Friday, February 3, 2017

Pastors and Alcohol

A question has come up quite a bit lately. People want to know if there is a standard for pastoral leadership within the church that would include abstinence from alcohol. It is not my intention to look at the first miracle of Jesus turning water into wine or to build a case for the water-to-wine ratio or any such thing. I am not attempting to dissect every angle of this matter but simply want to take a practical look at the subject and share a perspective. I am not saying every person must agree with my perspective; however, I am hopeful that a fresh view may encourage someone in pastoral ministry to think about their decisions and how such choices could potentially affect others. All that said, let’s consider what the Word of God says on the matter.

Drunkenness: There is absolutely no doubt that the Bible forbids drunkenness. Read the following passages to name a few: Isa.5:11, Prov.23:20, Rom.13:13, Gal.5:19, Eph.5:18. My question is how do you know if you’re actually inebriated and have crossed the line? I love what I heard Pastor Greg Laurie say on this: "You'll never have to be concerned about falling into the sin of drunkenness if you never have a drink." So, why take the chance?

In the Old Testament we find those who would take a Nazarite vow. According to Numbers 6, during the time of this vow people would refrain from wine. In Leviticus 10:9, we find priests refraining from wine when ministering in the tabernacle as the Lord did not want their judgment to be clouded in any way. In fact, the prophet Amos rebuked the nation when he said, "I raised up some of your sons as prophets, and some of your young men as Nazarites. Is it not so ‘O you children of Israel, says the Lord? But you gave the Nazarites wine to drink, and commanded the prophets saying, ‘Do not prophesy,’" Amos 2:11-12. How tragic that these young men had a calling upon their lives, yet were encouraged to drink wine, ultimately hindering their calling to prophecy. 

In the New Testament some of the debate over pastoral liberties comes from the meaning of Apostle Paul's reference in 1 Timothy 3 where he lists the qualifications for a Bishop (overseer, elder, pastor). Paul writes that a man should be blameless or above reproach in the way he lives his life. Paul states in 1 Timothy 3:3: A bishop is not to be given to wine. Upon close examination of the original Greek word paroinos, we find various scholars and commentators on the subject splitting grammatical hairs of what the word actually means and does not mean. But the question is then raised, Was Paul saying we should abstain completely or was he saying a pastor has liberty as long as he is not given over to it? Again, I am not one to debate the finer points of the Greek language, but rather share why I believe it could be a danger and hindrance to a pastor’s ministry. Thus, the reason I personally choose to refrain from the consumption of alcohol.

The Old Life: When I think of alcohol, whether that means one drink or many, the idea represents the old life before I knew Jesus. But when I came to Jesus I put away drinking because to me it was representative of the old man I once was. Why would I want to go back? I wouldn’t and I don't.

The Observation of Devastation: In all the years I have pastored I can tell you I have never once seen anything good come from alcohol. Rather, I have seen violence, divorce, loss, devastation, drug abuse, abortions, unwed mothers, tragic accidents and death, all a result of intoxication. A recent survey I read stated that one of seven people who drink become alcoholics. Their spiral may have started with one drink, which led to the next and so forth. Most people I have counseled who are given over to alcohol never thought about a downward spiral. They never expected that first drink would lead to a divorce, child support, rehab, DUIs and more.

Let me pose a question: "Would you keep a dog in your house that severely bit one of seven people who came into your house?" Did you know that 1,700 college students die every year from alcohol poisoning? I am certain most thought they could handle it. To put this into perspective, 1,700 college students is equivalent to four jumbo jets full of people.

The Potential to Stumble Others: As a pastor, I realize my calling has a great amount of influence within the lives  of people. That responsibility is something I take very seriously and seek to walk in the fear of the Lord in how I live my life before my God and people. For example, if I was a social drinker and say seven people decided to follow my example with one of seven becoming an alcoholic ending their life in total destruction, is that a risk I am willing to take? NO WAY! I find it troubling today that the oft-used phrase, "in the privacy of your own home," is used to justify drinking, even for pastors It’s all good as long as it’s in the "privacy of your own home." But how far is that reasoning carried? What else could potentially fall under that category? To shed light on this subject, first of all, it’s not my home; it’s Jesus' home. Furthermore, as a father I have always considered my children within our home. Forget for the moment that I am a pastor; I am also a husband and father. I don't want to go down the road of justifying what I do at home versus what I do when I'm outside the home. I know me; I could easily fall into that trap.

Not Legalism but Wisdom: Undoubtedly, there are people on the other side of this discussion who may even go so far as to call me the "weaker brother or legalist." That is something I am willing to live with. As I personally weigh the consequences of a decision on this subject "for me" it is clear; I don't want alcohol and a lot of other things to be part of my life and ministry. Furthermore, as pastor of Calvary Chapel SJC I encourage all our young men in leadership who have a desire to become pastors to take the same stance. Also, I encourage our congregation in the same way. Although the flock may have the liberty, I urge them to be careful that the liberty does not become a cloak for sin. A little leaven can potentially spoil the whole lump. Or worse, that we would stumble someone with our liberty, whether in the privacy of our own home or in the public eye.

Galatians 5:13: For you brethren have been called to liberty, only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Times of Refreshing

Last week we traveled to Florida to participate in the first Calvary Regional Conference of the year. Before attending the conference my wife and I were able to visit the church we planted almost 20 years ago in Brandon, Florida. We were so blessed to see so many people we love still walking with the Lord and loving one another. I was thankful for the privilege of sharing the Word of God with the people of God at Calvary Chapel Brandon. One of my dearest friends pastors the church; his name is Marc Orozco. He has done such a wonderful job the last ten years, faithfully serving the congregation there. Following our time in Brandon, we headed over to Calvary Chapel Merritt Island for the regional conference, the theme of which was "Times of Refreshing," taken from the book of Acts. The very first time we attended this conference our middle son, who is now 20 years old, had just turned one. Then, Pastor Chuck was there and we took our son to Pastor Malcolm's office where Pastor Chuck dedicated our boy. So many memories came flooding back. That conference was and continues to be an oasis for weary workers to be strengthened in ministry. It was wonderful reconnecting with old friends and co-laborers from the East Coast.

I am happy to report that we did indeed experience times of refreshing. We were all gathered together in one accord worshipping the Lord in Spirit and Truth with a mutual love for one another and the bond of peace. We heard some wonderful messages from God's Word by John Miller, Ray Bentley, Lloyd Pulley, Razz Vasquez, and Neil Spencer. Corporately we were all desperate for the outpouring of God's Spirit and His presence to be among us. The Lord did not disappoint. It was one of those conferences where I felt like I didn't want to move from that spot and didn’t realize until I arrived how much I need times of refreshing to come from the presence of the Lord in my own life.

I don't often receive visions from the Lord; however, during our time of worship the Lord showed me something in my own heart that I shared with everyone at the conference during an afterglow. The Lord showed me a vision of an embattled Roman Soldier. His face was dirty and scratched from fighting. Then I saw a hand reach for the breastplate of the soldier. As the hand pulled the breastplate down there was a visible wound to his heart. Yet he was so engaged in battle it seemed that he did not realize he had been wounded. As the breastplate was removed the wound began to heal. I sensed that the Lord was not only speaking to me but perhaps many more in that room. It's easy to be so engaged in the battle that you don't realize you have been wounded in the fight. You are fearful of taking down armor lest your heart be exposed to a fatal attack. But unless you allow the armor to come down your heart can get infected with bitterness and it can take over your whole life. The Bible says the Lord is near to those who are of a broken heart. Our Lord is a healer, a great physician. After that word was given many people identified with the vision and came forward to receive prayer. As well, I received a loving touch from the Lord.

I am excited for our next regional conference to be held in California at Calvary Chapel Golden Springs from April 3 through 5. Many of my favorite Bible teachers will be there teaching God's Word. I am thrilled to be able to take our pastors and leaders to this event for a time of encouragement through the Word.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Unafraid in 2017

Over the last several months we have been making our way through the Old Testament looking at both major and minor prophets. There are several things that stand out to me concerning these men. First of all there were times when the LORD revealed things to prophets that He had not revealed to anyone else. He gave these men insight, perspective, and discernment to see things that others did not necessarily see. 
For example, Ezekiel was given a vision into the plans and practices of the leadership in Jerusalem while he was sitting in Babylonian captivity. Within his vision he dug through a wall and observed the detestable practices of the spiritual leaders.  The prophets were also called upon to stand up and say things that were not popular to say. The prophets were not applauded for their sermons, instead they were hated and rejected.  The messages they were called to herald were the exact opposite of what the world and culture wanted to hear.  The prophets paid a price for serving the Lord. Some were tortured, others were imprisoned, some were martyred. Perhaps that is why Jesus said to His disciples so many years later, "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Matt. 5:11-12

I am both humbled and convicted by the following quote from the late A.W. Tozer
"If Christianity is to receive a rejuvenation it must be by other means than any now being used. If the church in the second half of this century is to recover from the injuries she suffered in the first half, there must appear a new type of preacher. The proper, ruler-of-the-synagogue type will never do. Neither will the priestly type of man who carries out his duties, takes his pay and asks no questions, nor the smooth-talking pastoral type who knows how to make the Christian religion acceptable to everyone. All these have been tried and found wanting.
Another kind of religious leader must arise among us. He must be of the old prophet type, a man who has seen visions of God and has heard a voice from the Throne. When he comes (and I pray God there will be not one but many) he will stand in flat contradiction to everything our smirking, smooth civilization holds dear. He will contradict, denounce and protest in the name of God and will earn the hatred and opposition of a large segment of Christendom. Such a man is likely to be lean, rugged, blunt-spoken and a little bit angry with the world. He will love Christ and the souls of men to the point of willingness to die for the glory of the one and the salvation of the other. But he will fear nothing that breathes with mortal breath.
We need to have the gifts of the Spirit restored again to the church, and it is my belief that the one gift we need most now is the gift of prophecy."
A.W. Tozer -God and Men

Sunday, December 11, 2016

3rd Generation Calvary Pastors

Being a third or fourth generation Calvary Pastor I found the words of J.B. Phillips to be likened to a prophetic warning. 

"By the time that John took up his pen to write his gospel, his epistles, and the Apocalypse, the first century of the Christian era was about to close. As an old man he looked out on a world much different from the one he had known as a boy. Jerusalem was no more. The Jewish people had been uprooted and scattered to the ends of the earth. The church was spreading over the entire world, too, and had already endured the terrible persecutions of Nero and Domitian. The roots of apostasy were everywhere. Gnosticism threatened to change Christianity into something that was unrecognizable. Peter was gone, James was gone, and the apostle Paul was gone. 
    John wrote for the third generation of Christians. By its third generation, a movement stands in desperate need of revival, or else it will either dissapear altogether or linger on as a ghost of its former self.
 In the first generation "truth" is a conviction. Those who hold a conviction hold it dearly. They do not know the meaning of the word compromise. They are willing to die for what they believe to be true.
In the second generation the conviction becomes a belief. Sons hold the truths they have been taught by their fathers and defend their beliefs in discussion and debate. The keen edge of conviction, however, has been blunted, and adherence to a body of beliefs inherited from the fathers is not so much a passion as a persuasion.
In the third generation, the belief becomes opinion. By then some members of the movement are willing to trade in their opinions for anything that promises to be a fair exchange. They feel it is time for a change, they start talking about renewal, and they look to the world for ideas. John wrote for just such a third generation. He wrote with a sense of urgency. He did not write, as did the synoptics, from the viewpoint of an infant church; he wrote from the standpoint of an infirm church, one that was in dire peril from persecution without and subversion within."   

Although I am a third generation pastor I have a first generation conviction, and I am praying for the Lord to bring revival. ~PJ

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A New Chapter

Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:23-24 

In recent days I have read things, heard things and written things I never imagined would transpire. Yet, before the Lord I have endeavored to bring understanding to those in confusion, attempting to answer questions asked in a manner honoring to the Lord.

My prayer is that you would understand my heart in all of this. Sometimes written words versus tone of voice can lead one to arrive at a wrong conclusion about the intent of the writing. I want to assure you that what I wrote to quell confusion stemmed from concern and a broken heart. 

It’s time to start a new chapter minus controversy and confusion. I am moving forward to continue to serve the Lord with joy, pressing on to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. My hands are to the plough not looking back and I don’t plan on writing anything further concerning recent developments. Instead, my focus is upon closely walking with Jesus, loving my family and pastoring the church.

In Christ, 


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Calvary Chapel Churches Moving Forward

Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You? Psalm 85:6 

Over the last several weeks many Calvary Chapel pastors have had to address their congregations concerning recent developments within our family of churches.

For some, it’s been a difficult time filled with sadness and confusion. Many of us had to field questions that we were not necessarily prepared to answer. We had to read posts on social media or listen to audio clips from a conference, or observe a photo of the Calvary dove split in half and more. Yet, in the midst of it all I can see that the LORD is working. What the enemy has intended for evil the LORD is using for good.

There are spectators looking on saying, “Well, this must be the end of the Calvary Chapel movement. The movement has now become a monument and now it’s bound to be a morgue.” There are others who would suggest that we are old wineskins too inflexible to be filled with fresh power from the Holy Spirit. Or, that we are misguided leaders living in the past, caught up in legalistic traditions destined to miss out on future opportunities to be used by God. I don’t believe that for one second. In fact, I reject it. 

We are a group of ordinary men called and empowered by an extraordinary God. We are pastors committed to the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, all of it! We are humble servants earnestly praying for a greater outpouring of God’s Spirit and pleading for revival, unwilling to settle for less. I can see a cloud in the distance the size of a man’s fist (1 Kings 18:44).

I don’t look at what has transpired in Calvary Chapel as a split but instead a necessary pruning so that we might bear more fruit (John15:2).

This situation has caused me as a pastor to be even more committed to what I am called to do. This has challenged me to solidify what I believe about ministry and to stand in boldness for why I believe it. This has caused me to revisit and be firmly established in the foundational principles I have been taught. This has awakened a renewed sense of passion to serve Jesus with all that I am. As I talk to Calvary Chapel pastors from around the country they also have a revived vision and restored purpose for their ministries. As leaders in our churches we realize that what we are doing is still relevant to the culture we live in. And the desire within all of us, which some have called into question, has ignited a flame of determination. We are a family and we are not going to let anyone pull us apart.

If I could encourage my fellow Calvary Chapel pastors in any way I would say this, “Let’s move forward!” Let’s stay the course. Let's lay aside the weight and sin that so easily besets and run the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1). Let’s shake off the spirit of heaviness and let’s put on the garments of praise (Isaiah 61:3). Like Samuel, let’s stop mourning over the separation of some and instead pick up the horn of oil and raise up others (1Samuel 16:1). Let’s keep our hands to the plow and not look back (Luke 9:62). Finally, let’s apply the exhortation of Jesus to Peter when He said, “What is that to you? You follow me” (John 21:22). 

I am reminded of the words of Nehemiah in chapter four when he said, "The work is great and extensive and we are seperated from one another on the wall. Whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us. (Nehemiah 4:19-20)" I believe the trumpet has sounded and we are now rallying together in this spiritual battle. 

There is too much work to be done and too many people going to hell for us to be striving any longer about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers (2 Timothy 2:14).  “Not by might nor by power but by My Spirit,” says the Lord of Hosts (Zechariah 4:6).

I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward. 

-David Livingstone

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Letter From Pastor Chuck Smith

Dear Friends, 
This was a letter that all of the Calvary Chapel Pastors received from Pastor Chuck to prepare us for going forward in the future. His heart was for us to be united.