Monthly Archives: March 2014

How Hershael York Talked Me Out of Getting My PhD

God has given me a huge desire to equip others to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12).  Huge desire.  One of the joys I have is seeing others ready and willing to roll up their sleeves and contribute to the kingdom work, be it aspiring church planter or pastor or Sunday School teacher. My dissertation project for my Doctor of Ministry was on the topic of “Training Aspiring Ministers in the Basics of Expository Preaching at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY,” where I was able to meet frequently for four months with young men who were ‘guinea pigs’ for this training time. 

As much as this is a passion of mine, I did explore at one point pursuing a PhD in Expository Preaching at my alma mater, wanting to study with a former professor and present friend, Hershael York.  I even had a topic in mind dealing with and researching antebellum (pre-Civil War) preachers in the South and their justification of slavery all the while preaching freedom in Christ (as a man born in Virginia where it all started, this has been burning in my bones for a while).  When it shook out, I wanted to examine how American culture can influence a biblical message without us realizing it. 

So when Dr. York came to town last October for our Mile High Preaching Conference, I took him to lunch to ask him about what my next steps should be. 

We went to No-No’s Cafe and enjoyed a delicious Cajun meal when he brought up the subject.  He knew my heart, and had been somewhat involved in my pastoral ministry for the last decade.  Now that Southern Seminary offered a modular PhD where I could take it without having to resign the church I deeply love, I was ready for an outlined plan. 

The conversation lasted two minutes.  In essence, Dr. York said, in response to my desire to train up leaders, “Matt, you’re already doing it!  You don’t need a PhD to do that.”  He told me that I brought him out to train up leaders in the local church here in Denver, and I did that with the number of college students who would come up to our church in a suburb of Lexington from EKU. 

Point made.

So what’s my point with all of you?  Simply put:  do what God has given you a passion to do.  Sure, that may involved seminary education, but it doesn’t have to.  You have a local church, and God has gifted us to serve the local church ultimately.  We need gifted, passionate, potent leaders on the ground behind the pulpits and in the coffee shops equipping others in the Word.  Yes, we need seminary professors, but we also need sent pastors all over the planet.

So, Dr. York talked me out of a PhD.  I thank you—and my wallet thanks you as well!

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Why Being Away Helps Being There: A Perspective on Pastoral Vacations

vacation-circled-on-calendar-jpg I’m typing a blog post about vacations—while on vacation.  Some may (rightly) ask, “If you’re on vacation, then why don’t you vacate for a while, even from blogging.”

Honestly, this is a form of vacation for me.  Let me explain.

I go through ‘spurt blogging.’  Seasons exist in pastoral ministry that provide more opportunity for blogging and reflection of all things church and culture.  On the flip side, seasons exist that do not provide that opportunity due to the busyness of ministry, or even the dryness of ideas.

Sometimes, I just don’t feel like blogging.

And honestly, that concerns me.

When I’m not blogging, then I’ve gotten too locked in in certain aspects.  Locked in on good things, for sure.  But locked in to one aspect of my calling to such a degree that I do not nor cannot reflect on other aspects of my calling.

My calling comes in three fronts:  calling to my own personal heart and relationship with Christ, calling to my family, and calling to the church where God has placed me.  Under the latter, we have the calling of preaching, pastoral care, leadership development, discipleship and counseling, and (less frequently) funerals and weddings—among other things.

Is it possible to lock in to church issues to the exclusion of my personal walk or discipling my family?  Yes.  Can I spend so much time on my personal walk that I often don’t pour in to what I should with family and church?

You get the pattern.  It’s a tension—a tension that, as Andy Stanley says, “must not be resolved, but leveraged.”

Enter vacations.  (“Vacations!  You lazy pastor you!  A man truly called of God should never take vacations.”)  Interestingly enough, as facetious as that sounds, many writers of days gone by have looked down on the idea of vacations and recreation (I’m looking at you, Charles Bridges).

Why are vacations and recreation important?

  1. You can take a step back and get into the quiet with Christ.
  2. You spend time with your family for a time without a meeting or sermon prep.
  3. You remind yourself that the church will get along without you for a week—especially if you have capable assistant pastors on board (I’m looking at you, Pastor Adam and Pastor Scott). 
  4. You get a much-needed extended Sabbath rest and so recharge your batteries. 

Pastors need to be on their game, or they will suffer in their three areas of their calling.

So, as far as vacations are concerned, being away from my people for a small season will help me be there for an extended season.  And as much as I love my Lord, my family, and my church, that makes the time away worth it.

What think ye?

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What Persecution Looks Like—The Barronelle Stutzman Story

I’m grateful to Denny Burk for passing along this video about Barronelle Stutzman, the florist who refused to do a same-sex marriage in Washington St.  Even though she had been a loving florist for 40 years, and had served this man for the last nine, when she drew the line at not doing this same-sex marriage due to her conscience as a Christian (she is a Southern Baptist, by the way), it was mentioned on social media, went viral, was seen by the Attorney General in Washington State—who then in an unprecedented move in that state, sued her.  Even though numerous other florists would have provided their services, now it’s down to coercion:  you have to now agree that same-sex marriage is OK.  This woman stands not only to lose her business, but she is being sued personally and could lose her house.

Watch her story!  Pray for her and give her the support necessary to get her through these harrowing days. 

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Equipped Wednesdays Launch a Great Success

Pastors must be equippers.  Yes, we must preach, but we preach to equip.  Yes, we must teach, but we must teach to equip for the work and contribution to the kingdom of God.  Yes, we must visit and evangelize—in order to equip others for the gospel and in the gospel.

Last Wednesday, we reconfigured our Wednesday night times to be times of equipped—calling them the unoriginal but pointed title of Equipped Wednesdays.  The inaugural class?  Two Ways to Live

I only ordered 20 books—but God is moving in such a way at our church that 32 showed up. God is placing a desire in all of us to start knowing and sharing our faith. 

So if you’re in the area, come on out to Arapahoe Road Baptist Church here in Centennial on Wednesdays at 6 pm.  Below is a sample of what the presentation is about and how to present it (Australian accent optional):

Come on out!  It’s not too late!

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How the Weaker Believer Interacts with the Stronger

A couple of days ago, I share with you from Romans 14 how the stronger, more mature believer interacts with the weaker.  Today, we need to see how the weaker brother reacts.

Again, allow me to define ‘weaker’ in this context.  Physical specimens possess strength, well, physically but this does not mean they would be ‘spiritual’ specimens.  The logic then follows that even though you may not be able to lift the bar bench pressing, you may have a faith that moves mountains.

Being strong in the faith does not necessarily come with age.  I wish I could find this quote (help, anyone?) of where John Piper said that you could be 80 years old and pimply-faced spiritually, having not grown out of adolescence.  This mindset usually comes with the ‘getting saved’ churches that fail to recognize the ‘being discipled’ aspect of the Great Commission.

Playing off Piper’s quote, just because you ‘walked an aisle’ (if you don’t know what that means, ask your Baptist grandparents) many years ago does not mean that time and inertia make you mature.

The context here is one of younger Christians coming into the church, yet still carrying certain convictions that pressed deep down from their former religious practices (1 Corinthians 8:7).  As such, because of convictions the weaker Christian had, they would use that as a test of faith to impose of the stronger believers.  And as we saw last time, the stronger Christians would look down on the weaker because of those same convictions.  Quarrels would ensue over non-moral objections and opinions, adding more law on to the law that God already gave.

So, having addressed how the stronger Christian should behave and interact toward the weaker, now we look at how the weaker Christian’s responsibility.

  1. Recognize that the stronger Christian is your sibling in Christ.  Repeatedly, Paul brings the weaker (and stronger) believer to the work of Christ.  Christ died for all of his elect (Romans 14:9), and all his elect will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:12).  God will make both the weak and the strong to stand (Romans 14:4).  The central aspect of our faith is not eating and drinking, but the work Christ has accomplished in us on our behalf (Romans 14:17).
  2. Realize you have much to learn.  Youngsters and teenagers often believe they know more than their parents.  In some cases, that may be so (especially when they come home working on Algebra, something I forgot 25 years ago).  But when it comes to life, maturity, decision making, and the like—children believe they have it down, while we parents look on and pray for them that they will see their own limitations and need to grow.  And that’s the ticket to maturity—recognizing you need to grow.  Now, do stronger Christians have it all figured out?  No!  But that’s what truly makes them mature:  they know they still have much to learn.   Yes, as Romans 14 tells us, “It is unclean for anyone who thinks it is unclean” (Romans 14:14), but we must be willing as a weaker Christian to realize that our views need adjusting and transforming to the true reality of Christ, not merely our reality.
  3. Repent of any attitudes that feed and propel your desire to stay as you are and make others be as you are.  Authenticity is an important watchword in various Christian circles.  “It’s who I am, and that’s how God likes me.”  The problem is, it doesn’t promote growth.  Brett McCracken puts it right:  “Our notion of authenticity should not primarily be about affirming each other in our struggles—patting each other on the back as we share about porn struggles while enjoying a second round of beers at the local pub Bible study. Rather, authenticity comes when we collectively push each other, by grace, in the direction of Christ-likeness.”  We must be striving toward holiness, not merely our own personal spiritual comfort.

What think ye?

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How Are Stronger Christians Supposed to Help Weaker Christians?

The last two Sundays at our church have brought a number of issues to the forefront of how we deal with one another as believers.  In digging in to Romans 14, we took time to see the attitude stronger Christians are to have with weaker ones (vv. 1-12), followed the following week by the actions we take (13-23).

By weaker Christians, I mean those who are (1) new to the faith, and (2) who still have associations based on their former life and worldview (1 Corinthians 8:7), and (3) those who have refused to grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus and His Word, but rather dig into their own word to impose on others.  Just because someone has been a Christian for a long time does not mean they are mature.  And just because someone has been a Christian for a short amount of time doesn’t mean they are immature.

What matters is this: is our Christian walk informed by the Word of God, activated by the grace of God, to help the people of God and all peoples take that next step?  Do we spend more time showing others how spiritual we are, trying all the while to fix them–or are willing to put ourselves aside to help the weaker Christians grow?

Let’s distill two 40-minute sermons into just a few points:

  1. Both camps (stronger and weaker believers) need to discern God’s law from their own ‘law’ (i.e., opinions).  Whenever we begin legislating non-moral issues (what we eat, what days mean something, styles of music, devotions in the morning or evening) as moral issues, we begin adding more law than what God has ordained.  Your personal preferences and preferred opinions should not be elevated to tests of faith.
  2. When we add more law, we begin being their judge and jury.  There’s an old expression, “There is only one God–and you’re not him.”  God is our only true Lawgiver.  By us adding more onto other weaker brothers, we do more to hinder than to help.  Rather than “stumbling blocks” (v. 13), we need to add stepping stones to helping them understand Christ and His Word more.
  3. Remember, stronger/mature believer, that all who have surrendered to Jesus belong to Jesus.  Just because you believe journaling is the best way for devotions doesn’t mean that works for others.  Just because you pray and do devotions in the morning doesn’t mean that should be imposed on others.  Just because piano and organ work for you in worship doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for everyone.  What matters is that we are chasing after the One who first chased after us:  Jesus Christ by His Holy Spirit.  
  4. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of our faith—for without it, there would be nothing and “our faith would be in vain.”  We live to him, we die to him because He lived for us and died for us.  For all believers—abstainers and eaters.  For those who like new songs and the old.  For the strong and the weak.  Yes, you who are weak, Christ even died for you, for you who struggle to figure out what your Christian life looks like.  We who may be stronger in the faith will welcome you, and must welcome you, not because you line up with our opinions, but because you are a fellow child of God.

Lift up Christ’s law, not yours.

Tomorrow: How Are Weaker Christians Supposed to Help the Stronger?

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