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Honor your elders

When Paul talks about honoring the elders in today’s Bible reading, he isn’t talking about honoring your parents or honoring people who are older than you. He’s talking about honoring church elders.

Elders in the First Century church were pastors and mature men who had been called to provide spiritual and financial leadership of the church. Deacons tended to the day-to-day “pastoral care” ministries of the churches.

In most of the churches in my tribe, Baptist Churches, we don’t have elders. Pastors provide spiritual leadership and work with the deacons to administer the financial dealings of the church. Our Congregational polity means that all business decisions must be approved by the church congregation. How minutely the deacons manage the church differs from church to church.

I remember one church where every motion brought before the church in our business meetings came from the “Deacon Board”. And I remember hearing stories of staff members who had to appeal to the deacons to approve everything down to the number of servings of fruit on a Singles Retreat. Yes, seriously!

Admittedly, not all church elders are worthy of respect. But Paul isn’t talking about those people in 1 Timothy 5. He tells Timothy that good leaders who work hard at preaching and teaching should be considered worthy of double honor. Exactly what Paul means here may be a little unclear, but he explains himself when he quotes the Old Testament and talks about letting oxes eat while they work. (Deuteronomy 25:4) He summaries his thoughts with, “The worker is worthy of his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18)

Unfortunately, not every church treats its pastor as well as I have been treated. Just this week, I talked with a pastor-friend about new opportunities before him. He hesitated whether to take the next steps with a new church because with the church-provided parsonage, he might end up with less in his pocket every month, despite the slightly higher salary. Most pastor search committees — and churches in general for that matter — are unaware of the financial downside to living in a parsonage. The IRS sees the parsonage as a taxable asset in the salary package. This means the pastor must pay income taxes on a “fair market rental value” for the parsonage. So for this friend, going to this new opportunity may not be the financial increase he and his family were hoping for. I deeply hope that churches are just unaware of situations like this, rather than being uncaring about them. Many churches have no idea just how poorly they are treating their “elders”. It’s wrong and God will hold them to account for their mistreatment of these servants.

Application

You can honor your “elders” in many ways.

How do you feel about your pastor and church ministry staff? Do you appreciate them? Do you tell them? Sometimes a reassuring or affirming word goes a long way.

Do you pray for your church staff? Have you asked them how you can pray for them?

Sometimes a gift certificate to a restaurant and an offer to keep the kids so a staff member can take his wife on a date night can go a long way.

I haven’t met anyone who goes into vocational ministry for the money. In most churches, there’s no money to be in it for anyway! But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be paid for their work. Is your church fairly compensating your church staff? When was the last time your pastor or staff received a raise or a special gift to show your appreciation? Maybe it’s time to talk with your church leaders about addressing these issues.

I hope that you and your church honor your elders. Honor them, not as unto men, but as unto God. (Colossians 3:23–24)

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Conflict

I mentioned yesterday the importance of noting repeated words and phrases in a limited number of Bible verses. In today’s Bible reading, “pain” and its derivatives occur seven times in 2 Corinthians 2:1-7. Evidently not all was well between the Apostle and the church at Corinth. Where the first paragraph in 2 Corinthians 1 was about comfort, the first paragraph of 2 Corinthians 2 is about pain between Paul and the Corinthians.

Paul may have been referring to 1 Corinthians, or he may be referring to another letter that wasn’t preserved for us. If this is the case, it’s no cause for worry; if God wanted us to have that letter, we would have that letter.

Paul gives us a glimpse into the feelings of a church leader when things aren’t right in the church. Of course, Paul was an apostle, so he wasn’t involved in the normal day-to-day operations of the church at Corinth. But he had planted the church and wanted everything to go smoothly. But oftentimes, things don’t go smoothly in a local church.

Application

Maybe you’ve never seen church conflict that results in long-lasting hurt feelings in yourself or someone else. But sometimes the hurts are caused by the malicious actions of others, wolves in sheep clothing or “well-intentioned dragons“. Regardless of how, the wounds are real. But God can bring healing where there has been hurt.

Dealing with church conflict requires integrity. And it requires humility. If you’ve been hurt, take the high road and extend an olive branch of forgiveness. If you’ve done the hurting, take the high road and ask for forgiveness. Pride and malice can wound very deeply. So can harboring a root of bitterness, distrust, and unforgiveness. Jesus had some pretty strong words for those who would seek to give to God’s work when things aren’t right between them and another believer. Basically He said, if things aren’t right between you and another believer, don’t bother coming to worship the Father. Make it right and then come to give to His work. (Matthew 5:23–24)

Note: If your church is dealing with conflict, please seek the help of others, perhaps professional mediation. In my tribe, that would be an association Director of Missions. For United Methodists, it would be a District Superintendent. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of other denominational organizations, but I’m sure each one has resources.

I also recommend a book written by my friend, Eric Willis, Sacred Conflict: Resolution Skills for the Follower of Christ.

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Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have installed Dr. Adam Greenway as the Ninth President of the Fort Worth Seminary. You can learn more about Dr. Greenway on Southwestern’s website. Given Dr. Greenway’s young age (41), I expect him to stay a long time.

One of my professors (from all those years ago) commented that news of his nomination by the presidential search committee was the most exciting news he had heard in a long time. I agree.

When I enrolled in 1985, Southwestern was known as the Cadillac of the Southern Baptist Seminaries. The library was the largest theological library in the world. The School had campuses in Oklahoma and Houston, among other places. There was a lot to be proud of!

At the same time, the SBC was in the throes of a contentious power struggle. Southwestern was the crown jewel of the Convention so it seemed to be Ground Zero of the conflict.

In the years following my graduation, many of my professors transferred to other SBC institutions. Others were shown the door in the months following Dr. Paige Patterson’s arrival on campus.

One day in 2004 I visited one of my professors. I only recognized a half-dozen names on the posted faculty Directory on the wall. The professor I was visiting said he had been told this would be his last year. He had not planned to retire yet and saw many more years of teaching in his future. Unfortunately, many students were robbed of his wisdom.

I’ve seen the Seminary’s enrollment go from its heights of well over 5000 Masters and Doctoral-level students in the 1980s to its current student population of 3000+ which includes undergraduates.

Call me crazy, but the general “feeling” on campus was different. At one point, I remarked that it felt “religious” (not in a good way). A couple of years ago, it just felt cold and dead.

Last year, just after Dr. Patterson’s termination, I drove across town to see if things felt different. They did. The flags that greeted visitors lifted a little in the breeze. It seemed a fresh wind was beginning to blow through.

I am looking forward to my next trip to campus! I’m interested to see how things have changed in light of the new administration.

So Paige Patterson is now President Emeritus at @swbts.

It’s a sad day in @sbc land, as the trustees merely expedited his retirement and gave him all the benefits, including another title (Theologian in Residence) and a free place to live for the rest of his life.

Their decision is less than a slap on the wrist for his tasteless, irresponsible remarks, and possible criminal behavior (from his time at SEBTS). The trustees’ vote says a great deal about their devotion to Patterson as opposed to their devotion to Jesus and the SBC (and common decency!).

If only the @sbc would rescind their invitation for him to preach at next month’s annual meeting…. (But I’m not holding my breath).

God, forgive us as a denomination! Extend your grace and mercy as we are so undeserving!

(Note: I posted this on Facebook a few minutes ago 5/23/18)
 

As I type this, Hurricane Harvey made landfall last week and has devastated Houston and surrounding areas with wind damage and “unprecedented” flooding. Some parts have had over FOUR FEET OF RAIN. I didn’t say that there was over four feet of flooding, but over four feet of rain! And rain continues to fall. Moments ago, I heard that a levee was breached.  This is NOT good!

Once again WeatherBell’s Bill Bastardi was spot-on in his predictions.

Thousands of victims have been rescued by the US Coast Guard, Texas Guard, US National Guard, and an army of volunteers who launched their personal boats at their own risk in an effort to rescue every person from the floods. A friend of mine loaded up his car with as much as he could and hauled his boat almost 300 miles to help in the rescue efforts. This IS good.

Even before Harvey approached the Texas Coast, Texas Baptist Men, volunteers who travel wherever there are disasters, loaded up trucks with roofing materials, food, water, and portable facilities for showering and laundry and began the near-300-mile trek Southward. This IS good!

Meanwhile, some long-time friends have posted comments and memes on Facebook callously mocking Texas politicians, saying they’re hypocrites for requesting and accepting federal money when they voted to deny such federal support for victims of Super Storm Sandy in New York. Some of my friends posted a link to an article saying that this Hurricane was related to man-caused climate change. However, seasoned meteorologist Bill Bastardi (mentioned above) says this is a “natural cycle” that has been observed before.

Here is my latest plea on Facebook:

Regardless of your political leanings, please show some semblance of respect and basic human DECENCY by not politicizing the disaster that was Hurricane Harvey, and as a tropical storm continues to deluge SE Texas and SW Louisiana.Your snide remarks, memes and other criticism of POTUS and Texas politicians are falling on deaf ears. You are only displaying your ignorance, cruelty, and downright indecency. Your attempt at levity in the midst of the gravity of this situation is sabotaging any amount of credibility and respectability you *think* you still have.

I have lost all respect for some long-time friends whose focus is solely on politics and not on the decency of helping victims of this tragedy. Debating politics is one thing, but it is disgustingly heartless to do so while the area is still being inundated by torrential rains and flooding. This is NOT good!

So how can people help? I’m glad you asked that question! Here’s what I said last night on Facebook:

Especially for this need, I might not recommend Red Cross (or any other organization whose CEO makes multiples of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year). As I understand it, the Red Cross pools resources from other organizations. Why not give directly to those organizations! If the Red Cross keeps 15% of what they receive, then only $.85 of your $1 would be able to pass along to the organization that the RC uses. Why not eliminate the middle man and give the entire $1 to one of the organizations below, who already have a low overhead and therefore operate more efficiently! And these are not fly-by-night organizations; they are well-established with an excellent stewardship history. 

So here are my recommendations (none of which has a high-paid CEO):

Texas Baptist Men go wherever there’s a disaster. This time, they stayed home to help fellow Texans. Some crews departed Dallas as early as last Thursday (before Harvey made landfall) with roofing supplies, food, water, portable shower and washer/dryer facilities. TexasBaptistMen.Org/give-now 

One friend’s church (in Virginia) made this remark:
Want to help victims of Harvey in Houston? Our denomination has the 3rd largest disaster relief organization in the country (SBC Disaster Relief) and they are already staged in Houston with hundreds of thousands of meals, water, chains saws, shower trailers, etc. They also have teams of chaplains to provide spiritual counseling in the wake of this disaster.
If you would like to donate, you can give directly through the NAMB website below or text SENDRELIEF to 41444.
North American Mission Board’s Hurricane Harvey Response 

And of course, everybody has heard of The Salvation Army.

 However you choose to help, please do so.

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