Category Archives: Pastoral Reflections

Plan to Read the Whole Bible in 2016

“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” – Psalm 119:97, ESV

For some years now I have committed to reading the whole Bible starting in January. Each year I fall short – sometimes just by Read-The-Bible-In-2016-680x383a little, sometimes by a lot. One year I decided not to commit to reading the whole Bible in a year but instead to simply read most of it in a year. Time and again, I find that I do better if I aim high and fall a bit short than to aim lower and to hit even lower.

That the Bible must be mastered (or one must be mastered by it) through study and prayer is obvious for ministers of the gospel. If a minister’s thinking is going to become increasingly biblical then his or her mind must be regularly fed and filled with Scripture, enough to compete, challenge, and overcome other influences and the fallen nature itself. To this end, both quantity and quality are needed. That is, there must be enough Scriptural intake to accomplish this goal with enough depth of meditation to let it penetrate past the surface of the mind and soul. This takes both discipline and love for the Word, but ultimately it requires  a great love for God with a commitment to be wholly his.

As he does every year at this time, Justin Taylor posted a great piece on his blog calling us to be committed readers of the Bible in the coming year along with many, many resources about reading plans, specialty Bibles, etc. Read it. Find inspiration. Find a reading plan that works for you. Most likely I will be using the ESV Study Bible plan again, because it works so very well.

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
    let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
    teach me your statutes!
13 With my lips I declare
    all the rules[c] of your mouth.
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
    as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word.    

      – Psalm 119:9-16, ESV

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Filed under Bible, Pastoral Reflections, Spiritual Formation

Christian Life After Yesterday’s Supreme Court Ruling: Helpful Links

indexHere are a few links that I have found helpful in my initial processing of the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage and essentially changed the legal definition of marriage.

My own bishops of the Free Methodist Church-USA issued a sound statement on the ruling and reminded us of where we stand as a denomination:

As Free Methodists, we remain committed to our best understanding of what God intended from the very beginning, what Jesus affirmed, and what virtually all followers of Christ have understood almost universally until relatively recently. We unequivocally affirm that from the beginning God intended marriage as composed of one man and one woman committing themselves to one another in a lifelong covenant of faithful love. In this union, where two become one flesh, God intends the reflection of God’s own self, God’s own image (see our 2011 Book of Discipline, par. 3215, 3311).

A post from Bishop David Kendall back in 2012 is helpful on the whole issue of Re-Defining Marriage. At the conclusion of his post, Kendall wrote,

But what if we “re-defined” marriage in practice?  What if followers of Jesus truly followed Jesus?  If in Jesus’ name, we found grace to wait on sexual expression, grace to enter into deep and joyful intimacy with the one to whom Jesus leads us, grace to forgive and be forgiven, grace to become truly one in Jesus, grace to weather the storms of life together better and stronger than on our own, grace to grow old graciously and sweetly together, grace to experience a bond so insoluble that even death does not threaten?  What if among more and more of us, God’s good idea of marriage—God’s idea—appeared on beautiful and inviting display?

How might God work if we could “re-define” marriage, beginning in our homes, in such ways?

In Everything Has Changed – The Supreme Court Legalizes Gay Marriage,  Albert Mohler makes many important points, among them reminding us of the growing animosity toward traditional Christians that we must learn to live with:

One of the most dangerous dimensions of this decision is evident in what can only be described as the majority’s vilification of those who hold to a traditional view of marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman. Justice Samuel Alito stated bluntly that the decision “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.” According to the argument offered by the majority, any opposition to same-sex marriage is rooted in moral animus against homosexuals. In offering this argument the majority slanders any defender of traditional marriage and openly rejects and vilifies those who, on the grounds of theological conviction, cannot affirm same-sex marriage.

Own Strachen gives us Five Implications of the Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Decision. One of the things we should do, he writes, is

Lastly, we should cultivate our families and reinvest in our marriages. It’s right and even needed to seek the reversal of this decision and the undoing of its many baleful effects. We must and should do that, and every single Christian should participate meaningfully in the political system at every level they can. But let’s get this straight: our major work going forward, along with what I’ve said thus far, should in truth be the cultivation of our own gardens.

Kevin DeYoung, who has written a wonderful book called What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality, posted a helpful response: But What Does the Bible Say? He emphasizes loving our neighbor and holding fast to biblical truth. He wrote,

Any Christian who really believes the Bible must believe all of the Bible. You can’t applaud what Jesus says about loving your neighbor from Leviticus 19, if Leviticus 18 and 20 are throwaway chapters. You can’t unpack the good news of Romans 8, if Romans 1 is overstuffed with cultural baggage. You can’t marvel at the goodness of God’s creation, if there is no good design in how he created things. Either the Bible is God’s Word or we are sufficiently godlike to determine which words stay and which words go.

The cultural breezes are blowing against us. The worldly winds are stiff in our faces. But the hard parts of the Bible are no less true for being less popular. The Bible says what it says, so let us be honest enough to say whether we think what the Bible says is right or wrong. Diarmaid MacCulloch, a decorated church historian and gay man who left the church over the issue of homosexuality, has stated the issue with refreshing candor:

This is an issue of biblical authority. Despite much well-intentioned theological fancy footwork to the contrary, it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity, let alone having any conception of homosexual identity. The only alternatives are either to cleave to patterns of life and assumptions set out in the Bible, or say that in this, as in much else, the Bible is simply wrong. (The Reformation: A History, 705).

Yes, those are the only alternatives.

Lastly, Denny Burk offers good counsel to pastors in A word to pastors preaching in the aftermath of Obergefell v. Hodges. To summarize: be biblical, courageous, practical, and holy. All of which require boldness and a willingness to suffer the consequences.

May the Lord give us wisdom to know how to live in this fallen world, commitment to hold fast to his truth, and strength as we enter a time of increased marginalization.

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Culture, Discipleship, Ethics, Pastoral Reflections, Secularization, Society

Joshua Duggar and Mistakes vs. Sins

Yesterday it came out that Joshua Duggar, eldest son of the “19 Kids and Counting” show, now married with three of his own kids, molested several of his sisters when he was fifteen years old. The media loves dirt and scandal, especially on conservative Christians, so the story has spread like wildfire. Both Joshua, his parents, and his wife have issued statements, in which responsibility was taken for Joshua’s actions. Always helpful, Russell Moore has offered a good reflection on the issue.

But what Jim Bob and said in their statement interests me in particular on a biblical/theological level.  I certainly do not want to study their statement as though it was written by a professional theologian, but the choice of a particular word has caught my eye. It did because I hear it out of the mouths of Christians a lot. That word is “mistake.” Here is short bit of what they wrote:

“Back 12 years ago our family went through one of the most difficult times of our lives. When Josh was a young teenager, he made some very bad mistakes and we were shocked.”

Certainly they had to be careful with their statement and they do have experience with wording things for media consumption. But that word “mistake” is the wrong word to use, at least in terms of a biblical worldview. It is the wrong word because Joshua did not make mistakes but committed sins. The difference is significant. When one makes a mistake one errs. Think of your checkbook register. You make a mistake when you make a math error or forget to record a check and thus screw up the balance in your register. You intended to get the balance correct but you accidentally got it wrong. But a sin is different, properly understood. A sin is intentional. You know an action is wrong and you do it anyway. That is a sin.

Joshua Duggar had to know that molesting his sisters was a sin. He had been raised in a Christian family with conservative values and boundaries. He also has a God-given conscience. So to call what he did a “mistake” is woefully inaccurate.

Too often I hear Christian people refer to the sins of their children or their own as “mistakes.” I suspect that it often is an attempt to minimize what was done. But sometimes it is simply the influence of the world on the thinking of Christians. Our grasp on a truly biblical worldview is so weak at times that we do not stand apart in our speech.

A Christian’s grasp of a biblical worldview and deliberate employment of it takes work. But it is worth it because without it we often do not look at things in the way God has revealed that we should. And when we do not look at things the way God intends us to, we cannot live for him as fully as we should. God deserves our best.

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Bad Theology at Funerals

When good, biblical theology is pushed aside or is simply unknown, the void is not left unfilled. Other thinking takes its place, and the results are often sentimental drivel or some vaguely Christian sounding thought that is profoundly misleading. Human beings are inherently religious, and thus it is normal for us to look outside ourselves for some kind of meaning and way to make sense of life.

One occasion that such thinking is expressed at is the funeral. We have heard comments like this about the deceased: “God needed another angel in heaven,” or that “God could not wait to have” the deceased. These comments reflect the erroneous ideas that human beings are transformed into angels when they die, and that God is impatient. The former does not understand that humans and angels are different beings altogether, and the latter is an unintentional assault on the character of God.

One sad example that shows up at funerals is a saying that is written on some type of stone material  and often delivered by a local florist. The idea is that grieving family can take that stone and set it up in their yard somewhere after the funeral. The saying goes like this:  tears and heaven 2

If tears could build a stairway

and memories a lane,

I’d walk right up to heaven

and bring you back home again.

Why is this so sad, terrible, and unbiblical? As an expression of grief and love for the deceased, it is truly heartfelt. But the theology is horrific. Heaven is where believers go at death, the place where God is, and this is often called the “Intermediate State.” Believers go be “with Christ” (Phil. 2:3, 2 Cor. 5:8) if they die before His return, and there they await the coming resurrection in blissful joy. So, if that is the case, why in the world would any of us want to yank a  Christian from heaven and bring him or her back here to this world that is full of sin and suffering, away from the immediate presence of the Savior?!? One would have to be tremendously selfish to want to remove a person out of a blissful existence just to have their company. Instead, at the death of a true believer we should grieve over the temporary separation and consequent pain from the believer by death, but we should NOT feel bad for the deceased believer – he or she is now doing better than we are! We should rejoice that he or she is now with the Lord and make sure that eternity with Jesus is our destination as well. Our wish should not be a reunion in this life, but our hope should be in a reunion at Christ’s second coming: “and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Don’t exchange biblical truth for sentimental drivel or bad theology. Learn the Scriptures and expel unbiblical thinking that you may know the true hope of the Lord.

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The Pastor’s Clothing

How should a pastor dress, particularly for preaching and leading worship? I grew up in the Reformed Church of America in west Michigan, among very traditional Dutch people. On Sunday mornings and evenings it was the norm to see our pastors wear either black preHB Charlesaching robes or traditional suits. The exception was in the hottest part of summer where our pastors would wear short sleeve dress shirts with a tie. We did not have air conditioning in our church, and the heat was just too much for a suit some Sundays. The congregation accepted that and also knew that when more comfortable temperatures returned the suits would be back.

When I began pastoring in 1998 (in a very different denomination) I followed the same pattern of wearing a suit to preach on Sunday mornings. Why? For three reasons: (1) I was only 27 years old and I needed to convey to the congregation that I was taking my work seriously and that worship and preaching itself was serious business. If I did not convey that, then I knew they would not take “that kid pastor” seriously. I needed to earn respect. And since liturgical vestments are rarely used in my denomination, I could not vest without raising unnecessary controversy. (2) My most influential professors in seminary and my pastor in seminary all dressed traditionally in suits for teaching and leading worship, though one was committed to wearing liturgical vestments for worship whenever possible. As Professor Donald Boyd said to me, “Dress so appropriately that people do not think much about what you are wearing.” (3) The influence of my pastors during my growing-up years was (and is) still with me.

Pastor H.B. Charles, who is known for wearing black suits, wrote in a blog post last month about his experience which turns out was much the same as mine when he started pastoring, yet he was even younger:

I was a boy preacher, starting my first pastorate at the age of seventeen. I needed people to take me seriously. And I did not want my attire to be a reason mature people despised my youth.

But why has he continued to wear suits for preaching? Charles wrote,

This is how I want to mount the pulpit. I want my appearance, demeanor, and conduct to show I am on kingdom business. I want to stand up to preach like a herald for the King, not a pimp, clown, or entertainer.

I don’t have any biblical, theological, or religious reasons for wearing black suits all the time. But it is my quiet protest against the lack of respect for the dignity of the pulpit. We need preachers who look and talk and act like preachers – not fitness coaches, talk show hosts, or GQ models.

The designer jeans look is not necessarily easier or cheaper. What is cool has to be kept up with, afforded, and pulled off well. Don’t tell me that pastors who go this route do not care about their appearance – they work hard to have just the right look – and have to update it regularly. A good,traditional suit stays in style a lot longer than designer jeans.

The point is that how we dress as pastors sends messages to a congregation and triggers various responses. A preacher in cool designer jeans and an equally cool untucked shirt sends one kind of message while a suit sends another. What do I want to convey about ppastor casualastoral ministry, the worship of God, and the importance of God’s people? I want to convey reverence for God, the authority of preached Word, and the dignity of the pastoral office, and respect for mature believers. I recognize not all contexts are the same, but suits work for were I have served and do serve now.

 

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The Perennial All-American Theological Lie: Prosperity Gospel

As a pastor, it is part of my charge to warn my people of false teachings and teachers. This is a hard sell. For so many American Christians imbibe, at least in part, in the prosperity gospel, in one form or another. Like your favorite junk food that you just cannot seem to leave alone, the prosperity message appeals to the American desire to indulge in what feels good and especially to live life comfortably, with minimal physical or financial strain.

Albert Mohler has described well the version of the prosperity message that the the Osteens sell in his essay, The Osteen Predicament – Mere Happiness Cannot Bear the Weight of the Gospel.  Speaking to the congregation, Victoria Osteen recently said,

“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God–I mean, that’s one way to look at it–we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy. . . . That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. . . .”

She continued: “So, I want you to know this morning — Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. . . . When you come to church, when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”

Mohler comments, “The problem with Prosperity Theology is not that it promises too much, but that it aims for so little. What God promises us in Christ is far above anything that can be measured in earthly wealth — and believers are not promised earthly wealth nor the gift of health.” 

In his writings, Joel Osteen teaches that believers and non-believers are treated essentially the same before God in terms of potential for prosperity and blessings. Little, if any, mention is made of the need for repentance and faith in Christ, due to the fact that humankind is estranged from God due to sin. In other words, the core message of the Osteens, at least what we see in print and on TV, is not the core message of the gospel. Further, the fact that God does not promise physical and material prosperity to believers in the Bible is ciComfort - God has a wonderfulrcumvented one way or another. One would do well to remember the cover of Ray Comfort’s book, God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life, which depicts the stoning of Steven. Certainly the countless Christians throughout the centuries who have loved God with all their heart and yet were impoverished and/or sickly are a testament that there is no formula of faith for accessing and appropriating a comfortable life from God.

Three resources on the unbiblical nature of prosperity theology are the above mentioned book by Comfort, Truth Matters by Russell Morris, and Christianity in Crisis by Hank Hanegraaff. The dissertation form of Morris’ book can be read for free on the SATS website.

 

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How Pastors Relate to People Teaches Them About God

Just Taylor shared a link that I share with you now about leadership. These eight questions struck me about the impact that pastors have on their congregations and beyond simply by how they relate. Indeed, pastors are to embody spiritual maturity and model the highest in biblical ethics and the fruit of the Spirit (1 Tim. 4:12). This is essential because we lead through example as much as we lead through words. When parishioners see their pastor live out the fruit of the Spirit as he interacts with people, they are left with impressions that stand in stark contrast to how the world operates. Pastors ought to be a bit “otherworldly” or something of a “Holy Man” in the sense that when you interact with one the effect of Jesus is evident upon them, that there is a “holy aroma” about them because of total consecration to the Lord. While “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ ” (1 Cor. 11:1, ESV) is something I have heard so many pastors shy away from, the fact remains that congregations need their pastor to be an outstanding example of sanctification. When I think of pastors who have had a profound impact on me in my formative years, I do not think merely of ones who were good preachers, but of men whose very way of being impacted me.

8 Questions to Diagnose Your Leadership

In his booklet, Leadership: How to Guide Others with Integrity, Stephen Viars asks these instructive, recalibrating questions:

  1. Do people understand more of God’s mercy because of the way I respond to their mistakes?
  2. Do people understand more of God’s holiness because of my high ethical standards?
  3. Do people understand more of God’s patience because of the time I give to grow and develop?
  4. Do people understand more of God’s truthfulness because of the way I communicate honestly?
  5. Do people understand more of God’s faithfulness because they see me keep my promises?
  6. Do people understand more of God’s kindness because of the tone of my voice?
  7. Do people understand more of God’s love because I go out of my way to help and serve them as I lead?
  8. Do people understand more of God’s grace because I avoid being harsh and unreasonably demanding?

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