Pastoral Letter #6 In This Present Distress

Praise the Lord! In God’s kind Providence we are now able to resume meeting for gathered Lord’s Day worship. We will, of course, communicate and attempt to follow the Government guidelines on “strict social distancing” and the Health Department’s protocols. We do this for multiple reasons but primarily out of love for one another and to love our neighbors well. In fact, in a couple of areas for safety concerns we are expanding those Government guidelines (i.e. instead of every other pew we will be using every third pew). And while not mandating masks we certainly encourage you to feel free to wear your mask and we will also provide disposable masks for any who so desires to use one during worship. Pastorally, if you are wearing a mask, let me encourage you to feel free to use it in a way that allows you to participate and gives you comfort. The Health Department is concerned about those who are older than 65—if you fall into this category, please know you have the freedom to continue to worship by live streaming. Again, there is no mandate for those 65 or older to refrain from gathered worship—as you will fully note when you guess the age of your preaching pastor on Sunday—simply use wisdom as to your present health condition. For details do consult The Briarwood Interim Worship/Ministry Plan C which you have already received from our Executive Pastor, Bruce Stallings.

Another Pastoral word would be how do we “greet one another.” May I ask you to consider two things? First, we are limiting our services to one hour in order to accommodate three worship services on Sunday morning and secure enough time to disinfect the Worship Center and restrooms as well as vacate the parking lot. So, may I ask the 8:00 and 9:30 service attendees to please move directly to your cars after the service? Secondly, what about greeting? My Pastoral encouragement is for you to learn the value of a gracious wave and the “socially distant” Christian hug/handshake. In other words, stay at least six feet away and do a “virtual” handshake/hug. But praise the Lord we will be able to see one another, worship with one another and verbally encourage one another!

Adjusting to our new Interim Worship/Ministry Plan C will take some time and I am sure we will improve each week in what we do and how we do it. So, thanks for your patience. We will wait to resume our Sunday PM Worship and Sunday School Communities but we anticipate their return as soon as possible. In the meantime, the Sunday School Communities will continue their Zoom meetings and our Sunday 6:00 PM “Conversations with Harry and Bruce” will continue for the near future. Please feel free to send your Biblical, Doctrinal, or practical questions to us for our response. Our Community Pastors and Shepherding Teams will continue to reach out through all of the means available for contact as we move forward. By the way, weddings and funerals are now permissible but will be done with the same protocols as the worship services.

I am so appreciative of your thoughtful encouragement, communications, intercessory prayers and faithful giving. I don’t know all the Lord is doing through this “present distress” but I do know He has multiple purposes and is at work.  

Finally, with the conclusion of our Interim Worship/Ministry Plan B we have also concluded the 7-part series, “Crisis and the Christian in Biblical Perspective.” As we move to Interim Worship/Ministry Plan C we are beginning a new interim topical expository series, The Apostles’ Creed in Biblical Perspective. The testimonies of personal, marital, and family spiritual renewal in the Lord have been inspiring.  With the Session’s approval, I have been led to do this series for the summer to enable and encourage our grasp of the “Foundations of our Faith.” Each element of the Apostles’ Creed will be identified and the Biblical text that defines it. This ancient Creed has instructed, inspired and served as an instrument in the worship and witness of Christ’s church for almost 2000 years. Remember “sound lives” come from “sound doctrine” and The Apostles’ Creed is a sound distillation of essential truths believed by all true Christians from which a life that brings glory to God can be built with confidence.

Anticipating this Lord’s Day and being with the Lord’s people…socially distanced, physically present and spiritually engaged.

Blessings,
Pastor Reeder

Pastoral Letter #5 in this “Present Distress”

Dear Church Family,

Grace and peace. Before I go any further, I would like to thank all of you for your kind encouragement, comments, sacrificial giving and patience as we work through this “present distress” together. I also praise the Lord for how you are taking advantage of this crisis to manifest the love of Christ, share the Gospel and connect people through the various electronic means we are using to proclaim the Gospel of Christ in both evangelism and discipleship. 

I know many of you listened to Governor Ivey’s latest Press Conference on April 28th addressing the State of Alabama as to how we will proceed in dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic under the Federal Guidelines which have been established as our framework by our elected officials. As you are aware a number of businesses are now being allowed to reopen and function within “social distancing” limitations. You are also likely aware that our Governor and her pastor, Dr. Wolf, spoke directly to the issue of churches. At the moment we are being directed to continue our present course of ministry by making use of either live-streaming or drive-up worship services enhanced by other electronic/technological ministry initiatives. Furthermore, we were also informed that the reason we are required to continue limiting our worship services to ten (10) or less is because our State has not yet met the ”Gating Criteria” required to move to Phase 1 of our President’s “Opening Up America Again” Plan which was announced last week. Specifically, our State has not yet established a 14-day statistical downturn of COVID-19 reported cases. It does seem as if we are on track and it may not be long until we can move into Phase I which would allow us to pursue enlarged worship attendance parameters under established strict “social distancing” guidelines. Phase I would also continue to encourage those who are vulnerable or health impaired to avoid large crowds.

All of this means that we anticipate a worship/ministry change in the near future. So, under the leadership of our Session we are now working on “The Briarwood Worship/Ministry Interim Plan C” which we would be able to implement in a timely fashion as soon as our State goes into Phase I of the President’s Reopening Plan. In the meantime, we are making our case that within the guidelines of “social distancing” our Lord’s Church needs to be open for ministry as soon as possible for the well-being of our citizens.

Let me say that I do believe our National, State and Local Guidelines in response to the Coronavirus situation needs to be examined for future beneficial refinement but for right now my/our focus is “to love our neighbors” well, follow Romans 13 with appropriate submission to the Civil Magistrates unless the Lord’s Church is intentionally hindered in its commitment to faithfully obey Christ. Furthermore, we must be engaged in fervent prayer for those in authority over us, our fellow citizens and for our Lord to Providentially use this “present distress” to do beyond what “we could imagine or think” for His Glory, the Salvation of the lost and our growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ. 

Finally, I would also again like to thank the Briarwood Pastoral Staff, Elders, Deacons and the entire Church Family for your patient, sacrificial and Christ-honoring response to this “present distress.” I do not want to fall into the sin of pride but I do believe there is room for “sanctified pride” that gives praise to God. Therefore, with praise to God I would like to say how proud I am of all of you in the Lord! It is a privilege to serve our Savior with each one of you.

So, my educated guess is that another letter communicating our “Interim Worship/Ministry Plan C” will be coming soon. Pray for all who are working hard to know what to do and how to do it so we can accomplish our God-given Mission—”For God’s Glory, Briarwood is committed to equipping Christian to worship God to reach Birmingham to reach the world for Christ” unhindered and with effectiveness by His grace and for His Glory.

Blessings,
Pastor Reeder

A Pastor’s Cares about the “Cares Act 2020”

It is safe to say I have been deluged with questions for pastoral counsel regarding how Christians should respond to the “Cares Act 2020” and with the recently increased resources provided to enlarge it, the questions have unsurprisingly intensified. But, by far the most asked question has been, “Should churches apply for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)?” We have been assured by members of the present Administration and by highly competent Christian lawyers that there is no legal reason not to apply nor are there any “hidden traps” if you do apply. So, should we or should we not apply? My counsel—No, do not apply. This begs the next question, “Why not?”

I fully recognize that we need to give one another latitude and the judgment of charity as we work through this issue. But my counsel remains—“No, do not apply.” Here are seven reasons why. But to be clear that while these reasons are determinative for our Session the reality is Briarwood and its ministries likely would not qualify anyway. But, if we did, here are the seven reasons we would not apply.

  1. Ethical—More than one leader from different churches has said, “Pastor, this is ‘free money. It would be bad stewardship not to apply for it.” My answer is—There is no such thing as “free money” just like there is no such thing as a “free lunch.” The Bible clearly teaches that economic wealth has to be created and even wealth that is given was first created and like the proverbial “free lunch” ultimately comes with expectations.

In this case the “money” being distributed has two sources of origin. The first is taxation. The money is being drawn from taxes that either have been paid or the anticipation of taxes which will be paid. The second source is money now being printed. In reality, it is being printed at a rate far beyond the “stimulus bill” passed by the previous Administration as a means to fund a “stimulus” initiative. Printed money is not “free money” either. It adds to our national debt which will be passed on to our children and our children’s children to be paid in the future. So how is this an ethical problem?

The fact is churches do not pay taxes and that is for a specific reason. The reason churches are not taxed is not to provide a “government benefit” for churches but in recognition that the power to tax is the power to control. The Government is not Constitutionally allowed to control the Church. Therefore, the Government is not allowed to tax the Church nor does the Church tax the government. Furthermore, the Church is not to be underwritten or supported by the Government with the taxes of citizens paid to the government. This Reformation-initiated policy eventually codified in our Constitution is crucial to the well-being of the State and the Church which is why it is the “first” of the six affirmations identified in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

Simply put the money offered in this “Act” is based upon taxes paid now or will be paid in the future by citizens or their children. Churches have not and God-willing will not be paying taxes. The Church does not support “Caesar” and therefore ethically should not seek or receive support from “Caesar.” If it does, the Bible is clear—what “Caesar” supports, “Caesar” will eventually own. Therefore, we do not look to “Caesar” for the support of Christ’s Church but to Christ who supports His Church through the sacrificial giving and loving stewardship of His people.

  • Let me hasten to say that Christian Individuals and Christian business owners do and will pay taxes so I would simply say pastorally to them that they have the Christian liberty to seek the Lord’s “wisdom from above” and make wise and honest business decisions which honor the Lord, their families, employees and customers in determining whether or not they should take advantage of the provisions in the Cares Act.
  • Theological and Functional—The “Cares Act” gives two ways for “small businesses” who qualify to apply for relief. But whichever path is chosen it will be administered by the Federal Government through the “Small Business Administration” (SBA). The Church is not a “Business.” We are the Church. Does the church overlap with a right use of business policies and practices? Yes. But we are not a business. I do not know any of my colleagues in ministry who would not strenuously proclaim the unique message, ministry and means of ministry which Christ Himself has designed and ordained for His Church. So simply put if we are not a “business,” why would we apply for relief as a “business,” especially in light of the fact that we proclaim from our pulpits and in our Confessions that we are not a “business”?

Furthermore, why would we carelessly give the Government a mixed signal and in so doing set a precedent for a future Government/Administration to use our own actions to place us under SBA regulations specifically in the use of our facilities and Federal demands for compliance within our employment standards and policies?

  • Wisdom—While it is true that this present Administration has written the “Cares Act” with assurance that there will be no loss of “religious liberty,” it must be remembered that this Administration will eventually be replaced. In fact, the next Presidential election is only months away. And elections have consequences. Furthermore, it has become abundantly clear that the present “sexual revolution” is not looking for toleration but for capitulation. It has and will use Government power and authority to achieve its objectives by curtailing the “religious liberty” of individual Christians, Christian ministries and Churches unless prevented by law. So, if the Church seeks or receives support from the SBA oversight of the “Cares Act” and the SBA is on record as assigning civil rights to “sexual behavior” then the eventual Governmental invasion of employment policies and practices is virtually assured and now invited.
  • A Challenge and Opportunity—If the Lord’s Church appeals to the Government for support and relief then the Lord’s people will be “robbed” of an opportunity to be challenged in their stewardship to faithfully and sacrificially love and serve their Lord by giving to His Church for the fulfillment of its Mission/Purpose as His Church. This challenge/opportunity is not only one for giving but also one for budgetary evaluations. Perhaps there are various items that have crept into the life and therefore the budget of the church that not only can but perhaps should be removed. This “present distress” may be providing an occasion for such ministry and personnel auditing. Furthermore, this is an opportunity for those of us who receive “double honor” as pastors to willingly take reductions if necessary or become bi-vocational to assist in meeting the challenges and opportunities resulting from this “present distress”.
  • Legacy Testimonies—When God supplies the needs of His Church Providentially through the sacrificial giving of His people then, not only will they have personal testimonies but our churches will also have “legacy testimonies” of God’s faithfulness to proclaim to a watching world and to our children and their children’s children. These blessed “legacy stories” of God’s faithfulness and the sacrificial love of His people for Him and His Church will be a treasury of rich encouragement to be told for the generations to come.
  • Biblical Connectionalism—Not only does the Lord provide Providentially through the members and friends of a local church in moments like this but He also works through local churches ministering to one another. As He provides to one church, that church may be blessed with resources beyond its present needs and can then share with other churches. “Freely we have received…freely shall we give.”
  • Limited Resources and Loving our Neighbors—The “Cares Act” has limited resources available to “small businesses.” If we as Christian churches and ministries draw from it then those resources are further reduced and small businesses will be turned down and possibly close resulting in further job losses for their employees and services for their customers all of whom are our neighbors. Our Lord has promised to meet “our needs” and He has the resources to do so. Let’s leave government resources for those who are struggling in light of government guidelines that affected their businesses as we call upon the Lord to meet our needs “in Christ Jesus.”

As previously stated, I believe we need to be gracious with one another as we work our way through the decision of whether we should or should not participate in the “Cares Act” and this has been written in that spirit. But my final thought is simple. When our Savior gave the instruction to His Disciples “to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and the things that are God’s to God”, He provided an amazing principle that should be handled carefully in the richness of its multi-faceted implications and applications all of which are beyond the scope of this article. But one inescapable implication is that “Caesar” gives with expectations. Those who receive from Caesar will eventually be called upon to “render” back to Caesar.

“I will build my Church”

“My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus.”

Pastoral Letter #4 in this “Present Distress”

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Grace and Peace. I wanted to take a moment in my fourth pastoral letter, in this “Present Distress” to address a few items. The first is to thank everyone who worked so hard out of love for Christ and His church that enabled us to livestream all of the Holy Week services and the various zoom Bible studies and ministry videos to our church family. Your servant-heart and sacrificial-spirit is not only noted and appreciated but honoring to Christ and as we receive feedback has proven to be effective in exalting our Risen Redeemer.

Secondly, a number of you have contacted me concerning how worship and ministry will take place in the future in light of the President’s “Opening up America Again” plan and I have also received questions concerning whether Briarwood will be participating in the provision for churches through the “CARES ACT.” So, let me answer both of these questions.

First of all, the “Opening up America Again” plan by our President leaves much room for discretion and direction to the Governors of each state. In my humble opinion, this is both Constitutional and wise. But we now have to wait for direction from our Governor who has been very thoughtful concerning the essential nature of the ministry of the church for the well-being of our citizens. From her initial directive, we created the “Briarwood Interim Worship/Ministry Plan-A”. With the subsequent changing metrics, we had to go to “Plan B” so now we will be working on “Plan C.” The Elders, Deacons and Pastoral Staff have already created about five different options of our next interim plan. But until we hear from the Governor we will not be able to make a final decision. Please know as soon as we do we will use all of our means of communication to inform you.

Concerning Briarwood’s participation in the “Cares Act.” The Act provides an avenue to request financial relief for individuals, business owners and churches/non-profits. I have been asked if Briarwood will participate. The simple answer is “no” and there are multiple reasons why. The most obvious is technically we do not qualify according to the parameters of the Act. There are seven other reasons if we did qualify which would prohibit us from applying. I will not attempt to identify or explain these seven reasons in this letter, but it will in the next InPerpective blog to be published next week. I will do so to not only answer your question, but since I am continually getting phone calls with the same question from pastors and elders of other churches, this will enable us to provide one resource answer.

It is a joy to serve Christ with you. This Lord’s Day we will return to the fourth sermon in the series, “The Crisis and the Christian in Biblical Perspective”. We will examine the personal and national crisis faced by Nehemiah in chapter one and from that we will focus upon a foundational Biblical lesson for any Christian and in particular, Christian leaders to employ when faced with a crisis. The Lord is doing something in our day. I do not know all that He is doing but I do know He is Sovereign and is “causing all things to work tougher for good” in this “present distress.”

 With confidence in Christ and gratefulness for you,

Pastor Reeder

Holy Week Update

Dear Church family,

Grace and peace. Well, whoever declared that responding to the Coronavirus would be a fluid and evolutionary experience has never spoken anything more true or accurate. There are so many changing dynamics. By the way, I know “this present distress” is surfacing many questions. Please feel free to send those questions to  AskthePastor@briarwood.org and we will attempt to answer them on either the Sunday evening 6:00 pm program (Temporarily replacing the Sunday night service) “Conversations on this Present Distress with Harry and Bruce” or I will attempt to answer them on the 10 minute daily podcast “Today in Perspective.”

I know one of your questions. What about the special week in the life and ministry of Briarwood for worship, fellowship and outreach – Holy Week? We are going to maintain our Holy Week schedule in conformity to governmental guidelines and make it available through streaming. By the time you receive this letter you will have either already or will soon receive this week’s Briarwood Weekly by mail or email. In it you will find the Worship Guides for Palm Sunday and also Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Please save them or print them out for preparation and participation.

Now something very important. By Sessional direction the Communion element of Maundy Thursday is being postponed for two reasons. First, to maintain compliance with the governmental guidelines for safety purposes. Second is theological. Suffice it to say the Biblical and faithful administration of the Lord’s Supper cannot be done by “virtual communion” or “private administration.” The Scriptures are abundantly and repetitively clear that the sacraments of the Church especially the Lord’s Supper are to be observed, implemented and celebrated “when you come together” for a Divine service of gathered worship. Having said that, this service will focus on the events of Holy Week leading up to Maundy Thursday. In addition, we will display the Biblical Passover Supper with explanation of how the Lord fulfilled this last Passover and established the first Lord’s Supper in anticipation of the Lamb’s Supper in Revelation 19. Therefore, this service will be helpful for our preparation as we anticipate the celebrating the Lord’s Supper when we are again able to “come together” for gathered worship with one another.

The Worship Guides for the Easter Sunrise Service and the Lord’s Day Resurrection Celebration Services of Divine Worship at 8:00 and 10:55 am through live streaming will arrive at your home in this week’s Briarwood Weekly. We are exploring opportunities to make this a special season of celebration. Praise the Lord for the resurrection of our Savior affirming His victory over all of His and our enemies “to save us from our sins” by His atoning death and resurrection.

Thank you for your patience and assistance as we continue to make every effort to shepherd all of the flock. If there is any need we are not yet aware of or if you have a desire to contact us, please do not hesitate to call or email. The Reception Desk continues to be open during normal hours. Our Church phone number is 205.776.5200.

Thank you for your prayers, perseverance and patience manifested through the many ways you are reaching out to one another and our surrounding community. I recently received two full pages outlining some of the things being done by so many of you which obviously I cannot list in this Pastoral letter. But please know they are enrolled in the annals of Praise to our great God as testimony to your love for Him, His people and the lost. To quote the apostle Paul “Your labor of love, steadfastness of hope and work of faith is not in vain”. 

Serving together under the Sovereign hand of God’s Providence,
Pastor Reeder