It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on here—and there’s a reason for that! Over the past three months, my family and I have been transitioning to Fort Mill, SC where I have accepted a new call to be Associate Pastor of Christ Ridge Presbyterian Church in America.
In late December of 2021, the body of Christ at Christ Ridge voted overwhelmingly to call me as their (first ever) Associate Pastor. I accepted this call, but remained as Associate Pastor of Grace Community Presbyterian Church through February 2022 in order to allow for a smooth transition for both that Church and my family as we both prepared for a new and different season of ministry. Throughout January and February we packed up and sold our home in Vidalia while buying a house in Tega Cay, SC (near Fort Mill). We also took time to tell the people we love so much ‘goodbye.’ It’s hard leaving a people and a place you love, but through a robust hope in the New Heavens and New Earth, Christ has taken care of us in this entire transition.
On March 11th, my family and I moved to the area near Christ Ridge while we wait to move into our home in Tega Cay May 2nd (long story). I began my new Associate Pastorate position at Christ Ridge on March 15th and preached my first sermon at Christ Ridge on March 20th. It’s been just over one month since we’ve moved and we’ve experienced a number of different things.
First, we’ve experienced the faithfulness of the Lord. He’s taken care of us. He’s taken care of our children. He’s taken care of our marriage. He’s supplied every need of ours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19). And he’s not just taken care of us, he’s blessed us richly in Christ.
Second, we’ve experienced the fact that The Enemy hates the Lord’s Church and the Lord’s people and won’t give up assaulting them until the final return of Christ. No less than 48 hours after we had arrived in SC, a stomach virus began to sweep through our entire family and continued over the course of the next week. The after-effects of this we only just overcame last week. Not only that, but we’ve had major car trouble as well. And so many more things. It’s been a ride. It’s been ‘exciting’ (just like we were told it would be). But again, the Lord has been faithful—just like we were told He would be.
Third, we’ve experienced the loveliness of the Lord’s people. In my painful resignation letter to GCPC and my love for the Saints there, I referenced Psalm 16:3: “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” Grace Community was and is a *lovely* people. And the same has proven true for the Saints at Christ Ridge. We’ve been housed. We’ve been fed. We’ve been hugged. We’ve been supported. We’ve been loved and taken care of. Indeed, I can still say with even greater affect: “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.”
So, as we settle in here and adjust to a new (but also familiar) life here in South Carolina I plan to pick up writing again from time to time. In the meantime, please pray for us. Pray the Lord would bless our ministry here in SC as He did in GA. Pray the kids would continue to adjust well. Pray the Lord would glorify himself, and that we would enjoy Him as He does so.
So far in our series on “Offenses,” we’ve talked about how the Lord Jesus Christ demands his people to deal with offenses, hurt, and perceived wrongdoing. Since it’s been a while, let me do a short recap. First, we talked about how, if one is able, it is a good thing to ‘overlook an offense’ (Prov. 19:11). Second, if you can’t overlook the offense, Jesus commands those who have been offended, hurt, or sinned against to go to the offender (the one who sinned against you) directly and start by simply having a conversation about what happened. The consequence of that conversation should either be: 1) clarification that no sin was committed which should lead to reconciliation, or 2) clarification that sin was committed, the offender asking for forgiveness, the offended granting forgiveness, leading to reconciliation between the two parties. However, Jesus himself recognizes that sometimes neither of those things happen. In some cases, a real sin may have been committed, yet the offender refuses to ask for forgiveness and reconciliation is unattainable. In that case, Jesus tells us to proceed to the next step: carry one or two others along with you in order to try to work through the matter again. That’s what we’ve discussed up to this point.
Even still, sometimes carrying along one or two wise mediators doesn’t lead to repentance, forgiveness, or reconciliation. What do we do then? Jesus tells us exactly what to do:
17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matt. 18:17)
The next step in the process is to ‘tell it to the church’ and much more could be said on the topic than what I’m about to say. But, this means that you need to tell those who are charged by God to shepherd your soul what’s going on—you need to tell your elders. But first, a clarification: this only applies if the offender is a brother or sister in Christ and a fellow member of your Church. In other words, your elders can only act on this individual’s unrepentant sin if they are that person’s elders. There may be exceptions such as calling the other person’s pastor or elders, etc. Nevertheless, your elders themselves cannot discipline someone who is not a member of your church.
If the person is a member of your church, though, they can act. And the purpose of ‘telling it to your church’ is so that those men, whom God has charged to shepherd the flock among them (1 Pet. 5:2), can hold the unrepentant offender accountable for his/her sin out of their love for him/her. Perhaps this sounds scary, but this is really a good thing.
Imagine a couple children playing tic-tac-toe with chalk in the middle of a busy highway. Such a situation would be very dangerous for those children who probably don’t see any danger in what they’re doing. In fact, such a situation without the oversight and care of a parent would likely end tragically. Just as children have been given parents to watch over them and protect them from themselves and the dangers of living in the world, the Lord’s people have been given elders to shepherd them through life—to protect them from themselves (unrepentant sin) and the dangers of this world. This is why I love being presbyterian! So, ‘telling it to the church’ is a good thing—formal admonition or suspension from the the Lord’s Supper may awaken that person from their slumber such that they repent, ask forgiveness, and are reconciled with Christ himself and the offended party. The hope behind all church discipline (the process I’ve just described)is always restoration.
But, what if they still don’t repent? In that case, Jesus simply says ‘let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.’ What’s Jesus talking about? Jesus is saying ‘let him be to you as someone who is outside the Church a.k.a., a non-christian. Jesus is talking about excommunication. Paul picks up on the same idea in 1 Corinthians 5 when he tells the church at Corinth, quoting numerous passages in Deuteronomy, to “Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Cor. 5:13). Why? In verse 5, he tells them to excommunicate the man “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” In other words, the purpose of excommunication is for the unrepentant sinner to be delivered “to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” and, as a result, hopefully repent.
To put it simply, excommunication (and all church discipline) is an act of love on behalf of the Church for the unrepentant sinner to tangibly show them that what they are doing dishonors the Lord and is dangerous for their soul. Perhaps being outside the peace and security which encompasses the Church (WCF 5.7; Matt. 16:18; Rom. 8:28)1, through difficult providential circumstances, the individual may come to realize the danger of his/her sin, repent, and re-establish communion with Christ and thereby be welcomed back into the life of the Church.
The point of these final steps in working out offenses is to hopefully bring the unrepentant sinner to a realization of their sin so that they might repent. As I’ve said above, these steps are carried out because we love the individual, and don’t want their spirit not to be saved in the day of the Lord. The Lord Jesus shows us here that being loving is not always the same thing as being nice. When the body of Christ loves one another, sometimes that means we have to have hard conversations, speaking the truth in love. Sometimes that means we have to do hard things like excommunication—to the end that ‘his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.’
Westminster Confession of Faith 5.7: “As the providence of God doth, in general, reach to all creatures; so, after a most special manner, it taketh care of his church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof.”
Every once in a while it is good to pause and look back on life and wonder how you got to where you are now. For me, if you would have asked me ten years ago where I would be and what I’d be doing, I wouldn’t have told you that I would be an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. However, I can tell you now that God used the past ten years, and my years on the Farm especially, to prepare me for full time ministry. Here are seven things the Farm taught me about God himself and life in general that prepared me to both be a pastor and to pastor God’s people.
First, God actually works in creation. Or another way to say it would be “This is my Father’s world.” As a farmer, you can’t help but wonder how a seed not much bigger than a grain of sand somehow transforms into an edible vegetable, whether it be a head of broccoli or a Vidalia Sweet Onion, in just a few weeks or months. In fact, it’s a miracle akin to a baby being formed in its mother’s womb. It’s just amazing. It seems impossible. In it, creation screams that God is real, and that He is working. This same truth has surfaced in the ministry of the Church—as people sit under the preached word, as they grow in the knowledge of who God is and as their affections for the Lord Jesus grow sweeter and sweeter, they are resurrected from death to life, from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh, from living vain and futile lives to living for the glory of The Savior. As the seed of the Word is scattered among many, some grow up and produce fruit manyfold (Matt. 13:1-9). It’s amazing. It seems impossible. Seeing it screams that God is real, and that He is working.
Second, the Farm taught me what hard work actually is. Those few years I worked on the farm part time, then full time, then part time again taught me that work is hard. Working during harvest until the wee hours of the morning or all the way through the night to get that load of onions out or to get onions in. Icing broccoli in frigid weather. Priming irrigation pumps. Fixing pivot tires in 100 degree, 100 percent humidity, South Georgia weather. All the many hundreds of different hard and not so fun things on the farm taught me what hard work actually is, and that work is sometimes very hard and very frustrating. But also rewarding. To see the crop make, or the customer happy, or the check in the mail was truly satisfying. The same goes for ministry. Some days are very hard. Some conversations are very hard. Some things are not fun. But I enjoy it even when it’s hard. Because it’s what the Lord has called me to do. Even after the hard days and the hard conversations, hard work is still truly satisfying.
Third, farming taught me hard work doesn’t guarantee success. You can throw every last penny you have into a crop and it still might not make. There are hurricanes. There are snow storms. There are hard freezes. There are hail storms. There’s too much rain. There’s not enough rain. There are bugs. There’s bacteria. There are fungi. Sometimes, no matter how hard you work, the desired out-come may not come out. My grandfather modeled this truth well—he worked his whole life really hard, yet at the end, wasn’t a millionaire and wasn’t able to leave his kids all that much. Yet, he taught all of us that hard work is still worth it, even if it doesn’t yield that much money. He taught us how to work hard, which will go a lot further than any monetary inheritance ever could. The same goes for ministry. We can throw ourselves into the work of ministry—every last part of us—but that doesn’t guarantee anything. The Spirit has to work to change people. That’s a humbling lesson to learn, and it’s one the farm taught me. But it’s still worth it.
Fourth, and similar to the third, the Farm taught me just how little control I have over my external circumstances. There are a lot of things that can be controlled in farming. We have irrigation systems now. We have helpful products that get rid of the bad bugs, bacteria, and fungi. We can maintain the nutrients in our soil with fertilizer, and not deplete it. We have tractors. We have other machinery that makes our jobs more efficient and easier. God, in his common grace, has blessed the farming industry the last 100 years with good products and good machinery so that we really can feed the world (!). However, it only takes one hurricane, one windstorm, one hard freeze, one hail storm, one excessively rainy season, or a season when everyone makes a good crop so that the markets are flooded and the crop can hardly be given away. Any of these things could happen and all that input could yield zero, or even worse, loss. It’s happened more than once. I would venture to say that no other profession has less control of its yield and business plan than farming. There’s just so much that’s out of the hands of the farmer. He must rely on God to ‘give him his daily bread.’ Again, the same applies to ministry. I can’t make the people do anything. What I can—and must—do, though, is be faithful with what I can do and trust God to work as He pleases, according to “the most wise and holy counsel of His will” (WCF 3.1).
Fifth, and again related to the last one, farming taught me to trust God. Since so many things are out of the farmer’s control, he is daily faced with the fact that he can’t control everything (hardly anything, really), and therefore look to God to sustain him and take care of him. Farming cultivates trust in God. And that was a hard one to learn for me. It was hard to realize that I’m not the god of the universe. Far from it. And it was even harder to place trust for food on the table tomorrow in the hands of the Lord. But, it was a necessary lesson to learn, and one I employ daily in my ministry.
Sixth, knowing that I can’t control everything and that I must trust God, farming taught me the importance of prayer. Praying for the crop as I was planting the seeds. Praying for it as I walked through it while scouting. Praying for it when I drove by one of our fields. “Lord, make the crop, and give us a market to sell it.” “Provide the resources to make the crop in the first place.” “Help us harvest the crop that You have made.” If a farmer doesn’t pray much, it’s not because there aren’t that many opportunities. The same goes for ministry. Knowing that God feeds, preserves, saves, and cares for his people and that I cannot gives me lots of opportunities to pray. His people need Him. I need him.
Lastly, and probably the hardest lesson to learn, was the fact that the farm taught me how to appropriately give my whole self to my work. To not just have a job, but to be passionate about my job such that the work becomes a part of who I am. Each crop and each season was like a child—it needed to be cared for delicately. The life of the farm was on the line. There would be real, tangible consequences for mishaps and mistakes. If it was abused, there would be consequences later on. If it was neglected, there would be direct consequences later on. Therefore, it was necessary to throw yourself into the work. The work became a part of who I was. Now, this can be problematic if taken too far…neglect of family, neglect of the Lord, or developing a Savior complex—“I can save this thing”, or neglect of all kinds of other responsibilities, will arise if this kind of throwing of oneself is not kept in check. However, God created man to work. Working was one of the things man was created to do—to glorify God through good, hard work. I experienced that on the farm—it became part of who I was. I was a farmer. And the same goes for ministry—I think in order for a man to minister well to his people, his work has to become a part of who he is. He has to be invested. It’s not just a job and a paycheck. It’s more than that. It’s part of who I am. The farm taught me that.
Praise be to God whose providence, especially those years and days on the farm, shaped me into who and what I am now. There is much growing left, and much left to learn, but this season of life grew me and learned mea lot.
So far in our series on relationships, offenses, and how to respond to them, we’ve talked about overlooking offenses and what to do when we can’t overlook an offense. This time, I want to side-step and look at the responsibilities of the offender instead of the responsibilities of the offended. Whereas, in my last post we looked at Matthew 18:15 and the Christ-given duty of the offender to talk to, to have a conversation with, the offender about the offense, in this post I’d like to look at the responsibility of the offender to the offended.
In Matthew 5:23-24 Jesus says this, “23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Jesus proposes a situation in which a person is about to engage in a solemn act of worship (offering a gift) and remembers that he or she may have done something that offended another person. It’s important to read the passage carefully. And there are a few things I’d like to draw out in particular.
Get ahead of it.
Your going does not depend on an actual sin being committed, it depends on the state of the brother (or sister). Notice It does not say “leave your gift there before the alter and go” if you actually committed a sin. It does not say “leave your gift there before the alter and go” if you actually committed a sin worthy of them being offended by. It says “leave your gift there before the alter and go” if your brother has something against you.
Let me clarify. The duty to go to the offended does not hinge on whether or not an actual sin was committed. The duty to go to the offended also does not hinge on whether or not you are offended.1The duty to go to the offended hinges on the state of the offended—the very fact that they are offended. Further, it does not really matter if you did anything actually sinful. If you did anything, and you are aware that what you did offended someone, it is your duty to go to them and work through it. The idea is to get ahead of conflict, anger, resentment, or any kind of relational distance that may arise because of your action and the offended state of the other person. The goal is for brothers (and sisters) to “dwell in unity” (Ps. 133:1) and not in animosity against one another. It’s important to be proactive in resolving relational problems rather than reactive.
When should we go to the offended person? We go as soon as we become aware that the other person may be offended. It’s obvious that we can’t go to people that we don’t even know we’ve offended, hence the need for Matthew 18:15. However, if we realize someone may be upset with us, we are commanded to go to them not wait for them to come to us. As Pastor Jason has pointed out to me before, Matthew 5:23-24 and Matthew 18:15 ought to have these two parties meeting in the middle—both coming to the other to resolve the wrinkle in their relationship.
So, maybe we realize a certain person won’t look at us during worship. Maybe we realize we haven’t talked to someone in a while, and they haven’t talked to us either. Maybe someone else tells us we should go talk to someone. Or maybe the Spirit reminds us of something we did that had potential to offend someone else. Whatever the case, once we realize another person may be offended, we should go—immediately! The worshiper in Matthew 5:23-24 is commanded to “go” and “be reconciled” even before they offer their gift at the alter. Go as soon as possible—time is capital for the building up of anger and resentment.
The goal of going: “be reconciled.”2
Why do we go? Jesus states the goal of our going plainly: “be reconciled.” The need to “be reconciled” implies the need to bring together two parties that have otherwise been separated. This is a gospel principle: the Scriptures speak of the need for us to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18-21). We have sinned against him in thought, word, and deed. He is holy. We are not. We need to ‘be reconciled to him’—a work that Christ does for us by being our perfect righteousness and dying for our sins. Christ has reconciled us—brought us back to, restored our relationship with—God. Christ satisfied the righteous wrath of God against us so that we could enjoy fellowship with God. When we speak of Christ’s reconciling us to God, we are not primarily talking about our being clothed with the righteousness of Christ (justification), but we are primarily talking about Christ appeasing the righteous wrath of God on our behalf. Christ satisfied the wrath of God against us. He did away with it for us. God had reason to be angry with us (our sin). Christ did away with that anger in his life and death on the cross. He reconciled us to God. He brought us back in.
So when we think about being reconciled with others, we need to think of how Christ has reconciled us to God—that’s the reason we seek reconciliation and why we have the ability to be reconciled. But also, he has given us the pattern for reconciliation unto others: appeasing, doing away with, or working through any problem or offended-ness someone may harbor against us. We are not primarily going to them for our own good but so that our relationship might be restored. Now, it may be in the course of that conversation we discover actual sin that we committed against them. In that case, the process is the same as always: as the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and we become truly sorrowful over it (Godly sorrow), we confess our sin (both to God and to the person we sinned against) and ask forgiveness for that sin (from both God and from the other person).
We fit in both categories.
Some of you, perhaps, would have preferred for me to write this installment in the third person, using pronouns such as “them, they, he, and she”—primarily talking about other people. However, the reality is that all of us fit into both categories—sometimes we are the offended (see this post) and other times we are the offender as I’ve described above. It is just as much our responsibility to go to someone if we may have sinned against them as it is for us to go to someone if they may have sinned against us. And it’s at this point we realize that we not only need boldness and courage, gentleness and grace to go to others when they sin against us. But we need humility, that we might go to someone when we may have sinned against them. So, that’s why we need both Matthew 5:23-24 and Matthew 18:15 in the first person (I, me, we)—because it is likely that we are the offender just as often as the offended.
1 See John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (2015), page 31.
I will admit, I’ve been quite reluctant to build my own blog for some time now for a number of reasons. First, I don’t think what I have to say hasn’t already been said better by some other person. I’m not that special. I’m not exceptionally brilliant. And I don’t suppose my thoughts on this have changed. Even as I write this, I know there are far better and smarter people that can write (or maybe already have?) the things I want to say. But I don’t think that’s a good enough reason for me not to write. The Lord, in His providence, has given me a particular group of people–a flock–to shepherd. And by the Lord’s grace I’ve grown to know them, which may give me an upper hand over the author writing to a more general audience.
Second, I’ve wondered if I would have enough time to keep it up. Life is busy! I have a wife and three kids, a wonderful Church to shepherd as I myself am shepherded by the Lord, and more hobbies than I have time for. However, there have been more than a few times over the past few months that I have had poignant thoughts that needed to be refined, and for me, putting them on paper (or onto a screen) helps sharpen and develop these thoughts towards usefulness–how those thoughts fit into the lives of the saints at Grace Community Pres. All that said, there will probably be weeks when I can’t keep this up. And that’s okay.
These reluctancies aside, what pushed me over the edge–what made me do it–was a series of topics that I deeply want to write about formy people (which I’ll address more below). Facebook nor Twitter offered a proper place for those topics to be addressed. I needed some type of platform, a place where I could write more than a one-liner. That was the need–a place to write–but the thrust behind pressing the buttons and actually committing was encouragement from my dear wife, who has always pushed me farther and harder than I could push myself.
Do I expect to break the internet with this blog? Absolutely not, and neither is that my goal. Do I hope my writing will sharpen and develop my own thoughts? Yes. Do I hope it will encourage and equip the people I have taken vows to care for and shepherd? I do. Indeed, those ones, Grace Community Presbyterian Church, are the primary audience for these posts.
Now, about those topics I’d like to write about… Over the course of the next 12-15 weeks, I plan to write several (hopefully) short blogs about relationships within the church. More narrowly, I plan to write readable segments on what usually causes relationships within the Church (or contexts such as marriages, friendships, etc.) to break. My main objective is to answer the question: How do we respond when someone offends us, or sins against us? I plan to cover topics beginning with “offenses” and how to address them, all the way through “forgiveness” ending with questions related to “reconciliation”–all rooted in Scripture and modeled after the Glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ and the grace and benefits that are ours In Him.