The Pain is Real …. and It’s Okay

I am amazed at what people heap upon the leadership of the church, especially the pastor. If someone leaves the church it is the pastor’s fault. If someone has an issue or a complaint it is automatically assumed the pastor did something wrong and it is his job to fix it. If someone betrays the pastor it is his job to go and reconcile and bring the “lost sheep” back into the fold. As a pastor I have grown to accept this.

What I have a hard time with is the insensitivity to my feelings. I refuse to let people try to minimize or rationalize how I am feeling inside. This isn’t one of those “I am a person and I have feelings too” kind of moments. This is one of moments that I am expected to soldier on even though inside I am grieving. What I have found that as the leader of the church people want me to be doing okay all the time.

For a long time I struggled with this and it only produced more feelings of frustration. Why weren’t people understanding that I might need a moment to deal or maybe that I am not in a good mood because I am dealing with something? As I grew through this I realized they weren’t even thinking about me, or what I am going through at all, they needed me to be okay so that I could deal with their problems.

So lately I have been focusing on how I can deal with all the stuff going on in me while at the same time be available to counsel others. There are a couple of things that I have discovered that are helping.

First, I take my feelings to God everyday: I know this sounds trite but I have found it to preciously true, especially when it comes to anger. Currently I am working through a messy situation with a former elder that had produced some intense feelings inside of me. If I don’t take this to the cross and ask Jesus to help me I am prone to allow this spiritual battle rage in my mind which leaves me in a terrible state of mind. I am then good to no one.

Second, I manage my schedule much better: I have only so many spots in my calendar each week for counseling. My first priority are the messages I teach, then my staff, then counseling. I am okay with saying no or delegating it to my associate pastor. It has taken a long time but I think I am there.

Finally, I don’t beat myself up: Most of what goes on in a pastor’s ministry happens in his mind. It is a true Iceberg analogy where people only see ten percent. Most pastor’s beat themselves up over the mistakes they have made. It can be debilitating. I have become content in being real. This shocks people sometimes, especially old school church people, but it is so freeing. I don’t go around raging but I am just honest with people. I also understand that when feelings of anger come up I am not a bad person. I don’t let it turn into sin but I deal with it.

The fact is that the pain is real in our lives and you know it’s okay. We don’t have to exert more energy than we have to put up a front. Be who you are and let your people see your flaws. It is amazing how much that can minister to people.

The Sword v. the Cup – the Purpose of Government and Church

The last 30 years of political involvement by the evangelical movement has left me jaded and cynical.  The failed agenda of the Moral Majority and all its various spawn over the last three decades should bring us to a critical examination of evangelical thinking about the nature of government.

According to Romans 13, the purpose of government is to visit the wrath of God upon the one who practices evil.  This is set over against the closing verses of Romans 12 which admonish us not to take our own revenge upon our enemy, but to leave room for the wrath of God.  The government is the agent of that wrath, a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.  Government is a minister of God for justice.  The church is the minister of God for mercy.  The government is to promote and practice justice and the church is to proclaim and preach the gospel.

The government bears the sword of God while the church bears the cup of Christ.

The government metes out punishment while the church metes out pardon.  There is a wall of separation between church and state and it is the wall of purpose – government and church have different purposes.  The government is to work to make this a just nation while the church is to work to make this a justified nation.  Our political leaders, therefore, should be known for their commitment to justice, not to Christ.  They should be those who are committed to our constitutional rights as citizens and not our spiritual righteousness as individuals.

In short, our President is not our Pastor.

It is not God’s intention that the President turn this nation back to God.  It is God’s intention that our President promote justice and protect the citizens from injustice.  This is the purpose and limited scope of government.  But there are those who want to make it more than it is.

It seems that some evangelicals think that if we could just get ‘our man’ into the White House (or other high offices), this nation could be turned ‘back to God.’  But the purpose of government is not to turn the nation back to God.  The purpose of government is to protect its citizens from evil men and to punish evil men.  In wanting to get ‘our man’ into the White House, some are confusing purposes with results.  Will a Christian President result in a more Christian nation?  Will his influence radiate out and be felt at an existential level in the hearts of the citizens?  So far, the answer to that is a resounding NO.  Carter, Bush1, Clinton, Bush2, and Obama have all claimed to be Christian – but their Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, and United Church of Christ faith have all resulted in – well, not much in terms of the results of righteousness.

Purpose has to do with what should be.  Result has to do with what could be.  When what could be overshadows what should be, we are aiming at results and not focusing on purposes.  When we expect a result from a purpose not engineered to produce that result, disappointment and disillusionment are right around the corner.  If I drive my Ford Focus to pick up twelve high-schoolers in order to take them to camp, I won’t get the result I desire.  I am expecting too much – the load is too great.  A Ford Focus is not a 15 passenger van.

When we expect a whole nation to be spiritually moved by a just President, we are expecting too much.  When we expect a whole nation to be impacted by a godly President, we are expecting too much.  Expected results should be in line with intended purposes.  We are expecting too much of our government officials when we expect them to forward the agenda of the church.

Proverbs 20:8, and similar Scriptures, are sometimes forwarded in this kind of discussion –

A king who sits on the throne of justice disperses all evil with his eyes.

Two things – the President is not a king and America is not a theocracy.  An eastern monarch was a despot (benevolent or otherwise) who wielded much more authority than does a democratically elected President.  He could be arbitrary, erratic, and dictatorial and there were few checks upon his power.  In our day, even the most godly President imaginable will still be surrounded by a vast bureaucracy marked by spiritual indifference and vested self-interest.  And even the most godly President would still need to appeal to the Constitution and not the Bible as a basis for his/her decisions.

Yes, righteousness still exalts a nation and sin is still a reproach to any people.  Yes, Christians should very much be involved in politics and in the political process.  But let’s not fool ourselves into believing that government can deliver more than it is designed to do.  (In many cases it doesn’t even deliver what it is designed to do.)  The government cannot deliver righteousness even as my Ford Focus can’t transport 15 people.  There are two mutually compatible ways to exalt a nation – the exercise of a just administration and the ministry of a Bible informed, Spirit formed church.  Let’s expect from the government what the government is purposed to do and let’s expect from the church what the church is purposed to do.  And let’s pray for mercy from God.

Focus on Your Marriage

I have noticed over the years that people have asked me about “the secret” to a number of things. One is this question (often by a wanabe), “What’s the secret to making it through SEAL training?” My response is often, “Sorry bud, no such secret.” We live in such an instant society where we juggle a bunch of stuff yet really don’t think or focus on anything. We expect that there is a shortcut to greatness. There isn’t.

In recent years, I have started to hear this question in relation to marriage and family. It is humbling to think people would look to me and think, “I should ask him about the secret to marriage and raising a family.” This blows me away because I feel like I put great effort to succeed in this arena and hardly feel like an expert. I have often thought to myself, “I am okay with failing at everything in my life, just as long as I don’t fail at my marriage and being a dad.” It’s hard work. I feel like my success ebbs and flows at times, but it takes work.

Next week, February 2, 2012, I am celebrating my 10th year of marriage with my wonderful wife Anna. This in large part is causing me to reflect on life and marriage–you know, sort of an annual review sort of thing! She is my best friend and I think we are very happy–although like all relationships we have our great days, mediocre days, and bad days like everyone else. In coming to Valley Baptist Church, we have been exposed to marriages that have had great influence on us. One marriage that was 70+ years strong, many that are 60+ years long, many 50+, and many surviving widows that were married for many years prior to loosing their spouse.

What have I learned along the way? The first thing is marriage flat out takes commitment. This is simple. You know, actually standing behind the vows you make, “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.” These are major. Simple to understand, difficult to live by. The only way to do this is to commit for the long haul.

But how when things are bad? This is where God comes in. First, I have found that my biblical worldview has shaped my understanding of marriage. So when the bad days come and I am frustrated, I cling to the understanding that God gave Anna to me. Therefore, He must be working something out in me through the bad times. I also know that He wants me married and so I am left with two options: 1) Stay miserable, or 2) humble myself and initiate something to make things improve!

I recently heard that an author said that “Quality time often occurs unexpectedly in quantity time.” I think this is so true. A family must intentionally spend large chunks of time together to grow together. There is no way to get around this one. The more time spent together to better friends you become. I also think marriage is more about friendship or companionship over the long haul so this must be cultivated.

If you are married, and you want to improve your marriage. I would encourage you to read the book of Ephesians and pray every day for a month. I think you will be surprised at what God does through that!

I love you Anna Jean and am so thankful for you! God has blessed me with a wonderful wife and mother of my kids!

Dead Men Preach Better

There have been a few times that I thought that I was going to die.  None of those incidents were heroic, so I won’t mention them here, but they were real enough.  They were frightening, shocking, and in their own way, brought an undoing into my life.  They reminded me of my mortality, and that death can come in a moment.

Some of those frightful experiences were due to my carelessness and negligence.  At other times, the causes for my “near death experiences” came from other people.  Regardless of how and when things came about, thinking that one might be dying is an unforgettable experience.

Humans have a strong urge to live.  If you have ever been caught under a series of waves in the ocean, you know that feeling.  You need to come up for air, but the waves keep coming, pushing you back down.  You know that it is wise to not panic, and you anticipate that a break will come, and that you will be able to surface eventually.  You resolve that it is best to let the waves toss you around until you can come to the surface.  Fighting the waves uses up precious oxygen, and so you purpose in your mind to play the rag doll.

But the waves keep coming, and in spite of your best efforts to remain calm, the panic sets in, and the survival instinct goes into high gear.  The instinct for survival is a strong one.  The body does not want to die, and so the fight begins.

A similar if not same instinct exists in the heart, mind, and soul of man.  Humans, at their base level, want to have their own way.  They don’t want to “die to self”.  Every reader here is probably convinced of that.

As a Christian, and as a pastor, I understand the command to “die to self”.  I agree with the words of John the Baptist when he said, “I must decrease, but He (Jesus) must increase”.  Every Christian in any kind of ministry is familiar with these words, and has begun the pursuit of learning how to die to self.

There is a kind of dying to self that we seek after and volunteer for.  We deny ourselves ungodly pursuits.  We say “no” to sin.  We pray that we might “die daily”, and then we make conscious choices throughout the day.  When faced with an opportunity for selfish gratification, we seek to take the high road.  When an opportunity for revenge appears, we say a prayer and ask for a loving heart.  Self denial is practiced in many ways by Christians who serve Jesus.  Any Christian in ministry of any kind is familiar with these concepts, and is engaged in them to some degree, as they/we should be.

But there is another kind of dying that none of us seeks after, or ever wants to face.  It comes in many different configurations, but it is a death to self that is forced upon us.  It is a death that takes our breath away, undermines all self-confidence, and quickly knocks us to the ground.

It is a death to ego, a death to dreams, a death to self confidence.  It is a death to hope.  It comes as the sudden harvest of foolish sins we have allowed to continue.  It comes through the piercing words of those whom we have laid our lives down for.  It comes through tragic loss that takes place in a fallen world.  It comes as a blowback from the blind spots we are ignorant of in our own lives. It comes when we are doing everything “right”. Or not…

Physical death can come incrementally, through lack of exercise, poor eating habits, etc.  That kind of physical death is cumulative.  It is not sudden.  At other times, physical death is sudden, and completely unexpected.

The same is true in the realm of human psyche.  The Christian knows to die to self, and so they do.  An accumulation of small deaths to self take place voluntarily, and a degree of selflessness and Christlikeness is established.  That is accepted, pursued, and volunteered for. It is anticipated, and though painful, it is “manageable”.

But there is the “other death” that seems to undo us.  It comes suddenly and forcefully.  It leaves us breathless, hopeless, and thinking things that are extreme and unreasonable.  It throws us into an emotional downward spiral.  It kills us in ways we never thought possible.  It tests us to the very core of who we are in Christ.

Dying to self can never be fully accomplished if left to the one dying.  We will never embrace death as much as we should, and sometimes God needs to force it upon us.  A good coach will push an athlete far harder than the athlete would push himself.  God “kills” His servants on a much deeper level than they would ever pursue without Him.

I (obviously) write from experience.  There are times that I swear I am going to quit the ministry.  I begin to make plans for my escape, and for my transitioning into “civilian life”. I will live for myself, my wife, and if anyone is lucky, they might get a bit of my time.  Even in those emotional moments, I KNOW that I am wrong, but the unsought for death that I am enduring is screaming at me to take a new direction, and for that moment, I am in full agreement.

Saturday night comes, and I am 99% sure that I won’t be in the pulpit on Sunday.  I plan my excuse for not being there, and console myself that “the church will be fine without me”.  The current death is strong, but the Spirit is stronger, and is speaking to me.  I know that eight hours of (restless) sleep can make a huge difference, and so I delay making that call to excuse myself from preaching.

Sunday morning comes, and I obediently show up.  I am empty, fragile, fearful, and people-shy.  I am praying that no one wants counseling before the service.  The “death” has let up a bit, but I still feel like a zombie, and have zero emotion regarding sharing the eternal word of God.

During worship I sing obediently, offering up my sacrifice of praise. And then it happens.  A certain lyric hits me, and the tears come.  The burden is being lifted.  I still don’t want to preach, but I am familiar with the process.  I have been here before.  I know how it will turn out.

Worship finishes, announcements are made, and now its time to greet people.  Instead, I fumble through my notes, fearful to make eye contact with anyone, lest they see the dread that is in my heart.

Finally, it is what I call “show time”.  I ascend the platform, open my Bible, and in faith and fear, begin to speak the truths of God.  It is a strange feeling to be that empty, and yet it feels so right.  There is a noticeable void of self, even though self is fighting to surface.  The unneeded idiosynchrasies that sometimes sully the message are absent.  The sense of humor is subdued, but not gone.  There is a somber, frightful, God fearing tone that is fresh, new, unnerving, and obvious.

Providential death has come and done its work.  Death has come and resurrection life has followed.  That which was not searched for has become a friend.  More of me has died that I didn’t realize needed dying.  I have survived the “black dog” episode once again.  The pastor isn’t going to quit, and the people applaud after the final “amen”.

“So then, death is working in us, but life is working in you”.

Dead men preach better.

(I’ll be in Mexico when this goes online.  I’ll catch up with comments as I am able.  Blessings.)

(P.S…..since I wrote this, I have returned from Mexico, where a bus ran us off the highway at 70 m.p.h.!  I am banged up, but alive.  Interesting P.S. for this post?)


Willing to Change

“Nobody changes until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

– Ed Stetzer

It is hardly debatable that we are creatures of habit. This is proved to me every Sunday as I look out upon the congregation. Almost without fail I know where certain people will be seated. It is as if we have assigned season ticket seating in the sanctuary. Regular routines help ensure a certain level of comfort, and we like comfort. There is of course inevitable conflict; someone is bound to [uneittingly] take your seat. But if there is one thing we can be sure of in this life it is change. Change decreases our comfort and increases our stress, so it is not uncommon to find that we generally resist it.

Our church, Calvary Escondido, has been in a transitional period, experiencing many changes over the last 6+ years. The biggest of those changes has certainly been transition in senior leadership that took place when I began pastoring the church 4 years ago. It was a huge change for all involved; a change that definitely brought about some stress and times of discomfort. By God’s grace and faithfulness it has proven to be a great transition. In my observations and interactions over the last 4 years I’ve come to see that much of the stress of this change has proven to be “eustress” or good stress.

Yes, there is such a thing as good stress. Think of finishing your degree, taking a new job, getting married, going on vacation, buying a house or having a baby. At some level each of these bring about stress, most of which is healthy and enjoyable, but it’s stress nonetheless. In a normal life such things are [essentially] unavoidable. To go a step further, I think that it is important to recognize that in the normal life of a healthy church transitional changes are necessary and good. Such transitional changes are about to become a far more regular and normal occurrence. The overwhelming majority of Calvary Chapel Pastors are among the Baby Boomer generation which, as of last year, has now hit retirement age.

I recognize and understand that retirement for Boomer’s looks quite a bit different than it did for those of the “Builder” generation. This is all the more true for Christians (especially pastors) who find no biblical support for retirement as we [currently] know it in America. That said, I think we all recognize that many of our pastors and churches are in transition, whether we were planning for it or not. Such transition does not mean a rocking chair on a porch retirement, but it may mean a life that looks radically different than the previous 25-30 years has.

Embracing Change

As I set now, 4 years into our [very successful] transition at Calvary Escondido, I am incredibly grateful that, although it was difficult at first, my pastor embraced this transition and change. Pat Kenney had pastored CCEsco for 27 years. He had seen the church grow from 25 to over 500, and move from a school, to rented spaces, to the purchase and buildout of our very own facility. Under his leadership CCEsco had seen great leaders raised up, missionaries and church planters sent out, and new para-church ministries established. When God began to bring the initial winds of change, Pat did not fight against it. I know for certain that he was not planning such a move, nor did he actively set out for transition. If God had so willed, Pat would have continued pastoring this church for many years into the future. But when God began to direct in new paths, Pat was willing and open to what God was doing.

It is very easy for us to hold on to the status quo, and find ourselves kicking against the goads of God’s will. But being lead by His Spirit means being open to His moving, even if we are not initially desiring the change.

Mitigating Change

One of the reasons that our transition has gone so smoothly is that many years before it happened our Elders, in recognize the call God had placed upon my life, began allowing me the opportunity to preach and teach before the larger body. To that point I had been a youth pastor, with very little interaction with the adult congregation, but at 22 I was given the responsibility of leading our Saturday night service and regularly rotated in on Sunday’s and Wednesdays. A year before our transition in 2008, I began teaching nearly all of our Sunday services. This teaching schedule was not the product of a transitional plan, as much as it was out of necessity. Pat’s wife was undergoing treatment for cancer – which ultimately took her life – and Pat was facing health problems of his own that precluded him from taking a regular preaching schedule. Even so Pat was willing to allow the bulk of the teaching responsibilities to fall to his 27 year-old assistant. This openness greatly mitigated the ultimate transition; so much so that when it was announced in April of 2008, there were many newcomers to CCEsco who already knew me as their pastor.

Maintaining Consistency

Sure, we’d like things to stay the same, but they rarely do.  It is however important to maintain a level of consistency in whatever areas possible.  Thankfully we have a great team of elders, leaders and staff at CCEsco.  If it weren’t for the consistent leadership team, I’m fairly certain we would not have had as successful a transition as we have.  There is no way that everything will remain the same when new leadership steps in, but maintaining consistency of core values and mission is critical.  Furthermore, I believe it is important to make changes strategically and slowly in a church with a well established culture.  Even if they are big changes, they should be presented clearly and sometimes implemented incrementally.

After almost 6 years being married and 4 years as a head pastor (it’s hard for me at 32 to use the word senior :)) I’m more convinced now than ever that a church is like a bride; not my bride, but a bride nonetheless.  My bride [Andrea] desires security and consistency.  If I were sporadic or fickle she would have a very difficult time following or being submissive.  Although the church is not the bride of the pastor (some pastors sure live like it is, but that is perhaps a future article), she still desires security and consistency.  Sporadic and fickle leadership will scatter the sheep; thus maintaining consistency wherever possible during periods of change is important.  But resistance to change is not an option.

As the winds of change fill the air among many of the churches in our movement, it is vital that we face them with reasonable thoughtfulness.

What if…

I’ve been thinking a lot about this simple phrase.
To me it speaks of possibility.
It speaks of transformation.
It speaks of the ways and thoughts of God.

What if…

…we made the greatest commandment our greatest commitment?
…we remembered that you can’t fulfill the great commission by neglecting the greatest commandment?
…we lived out the reality of the resurrection?
…we really chose not to worry or fear?
…we were as committed to unity as those who tried to build the Tower of Babel?
…we were really servant leaders?
…we love our wives as Christ loves the church?
…we didn’t use the ministry to keep us from having to interact with God?
…we viewed the church as a disciple making organism and not as a business?
…we stopped thinking that we had the right to share our opinions and stopped judging another man’s servant?
…we really believed in Jesus’ power to reconcile?
…we were really overflowed by the Holy Spirit?
…older pastor really mentored younger pastors?
…those same older pastors allowed younger pastors to be who God made them to be?
…younger pastors realized that they don’t know what they don’t know?
…we truly prayed without ceasing?
…movements and denominations didn’t resist the continual reforming of the church?
…churches gave their savings to the work of the kingdom in the least reached countries in the world?
…we truly died to ourselves?
…we stopped defining ourselves by what we are against?
…we realized that men will know that we are his disciples by the love we have one for another?
…we only cared what God thought?
…the church stopped being trendy and started being timeless?
…we truly fed the poor?
…we were more Christian than American?
…we were concerned enough for people to actually really share the life-giving gospel with them?
…we stopped snuggling up to the proclivities of our culture?
…we talked to people in person rather than behind their backs?
…if we truly feared God?
…we became the servant of all instead of lording our position over people?
…loved the whole world as God does?
…we lived out the grace that we proclaimed?

Soteriology in the Middle (Part I)

“…we trust in the living God, who is [the] Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” 1 Timothy 4:10b


Brain Cramps

Over the past ten years of my life as a follower of Jesus perhaps no theological category has caused me to spend hours reading, thinking, and processing as much as the category of Soteriology.  Soteriology is the study of salvation.  More specifically, it is the study of what we might call the fine print of salvation.  Basic soteriology is what unifies all born-again Christians as the universal church.  Basic soteriology simply states the simple gospel.  It is the truth that though all people are sinners we can be saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in the Jesus Christ of the Bible alone.  Basic soteriology affirms the basic concepts of the gospel message.


But beyond the basic truth of the simple gospel the systematic theology category of soteriology goes much deeper.  It discusses such things as the order of the decrees of God in salvation.  It discusses the place of divine election and sovereignty and their relationship to human responsibility in the salvation of people.  Does God choose us?  Do we choose God?  Is it both?  Soteriology addresses the extensiveness and intensiveness of the effects of sin and the curse in the lives of human beings.  Did man lose free-will in becoming a sinner or does he retain free moral agency as God’s image-bearer?  Soteriology addresses the extent of the atonement of the cross of Christ on behalf of human beings.  Did Jesus die for every individual sinner or only the elect who ultimately become believers? Soteriology address the application of redemption in the lives of God’s people.  Do we exercise faith through which we become born-again, or does God make us born-again so that we exercise faith?  Soteriology addresses the security of the believer in Christ.  If I am born-again does God keep me saved or do I?  Can I lose my salvation through habitual sinning after coming to Jesus, or does the grace of God and work of the Holy Spirit cause me to persevere ultimately faithful until I see Jesus face to face?


My Early Soteriological Journey

Early on in my Christian experience I was discipled in what would be considered a Reformed church.  The first Bible study I attended of any kind was a study through eminent Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul’s book Chosen by God.  Needless to say, looking back that probably wasn’t the most helpful study I could’ve engaged in as a new Christian given the gravity and meaty nature of the topics that book articulates.  Non-the-less, that study and subsequent reading on the subject over the next few years resulted in my becoming an avid and, I would say, militant Five Point Calvinist.  A Five Point Calvinist is one who adheres to all Five Points of the acrostic TULIP which describe what most today consider the finer points of Reformed Soteriology.  In short the Five Points teach as follows:


Total Depravity: As a result of the curse on mankind which we have partaken of due to our willful rebellion against God in Adam, all mankind is depraved,  or completely sinful.  The effect of sin in our lives is not merely extensive though, it is also intensive and destroys the freedom of the will in humans.  Mankind is in a state of total inability and cannot trust in the gospel nor does he desire to do so.  But for the elect God graciously softens their hearts and removes the barrier of total inability that they might see their need for Him and trust in the gospel.


Unconditional Election: God chooses whom He will save and whom He won’t simply in accordance with His own pleasure and plans without consideration of what man would or wouldn’t, could or couldn’t choose when presented with the gospel message.


Limited Atonement: Jesus did not die for every individual sinner in a saving way.  Rather, only those whom God unconditionally elected to salvation in eternity past have their sins atoned for savingly by Jesus on the cross.


Irresistible Grace: All those whom God unconditionally elected and provided atonement for in the cross of Christ will be saved through the irresistible call of the Holy Spirit.  God is able to overcome even the hardest heart and bring the spiritually dead sinner to faith.

A sub-doctrine of Irresistible Grace is the Reformed understanding of the doctrine of Monergistic Regeneration.  This doctrine is summarized by R.C. Sproul this way: “We do not believe in order to be born-again.  We are born-again in order that we may believe.”  Simply put, this doctrine teaches that God makes people new creations before they ever exercise or express faith in the gospel.  When someone responds to the gospel in faith it is because God has already done a secret work in their heart bringing them to spiritual life and saved them.


Perseverance of the Saints: All whom God unconditionally elected in eternity past, made atonement for on the cross, and who are born-again through the irresistible work of the Holy Spirit will persevere in faith in Christ till death or the Second Coming.  Of all who are found, none will be lost.  It is argued that if we didn’t choose to be saved then we cannot choose to be unsaved either.


Soteriology in the Middle

Whereas in the past I would’ve preached and been able to affirm my whole-hearted agreement with the above declarations, today I’m in a different place.  To be sure I see a lot of value in some of the statements above.  But there are a couple key areas of disagreement I have with some of the propositions of Five Point Calvinism.  If you were to attend a Refuge Distinctives class at our church you’d hear us say in regard to our theological streams that we are Evangelical, Missional, and Moderate.  On the Moderate point one of the things we are getting at is that we are neither Five Point Calvinists or what is often seen as the only other option, Five Point Arminians.  Instead, we are moderate.  We are in the middle of these two systems of soteriology.  We say this because though we would affirm the basic concepts of Total Depravity and Perseverance of the Saints for instance, we particularly would disagree with Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace.


Something Just Isn’t Right

Theses points have become to me the most troubling of the Five Points in recent months.  I remember the first time I heard those words, “We do not believe in order to be born-again.  We are born-again in order that we may believe.”  Even as a new Christian they just didn’t feel right.  I had heard people say that to be saved I needed to trust in Jesus.  I had thought I’d read that in the Bible.  But this doctrine seemed to say that I trusted in Jesus because I’d been irresistibly saved without my knowledge or choice in anyway before I exercised or expressed faith in Jesus.  I also remember hearing for the first time that if you looked closely enough at the Bible you’d see plainly that Jesus didn’t really die in an atoning way for all individuals.  That just seemed wrong as well.  I didn’t understand how you could fit “some” or “the elect” into verses like John 3:16, 1 Timothy 4:10, or 1 John 2:2.  Still I was fully discipled in Calvinism and shown how it all made “logical” sense.  Years later after reading both sides of this issue along with my Bible I’ve come back to that place of discomfort with these doctrines.  However logical the doctrines may be in connection with the Calvinistic system, I don’t see it as scripturally supported logic.


To Come…

In my next posts I will flesh out some of what I now see as a more biblical and moderate approach to the issues of Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace and what I would call Moderate Soteriology.  I’ll look forward to the discussions that hopefully roll out from opening up this series of posts!  But in this area almost more than any other we need to remember to stand together and speak what we believe to be the truth in a spirit of unity and love.  Until next time…


Failures and Lessons Learned

Two weeks ago I blogged about ways to remain motivated in ministry. In the article I mentioned a string of painful events that led to my resignation from the pastorate in Monterey in 2006.

One of the comments on that post was from Gunnar Hanson, who asked me the following question:

“You planted the church and were there for 27 years when something bad happened (I have no idea what this was other than what you shared above) that caused you to resign. As I young pastor, I am very curious about what happened and the lessons you learned through this to serve as a warning for us younger guys that might get to big for our britches so to speak…hope this makes sense.”

I’m going to use today’s blog in an attempt to respond. I could speak for hours on the subject, but I promise to be brief here.

There were several things that happened that led to my resignation. The big one was that my marriage was in need of major repair, as we attempted to recover from my wife’s infidelity and issues that may have contributed to it. The public nature of our issues created unrest and some anger in the church. Approximately 5% of the people had been identified with varying degrees of angst. The board was supportive of me continuing on, but I was majorly challenged on three fronts: I was fighting to save the marriage, there was a need to work with the 5%, and there was a significant church body to continue pastoring. I figured I could handle two out of the three (with much grace, of course), but not all three. So I resigned. I do not regret it, although it was extremely painful to do so. I loved the church and people of CC Monterey Bay.

What lessons did I learn? Great question. Mistakes can be a great teacher, and I made my share of them, including in the last couple of years.

1.    Don’t become relationally disconnected from leadership. Unfortunately, I did just that. The senior pastorate is a privilege, and since we senior pastors normally have a great deal of freedom to determine our own schedules, pace, appointments, etc., we must use our freedom well. In the last couple of years, I focused more on the machinery of the church than on people.

2.    Don’t go “corporate” with your leadership structure. Because I had allowed relationships to wane, I tried to adjust to the relational deficiencies by adopting a corporate model of leadership, with a top to bottom org chart that further isolated me from some. The result: there were reporting channels to maintain, and some no longer had access to me, and I to them.

3.    Don’t raise up the wrong people. I put a couple of people in positions of authority that should not have been given that kind of responsibility or visibility. The “do not lay hands on anyone hastily” admonition in 1 Timothy is tremendously important. I knew that … was usually very careful for 25 of 27 years, but I got careless and paid for it.

4.    Talk to yourself with proper “self talk.” David talked to himself, and the results were most often very good. 

“Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!” (Psalm 103:1)

“O my soul, you have said to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord, my goodness is nothing apart from You.’” (Psalms 16:2)

“Why are you cast down, o my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.”

But there was at least one occasion when David’s self talk was inaccurate and harmful—and almost led to his destruction.

And David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape to the land of the Philistines; and Saul will despair of me, to seek me anymore in any part of Israel. So I shall escape out of his hand.” (1 Samuel 27:1)

David was NOT going to perish at Saul’s hand! It was not gonna happen! He was God’s anointed and chosen king. But in spite of the truth, David acted on that lie he told himself, and went to live with the Philistines for 16 months. Near the end of those months, David’s men were talking about stoning him to death! It was a horrible decision David made, based on very bad information.

I lied to myself in those last couple of years, and my decisions reflected it. God had been faithful, He was being faithful, and He would continue to be faithful. I needed to believe what was true, what I truly believed! We pastors need to speak God’s truth to ourselves.

5.    Don’t believe your own press clippings. In the pastorate, there will be those who love us to pieces, there will be those who are real fans, and there will be others of different categories. People will talk, people will write things, and lots of opinions will flow and circulate. 

We mustn’t rely upon these things. The only true thing about us is what God says about us. He identifies and knows us completely. His estimation is what matters.

Next to God’s estimation of us is our wives’ estimation of us. She knows the truth better than anyone else.

Humility is the state of realistic thinking about one’s self. It’s a constant struggle to be sober-minded, but we must trust the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to help us.

6.    Keep the main thing, the main thing. My marriage didn’t survive, after all. I ended up divorced … it was a divorce I did not want. I have since remarried to a godly, beautiful woman who is a great source of encouragement and support for me. The Lord gave Sheri to me, and I have found a good thing (Pr. 18:22). 

I am therefore entrusted with a stewardship, which is to take care of her and treat her as Christ treats His church. I am one with her. I am called to obey 1 Peter 3:7 just like any married Christian man is called to obey 1 Peter 3:7.

Right now, I am trying to learn the kind of intimacy and oneness with my wife that I haven’t known well enough in the past. It’s a major challenge for me, but I must follow through. I want to follow through.

Next to my relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is my relationship with this woman. It’s got to be my main thing.

There’s much more I could say, but I’ll stop there. Maybe in another blog I’ll add to these thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Gunnar, thanks for asking the question.

Abortion: Lessons from Daniel’s diet challenge

Gunnar’s post on 1/10/12, “Sanctity of Human Life” was right on.  Not long after coming to know the Lord in 1981, I was exposed to the reality of what abortion really is.  I had family members and friends that chose abortion based on the biased and limited propaganda that Planned Parenthood spewed pretty much unopposed.  Because that was pretty much all they were exposed to, they made a decision that not only had a radical consequence for their unborn babies, but also radical, life-long consequences for they themselves.

In response, I studied up on the subject and got involved with the pro-life movement in various ways, leading people from our church, (CC Escondido), to picket outside an abortion clinic in San Marcos, CA,  and even picketed with a large group of people at the NOW national conference that was held at the Hotel Del Coronado back when Roger Hedgecock was mayor of San Diego.

At the abortion clinic we pleaded with the women who were entering to re-consider what they were doing and tried to give them the reasons why we were pleading with them, attempting to explain to them what really takes place during an abortion.  We also warned them that they would be held responsible by the God who created mankind because they were willfully destroying a little person created in His image and likeness.  We never did turn actually turn away a woman while I was there, but the foot traffic in and out of the clinic definitely decreased on the days we were out there.

After a while, I was personally convicted that my role was to change in the battle for baby rights because others–many others had felt the call to do the confrontational stuff.  So, along with Pastor Pat Kenney, (the Sr. Pastor of CC Escondido at the time), we linked up with some other folks and actually attended a few of foundational steering committee meetings for what would become Alternatives Women’s Clinic, the clinic that Gunnar serves as a board member.

I wouldn’t have explained why I began to concentrate on that front of the battle the way I’m about to, but suffice it to say that I recognized that we had no credibility and no moral leg to stand on in the eyes of unbelievers if we didn’t offer an alternative to the women that we were trying to keep from aborting their babies.  (Which is why I believe the name “Alternatives” is about as good as it gets for what used to be called a “crisis pregnancy center”).

Over the years, I’ve stayed engaged to a degree, (but honestly, not to the degree that I’m content with), in various ways with Sanctity of life issues and was even blessed to speak at the annual fund-raising dinner for the Crisis pregnancy in St. George, UT, a few years ago.

As with pretty much all other things, my cross-cultural ministry study and experience, (think:  Missions!), has given me a different grid to process the whole abortion issue through.  I’m sharing it here because I’ve found that when I explain it to Christians and even non-Christians using this kind of terminology, it seems to bring some clarity to them.  I believe that as a pastor I need to regularly look for new ways to frame biblical truth so that God’s people can have a greater understanding of things and then be provoked by His Spirit to engage in those things that we know are close to His heart.

Here’s how I share my perspective of the abortion issue in America today:

1.  Do little girls joyfully dream about getting older and then having a medical procedure done on them that will destroy the baby that is growing inside of them?  I think not.

2.  If that is true, then what might cause a girl or woman to choose to submit to a procedure like abortion?

3.  Basically, in a free society like ours that values self-esteem as its pinnacle virtue,  a high degree of individualism is necessary in order for each person to esteem themselves as much as possible.  Thus, you have fertile ground for abortion rights and abortions to exist.

4.  Because of these foundational cultural traits, abortion is tolerated by the vast majority of Americans, even though they say they are personally against it.

5.  And thus, abortion is not only legal, but to most Americans it serves a crucial cultural purpose:  It provides a choice for the girl or woman to remove an obstacle that she believes will in some way limit her individualism because if her individualism is hindered,  her self-esteem may never be obtained and she may never be a completely fulfilled person.

In the realm of cross-cultural missions, if the missionary discovers a specific cultural trait that is contrary to Kingdom culture, that cultural trait must be exposed, condemned, and then abandoned.  But doing those things alone will NEVER really bring about true transformation away from that cultural trait.  The reason for this is simple:  Because every cultural trait serves a purpose within the larger culture.

So, we MUST be diligent and put forth the time and energy necessary to discover the role that specific cultural trait plays within the larger culture.  Once we understand what that purpose is within the larger culture, we can seek God’s wisdom regarding the introduction of a new cultural trait that is in line with Kingdom culture and that is capable of replacing the one we are condemning.  We basically make known to people that God and His kingdom offers a viable alternative to the ungodly practice.  That alternative is in line with His Kingdom and will actually accomplish what the ungodly trait did, but in a non destructive to mankind and God-honoring way.

A good example of this approach is found in Daniel, chapter one.  Why did kings in those days sift through the people their armies had conquered to find the best and brightest young people?  So they could shape them and mold them into people who would perpetuate the kingdom later on in their lives.  In their minds, the ultimate motive was for the good of the kingdom.  They believed their training regimen, right down to what the captives would eat, was the best way to accomplish their ultimate goal.

That was the context Daniel and his buddies were dropped into by the sovereignty of God.  They didn’t take a stand against learning a new language, a new culture, a new education, or even having their names changed to reflect pagan Gods. But, they did take a stand against the diet their training regimen required.  At that time, that diet was clearly opposed to an aspect of the Kingdom culture God had called His people to live within.

Daniel modeled the point I’m making.  He offered an alternative.  He asked for permission to embark on an alternative diet and then he gave the Babylonians the right to judge whether his alternative might actually have accomplished their ultimate goal better than their existing specific cultural trait, (unclean foods).

It’s similar to polygamy among many ethnic groups.  Polygamy isn’t primarily an expression of sexual addiction among the men.  In their culture, it serves many practical purposes.  Most of those purposes can be accomplished by a local church.  Alternatives can and should be offered, not just condemnation of the ungodly practice.

And so it is with abortion.  God’s people should offer alternatives.  We need to be able to say to those girls or women who are pregnant that we have an alternative for them.  We will use our resources to give them a choice.  Yes, there will be a minor restriction on their individualism if they see the pregnancy through to full term, but we’ll use our love and resources to keep that to a minimum.  And the day the baby is born, we’ll ensure that they can have their full individualism back at the very same time we place the baby into a family that will love and care for it with absolute joy.

To offer an alternative like this hinges on the body of Christ working together in unity and I thank God that it’s happening and I pray it will increase until the evil of abortion is done away with.

Finally, as a pastor John Piper challenges me at a number of levels.  In the area of abortion, his devotional book:  A God-ward Life contains a number of daily entries that analyze abortion from a number of different and very well thought out angles.  His commitment to doing a Sanctify of Life message every January for his congregation and his engaging the abortion issue in picketing abortion clinics and writing letters to the editor of his local newspaper is inspiring and convicting.  A senior pastor not just teaching about engaging his local community holistically but actually modeling it himself is something that a local church and the unbelievers in his community NEED to see.