Now Playing: The Uncomfortable Pastor
Monday, 17 July 2017
Day of Special Thanks
Now Playing: The Uncomfortable Pastor
It is appropriate today to give God thanks for a prayer He has answered. Over the past few years we have had a heightened awareness of the uncertainty of life--there are no guarantees for tomorrow. We plan, but it must always be subject to “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (James 4:15).
So with that sense of uncertainty, I asked the Lord several years ago that, with the exception of the Rapture, Ruth and I might be able to live at least a couple years in the place we had purchased for our retirement.
Exactly two years ago today, we arrived in Sierra Vista. We are greatly enjoying life here with many friends, activities that are a blessing, and a lifestyle that is not highly stressful. This doesn’t mean our time is now over, but continuing is like ‘frosting on the cake.’ In any case, we are in our Great Shepherd’s care.
We have some health challenges and occasionally other troubles, but we have been able to cope. And tomorrow we leave on another trip, Lord willing, to spend some time with family.
Thank you, Father. We continue to be aware of Your love and goodness to us. We are content to experience Your nourishing and cherishing. But at the same time, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20)!
Wednesday, 21 December 2016
Now Playing: The Uncomfortable Pastor
Lately the luxury of thinking about assembling jigsaw puzzles has been mine. For example, I placed on Facebook a request for the formula that serves to clarify exactly how many successful connections a person must make with any given puzzle in order to completely assemble it.
One’s mind can go far astray by considering that corner pieces (at least in a rectangular puzzle) typically have two straight sides that require no connection. And all the other edge pieces have one straight side. Then you can take a piece from the middle and connect it to four other pieces. Each of those four pieces will now have three sides exposed (at least where pieces are four-sided), but one needs to be careful here, because two sides may be used up by one connection. So it all becomes very confusing.
Really, the formula is quite simple. C (number of connections) = P (number of pieces) - 1. There you have it. You can check this out with a very simple puzzle of, say, nine pieces. One does need to be careful to find the exact number of pieces. Right now I am working on one whose box says 1000 pieces, but the actual number is 1026. So 1025 is the minimum number of connections that will complete the puzzle.
This particular puzzle is challenging, and I am assembling it without referring to the picture on the box. But a question came to mind: Why is it that for a period of days I can look at a group of pieces that by color will fit into the same general area and have very little success then, but another day I will approach the puzzle seeing where they fit and having great success? I have been pondering this and will offer a few suggestions.
One answer might be that the number of possibilities is dwindling. With this particular puzzle I did the edges first and then proceeded from the top down--sky, vegetation, water, etc. So by the time this difficult area became doable I had used almost half the pieces.
Another answer might be that by now I have looked at the pieces long enough, even one by one, that suddenly in my mind the picture is coming together. My brain is recognizing the familiarity of each piece.
Another answer might be that in order to assemble a puzzle, you have to have something to which you might attach something else. That something was not there earlier in the process, but now that it has been established by working down from the top, there is more of a context for the current stage which previously was not well established.
Another answer might be that the food I ate or the exercise I took predisposed me better for puzzling on that day than on other days. This may be difficult to prove (but then so are the others). Maybe a certain emotional state is better for puzzling. I don’t know, but the phenomenon is curious.
And that is it for my current state of considerations on puzzling.
Sunday, 16 October 2016
Now Playing: The Uncomfortable Pastor
Throughout their lives my parents took snapshots especially of people who visited. Often these people were relatives. As technology moved ahead, my parents purchased a 35mm camera and had slides developed. When we assembled in later years, we often would get out the old pictures and reminisce. Mom died about sixteen years before Dad did, and in those years of his loneliness we would meet at his house and view slides. Occasionally we would come to a slide, and someone would say, “Who is that?” We didn’t know. Dad would say, “If Mom were here, she would know.” Much time has passed by now, and those pictures which featured people we did not know have been destroyed. It seems pointless to keep pictures of people you do not know. We have enough of our own that someday will serve the same fate.
The topic that is on my mind is one that has visited many times throughout the years. It actually fits fairly well the kind of thinking the Preacher does in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. (What a wonderful book that is! The writer wrung out of experience the truth that life without God is meaningless.) I don’t think this should be morbid; it is really a meditation on a reality of our existence and expresses the need for the future God promises those who love Him.
I worked for a number of years as a piano tuner/technician. Especially challenging to me were problems in the piano, nuisances to the piano player which she did not understand. It was a special joy to be able to diagnose and remedy the problem, and I was able to do just that on numerous occasions.
This career began with a correspondence course, but armed with only the course one does not have much more than theory. Problems which the course never anticipated can present themselves, and it then becomes the responsibility of the technician to solve them. So over a part-time career of over thirty-five years I learned and built up a store of knowledge that served me well. When I traveled to someone’s house to tune, I sometimes thought that even though I have this tool box of specialized tools and this pickup with supplies that some time or other may be needed, my most important resource is what is stored away in my head. I have thought that I wish I could pass that on to someone--the entire package. It would be advantageous to that person. But I cannot. It will die with me.
The same is true in the ministry. I have poured countless hours of time into understanding the text of the Bible in the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. I have thousands of Scriptural sentences diagrammed with exegetical notes which I use over and over again. They hold much value not only in understanding the sacred text but also in living. Some have said I should publish those diagrams, and my wife has wondered what she might do with them after I leave this life (The assumption is that I will leave first, but the order doesn’t matter--if I am here last, then the problem passes on to someone else.). My answer is that all of it should be burned (I wish that were still legal.). Only I can make sense of much of my scribbling and shorthand; no one else could. And, so, again, this will all be lost with me.
So much is lost whenever someone dies.
C. S. Lewis in an essay called “The Crown and the Cross” which was included in the collection published as The Joyful Christian wrote the following in a discussion somewhat different than mine: “there is no real teaching of such truths possible and every generation starts from scratch.” It seems a shame that we all must start from scratch, but it is so. What we can pass on is really very limited. Even in the computer age, what we can individually process has a limit, and, if we do not know the basics, eventually we become stupid. That is evident in some of what occurs in society today. Are we finally now sophisticated? Have we finally conquered racism? Do we really now come together diplomatically instead of fighting wars?
So, why have we put forth all this effort? The next generation must try again, but they cannot just continue from the point at which we have left off, you see. It all seems rather futile.
Though it seems noble, my efforts cannot ultimately be for society’s improvement. Though it seems herculean, my efforts cannot ultimately be to self-propel to the point of total mastery. (There are some who think they know everything about pianos, but they don’t. The same is also true in the realm of Bible interpretation.) In the proverbial blink of an eye, life is over, and we are done.
God has made us curious creatures. God has made us creatures who fairly willingly try to fix here and there the effects of the curse (Genesis 3) throughout life. We get by that way, but eventually we wear out and go to our eternal destiny. At that point the accomplishments of this life disappear. Then the apostle’s words in Colossians 3:1-4 will become very clear:
“If therefore you rose with Christ, those things which are above continue seeking where Christ is seated on the right of God; on those things which are above continue setting your mind, not on those things which are upon the earth; for you died, and your life has been hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life appears, then also you with Him--you shall appear in glory.”
If you read this far, you may have wondered why I entitled this essay “Total Loss.” As I thought about the impossibility of passing on knowledge and craft I was reminded of some of the earlier attempts at internal combustion engines. They were called total loss in that one had to periodically pump oil into the engine--it did not recycle. The invention of an engine that could recycle oil greatly improved the pleasure of driving or riding. And you didn’t have to buy oil almost every time you went shopping. I’ve never had the dubious pleasure of operating such a machine, and I don’t ever hope to do so. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for ruining the engine because I had forgotten to pump in a little oil at the proper time! But we are something like that.
Sunday, 28 August 2016
Effort in Perspective
Now Playing: The Uncomfortable Pastor
Sometimes I daydream or night-dream about preaching again (though I am really quite happy in my current role). If it is in a substitute role, I wonder what biblical passage I should choose. There is this one, and there is that one. What do the people need? Does it matter which one I choose? Have I ever preached on a passage and afterward seen the hearers impacted the way I wished? There is a mixture of thoughts and memories that come forward out of the closets of the mind that can encourage one trip or another.
Yet the Lord has wired me a certain way. Maybe we could say that the Lord gifted me specifically. In quizzing others, it has become obvious that not everyone thinks the way I think. That’s pretty obvious in numerous ways, but what I mean is this: when I learn a new song I immediately want to share it, sing it for others. The message of the song and the beauty of the song others should experience, too, and sometimes I can make that happen.
The same is true in Bible study. Right now I am still engaged in a personal inductive study of Isaiah, and at this rate it may continue for more than another year. Detailed exposure to a single verse can excite me, and I would love to share that with others. I suppose I would like the verse to impact others as it impacts me, but regardless of whether it ever will I still have the urge to share it.
In this same connection I have wondered about the impact of prayers. For years it seemed to me that God answered my prayers for my personal needs and wants, but not so much my prayers for others. Yet I have also seen some prayers answered in the lives of others, some strikingly so after many years of praying. And that encourages me. But God’s word encourages me even more; Jesus was the greatest promoter of prayer.
Some requests have been granted in the way I hoped. Some of have been answered in a way shockingly different than I expected. Others seem to be on hold.
Actually, I have to believe, from what Jesus said about prayer, that more of my prayers have been answered than I now know. Some of the answers I have seen. Some of the answers I may never see, but the fact of asking was pleasing to the Father. And some of my requests will be taken into account when pouring out the judgments promised in Revelation, even if I had hoped for an answer of grace sooner rather than of judgment later.
Doing is important. In fact, Jesus said that doing the Father’s will was critical. And it has been revealed to all, even written. But sometimes there is nothing you can do, and, I suppose, especially in a time like that a person turns to God in prayer.
The Bible does mention waiting for God. Life often involves waiting for Him. I suspect prayer is often waiting for Him. Just waiting, to see what He will do. Not demanding, just waiting.
Just a few ramblings while I wait...
Sunday, 19 June 2016
Using the Other Pattern
Now Playing: The Uncomfortable Pastor
I’ve been observing something beautiful on the cruise ship. I am curiously not referring to the scenery we have been enjoying nor the entertainment on the ship itself. It rather involves people.
There is a family on board which I observe to consist of at least the set of parents, a daughter, and a grandmother. Perhaps also a grandfather, but I’m not sure. It is a family which has learned to love in a way most people hope they do not have to.
The daughter is likely in her teens, though it is difficult to tell. She can walk like others do and use her hands. She cannot talk, although at times she does a sort of singing. She does not feed herself, but she eats when her family feeds her, until she wants no more (she knows when that is). She attends a lecture or a concert, but she seems more interested in people coming and going than in what is happening on stage.
One wonders about people like her in the grand scheme of things, in the scheme of God and life and family and society and government.
We had a niece on my wife’s side who was born with what was probably a brain deficiency, though I don’t remember the condition’s name. She was about seven years old when she died. She never walked or spoke or anything else seven-year-olds do, but she was their size.
I had a cousin who was born with another kind of brain deficiency. He never grew to full size, but participated reasonably well on some level in life’s activities. If I remember correctly, he lived to something like fifty years of age.
One wonders about people like these. What is their place?
And as I thought about this, I realized that I had changed. I remembered back to the time when our four children were born (one at a time, of course). We had been informed about some of the many conditions they could have at birth. We were thankful that having been born they were discovered to be “normal.” (I remember counting to see whether they each had ten fingers and ten toes.)
I look at that conclusion now and consider it somewhat cruel or at least crass. We have our ideas of what “normal” is, but to deviate from that measurement is not necessarily to be robbed of value. We think being born “normal” is a relief, but it may make certain kinds of desirable growth more unlikely.
Our cruise ship family did not seem to be embarrassed about their daughter/granddaughter. I was glad to see that. They took her along wherever they went. They fed her as needed. They took care of her in such a way that she was attractive to behold. And on some level she appeared to be enjoying the cruise even though she will never in this life tell someone about it.
This daughter, too, exists for God’s glory. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (NIV).” Again, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully make; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Ps. 139:13-14).
Each of us is tested in certain ways, but not always just like someone else is tested. We are summoned to do the will of God. Some make excuses or even blame God and lash out at Him because of the circumstances they face. But it is exactly in my circumstances of life that I need to do His will. It is not an impossible assignment; there is divine help for those who accept the challenge. And some have been beautiful examples.
And in heaven there is the promise of wholeness as defined by Jesus, for all who are there, including me!
Saturday, 7 May 2016
Just Alongside Instead
Now Playing: The Uncomfortable Pastor
Having become as cynical as I am about people, I have, nevertheless, been shocked at least three times. One of those shocks took place as I met with a group of church people and asked which was more important, church or parachurch. The answer was parachurch. When I explained that the Church is an institution of God, their answer was still the same.
Now I suppose that most individuals who found a parachurch ministry will say they were so led by God. I have no basis upon which to deny their claim, but I will any day prefer an institution of God so defined by the Bible over an institution defined by man’s extrabiblical experience. I trust the Bible, God’s Word, while I suspect the claims of people.
By now some of you may be wondering what a parachurch is. In some circles that nomenclature is common, but not so much elsewhere. “Para” is a preposition in Greek which can have several meanings but commonly has a meaning like “beside.” So parachurch is a ministry or organization which exists alongside the Church. It is not the Church, but it usually focuses on some aspect of ministry. It can be represented by various religious schools, missions, groups formed to promote a biblical value, evangelistic groups assembled around a sport or other interest, groups designed to support a certain demographic, etc.
In this blog, I will be sharing a view of parachurch, and I will comment generally. I do not wish to name any parachurch organization because I wish to focus on principles, not persons or ministries. My hope is that you would think about what is presented here and consider your own values. Neither do I wish to characterize all parachurch ministries the same. There may actually be a few—I can think of one right now that might qualify as a legitimate extension of the church. So keep in mind the possibility of exceptions and the effort to respect people in their desires to serve God.
I must also disclose that, although my focus has been the Church, I have at times been temporarily associated with parachurch ministries, and for the most part they have been happy associations. We could say that these associations have come about because we live in an age in which parachurch is very much part of the landscape. I suppose that parachurch organizations have existed for a long time, but they certainly mushroomed in the decade of the 1970’s and have continued to multiply.
I also suppose that most individuals who found a parachurch ministry do so because a perceived need was not being met. Over the years I have occasionally tried to determine whether the Church might not have met these needs, and my conclusion has been that she could have. Why she did not, if indeed she did not, is another discussion that we might yet have. But the person founding this parachurch ministry discovered it easier and perhaps more effective, in his/her view, to create the parachurch to meet the need rather than attempting it through the Church. Certainly, this parachurch organization could be more narrowly focused and streamlined in meeting this perceived need.
It has been fascinating from the present vantage point to glance back over one’s shoulder to the time when particular parachurches originated. They had goals they intended to achieve, sometimes even by a certain date. How effective were they? I can think of a parachurch designed to help the family, and forty-some years later the family is more dysfunctional than ever. Is that the fault of the parachurch? Not necessarily--it’s just an observation. I can think of another parachurch designed to strengthen the correct expression of gender, and thirty years later the society, even the Church, is saturated with gender issues never before imagined. Would the outcome have been better if the Church had been faithful to its given message? Who knows?
The parachurch allows for various anomalies simply by the fact that it is not the Church. It doesn’t need to have biblical requirements for membership because it is not the Church. It doesn’t need to have requirements for leadership because it is not the Church. If there is criticism, it can plead its non-Church status. But that also opens the door to weirdness.
I have observed that folks who have trouble with the Church will often congregate in the parachurch. They may not want to meet the qualifications for Church membership, and they don’t need to in the parachurch. They may not want to let go baggage that should involve repentance and abandonment, and here they don’t need to. As long as they mesh with the purpose for which the parachurch exists, everything is fine.
One parachurch gave out awards occasionally. One man was awarded with one such “outstanding” award because he had given a large amount of money. That was fine as far as it went, but I knew some of his neighbors, and they cursed his Christian testimony because of his shady business deals. His testimony did not adorn the gospel of Christ, but his gift obtained for him a one-time annual award.
Along with that and going back to the answer to my question posed in a church group, I have observed that giving to a parachurch is often easier than to the Church. The local Church considers an expansion or an improvement, and the project may die because the project is considered too expensive. On the other hand, when the parachurch considers its project, it may be ever so expensive, and soon someone has written the check. People give to what they consider important. And sometimes the structure of the parachurch eliminates the inefficient discussion that could put an obstacle in the way of a project.
Often when the parachurch asks for money, it will remind you that you should give first to your local Church. And when the parachurch explains their ministry, they will usually declare that they are an arm or a branch—or whatever extension term you wish to use—of the Church. Somehow someone knows that Christ instituted the Church and not the parachurch, so that to claim some connection to the Church legitimizes.
A few years ago I was reading material from an organization overseen by two gentlemen. The organization had a name, and one of the gentlemen was quite famous. They opined on all kinds of topics theological, and in many cases they were very critical of others. I was curious whether they were responsible to any church, so I wrote them and asked. They graciously responded with the information I requested. They were part of a church, and they told me which one. For me it was helpful to know that they were not just some folks who had set up shop and were free-wheelingly peddling their opinions.
It has also fascinated me to observe that when a parachurch or a local Church has an event, the probability that the guest speaker comes from parachurch is high. I have wondered why. It could be because the parachurch representative has a particular emphasis, and we want to hear that. Also, he/she has spoken on the emphasis a hundred times already, so the performance is bound to have a certain polish. We might consider that a Church representative might also have a wealth to share that is borne out of a broader challenge and experience. But we value the entrepreneurial style of the person founding the parachurch, so we may well continue to provide publicity there.
I was in a seminary homiletics class (parachurch, or perhaps an extension of a denomination) once when the professor became very emotional in expressing envy at those of us who would be ministering in the Church. He kept being asked to be a special speaker and to communicate on certain topics which he had often communicated. He said he would rather go on to something else. He said he and his family knew these subjects very well and had incorporated them into their lives. He envied us who would be able to communicate something different every week.
Further, after the parachurch has existed for a while, it often encroaches on the Church. I don’t know if the narrow focus on one purpose becomes boring, but the parachurch begins to compete with the Church. The Church must cancel services in order to encourage the success of the parachurch, and the parachurch seeks to more and more take over the ministry of the Church (even though it is only a ‘branch’ of the Church). Perhaps every such move is generated because of perceived failure of the Church, but it seems that such a movement could be sought and promoted within the Church, not off to the side. I would rather place the emphasis on God’s institution.
So why did I share my bias here? I don’t expect that you or I will change the culture, eliminate the parachurch, and cause the Church to in purity be all it should be. So, in the first place I share this for the purpose of information. Once this topic has been raised, you may evaluate your own relationship to ministries. You should know which is Church and which is parachurch. One is instituted by God and the other is not, at least not in His written Word. Having been served, you decide where to place the emphasis.
God’s Word has everything to say to us even here. One passage that came to mind as I wrote is 2 Timothy 2:2, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (NASB). There is no reason why the Church cannot do this. A few local Churches are, but in many cases we leave it to the parachurch.
To me it seems ideal to have just the Church and no parachurch, but history teaches us that the curse is active there as well. Everything deteriorates over time and will until Jesus brings His kingdom to bear. So I rest in His promise “I will build My church” (He will!) in Matthew 16:18 and join John in saying, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). When He comes, then the Church will finally and truly be His Bride!
Saturday, 19 March 2016
The Results Are In
Now Playing: The Uncomfortable Pastor
The church survey is complete. We have come to the end of the road, and that actually means that we have begun a new chapter in church membership. So I want to share my observations. I admit that my observations are not exhaustive: we have not visited all churches, not even in this area, but we have visited churches that could have been possibilities for our fellowship and some that we knew beforehand could not. Though there are exceptions to every rule--that famous rule of English grammar, I do expect that what we observed would at least often be repeated if the experiment were conducted elsewhere in this country and perhaps even beyond. Sadly, as I have at times learned, the fads that operate here also sneak into other countries. It is difficult to go places where we have not attempted to promote our church culture; we simply will not trust the Holy Spirit to do it Himself.
I must also confess that I have a bias. I will attempt to be objective, but to claim complete objectivity would be foolhardy. Please know that this is my honest attempt, though it may be couched in personal language. I am quite sure that I approach this differently than some other church seekers in that through experience I do somewhat understand what happens ‘backstage,’ so to speak. Whatever is on display was developed through a philosophy of some sort.
Our goal was to evaluate through the grid provided by Acts 2:42. This verse describes the activities of the early church and is actually unique in the Bible. It says that the time of the church assembled focused on four areas: apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer. Some form of fleshing out that list was evident in most of the churches we visited, especially if one did not inquire too deeply into what each of those items entails. So let me address in some order those and add any other observations that I consider pertinent.
If we consider this to be a situation in which people are relating to other people, we could go so far as to say that every church we visited provided some exhibition. Only one church seemed uncomfortable knowing how to relate to visitors. All the others made us feel welcome.
We did wonder how genuine this was, however, because, though numerous churches asked visitors to fill out a card, only one seemed to pay attention to the card and act upon it. That one sent someone to our door and presented us with a welcome gift. I can only wonder what the others did with the information they requested.
Also, the term ‘fellowship’ often is popularly used to refer to some kind of gathering where people eat and/or drink (especially coffee!), but it must be much more that that. It’s primary meaning is that of sharing or having something in common. Numerous kinds of serving in the life of a local church would belong under this heading. Our attendance a couple times at one church quickly communicated to us that we would probably never be able to serve in any capacity there. (This was later confirmed to us by two unrelated sources who had considered becoming part of that church.) Otherwise, it would have been an excellent church in which to receive Bible teaching. There was at least one other church in which it seemed that our serving would be difficult, if at all possible.
Now I know that many folks see this heading and assume it refers to the Lord’s Supper. Probably every church we visited practiced some form of it, and we saw it practiced in some. But I have to mention that the term is used in the Bible also in a place where it could not possibly refer to the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, but rather simply a meal. Again, many churches offered some kind of refreshment. Sometimes it was a continental breakfast, other times almost a full-fledged breakfast with fruit, rolls, coffee, quiche, etc. At a couple churches because we were new we were invited out to a noon restaurant meal sponsored by the church or someone in the church. Plus we were invited to various potluck meals. I’m not sure how much food a church needs to offer before it qualifies in this category, but it probably isn’t much. So it seems that if physical food is the biggest need, that could be met almost anywhere.
It might be difficult to conceive of a church service without prayer. One church we visited came close to that, and I can say confidently that whoever was supposed to be the object of their prayer, it was not the God of the Bible in the name of Jesus Christ. But most churches included some form of outwardly Christian prayer in the service. It might be personal prayer verbalizing the current needs, or it might be formal prayer which applied more generally.
Actual prayer meetings were not as obvious. Sometimes such were announced. Perhaps there were prayer meetings which were not announced, but in that case we would assume they were not a planned part of church life. At one church we asked, because we were not sure, and we were informed that prayer happened in connection with virtually every meeting on that church’s schedule. And after some investigation, that claim seemed to us to be true. Some of that church’s events provided opportunities for sharing prayer requests and praises, and the people present were expected to avail themselves of provided lists so they might pray throughout the week at home. It was encouraging to see that various assemblies did provide opportunity for prayer.
Someone may well wonder what the apostles’ teaching is. So let me quickly introduce it. The Bible for the twelve apostles was what we call the Old Testament. Their texts in the beginning had to come from that, if they quoted or explained the Scriptures at all. So there is that. But we must add to that all of the New Testament. This was the new that Jesus promised and which the Holy Spirit would make known to them. So, generally, we are accurate to say that the apostles’ teaching is biblical teaching.
This was a very difficult area for me. I have spent my adult life studying the Bible with attention to detail so that some form of critique comes easily. I observed what a number of pastors are doing and concluded that, if that is pastoring, then I was indeed a very poor pastor. They have gifts and abilities that make it natural for them to be CEO’s of churches, if you please, and to easily hobnob with the local political and business folks. They can preach with drama and with a flair for being in the spotlights. Their dress is cool, and they seem attractive.
I was told one pastor could be a great Bible teacher--he was certainly compassionate and helpful to others in various ways, but right now he was intent on a building program, so he was not teaching on a high level. In another church the lights were so low, it seemed you were in a theatre: the focus was on the preacher, but taking notes was nigh to impossible, if there were something worthy of noting. In a few there was an attempt to teach from the Bible, even by way of exposition, but mostly there the Bible was a book present but not heard.
Through conversations and observations it was apparent that most pastors are not there to simply communicate God’s message. This is a huge comment, but I will stand by it. And to me that is sad. They are there to promote an agenda, and, if the Bible is useful toward that, they may use it. If the Bible is not useful toward that, they may still refer to it at times, but it is clear that what God has said is not what the pastor is trying to get across. The agenda may be a personal one, or it may be the direction set by a denomination. But the Bible is mostly peripheral, even though it claims to be God’s revealed word and profitable in every way for the believer.
I have also been made cognizant of the usage of words. It is well-known that various segments of life have their own vocabularies. You may not understand all the words a piano technician uses, and he may not understand all the words a computer programmer uses. But in this case the words in question are biblical words that mean in the church’s usage not what they mean in biblical usage. That is confusing at best and could be deceptively costly. Some of the words I have in view include: tithes, baptism, marriage. We actually know what these words mean in the biblical text, but church usage has assigned them a different meaning so that now the practice of the church is faithful to their own meaning but divorced from biblical meaning. I don’t understand what is to be gained from that. Of course, this also affects the overall theology, or lack thereof, of the church.
As you can tell, if you have read this far, I am not bullish on the current condition of the local church. The truth is that I am not. There is only one comfort to which I hold, and that is that in Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, “I will build My church.” If He does not do it, it will be totally corrupted, and the plan will fall apart. As Alexander Carson said despairingly a couple centuries ago, “There is not one of all the ordinances of the Lord Jesus Christ, that has been left untouched by the wisdom of man” (Baptism: Its Mode and Subjects). The same can be said of the institutions of God.
Having said all that, when a Christian finds a local church that attempts to be what Jesus Christ, its Head, calls it to be, then that Christian needs to celebrate the discovery and be active in the body life of that organism. If every church heeds the biblical model, the church will be recognizable everywhere, and at the same time no two churches will be identical, as they represent their cultural expressions of the Body of Christ in each specific locale.
Sunday, 27 December 2015
Bring Back Obedience
Now Playing: The Uncomfortable Pastor
Obedience is not a popular topic these days. There may be a particular resistance to it in that our first parents chose to disobey the only command God gave them. One might think that in Christian circles it would receive greater interest, but even there it is largely abandoned. I am going to be generous here and assume, for the sake of this article, that the circumstance may result from a lack of information or from casual adoption of misinformation or acquiescence to twisted doctrine.
We easily think of obedience being an Old Testament topic. After all, the Old Testament is a book of laws, especially the portion that Moses wrote. And the Old Testament is legalistic. Some think there is no, or at least almost no, grace in the Old Testament. Everything is related to laws and obedience. And when we transition to the New Testament, we are relieved to find all that left behind! All is now of grace--obedience is only a dusty memory.
But if that is so, the New Testament writers did not all receive the message. Note the following:
Colossians 3:22 “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord” (NASB throughout).
Ephesians 6:1 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
2 Thessalonians 3:14 “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame.”
Philippians 2:12-13 “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
As you progress through those, you might say that what is addressed to slaves is definitely obsolete, so we can ignore that one. We probably should not be so quick with that, but we’ll let it go for now. Then the children: I’m an adult, a senior in my case, so that doesn’t apply either.
But what about obeying leaders? Church leaders are in view. It really sounds as though that is addressed directly to all Christians. We may as well note here that though some folks beg to differ, God views Christians as being part of the Body of Christ which is expressed through local assemblies. So it’s difficult to get rid of that one.
Then the 2 Thessalonians passage is directed at least to the original readers of that letter. When you examine it closely, it is quite difficult to say it is limited to them. And you really should take note, because there is a consequence. The rest of the church is to disassociate from a person who does not take note, and that should be shameful.
Finally the two verses from Philippians. This is the most difficult passage to avoid. It really is directed to anyone who claims to be a saved individual. If you look closely, you will see that obeying is the substance of working out your salvation. You flesh it out by obeying what God has said. Faith lives by the promises of God but also by the instructions of God. So, even without boring any deeper, we really should admit that obedience is not obsolete, even in our time, regardless of claims made to the contrary.
(Right now as I write I am not sure when I will consider this article complete. What I have written so far is supposed to serve as an introduction, yet it may be as long as all the rest combined. Oh well, sometimes a proper introduction can be important; hopefully it sets the stage upon which the rest of the document makes the intended point.)
You may have heard that the Israelites were given 613 laws in the books of Moses. That seems like a lot, maybe even overdoing it. It is surely a large amount to learn and observe. If there really are that many, we can see why someone might have tired of them and violated at least some of them.
So I thought we should take a look at the New Testament. Are any laws written there? Any rules? Maybe something you would have to call a command? Well, guess what I found.
I did a search with my trusty Accordance program, and it gave me 1207 verses in the New Testament which contain imperatives. You may not be familiar with the expression ‘imperative,’ but it is the form of a verb which commands. It is telling you to do something, and the only proper response is then known as, you guessed it, ‘obedience!’, in other words, doing what was ordered.
To be fair, not all those imperatives could be categorized as commands addressed to today’s Christian. So I took time to look more closely. I am not claiming absolute accuracy in this project--even an estimate will do for our purposes. I tried to cull those examples which would be irrelevant to us today. For example, Jesus in places used an imperative in prayer to His Heavenly Father, and those would not pertain to us; again a human being gave a command to another human being, while we are interested in the instructions God gave to us. When I was done with the culling process, I counted the results, and, again, I could be off here a few one way or the other, but I’m sure the final number is quite close to accurate. Are you ready? What I had left was 925 instances of imperatives, commands in the New Testament addressed to the people who make up the Church, namely Christians, even those living today. Each one of those calls forth from us a response of obedience.
No doubt some of you are curious about the statistics. How these appear book by book and how many appear in each book is not very significant for us in that no two books of the New Testament are the same length. But just to open this subject a bit: Luke has the most with 155, Philemon contains one (questionable, but could be applied today), and all the rest had occurrences in between. Every New Testament book has them. So you thought 613 was bad; what do you think of 925? (Of course you could find other imperatives in the Old Testament than just those in the Mosaic Law, too, but we’d really have to give them a close look to determine whether they are directed to us.)
The purpose of this article is not to harmonize imperatives with the idea of grace (we’ll leave that to the theologians) but just to point out that grammatically the New Testament calls for our obedience.
There is something clean and refreshing about imperatives in the Bible as Psalm 19:9 says: “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.” Instead of floundering in a wilderness, behaviorally speaking, when we meet a biblical command we know quite well what is expected of us. And when we act in obedience to that command, we know that the pleasure of God rests upon us. So to say to someone, ‘Now that you have believed in Christ, you should try to find His will for your life’ is somewhat ingenuous if we are suggesting that person ignore the commands that have been written in the Bible. (I have been blessed by a few individuals who may not have always understood correctly and yet who were ready to obey! I believe God honors their readiness.)
What we find when we examine the commands that are given is that they do not address specifically those personal issues in life such as where should I attend college, what should my major be, whom should I marry, what church should I join, what career should I pursue, where should I settle down, how many cups of coffee per day should I drink, what make and color car should I drive. If we are concerned about doing the will of God in the 925 imperatives, likely some of these others will easily fall into place.
But in addition, we should note that God did create each of us with a brain which can supposedly research, evaluate, and decide. So in areas that are not explicitly spelled out, we can decide with the best knowledge we have. And even here God helps us. In the New Testament (James 1:5) we are told He will give us wisdom if we ask for it. And in the Old Testament (Prov. 3:6) we are promised that if we acknowledge Him in all areas of life, He will guide us. That pretty much covers all the bases. The only question is: Do we believe Him?
Living via obedience simplifies. Today seminars and study groups abound chasing down insight on how to live as a married couple, how to rear children, how to live as a blended family, how to handle money, how to be a real man or woman, etc. If we obeyed Scripture, most of those groups likely would be unnecessary. But it’s not very exciting to say, I live by the Bible. Tell me, Madam, what secrets to being financially sound have you discovered through your scholarly studies and surveys? Tell me, Sir, how we can raise our children successfully through sharing with me the funny stories of your life? It sounds a lot more clever than perusing the Bible to see what I might obey. And having such a study produced by a famous person has a bigger draw than anything simply inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The Lord blessed my wife and me with four strong-willed children. I have to say this, because people looked at us and thought that we had easy children. Not so. Our children were born with (gasp!) sin natures and preferred to do wrong. But the wisdom of Proverbs (Old Testament book expressing wisdom for living) was sufficient. We give credit to God for steering us in that direction, because without that we would have been deficient for sure. Every season in our children’s lives was delightful in spite of the battles. But God’s wisdom won the day, and we are happy with the outcome. We are well satisfied with trusting God’s wisdom. Whatever else it is, it is practical.
So let’s look at some areas where God does command us. I’ll only suggest some samples. But when you look around, you can easily conclude that most folks are ignoring what God has said, and that is especially reprehensible for people who claim to be Christians.
If one is focusing on marriage, we can go to Matthew 9:6 (“What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”) and Ephesians 5:33 (“Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.”).
If the issue is your relationship to government, we can go to Matthew 22:21 (“Then He said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.’”), Romans 13:1 (“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”), and Titus 3:1-2 (“Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”).
If we are seeking help for the functioning of the local church, we can go to 1 Timothy 4:13 (“Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.”) and Galatians 6:2 (“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”).
If we are concerned about finances, we can go to Luke 16:9 (“And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.”) and Philippians 4:6 (“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”).
If sin is bothering us, we can go to Revelation 3:3 (“So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.”) and Romans 6:11-13 (“Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”).
And so on. Whatever the issue is, see what God commands on that subject and do it! It’s not very complicated. I really do not think that God sent us His message so that we might evaluate it and then do something different. What a waste that would be!
I can imagine readers generating numerous kinds of rebuttals at this point. I admit that obeying is challenging enough without creating a formal proof against it. But Romans 8:11 suggests that it is possible to obey the commands of God. “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” If you have genuinely trusted Jesus, the Holy Spirit does indwell you. He comes to you with resurrection power. If that is not adequate to obey the commands of God, then all is hopeless.
Ephesians 1:18-21 concurs: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” Notice the promise of resurrection power directed toward you.
There is a difference between merely hearing and hearing-and-doing. I suppose all professing Christians could be in the ‘hearing’ group. I wonder how many are genuine children of God--fortunately God knows. Below are more passages that address hearing and doing. It would be good of each of us to examine how these describe our lives.
Luke 6:47-49 “Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.”
Luke 8:21 “But He answered and said to them, ‘My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.’”
Luke 11:28 “But He said, ‘On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.’”
1John 1:6 “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”
John 12:47-49 “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak.”
James 2:18-26 “But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
Someone who looks closely at the details might object by recognizing that these verses usually do not use the actual term ‘obey’ but rather terms like ‘act,’ ‘do,’ and ‘observe.’ But I did research those words, and a word like ‘observe’ or ‘keep’ has a broad range of meaning which does include the idea of obedience. This does affect what we believe and how we behave.
I wish to comment on the statement found in Luke 11:28. The preceding verse gives the context: “While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.’” A person might call that woman’s pronouncement significant. Mary, the mother of Jesus, did surely have a unique role in the coming of Jesus, a role unmatched in all of history. But dwelling too much on a truth such as that can mislead us. So Jesus redirected the audience to the ever important issue, that of obedience.
Mary, as the mother of Jesus, held a close familial relationship because of the physical process of giving birth. And the rest of us are really kept outside that blessing, surely from the physical perspective. As a result we might put Mary on the wrong pedestal. But what Jesus said includes us in His family. As Luke recorded in the words of Jesus three chapters earlier, anyone who hears and does the word of God is part of Jesus’ family. I’m overwhelmed by the fact that I belong to Him and His family! I can’t think of any higher privilege. And I suspect that it is logical in that family to act according to the family name.
My conclusion is that the New Testament calls on us who live in the Church Age, the Age of Grace, to obey, just as the imperatives of God to people always have. God is the authority over this universe, and, if we are willing to submit to anyone, it should certainly be to Him. Christians should recognize this by obeying the Lord. The Bible informs us to that end.
Saturday, 10 October 2015
Now that the Blood Moons Are Past
Now Playing: The Uncomfortable Pastor
The blood moon scare has passed without events of prophesied proportion. So now I can write about it. Really? Was I waiting to see what would happen? No, I didn’t expect anything significant to happen, because the current rage was faulty from the start. Actually I was stimulated to write because of a question from a friend.
Mark Biltz, John Hagee, and others have popularized the supposed significance of the blood moons which ended Sunday, September 27, 2015. (We did enjoy observing the event from the patio via telescope as well as the naked eye.) We do not have to rehearse here what these leaders have published. In answer to them, I highly recommend Mark Hitchcock’s book Blood Moons Rising: Bible Prophecy, Israel, and the Four Blood Moons. His book is easy to read and understand.
But I was curious about the prophecies themselves and discovered something very simple. As is usually the case, we should read what is actually there. If we would, we would avoid much ill-placed hoopla. And you do not need to be an expert in Hebrew or Greek in order to draw the right conclusion. The verses are these, and, as becomes quickly obvious, the Joel passage is the original.
Joel 2:31 “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.”
Acts 2:20 “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.”
Rev. 6:12 “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.”
I decided to use the King James Version, because then I wouldn’t have to give credit. But you see, I gave credit anyway. Oh, well.
So here are the verses that present the phenomenon of the blood moon. But when we read the entire verses, we see that there are two phenomena mentioned, not just one. So this blood moon happens in conjunction with the sun being darkened. As far as I can tell, that has been ignored in the popular literature. The perpetrators have focused on the blood moons in connection with events affecting Israel and on those being positioned closely to Israeli festivals. But the darkened sun has been left out.
It should be noted here that a blood moon by itself could not prove anything because blood moons have been occurring ever since the beginning of time. There is a science involved here which is not the focus of my attention. Furthermore, the Bible nowhere says that when you see the fourth blood moon, look up, because your redemption is drawing near.
Now if the blood moon does refer to a lunar eclipse, then the darkened sun refers to a solar eclipse. That makes obvious sense, but it is naturally impossible to have a lunar and solar eclipse at the same time. If such should happen at the same time, it would not be in the normal manner, and it would be something never before observed. Probably never after either, because this astounding event in the heavens would be highly purposeful. It would be something that deserves the attention of mankind. It would be something unique and specially arranged by God.
Revelation 6:13 adds yet another phenomenon, that of stars falling to the earth. Altogether this is an event that no doubt will focus the attention upwards from earth’s surface. It is perhaps a sign of judgment, but it is preparation for light to come.
Though I cannot tell from the texts whether it is the next day, next week, next month, etc., yet there is sequence and proximity to the return of Christ. I suspect it is very close. Luke 21:25-28 is especially helpful.
“And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”
Verse 25 refers to the same events as the blood moon passages. People’s attention will be fearfully and properly directed to the heavens. And then Jesus will return to earth “with power and great glory.” ‘Spectacular’ is not strong enough to describe His return which will be observed by everyone. Maybe ‘awesome‘ in its true sense will do better. It will be obvious after the universally experienced darkened sun and bloodied moon. For those who are eagerly awaiting Christ’s return, it will be a day of excitement like no other!
Every few years someone bursts onto the scene who catches the attention of many people. Even our local newspaper editor was aware of the blood moon idea, and, though I know him as a gentleman and a man able to manage a daily newspaper, I have no measure of his interest in Bible prophecy. From the prayer of Jabez for success to the fulfillment of Isaiah 9:10 in the 9/11 attack to the end of the world dated by Harold Camping to the blood moon promotion, someone is proposing something exciting that catches people’s attention. But in the end it makes money for that person proposing, it drains the money and time of interested readers, and it discredits and distracts from God’s plan. Some say that it reminds people that God has a plan and will judge. But this method also says to the world, you cannot trust God’s revealed plan--but I have just discovered a secret!
And all of it could be avoided if each of us would just take time to carefully read. You don’t have to be misled by false prophets. When both parts of the prophesy in Joel and all three parts in Revelation take place, and if you are here at that time, then you had better be very excited with your eyes focused on the heavens. Until then, relax and read the Bible for what is really there. Be a Berean: search the Scriptures daily to see whether the things proposed are so. If not, don’t trouble yourself over them, but content yourself with doing the will of God.
Wednesday, 30 September 2015
The Fully Electronic Church
Now Playing: The Uncomfortable Pastor
After having visited a number of churches, a thought has come to the fore that I have approached over and over again through many years. Only this time it has taken more shape, perhaps. If you read this, I would really like your response to it.
I have wondered why most churches, especially small churches, have pastors at all. Now keep in mind that I am not necessarily thinking biblically here, only pragmatically. I was actually troubled when I attended the National Religious Broadcasters convention in 2012 and heard an associate pastor at one of the well-known mega-churches in the country discourse about “D” pastors who would maybe be good enough for a small church somewhere with a congregation of maybe under two hundred, but the large church needs far better, an “A” pastor!
So why have pastors at all, in small churches especially? With the technology we have today, we don’t really need them. We can stream the great pastors every Sunday. Just think, you could have any of those pastors who are on radio or television be your virtual pastor. As long as you have internet or maybe even just a dvd player with a projector, you are in business. You could have great preaching every Sunday.
I do need to include a bit of warning here: you probably will not hear the whole counsel of God in that setup. The popular preachers on radio and television have a habit of airing their more popular sermons--there are many biblical passages they will never teach on the air (you may surmise why). I don’t know if they ever teach them otherwise.
Just think about your favorite radio preachers. Each one of them is known for a certain emphasis. I can think of one known for emphasizing God’s sovereignty. That’s wonderful, but there is more to the Bible than that. I can think of another who emphasizes successful living. (What really is that? Making it from the cradle to the grave? I am sometimes amazed that we even accomplish that!) Another preacher emphasizes assurance of salvation. Another one seems to be always in Daniel or Revelation or preaching about Joseph. If you want to hear the whole Bible taught, you can always bring in Dr. McGee. Of course, if you listen long enough you may begin to realize that he repeats himself.
But the preaching can be done electronically. We don’t need to pay someone to preach, provide housing, and fight the battles that occur between congregation and pastor.
And then there is the music. I have often wondered what would happen today in many churches across America if the electricity failed. Well, that is a bit of a hazard for the electronic church, but let’s not let that dampen our enthusiasm (even though the possibility is not farfetched). In some churches the worship ensemble is there to lip synch. Really! They don’t know the songs either, but they can read off the back wall and make it look as if they do know them. They reveal their shtick when they have to squint and the lip movement lags behind. We don’t need to sing; instead let someone else do it for us--you know it will sound pristine!
Accompaniments are available electronically. If you prefer piano or/and organ, you can have that. If you prefer a rock band, you can have that. Maybe you could even get it in bluegrass. Nice! It will be perfectly done--no wrong notes. And if you want any special music to dress up the service--solos, small groups, choirs, orchestras, that’s available, also.
And we can even set up the giving so it is handled by credit or debit cards. Don’t even have to pass the plates anymore or set up a box at the back. We can do it with your smart phone. Let the computer count it.
I realize I have focused on the church service usually but not always meeting on a Sunday. I did that for a reason. Some of you may think the church is more than what is visible Sunday morning.
But I’d really like to hear from you to know what you think. Is the electronic church feasible? With one significant expenditure (but nothing like paying real people over a long period of time) we would be set up, and we could be done with interpersonal problems. So let me know if you think this is a good idea, the wave of the future, or whether it may have a shortcoming or two.
Now if only we could get someone else to attend church in our place, maybe even a robot. I read that they will soon be available for all kinds of assignments. Then we will really be set!
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