Show Discernment Over the Touring Heaven Books

(From my upcoming newsletter to my Arapahoe Road Baptist Church family for May 2014)

May brings about a very special month in the life of our church: Senior Adult Sunday (May 4th), Mother’s Day (11th), Student-Led Sunday/Graduate Recognition (18th), Memorial Day Sunday (25th). Plus, we start a study on Discovering the Biblical Jesus on Equipped Wednesdays.

Yet, the very issue that captures the minds of many are the issues of heaven and Christ’s return. The movie Heaven is For Real (based on the popular book) hit theatres recently; along with the ‘Blood Moon’ on the morning of the 15th is taking our minds from this world to the next. Christians have much to think about.

Heaven is For Real outlines an account of a four-year-old boy who, will having surgery, says that he had an experience when he not only saw the doctors working on his body, but also knew where and what his mom and dad were doing. He also had a time when he sat on Jesus’ lap, when Jesus “had the angels sing to me because I was so scared. They made me feel better.” He met long-departed relatives and saw how really big God was.

We have no shortage of books on this matter: 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper, Flight to Heaven by Capt. Dale Black, Appointments with Heaven by Reggie Anderson, and numerous other ‘touring heaven’ books. While we take comfort in many thinking about heaven, we must also comfort each other in thinking rightly about heaven.

In Scripture, consider:

  • Only four visions take place regarding heaven: with Isaiah (Isaiah 6), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1), the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12), and the Apostle John (Revelation).
  • While the majority of these ‘touring heaven’ books occur during near death experiences, none of the biblical authors had this.
  • While each of these ‘touring heaven’ authors felt the need to write these ideas down, God compelled these authors to write—they were in no hurry. John was told to “write the things that are” (Rev. 1:8); Paul sat on his vision for 14 years.
  • Three of these writers saw the Lord and felt they were doomed (Isaiah 6:5; Ezekiel 1:28; Revelation 1:17-18).
  • When Paul was caught up into the dwelling of God (“the third heaven”), he said he “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4)—much different from the ‘touring heaven’ authors who felt free to share everything they saw.
  • Don Piper noted that in heaven, he heard many songs, some of which he knew and others he didn’t. “But later I realized that I didn’t hear such songs as ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ or ‘The Nail-Scarred Hand.’ None of the hymns that filled the air were about Jesus’ sacrifice and death. I heard no sad songs and instinctively knew that there are no sad songs in heaven. Why would there be?” Yet, those same angels in heaven were singing about just that in Revelation 5:9-10. God used the old rugged cross to bring about the nail-scarred hand for our salvation and entry to heaven! Without that, no heaven—neither for 90 minutes or all eternity.

I could go on. But what’s my point in writing all this? First of all, the Bible is our authority on all things, not books on the bestseller list. We must look to the sufficiency of Scripture first and judge all things according to what God’s Word (i.e., the Scriptures) say.

Secondly, given all the news and press this generates, this should show us that people are longing to understand what’s next coming. Solomon wrote that God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Eccl. 3:12), and these movies, books, and TV shows demonstrate this. I submit that even unbelievers and skeptics won’t ignore it because (possibly) they don’t want this to be true, but sense this is not all there is.

Heaven is for real—I know this because God told me so. And it’s more glorious than any book can capture. Be discerning, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Trust the Word! Let Christ and the Bible be your guide!

I love and treasure you all,

Pastor Matt

Five Ways to Change a Culture in Your Church

Over the past year, I have found my mind drifting toward how cultures develop in organizations–especially churches, but organizations in general.  This came to my mind on Saturday.  I participate in a Colorado Rapids Discussion Page on Facebook (the Rapids are our local MLS soccer franchise).  We had a great win in Toronto this past Saturday, so many of us took time to chime in and give our thoughts.  In my sharing, I did three things that violated some unexpressed, unwritten rule.

  • I posted a picture of Rapids player Drew Moor’s fall late in the game.  (Someone responded: “Oh, no!  Are we going to post pictures from the TV now?”  O-K.)
  • A few hours after the game, I posted a question about next Saturday’s game against San Jose. (“Can we just enjoy the win for a few hours before thinking about the next game?”  Sure, why not?)
  • Lastly, a thread arose about Edson Buddle’s 99th career MLS goal.  Buddle makes a lot of money for a Rapids player, causing some fans to question whether his paycheck matches his production.  So, I posted a just release article featuring Buddle’s comments from the Rapids website.  (“Um, Matt, most of us read the Rapids website.”  Figured that, but it was just released, didn’t think you all saw it,  and was pertinent to the conversation. )

Exasperation Station.

Lest you think I camp out on this site, this all took place in a span of about 15 minutes.  I finally said in exasperation, “I’ve gotta start writing down and keeping up with these unwritten rules.”  (Many agreed.)

I share this to show that each home, each organisation, and each church has a culture filled with unwritten rules.  Those on the outside coming in like what’s presented–until they get inside it and find so many rules that are a ‘given’ to that organization, they make a quick choice as to whether to leave or conform.

Most inside those organizations do not realize the extent to which this culture lives and moves and has its being.  It’s built–not intentionally and not quickly, but slowly and methodically over time.  With a lack of intentionality and focus, a culture/mission drift takes place.

But also taking place is a number of unwritten rules lurking in the corners of the mind and heart–and likely somewhere in a classroom or parlor or food pantry.  When violated, unwritten rules become spoken principles.  Though unwritten, they are written on the writing tablets of our hearts–chiseled in, impossible to erase.

Every pastor sees this in his church.  Every church sees it in their pastors.  All of us have our ‘givens,’ but those ‘givens are not always understood or shared.

So…

What do we do?  What are some ways to begin change in the culture of the church, moving it from a Great Complacency to a Great Commission Missions Hub?

  1. Prayer.  Only God can change hearts.  I never could change one–neither can you.  Praying in love for your church not only works to change the church, but works to change you.  Some prayers are prayed only with the object of someone else’s change taking place, but all the while not seeing change needed in your own heart.
  2. Proclamation—persistent, consistent proclamation—from the Scriptures.   The mistake most young preachers make (and this young preacher made elsewhere) is coming in with their own unwritten rules or assumed understandings from Scripture that they assume their church holds.  So they want to jump from A to F without first hitting B, then C… .  F could be biblical and necessary, but we must teach and lead so they see it from Scripture and not simply as another ‘thing’ the pastor wants to do.  Mission, vision, and passion for the Great Commission must permeate all we do, say, and even think!
  3. Patience—lots of pastoral patience.  Change won’t happen in 15 minutes.  Not even your sermon happens in 15 minutes.  When Paul told young Timothy to teach with “all patience,” this means that we roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of making every minute, hour, day, week, month, and year must systematically and methodically move toward a biblical and missional purpose and vision.
  4. Pastoral modeling of said culture.  If I preach and teach toward a certain culture, but I fail to model it in my own life?  Hypocrite, thy name is Pastor.  I must drive and thrive in a Great Commission Culture in my own heart.  My heart has to be my primary missions hub.  When hearts are changed, then cultures change.  But, pastor, it must start with you!
  5. Loving others, both inside and outside the church, in Jesus.   I meet people who are very hard on those in the church, all the while being evangelistic outside the church.  I also meet people who feel very at home with their church family, but very judgmental and condescending to those outside the church or Christ.  Romans 12:9-21 gives us a principle to love one another, both inside and outside the church.  When hearts are changed by Christ, he pours in His love in us to care for others and share the truth of Christ with others.

I was told by another pastor that it often takes 3-5 years to overcome the direction set by your predecessor.  This is less about the predecessor and more about pastors staying longer in their churches than the average 4.5 years.  I’ve been at my church for just under 2 1/2  years.  My prayer is to have a zero behind that 2, making it 20 years.  By that time, I’ll be 60.  Time will tell if God will keep me here that long, but that’s my aim.

Even so, prayer, preaching, patience, pastoral modeling, and providing love to those inside and outside the church.  That’s a start!

How My Pastor Friend’s Death Changed Me

2014-03-20 08.05.55 Almost two months ago, my friend Tommy Rucker took his own life.  To say this affected me would be an understatement.  In preaching his funeral, God permitted me to sort through a number of theological issues surrounding his death—as well as talk to the family and friends of Tommy that I hadn’t seen in over a decade. 

But funerals end.  Lives have to go on.  A wife has to pick up the pieces.  Children and grandchildren have to proceed without their dad and grandfather in the picture anymore.  Awful! 

I cannot speak on the subject of all of Tommy’s friends, but I can speak about one of them—me.  God has used this to change me in a number of ways.

  1. I must be honest about what’s happening in my own heart.  Tommy clearly had a dark season in his life up to the end.  Yet, his wife did not know the extent of this.  Neither did his kids.  Nor his church.  Nor did his friends.  And I wonder if Tommy really understood this!  We all must understand our hearts before God and others.  This stands as a non-negotiable.
  2. I must have someone to share what’s happening in my heart.  I remember saying during the funeral sermon, “I wish I could have had another chance to talk to Tommy—to see what was happening.”  You see, Tommy and I carpooled to seminary for over a year during our MDiv work.  We shared things with each other that we haven’t shared with anyone else other than our spouses.  I wish I could have had one more car ride with him.  Who knows?  But now, I know I must have a transparent life with someone with whom I can be accountable—my spouse or even another friend as well. 
  3. I am more diligent in keeping up with my friends now.  Phone calls.  E-mails.  Facebook.  Smoke signal.  Carrier pigeon.  I see my pastor friends online, I pop in and say hello and ask them how I’m doing.  Who knows?  Some may say, “Oh, him again?”  Yup!  Me again.  I talked online to Tommy once per week.  We didn’t talk about much, but it was that connection.  Could I have done more?  Could I have said more?  Sure, he was in Iowa and I in Kentucky—but still… .  Even so, I need to do what I can to make sure all of us minister and live faithfully, and finish well in Christ.
  4. I’m preaching with more passion.  At least, that’s what folks tell me.  I didn’t connect until just now that maybe Tommy’s death is why.  What is happening in the hearts of the pastors with whom I serve?  What is happening with the staff with whom I’m supervise?  What’s happening with the congregation for whom I will have to give an account (Hebrews 13:17)?  What’s happening in our community in which God has placed our church?  So, I’m preaching with much more urgency.  If God can use this clay pot (2 Corinthians 4:7) for His purposes, then I pray He will put in me desire to compel others to chase after Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). 

I’ve been sitting on this for a number of weeks.  It’s so hard to think about, much less write about.  Plus, I do not want to unearth feelings among the family that may be starting to heal.  But if there are any family members reading (Kay, Melissa, Jesi, Derek, Steve, Jeff, Betty, wives, husbands, and children), please know that God is and will use all things for good, even though what happened was not good. 

You know that Tommy was my brother!  We kept talking about seeing each other again sometime.  And I will see him again!  That last season did not represent the totality of Tommy’s passion for relying on His grace.  You all are in my prayers.  Thank you for letting me be part of your lives.  May God use us to be a part of the lives of those whom we care about. 

Three Weeks Until Our Mile High Pastor’s Conference 2014: The Pastor’s Family

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Pastoral ministry is more challenging than ever with unique, complicated burdens and expectations some have not experienced in previous generations. Because of this, the number of pastors who start with a great zeal for the work, quickly crash and burn and are left with a battered faith, marriage and family. 

On Saturday, April 26, we will have our 2nd Annual Mile High Pastors Conference on the topic of The Pastor’s Family (click to register). We are thankful to have Brian Croft and Cara Croft join us to speak to pastors and their wives, helping us to identify the unique challenges for families in ministry, diagnose some of the potential challenges, propose biblical solutions, and then guide those of us in ministry to embrace these challenges while shepherding our families through them. Included in the conference will be main sessions with Brian, plus breakout sessions for pastors and another for pastor’s wives. 

Brian is the head of Practical Shepherding which aims to help pastors in the day-to-day aspects of ministry. He also pastors Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, KY–where he has pastored for 10 years. 

He and Cara have co-written a book just published entitled “The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family Through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry” (hardcover | Kindle).   

The Great Commission or the Great Complacency? The True Standard of Whether a Church is Working

complacency

If Jesus matters, then His Word matters. And if His Word matters, then people who are to hear this Word matter. And if people matter, then the ministries matter—the what we do, why we do it, and how we do it. Our ministries should reflect and reverberate from Christ and His Word. Even in Acts 2, when the church just started, they saw the need to keep priorities: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” This reverberation brought awe to every soul, brought a unity to the church, brought a commonality to what was needed, and they possessed a glad and generous heart.

Ministries are about giving—time, talents, money, and the Word—to people who need them.

You have seen around that our vision is to help all people take the next step in their journey with Christ. We want to have a laser focus of folks of helping people move forward. This echoes what Jesus said in that we are to make disciples of all nations—that we are to be witnesses.

Those steps are come to Christ, connect with His church, contribute to His Kingdom. These steps are not made up by your pastor or leaders here, but are decidedly biblical. And God, through this process, is showing us that we need forward momentum to get His work done.  It’s good for us to set goals, keeping the Great Commission as our true north in bring Christ to those who need him.  Why?

  • Scripture gives examples of goal-setting.
  • Develops proper steps for momentum and prevents stagnancy.
  • Provides a way to define and evaluate progress and success.

Many of you are hearing and reading a lot about our systems analysis. We could spend a boat-load of time discuss what exactly that means. In essence, it’s a process of making our ministries work and function better. By what standard?

This actually came up in a meeting we had, where one person voiced (not of his own opinion, but voicing what others might say), “Well, everything is working. The doors are open, people are here, bills are paid, people are getting along—everything is working. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here.” I submit to you that our standard of work is looking at whether we are fulfilling the Great Commission. ARBC must continue becoming a missions hub that makes Acts 1:8 a reality.

So let’s return to our premise: Jesus matters, right? The Word of God matters, right? Therefore people matter? Absolutely! Then our ministries must matter. Why do we do what we do? It’s not that our doors are open, but why are our doors open? 

We’ve heard it said that it’s not about budgets, bodies, and buildings—but I believe that’s too general.  Each of these areas, when fueled by the Great Commission, can be a great thing.

  • Budgets: The goal is not only to meet budget, but to free resources to fulfill the Great Commission.
  • Bodies: The goal is not simply people coming in the door, but people coming to Christ and connecting with the church.
  • Buildings/Property: The goal is not just an attractive building for the saved to sit, but a missions hub for the saved to seek out the lost and strengthen the saved.

The Great Commission is the grid through which our church must function. 

Are we willing to look at all we do to see if it’s the Great Commission at work, or the Great Complacency?

How Hershael York Talked Me Out of Getting My PhD

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

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

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

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

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

Point made.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes, I just don’t feel like blogging.

And honestly, that concerns me.

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

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

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

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

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

Why are vacations and recreation important?

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

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

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

What think ye?