Uncategorized

4 Things Every Christian Must Do This Election Year

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As a Presbyterian pastor, I believe in “liberty of conscience.”

This somewhat stodgy phrase simply means that as a pastor, I can only command my fellow Christians to do things that God’s Word commands them to do. So for instance, I can command my fellow Christians to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father,” (Galatians 3:17) but I cannot command my fellow Christians to vote for my preferred candidate.

 

The crucial word, then, is command. To command someone is to impose an inescapable obligation, even a moral obligation to God Himself.

 

Now, I know what you’re thinking. If there is any idea that Americans despise, it is the notion of authority. We cannot stand it when someone tells us what to do, how to live, or how to think, especially when they take the moral high ground. We have a visceral reaction to anyone giving commands. And this reaction is as true for those on the Right as it is for those on the Left.

 

But as Christians, the commands of God are inescapable. And not only are we obligated to obey them, we also know deep down that following them leads to life, not death.

 

So what are God’s commands to Christians in America during a contentious election year?

 

Beloved brother/sister in Christ, I can give you four inescapable, good, God-ordained commandments. They come straight from 1 Peter 2:17, “Show proper respect to everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.”

 

1.) Show proper respect to everyone.

The emphasis here is on people with whom we disagree. What does it mean to show “respect” to someone? Well, it primarily means we must honor someone regardless of how they honor us. In other words, there is a respectful way to disagree, and there is a sinful way. Sadly, surveying social media, I see too many of my fellow Christians with a lack of proper respect for everyone.

 

2.) Love the family of believers.

The command here is focused on loving our fellow Christians. Beloved brother/sister in Christ, hear me: there are fellow believers who are going to vote for your candidate because of their convictions and there are fellow believers who are not. Knowing this, are we embodying Christian love in the midst of the tension? As Jesus Christ commanded, “…just as I have loved you, you are to love one another. By this all people will know you are my disciples.” (John 13:34,35)

 

3.) Fear God.

Christian, we are not allowed to fear the government. We are commanded to fear one thing and one thing only: the Lord. As Jesus commanded, we are not to “fear those who can kill the body” but fear Him who can “cast into hell.” (Luke 12:4-7)

 

4.) Honor the Emperor.

Christian, no matter what happens on November 8th, we are commanded to honor the Emperor. For Peter’s listeners, this meant honoring the Roman Emperor. For us, this means we must honor the President, whoever he/she is. And remember, honoring does not mean agreeing.

 

So Christian, as you and I interact daily with fellow Christians and non-Christians, what is God commanding us to do?

 

Show proper respect to everyone.
Love the family of believers.
Fear God.
Honor the Emperor.

 

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Leadership

Knowing & Identifying Leadership

 

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In the heat of our cultural moment have we forgotten how to know and identify leadership?

Finding leadership has never been easy. But now it seems that not only are we struggling to find leadership, we may have also forgotten just what it was we were looking for in the first place. Our cultural moment seems to have fogged our lenses.

But what is our cultural moment? A large part of our current cultural climate is impacted by a still-stagnant economy, an increasingly polarized populace, and more recently a movement of our political bases away from a Democrat/Republican spectrum to a Socialist/Populist spectrum. Also, adding to the tension is the overwhelming sense that the future of our world is quite possibly at stake: if the wrong side takes power, there may be no turning back.

So if this is our cultural moment, who can we trust to lead our country? This is the question Americans have been grappling with for the better part of a year. And as November inches closer, I would like to humbly suggest a way of knowing and identifying leadership.

(Full disclosure: I am a theologically-conservative Presbyterian minister. I know many will find my perspective too diluted by religion, but perhaps there is some ancient wisdom yet.)

 

KNOWING LEADERSHIP

The best definition I’ve ever encountered for Leadership is the ability to combine character traits and learned skills in order to guide a group of people toward a common goal.

Leadership, then, can be broken down into three distinct concepts:

1. Leadership requires character
2. Leadership requires skills
3. Leadership requires compelling vision

To know and identify true leadership, each of these three areas must be observed.

 

1.) CHARACTER

The first requirement—having character—means that leaders must possess within themselves a high level of integrity. They must do what they say they will do, when they will do it, how they will do it. In a sense, their core (or in Bible language, their heart) must be dedicated to justice. As Proverbs 11:3 puts it,

“The integrity of the upright guides them,
but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.”

A second feature of high character is a marked concern for the poor. Notice how Proverbs connects the righteous heart of a person to their concern for justice for the poor:

“A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;
a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.”   (Proverbs 29:7)

Thus, to simplify, having high character means being committed to integrity and compassion.

 

2.) LEARNED SKILLS

The second requirement for leadership is possessing the skill-set necessary for leading in a given capacity. These skills include such things as the ability to determine the right goals, to calculate resources, to evaluate the proper metrics, etc.

The quintessential leader in the Bible is undoubtably Jesus, who chose only 12 disciples to personally mentor. Jesus’ goal was a global reconciliation between God and humanity (the Kingdom of God), and he rightly calculated that he only needed to personally disciple 12 apostles to proclaim this message to the world:

“In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles…” (Luke 6:12-13)

Thus, having the right skill-set means possessing the necessary leadership skills to organize and lead a large group of people toward action.

 

3.) COMPELLING VISION

The final requirement for leadership is one’s ability to article a vision of the future that compels people to action, dedication, and sacrifice. A leader must see a positive vision of the future that allows innumerable men and women to become active participants and devotees.

A great example of compelling vision is found in the man Nehemiah. Nehemiah believed that if Israel would repent, God would allow them to return to the Promised Land. Nehemiah clung to God’s promise to revive the nation of Israel, and Nehemiah made God’s promise his rallying cry:

“but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’” (Nehemiah 1:9)

Thus, having compelling vision means that a leader must be able to envision and articulate a future that people want to be a part of.

 

IDENTIFYING LEADERSHIP

Thus, these three criteria act as a sort of lens through which we can view potential leaders. We can start by asking questions like these:

– Does this person possess the character necessary to defend justice (for rich and poor)? 

– Does this person possess the right skill-set to lead a large group of people?

– Do I want to live in this person’s vision for our country?

 

I’m sure you could add more character traits, leadership skills, and vision if we were talking in person. So really, these questions and thoughts only mark the beginning of discernment, not the end. May God be gracious to us.

 

 

 
*Rev. Dustin Jernigan pastors a small, neighborhood presbyterian church in DeBary, FL. He holds an undergraduate degree in political science from Ole Miss, a master of divinity degree from RTS, and studied business administration in the graduate school of UAHuntsville. He is currently working on a doctorate.

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Uncategorized

Front Row in the Best Show in Town

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I’m sitting front row in the best show in town. If you don’t know the story of our church yet, you need to know something: we’ve got some serious challenges in front of us.

At the very top of that list is the fact that we are a group of sinners whose only redeeming quality is the fact that Jesus Christ died for our sins on the cross, and has made peace between us and God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Together, we’re studying His word each week to learn how to repent of our sins and follow Jesus in our everyday life. And trust me, following Jesus isn’t easy. Jesus actually compares it to taking up “your cross daily and following me.” (Luke 9:23)

Further down that list of challenges is the fact that as of right now, the cost of leaving our former denomination is astronomically high compared to what is on our church bank account. Honestly, it’s not far-fetched to think that within 2-3 years, the cost of joining the EPC could bankrupt our church.

But instead of discouraging me, this emboldens me in a way that I’m not sure I fully understand yet. Maybe I love a good challenge, or maybe I love the fact that there’s no humanly-possible reason this church will survive unless God Himself delivers us. And that, more than anything, is what I can’t wait to see happen.

So as the pastor, I get to sit front row and watch God deliver His Church. Each day I get to talk to my Father—my Father is radically for me and for His glory in our town—and say, “I can’t wait to see what you do with this. Your Gospel changes lives and communities, and I can’t wait to see Your glory here.”

 

*This the first of a 5-week series on What God Wants for the River City Church

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Gospel, Repentance

Living a Gospel-Centered Life

Practice what you know, and it will help to make clear what now you do not know.”  
– Rembrandt

 

A couple of years ago, I realized how I was going to die.

Well, that may be an overstatement, but after sitting through my first EKG test, I came face-to-face with how I’m probably gonna die. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say in the middle of listing all the men in my family with heart problems, my doctor stopped me and simply summarized, “Dustin, this isn’t good.”

Of course, heart disease is hardly a unique way to go. 600,000 Americans die each year from it. So unless I contract cancer or die in a freak gasoline-fight accident, I’ll end up with heart failure or something.

Obviously, I asked my doctor what I needed to do. He chuckled to himself and gave me a peak behind the curtain of the medical profession. He said there were only two things I should do: diet and exercise. Of course, he went on to add, it was unlikely that I’d do that, since hardly anybody takes that advice. Instead, he explained, most people simply want to take a pill. Goodness, they’ll even take multiple pills a day. But diet and exercise? That’s a bit to much to ask.

Healthy Living
What struck me about his answer is how infuriatingly simple and yet difficult his answer was. It was a mere three words. Neither were impossible, and yet, to fully live into what he was describing, a total life change would have to happen.

But that’s what healthy living looks like.

It’s not a point in time. It’s not an achievement. It’s not having run track in High School. It’s a lifestyle. Living healthy effects everything from when I choose to wake up, to what I eat throughout the day, to how I arrange my day, and what I do before I go to asleep.

In the same way, living a spiritually healthy life—a life where the Gospel is in the very center—works the same way. It’s not a point in time. It’s not an achievement. It’s not having confessed Jesus back in High School. It’s a lifestyle. Living in the grace of the gospel effects everything from how I choose to spend my time, to how I think about people who disagree with my politics, to how I forgive my family and people who hurt me.

And just like healthy living includes two things (diet and exercise), living a gospel-centered life includes two things.


Gospel-Centered Living

Living a Gospel-centered life means daily committing to two things: owning my own sin before a righteous God, and being amazed at the grace of the righteous God who forgives me.

Leo Tolstoy once wrote that we attribute other peoples’ sins to their poor character, but when it comes to our own sin, we claim it’s a simple lapse of judgment. Living a gospel-centered life means giving up on that charade. It means daily confessing my sin and selfishness and not hiding from it or excusing it as a ‘lapse in judgment.’

The second step means daily being amazed at the grace of Jesus who was crucified to bear the punishment of all my sin. You see, as long as my sin isn’t that bad, that all my decisions were justified, that I was just “doing what I had to do,” then God’s forgiveness is insignificant, because there’s little to be forgiven. And Jesus himself said, “he who is forgiven little, loves little.

Rembrandt Got It, Almost
I think Rembrandt understood this, or at least the first step. When he painted The Raising of the Cross, he put himself at the foot of the cross. As you can see in the picture above, when it came time to depict those wretched sinners who crucified Jesus, Rembrandt couldn’t think of anyone worse than himself. Rembrandt reminds me of Paul, who once told the guy he was mentoring, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

Rembrandt was right about the first part—that at the foot of the cross we are inexcusably guilty. But I wonder if he ever turned his attention away from his sin to the God who forgives sin? Without both, life is a mess.

Thank God making my life centered on the Gospel isn’t a one-time deal. No matter my past, there’s nothing stopping me from doing it.

In fact, I think I’m going to end here.

I’ve got some sin to confess and I’m hungry to praise my Father.

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Uncategorized

All Precision, No Accuracy

 

One of them asked him, “Which commandment is the most important?”
Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
And he said to Jesus, “You are right, Teacher.”
When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” 

 

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel a bit crazy. Not that I’m scared of losing my mind (although my kids sometimes give me a run for my money), but I do have the tendency to obsess over pretty trivial things. Just ask my wife. Our morning ritual of consuming caffeine is carried out with as much solemnity as Catholic Mass. During the day, I shamelessly use my phone to avoid any unplanned social interactions.  In the evenings, I rarely let my kids determine what we do. Normally, the top priority in the house is letting Dad “relax.”

All Precision
In a word, my natural tendency is to commit my heart, soul, mind and strength to getting precisely what I want. If I were an archer, I would be killing it when it came to pounding the same spot on the target. The only problem, though, is that the goal of life (and archery) is not to be precise, but to be accurate.

A couple of years ago, despite all my precision in getting what I wanted, I realized I wasn’t hitting the center of the target. I was hitting what I was aiming for, but I was aiming for the wrong thing.

No Accuracy
Needless to say, my default setting is to live an incredibly self-centered life. But in a season of repentance, I started realizing how embarrassingly self-centered almost everything in my life was. My time with the kids? Just barely enough to keep them from annoying me. My time at work? I’d please people so they would give me approval. My time with my friends? I’d steer all conversations towards my life and ambitions.

And here’s what really scary: it was so easy to subtly make my desires the target of my life. And besides, I had years of practice and old habits die hard. Unless God’s grace had broken into my life, I had no hope I could save myself from myself.

So, What’s the Target?
I did archery as a Middle Schooler. Don’t ask me why. It was weird. I refer to Middle School as the “dark years.” Anyway, in archery, there’s a big difference between precision and accuracy. Precision measures how closely your arrows hit the same spot. Accuracy measures how close your arrows are to the actual center the target. It’s so easy mistake one for the other. And with my ability to get precisely what I want, I had fooled myself into thinking I was accurate.

But what does accuracy look like? It’s tempting to think that accuracy must be determined by each individual. That we are all free to determine what it looks like in our lives. But if my heart is already self-serving, I can’t trust myself to free me from myself. I don’t need more of my own desires, I need more of Grace.

I need more of my Father who formed me. I need more of the Holy Spirit who teaches me repentance and joy in self-denial. I need more of Jesus, who said the center of the target was loving God with every fiber of my being. I need to sit longer with Jesus in the garden, when he prayed “Not my will, but Yours be done.”

I need to forget precision, and I need to embrace accuracy.

Lord help me.

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Calling, Confession, Repentance

Well That Wasn’t What I Expected

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when corrected by Him.
For the Lord disciplines the one He loves…

 

Two years ago I fell to my knees and wept.

As I prayed, what came out of me was confession of sin and repentance. On a cold night in the mountains of North Carolina, it wasn’t what I expected.

That night ushered in a new calling on my life. I had known that I was called to be a pastor, but in the days that followed that night, I became convinced of two things:

First, that I needed to have more children (which I did not want to do), and secondly, that I needed to pastor a church that plants churches (also something I did not want to do).

Both of these convictions—to have more children and to pastor a church-planting church—were placed on me over and against my sin-loving selfishness. I had become obsessed with controlling my life and surroundings, and God in His mercy was breaking me of that.

So, knowing the love and discipline of my Father, I set my feet towards that calling. I could not help but think of Peter’s response to meeting Jesus, realizing the right of Jesus Christ to demand anything:

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

But now two years later, I am the proud father of my son, Levi, and weeks away from becoming the pastor of the River City Church. It seems the call to have more children and to pastor a church-planting church is actually coming true.

But more on that later.

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