Memorial Service – Sherman Lee McLellan
Crespo Jirrels Funeral Home,
1 August 2022
Good afternoon. For those of you with whom I have not had the pleasure of making your acquaintance, please allow me to introduce myself. I am the pastor of Alliance Bible Church, where “Poppy Sherm” attended for several years and, in 1992, was baptized with his grand-daughter Javonna. The family asked me to do the service today and I’m blessed to be here.
Let me explain the uniform for you. When I met with the family last week and they told me about “Poppy Sherm’s” background, I was struck by how much we had in common, despite our age difference and that we grew up in 2 very different places. I joke with people that I was a “pointy-eared Pentecostal” as a kid. There was a Pentecostal church across the street that my mom drug my sister and I to growing up (thus the pointy ears), and my dad would come to faith quietly and later in life. As I found out, “Poppy Sherm” also grew up a “pointy eared Pentecostal” kid, being drug to church by his religious parents. He also couldn’t wait to escape the small town he grew up in and moved to Texas, settling in the big city of Baytown. His ticket out of town was the military. In his case, the Air Force, where I was told he served as a chaplains assistant. Well, my ticket out of my town was through a military college where God called me to a route I didn’t expect: ministry and the military as a chaplain. Poppy Sherm was always proud of his service, as am I, and that would be a sufficient reason to wear the uniform as an honor and testament to him. But, you see, chaplains and chaplains assistants have a special and unique bond unlike any other in the military: they are a UMT (Unit Ministry Team). Wherever one is, you will almost always find the other. They develop a special bond unlike any other Officer & Enlisted personnel that often continues beyond their service together. So, I’m blessed to be able to honor a fellow Unit Ministry Team member not just by speaking at his funeral, but also by wearing my Army uniform as a fellow member of a small club of those who have served in Unit Ministry Teams.
More important, though, than what he and I have in common is what he and someone else have in common. As I talked with the family about what he was like, and what his life was like, I was reminded of someone else. Someone in Scripture. Someone much more important and significant than myself, and that’s what I want to share with you about today. Listen to the story of “Poppy Sherm’s” life reminded me of...THE APOSTLE PAUL. As his kids unfolded the events of his life, and helped me better understand him as a man, I couldn’t get away from the similarities between him and Paul. Let me give you a few examples.
They both had a sense of wonder and adventure. While Paul didn’t grow up in a small town in Illinois, he did set out on a path to leave his hometown of Tarsus. Poppy Sherm used the military as his ticket out into the world, while Paul used religious education. But, more importantly, neither ever lost their sense of wonder and awe at God’s creation. His kids told me many stories of road trips that they took with their dad as kids, and his sense of awe and wonder for the spectacular. Paul’s awe and wonder for God’s creation often came out spontaneously in his writings, too. He told Timothy, his young protégé, that “everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” Poppy Sherm always seemed to grasp that concept, from his time in Air Force in Montana in the late 50’s to watching fireworks and going to circus in his 80’s.
They both exhibited patience and gentleness with others. One common thread that came from his kids was that he was patient with them, even when they did crazy things like...throw their little brother through a window or set the garage on fire. As a father of five, I know how easy it can be to lose your temper, and how often it can happen, so to hear them describe his gentleness and patience with his kids, even when they were quite ornery, was humbling, And, it reminded me again of Paul and his patience rooted in love. When God commissioned Paul in Acts 9, he told him that he would speak before kings. And yet, his journey to get there was long and painful. He preached often to folks who didn’t want to listen and who even reacted violently against him. And yet, time and time again through the book of Acts, Paul continued to lovingly, gently, and patiently preach and live out the Gospel before them. Paul was likely of the philosophy that some things are better “caught than taught”, and while he was obviously a great teacher, he patiently and gently lived out the principles that he was teaching to others. More than teaching about patience and gentleness, he modeled it. The same was beautifully said in describing Poppy Sherm.
They both exhibited a loving, committed, and admirable dedication to their family. His kids told me that, as a dad, he would call in and check on them just to make sure they were ok. “How are you doing? Do you need anything?” He would spend time with his grandkids and great-grandkids with no agenda other than to be with them. This same dedication was there throughout his life, from when his kids were young until they were...not so young. He sacrificed for them and was always there for anything they might have needed. Now, while Paul never had kids, he showed the same loving and committed dedication to his Gospel family. While God called him to reach the Gentiles with the Gospel, he never lost his love and commitment toward his people: the Israelites. He spent his entire life with the desire to serve them, sacrifice for them, and see them walk with Jesus. In fact, in Romans 9:3 he even says that he would go to hell in their place if it meant they would be with Jesus. Amazing, isn’t it? Here was a man so dedicated to his people, that he says with conviction and sincerity that he would exchange his own salvation for theirs if it meant they would know Jesus personally. If you were to survey Poppy Sherm’s family, I bet they would say the same of his dedication to them: he would do anything for them without hesitation and with sincerity and conviction. A man of such deep love and dedication is a blessing and a treasure.
Most importantly, and most poignantly, they both paint a beautiful picture of redemption, transformation, and hope in Jesus Christ. The thing that stuck out to me most, though, was the beautiful picture of Jesus’ redemption in their life. Paul’s story is well known: a persecutor, a blasphemer, and a violent man before Jesus (his own words). He was a central figure in the story of Stephen, the first martyr...and he was a bad guy, not a good guy, in that story. And yet, when Jesus knocked him off his high horse in Acts 9, he was forever changed. A different man. A redeemed man. A transformed man full of hope in Jesus Christ.
Even with all the great attributes Poppy Sherm lived out throughout his life, his kids were clear that he spent a good portion of his adult life away from the faith and religion of his youth. While he was dragged to church as a pointy-eared Pentecostal, it seems he left that faith in his hometown when he left. Until...he met Jesus again later in life, at which point he was completely transformed. He was baptized when he was almost 60 with his grand-daughter, and went on to serve as a member and deacon at Second Baptist Church in Houston. He and Paul both could agree with the great hymn writer, John Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace: John Newton, “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.” It’s because of this transforming and redeeming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that this service, while still sad, is truly a hopeful celebration. For those who know and love Jesus, death is only the beginning. Poppy Sherm would agree today with Paul when he said, in I Thessalonians 4, that “we don’t grieve in the same way as others who have no hope.” No, we grieve full of hope and joy, knowing not only that Poppy Sherm is forever with Jesus, but that our lives can be just like his and Paul’s – transformed today and full of hope for tomorrow.
Paul said it beautifully in Romans 10: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” In a world dying to find some hope, struggling with skepticism and cynicism, and believing that the sky is falling, let Poppy Sherm’s life remind us today of the powerful truth of the Gospel: Jesus Christ can change a life from darkness to light, from mourning to joy, and from death to life. All it requires is faith in Him and turning to Him.
C.S. Lewis called this “The Great Exchange”: my life for Jesus’ life. A true win-win! I give Jesus my life and He gives me His. I want to finish up today asking you to consider where your hope is, and what happens to you after you die. Have you encountered Jesus? If not, today is the day for salvation. We are not promised tomorrow, and the same hope and redemption Poppy Sherm experienced is available today. Right now. Jesus Himself speaks to you today, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
I’ll ask that we all take a few moments and meditate on our own lives. What kind of life are we leading? What significant purpose is our life serving? Based on today, what words would we expect uttered at our funeral? And, ultimately, what is our eternal destiny? I’m going to ask that we take thirty seconds of quiet meditation and go before the Lord and examine our own hearts and lives in light of this truth.
Let’s take 30 seconds. I’ll watch the time.
Our Father, we thank you for the hope we have in you. Thank you that you take us as we are, where we are, and however we are and transform our lives and our eternity in an instant. Thank you for this man, Poppy Sherm, and the beautiful living reminder he is to each of us of the hope of salvation and transformation. Thank you for the life he led, and thank you for the lives he leaves behind. May this service today be a fitting honor to Him and to you. And continue to draw each of us closer to you so that, like Him, we enjoy the fullness of your presence for eternity when our life ends and you call us home. Thank you for the gift of human life, and thank you for the gift of Your life to us. In Jesus’ name I pray. AMEN.
Memorial Service – Wade Stuart Waltman
Crespo and Jirrels Funeral Home
29 June 2022
Good afternoon! My name is Justin DuBose and I have to tell you the story of how I got connected with Sandra and her kids to be a part of this service today.
STORY OF JEREMY REACHING OUT AT FORT BRAGG, CALLING SANDRA, AND FINDING OUT THAT WE WERE NEIGHBORS AND OUR KIDS PLAYED TOGETHER IN THE STREET
Funerals and memorial services force us to think on certain things that we otherwise would perhaps not consider. The most obvious is our own mortality. No one likes to think too much about their own life and death, but these moments force us to think about it. Before we leave here today, we will pause briefly and consider our own lives and what someone might say at our funeral.
However, before I do that, I want to share some words from Walt’s kids. These are from some social media posts that Sandra shared with me when I went to go talk to the family a couple of nights ago.
READ TEXTS AND TRIBUTES FROM KIDS
I also want to provide an opportunity for some of you to share your own memories of Walt. As the stranger here, I certainly don’t want to be the only one who speaks given that I did not know him at all. So, at this point, if one or two of you have a short memory to share that would highlight some of the personality that made up his life and character, I want to invite you to stand up and share with us all.
As your stories and memories make evident, life is truly a precious gift. It is really a testament to the inherent value that life has that brought us all here today. Sure – this is a memorial service for Mr. Waltman, but is a memorial to his life and a celebration of that life that brings families and friends together for occasions such as this. We understand that life itself is precious, immeasurably valuable, and, above all, worthy of remembering and celebrating together. It’s life, not death, that brought us here today and, if you’ll indulge me for a few moments longer, I’d like to share with you a truth that radically transformed my own view, understanding, and appreciation of the gift of life. As you ponder your own life, I would ask you to please consider what I mentioned earlier – the meaningfulness of your life, the purpose for which you live now, and the words which, one day, some person will utter from a podium while you lie eternally still surrounded by your own loved ones.
During my teenage years I came across a poem by a man named C.T. Studd who was a famous British cricketer before he devoted his life to Christ and served as a missionary to China from the 1880’s until his death in the 1930’s. The course of his life was radically altered when his brother became deathly ill and Studd, at the height of his athletic fame, was forced to address the question, “What is all the fame and flattery worth when a man comes to face eternity?” In pondering that question, he immediately gave up his athletic fame and flattery for a life on the mission field. While on the mission field he wrote the poem, “Only One Life.” This poem radically changed not just my own understanding of life, but even my life itself. The poem reads like this:
Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
What was Studd saying here? He was highlighting a deep, amazing biblical truth about life: our lives, as short or long as they may be, when surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ can make a difference for all eternity. Studd understood, and I urge you to understand, the words of Christ from John 11:25-26. Jesus here was speaking to a woman about what real, true life was, and he uttered these timeless words. He said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
The Bible speaks frequently about life. James 4 says very pointedly, “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” Our lives, the Bible tells us, are like mists of water that are here for a little while and then vanish. Psalm 90 even quantifies that word “life” for us. It reads, “The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty, if we have the strength; for they quickly pass, and we fly away. Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
The sad truth of life is that we really just don’t know whether we have one decade, eight decades, or four decades of life in store for us. But, one thing we can all agree on – especially today – is that every single day we have is a gift from God and ought to be lived to the fullest. And, when it comes to life and living it to the fullest, the Bible is very clear about two things: life is short, but, through our Lord Jesus Christ, we may have eternal life and blessed rejoicing in His presence.
Here's what I want you to think about today as we celebrate life: is this “blessed rejoicing” reserved only for those, like Walt, who have died and passed on to eternity? Or is this something that we can have today, in this life? How can you experience that true life on Earth that Jesus was addressing? Is it even possible, or is it reserved only for life beyond the grave? I would suggest to you this afternoon that just as a physical Jesus was speaking to a physical woman about her life, so He would say the same to you: this day, because of the resurrected Lord, you too may experience this true life. Your life, today, can be an experience of life the way our Creator intended it to be both now and for eternity – a walk that involves loved and being loved, known and being known by an eternal God.
On one of the many occasions when the Pharisees were questioning Jesus, He responded to them in John 5:24 and said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” Don’t overlook the fact that Jesus uses that verb in the past tense. You HAVE eternal life; you HAVE crossed over from death to life. Jesus is telling us something of immeasurable importance here: it has already happened! True life, REAL life, as the Lord intended it to be is available now and not just after we die. What amazing truth that the Lord would have you receive this afternoon! Real life – true life – life as it was intended to be experienced is available for this life, today, and the life to come. How does this life that Jesus speaks of contrast to life that so many lead apart from him?
As strange as this may sound, I’d like to demonstrate this contrast of true life as compared to just living using an illustration from the famous children’s book, “The Velveteen Rabbit”. This famous children’s book, published 100 years ago now, chronicles the story of a little stuffed rabbit and his desire to become real through the love of his owner. As I read a section of this book, you can imagine the difference in a life lived without Christ, which is void of any real life, as compared to an authentic, dynamic personal walk with our Lord.
“The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it. “What is REAL?” asked the velveteen rabbit one day, when they were laying side by side near the nursery fender, before nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?” “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” “Does it hurt?” asked the rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are real, you don’t mind being hurt.” “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter, at all, because once you are real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Is that not a magnificent illustration of the difference in experiencing REAL life and just living? Real life is something that happens to you, as the Skin Horse told the rabbit, and the Scripture tells us that this “something” is the overwhelming presence of Christ Jesus our Lord. Real life is not even understood apart from the love of Christ present in our lives. And, what is most spectacular to me in all of this, is that Jesus tells us that this real, true life is available to us on this side of eternity. Today, Jesus tells us, if we simply confess with our mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and surrender our life to Him, then we can finally, truly, and personally experience real, true life. And, like the Skin Horse intimated to the velveteen rabbit, once you are real you can never be unreal again, nor would you ever want to.
You see, this is the difference in life with Christ and life without. A life with Jesus is not just for life beyond our final earthly breath, it is very much for every day of this “mist” that the Lord gives you. The difference is in being one amongst a crowd of faces and one who truly knows and understands love and can rest in such love. Jesus speaks to you today, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
I’ll ask that we all take a few moments and meditate on our own lives. What kind of life are you leading? What goals are you pursuing? What significant purpose is your life serving? Based on today, what words would you expect uttered at your funeral? And, ultimately, what is your eternal destiny? I’m going to ask that we take thirty seconds of quiet meditation and go before the Lord and examine our own hearts and lives in light of this truth.
Let’s take 30 seconds. I’ll watch the time.
I’d like to close this service by singing a benediction from Numbers 6. It was a benediction of blessing by the priest over the people. As you consider what we’ve considered today, I do pray and will pray that your life – today, tomorrow, and for eternity – would be blessed by the presence of Jesus Christ.
“The Lord bless thee and keep thee. The Lord make His face to shine upon thee. The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee and give thee peace. And be gracious unto thee, and be gracious unto thee. The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee and give thee peace.”
I was thinking and praying after our meeting last night (which I really enjoyed). I wanted to get my thoughts organized and send them to you.
I think, in general, I feel God constantly pulling me to lead the church outside of its walls and for what time I do spend inside its walls being spent raising up leaders who can also help lead people outside of its walls. Here are just a few examples of how God is orchestrating this and what I’m sensing:
- Sermons. Even my sermon focus on the Kingdom of God is to help people see the BIG Kingdom of God and serve in it. The very thrust of my messages is to push people outside the walls of the church to build the Kingdom. I’m not asking them to serve within the church, but to build the Kingdom. (Someone else should ask that of them and point out those needs, but I don't believe that is me.)
- Community Groups. The entire intent of community groups was/is to do outreach. So far, that hasn’t really happened. I didn’t want to create just another Bible study opportunity for Christians, but a way to organize ourselves so that we could easily reach our neighbors and communities. I still want to do that, but just need some help.
- Ministry Partners & Renters. Ever since I met Coach Coop, I’ve been praying that God would send ABC partners who could either serve with us to reach the harvest, or who could use our building to help us reach the harvest. So far, we have him and the hispanic church paying to rent the facilities. There are others whom I’ve met and talked to but nothing materialized. It seems to be something God has been doing lately…bringing along others who can either help us reach others or pay rent to provide us more resources to build the Kingdom with. I believe there are more out there and I'd like to find them and spend time discipling them.
- Pastor Teboh. Who knows what will come of this ministry partner, but he is another example of how God is drawing people (perhaps other laborers) to ABC. This relationship is a walk of faith, but, for now, I am trying to discern what God may be doing with us together.
- Church planting. Since David got here, we have been focused on church planting. This is yet another walk of faith, and I am praying and trusting God to bring in new people and show us how he is moving in that direction. That all means more time to devote to that.
- BAMA. I am hoping to get to know more local pastors and serve in the broader Baytown community. My first opportunity to meet with them will be next month, but this is yet another “outside the church” ministry opportunity I am trusting God with.
- ministry4x4. As I am writing this curriculum, I am really praying and trusting that God will use it to help speak to and equip Victor, Jeremy, Nathan, and Bryan about their leadership potential. However, I also believe God can and will use it outside of Baytown to build the Kingdom. I don’t know what that looks like, but I believe God is in it.
- Funeral for my neighbors. The funeral I am doing tomorrow is a good example of the types of ministry opportunities I’d like to take advantage of. I am hoping not to just do the funeral and leave, but to develop an ongoing relationship with my neighbors. That all takes time and energy.
The tension, though, is constantly being pulled back inward to the mechanics of the church: operations, personnel, budget, calendar, etc. I haven’t figured out how to successfully release some of these things without just doing it. In thinking about it, I believe there are three key areas God wants me to release and I could use your help in figuring out how to do it well.
- Empowering and releasing Viandra to be the facility manager. I need Viandra to be more assertive and take a more active role in managing the facilities and ministries that take place on our campus. She is on the payroll, after all. She is gradually doing more and more, but I am talking with her tomorrow about having full and complete authority to purchase what we need, coordinate ministries, manage our renters, and make decisions without consulting me. This is a choke point for us and I’m going to entrust more to her and see how she does with it. I am honestly not sure if she is capable of doing this, but I want to try and see how she does with it.
- Letting the admin team function without me. I spoke with Wally earlier in the year about taking the lead on the admin team. I’m going to talk with him tomorrow about just taking the reigns entirely and letting me know when he needs me there. I believe I am too involved in trying to lead the admin team like I lead the elders and they and I would be better off without my presence there.
- Stepping out of the community groups. I had hoped to lead community groups into outreach without actually leading a community group. However, as soon as I started having my own group, everyone joined my group. This is the opposite of what I want to happen. They all love it, but I don’t want it to be Justin’s club where we gather, eat, and pray. I want them to function without me and my personality, and I believe they will do better if someone NOT named Justin DuBose can lead them and I can simply come alongside that person and lead them. I am having coffee tomorrow morning with Dave Truncale to ask him to consider serving as the Community Group Coordinator.
There are so many other things I could say, but this is where I am and, I think, the source of the ministry tension I’ve been feeling lately. I’d appreciate your prayers and wise counsel. You guys are all a huge blessing to me.
In March 2021 I resigned my commission as an Army Reserve officer. Well, at least I wrote a letter saying I was and why. I was tired, couldn’t seem to find joy in my labor, and didn’t see anything changing. Ministry in a world without physical contact and interaction was a world I just didn’t feel like I could or wanted to live in. Leading my family and church and trying to finish a doctorate degree during a global pandemic felt like more than enough. I felt like I was drowning while still trying to rescue others.
I talked with my Commander and told him of my plans. He said, “Justin, I’ll support you whatever you decide to do” but also gave me sound advice and perspective. After seeking out counsel from mentors and friends, I decided to just pray, wait, and keep serving until God gave me some semblance of an answer.
Today, after more than two years in my position, I finally got to meet - for the first time - the team I had been leading and serving (minus a few). I have had weekly and often daily phone calls, texts, and emails with them, prayed with and for them, supported and encouraged them in their work, but never looked them in the eye, gave them a hug, or sat down and ate lunch together.
Today, I’m exceedingly thankful that I never submitted that letter. These teams cover 8 states and are doing amazing ministry. I’m proud of them and thankful that I get to be a part of it. Thanks to good counsel from great people, mixed with faith, patience, and persistence, today was a good day of reaping for me after what has felt like many months of sowing.
This Memorial Day, my heart and mind have been on the sanctity of life and preciousness of self-sacrifice.
When I was a student and cadet at the University of North Georgia, there was a Memorial Wall with the names of former students who died in combat. When I arrived, there was only one name on the wall for Post-9/11 combat deaths, added just months before. Six names were added while I was there and another has been added since. Even then, I was the same age as some of my fellow students and cadets who died. Now, pushing 20 years later, I've lived longer than most of them.
I was particularly touched by one death: MAJ Kevin Jenrette. He lived in the same small town we did, a town of only about 2,500. I remember joining the crowds of people to welcome his casket back home and being somberly reminded of the cost of freedom. We lived in the same town, went to the same school, and both were married and raising a family.
Since that summer day in 2009, I have been blessed with more children, experienced the many joys of life, enjoyed the freedom to pursue goals, educate and raise children as I see fit, worship, speak, and assemble freely, and so much more. I am now almost the same age he was when he was killed and now wear the same rank. With all that, I'm just feeling the weight of such sacrifice; the cost of having a life cut short in defense and protection of your neighbors. So many have been robbed of the days, months, and years of growing old and experiencing the beauty in the changing seasons of life. I owe them a great debt, and I am very grateful to serve them and serve with them.
Today, my prayer is that I can be a good steward of the freedoms God has blessed me with, and that my kids have an awareness of the high cost to protect the life they enjoy every day.
I wrote the following devotional for the C&MA 40 Days of Prayer Devotional to be published in January 2023. My passage was Ephesians 6. It asked for a short biography, a devotional thought, and a prayer.
BIO: Lead Pastor, Alliance Bible Church (Baytown, TX). CH (MAJ) in the USAR serving as chaplain for the 7th Psychological Operations Group (POG). Husband to Alanna since 2005. Father to 5 beautiful kids. Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership. Passionate about equipping God's people to mobilize and training present and future Kingdom leaders.
DEVOTIONAL: You must remember that each day God permits you life on this planet, you are engaged in spiritual warfare. This is not simply a descriptive statement (acknowledging a truth). For the Christian, this is a prescriptive statement (a truth you must act on).
When Paul talks about putting on the armor of God to the Ephesian Christians (Ephesians 6:10-18), he makes it clear that it is a necessary first step for every Christian. It is the armor of God that gives you the strength to stand firm (v. 11), fight against the mighty powers of darkness who rule this world (v. 12), and be fully prepared for what He is calling you to (v. 15).
Are you feeling spiritually exhausted? Defeated? Overwhelmed? Unprepared? Are you ready to retreat? Circle the wagons? Wave the white flag of surrender to the world around you? Is the enemy too great and your own strength too small?
Your Father promises you His strength and victory when you lay down your armor and weapons and take up His. Don't be fooled into thinking that acknowledging this truth is the same as acting on it. Paul's final encouragement in this passage is to "pray at all times and on every occasion".
Make it a point today to spend time with Him in prayer. Confess your dependence on Him. Don't stop praying until you are encircled with His peace. Meditate on Scripture. Consider His truth and righteousness. His armor brings the victory today. Put it on, Christian!
PRAYER: Father, you have called me to spiritual warfare today. Without You, I cannot win. If I fight this battle on my own, defeat is certain.
Fill me with Your peace today. Remind me of who You are. You are the God of truth. You are the God of righteousness. You are the God of salvation.
I confess my dependence on Your Holy Spirit. Replace my exhaustion with Your joy and my fear with Your boldness. Fill me with Your strength that I may stand firm and fight faithfully today.
I’ve been praying and thinking over our recent conversations and some of the struggles and wrestlings you’ve expressed. I wanted to get my thoughts together and send you what I hope is a combination of direction and encouragement. I seem to communicate more clearly in written form as I have time to think and articulate more precisely about complex issues. I think you also receive written communication better, as you can comb through it and process it piece-by-piece over time. So, I hope this helps! If so, I’ll try and get my thoughts together and communicate more frequently with you like this.
When we responded to God leading us to the Greenhouse model (and to you in particular), it was with the understanding that we (and me more than any other individual) provide you with a platform for learning, growth, further developing a sense and understanding of your calling, and experimental leadership in a safe environment. Much like a Greenhouse provides a safe environment for a plant to grow and mature until it can be planted on its own, that has been my goal for the nature of ABC’s relationship to you. So, all long, this is how I’ve tried to structure and shape the environment for you.
In light of our recent conversations, I thought it would be beneficial for us both if I could lay out again some of my thought processes. With six months of “saddle time” behind us, I thought it would also be a good re-calibration as we prepare for the future 18-24 months together. As I’ve mentioned, I really believe that having regular meetings with the elders to focus specifically on church planting will be needed and good. That way, you are hearing these same things from them and not just me. And, as we all hear from you, it can help continually shape and re-shape the environment here as needed to fit with your unique needs and timeline. So, here is just some of what I think would be good for you to hear again from me now, and the elders, too, as we meet together this year. These are some of the “big things” I’ve been aiming to give you since you’ve been here, and what I feel our strengths as a church are in helping you prepare for your future as a church planter.
Being an integral part of a church team while considering how you want to shape your own team.
I know that one of your major needs as a church planter is a team. While ABC may or may not have a “team” in the sense of individuals who will physically go with you to plant a church, we do have a team that is ministering together currently. I believe one of our biggest contributions to you is giving you experience on our team. You get to work with others and get your own sense (and feedback from your team members) on what your major strengths and contributions are, and where you may need more experience or help from others. There is a sense in which the experience itself is a major benefit to you, but there is another sense in which you get to pray, think, and plan on what your team should look like. There is no expectation that our team will be your team when you plant, but conceptualizing a team for yourself - based, in some degree, upon your experience with our team - before you launch is a major blessing.
So, while you’re on our team, please make plenty of observations and ask plenty of questions about team composition and dynamics: Why is something this way? How would you think about this? What if my team were to look and function like this instead of that? Can you help me pray through this and figure this out? With the safe environment of a Greenhouse, I believe one of the greatest benefits to you is using this experience to help shape your own team rather than feeling like you need to re-shape this team.
An additional benefit, I’m sure, will be gauging how to work within an imperfect and incomplete team. We all have ideals, but God gives us a certain lot to change the world with and they never match the ideal. What do you do then? I believe this Greenhouse environment is great for wrestling with those types of questions, and me and the elders can and want to help you pray, think, and plan through them together.
Get experience leading and managing volunteers while considering how you want to lead your own.
In many ways, I think our “team” will look much like your church planting team and environment: everyone is either bi-vocational, part-time, or a volunteer. You have a teaching job, I have a job with the Army that demands time every week, Viandra is part-time, and everyone else is a volunteer. For a church planter, a team like this would be as good as it gets. It’s much more likely that it’s all volunteer for you when you launch.
Our Greenhouse environment is perfect for considering these real-life leadership challenges. For example, when working with volunteers at ABC, consider questions like these:
Like I said before, our volunteers won’t necessarily be your volunteers, but your volunteers will have the same life issues and time constraints that ours do. I believe that talking through these issues with me and our elders before you launch on your own is a major blessing for you. We’re creating time to have these conversations, and I just want to encourage you to make as many observations and ask as many questions as you can as you encounter these issues here. In my case, I never had the responsibility of leading volunteers until I got to my first church. There was such a steep learning curve, and it would have been amazing to have a Greenhouse-type environment to learn in. I wrote out that “Volunteer Philosophy” document last year based solely on learning what not to do based on my own false assumptions and mistakes. I see this as a huge benefit to you in our Greenhouse environment.
Being a part of the administrative processes of a church while considering what you want your processes to look like.
I never got to be a part of the team that plans and executes the budget, or plans and manages the calendar until I was on my own. What a painful learning curve that was! Sitting in on our admin meetings is a major blessing of our Greenhouse environment. Seeing how agendas are developed, meetings are run, and money is organized and budgeted is an experience that is huge to have before you launch out on your own. Again, please make observations and ask questions as you pray and consider your own admin team and processes. For example, you may very well note that how I chair meetings is the exact opposite of how you would want to chair meetings. What an invaluable experience to see what not to do.
So, again, please don’t feel any pressure to “contribute” in any particular way to our admin processes and team. That’s not to say that I/we wouldn’t welcome such contributions, but I see the greatest benefit for you as observing and learning from us how you want to shape your own team and processes. Use this Greenhouse environment as an iterative learning process. And, as you’re observing and learning here, please utilize me and our elders as much as possible to help you shape your own admin team, processes, and budget.
Leading ministries (like community groups) not as a function of your role as an ABC pastor, but as a template for leading your own.
I could be wrong, but I sense that you feel some amount of pressure to “measure up” (for lack of a better phrase) to your role as a staff member at ABC. Please know that I/we don’t have any expectations for that. I don’t see the main function and/or benefit of your role as Outreach Pastor as leading events or multiplying our community groups and I don’t want you to, either. All of your roles are under the “Greenhouse” umbrella and are intended to simply provide you a template for leading your own groups, events, and church in the future.
For example, learning how to lead a community group of volunteers into ownership of outreach is a far more valuable skill than executing 4 outreach events in a year. I know that doesn’t translate to quantitative data on a report sheet, but I believe our Greenhouse environment to be well-situated to help you develop those skills as a church planter and pastor. I also believe those skills are much more indispensable for you than learning how to plan and coordinate an outreach event.
So, again, please don’t feel any pressure to “perform” in any way here. As time goes on, you (and/or Eddie) may feel that other skills are more valuable than what you are currently getting at ABC (like networking or fundraising, for example) and that you need to focus on those skills. If that’s the case, we are more than happy to pray, think, and plan those things with you in a way that suits what you need. That’s precisely what these monthly conversations with the elders will be for.
Providing you the space and dialogue to experiment, whether that leads to success or failure, without fear of consequences.
I believe that one of the greatest blessings to folks is giving them the ability to succeed or fail in an endeavor without fear of consequences. After you plant a church, the stakes increase exponentially for you. But here, you can experiment to find what works and doesn’t work for you without any fear of consequences. I see this as the single greatest blessing of our Greenhouse environment. Preach the worst sermon in human history? It’s ok! Have an outreach event that completely bombs? No problem! Communicate in a way that causes more confusion than clarity? All is well. I want you to feel safe and comfortable experimenting here and leaning into your relationships and dialogue with me and the elders to learn and grow from your experimenting (whether success or failure) when it happens rather than being timid or fearful of making a mistake.
The way I see it, our Greenhouse environment is one where you can maximize your learning and grow exponentially in a short period of time because it is a training environment. Both the ability to try it and to talk about it are massive blessings for you. As I’ve said before, I don’t want you to have any fear of consequences from ministry mistakes. We are for you, brother, and this is a wonderful environment for you to grow in!
These are just some of the thoughts I’ve been thinking and praying over for you and us. When we get together on the 7th, I’d like to start the meeting talking about what I see as our greatest Greenhouse assets for you and then let you hear from the other elders, too. From there, we will walk prayerfully alongside you every month, helping you develop and build the foundation you (and Eddie) believe is necessary for your future church plant.
Grateful to be with you in this journey,
You asked me last week about a fun and exciting (can you sense my sarcasm) ecclesiology issue: church governance structures. While every model has some biblical merit, there is no perfect solution. The problem with every church governance structure is that it’s always comprised of men, and we, of course, are inherently sinful.
So, I wanted to first lay out the general descriptions of each church governance structure with the biblical texts often used in support of them. Then, consider each structure in light of some biblical mandates for the church and realities of leadership to help explain how I formed my own opinion about what is both most biblical and most practical.
Think of possible church government models and structures as points along a spectrum. On one end you have consolidated authority in the hand of a pastor (often referred to as the “Moses” model). On the other end would be diffused, shared leadership where a church leader (not necessarily a pastor) has essentially no real authority at all (such as congregational models or those in the Churches of Christ). In between the two, you have a variety of models (elder-led, deacons, advisory boards, etc). I’ll lay out each structure and then talk about the strengths and weaknesses of each below.
In general, though, you have four models of church government: Episcopal, Mono-Episcopal (Moses), Presbyterian, and Congregational. The Alliance is some mix of Presbyterian and Episcopal polity.
An Episcopal church structure is a more hierarchical structure where Bishops (or Superintendents) play a prominent role. Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, and Lutherans fit pretty well into this category. Bishops appoint pastors to serve in churches and can decide the length of their service there. Bishops have a great deal of authority and congregations and their leadership are basically “along for the ride”. An Episcopal polity sees Scriptures like Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 5 as the New Testament basis for their structure, and would go back to Moses in Deuteronomy as Old Testament evidence. When Paul instructs Titus and Timothy to appoint elders in the church, he is seen as functioning as a Bishop: appointing Titus and Timothy to lead their local congregation.
Mono-Episcopal (often referred to as “The Moses Model”) would be what many non-denominational churches are nowadays. Essentially, one man begins a work and functions as its “Bishop”, or overseer. In contrast to the Episcopal polity (which has a Council of Bishops), this Mono-Episcopal leader has no colleagues and exercises pretty much unilateral oversight of the church. The leader could appoint elders in the church, or have an advisory board or something else, but basically it’s their work to lead because God called them, gave them a burden for the work, and raised them up for it. He may bring in others to help with the work, but the burden of leadership (and, thus, the decision-making authority) rests with them. Moses is obviously cited as the basis for this model of leadership. He was selected and appointed by God to lead His people (Exodus 3) and served as the mediator between God and man, declaring to them the Word of the Lord (Deuteronomy 5). Just as Moses had judges to help him in his work (Exodus 18), so these men have those to help them in their work (basically elders and deacons as outlined in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and Acts 6). However, like Moses, they have been uniquely called by God to lead.
A Presbyterian church structure is one which places a heavier emphasis on the role of local church elders. Presbyterian churches (surprise!) and many identifying as “Reformed” fit pretty neatly into this category. Basically, the emphasis of leadership is on a group of locally elected (as opposed to appointed) elders (in contrast to a Bishop, pastor, or congregation). A Presbyterian polity sees the role of elders as described in Titus 1, 1 Timothy 3, and 1 Peter 5 as being carried out by a group of locally elected men. Depending on the church or denomination, these elders can serve as part of a larger group of elders (a Synod, for example). But, this is not seen as a higher or greater level of authority, but as delegated authority from the local body of elders. Pastors are one of the elders but do not hold any more weight, influence, or leadership than the rest of the group. Essentially they are “SME’s” in theology, preaching, or religion but don’t bear the burden of local church leadership.
A Congregational church structure is one which places the local church and its unique polity as the higher form of authority. There are, generally speaking, no conventions, Synods, districts, or other broder bodies which have any authority or influence over the local church. Baptists and Churches of Christ of course are quintessential examples of Congregational churches. They may still have pastors, elders, and/or deacons…but they may not. Most Baptist churches would have locally elected elders and/or deacons and church pastors according to their views of Titus 1, 1 Timothy 3, and 1 Peter 5. Churches of Christ, though, may not have a pastor at all and may be led entirely by locally elected elders and deacons based on their interpretation of those same passages. Specifics of church composition and polity (like everything else) is left up to each local congregation.
So, while each of these have some basis in Scripture, it’s not simply a matter of saying, “for the Bible tells me so” when it comes to church government structures. They each look at the same Scriptures and have different interpretations of what that looks like. There’s another really important aspect of church governance that, in my opinion, I would put at least on par with the Scriptures listed above. To me, the more important question is this: What church government structure best enables the church to live out the mission of God in the world? To answer this question, there are several important factors to consider.
I believe in the biblical role and purpose of ordination. Ordination is a biblical practice that goes all the way back to the Old Testament. Interestingly, it always involves three things: the laying on of hands, an acknowledgement of God’s calling, and the setting apart for some exercise of spiritual leadership. Moses famously laid hands on Joshua (Numbers 27 and Deuteronomy 39) to set him apart as the next spiritual leader of Israel. This is an indication not of Moses selecting Joshua, but of Moses’ acknowledgement that God had selected Joshua. We see this same pattern in the New Testament, too. In Acts 13, God tells the church to “set apart” Barnabas and Paul. The Greek there indicates that God has called them for a separate and distinct purpose than others. Much like Moses and Joshua in the Old Testament, we then see Paul and Barnabas laying hands on others for the same reasons. In Acts 14:23, elders were “ordained” for the churches. This is a different Greek word than in the previous chapter and it means “to take particular charge of a duty, either by appointment or election”. So, while Barnabas and Paul were “set apart” by God for a calling, the elders in Acts 14 seem to be appointed by Paul and Barnabas to carry out their functions as elders. This is the same word used for Titus’s ordination in 2 Corinthians 8:19. Titus being instructed to appoint elders in Titus 1 also seems to carry the same connotation as Acts 14 (that is, being elected or appointed to carry out the functions of an office).
So, I believe in the biblical practice of ordination. I believe God calls and sets apart certain people for spiritual leadership. This calling is then affirmed by other men of God with the laying on of hands. So, I believe there is an important place for biblical leadership within the church.
The mission of God for the church demands leadership. In addition, I also see where leadership is needed/demanded within the church for the mission that God has given the church. God’s mission for the church is to GO! We are to go into all the world as ambassadors for Christ and His Kingdom and make disciples (Matthew 28; 2 Corinthians 5:20). However, you and I both know that in our humanity we are inherently selfish and sinful (Jeremiah 17:9) and in constant need of both rescue from sin (Romans 7:24) but also redirection toward the heart and mission of God (Romans 12:1-2; Psalm 51).
In theology, we call it “sin”...that which tends to constantly draw us away from God and from which God constantly redeems us. However, this principle is not limited to just theology. We find it at work all around us everyday. In science, it’s called “entropy”. The idea is that things tend toward disorder and chaos. In parenting, it’s called “Clean up your room…again!”. In the military it’s called “PMCS” because vehicles and equipment break down without constant interruption by people. In project management it’s called “scope creep”, because projects tend to get away from their original purpose and design. With people it’s called “aging”. In the business world it’s called “management”. In education, it’s called “administration”. You get my point!
What I’m saying is that people tend toward contentment with the status quo and not toward fulfillment of God’s heart and mission. Thus, the very mission of God for the church demands leadership. So, I believe that God calls and sets apart certain people, gives them a calling, burden and capacity for leadership, and places them within the Church according to His good will and pleasure. So, church systems that do not have a place for spiritual leadership will inevitably tend toward consensus around the status quo, entropy, and bear increasingly little fruit.
Spiritual leadership is modeled throughout Scripture. I would suggest that you see plenty of examples in Scripture of spiritual leadership, both by individuals and groups (such as elders). In Acts 15, for example, you see a group of apostles and elders (the Council of Jerusalem) coming together to seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and deciding the answer to a tough, divisive spiritual question. You also see elders as those who teach the church (1 Timothy 3), both encouraging those who believe and refuting those who oppose (Titus 1). You also see very strong leadership, though, by individuals.
Check out the language in 1 Corinthians 4:18-21 Paul used to address the Corinthian church: “Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?” While his heart is clearly pastoral - and he had no doubt shepherded them lovingly, patiently, and graciously - He obviously has understood and recognized leadership over this church family.
Ephesians 4, while affirming that all Christians are called to the work of ministry, notes that some are called to be leaders of God’s people. Some have been called to be apostles, pastors, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Couple these types of passages with those above regarding individual ordination and what that means, and I don’t think you can just dismiss some level of individual leadership within churches.
How does this all fit together? While Christ is the head of the Church (Colossians 1:18), He has called some to lead. Those whom He calls, we recognize through ordination (which is an intentionally slow and deliberate process). When those who have been called and affirmed go out, they are ideally supported by local elders who help them lead the church. However, I can see in Scripture where those who have been “set apart” have a greater burden for leadership. This, I believe, is affirmed by churches when they call pastors to serve and lead them. So, I believe some deference ought to be given to their voice and latitude for their leadership.
However, men are also inherently sinful and, left unchecked and without accountability, can easily become toxic and very un-Christlike in their leadership (just consider the Mars Hill podcast we’ve been listening to). These men need to lead as part of a group for this reason, but also considering all that the New Testament has to say about elders shepherding together as a group. So, the best I can figure is this:
Episcopal polity understands the importance of leadership but moves the center of gravity too much toward the bishop and not enough toward the local church pastor and elders. Pastors and local elders do not have much room for exercising leadership in this framework.
Mono-Episcopal polity is the most dangerous to me because it offers the fewest “checks and balances” for a pastor while also allowing the least for the exercise of various gifts. With the right man, this can be a great structure, but with the wrong man it can be catastrophic.
Presbyterian polity seems to be the closest thing to allowing the church to be what Scripture affirms it to be. It allows for real leadership at the local level while also holding churches accountable to a larger body, which they often need for good reasons (encouragement and support) and bad reasons (correction and discipline) alike.
Congregational polity understands the importance of local leadership, but lacks in two important areas. It doesn’t necessarily allow a pastor (if he even exists) to exercise leadership when it is necessary, and it also doesn’t have any input mechanisms for voices outside the immediate church (like encouragement, support, correction, and discipline).
There is no perfect system. I have seen both bad leaders hold a church back or bring it down and good leaders be fleeced and crippled by the inability to actually exercise leadership. Mark Driscoll serving as a Mono-Episcopal leader can be devastating to a church. But, I have also seen a church that desperately needed leadership (like a local, congregational Baptist church) run a good man out of town because they refused to follow Him, even though it is exactly what they needed. At the end of the day, the church is the Lord’s and we lead it the best we can, with who we have, where we are.
I do firmly believe, though, that churches need leaders. Perhaps I’m biased because I am a pastor and colored by my experiences, but I believe that there is a place for pastoral leadership that is somewhat distinct from a group of totally co-equal elders. Here’s a real example for you: I found an old letter I wrote to my elders in Whiteville expressing my frustration about this. They desperately needed to make some changes, and I was trying to lead them through those changes the best I could, but I was meeting very stiff resistance. This had been true of previous pastors at this church as well, so I knew it wasn’t personal. It was deeper and more systemic than that. This church needed leadership, but the system (and people) in place weren’t allowing for it. Understand that this was me communicating my feelings to these men about our church at that time and place. Don’t read this as some doctrinal statement, but rather expressing the tensions of trying to lead within that framework. A portion of that letter reads like this:
There is an unhealthy view of the pastor that stands at odds with the interpretation and practice of the C&MA. (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; Ephesians 4:11-13; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6)
a. The pastor is a “temp worker”.
i. This comment came from one of our elders in regards to his own view of the pastor. This comment is eye-opening and concerning in and of itself. What is of even greater concern is that not a single elder challenged that viewpoint. It is no wonder that pastors have been met with stiff resistance from our church leadership (which has been largely unchanged over several pastors) if the pastors are not viewed as leaders at all.
b. The pastor is simply “one of us”.
i. When asked multiple times about the relationship between the pastor and lay leadership, this has consistently been the answer. The pastor is an elder whose voice is no louder or more authoritative than any other. Essentially, the voice of the pastor is 20% (or less) of a group. This would be an uphill battle in and of itself, but it is near insurmountable when the majority of voices are either related or have deep bonds of friendship and partnership forged over a longer period of time than the pastor has been alive.
c. The primary, and sometimes only, roles of the pastor are to preach on Sunday mornings, visit people in the hospital, and chair church meetings.
i. This view allows no room for spiritual or organizational leadership. When biblical, pastoral leadership is exercised, it seems to be viewed as the pastor “exceeding his role” and is met with resistance. Positive change, of course, then becomes only a vain and fleeting hope.
I decided to include that just to give you some “real-world” context to the tensions within church polity structures. Wherever you go, and however you serve, there will be challenges. The system won’t be perfect. But, you serve faithfully and exercise leadership with love and humility, trusting in the sovereignty of God.
I hope some of this helped.
2021 Annual Report
January 30, 2022
THE HIGHLIGHTS (for those who prefer the “condensed version” of this report):
The theme of this annual report is: “shift”. In line with that theme, I’ve broken it down into two sections: Discerning a shift (2021) and Preparing for shift (2022). The 2021 section looks at what God has done this past year. The 2022 section is largely “vision casting” and forecasting where we believe God is leading us this next year.
2021: DISCERNING A SHIFT
The idea of churches “shifting” is nothing new since March 2020. Like most other churches, we spent much of 2020 in triage and prayer. By 2021, we were sensing the leading of God’s Spirit in moving us toward something different than before. While we didn’t know what that was, the elders prayed together about it regularly. This past February, we got the first clue of what part of this shift might look like. Eddie DeJesus, the Church Multiplication DIrector for the Alliance South Central, put me in touch with David Washington.
The Arrival of the Washington’s
God providentially used Eddie to connect David and I in February. David was a local Baytown boy who felt called to church planting. As the elders (and later Admin Committee) prayed about this new possibility, I talked with Eddie about what this would mean for ABC. David coming as a future church planter would make us a “Greenhouse” church (more on this in the next section) and he would stay for a 2-3 year period before launching and planting his own church (with support from ABC). So, much prayer and discernment took place prior to their arrival in August. David has since been serving on staff (part-time) as our Outreach Pastor. David & Toya have now been here for 6 months and hit the ground running. I have been meeting with him every Sunday for one hour and he has become a valuable part of our staff, admin team, and elder team.
Stewardship of funds
God has graciously provided an abundance of funds for us over the course of the last few years. We are incredibly healthy and have a reserve set aside of 5-6 months of operating expenses. At one point we had even more than that, so we capped it at 6 months and set aside the “abundance” to use for ministry.
We were praying together about how to use these funds creatively. I had talked with the elders about bringing in a missionary couple to serve here for a short time before we send them out. In the midst of those conversations and prayers, God connected us with David Washington! We would be able to provide him with a small stipend from our abundance ($30,000 over two years, with $15,000 coming from us and $15,000 coming from the Alliance). Like my hypothetical “missionary couple”, David & Toya would be here for a season of 2-3 years before we launch them as church planters. The next section contains more information about our ongoing relationship and partnership with David and our continued stewardship of funds.
Launching Community Groups
As part of our “re-Launch” in September, we launched two Community Groups. Our Outreach Pastor, David Washington, helped provide the vision and structure for this ministry. Bill Allen & Wally Whitley led one group while David Washington & Dave Truncale led the other. We are meeting in homes over a meal, praying for one another and our community, and using the sermon as our discussion guide. While our initial goal was just to get them started and launched, our longer-term goal is to use these groups as the vehicles for outreach and benevolence. There will be more on our vision and plans for this in the following section.
2022: PREPARING FOR SHIFT
So, while in 2021 we sensed God shifting ABCBaytown from what we had been to something different, I believe this year (2022) is a year of God preparing us for this shift. He has done great things and simply asks that we follow Him in faith and obedience. This “vision casting” below is my attempt to trust and follow Him in this new area that He is so clearly leading. I’m inviting you to join me in this exciting new season.
In the last quarter of 2021, ABC was officially designated a “Greenhouse” church by the Alliance. This means that we sense God calling to be (and are now) a “church-planting church”. This is not just a designation on paper but one which influences even our mission and focus as a church. So, what does this mean for us?
We are partnering with David for a period of 2-3 years before he (with our guidance and support) plants a new Alliance church. We are providing him with a platform for mentorship and growth. Here, he has the opportunity to preach, lead in ministry efforts, join the admin and elder meetings, build a network of support, and receive prayer and guidance from the elders.
Part of this relationship and partnership includes an increasing focus on planting a new church. Accordingly, David and the elders will be shifting their focus to helping discern God’s heart and will for him and his ministry and helping him build a network of support and partnership. He will be simultaneously serving here while preparing to leave in the next 2-3 years. As a Greenhouse church, we sense this is God’s leading for us now: partnering with David and providing him a place to develop, experiment, minister, seek God, and grow his own network (which includes ABCBaytown) as he prepares to plant a new work and reach the harvest of Baytown, TX.
These shifts are not just organizational, but personal. They will require some level of shifting for each of us. For me, as part of this shift, I hear God telling me to shift the focus of my sermons for 2022. Rather than strictly preaching expositorily through a book of Scripture (which has been my practice for the past 16 years), I will be preaching a handful of topical sermon series. These will be aimed at helping us, all together, understand the biblical call to relational outreach and discipleship and move as one body into God’s will for us.
Please understand that this is challenging for me, but I am convinced it is God’s will for us in 2022. I’d appreciate your prayers. I am planning to preach a series on the Body of Christ and your role in it, spiritual gifts (followed by a spiritual gifts assessment for everyone), and two longer series on The Kingdom of God and the New Testament church. I am praying that these sermons help us hear what God is doing here (calling us to be a church-planting church) and how we are shifting to move with Him (reaching our community through our relationships).
Community Groups are a central part and emphasis of this shift. As we move into trying to impact our community and plant a new work here, I really want to use our Community Groups as the channel for both outreach & discipleship. As David continues to spearhead this effort, I am praying that we see new leaders brought up and new groups started this year. We have planned three sessions for training new community group leaders in our 2022 calendar. I am trusting and believing for God to stir some of us who are here to lead community groups and we grow, and to bring along others who are not yet a part of our family.
I am also praying that we see powerful Kingdom impact through our serving together and reaching to our community. I am praying that we grow not in numbers only (or even primarily), but in impact to our neighbors…and in desire and burden to reach our neighbors and community. I would love nothing more than to see our community groups double in number, only to take much of what we have gained and use these families to partner with David in his new plant. We are trusting and believing God for amazing fruit and abundant harvest!
I specifically want to resource (and as heavily as possible) our community groups to accomplish ministry. We are trusting the Holy Spirit to stir creativity through these groups and we want to use the resources (funds, building, people, etc.) God has given us to bring people into contact with Jesus.
Stewardship of Funds
At the end of last year, we had a joint meeting with the elders and admin team. We talked at length about our “abundance” that God has given us and how we can steward it more faithfully and impactfully. As a result, we have prayerfully, strategically, and intentionally set aside a portion of our excess reserves to be ready to minister in ways that we feel God is calling us. Rather than having a centralized committee decide how to use this money, I want to see these funds used for and by community groups. The idea is that community groups increasingly become the vehicle through which we accomplish relational impact. We have three outreach opportunities planned for the year, but are hoping for more as God burdens our hearts. Here is how it works:
Our community groups pray together about how to reach the neighborhoods and community where we live. Rather than through church-wide programs, we are hoping to accomplish this through the efforts of our community groups specifically. Community groups communicate their ministry ideas through the community group leader, who then communicates it to the admin committee. The admin committee decides and approves the funding for the idea. Once supported and empowered, our Community Groups can then carry out outreach and benevolence, seeing and realizing Kingdom impact in our community.
I am praying that through this vehicle of supported and empowered community groups, ABC can begin to see generational impact and harvest here in Baytown.
God is clearly moving in our midst, and moving in a specific direction. He is calling us to partner with David to reach the people in our city. He has provided for us, sent David to us, and opened the door to a mighty harvest. As we seek to shift to accomplish His will, I am calling each of us to consider how we can shift. Who is God calling me to reach this year? How can my community group make an impact? What can we do to be the hands and feet of Jesus together?
As the Holy Spirit speaks to each of us, I firmly believe that we are positioned for Kingdom impact. Let’s trust and obey together in 2022 and be in awe of what God does.
with you for His glory,
Lead Pastor, ABCBaytown
11 December 2021
This past Sunday at church you asked me a great question! If questions were boxers, yours would be the heavyweight champion of the world. The question had to do with the nature of sin as an individual barrier to a relationship with God. Does our sin keep us from God? Can a Holy God not co-exist with sin? What does this look like and what’s the right answer? You were specifically looking for Scripture (which I commend you for!), so I tried to include plenty of it.
I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to think about and formulate an answer for you. Just remember...you asked me. So, this is my approach to laying out for you my own framework for thinking about and attempting to answer such immense theological questions. If any of it is helpful, Glory to God! If not, then I take all the blame.
The best questions don’t have black and white answers. They require more thought and care than a quick response. Almost all great theology questions (like these) fit well into this category. My approach to these kinds of questions - since they are so humongous and their actions carry such weighty consequences - is to break one huge question down into multiple smaller (though still really big) questions. Then, the conclusions I reach from answering the smaller, related questions will help inform my answer to the huge question. So, my thought process (and my smaller questions) would look something like this:
What does it mean that God is Holy?
The only reason your question is a question is because God is, by nature, holy (Leviticus 19:2). This is such a huge and foreign concept to us that it is hard to grasp. I’ve always liked how A.W. Tozer talked about our difficulty in even having a starting point to understand the holiness of God. He said:
“Neither the writer nor the reader of these words is qualified to appreciate the holiness of God. Quite literally a new channel must be cut through the desert of our minds to allow the sweet waters of truth that will heal our great sickness to flow in. We cannot grasp the true meaning of the divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of.
God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable… Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is that standard.”
The easiest way for me to understand holiness is to say that God is completely and totally righteous, pure, and true. I believe it to be God’s central attribute: as the one characteristic through which all of His other attributes flow. In other words, because God is holy, He is just; because God is holy, He is righteous; because God is holy, He is merciful. I don’t think it’s inconsequential that His holiness is His only personal attribute reiterated three consecutive times in Scripture. Both times were recorded by men who God gave a vision into Heaven and they saw heavenly creatures surrounding the throne of God. In John’s vision of Heaven in Revelation 4, He sees these creatures around the throne proclaiming day and night, “Holy! Holy! Holy is the Lord Almighty!”. Isaiah saw the same scene in His vision (Isaiah 6:3). So, understanding God’s holiness (or as best we can) is essential to knowing Him. Equally important is understanding man’s sinfulness.
What is sin? What does it mean to be inherently sinful? Just how wretched is sin?
We really can’t understand the wretchedness of - and total depravity caused by - sin until we start to grasp the holiness of God. In light of His perfect standard, we see ourselves for what we really are. Totally and completely depraved by sin and completely dependent on God to reach down to us and redeem us from our own depravity. The most famous verse about our own sinfulness comes from Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.” There just isn’t any escaping our own sinfulness. But, what does that mean? How wretched is sin? Is it really that bad?
John MacArthur summarized how Scripture talks about sin like this:
“Sin is abominable to God-He hates it (cf. Deuteronomy 12:31). Sin is contrary to His nature (Isaiah 6:3; 1 John 1:5). It stains the soul and degrades humanity's nobility. Scripture calls sin "filthiness" (Proverbs 30:12; Ezekiel 24:13; James 1:21) and likens it to a putrefying corpse-sinners are the tombs that contain stench and foulness (Matthew 23:27). The ultimate penalty-death-is the consequence of sin (Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Romans 6:3). The human race is in bad shape.”
One of my favorite quotes about sin (and that in relationship to God) comes from R.C. Sproul. He wrote poignantly that:
“Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, “God, Your law is not good. My judgement is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.”
We are always tempted to justify why our sinfulness really isn’t that bad. We think we are much closer to “cleanliness” or “righteousness” than we really are. If we operate on that assumption, it doesn’t seem like a great distance between God and man…and it minimizes the seriousness of your question. But Paul, considering his own sinful nature (even well after he began walking with Christ), said that he inhabits a body of death, where evil is right there with him every step of the way, and needs rescue and deliverance from his own wretched, sinful self (Romans 7:24-25). So, now we start to get to the crux of your question with this next question:
How do the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man relate to one another?
This is really the heart of what you asked. Scripture affirms that God is eternally holy and also affirms that man is hopelessly sinful. This paradigm is where your question stems from. How do we reconcile these two truths? J.I. Packer wrote a famous book titled, “Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God”. In it, he talks about Scriptural paradoxes that he calls “antimony”. He says that, “an antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both understandable.” The Holiness of God and the sinfulness of man are the perfect example of an “antimony”. Here’s my attempt to help unpack this “antimonious” relationship.
A holy God and a sinful world
In addition to being holy, Scripture affirms that He also knows everything (Psalm 147:5; 1 John 3:20). Since this is true, it also means that He knows of the “unholiness” (sin) present in the world and people. Ironically, the famous verse in Habakkuk (1:13) that people cite as God not being able to look upon sin is immediately followed by his acknowledgement that He does, in fact, see it. Altogether, it reads like this: “ Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?” How can God simultaneously not tolerate sin and tolerate sin? This verse is best understood (for me) as Habakkuk’s “out-loud wrestlings” with God. Much like many, many of David’s Psalms or the sections of dialogue at the end of Job between Job and God. As a verbal processor, I fully understand!
So, you have to be careful when reading certain passages (like those in Job or Habakkuk) and seeing them as prescriptive theology describing who God is and who we are. These passages are not “theology” in the same sense as much of Paul’s writings (like the passage in Romans 7). And I certainly don’t think we can say that a holy God is “unaware” of sin or doesn’t see it just because He is holy.
A holy God and sinful man
We know of God’s holy will for all people: that they would be reconciled to Him (Isaiah 45:22; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). And yet, we also know that our sin does keep us from knowing and experiencing God personally and leads to death rather than life (Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23).
What’s one example in Scripture of how our sin separates us from God? I would suggest that the way Scripture deals with prayer from unrepentant sinners shows one consequence of sin and its separating effects on our relationship with God. Scripture is clear that God does not listen to all prayers. It says that He does not listen to the prayers of those who: remain in sin (John 9:31), forsake God (Jeremiah 14:10-12), reject God’s call (Proverbs 1:24-25), do not listen to His law (Proverbs 28:9; Zechariah 7:11-13), and have no faith (James 1:6-7). Scripture is also clear that if we die in our sin then we will be separated from God for eternity (Matthew 25:41; Romans 6:23; 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Another interesting observation of the nature of this relationship comes in the way sinful men (even, arguably, the “most righteous” of sinful men) respond when God allows them a glimpse of His holiness. Consider this: when God revealed Himself to Habakkuk, Habakkuk said that his guts trembled, his lips quivered, and decay entered his bones (Habakkuk 3:16). When God revealed Himself to Job, Job said that he hated himself and immediately repented in dust ashes (Job 42:6). In those brief encounters between God and man (which only God Himself can permit) the holiness of God has obvious devastating effects on man in his sinful state.
I came across a great quote by a fellow named Jeremy Myers about this. He said:
“Sometimes we get this crooked view of God where He cannot look upon sin or be near sin because sin would somehow taint His holiness. Such a view gives sin way too much power and gives God way too little.
God is not like a pristine white couch upon which no one can sit for fear of it getting soiled. No, sin cannot be in the presence of God because whenever God draws near to sin, the raging inferno of His love and holiness washes all sin away. God can no more be tainted by sin than the ocean could be dyed red with a single drop of food coloring.”
So, God certainly knows of the evil and sin in this world. Our sovereign God is not oblivious to it at all. His holiness does not make him blissfully ignorant of sin. He also can choose (and has, at times) to unveil His holiness to those in a sinful body, or state. Think of it like this: our sin forbids us from looking upon His holiness, but His holiness does not prevent Him from looking upon our sinfulness. In fact, He has gone to every possible effort to reconcile those two in Christ Jesus. This brings me to my last question:
If the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man must co-exist, then how must they co-exist?
The very short answer to this is: in the person of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
God sent His Son, the second member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, to reconcile the holiness of God with the sinfulness of man. Scripture says that God Himself put on our human flesh and became sin so that we could become God’s righteousness in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Isaiah said that God put the weight of the sins of the world on Jesus so that He could bear them for us (Isaiah 53:5). It also affirms that the fullness of God dwelt in Jesus bodily (Colossians 2:9) and that His very nature was the same as God (Philippians 2:6). In other words, Jesus was God in the flesh and made of the very same substance as God the Father.
As a result, sinful man can know holy God through Jesus Christ. This is accomplished through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in convicting us of our sinfulness before God, of His holiness and righteousness, and of His just judgment upon us (John 16:8). Once the Holy Spirit of God works in our hearts, we respond accordingly by verbally confessing our sins to Him (Romans 10:9), repenting of our sinful nature before Him (Acts 3:19), receiving His forgiveness and purification (1 John 1:9), and living a transformed life of faith both in and through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). After this, we live our lives as holy people, constantly offering ourselves to God to continue to be used by Him for His glory (Romans 12:1-2).
This is where we get the idea of “sanctification”, which addresses your question. While we are still living, we live in these sinful bodies and inhabit this sinful nature (Romans 7, again). This never goes away as long as we live. However, when we surrender our lives to Christ and receive His, then He gives us the Holy Spirit which lives inside of us and guides us through life (John 16:13; Romans 6:10-11). This is, for the believer, the union of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. This is only possible because of the person of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit, not at all because of us.
One more thing, because I think it is important for answering your question. In sanctification, a distinction is made between positional sanctification and progressive sanctification. Positional sanctification deals with what happens to us spiritually when we surrender to Jesus. Ephesians 2 talks about how when we believe in Jesus and surrender our lives to Him, thereby accepting the exchange of His life for ours, then we are raised up and seated with Jesus in the heavenly realms. Think of it as Christ “securing” our place with Him in Heaven. He’s “saving your seat” because you haven’t got there yet. In this sense, sinful man is “seated with holy Jesus” in Heaven. Progressive sanctification deals with what happens with us practically when we surrender to Jesus. He fills us with His Holy Spirit and lives inside of us. However, we still deal with indwelling sin for as long as we live. This is Paul’s struggle in Romans 7 and his encouragement to believers in Romans 6.
So, as far as how God’s holiness and our sinfulness co-exist, the best answer that I have is through the person of Jesus and the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit in the believer. Is God holy? Yes. Is man sinful? Yes. Can sinful man initiate fellowship with holy God? No. However, God has made it possible for His holiness to co-exist with our sinfulness through the “God-man” of Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection, and the ongoing and indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. That being said, this union is only possible after the “Great Exchange” of confession, repentance, and forgiveness. Unbelieving, unrepentant sinners do not and cannot have fellowship with holy God.
I know this is an incredibly long answer to your question, but I wanted to do my best to be thoughtful and comprehensive. However, seeking an answer to this question has been the work of theologians for millenia. But, prayerfully, here’s to providing you with a start in the form of searching and considering what Scripture has to say about this.
Thanks for the opportunity to give you an answer!
Just a man trying to save his thoughts and correspondence