Taking Me Out of Pastoral Legalism (Thank You, Cecil)


Thank you, Cecil, for patiently taking me out of my pastoral legalism.

We live in a microwave society. What you want things immediately. If they don’t come immediately, then we go to the other extreme and become so despondent, that life becomes almost unbearable. And sadly enough, we don’t recognize the issues of our own heart that’s causing this impatience and, thus, start blaming other people for not moving in our timing.

It’s a form of legalism. How so? Legalism this when we began to impose a law on someone else in order for them to be righteous. The Pharisees expressed a form of legalism in which they took a diluted law of Moses , and impose it on the people for them to approve they’re righteousness before God and before them. If they did not rise to their standard, they would be mocked, ridiculed, and possibly excommunicated from the temple.

When pastors are impatient, they are usually impatient because they have a set of changes that they wish to implement quickly, but if this is too fast for the culture of the church, the impatient pastor does not look inside to shepherd the People at a good pace, but looks outwardly with chagrin that those who are not following his pastoral pace. Thus, impatient  pastor sees them as the ones to blame for not following his lead,, when the shepherds are to lead one step ahead of the Sheep, and not 10 or 100.

About four years ago, I visited my former church for a funeral recently. It had been two and half years since I’d visited the church , and I had the opportunity to see my old church family and bring back some precious memories of that time.

But I also remember my impatience coming out of seminary. I had studied under the finest theological minds on the planet. I was ready to use all of my knowledge and impart it on the very fortunate congregation that called me pastor.

I shudder to this day on my first two years there.  Early 30s and knew everything.

My friend Cecil Short, the one who lost his wife at that funeral, took me under his wing and showed me so much about being a pastor. Cecil lived just up the road from the church. I remembered a conversation we had soon after I came about him thinking of stepping down as a deacon.  Why? His age.  I told him, “Cecil, I need your wisdom. Please stay on.” And gratefully, he did, and for eight years, we served Jesus together in that little town outside of Lexington, Kentucky.  And anytime I found myself in a pickle or just needing to vent, I would come to his house, Ann would bring me a Diet Mountain Dew, and we’d sit on the back porch and sort it all out.

Yes, he was a deacon. No he was not a pastor or preacher. No, he wasn’t belligerent in how he taught me. He simply questioned, made me think, offered general advice when I came to his house almost in tears as to why the church wasn’t  following my lead.

He showed me how to love, to be patient, and that pastor meant shepherding and caring, not just expecting others to follow my lead because I had the title.

Thank you, Cecil.  You are my friend who is over 40 years my senior.  Thanks for shaping that green pastor patiently and modeling a patience for me. I’ll never, ever forget you, Ann, your sweet family, and how patient you were with me.

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Beware Before You Share: Starbucks, Worldviews, and Jumping to Conclusions

Across the Facebook landscape, I came across a ‘share’ in my newsfeed that said, “Starbucks CEO: If You Support Traditional Marriage, We Don’t Want Your Business.”  In fact, many others who are friends of mine brought this to my attention, with the understanding that if this is what Starbucks believes and thinks, we shall take our business elsewhere. (I confess, I even forwarded this article before I read the whole thing.)

But let’s notice something about this article.

  1. The title in the headline by Victor Medina (at the website “Restoring Liberty: Published by Joe Miller) does not contain quotes, meaning that Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, did not say this.  This serves as an example of journalists who use this tactic to get traffic.  It worked.  But the problem is, Schultz did not say this exactly.  Beware of jumping to conclusions.
  2. As you read the article, which links to the original Forbes.com article, you see that, yes, Schultz does hold to the same-sex ‘marriage’ agenda, we see the true thrust of the article.  Schultz was confronted by a shareholder who had a problem with Schultz gay ‘marriage’ stance, and this led to a decline in profits.  The article points to a Huffington Post article noting that the shareholder, Tom Strobhar, the founder of the anti-gay marriage Corporate Morality Action Center.  The article does not say whether Strobhar’s issue was with the moral stance or the financial profits (or lack thereof).
  3. In response, Schultz gives the figures, acknowledging the boycott by Starbucks customers and the affect it had on profits.  But he went on:  ““Not every decision is an economic decision. Despite the fact that you recite statistics that are narrow in time, we did provide a 38% shareholder return over the last year. I don’t know how many things you invest in, but I would suspect not many things, companies, products, investments have returned 38% over the last 12 months. Having said that, it is not an economic decision to me. The lens in which we are making that decision is through the lens of our people. We employ over 200,000 people in this company, and we want to embrace diversity. Of all kinds.”
  4. At the end of the day, Schultz response was to this particular shareholder and all shareholders, concluding:  “If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38% you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares in Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.”  I hope you can see that this is different than saying, “Traditional marriage advocates are not welcomed at Starbucks.”  He’s saying, “This is where we stand.  If you are investing in this company and do not agree with this stance, you are welcomed to invest elsewhere.”  This is in essence what traditional marriage advocate companies such as Hobby Lobby, Chick-Fil-A, and Domino’s say as well–this is where they stand.

Regardless of which side of the argument you are on, we must beware before you share. Take time to read through an article before you jump to conclusions.  If Howard Schultz’s stand is something you as a consumer do not agree with, sure, let them know with your patronage (or lack thereof) where you stand.  And he is doubling down on his stance in this matter.

Let’s just make sure we are conveying accurately what’s being said so we have the whole picture.

The Most Neglected Piece in our Christian Walk

When it comes to our Christian walk, four foundational matters must be in place: 

  • The person of Christ as our cornerstone, 
  • The pages of Scripture (the Bible),
  • The people of God (that is, the church), and
  • Lastly but not leastly, prayer.  

James and Joel Beeke rightly define prayer as:

Prayer is the act of forging a connection between two specific points: our human needs and the resources of God offered us in Christ.  You can start at either point, and reach to the other in prayer. 

Another said that prayer should be like breathing. As breathing is the response of physical life to the presence of air, so prayer should be the response of spiritual life to the presence of God.  

Sadly, many in the Western Church (by that, I mean, those in Europe, the US, and in Canada) where so many advances and conveniences come in abundance, prayer comes all too infrequently. There’s a story of a brother of a seminary student who came to visit him one day.  Unsure of directions, he turned to the first person who passed by and asked, “Is this Davidson Hall?” On hearing the man described later, the seminary student asked his brother if he had realized that he had been talking to a world-famous theologian. The brother couldn’t believe it. He had the opportunity to ask *any* question—and he asked only where a building was.

Isn’t that how we pray? We talk to God for matters that are really small and insignificant.

As we go through 1 and 2 Timothy to look at rebooting our church and our lives, Paul is getting to the brass tacks of what a church should look like. In order for a church to reboot, then, churches need to reconnect with their designer.  Jesus is the Designer of this machine. He told His disciples, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Jesus’ life and teaching was filled with prayer. Yes, the Son of God, God the Son, devoted much of his personal time to prayer. If Jesus did, then what about us?

Using ‘Stewardship’ in the Right Way in our Churches

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Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to[a] a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,[b] 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher,12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me (2 Timothy 1:8-12, ESV).

Many times, we use the word ‘stewardship’ in , but 1 Timothy uses the word ‘stewardship’ to refer to a guarding of the gospel.

What are some substitutes:

  1. Assets. Many churches (even ours) have a Stewardship Team and a Board of Directors.  The former seeks to help steward the finances of the church and the board of directors stewards the properties and legal documents of the church. None of these are problematic. What we must guard against is believing that the ideal stewardship is being to free or too strict with our assets to where the filter for moving forward is how these items are affected. “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof”–and that means that the assets any church holds is His for the purpose of moving the Great Commandment and Great Commission forward.
  2. Numbers.  By ‘numbers,’ I mean members and attendance. Anything that negatively affects this is discarded.  If a proposal, whether biblical or practical (and, by the way, those are not mutually exclusive), may cause people (1) to be overly upset, or (2) cause members to leave, then the proposal is discarded.  Granted, leaders must have wisdom in making and presenting such proposals, but the idolatry of numbers creeps into the thinking and ‘doing’ of a church that this becomes the end-all, be-all of church life.
  3. Reputation.  A church in our area is dying.  They have a beautiful piece of property, beautiful building, and about 20 people attending whose average age is around 75. Another church plant came along to propose they merge in order for more effectiveness in reaching South Denver for Jesus. Someone even proposed that, after the merger, they would change the name as a sign of restarting their mission.  They older church voted no.  “We are ______________________ Baptist Church, and that’s what we will stay.”  Some are more in love with the reputation and history of the church than they are to Jesus.

Christ entrusted the deposit of the gospel to His church.  Assets aren’t good in and of themselves, but entrusted to us in order to make the Great Commission and Great Commandment a reality.

God provides people not simply to fill our pews, but for investing and sending to their friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors.

God provides one sole reputation: loving God, loving neighbor, making disciples.  For me, I can be so in love with all that is ARBC that, believe it or not, Jesus is not enough and is set off to the side.

What are some other things in our churches that we steward that are substitutes of the main stewardship of the gospel?

How Church Covenants Help Christians in Spiritual Warfare

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Paul had a lot to say about the conscience.  When he urged Timothy to straighten out the doctrinal mess in Ephesus, he said, “The aim of our charge is love which issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).  When outlining the qualifications of an elder in 1 Timothy 3, one qualification was to “hold to the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience” (3:9).  In 2 Timothy 1:3, Paul said that “He served… with a clear conscience.”

Andy Naselli wrote an excellent book on the nature of the conscience of a Christian:

If God, the Lord of your conscience, shows you through his Word that your conscience is registering a mistaken moral judgment and you believe he wants you to adjust your conscience to better match his will, your conscience must bend to God.  Do you remember the principle, “To obey God is better than men” (Acts 5:29)? That holds true even when that man happens to be you!  You must obey God rather than yourself. You must obey God rather than your conscience. If your conscience is so sacrosanct that it’s off-limits even to God, that’s idolatry. … Whenever “obey conscience” collides with “obey God,” “obey God” must come out on top every time. Thankfully, a Christian with a well-calibrated conscience will rarely have to make this choice.

Churchgoers who rarely read the Scriptures, however, will seldom struggle with their conscience. Many deceive themselves in believing that their conscience and calling of course matches up with God’s. But when you read something in the Scriptures that doesn’t line up with your thinking—does Scripture have to bow the knee to your philosophies, or vice versa?

Alexander and Hymanaeus’ conscience went bad.  In fact, their consciences were seared to where they didn’t even care about Christ and His Word, or the covenant they had made with their family of faith. They rejected the warfare.  They let go to the wrong thing and held on to the wrong thing. They shipwrecked the faith in their hearts.  They rejected God’s accountability but also the accountability of their church and leadership.

I’m going to ask you to pray for a particular matter in  helping each other wage the good warfare. I ask you to pray because we certainly want to move forward in God’s will and wisdom in regards to a specific matter.

… in regard to a church covenant. Our by-laws were changed at a recent business meeting to allow for a more clear and stringent outlining of when problems arise between a member and staff or between staff and staff.  One of the matters in there dealt with the breaking of a covenant.

That got me to thinking: does ARBC have a covenant?   It does, that Connie found in the bottom of a drawer that was likely dated in the 1960s.

Churches need three robust and functioning documents:

  •  a statement of faith (which we have),
  • a church covenant between members and church (which is outdated), and
  • a Constitution and By-Laws which deals with day-to-day managerial matters.

Here’s one definition of a church covenant:

The church covenant is equal parts promise, summary of expectations, ethical statement, and biblical standard. We summarize how we promise to live together in the covenant. It forms the ethics, or the moral principles, of our worldview and holds out a biblical standard by which we live. Our acceptance of this multifaceted document follows the practice of believers throughout the centuries who have pledged to God and one another to live out the gospel in community.

Clearly in the NT, Jesus and Paul outline the need for church discipline as an act of love.  Matt Perry didn’t come up with it. A seminary professor didn’t come up with it. But Jesus and His servant Paul came up with it. Certain teachings and conduct do not belong among those who name the name of Christ.  We want to protect the flock, but we also call out significant issues that arise to help folks repent.  Over the years, many in neighborhoods know about those who live like the devil Monday-Saturday, but try to polish off their halo on Sunday.

Membership is not a name on a roll, but a covenant we make to God, to the pastors of a church, and to each other.  Because of what Jesus and Paul outline in the NT, we at ARBC need to take steps to adhere to a covenant of membership that outlines biblical standards, ethics, and expectations of members. It’s an accountability and a pledge we make to each other to help our comrades in arms who have already enlisted in the Lord’s army to help each other fight sin and stay strong in our walk with Jesus.

Why Pastors Fail To Take The Mantle of Authority

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Sadly, few who are in leadership positions in our churches actually lead our churches. Spurgeon noted in his Lectures to My Students that the pulpit is often called “Coward’s Castle.” This is true. Yet, with a false sense of humility, many pastors hesitate to lead from the pulpit. Part of the problem is giving in to the culture’s hatred and hesitancy of authority figures, especially in the church. Part of the problem too is that pastors need to show the same type of leadership and personality in the pulpit as well as outside of it.

In an age where prevalent and influential preachers reject the mantle of “preaching the word” as a herald and would rather have a conversation with the congregants as a way to connect, we can see why the church has turned into a wishy-washy institution with little power but a whole lot of opinion and conjecture.

The commentator John Jason Owen elaborates:

Teaching is a part of the duty of the herald of salvation. Not only are men to be taught the way of salvation, and thus be brought to Christ, but also after conversion, they are to be instructed in the duties and obligations of the gospel, and prepared for usefulness on earth, and the enjoyment of Christ in heaven.

What are these pastors to do with Hebrews 13:17 when the writer urges the Jewish Christians to:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Obey? Submit? Yes! God has established authority in the church for the good of our souls. Pastors, you are going to have to give an account for your souls. So does the Apostle Paul tell Timothy, “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2)! That’s a command — an imperative! They follow you as their leader not due to your leadership abilities, but based on what we see in Hebrews 13:7:

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

Pastors must (1) speak the Word of God through teaching and preaching, (2) live out what they preach.  At our church, we remind each other that “Monday through Saturday counts just as much as Sunday.” That’s not just a slogan passed down from the preacher to the parishioners. Preachers need to heed this as well.

Lead, pastors! Lead! Study! Pray! Praise! Thank! Compel! Motivate! Urge! Plead! Implore! Exhort! Rebuke! Challenge! Love! Model! Live it!  Just read the pastoral epistles and see! Don’t shy away! Spurgeon says again in his Lectures: 

The word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, and therefore you can leave the word of God to wound and kill, and need not be yourselves cutting in phrase and manner. God’s truth is searching: leave it to search the hearts of men without offensive additions from yourself.

Trust Christ!  Trust His Word!  Jesus is enough to provide the strength and courage to do so.

The priority of your pastor

From Mark Dever’s and Paul Alexander’s work: “The Deliberate Church” (Crossway, 2005)

When I was interviewing with Capitol Hill Baptist Church before they called me to be their pastor, someone asked me if I had a program or plan to implement for growth. Perhaps to this person’s surprise . . . I responded that I didn’t really have any great plans or programs to implement. I was just armed with four P’s – I would preach, pray, develop personal discipling relationships, and be patient.

Maybe even more surprising to some, I said that I was happy to see
every aspect of my public ministry fail if it needed to . . . except
for the preaching of God’s Word. Now what kind of a thing is that for
a pastoral candidate to say to a church? What I wanted to get across was that there’s only one thing that’s biblically necessary for
building the church, and that’s the preached Word of God. Others could do every other duty, but only I was responsible and set apart by the congregation for the public teaching of God’s Word. This would be the fountain of our spiritual life, both as individuals and as a
congregation.

God’s Word has always been His chosen instrument to create, convict, convert, and conform His people. . . .

The Gospel is God’s way of giving life to dead sinners – and to dead
churches (Ezek. 37:1-14). He doesn’t have another way. If we want to
work for renewed life and health and holiness in our churches, then we must work for it according to God’s revealed mode of operation.
Otherwise we risk running in vain. God’s Word is His supernatural
power for accomplishing His supernatural work. That’s why our
eloquence, innovations, and programs are so much less important than we think; that’s why we as pastors must give ourselves to preaching, not programs; and that’s why we need to be teaching our congregations
to value God’s Word over programs. Preaching the content and intent of
God’s Word is what unleashes the power of God on the people of God,
because God’s power for building His people is in His Word,
particularly as we find it in the Gospel (Rom. 1:16). God’s Word
builds His church. So preaching His Gospel is primary.

Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, The Deliberate Church: Building Your
Ministry on the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), p. 33, 35.

A smile! Such a simple thing!

[Originally written back in December 2005.]

As you may know, I have three month old twin boys who are unbelievable blessings to our household. And they have acquired a habit, though, that indeed brightens up the house even more.

They have learned to smile!

No, really. These are legitimate responses to whatever ridiculous mannerisms we send their way — and it amazes me how it helps our moods. For instance, I have battled the flu for the last two days and found myself in bed trying to sleep that foul filth off! When I finally emerged from my quarantine, I was needed to hold one of the twins. I noticed that he had seemed to grow in the past two days and had even changed some facial features. Now, when I told him this in that baby talk we parents tend to do, he did it! He smiled — grinning from ear to ear!!!

Now, let’s take the simple principle of a smile and put it to, say, church! When someone new comes to visit, do you greet them with a smile? When your pastor preaches a strong word, do you smile? When you sing a song that blesses your heart or even convicts you, do you smile at God’s working in your life?

Sadly, many of our churches have folks who sit in the pews with such dour looks on their faces, often times we have to check in front of the pulpit to see if there is a coffin!! When we lose the joy in worship and in hearing the Word and in singing His songs and fellowshipping with His people, I fear for our spiritual condition!

Acts 2:42-47
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. [43] And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. [44] And all who believed were together and had all things in common. [45] And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. [46] And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, [47] praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

There is an unspoken joy detailed in the early church of Acts 2. They couldn’t get enough of the Lord nor of helping each other! Their praise was such that it made a racket to all those in the surrounding area — so much so that the authorities tried to stop them! They did not grumble having to come week to week, for they met “day by day!” And God did mighty works among them and “awe came upon every soul.”

But the main issue was that they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). All the other things happened as a result of these things. They listened to the Word, they encouraged one another in fellowship, and they communed with God in prayer! When these things are in place, God moves!

Are they in place in amongst your people? Let us pray that this be the case in 2006!

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