Category Archives: Ministry

Charlie Mallie on Scriptural churches that miss the point

Pastor Charlie Mallie, a Lutheran pastor from Texas, as heard recently on Issues, Etc.

…in modern day churches, you can have places that are ‘in the Word’, that are doing things ‘from the Scripture’, but apart from Christ’s dying and saving office being at the center and also the circumference of the whole thing they’re sort of missing the point.”

Well said! Indeed many churches today do teach from the Scripture here and there, but yet completely miss the One, namely Christ, around whom Scripture finds both it’s origin and center.  As Pastor Mallie noted earlier in the interview, Christ clearly admonished the Pharisee (the top pastors of their day, if you will) that, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40 ESV)   Likewise, most churches today “search the Scriptures”, not for Christ, but for mere tips for moral living, mere snippets of quotes in easy-listening sermons awash in therapeutic deism.  “But,” the defenders reply, “we do hear Scripture from our pastor, so you’re wrong that we’re not Biblical!”  Yet as Jesus warned, simply knowing the words does not mean someone — parishioner or preacher — understands anything of what they’re reading if they miss the whole point of Scripture:  Jesus, the Lord, come as savior to sinners, for whom He died to bring to Himself.

Church Membership Process: Second Meeting

September 8 was my second meeting with the elders/pastors of my church to work on the process of creating a membership statement.  They met without me last time to work out among themselves some of the issues I brought up in first session.

Two weeks ago the pastor emailed me requesting my attendance, stating that they had pretty much decided on the more readily defined matters; doctrine and mission. This week they wanted me to focus on researching and helping them with the specifics of personal holiness and church life.

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Helping my church form a membership process

The elders of my church have accepted my offer to help them navigate the process of developing a membership process. I’m completely honored to have been invited to attend the next elders’ meeting and I presume several of the subsequent meetings until the process is developed and the pastor presents the process and material. They’ve targeted a mid-September time frame for the pastor to begin preaching on it. That’s only about 6 weeks away, and if you ask me, too little time to put in due diligence to thoroughly develop a membership process.But they know I’m a research hound and that I like to write and put together presentations. I’ll be doing all those things, on a very compressed time table.

The first meeting is Wednesday night, leaving me tonight and tomorrow night to wrap up my preliminary research, document where I’m at, and put together a collection of material to hand out. I’ll likely skip the PowerPoint job and simply go with a printed version containing the same bullet points. This will allow them to take notes and take it with them.

As for me, I can sense the spiritual stress already. Old demons come calling, as usual, along with the earthy “crises.”

Finally, the elder with whom I met last week was very understanding about my issues concerning divorce and remarriage as it relates to church acceptance, participation and leadership. His position seems in line with mine and he encouraged me to address the issue openly and early with the rest of the elders. In his email to the me and the elders (the one I was supposed to receive last weekend) he concluded with the following:

Also, brother, thank you for opening up to me about your aspirations for future study of His Word as well as about struggle you’ve had. Humbly admitting your desire to find acceptance in light of your struggle was, in itself, humbling to me and, I believe, honoring to God.

These are all good signs. I merely need prayer for strength, discernment and a “hedge of protection” as we’d say back in the Pentecostal world.

Drained, and no refill in sight

Tonight I’m utterly drained and have nothing more to give; the last three days having taken everything out of me. Even typing this takes more than I want to spend.

On Friday I spent an hour on the phone with Karen, who is slowly dying of the cumulative effects of her ex-husband’s attempt to kill her. She’s 95% biker bitch and 5% baby Christian, but I know God can work with that. However, it’s exhausting to combat the “spirit(s)” at work and minister the person and work of Christ to a justifiably angry woman who has lost hope and faces a slow debilitating death. Yet, ministry is letting Christ chose whom we are to love.

Then I spend the weekend with Devin, trying to build a foundation for a relationship with someone who is quite different from me. On Saturday night I tried to talk with her father, who was tipsy drunk and played mental and spiritual games like my father. With speech loaded with humanism delivered in Christinese, he proceeded to play the challenge-via-insinuation game; never really saying what he was so clearly saying, making a lot of “Dragon-like statement” (as Driscoll would put it), but still affirming me before taking me down again. But as he said, he’d had enough to drink that he was honest. As for me, I see right through his self-loathing impositions on me and those around him. I see right through his alcoholic need for a non-judgmental environment. When he said, “Your pursuit, your concern, with ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ and ‘black’ and ‘white’ will be your undoing.”  That statement says so much I could write a small book on it, or at least a whole ‘nother post.

Then on the way home I spend another hour and fourty minutes with Karen again, who by now is doing much better thanks to the Holy Spirit and God’s orchestration of putting Christians in her miserable life to try and talk some “hope in Christ” into her. I didn’t get home until almost 3AM and didn’t get to sleep until 4AM, my mind still buzzing with that gut-kick feeling normally only get after a bad visit with my Dad.

Sunday, with four hours sleep, I finally talk to my brother Tim who tells me that he’s “not suicidal but would be happy if it all ended.” My gut was wrenched in that same way when my ol’ best friend was saying the same things. So I listen to his never-ending depression for his never-ending entanglement with troubled mother of three who has been “dying” of one cancerous malady or another for the last eight years. He’s made this woman his life, with no boundaries, to his own destruction. With the death of his brother last November, he’s looking at every one and everything as, “what if this is the last time I see or get to be with so-n-so?” and he start breaking down in tears again. And again, I give more.

But when I got to work I was drained. I put in several hours from home, but that’s it. I’ve been gut-kicked and wiped out. What saddens me further is the part of me, the voice inside, that tells me I deserve all this an worse. Maybe God is visiting upon me pain I’ve caused others. I don’t know.

Maybe I’ll blog later, maybe not. Blogging is just one more “busyness” thing to do in our chaotic world and not worth my health. I don’t give a rats ass right now in my exhaustion who the hell want me to blog. Facebook is enough.

So for now the phone goes off. The email goes quiet, and I go into self-preservation mode to simply survive this draining mini-bought of depression and emotional exhaustion. No one can help me. Everyone I know is a spiritual taker, or at least an exchanger, but not a giver. No one will do for me what I do for everyone else: just listen and then soothingly comfort me with love, in Christ.

Look like it’s time to leave my church

Sometime around last fall (2008) I began attending a small up-start church a few miles from where I live. Since becoming Reformed, I’ve found it very hard to find a church, but even more difficult is one that accepts divorce/remarried men into ministry. I would have settled for a church that wasn’t explicitly Reformed but didn’t teach against what I believe, as long as they don’t practice interminable non-restoration of men who are divorced and repentant where needed.

After attending a few times, I met with the pastor on Friday morning to explain what I was looking for in a church, my past, and my hopes for a grace-based church. To my delight, he explained that they were now independent of their parent church and that neither he nor the elders (to his knowledge) were completely against divorced or even remarried men in leadership. I’ll admit, I got watery eyes, as I felt I’d found a home in a young church or perhaps 120 people.

Earlier this year, around February, I told the pastor about what some ideas I had for things to present at the church and some ministry ideas. He was receptive and asked me to email his the ideas I had. I spent four weeks consulting with friends and praying over how to respond. On Sunday, March 1, I sent my email with my friends’ responses, desires and ideas for serving.

No response.

About two months later my pastor informs me that they’re putting together a membership initiative (a first for the two year old church) and I offered to help with researching the membership initiative process or anything else they needed. Knowing my theological background, the pastor was enthusiastic and told me that I might be invited to join the elders (not as a member of course) to help form the process. We talked about a couple issues and I left encouraged at a chance to serve. A couple weeks later, I followed up with an email that I spend transcribing from a John Piper sermon membership qualifications as it relates to the qualification for membership in the universal body of Christ (i.e., salvation).

Two days later I go my first and only response from my church. Ever. He merely thanked me for the “great nugget” mined from Piper, and an offer to “plan to get together” after he returned from camping.

I never heard back.

Last Sunday the sermondevotional was so bad I almost left five minutes into the series of obnoxious attempts at “ice breaker” humor. But I stuck through the anemic message, which only bore tangential reference to the text allegedly in focus, and made it through to the end. Though people know me, I’m not married and don’t have kids for their kids to play with so few people have any reason to fellowship with me, or so it seems few are interested in the single guy. But I struck up a conversation with one of the elders (the only one in attendance) and explained that I hadn’t heard back. Honestly, with how I’ve been ignored, I explained, it was hard not to think that it was that old divorce and remarriage issue cropping up again, hidden, unseen and unspoken, in the background. He felt bad an assured me that wasn’t the case. This lead to a conversation on divorce, remarriage and ministry, and I was delighted that he held a view consistent with the pastor. He, too, expressed a sense of urgency at the time running out before the pastor’s intent to preach about membership as early as September. He even stated that he’s personally welcome my offer to “drive” the process with schedules and such; similar to the project management I do at work. So he promised to email the other elders, the two pastors and me that very Sunday night, with a specific request for me to follow up with them all on my ideas, a prospective schedule, and a couple of personal notes on some issues we discussed. The more we talked the more certain he reiterated his plan to send an email that very night and for me to reply the same night, just as we discussed.

It’s now the following Friday and I’ve heard nothing.

I. Give. Up. On. These. Flakes.

But where do I go?  Start my own?  THAT is an option that has seen increasing discussion lately.  Hey, at this point I’d be happy to gather around a Driscoll podcast with a bunch of guys every Sunday.

UPDATE 8/2: I came home at almost three in the morning to an email from the elder in question letting me know that he’s mistyped my email address a week ago. He included, of course, the email I was originally sent. I’ll blog it separately.

The King & I: Parallels and Inspiration 2,600 Years Later

In the earliest years of my faith in Christ, during high school, God led me to the short story of young King Josiah and the finding of the “Book of the Law” while rebuilding the temple.

It would take two decades for me to understand the parallels and significance in my life.

Born in 649 BC, Josiah’s father, King Amon, and grandfather, King Manasseh, both “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 21:20).  The Lord ordained that Josiah lose his father at young age. The wicked King Amon was murdered when Josiah was only eight.  Josiah “began to seek the God of David” in his mid-teens. (2 Chron. 34:3).  As the Word declares, “he did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2) and he became the last Godly King over the God’s chosen people before the Lord exiled His people. His clearing the kingdom of idols foreshadows Christ clearing the Temple and His ultimate clearing of sin in His coming Kingdom. I, too, was born to a father and grandfather who turned from the Lord, experienced pre-adolescent alienation from my father, yet the LORD sought me in my mid-teens. When I originally studied this character during my late teens the LORD impressed the story of Josiah upon me so greatly that I wanted live up to Josiah’s example and also name my first son in his honor.

What was the event that propelled Josiah from God-seeking young man into the great leader of God? What so deeply convicted him that he changed not only his own life, but used his influence over those around him to return a people to the Lord?

The life-changing, nation-turning event was this:  He found a lost Book, but not just any book.

In 633 B.C., Hilkiah the High Priest found a lost copy of the “Book of the Law” in the “house of the LORD” (the Temple) which was undergoing repairs.  He gave the Book to Shaphan, his secretary, who present to King Josiah and read it.  Now about age 24, Josiah had already been “seeking” the LORD for almost ten years, was already living in the fear of the LORD and thus likely knew of the Book of the Law.

Yet something about finding this particular “Book of the Law” provoked a reaction in young king Josiah that would change his life, the course of a nation, and even stay the judgment hand of God.  Something shook him to the core at hearing the Word of the Lord read from the unexpected find of an irreplaceable written record of the spiritual legacy of his forefathers.  Josiah tore his closes in renewed repentance and became a strong leader for God through driving out the idolatrous practices in the land, restoring right worship of the Lord .

I thought the story and the parallels ended there; an inspiring moral story tucked away in my head.  Now, two decades and many revelations later, the Lord has shown me even more.

Over the past five years the legacy of my great-grandfather, Rev. Joseph Burrows, has meant more to me with every passing year.  I’ve traveled back to where he preached, visited his grave, met some old ladies who knew him and stood where he preached three generations ago.  As I grow in knowledge of the Word and matured in Christ, I feel ever more called to continue his legacy and go into ministry.  Yet all I had were some pictures and what limited information my ailing grandmother (Rev. Burrows’ last surviving child) could provide from her fragmented memories.  In the year before her death I had a repeating daydream of someday telling my grandmother that I was entering ministry and in response I pictured her handing off to me the most precious physical connection to my great-grandfather that I could image: his personal preaching Bible. This dream was so strong and flourished with such detail that in the summer before her death I asked if she knew what has become of his Bible. She assured me that she had no such thing and it was likely lost to time. In February 2008 she went to be with Jesus at the age of 83.

Then, like my spiritual hero Josiah, I also found a book which is changing my life.

With the family gathered in my grandmother’s apartment where she had passed just days prior, the greedy process of pillaging through her life’s possessions began. Unconcerned about jewelry, clothes or other things of “value,” I sought the irreplaceable: the pictures, postcards, and letters that document a life lived. We neared completion of divvying up her belongings when my cousin pulled a small red box from inside the TV cabinet.  When she opened it she recognized it as a Bible and handed it to me (she knows I’m a strong Christian and would probably want such a thing). Opening the cover, the inside page simply read, “Joseph Burrows, April 14th, 1914.” Thumbing through the pages confirmed what seemed  impossible: the Bible was indeed his preaching Bible, complete with sermon outlines and lesson notes!  This one Bible—once thought lost to the chaos of time—about which I’d so often dreamed of holding, that symbolized the passing on of a legacy of ministry,  was preserved by the Lord in His Grace and Sovereignty and now sitting in my hands.  In my daydream, which I now see as prophetic, my grandmother handed this once-imagined copy of the Word to me with a loving smile and watery eyes that told me, “You’re ready for this.”  Since finding the Bible—this particular Bible—I’ve felt that now that the dream has come true, so should the meaning behind it.

Last week, feeling somehow called to re-read the story of Josiah again for the first time on a couple decades, two amazing parallels hit me. First, the discovery of Rev. Burrows’ preaching Bible greatly parallels Josiah’s finding of the “Bible” of his day. I don’t know why, perhaps just the working of God, but I in the 17 months since I found the Bible I never realized the parallels.  Second, in the text (2 Chronicles and 2 Kings)  I discovered another parallel in family history. Using online Bibles with great cross-references (an advantage I didn’t have, nor would I have used, in my teens) I traced back Josiah’s lineage a little further. As the LORD showed me, in addition to a godless father and grandfather, Josiah had a Godly great-grandfather, King Hezekiah, who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done.” (2 Kings 18:3).  I was stunned.  Josiah and I both had Godly great-grandfathers, only that mine is matrilineal rather than patrilineal as was the case for Josiah.

I can only imagine what God has to show me, or do with me, next.

Divorce, Ministry and The Tragedy of Interminable Non-Restoration

Earlier this evening I spent time with my friend Tim, with whom I’ve become reconnected after several years of being apart. Tim still goes to the same Assemblies of God (“A/G”) church in which we met and I was baptized in 1991. Since that time I’ve left Pentecostalism in the late 1990’s for Evangelicalism, and then moved to the Reformed faith in 2003 (shortly after Tim and I broke contact).

Now, with Tim in a church with Pentecostal holiness heritage—and all the baggage that goes with it—I wondered how we would relate as brothers. Not only would the Reformed-vs.-Arminian angle become an issue, but Pentecostalism’s notorious mistreatment of divorce persons would rear its head at some point. But God had worked in him to impart a level of Gospel-grace that transcends the self-righteous religiosity in which his denomination operates.

To give him an idea of how I viewed religion vs. Gospel, I played Mark Driscoll’s outstanding “Why I hate Religion” sermon clip. He loved it, so I played the Tolerance Rant, too.

This evening, the divorce issue came to a head; for him because he’s considering dating a divorced woman, for me because some day I would like marry again. So I went to the official Assemblies of God website to show him where his church stands, where his money is going, what he’s up against and how his best friend is viewed by his church organization. A quick site search on “divorce” returns an August 10, 2001 news item: 49th General Council report: Divorce/remarriage resolution passes. The resolution is supposed to “permit men and women who were divorced before conversion to pursue ministerial credentials with the Assemblies of God.”

We analyzed the article together.
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