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.

Share

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

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