CHURCH REVITALIZATION

Effective Strategy? Biblical Mandate? Both!

In 1980 a young Pastor fresh from seminary arrived at his first pastorate encountering startling realities. Although thinking he was fully aware of the issues at hand, he soon learned how wrongly informed he was. When you get “onsite” you soon gain “insight.” Church attendance had diminished from over 1000 to an average of 55. There were no children’s Sunday School classes because there were no children. The average age in the congregation exceeded 70 and its past had become glorified nostalgia. On his first Sunday, the service ended at the expected 12:00 hour. As he and his wife made their way to the lobby, amazingly, in spite of the infirmities of age, the congregation had exited. They were rapidly emptying the parking lot. The box of church attendance for that week had been checked and they were ready to move on. There were no sounds of fellowship from lingering crowds only an empty sanctuary and parking lot within five minutes of the benediction. The pastor had gone outside to try and speak to the departing congregation before they left and found himself embarrassingly locked out of the church building by the equally rapid exit of the part-time church janitor. After breaking into his own church to obtain his Bible and car keys, along with his wife’s belongings, the pastor and his wife looked at each other with the a sudden realization of just how enormous this pastoral challenge would be. But, there was more to come.briarwood facade_web

While all other churches in the area had monthly accounts at the local office supply store he soon learned his church was excluded and designated as “cash only” due to past payment delays. The first Session meeting revealed that not all of the elders had a personal saving relationship with Christ. They seemed to be well-meaning but did not “know the Lord.” Of the two who exhibited the most spiritual maturity, one was transferred within three months and the other died of leukemia. The church had not met its budget in years. Perhaps the most startling event was a phone call from one of the previous nine pastors revealing a tumultuous past. This pastor, while graciously welcoming the new pastor to his charge asked a strange and probing question. “Did you pray before you accepted this call?” After answering “yes” the obvious question was, “Why did you ask?” The answer was stunning. He informed the new pastor that he believed the church “had the mark of Satan upon it.”

He then begin to share the “horror stories” of what had happened to the previous pastors. All of which was not encouraging for a new pastor in his first pastorate. So what do you do?

While grateful for his seminary education he realized he was unprepared for this moment. But thankfully his seminary preparation had been framed by a pervasive commitment to the inerrancy and the sufficiency of God’s Word. So to his study and to the Scripture he went. I can verify all of the above since I was this young Pastor. So how would God’s sufficient Word which cannot be broken instruct me to respond?

Here was a church in decline and its demise imminent. It could be said one flu season would put the church out of business. Even the Presbytery counseled us to sell the property and use the proceeds to plant another church. Yet the neighborhood was full of unreached people. The daily vandalization of the church revealed two factors. One, the neighborhood viewed the church as a derelict unused building. Two, the neighborhood knew of its presence. Could this church be revitalized?  I knew that revival is God’s work and I could preach and pray for revival but only the Lord could bring one. I also found a Biblical pathway to lead a church back to spiritual vitality? Let me explain.

As mentioned, this took place in 1980, a year which also witnessed the rise and proliferation of “church growth” publications. Clearly, these resources were of interest. I devoured them. In doing so a few things became obvious. First, the writers of these publications were intelligently insightful and well-meaning. Second, most of the proposed remedies were “best practices” drawn from psychological, sociological and demographic ministry analysis. Of course, all of the recommended practices were “checked out” against the Scripture to make sure that no Biblical truths were being violated. Yet, very few were actually derived from the Scripture. They were commended on the assurance that they would produce “statistical church growth.” That surfaced another concern. While the Bible, in the book of Acts, records “statistical growth” in the church there is no indication that the leadership focused their ministry philosophy upon statistical church growth. The clear evidence is that 1st century church leaders focused on the spiritual vitality and health of the church with statistical growth recorded as a consequence of the apostolic ministry, not the objective of their ministry.

Furthermore, in my study, I was intrigued by the recorded expansion of the Kingdom of God through the church and the strategy employed by the Divinely-called and equipped leaders.Apostle Paul

First, the Gospel of the Kingdom proclaimed in Jerusalem by the Apostles established the church of Jerusalem (Acts 1-8). Then the Kingdom powerfully expanded as promised by the Lord to Judea and Samaria resulting in the church at Antioch (Acts 9-12). This eventually expanded the Kingdom to the world through another epicenter at Ephesus in Asia Minor (Acts 13-28). At each step of the ever-expanding Kingdom through vibrant and healthy churches, statistical growth was the result of Gospel vitality furthered through the effective ministry of Gospel-healthy leaders.

In Acts 13 Saul (soon the Apostle Paul) along with Barnabas are sent by the Church at Antioch on the first missionary journey. They employed a four-fold Gospel ministry strategy expanding the Kingdom to city after city. This recorded strategy was:

    1. Gospel evangelism and discipleship
    2. Gospel Church planting
    3. Gospel deeds of love, mercy and justice
    4. Gospel leaders multiplied and mobilized (if prohibited they would leave behind leaders from their team knowing the importance of leadership for the church.)

Later in Acts 15:36-16:5, after the conclusion of the first General Assembly of the New Testament Church in Jerusalem, Paul suggests to Barnabas that they take a second missionary journey. The narrative then records their “sharp disagreement” as to whether John Mark should go with them. The result was two mission teams instead of one. John Mark and Barnabas depart on their ministry while Paul takes Silas and later recruits Timothy departing upon his second missionary journey.

Interestingly, Paul, on this extraordinary initiative, not only repeated the four-fold strategy of expanding the Gospel of the Kingdom but he intentionally added another – Gospel church revitalization to fulfill his repeatedly stated objective “let’s return and strengthen the churches” – the same churches they had planted on their first missionary journey.

Interestingly while Paul’s strategy of church planting has been received and embraced with passion and energy his stated emphasis on a strategy of intentional church revitalization is not embraced by today’s denominations. For the most part struggling churches are left to fend for themselves and in some cases as I encountered they are encouraged to close the church while the denomination energetically pursues planting of churches. But Paul, in contrast, intentionally and strategically sought to “strengthen the churches” who were stalled, plateaued or declining by leading them to spiritual health and vitality.Paul2

A CLOSING CHALLENGE

In the book of Acts there are thirteen words uttered in frustrated anger from an enemy of the Gospel in Europe less than 25 years after the Ascension of Christ which I would love to hear once again – “these people who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” We know who turned the “world upside down” – the people of God empowered by the Spirit of God. We know what turned the “world upside down” – the power of the Gospel. We even know how they turned the “world upside down” – Gospel evangelism and discipleship; Gospel church planting AND revitalization; Gospel deeds of love and mercy; Gospel leaders multiplied and mobilized. We are not in need of new strategies we simply need to implement the Apostolic strategy to ‘turn the world upside down.” So let’s be specific. To reverse the two decade decline of the number of churches each year the evangelical church needs to do two things

  1. Focus upon the means of grace to produce Christ- exalting, Spirit-filled, prayer-saturated Bible-shaped, Gospel-healthy churches which are on mission, message and ministry.
  2. Every church, presbytery, association and denomination ought to be fully committed to a two-fold Gospel ministry of church planting AND revitalization. Not to do so is to embrace continued failure and more importantly not to do so is to at best ignore Christ and His Word and at worst to disobey Christ and His Word as well as the tried and true Apostolic strategy to fulfill the Great Commission.

So Biblically what is church revitalization and how is it done? Glad you asked. In the next blog Jesus, who purchased the church with His own blood and is unalterably committed to church revitalization will reveal His church revitalization paradigm to us from God’s sufficient Word.EMBERS BIRMINGHAM 2015 (2)_Page_1

Five-fold Paradigm to Voting with Christian Wisdom

voteI was going to wait and write this blog in the fall in preparation for the general election. But, in light of the multitude of questions concerning how to vote in our regional elections as well as the Presidential primaries, I’ve decided to post a distillation of my answer to these inquiries. When it comes to politics, the most frequently asked question is “who are you going to vote for?” As a pastor I seldom answer that question. I prefer answering another question which equips people to not simply know how to vote in one election but how to evaluate voting in any election. Therefore, the more crucial question is “how should I, as a Christian, prepare to vote with prayerful deliberation and wisdom?”

Given the position I have taken (for multiple reasons) to not publicly endorse candidates, I feel it is important to pastorally share a Biblical process by which candidates for public office should be evaluated. So, in light of the multiple texts in God’s Word designed to guide us in evaluating leaders in general and civil magistrates (public officials) in particular, I thought it best to give a brief distillation consisting of a five-fold paradigm to prayerfully make a decision in exercising the providential blessing, duty and privilege to vote for elected officials.th

The Five-fold Paradigm

  1. Character: Who are they? In considering a candidate the prevailing issue is character. In God’s word when electing Elders multiple texts give us the qualifications that are essential. In I Timothy 3 there are 17 such qualifications. Of the 17, 15 of them deal with character and conduct. Who are they? In particular who are they when no one is looking or when adversity strikes? When under trial do they intentionally focus upon developing character that reveals to be a trustworthy leader? What is their track and what do they do in private to pursue character formation? “Circumstances do not determine your character; they reveal it and become the opportunity to refine it.” It is crucial that we never fall prey to the old canard that “perception is reality.” Perception is not reality. Perception is a part of reality but it is not reality.  A crucial reminder – When electing public officials, we are not electing a Pastor. We are electing a President or state/local office bearer. Furthermore, it must be remembered that at times, God’s common grace produces leaders that though unsaved have a dependable and reliable character.
  2. Content: Do they know their stuff? While I fully understand the current climate manifested by a desire to elect an “outsider,” (which has proven effective at times in the past) the undeniable fact is that governing in the public square whether an “insider” or an “outsider” requires a clear and knowledgeable grasp of the issues and challenges attendant to the office being sought. I lament the loss of the “public servant” in our government but I also understand that men and women who serve as civil magistrates must know what needs to be done and how to get it done. It is imperative that they “know their stuff.” Have they demonstrated the ability to work with others while holding to principled positions?
  3. Competency: Are they effective leaders? Have they developed and displayed the skills to effectively lead others to achieve a noble mission together? In other words, can the proposed candidate produce unity when confronted by situations where a multiplicity of perspectives, a diversity of desires and a disparity of objectives are competing for supremacy?
  4. Convictions: What are their heart-felt beliefs?  Attempting to ascertain a leader’s true convictions is a crucial component of deciding before the Lord if a candidate is worthy of our vote. Confessional convictions will ultimately be authenticated or exposed as superficial as a leader’s operational convictions are observed. For example, if you desire to know what a candidate truly believes, take note of where they invest their time, abilities and resources. Another instrument to determine a candidate’s true convictions is to note how he responds to adversity in life. Adversity is a test and a test reveals three things – what you know; what you don’t know; what you need to know. So when adversity comes, what does the candidate do – learn, or die in a pile of self-pity? When adversity tests a leader, their response will tell you what their deepest convictions are and give you an indicator of how they will respond to the “pressure cooker” of public service and the temptations of power.
  5. Core: The foundation and capstone of candidate assessment. So how do we assess the core of a candidate’s life and abilities and avoid being judgmental? The answer is simple, yet profound. A prayerful assessment of a candidate’s past provides clarity for interpreting a candidate’s promises in the present as well as anticipating how and what they will propose in the future. It is a truism because it is true. The best interpreter of the present and the best prognosticator of the future is a man’s past. Furthermore, by examining the history of a candidate to know their core you also obtain an effective instrument to assess the four preceding components of the paradigm. One’s history ultimately reveals the core of a candidate and in so doing brings light to determine the authenticity of their character, content, conviction, and competences. So, when assessing a candidate take the time to learn their past, to interpret their present and anticipate their future. But, it is also important to leave room for growth if the candidate’s history has revealed a patterned commitment to being a humble and intentional learner.

A Final Exhortation – Prayer

The simple fact is that the responsibility of selecting leaders for the public square is of votingsuch importance that they must never be made without focused seasons of intercessory prayer seeking guidance from God’s word and “wisdom from above.” In God’s Providence, many have died for us to have this privilege of voting. Use it wisely, and then, cast your vote under the eye of God.

 

The Pope and the Donald: Bridges? Walls? Gates?

I confess to being interested in the controversy between the Donald and the Pope as the Republican Presidential candidate personally responded to the Pope’s answer to a journalist’s question during his tour of Mexico. When asked if American Roman Catholics could vote for Donald Trump given his policy to build a wall and deport 12 million illegal immigrants, the Pope opined that if a person “only’ built walls” he was not Christian since Christians should build bridges “also.” The “Donald” interestingly, and to some degree understandably, took the comment personally and seriously as revealed by his prepared and read statement, even though the Pope did not mention him by name – the fact of the matter is that every Republican candidate supports building a wall.

THE DONALD

 So what did Pope Francis actually say? In summary, he said that it was not “Christian” to “only” build walls and not build bridges also. It must be noted that the Pope in content and context did not “pontificate” as to whether any individual was or was not a Christian but whether the policy itself was “Christian”. Furthermore, he did not say that the building of a wall was not “Christian” but that it would not be “Christian” to “only” build walls without bridges also. I would suggest that the Pope is both right and almost right.

SO HOW WAS THE POPE RIGHT?

POPEThe Pope was right when he asserted that it is “Christian” to “build bridges and not walls only.” Out of our love to Christ and our obedience to Christ, Christians are called to build relational and functional bridges out of love to those who are lost and in need of the life-changing power of the Gospel delivering us from sin’s guilt and power through a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Therefore, as believers we desire to “tear down” sinful “walls of partitions” and “build Gospel bridges” so that we can walk across those bridges into the lives of men and women with the Gospel and lead them across those bridges by the power of the Holy Spirit to know Christ as Lord and Savior. But in reality we don’t actually build that bridge. That Bridge has already been built once and for all. It is the Cross of Christ built by Christ to us and for us. But we can prayerfully and thoughtfully lay out that Bridge of Life into the lives of others

SO HOW WAS THE POPE ALMOST RIGHT?

As Christians in a fallen world we are called to “build bridges” for the salvation of sinners. But as Christians in a fallen world we are also at times called to “build walls” for protection. For example as a Christian husband and father I “build walls” to protect and nurture my marriage and family. I have a wall on my computer. I have a wall of brothers who pray for me and hold me accountable. I have a house with walls and I check the doors at night. Cindy and I constructed walls of acceptable behavior for our family which were communicated and affirmed with loving discipline when necessary for our children.

Even more pointedly it is “Christian” for civil magistrates to “build walls’’ to protect their citizens since that is a primary responsibility of the government in a fallen world – to protect its citizens. But there is no requirement for civil magistrates whether they are Christians or not to “build bridges” to other nations. The walls to be built may be walls of concrete or walls of a competent police force and military service, or walls of technology for observation and detection, etc. It is “Christian” for magistrates to erect such walls with prudence. We live in a fallen world therefore it is their duty to protect the nation’s citizens, punish law-breakers and affirm those who obey the law (Rom.13). So if Christians are serving as magistrates they ought to “build bridges” to others personally or through their family and certainly through their church, but they are not under obligation to “build bridges” as a magistrate since that is not the role of the government in a fallen world. But here is where God’s Word sends us in a direction which perhaps accomplishes the actual desire of Pope Francis. Christian magistrates must “build walls” to protect citizens but it also is appropriate for them to “hang gates” for their citizens to exit and for non-citizens to enter by a compassionate yet wise foreign policy.

WALLS AND GATES

It is not “unchristian” for the Vatican where the Pope resides to be surrounded by a wall.Nor was it “unchristian” for Nehemiah to be passionately moved and Divinely-affirmed in the project of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. The law-breakers were running rampant over the citizens of Jerusalem, ransacking the inhabitants and demoralizing a poverty-stricken city. Nehemiah was right and “Christian” to rebuild the wall for the well-being of the residents. Furthermore he was wise to involve the citizens in the project in proportion to their ability which resulted in self-respect, ownership and dignity. Much could be said about the Nehemiah project but it is crucial to remember what Nehemiah did to conclude his wall-building project.     THE VATICAN WALL

After building the wall Nehemiah “hung the gates.” Civil magistrates not only “build walls” for protection they also “hang gates” to enter and exit. The Vatican has walls and it has gates. My house has walls and it has doors. A nation should have walls to protect its citizens but it also should have gates for entering and exiting. A nation can and should with wisdom send its citizens out and welcome others in. So it is “Christian” to promise “walls only” as a magistrate but it is also “Christian” to provide “gates.” In other words, a nation should have walls to protect its citizens and an immigration policy that welcomes both the desirable and the needy, the oppressed and the persecuted. Build the walls and then hang the gates. This nation and its citizens ought to be protected – it is Christian – and it also ought to have gates – it is Christian.

gates in Jerusalem

It is a historical fact there is no other nation that has been more welcoming to immigrants than the United States, and rightly so. This is a nation of immigrants and therefore should be a welcoming nation. This is also a nation which has been profoundly influenced by an imperfect Christian church proclaiming a glorious Gospel. Furthermore I hope and pray that it will continue to be impacted by a maturing Church which not only announces the Gospel in word and deed but also engages the public square with a public theology producing public policies creating both a culture of safety and hope for its citizens and a culture of hospitality which will bring through its gates the wanted and the hopeful. As for the 12 million, I am convinced that if walls are built for protection and gates are hung to be opened and closed with an immigration policy of wisdom and compassion, then a policy marked by a thoughtful mercy and the rule of law will be implemented to deal with those now residing within the nation’s borders. So build the wall – it’s Christian; hang the gates – it’s Christian; while Christ’s church and His people build the Bridge of Life to everyone – near and far away.

Today’s Lessons From Yesterday’s Reformation

Wittenberg Cathedral
Wittenberg Cathedral

On October 31st, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the Wittenberg Cathedral door and as they say “the rest is history.” That act ignited what arguably might be considered the most revolutionary movement in the history of Christianity since Pentecost. In 2017 we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of this landscape changing event. In that same year I will have the opportunity to lead another Reformation I tour – Following in the

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

Steps of the Reformers; Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Bucer. One of the reasons I enjoy taking people on historical tours is the experience of watching them “getting insight while they are onsite.” On previous Reformation Tours three “insights” while being “onsite” not only captured my attention but subsequently influenced my approach to ministry and have actually become even more influential in the challenge of doing Gospel ministry in today’s world. First I need to document five observations to frame these “insights” from yesterday to affirm their “onsite” importance for today.

 

Five Observations

Remember these Reformation ministry insights are selective and hopefully helpful but by no means exhaustive of the many valuable ministry lessons embedded in the Reformation.

  1. The cultural climate for today’s Gospel ministry is amazingly similar to that of the Reformation revealing the need for another Gospel Awakening.
    • Rampant sexual immorality
    • Pervasive lifestyle addictions and violence
    • Widespread corruption and compromised self-serving leaders in both the church and state.
  2. It must be remembered and reaffirmed that a national Gospel Awakening only comes through a robust God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Spirit-filled, prayer-empowered and Gospel-saturated Church.
  3. In contrast to the above, today’s church is Biblically illiterate, spiritually impotent and is in desperate need of a heaven-sent revival to be positioned as a Divinely-prepared instrument for a Gospel Awakening.
  4. The revival needed in the church awaits a Reformation among pastoral leaders. A Reformation that will provide the church with Gospel ministers who are personally and pastorally committing themselves to embrace the Biblical mission, message and prioritized means of ministry focused upon “prayer and the Word” as designed by the Triune God of glory and grace.

Learn From the Past – To Live in the Present – To change the Future

john calvin
John Calvin

To be a Kingdom movement Christians cannot and must not live in the past. If we do we become a museum. But we should intentionally learn from the past to live effectively in the present in order to change the future. In other words we move forward by first going backward. That’s why the Lord would have His people erect an “Ebenezer” and then instruct His people to bring their children back and “tell the next generation what great things the Lord has done.” Why? The answer is simple. When you know what He has done and why did it as well as how we can celebrate what He did in worship as well as prayerfully learn from what He did in order to implement Divinely revealed principles in our commitment to expand the Kingdom to all the nations – knowing that the Lord our God is the “same yesterday, today and forever” and as His people our best days are yet to come.

 Three Selected Reformation “Insights” From Being ‘Onsite”

#1: The Reformation was the result of Divinely called, equipped, empowered and sent leaders.

The Reformation evoked a Gospel Awakening which spread through Europe and overflowed to N. Africa, South America and beyond. The Reformation was Heaven-sent by the Sovereign grace of God through the ministry of Prayer and the Word from a Holy Spirit revived and Bible-renovated church. And without doubt it came from the Lord through imperfect but impassioned leaders who were marked by courage and compassion. The simple fact affirmed in Scripture and history is that when God sovereignly moves by His grace and for His glory He raises up and sends out leaders with a calling that becomes their relentless passion.

 Life Takeaway:  We need to pray for and intentionally cultivate Godly leaders in the church, for the church and from the church into the world.

#2: When God calls, equips and sends movement leaders He invariably calls, equips and sends other leaders alongside of them creating a “team of leaders.” 

Let me confess this is not an exhaustive analysis. But in following the steps of the magisterial Reformation leaders in the sites of their ministry efforts – i.e. Luther in Wittenberg; Bucer in Strasbourg; Zwingli in Zurich; Calvin in Geneva; Knox in Edinburgh – I realized something that confirmed what I had always believed but now rejoiced to see it once again documented in history. It is a simple but also profound fact. 

When God raises up a leader, that leader will attract, multiply and mobilize other leaders and to ensure their perseverance, effectiveness and maturity God will raise up and send other leaders to work in tandem with them. 

I praise God for Luther but I also praise God for Melanchthon who marvelously complemented and enhanced Luther personally and ministerially. God gave us Zwingli and He also gave Zwingli the incomparable Bullinger. He gave us Bucer but praise the Lord he gave Calvin to Bucer at the right time and for the right season. He then sent Calvin back for the second time to Geneva the citadel of the Reformation. He then gave Calvin the indomitable Theodore Beza. From the womb of Geneva and the mentorship of Calvin our Lord gave to the Reformation John Knox and He gave to Knox the ever faithful Christopher Goodman.

Zwingli
Zwingli

The magisterial Reformers were magisterial because of the Hand of God’s Providence manifested in multiple ways and for multiple reasons. But undoubtedly one of those ways was the gift of competent leaders to complement them personally and ministerially. And praise the Lord He gave the Reformers the ability to both see their need of leadership plurality and welcome the principle and the practice of leadership plurality. These Reformers were leaders of unbelievable passions, gifts and devotion but with magisterial gifts and strengths there will inevitably be significant blind spots and weaknesses. But the Lord addresses these blind spots and weaknesses by providing leadership plurality. The result is a “team of leaders” which not only delivers the necessary complementary gifts but also creates an interdependent relationship of personal accountability.

 

Life Takeaway:  Effective leaders not only reject solo leadership to pursue effective and accountable leadership, they also reject “leadership teams” which functionally serve the primary leader. Instead they employ “teams of leaders” that functionally serve to multiply, mobilize and motivate leaders in the church and from the church to the community.

#3: The Priority of Christian Education to bless the Church and then bless the Community through the Church.

In my study of the era of Colonization, I was struck by the consistent action of colonists who once they landed at their destination or in some cases what they thought was their destination but actually was not. When they arrived they built a “church” – a place for worship and thanksgiving. They would then build a “family home” which initially would be sufficient for the bare necessities of life. Then before a reliable community infrastructure was established or in some cases a reliable food supply they would build a school. A school erected to not only educate church members but also committed to providing an educational initiative for the indigenous population would be provided.

Bucer
Bucer

It struck me that the 17th century colonists were doing what the 16th century Reformers in exile did. A robust Gospel church for worship and discipleship was always the first priority matched only by the need of a family home. But then with clear purpose the church would erect a school not only to educate the covenant community but also the general population. In a word they were committed to the Great Commission (teaching them to observe all I have commanded you) and to the Great Commandment (to love the Lord with all their mind… and to love their neighbors) by providing public education from the church to the community. Not only would they provide a school to prepare leaders for the church and the family but also leaders from the family and church for the community.

Life Takeaway:  Christian Education is not only a parental commitment to our Covenant children but can and should be a gracious gift from the church to benefit the community by being intentionally designed to educate the public and mentor civic leaders.

 

The New Mandate of Allowing Women in All Combat Units – Part 1

RESPONDING TO THE IMMORALITY, TRAGIC INSANITY AND IRRATIONAL ABSURDITY OF SENDING OUR WIVES AND DAUGHTERS INTO COMBAT AND THREE EGALITARIAN MYTHSWomen in Combat

My wife is Cindy and we are different. Praise the Lord! This is an obvious statement. In fact, it is more accurately an understatement. In legal terms and God-given unalienable rights, my wife and I, like other men and women, are absolutely equal. Furthermore, we are Gospel equal. Both of us are sinners and incapable of saving ourselves or inventing a religion that is able to save us. Most of all we are equal in that both of us have been gloriously, undeservedly and marvelously saved by the grace of God from the tomb of sin to the triumph of Christ by His Cross and His Resurrection. Yet these facts of equality do not mean that we are the same.

MenWomen difference

EGALITARIAN MYTH #1: EQUALITY = SAMENESS!

We are equal but not identical. Let me give some examples. The first one is academic ability. Cindy was in the Honor Society and graduated Cum Laude. I graduated. (It was reported that when I walked across the stage and received my diploma my dad shouted “laude how come!”) At times, Cindy and I are able to go to the gym for a “workout” together. We do not lift identical weights. In parenting, Cindy, as wonderful as she is, cannot give a father’s love to our children; nor can I give them the unique dynamic of a mother’s love. In a word, we are not the same. We are equal but not identical and our differences are glorious blessings for us and our children. Why? Because our children need us in the complementary yet distinctive roles of mother and father made possible because of our God-given gender differences.

All of the above, which can be multiplied by similar illustrations, do not exist because of tradition-laden cultural oppressions.  They exist simply, yet profoundly, because of our Divinely-designed differences. We are not the product of a series of cosmic accidents and mindless mutations. God made me and He made Cindy, just as He did each and every one of us. All of us are created equal but none of us are created the same individually nor are we afflicted with gender sameness. “Man” is created male and female and therefore, unique by gender as well as individually. But even more to the point of this particular blog, God made me as a man both able and responsible to protect my wife. Common sense and natural law not only support this claim, they punctuate it. This does not mean that in a moment of danger a woman’s motherly protective instincts will not rise to the occasion, but it does mean that I am the one who was designed and called to protect her, as well as our children.

The conviction of this moral imperative embedded in the culture through Christian influence is why the sinking of the Titanic recorded the sacrificial deaths of hundreds of men, many of whom were multi-billionaires while hundreds of women and children were saved some of whom were domestics and indentured servants. Women and children first to the lifeboats! Interestingly, we recently witnessed the sinking of a cruise liner in the Mediterranean Sea, providing a vivid example of the rampant narcissism and gender chaos of today’s culture as everyone stampeded for the lifeboats only to be outdistanced by the captain. Our wives and daughters can and may have to assist in an extremity or crisis but men are called and equipped to intentionally protect and provide for their wives and daughters. Let me repeat, after experiencing and observing the bravery of women, I am fully aware and assured of their desire and readiness to assist in any emergency. Furthermore, men and women do not live in isolation of one another but interdependently with each other. But, men do not send their wives and daughters to protect them nor homes. So why would we by national mandate?

 EGALITARIAN MYTH #2: EQUALITY = INTERCHANGEABILITY.

Men and women complement each other by their ontological equality and their existential diversity. Men and women are not interchangeable with only insignificant physical cosmetic differences. We are equal, yet different therefore, we are not interchangeable biologically, psychologically, physiologically, socially, relationally, etc. Simply consider some delightful everyday common experiences we have with each another by observing the unique ways men and women talk, relate, problem-solve, plan, perceive life, use words etc. The list is delightfully endless. We are equal but not identical; we are equal but not interchangeable.

EGALITARIAN MYTH #3: GENDER DISTINCTIVENESS = GENDER INFERIORITY/SUPERIORITY

Difference is not a declaration of superiority or inferiority, it is simply difference. In reality, the differences we enjoy are marvelous and ought to be celebrated instead of mocked, denied or circumvented. Why do we arrogantly and aggressively avoid our complementary gifts, skills and callings to descend into the myths of egalitarianism? At best it is the result of misguided policies; at worst it is the result of an agenda propagated by self-anointed social engineers who are fueled by atheistic Darwinian evolutionary views of origins, which are demonstrably more philosophical and religious than scientific.

THE PRACTICAL REALITY

Let me pose the question begging to be asked. In the full scope of a national military system, is there a place for women to participate by using their unique gifts to complement the combat role of men to properly protect our nation or, as it is called today, our Home(land)? Absolutely! One only has to read the history of how women, in complementary roles, contributed to a stunning 3-front victory of World War II as they supplied and enabled men to victoriously endure combat. Deborah’s and Jael’s inspirational bravery in the Bible instructs us. But is the place of women as complements in combat a rationale to replace the role of men who are created, designed and called to physically and, if necessary violently defend and protect their Home(land) and those who residing within it? The answer is no!Women Combat

It’s late at night. I hear the glass in the door downstairs breaking, the door opening and then footsteps. I turn to my wife and say “Honey, someone is breaking into our home downstairs and since I know you are willing, why don’t you go downstairs and see if you can overpower him? By the way if he maims you or kills you don’t worry! I have two daughters who are brave enough to follow you and risk their life to protect our home while I remain here safe.”  

This hypothetical scenario is patently and stunningly ridiculous. Yet interestingly, what we would be embarrassed to contemplate personally, much less do actually within our own home, is now mandated by policy nationally with either pathetic naiveté or intentional absurdity.

THE UNBELIEVABLE REALITY

The unbelievable reality is that the men of this nation now allow politically correct elected officials in general and a President in particular (along with the elite self-appointed culture-shapers pontificating while shielded in the media and the academy) to institute policies which send our wives and daughters, not into the military to use their unique skills and abilities to enhance our armed forces, but into combat units to protect our Home(land) while they (and we) remain safely tucked away in our rooms.  Forget for the moment the obvious arguments of how ignoring gender differences will inevitably force the adoption of inadequate training regimens, lowered physical and combat readiness standards, the redefining of combat protocols, inevitable sexual mayhem and a loss of combat unit efficiency which will cost lives (documented by a Marine Corp. study- more on this in Pt.2). Yes, I am aware of the claim that combat zones are now defined differently. But hand to hand combat, dragging a 200+ lb. comrade to safety, carrying 85 lb. support equipment, etc. has not and will not change.

Finally, it is simply and utterly staggering to hear the President of the United States question whether he would allow his son to play football because it is too dangerous while at the same time promote an irrational and mythical moral imperative to send the wives and daughters of our nation into harm’s way to possibly be killed and maimed on the front lines. I have heard the argument, “but it is a volunteer armed service.” It is at the moment until a  war draft is necessary and given the present framework used to promote women-in-combat, the drafting of our wives and daughters would be inevitable and inevitably pursued legally. Now, consider how many fathers and husbands will be imprisoned before they allow such a travesty to be visited upon their marriages and families. This historically, unthinkable policy will not only degrade our military readiness and effectiveness, it will also ultimately demoralize an entire nation in the name and cause of an irrational and foolish definition of equality and the untenable notion that gender equality demands gender sameness and interchangeability.

The juggernaut of social and cultural irrationality has now spread from the laughable and the ridiculous to the dangerous and the frightening, as a nation sacrifices its wives and daughters by sending them into combat at the inevitable expense of national security, combat integrity, military effectiveness and efficiency.  Sane and courageous leadership is desperately needed.

Unfortunately my generation, decade after decade, has proven itself incapable of providing such leaders and/or solving cultural problems. Yet, we do seem to be quite adept at creating them. In our narcissistic fascination we arrogantly promote cultural absurdity and insanity that is now supported and propagated in the halls of government and enabled by a Pentagon led with politically correct and politically ambitious Generals. We have clearly lost our way.

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My hope and prayer is that the patience of God will lead us to repentance (that’s correct, I believe this is sin) with a Gospel awakening through the next generation, bringing a flood of redeeming and transforming grace which will produce an outpouring and overflow of God’s common grace. I freely admit my desire and prayer that my children and grandchildren might inherit a nation of sanity and not the national ruins of absurdity which is the inevitable consequence of rebellion against the Triune God of glory.

But such a Gospel Awakening awaits Christ’s Church to fulfill its calling to be “salt and light.” Yet our Lord’s church in general and the leadership in particular is paralyzed and silent with invented doctrines to mask its fear of being mocked or marginalized. So my prayer is simple. “Lord grant repentance that your Church may again be “salty” and again “shine the light.” 

 

 

2016 Christian Character Tour with Pastor Reeder. Here’s a GREAT CHRISTMAS GIFT! Come with us as we visit Arlington, Alexandria, Manassas, Fredericksburg, Richmond and Petersburg while examining the character and leadership of Civil War Generals Joshua L. Chamberlain, Robert E. Lee and T.J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Space is limited! Go to http://www.briarwood.org/travel for more information.

A Refuge and Refugees – A Pastoral Perspective on the Current Refugee Crisis

“to you who to Jesus for Refuge have fled.”

In the past few months I have been asked on numerous occasions, “Pastor how should we respond to this seemingly unprecedented refugee crisis?” We have all seen the multitudes fleeing from what I would identify as the 7th Fascist Islamic Caliphate originating from the same location as the previous six – the Middle East. Many of these refugees are professing Christians who have escaped the ISIS implemented efforts to exterminate them with crucifixions, beheadings, rape, sex-slave trafficking etc. Other refugees are non-compliant “moderate” Muslims who also were targeted for death or imprisonment. The answer would normally be obvious. Let’s open the doors of our nation by an orderly refugee resettlement plan as we have done on numerous crisis refugee challenges in the past. (European, Hutterite, Vietnamese, Korean etc.) Okay, sounds good and sounds right, so why not?

The answer as to why not is simple though the solution is not. The reason why not is that the same movement that created this refugee crisis – ISIS – has boasted and has proven that they could embed terrorist agents within the refugee population.  So what should we do as Christians in America? From a Christian world view I would pastorally propose the following.

Syrian Refugees2God’s Word reveals that our Lord has designed and established three spheres within which our lives are to be developed, lived and sustained – the Family (the institution from Creation), the Government (the institution from the Fall) and the Church (the institution from Redemption) – the answer is to create a policy and a plan that embraces the God-designed roles and responsibilities of each life sphere with “wisdom from above.” Here are three Pastoral perspectives and some action steps.

LIFE SPHERES OF THE GOVERNMENT, CHURCH AND FAMILY

  • The Government should implement a refugee policy that allows flexibility for the current refugee crisis with a focus upon its primary responsibility to protect its citizens, especially since the crisis is the result of a national movement that has declared war upon our nation and the proven threat of embedding terrorists within the refugee population.
  • The Christian church should initiate a Biblically framed refugee ministry while encouraging and supporting a thoughtful and compassionate national refugee policy.
  • The Christian family should prayerfully encourage and engage in a refugee outreach ministry through the church and exhort as well as support an appropriate and responsible national policy toward refugees under the authority of the government.

ACTION STEPS

GOVERNMENT ACTION STEPS

    • Collaboration with other nations for equitable division of the refugee population.
    • A refugee camp providing housing, food, water and medical care which would allow for their sustenance while a responsible vetting process in implemented. (i.e. Ellis Island during the European refugee movement during the early 20th century)
  • A vetting process that
    • Prioritizes the refugee categories for processing (i.e. religious refugees, then political refugees, then economic refugees)
    • Identify, vet and organize non-profit, private, religious and familial sponsors to match appropriately with vetted refugees.
    • A commitment to fully vet any refugee for ties to any Jihadist movements no matter how much time and effort required. The dangers are too crucial not to make such an effort remembering that the priority responsibility of the government is to protect its citizens from evil doers. (Rom. 13)
    • The Secretary of State and the Director of the Department of Homeland Security must personally sign off any and all refugees who are admitted into the nation as to the integrity of the vetting process of both the refugee and the sponsoring family or organization to whom they are being released for accountability and documentation of the process.
    • A quarterly checkup process as to the status and activity of the refugee for three years or until a prescribed citizenship process is completed

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CHURCH ACTION STEPS

  • Consider teaching on the Biblical material concerning our Lord’s prescribed ministries to the refugee (i.e. cities of refuge) love to your neighbor (i.e. Good Samaritan) believers suffering under persecution (i.e. Heb. 13:1-3).
  • If refugee ministry capabilities are not resident within the local church, the church should consider how they can participate within their denominational structures and/or with a reputable para church organization that effectively ministers to international refugees. (If desired Briarwood could make its researched list available.)
  • Create multiple entry levels for the congregation as a whole and the members individually to engage according to their gifts, calling and resources.
  • Consider how responding to this crisis can become a foundational impetus to implement an ongoing ministry to both refugees and the persecuted church (an issue that is epidemic and growing throughout the world and could be coming to our own culture which while not presently engaged in persecuting Christians, is engaged in targeting specific Christians who are exercising their first amendment rights.)
  • Promote a strategic plan for a congregation-wide intercessory prayer initiative for the current refugee crisis and the persecuted church.

FAMILY ACTION STEPS

  • Pray for the government, its policy implementation and the refugees.
  • Use this crisis to teach your children how God’s people combine the Great Commandment and the Great Commission with compassion in such situations.
  • Prayerfully consider how you and your family can engage in the ministry (i.e. hospitality, family sponsor, provide jobs, financial resources and offerings, etc.)
  • Support and expect the Government to fulfill its responsibilities to protect its citizens while implementing a refugee policy marked by wisdom and compassion.
  • Consider how you can personally support your church or the organization with which the church is working.

Syrian Refugees

Historically moments like this have become extraordinary opportunities for God’s people to ignite a winsome testimony for Christ and embrace the Great Commandment that more often than not opens wide the doors for fulfilling the Great Commission. But more than anything, it is the right thing to do for those who are beneficiaries of God’s grace. The God of Glory and grace sent His Son to provide a “refuge” for us at the Cross and sent the people of God in the power of the Spirit of God to bring us the Gospel of God. Then He sent that same Holy Spirit who brought us to Christ our Refuge.

“What more can He say than to you He hath said, You, who to Jesus for refuge have fled?”

Speaking the Truth in Love: Five Deceptive Myths

A witness for Christ in any age—and certainly in this present age—requires a prayer-saturated, Christ-centered, Gospel-motivated, Bible-shaped, Spirit-filled and God-glorifying commitment to “speak the truth in love.” But this essential command for effective Gospel ministry to both those not yet saved and those already saved is easier to say than do. The prevailing tendency and constant tension is to sacrifice “speaking the truth” in the name of love, or to thoughtlessly speak the truth without love. What is clear is that we cannot truly love without speaking truth truthfully; and we can’t speak truth truthfully without loving intentionally and thoughtfully. In a word, you can “speak the truth” without jcryle blog pictureloving but you can’t “love” without “speaking the truth.” To paraphrase a much more able Gospel minister from another age who confronted this issue with a clear, insightful and captivating observation – “Truth without love is barbarity, but love without truth is cruelty”- Bishop J. C. Ryle.

Because speaking the truth is so important and central to an effective Gospel ministry, there is little doubt that Satan will devise as many reasons possible to discourage Christians from both speaking to those living in the death spiral of sin and idolatry; or to distract them from intentionally, thoughtfully and relentlessly loving sinners drowning in the brokenness of a sin-deceived life.

Furthermore, it is equally obvious that if Satan cannot silence the truth, he will attempt to trap us into speaking the truth without love. But if he can’t stop us from loving he will entice us to quit speaking the truth. He does this in two ways. First, Satan tempts us to minimize truth with meaningless euphemisms that disguise the horrific consequences and the irrationality and blasphemy of sin. Second, and often even more effectively, he will culturally intimidate us into outright silence in the name of love. In reality, though, our diminished truth shushing blog picture
speaking or silence is actually revealing something about us—namely that we are more interested in people loving us than we are in them knowing truthfully the love of Christ and being brought into the life-changing blessing of loving the Christ who first loved them.

 

So Satan—with an insatiable desire to reduce love into deeds that are void of truth or to communicate truth through self-righteous arrogance—today employs five deceptive myths.

THE FIVE DECEPTIVE MYTHS

  1. To love someone effectively and appropriately we must initially avoid speaking the truth about sin, the idolatry that produces the sin and its consequences for time and eternity. To love simply requires you to manifest Gospel deeds of love. Do not tell them the truth about sin, even though the love of Christ revealed in the Gospel is directly related to the reality of sin, the sinfulness of sin, and the wages of sin— which is death.
  2. To love someone you must accept them and to accept them you must accept their behavior. At the very least you must be silent about their sin, the rationale for its idolatry, and the lifestyle arrangements created to embrace that sin and affirm it as culturally acceptable—unless and until they give you permission to speak about it.
  3. To love others acceptably we must not simply speak in the terms and vocabulary they understand, but only in the terms and vocabulary they approve and dictate (i.e. deceitful world view euphemisms)—e.g. adultery becomes an “extra-marital affair” or “recreational sex” or “hooking up”; homosexuality becomes “gay” or “an alternative lifestyle” etc.
  4. You have not loved someone acceptably unless they approve and affirm the truth you have spoken and the love you have given.
  5. You have not spoken the truth in love unless those to whom you have spoken are drawn to love you in return.

SO WHAT IS THE RESULT?

In the present age the influence of these myths (when they are individually and/or collectively embraced) are almost always initially revealed by “selective truth speaking”—all of which is done in the name of “sensitivity.” The result is that many contemporary Evangelical Christians following their leaders will sacrifice truth speaking in the name of love and yet, amazingly, will boldly address the sins and prevailing issues that the culture agrees are undesirable. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this (sin and cultural justice concerns should both be addressed, after all), it is interesting that though boldly speaking the truth on issues found on the list of “Culturally Approved Topics for Denunciation”, there is an astonishing silence about other prevalent issues the Bible clearly identifies as heinous sins. Why the silence? Well, first of all the ones that are confronted are done so with permission by today’s culture shapers. In fact, it is supposed that by speaking to these issues the cultural capital of the church will be enhanced. But in contrast those sins—corporate, cultural, and individual—which are avoided are the ones that have been declared off limits because they are on the “Cultural Approved Lifestyle List.” Even more, those issues on the Culturally Approved Lifestyle List are not only declassified as sins but now are to be celebrated, perpetuated and propagated. This brings us to the crux of the question: is “selective truth speaking” an evidence of sensitivity or is it a lack of courage; is it compassion or is it cowardice?

Furthermore, Evangelical pastors and leaders are actually imploring Christians to embrace this “selective truth speaking” as an exalted virtue. For example, the present culture expresses concern about refugees, sex trafficking, racism, and other heinous sins and injustices—and rightly so! Evangelical churches and pulpits then join the culture’s efforts by truth speaking affirming these practices as sins and lovingly instituting ministry initiatives to eradicate these acts of iniquity and minister to the victims. And so we should and must! But by doing so an unassailable fact emerges – leadership is speaking—publicly—with compassion, courage and conviction. In fact, when pastors speak publicly on these issues in their sermons and on their podcasts or blogs, they are praised for that very fact – being leaders – and so they should.

But interestingly, at the same time, many of the voices that speak boldly on these issues are silent in the same public square concerning the agenda of culturally normalizing unfettered sexual eroticism, marital anarchy, and the sanctity of life (among others). In addition to their deafening on these issues – which the culture is now promoting and celebrating – it is now considered unspiritual or unbecoming for the Christian and/or the church to participate in the messiness of bringing the blessings of common grace to the culture by promoting and debating public policies rooted in a Biblically informed public theology for human flourishing.

A CRUCIAL THEOLGICAL FACT

Often, one important theological fact is forgotten. We live in a world that, emphatically, does not desire the love of Christ or the truth of the Gospel. It never has and, apart from the moving of the Holy Spirit, it never will. By the way—neither did I, until the grace of God changed my heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, who brought me from death unto life. Guess what He used? He used believers who spoke the truth in love to me. They did so with varying degrees of sophistication, but praise the Lord they were willing to speak the truth and love me. Now I, as a beneficiary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through their courageous compassion, must also speak the truth – lovingly – to those who need me to do so – even if they do not approve me doing so – even if they do not want me to do so – I/we still must do so – others did so for me and you.

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 SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

Obviously truth spoken in love is to be done thoughtfully, timely and with words carefully chosen, while creating an environment of love for effective communication. If a doctor knows you have a terminal condition and loves you he will not be silent. He will thoughtfully tell you the truth. Likely he will take you aside in a private room providing an appropriate environment. Then he will tell you the truth in love and he will love you with the truth. While we are not doctors, we are physicians for the soul. We do know sin brings death and we do know God’s grace has provided the solution to sin’s guilt and power. We also know we are commissioned to speak the truth in an environment of love. We cannot be silent about the truth they need to hear in the name of love any more than the doctor could. Nor would we tell them the truth about sin and God’s grace in Christ without creating a thoughtful environment of love.

Those who have not yet come to Christ need to hear the truth of His Word spoken from those who will love them sacrificially and intentionally. And those who know Christ but have faltered in their walk for Him need us to love them enough to speak the truth, while simultaneously delivering that truth with a love that demonstrates the astonishing and unstoppable love of Christ and Him crucified.

In a world increasingly hostile to the truth of the Gospel, it would be easy to fall prey to perhaps right-hearted but wrong-headed statements like the one famously attributed to the renowned St. Francis of Assisi: “preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” With all due respect to St. Francis—who will likely have a zip code with far fewer digits than mine in the new heavens and the new earth– we must preach the Gospel and we must use words because they are necessary. Why—because “faith comes by hearing.” In a word we must speak the truth.

Let’s conclude with a fact of ministry: love is essential as it opens the door for truth, affirms the truth and authenticates the truth; but it is the truth that will “set you free.” We are all born with a desire to be approved. But for believers our approval rating does not come from the world. “Do your best to present yourself unto God… handling accurately the Word of Truth.”

Visit Harry Reeder’s Vlog at www.briarwood.org/askthepastor