Pastoral Letter #9 In This Present Distress

Pastoral Letter on Interim Worship/Ministry Plan F

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Over a year ago the Covid19 pandemic necessitated our response as a church to address the challenges of the pandemic and the directives from the Federal and State Governmental agencies, while maintaining our prioritized commitment to fulfill our Christ-given, Great Commission defined ministry. It began with a Pastoral Letter introducing “Interim Worship/Ministry Plan A” and now, over a year later “Interim Worship/Ministry Plan F.”

I am sure that almost all of you have heard of Gov Ivey’s new directive issued last week. In response to the current status of Covid19 she has replaced the previous directive for our State – “Safer at Home” with this new directive – “Safer Apart.” Basically, “Safer Apart” calls for the exercise of personal responsibility, respectful thoughtfulness and genuine concern for our fellow citizens. Mandates for medical and safety protocols are now by and large strong encouragements to be embraced with special considerations for those who are especially vulnerable to the Coronavirus.

In response to this new “Safer Apart” directive, the Briarwood Session has now approved for implementation “Interim Worship/Ministry Plan F.” The development of Plan F was guided (as the previous worship/ministry plans) by three governing principles.

  1. Motivated by our love to Christ, the lost and one another our Leadership will develop plans that allow Briarwood to thoughtfully and respectfully stay On Mission, On Message and In Ministry.
  2. In obedience to Christ we will appropriately respond to our Governor’s directives and with thoughtful engagement the “Interim Worship/Ministry Plans” will incorporate the encouraged medical and safety protocols out of our respect and love for one another, our visitors and our immediate as well as extended families.
  3. We will intentionally provide a 360-degree proactive/reactive Shepherding Ministry for the Briarwood membership family throughout this pandemic. This Shepherding Ministry will also allow us to focus upon those who are acutely vulnerable to Covid19 along with extending our Ministries whenever possible by social media including the streaming of the AM and PM worship services. Knowing that such efforts cannot substitute for “gathered worship” and Bible Study, they can at least supplement and encourage those who are in categories of vulnerability or who are shut-in.

May I encourage you to look closely at the guidelines of Plan F as they have been sent to you beginning with the introductory remarks by our Executive Pastor, Bruce Stallings. You will note that most of the changes are focused upon the Lord’s Day Worship services and the implementation of a transitional re-engagement of Sunday School for our Congregational Communities.  The Children’s Worship Hour during the 9:30 and 11:00AM worship services will no longer do double duty as Worship and Sunday School but will now focus upon Worship since Plan F allows two provisions for Children’s Sunday School on Sunday morning.

In addition, we have been able to significantly increase attendance opportunities in the Lord’s Day Worship services and still maintain the “Safer Apart” guidelines enhanced by staggering the pews that are being occupied in worship. Lord’s Day evening worship will continue. For those who are shut-in or in vulnerable categories we will maintain streaming for both AM and PM worship services. Congregational Communities will address how to best extend their Sunday School class contents technologically for those yet unable to attend in person. Cindy and I, for the sake of people flow are still unable to greet in the Lobby after the 8:00 and 9:30 Worship services but we are looking forward with great joy to being available to appropriately greet one another in the Lobby after the 11:00AM worship service.

I cannot conclude this Pastoral Letter without Pastoral appreciation for the gracious demonstration of the Love of Christ by so many during “this present distress.”  I am deeply grateful for the wisdom and demonstrated love for the Flock by our Elders and Deacons as well as the sacrificial and servant heart leadership of our Pastoral and Support Staff who have sought to implement these “Plans” out of love to Christ, His people and the desire to fulfill our Christ- given Mission at Briarwood. Most of all, I want to thank you for a Christ-honoring, Fruit of the Spirit-revealing “Love” and “Patience” undergirded by your commitment to persistent intercessory prayer.

Not only is our Savior worthy but this world is in desperate need of Christ’s Church to embrace the Great Commission Make disciples of all the nations – and to display a Great Commandment culture within Christ’s Church – a people who were not a people have become the people of God. Together we not only do the Great Commission but we live the Great Commandment – to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and your mind and your neighbor as yourself.”

To the Glory of God – On Mission – On Message – In Ministry,

Harry L. Reeder III

Pastor Teacher

Matt 6:33

Pastoral Letter #7 in this Present Distress

Interim Worship/Ministry Plan D

Dear Church Family,

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I feel certain that you are aware of our next Interim Worship/Ministry Plan D, but as with the other plans I wanted to take a moment to write a Pastoral Letter for three reasons.

My first reason is to express my deep appreciation for your patience, your perseverance and your active support of Briarwood’s Leadership as they/we have attempted to shepherd us through this “present distress” in a way that would honor Christ, bear a clear witness for Christ, and further our commitment to the Briarwood Mission – Message – Ministry.

“For God’s Glory, Briarwood is Committed to equipping Christians to worship God to reach Birmingham to reach the world for Christ…”

Your encouragement has been expressed in multiple ways…notes, emails, even your countenance, and most of all your intercessory prayers not only for Briarwood but also for our Nation, which now in this “present distress” is experiencing multiple and even tumultuous physical, spiritual and social fractures. For me, the phrase “stress-fracture” has taken on new meaning. If there was ever a time this Nation was in need of Christ’s Church being unified and engaged with a Christ-exalting, Spirit-filled, Bible-saturated testimony of God-centered Worship and Gospel-permeated Witness, it is in this day.

My second reason is also one of gratitude. While we have attempted to honor the supremacy of Christ as Head of His Church and we simultaneously embrace His command to “honor those in authority over us” when they thoughtfully and faithfully pursue their responsibility for the general welfare of the citizens in our Nation/State—you have thoughtfully avoided unnecessarily politicizing or spiritualizing valid medical directives when universally applied to the citizenry—so I wholeheartedly praise the Lord for this discipline of grace and thank you as well.

My third reason is to encourage you to take a close look at Plan D and familiarize yourself with its content. Realize as you read that you will be receiving even greater detailed information from the various ministries (i.e., Congregational Communities, Nursery, Youth Ministry, Men’s and Women’s ministries, etc.). Plan D affects accessibility for worship while maintaining the guidelines established by our State/Local Medical Directors for public gatherings in general and church worship services in particular. Those guidelines will be intentionally implemented with graciousness by the individual ministries as the new opportunities for assembly and ministry safely evolve. Please also remember we are going to continue to make available our various worship services and ministry opportunities through various technology for those who are in vulnerable categories and not yet able to safely participate.

In addition to the Interim Worship/Ministry Plan D, we are also initiating this month a focused and intensive follow-up to the Shepherding Ministry which has been implemented these past six months in the life of our Congregation. As the Senior Pastor of Briarwood, I am overjoyed by the efforts throughout these months of our Pastors, Elders, Deacons and Shepherding Teams of the Congregational Communities, but we realize that this “present distress” can create and bring to the surface issues which need to be addressed in your life, so as you are contacted, please communicate to us any issues which we need to know and/or what you want us to know—so that we can intelligently respond as needed whether it be providing counseling, mentoring, or most importantly, praying for you according to your needs. It is our joy not only to serve Christ with you, but to be faithful shepherds in your life.

Finally, I would like to thank the Briarwood Elders and Deacons and the Pastoral Staff for not only the work of establishing this plan while maintaining and even going beyond the medical protocols, but also for implementing it with intentionality and integrity.

This past week, we had the opportunity to see our Student Ministry enjoy worship, teaching and fellowship with all of the protocols in place. The socially distanced and protected students were not only properly supervised, but also responsive to the leadership directives and requests in a way that honored the Lord. I have seen the same thing this week in the opening of Briarwood Christian School. So, please pray as other ministries move forward with the same Christ-honoring efforts.

Praising the Lord as by His grace we live “sensibly, righteously and Godly
in this present age” for Christ our King.

Blessings,
Pastor Harry L. Reeder III
Matt 6:33

Discourse with the Foolish

Proverbs 26:4–5 tells us: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” I have to confess that I love these verses. But let’s be honest. Many believers have stumbled over this text and even more have been challenged by unbelievers with this text. Don’t be intimidated. When they challenge you, they have actually opened wide a door for you to talk with them about the futility of unbelief and to talk about a life of purpose and meaning for any and all who come to Christ as their Lord and Savior. So, now let’s take on the inevitable challenges and blessings of this captivating text.

Inevitably, some Christians will be confronted by unbelievers wielding this text and sporting a barely concealed confident smile. It usually arrives this way: “I thought you said God’s Word was inerrant and without contradiction. Well, here is an obvious contradiction found in what you identify as a book of wisdom.” You can then eagerly share with them that the book of Proverbs is a book of divinely ordained common sense. It is neither a book of promises nor a book of prophecies. Furthermore, it is written in the genre of Hebrew poetry, which makes judicious use of parallelism. Synthetic parallelism, for instance, consists of two or three statements addressing the same truth to enhance our understanding. In the case of Proverbs 26:4–5, we have antithetical parallelism, which sets forth a seeming contradiction but does so also for the purpose of enhancing and enlarging our understanding of the truth presented. So, in other words, the command to “answer not a fool according to his folly” (v. 4) is not a comprehensive or universal stand-alone axiom but is necessarily modified by the following statement to “answer a fool according to his folly” (v. 5).

Start answering—according to God’s Word and by God’s Spirit.

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The Word of God is abundantly clear that foolishness is far reaching, but its foundation is a godless worldview—“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ” (Ps. 14:1). Therefore, when in conversation with a “fool,” our reply to his questions (apologetics) is to be rooted and framed by God’s truth revealed in His Word and in nature—yet communicated reasonably and always with gentleness (1 Peter 3:15). That is how we answer a fool not according to his folly.

Then we are ready to move from apologetics—defending the faith—to evangelism as you “answer the fool according to his folly” to win him. Specifically, we are seeking to win him from the foolishness and eternal ruin of his godless worldview (“lest he be wise in his own eyes”; v. 5), which he is presently convinced is unassailable wisdom, to a personal relationship with Christ as Lord and Savior who confounds the foolish “wisdom of this world” (1 Cor. 3:19) and delivers us from its inevitable consequences of death now and for eternity.

Let me restate it this way: when the fool comes as a skeptic with his questions, answer him from the truth of God’s Word, not from his faulty and irrational worldview. As you answer intentionally, seek both to dismantle his argument and to win his heart.

I’m sure you have heard the attractive statement that I once made with unfeigned confidence—“Don’t try to win the argument; win the person.” This is wrong. You should actually seek to do both—with full resolve and reliance on the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. In fact, for the sake of both the skeptic and watching young Christians who are easily intimidated by the foolish “wisdom of the world,” you must seek to do both. They must see and hear us not only “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) and destroy every “speculation . . . raised up” (NASB) against the Lord your God, but they must also see it done winsomely to rescue the perishing.

Such an endeavor must be embraced with humility and bathed in prayer. “Contend for the faith,” but do not be contentious (Jude 3). “Defend” the faith, but do not be defensive. Win the debate with grace for God’s glory while you also seek to win the person to God’s grace and glory in Christ.

I love this challenge. But sometimes I love it too much. The remedy to that self-absorbed trap is to love Jesus more. And when you love Jesus, you will love what and whom Jesus loves. And Jesus loves His Word and He loves His people and He loves the lost. So must we, and by His grace so can we. Start answering—according to God’s Word and by God’s Spirit.

The Untimely Church

It has become abundantly clear that the contemporary church is fully convinced that the effective church (and the effective Christian) is “timely” (That is, in step with the times). Obviously, this is true to a certain degree. Acts 13:36 declares, “David … served the purpose of God in his own generation.” Clearly, David’s life and ministry were “timely,” as they landed “in his own generation.” Our ministries should likewise be “timely” and land in our own generation. But it is equally true that the effective church (and Christian) must be “untimely” in two ways if we are to be faithful to “the purpose of God.” First, we are to be “untimely” because we are always “behind the times.” Second, we are always “ahead of the times.” Effectiveness is not in just being “timely” but also in being “untimely.” We must be timely, addressing the day’s needs and challenges in the day’s language and with the day’s technology. Yet, we must also be untimely, because the answer to the issues of the day was given yesterday — at Calvary. The answer is the gospel of grace “delivered to us” in the past. We must also be untimely for another reason. The same gospel delivered in the past, putting us “behind the times,” declares that we are “now” redeemed but have “not yet” received the fullness of our redemption. The gospel of the past points us to the future for our ultimate victory. Therefore, the effective Christian is also “ahead of the times.” We, today, anticipate a future day of glorious gospel fulfillment when Christ returns and brings an end to time, ushering us into eternity, where our joy will be complete. To be effective, we must land in our generation with timeliness while embracing the untimeliness of salvation secured in Christ historically, and with the anticipation of fulfillment in Christ, eschatologically, when our returning victorious Savior will bring us into a new heaven and new earth to be joyously sinless with Him forever. Until that glorious day of His return, we will suffer, succeed, falter, run, fail, triumph, confess, repent, obey, trust, and, at times, be untrustworthy. In a word, we will live as sinners, saved by grace yet “growing in grace” until Christ returns to consummate His grace. At that moment, we will be delivered into the unalterable glory of the perfections of Christ and, together, we will be with Christ forever. Therefore, the church and believers must neither dismiss the past nor live in the past. We must learn from the past yet avoid becoming a museum of the past. We are called to live in the present, not to accommodate the present by seeking to be “trendy.” Moreover, we are called by God’s grace to impact the future while anticipating the future but never passively waiting for the future. Peter affirms this dynamic with his call to live in a way that hastens “the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:12). He means that in God’s sovereign plan, believers impact the future through our gospel faithfulness as we live the gospel in our own generation. Os Guinness, addressing this issue, made some comments that could be rephrased this way: “Harry, you are in danger of ‘setting the church back fifty years.’” The reply should be, “If that is true, I have failed.” Actually, we need to set the church back two thousand years to effectively meet the challenges of this year and impact the coming years. Let me rephrase yet another author’s commentary on the untimeliness of the effective Christian life. To sing “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” we first need to go “backward as Christian soldiers” — back to the gospel and the cross, the authority of God’s Word, the power of prevailing prayer, the priority of preaching and teaching, and the ever-present call “to make disciples of all the nations.” At the risk of being untimely, let’s look to the future and land in the present from the heights of the past — the heights of Calvary’s hill declaring Christ’s victory over sin, death, hell, and the grave. The timeliness of living in the present thoughtfully must be joined with the untimeliness of living in the present boldly by declaring the glorious truths of the past because our Savior is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). From the untimeliness of the past, exalting Jesus our Redeemer, and the untimeliness of the future, anticipating eagerly the return of Jesus our King, we impact the present and future so that God may say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). We want to be faithful servants, effectively and consistently serving our Lord from the untimely past while insistently pointing to the untimely future, thereby creating a timely ministry of the present. Our Savior is before time, above time, outside of time, beyond time, and is invading time, all the time, by the power of His Spirit through His children. The answer to relevance is not so much timeliness but Christ who delights in making us both timely and untimely. 

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