The Blessings of Longevity

I’ve been serving as the pastor of Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church since November of 1997. That’s 17 years for you who might not be proficient at math. My 18th ‘anniversary’ is fast approaching. I have now been at Cornerstone longer than I’ve ever been anywhere else. The house I was born in saw us move out of it when I was almost six. The next house home for the next 13 years. Once I left for college, I came home for summers, but I’m not certain whether that counts. From there on out, until I arrived in Rochester, I moved frequently (college transfers, housing changes once married and still at school, internships and other pastoral calls). I want to start to count the blessings of longevity because it has truly been a blessing to ‘settle down’ in one location for many years.

One blatant blessing, apparent to anyone who has moved multiple times, is not moving! Moving companies will try to sell you ‘an adventure’. Yes, I suppose they are…the kind I don’t want. The thrill of broken household items, lost clothing, boxes and boxes to sort through, looking for that one thing you need in the kitchen. Sorry, you can have it all. I like being in one place. The adrenaline rush of someplace new? You can have it. I like the comfortable routine of knowing where I belong.

Another blessing that comes to mind is watching your own children establish roots. I’ve known several people throughout my life who had to move about every four years or so. ‘Home’ was a nebulous concept for them, at best. It was usually wherever mom and dad happened to live at the time. With the exception of our oldest daughter, our kids grew up, went to school and graduated from where we’ve been for these nearly 18 years. I think this has given them a confidence, as well as assurance, to head off to college and face a ‘new’ life on their own.

When Ann and I got married (33 years ago this coming Friday – another post for blessings too numerous to mention), we rented an apartment. After living there for just one year, we moved in with an 83-year-old widower who needed just a little help around his large home in Highland Park, IL (all in exchange for no rent or other bills – another blessing I could recount at great length). We served a one-year internship in Iowa before moving to Fargo for four years. During the internship, a home was provided (thanks to the church, since they could barely pay us anyway). While in Fargo, we rented a small house. It was cute (an old); quaint and comfy, for Fargo living. Then came my first ‘solo’ pastorate near Council Bluffs, Iowa. We rented a very tiny house there. It was three of us by that time and let’s just say that three of us filled the available space. We didn’t own our own home until we moved to Altoona, Iowa. Our first house was an intimidating landmark for us, having only served very small churches and now having two children. We were just getting started at making that house ‘ours’ through the interior decorating and the exterior landscaping and gardening projects before the church closed and we knew we’d be moving again. So, the clear blessing out of all this to me (and I know to my darling wife) is having a house that has truly become ours. Over the years, we’ve shaped much of the inside to our liking. I’ve worked diligently to landscape and get our yard and floral gardens to a point where I really don’t (can’t?) need to do anything more than maintain it.

Well, that’s three, and I haven’t even begun to speak of the spiritual blessings that come from pastoring the same church for this many years. That’s a good thing…it gives me food for another blog post or two in the coming days.

What blessings have you experienced from longevity? What blessings have you known from short stays?

Thoughts on Thursday

Here are several things, roaming around through my mind…

From our ‘Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader’ page-a-day calendar for Thursday, July 3, 2014:

Real ‘Help Wanted’ Ads

Looking for an assistant to help in texting duties-replies, deleting texts, alerting of new texts, reading texts, filtering texts. I get 40–50 texts an hour. I can’t handle my workload plus texting responsibilities. My phone gets too full and needs to be deleted every couple of hours. This is a full-time position and you must be wherever I am, because my phone is always with me.

How sad, how sad (if actually true and real).

On a very related note:

I Dare You To Watch This Entire Video

I barely made it through, not because I had to check an email or reply to a text message, but because I wanted him to get to the point. It’s a good reminder for me to make sure I don’t ramble on without getting to a point.


Two juxtaposed blog posts:

The Scourge of Exhibitionistic Faux-Honesty

Phil Johnson takes our evangelical sub-culture to task with this post. It seems it’s one thing to seek to ‘confess our sins to one another’ and a completely different thing to want people to either feel sorry for us or take notice of us because we have ‘weaknesses’ and ‘struggles’ and ‘hard times’ living with the sin in our lives (‘Hey; I see what you did there, by saying ‘living with’ instead of ‘fighting’ or ‘mortifying’ the sin in our lives’ – ‘Why, thank you; it was purely intentional’).

Real Church

Dane Ortlund sees a different problem, one in which churches won’t allow such transparency because we’re always to put our ‘best foot forward.’ If those who suffer under such leadership or from such fellow-Christians, then I agree–it needs to stop and we DO need to be real with each other and confess that we are saints, yet sinners, always living in the need of the gospel of grace. But, if it’s just a bunch of younger whiners who can’t tell others about how hard it is to ‘live with their sins’, as Johnson points out above, then I don’t have much sympathy.

Seeing Others the Way God Sees Them

I think Frank Turk offers up the best approach of all.

See you all next week. Enjoy your 4th of July!

Elders In The Life Of The Church – a book review

Wait…I thought I was done with reviews! Well, when this one came out, by Kregel, I couldn’t pass it up. It’s right up the alley where we’ve been doing much training and equipping at Cornerstone. I also realize, after seeing this book, that many churches need to read this book: both those who have elders and those that rely upon either the Deacons-Trustee model or the ‘Pastor as CEO’ model.

9780825442728About the Book – Paul and Barnabas made a decisive move toward the end of the first missionary journey: they appointed elders in the churches they had established, entrusting them  with responsibility to shepherd the young congregations. The need for faithful shepherding has not changed since that time, yet the leadership structure of most  churches no longer follows this model. The authors argue that a return to the New Testament pattern of elder plurality best serves the shepherding needs in a local church.

The authors suggest a workable process for improving a local church’s leadership structure and making the transition to elder plurality. Along the way, the stories of the authors and other church leaders provide a narrative of how faithful elder leadership has strengthened their ministries. The book also addresses a plan for leadership development in difficult international mission settings. Church leaders will find this a useful resource for building a healthy leadership structure.

This book is an extensive revision of the previously-published Elders in Congregational Life, including updates throughout, additional illustrations, and a new chapter addressing how missionaries may effectively apply the New Testament’s teaching on elder plurality. 9Marks is a well-known ministry organization dedicated to equipping church leaders with a biblical vision and practical resources.

About the Authors -

Phil A. Newton (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; DMin, Fuller Theological Seminary) is senior pastor at South Woods Baptist Church in Memphis. In pastoral ministry for over thirty-five years, he also serves as an adjunct professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Equip Center.

Matt Schmucker was the founding executive director of 9Marks. He now organizes several conferences, including Together for the Gospel and CROSS, while serving as an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

My Review – When I see a book, journal article, blog post or just about anything that’s written by someone from 9Marks, I read it. I’ve been aware of 9Marks since before they were 9Marks. I’ve read Mark Dever’s  ’9 Marks of a Healthy Church’ several times. I’ve taken our elders and deacons through it twice, along with Dever’s equally helpful, ‘The Deliberate Church.’ So, when Kregel released a newer version of ‘Elders in the Life of the Church,’ I wanted to read it. I was not disappointed.

Newton & Schmucker both present a solid case for having elders lead the local church. While operating out of a Southern Baptist mind set, and while seeming to be presenting that argument to Southern Baptist churches which do not have elders leading the church, I did not find that overly distracting. I’ve spent my entire life within the confines of the Evangelical Free Church of America. While not paying much attention as a youngster or a teen, I’m almost certain the Madrid EFC (Madrid, Iowa) had the traditional EFCA model of deacons/trustees governing the church body. Then, when my parents began attending First EFC, Boone, IA, my father served as a deacon, alongside the trustees of that church. The first church I served in, Bethel EFC, Fargo, ND, had deacons, trustees, deaconesses and a general board (consisting of all other leaders who weren’t one of the aforementioned officers). Midlands EFC also had deacons/trustees. I’m quite familiar with the ‘anti-elder’ set-up and sentiment. Once in ministry, almost 98% of the reasons for these churches not having elders were unbiblical reasons.

Newton & Schmucker recognize this and seek to present a historical case for those within the Southern Baptist denomination. Alongside this historical perspective, they then lay out the biblical basis for elders – not elder-rule, but elder–led. Then, the authors present a practical out-working of what they’ve been teaching as the third section of the book: From Theory to Practice. This is the most helpful section, not simply because it’s practical, but because I’ve witnesses a few churches split over the implementation, not over the concept. In my first church as a ‘solo pastor’ (Midlands EFC, Council Bluffs, IA), we attempted to add an ‘elder of visitation’ to the officers without success. The other two churches I’ve pastored since then have had elders/deacons as officers, so the transition wasn’t necessary. But the training was.

If this describes your church: no elders, refusal to have elders, deacons who fight for their right to lead, power-mongers in the congregation who undermine church leadership because there aren’t qualified, godly men in the positions of elders, then this book is definitely for you. If your church already has elders, leading and serving the congregation, you’ll find this book helpful as further training for them or for equipping future elders.

I highly commend this book to you.

You may read an excerpt here.


Elders In the Life of the Church may be purchased at…

Kregel Publications

Barnes and Noble

Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

‘Let’s Change All the Hymns!’

I had someone comment to me, following our morning Worship Service, that we need to either change the wording on most of our hymns, not sing them at all, or offer explanations as to why we’re lying to God when we sing them.

Yeah, you read that correctly…lying to God when we sing them.

In this person’s warped view of sanctification and holiness, we can’t sing a song like ‘Hide Me In Your Holiness’ without lying. The lyrics are quite simple:

Hide me in Your holiness,
Every sin I now confess.
Praise to You, forgiving Lord,
Hide me in Your holiness,
Hide me in Your holiness.

The line this person was wrestling with was ‘Every sin I now confess.’ In this individual’s mind, we don’t confess ‘every’ sin; only the ones that come to mind. There are many, said the sage, that we either don’t know we commit and therefore cannot confess them, or we’ve forgotten that we’ve committed them and therefore don’t confess them. Either way, to this way of thinking, we’re lying when we sing this song unto God so we shouldn’t sing it, or the worship team needs to offer lengthier explanations about what MUST BE our heart’s attitude when we do sing.

There wasn’t a hymn or chorus we sang this past week that escaped the scrutiny of this faulty view of sanctification. I say faulty because clearly, this view puts all the work for confession and repentance, contrition and openness upon the believer, not upon Christ. I was told if we were to sing ‘I Surrender All’ that we need to change the word ‘all’ or tell everyone that they’d best get to surrendering all–everything, literally, in this view–or stop the music and move on to the next song.

I’m usually a little slow in my snappy come-backs and wise sayings to remarks such as this (probably a good thing…maybe). Later, I thought to myself, ‘Then we’d best stop reading the Psalms corporately because we’re clearly lying when we read them unto God as well. Take for instance, Psalm 73.25:

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

In the words of Miracle Max’s wife in The Princess Bride…

If we look only to ourselves for our own efforts in sanctification, we stand no chance. We can’t read a word of Scripture without it condemning us as liars, thieves, scoundrels, adulterers, murderers and worse! There can be no true confession because we’re simply unable to recall all the sins we commit. Repentance and forgiveness are out of the question because it all depends upon whether I am capable of surrendering everything, confessing everything, and giving my ‘all’ to Jesus.

What a sad way to live. And I’m afraid it’s evident.

A better way, the Bible’s way, is to trust in Jesus Christ. Trust that what He did in His life on this earth was fulfill all the righteous requirements of the Father in heaven that we are completely incapable of fulfilling. Trust that when He died on the cross that all our sin was nailed to the tree–the whole debt was cancelled. Trust that the very power of God evidenced in Christ’s resurrection has been given to me to say ‘no’ to ungodliness and ‘yes’ to holiness, as well as know the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. Then, I trust the truth of such simple verses as 1 John 1.9…

‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’

I realize I don’t remember every sin I’ve committed. The sins of omission, those things of God which I neglect, well, I normally don’t recognize that, otherwise, they’d not be called ‘sins of omission’ now, would they? So, I confess my sins and allow God to search my heart. He knows it quite well.

Then I sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God and to my brothers and sisters in Christ. And I do so, with a clear conscience, knowing I’m not lying to God as I do so.

Monday Musings – some holdover thoughts from yesterday’s Lord’s Day

Well, that was interesting. I never cease to be amazed what poor hermeneutical methods will bring about in the form of questions and ‘free advice.’

Our Adult Bible Class has been taking a very cursory look at how God guides us today. The chief question our material is seeking to answer is this: Who can I know God’s will for my life? Without highlighting everything (‘No, there is too much. Let me sum up.’ – Name that quote), let me give the main principles we’ve examined:

God is sovereign over His created universe, including our very lives. He has a design, purpose and will for all things.

God’s plan for our lives is to bring us to glory in union with His Son.

God, in times past, spoke in many ways, but in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son (Hebrews 1.1–3). So, God speaks through Jesus Christ in the Scriptures by His Holy Spirit. (That hasn’t changed.)

God has clearly revealed His will for all things pertaining to righteous living in His moral precepts. Therefore, moral obedience to God’s clearly revealed precepts is the fount from which springs accurately hearing ‘the voice of God in other matters. In other words, if we want to discern God’s guidance in other areas of our life, we must first obey God with what He’s revealed to us.

So, given these four principles (there will be two more in the coming Sundays), this statement (not really a question, although it gets framed that way by the inquirer in the class; he makes declarative statements and is fishing whether I agree with him or not) arose: God guides us in life’s long-range goals by His Holy Spirit (the question was– ‘What do you think about how God does this?’) Unfortunately, said inquirer was absent when we went over the first three principles, so he hadn’t heard: ‘God has spoken to us by His Son in Scripture through His Holy Spirit.’ Period.

What I really wanted to ask was this: ‘How do you hear the voice of the Spirit as He’s giving you these life-long goals? In your head? Audibly? And do you trust the voices in your head? Because Satan can counterfeit those voices and does so frequently. And do these goals line up with God’s declarative will clearly revealed in the Scriptures? Or are they simply personal pursuits (morally right or neutral, not contrary to the Scriptures) which require good judgment, counsel from a church body? While I didn’t answer quite this abruptly, my response was very similar in laying out these challenges. God has made His will known for our righteous living (by His Son in the Scriptures by His Holy Spirit). Matters that don’t involve a right-wrong according to that revealed will (in Scripture) require good judgment (give a listen to my sermon series from Proverbs if you want to know how that works – ). It requires wisdom, knowledge, insight, prudence and discernment. Not all of these can be found in one person. This is why God gives us the Body of Christ: its leadership (elders), its teachers and its people. Any other matters (which car to buy, what dress to wear) are simply trivial at this point. Make the decision and move onward.

This is freedom in Christ: freedom to live, freedom to receive, freedom to praise Him.

How would you have responded?

Thursday Thoughts…from All Over

My week has been taxing with many people appointments and a four hour session with elders and deacons last evening. So…with few thoughts actually residing in my head (you’d think they couldn’t possible be ‘cluttered’ if they are so few…but you’d be wrong!), I present some thoughts from others…for your own thinking:


Confessing Our Sins Together

Ryan Griffin, of Desiring God, makes us think well and deeply about what it truly means to confess our sins to one another in a way that brings true forgiveness and relief to our souls.


World Cup Goals

I don’t care much for soccer. We don’t have cable TV. Plus, I simply don’t have the time. However, the Boston Globe’s ‘Big Picture’ provides some great shots of some of the goals scored during the World Cup going on in Brazil at present. I may not enjoy soccer, but I greatly appreciate finely-timed photographs.

Abortion, Murder and the Early Church

Robert George, professor at Princeton, said recently at the National Catholic prayer breakfast, that being a Christian in our day and in our culture was now socially unacceptable. Ah, yes, I see America is going the way of the Roman Empire. If our culture of death is not stopped, God will have given us over to our own thinking…and that is a terrible thought.


3D Printed Sugar Cubes

How is this a thing? What wizardry produces such things? Sugar cubes, I get. But printing them? From a computer? Beautifully fascinating…and yet I wonder where this will lead?

What’s Essential?

20140625-051513-18913694.jpgDavid Murray wrote a post last week that keeps popping into my awareness again and again. He’d read a book recently called ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less’ by Greg McKweon. Murray lays out the main proposition of the concept of essentialism:

“Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.”

I’m not prone to reading books like this. I went through a phase where any ‘great idea’ business model book that came out was grabbed, read and put on the shelf. The problem was, I didn’t have very much discernment in what to leave in the books and bring into life. When it got too confusing or too overwhelming, I’d just leave it, ignore it or forget it.

I’m at a stage in life and ministry, however, where I definitely do not have the abilities, energy, time and other resources to do what I once tried to do. It’s a matter of recognizing the pressing need to ‘work smarter, not harder.’ So, I’ve been doing what I seem to always do when moments of clarity like this come over me: I’m working harder and trying to work smarter.


Perhaps this is why Murray’s post on this book is beckoning me. One of the many reasons this has been ‘haunting’ me is about two weeks ago, I took a piece of scrap paper and began laying out all the things that are on my plate. The entire side of the 8.5″x11″ piece of paper was filled with ministry activities, future events, weekly responsibilities, and more. And that was just ministry. I didn’t even have anything from ‘family’ on this mess. The attempt at this little project was to get a better grasp on everything I do so I could start making progress at this ‘work smarter, not harder’ concept. What it did was make me realize where I’m at, help me begin to reflect on how I got here and that it’s not a good place to be.

Murray makes this observation:

McKeown hardly needs to make the argument that the modern world has turned many of us into non-essentialists, but he traces this damaging trend to three factors:

1. Too many choices causing us to lose sight of the most important ones.

2. Technology and hyperconnectivity have increased the strength and number of outside social influences on our decisions.

3. The idea that we can do it all.

He underlines the necessity of fighting this trend with the story of hospice nurse Bronnie Ware who recorded her dying patients’ most common regret. At the top of the list: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

This is where I seem to be…a place of inner turmoil that is seeking to be the ‘servant of all’ but wondering if I’m being the servant of none. Spiritually, I recognize that I cannot do it all. But there’s a very long life’s pattern here that doesn’t allow me to actually live that out.

Something has to give or something will break.