I was very young, barely 23 years of age, when I was called to serve as the pastor of a wonderful church in the western foothills of Maine.  It still shocks me when I think about how much that church family was willing to risk in hiring such a “green horn.”  South Paris Baptist Church had over 110 years under their belt when they hired me.  I followed in the footsteps of a long line of notoriously good pastors.  So, I worked hard.  Probably much harder than was necessary. 

One of the simplest projects I undertook in the first couple of years was the purchase of a new illuminated church sign that would direct our neighbours to our front door.  It was a simple statement to the town that the church was “open for business.”  That experience became a life lesson for me in shaping ministry philosophy because of a conversation I had with one of our church members.

The first words I posted on the sign when it was installed was, “ALL ARE WELCOME.” Those words reflected a conviction that still resides in my heart.  A great Christian gentleman quietly questioned me on the words that I posted that day.  He wasn’t a rabble-rouser.  He was by no means a critic.  As I look back, I think he was gently guiding a young pastor to think through the implications of those words.  Do you mean it?  Are you ready for what it could mean?  What are the reasonable boundaries that have to be set on “all”?  After all, the church is founded on the teachings of Jesus.  If you reject His Word, why would you want to be a member of His church?  I also think that Mr. Wright was wisely encouraging me to understand the limits of church life. 

ALL ARE WELCOME summarizes one of the core tenets of the Church.  We exist to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”  I know what you are thinking.  The “Great Commission,” as it is commonly called, instructs us to “go into all the world.”  Going into all the world simply means to invite the world to answer Jesus’ call.  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11)  We can’t possibly fulfill the mission of Jesus by restricting the audience to those who only believe. 

One of the books I treasure most in my library is titled “Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism. The Battle for Gospel Preaching.”  One of the quotes in that book grips me every time I read it.  It was preached as one of Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle Sermons.   He said during that sermon that “I know the Lord has blessed my appeals to all sorts of sinners and none shall stay me in giving free invitations as long as I find them in this Book.”  

ALL ARE WELCOME to attend City Centre Baptist. ALL ARE WELCOME to hear the Word of God being preached each Sunday. ALL ARE WELCOME, in the words of Jesus Himself, to “repent and believe the Gospel.”  If you come to Jesus in repentance and faith, He Himself promises, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”  And finally, keep in mind that He is “patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

I’m so glad He included you and me!

Pastor Deric


I taught Mark 7:1-23 recently. This is the text where the Pharisees and Scribes challenged Jesus because His disciples did not “hold to the traditions of the elders.” They were eating with “unwashed hands” which, in the tradition of the elders, is considered defilement. This subject is close to my heart for two reasons. (1) My own journey of faith has taught me that we all fall prey to the danger of legalism to some degree. (2) As a leader of a disciple making missionary movement in our local church, I must consciously root out the traces of legalism that lingers in our experience of unmerited grace.

Let me give you 4 warning signs about the danger of legalism:

1. You elevate tradition over truth: Luke 7:1-5
The Mishnah, a compilation of Jewish oral laws made at the end of the second century a.d. says, “Tradition is a fence around the law.” By the time of Jesus, the elders had developed hundreds of laws that simply became absurd. For example, a person could not wear their false teeth on Shabbat in case they fell out, and they would be tempted to pick them up, which would be considered “labour.” The truth is that “tradition” per se is not the problem. It’s when a tradition becomes more important that the truth of God’s Word. When church canons including the rulings of counsels, committees and clergy override the plain teaching of the Bible, we’ve moved into legalism that chokes grace to death. As an evangelical I can sadly attest to knowing lots of professing Christians who are more fired up about their church “constitutions” than they are the teachings of Jesus.

2. You value appearance over reality: v.6-7

Jesus exposed another sign of legalism. He called it “vain worship.” Vain worship, according to Jesus, is worshipping with our lips while our hearts are far from God. A cataclysmic rupture between the words of our mouths and the state of our hearts is a sure sign that legalism has injected its deadly poison into our soul. Worship in many local churches has become vain and hypocritical because it’s not much more than a religious show. God’s truth can change your heart but not as long as you value how you look over the truth.


3. You prefer legalism over love: v.8-13

Legalism is a manipulation of truth, which is what makes it so deadly. Truth is altered just enough to exalt man’s interpretation of the Law over the Law itself while still appearing to honor the Law. Legalism enables you to appear spiritual while not actually loving the people God commands you to honor. Legalism enables people to claim obedience without facing the truth of God’s Law. Legalism finds a way around God’s truth while appearing to uphold it.


4. You choose law over grace: v.15-23

Legalism is a cover up for the true guilt that we carry in our hearts. Jesus taught the depravity of the human heart in verses 20-23. The list is gruesome. “Evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.

But Jesus’ reason for highlighting the evil in our hearts was to elevate His reason for coming to the earth: a radical change is needed, and legalism/moralism can’t bring it. There is no power in the world which can make a bad heart good. But Jesus can give us the “new birth” and make us a “new creation” (John 3:3; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Jesus came to do what the Law could not do by offering relationship over ritual. God’s plan all along has been restored relationship with you. Reject legalism and embrace grace, which is to say turn to Jesus, come to Jesus and receive Jesus by faith. Let Him set you free from legalism and baptize you in His grace.

Stay strong in grace church family,

Pastor Deric