also want to read more. Start with his entry in the Anabaptist-Mennonite Encyclopedia.

Happy First Birthday, Grace Hills!

Northwest Arkansas is a fantastic place to call home, and thousands of people are calling it home for the first time, many of whom don’t have a relationship with Jesus. So a year ago, Grace Hills Church launched publicly to reach people far from God. In that first year, thirty people went public with their newfound faith in Christ through baptism – a moment we celebrate big-time at Grace Hills.

Here’s a brief video snapshot…

What will our second year bring? I’ve already written recently about why 2013 is going to rock at Grace Hills, and to celebrate its kickoff, we baptized two more new believers this past weekend, in 25 degree weather, outside, in cold water!!

As Kelsey put it…

 

That never gets old! And that’s what I pray 2013 looks like all year long!!

I want to take a little space here to publicly thank the people who have given to make this first year happen.

Thank you! Thank you ! Thank you!! And may the next year be the best ever for the sake of souls!

The Priceless Privilege of Baptizing My Daughter

Rather than writing a lengthy post about this huge moment in my daughter’s life (and mine and Angie’s as well), I thought I’d just let you watch the video and hear my comments. I’m quite thankful that family and friends at a distance can enjoy this video. Two things to notice. On her way down the steps, she panics for just a second and says, “I don’t want to today…” But she never stops smiling. Then, we’re not sure what was up with her feeling of paralysis at the end, but it also gave us a good laugh.


Ella’s Baptism from Brandon Cox on Vimeo.

Three Years And Counting!

I love being the Pastor of Bethel Baptist Church. This past Sunday marked three years that my family and I have been serving here and as I said from the pulpit last night, God has blessed us so far beyond what we deserve! We’ve come to love and know the people here and we’ve built a trust-relationship with them. They appreciate the Word of God and they show appreciation for their leadership. I am so humbled by them!

Yesterday was an awesome day. We closed out our Sunday School class called Marriage Matters and I think all the couples were challenged to deepen our love for each other. We had a great attendance as both morning services felt fairly full and Sunday evening was a great crowd as well. The music in all three services was probably the best I’ve experienced since coming here.

Before church a boy named Wesley came with his Mom to tell me about how he’d asked Jesus to be his Savior on Thursday night and that he was ready to be baptized. When I asked when, his Mom said, “aren’t you baptizing today?” So yes, we baptized two in water much warmer than the week before when a valve issue caused our baptistery to be 53 degrees.

As an added bonus, I ate “chicken over the coals” at the historic AQ Chicken House in Springdale. By day’s end, everyone kept talking about how they had really felt the presence of the Spirit of God in our services. I pondered the fact that we use that term sometimes without explaining it. We believe that the Holy Spirit takes up residence and lives personally in the heart of every believer, so when we gather together in corporate worship and we are all mutually submissive to God and to each other, His presence may be felt in a very real way by believers. It is this powerful presence of God that makes the difference in a winning Sunday and a normal one.

I thank God for all the winning Sundays we’ve had at Bethel, and I look forward to experiencing more of them for the years to come!