Friday, November 30, 2007

What's in a Name?

People call me names all the time. No, not those kind of names (at least not that often). I go by various names and titles, all of which help identify who I am. When I pick up the phone, some aspect of my person and character is demonstrated by what the person on the other end of the line calls me.

For example, if I hear the name “Honey”, I realize it’s my lovely wife. Through that name, she is communicating the sweetness of our marriage relationship. Or perhaps I will hear “Pastor”. I recognize this is someone who views me as a spiritual leader or teacher. “Josh” is the name generally used by friends, whereas “Mr. Gelatt” (if mispronounced) indicates a telemarketer (i.e. someone who sees me as a ‘quick buck’). If it is one of my children, I hear the wonderful title “Dad”, reminding me that I am a protector, provider, and lover of three adorably naughty little ones. Occasionally, I even hear the name “Jah-dee”, implying the voice must be my mother (the only human being I dare not threaten for using such a term). This reminds me that I am a valued and cherished son, called to love and cherish my parents.

Names tells us a lot about who were are. Christians were called various names in the New Testament times, such as the called (Rev. 17:14), the chosen (Col. 3:12; 1 Peter 2:9), and the elect (Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1). These names indicate that all Christians are chosen by God, and are powerful indicators of His great love for us. We also have an intimacy with God. We are called members of God’s family (Eph. 3:14–15) and household (1 Tim. 3:15). We are God’s children (“sons”, Rom 8:23) and His heirs (Rom. 8:17; Gal. 3:29; 4:7). Even more intimately, we are called Christ’s bride (Rev. 19:7–8; 21:2, 9; 22:17), His siblings (“brothers”, Heb. 2:11-12, 17), and friends .(John 15:13-15).

The names for Christians in the Bible also tell us about our role. We are called believers(Acts 4:32; 2 Cor. 6:15; 1 Tim. 4:12), followers of the Way (Acts 9:1–2), and slaves and servants of God and Christ (2 Cor. 6:4; Eph. 6:6). These names reflect a new allegiance and complete commitment to Jesus.

We are the body of Christ imagery (1 Cor 12:27; Eph 1:22-23), sons of the day (1 Thess. 5:5), children of light (Eph. 5:8), light in the Lord (Eph. 5:8), and the light of the world (Matt. 5:14–16). As such, we are to no longer live unconnected to Jesus, as we did when we lived in spiritual darkness. Names such as the blameless (1 Thess. 3:13; Rev. 14:4–5), the holy (Eph. 2:19–21; 5:3; 1 Thess. 3:13), instruments for noble purposes (2 Tim. 2:21), obedient children (1 Peter 1:13–16), the righteous (1 Peter 3:12; 4:18), and saints (Acts 26:10; Rom. 8:27; 1 Cor. 6:1–2) reiterate our continuing responsibility to reflect in life and practice this new moral standing with God.

Whatever your name, you are a Christian. Live up to your name!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What makes an American?

Read this amazing story. While illegally sneaking into the United,States across the Mexican border, Manuel Jesus Cordova Soberanes stumbled across a severe automobile accident. A mother, and her 9 year old boy, ran off the road and over a cliff in a remote area near the border. The mother was killed, though the young child survived.

Manuel found the child wandering near the crash site. A father of four, the illegal immigrant knew his duty. He provided him warmer clothing, food & sweets, and when night came he then built a bonfire, and the two hunkered down. The boy slept most of the night; Cordova kept watch and tended the fire.

Fourteen hours later, a group of hunters found the pair and called for help. U.S. Border Patrol agents took Cordova into custody, and Christopher was flown to a hospital in Tucson.

Cordova said he wanted to come to the United States to earn money to feed his four children, who live with their mother, and help support his girlfriend's three children [OK, so there is a limit to his virtue]. " He said that even though his trip was thwarted, he is glad to be back home and wishes Christopher the best. "I hope he has a good life," he said.

I say let Manuel stay. He has the moral fabric worthy of an American, and something most Americans don't even live up to.

Nuts!

My beautiful wife had her flight delayed. She will not be returning until December 5th, as she is currently stuck in Northeast India (well, she's with family so I guess she is not really "stuck").

And who gets to play the heavy and break the news to the kids when they get out of school? Yep, me.

Oh yeah, tonight's gonna be terrific........

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

New Book Purchase

Among the numerous books I purchased this past month, one stands out for special mention. I recently acquired a facsimile copy of the 1560 Geneva Bible. This Bible predates the King James Version, and was the Bible used by the English Puritans. The early Puritans held the King James Version as suspect due to its quasi-Catholic origins and most particularly because it was produced by the very group were were actively persecuting the Baptist, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, and other non-conformist (i.e. Non-Anglican) sects. Humorously, most KJV-only Baptists are ignorant of the fact that the KJV version was produced by the very group that imprisoned and killed their fore bearers!

King James (the king, not the Bible) greatly disliked the Puritans, who believed the Church should be "pure". That is, they believed the Church should not be comprised of corrupt practices or unregenerate people (let alone unregenerate pastors!). Furthermore, the Puritans recognized a higher authority than the king of England; namely, God. As such, they had little trouble directly disobeying the king if they felt obedience was a violation of the clear teaching of God's word.

Generally speaking, the Puritans favored a Presbyterian (or to a smaller degree, congregational) form of church government. These forms of government restricted or altogether neutralized control of the church by an elite class of persons or a single authoritarian leader. This also was in marked contrast to the episcopalian form of government advocated by the king. The king(s) of England knew that his control could only be enforced by the presence of bishops who could completely control the churches. As such, not only did the Puritans and the king have stark theological differences, there were massive political differences as well.

The Puritans had their own Bible translation, the Geneva Bible. Not only was it small, and therefore inexpensive, but it also had extensive notes that explained biblical passages using Puritan theology. Since this Bible was the only book many people owned or read, it was effective in winning people over to Puritan theological beliefs and keeping them there.

To combat this "subversive" Bible, James and the bishops decided to create a new Bible translation. James authorized the new translation with a decree that included several guidelines for the translators. The most significant of these was the command to have no notes in the text (apart from short remarks about translation from Hebrew or Greek). This stricture prevented remarks linking the biblical text to unwanted theological perspectives and political positions.

After the King James Version was published in 1611, the Geneva Bible was banned in England. Indeed, James made ownership of it a felony. The King James Bible became the pulpit Bible for Anglicans and inexpensive copies were published for sale to the masses.

There are a couple of version of the Geneva Bible on the market. I purchased the 1560 version, which is the earliest. It is reproduced by Hendrickson publishers, and is a facsimile copy of an original 1560 edition. Furthermore, it contains the study notes that so distressed the Anglican King James. This was the version of the Bible that was brought to the United States on the Mayflower. I believe the other versions on the market are retype set. While this improves the readability (a "s" will actually look like an "s" and not an "f"), you miss the "feel" of the original. Furthermore, these other reprints are from later editions further removed from the original.

An excellent edition to any biblical study library, and with the study notes you will have a wonderful window into the spiritual world of the English Puritans.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Newest Developments


As many of you know, I have been following the work of the study group called Evangelicals and Catholics Together. This does not imply complete agreement with the group. In fact, I think major elements of this type of ecumenical approach are fundamentally flawed. Yet, in the end, I am not afraid of good dialogue and believe such discussions serve an important purpose--if conducted properly.

Currently, the study group is discussing what can be known about Mary, the mother of Jesus. The major players in the discussion have been asked to draft preparatory papers, and J.I. Packer has just released his paper on the First Things website. More papers will be posted (at First Things) in the coming days.

I highly recommend all readers of this blog to familiarize yourself with the papers produced by Evangelicals and Catholics Together. As you read, keep in mind that my major criticism of this group is their tendency to underplay good discussion on the differences of these groups (they seem too attracted to only looking at the commonality). However, whether you agree with this group or not, its documents will continue to affect the Christian landscape, and thus are important to be familiar with.

Christians and Political Culture

As the election cycle begins to pick up momentum, Christians are once again discussing and pondering the legitimacy and extent of their involvement in the politics of America.

As with so much else, there are two extremes. One the one side, there are those Christians who complain and whine that our "Christian" country is being "taken away" by the secularists. These men and women stubbornly try to get America to "return" to its Christianity--to the "good ole days"! John Piper reminds us that "American culture does not belong to Christians, neither in reality nor in Biblical theology. It never has. The present tailspin toward Sodom is not a fall from Christian ownership. “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). It has since the fall, and it will till Christ comes in open triumph." I think what John is advocating here is a call for us to remember that America never belonged to Christians. Yes, it was of course heavily influenced by theistic thinking---few doubt that. But, if we take Scripture seriously, America--just like every other nation on earth--has always been in control of the Evil One.

For many Christians in the United States, there is a belief that we are (or, were) a "Christian" country. This is utter nonsense, and is little more than unthinking patriotism laced with spiritual language. We have always been a sinful country, and the Evil One always had unbridled control and influence over this nation---at every stage of its establishment (even its birth). This is not to downplay the tremendous, and faithful, Christian witness of many of our founders. The point here isn't who influenced early American, but who ultimately controlled it. It was never controlled by a deep commitment to bringing honor and glory to Jesus Christ.

One the other extreme are Christians who "check their spirituality at the door", so to speak. While they may be faithful Christians in their private lives, they vocally maintain that our faith has no place in the public sphere. Some believe this because of their eschatological pessimism. That is, they believe it is a losing battle anyway, so why make the effort? Others believe this because they bought into the atheist view that religion has no place in the public sphere.

For the first part of this second group, I would remind them of Scripture's call for Christians to be the salt of the earth. While the meat may ultimately rot anyway, we are still salt---and we therefore have a duty to season and influence this nation as long as we have breath. To remove ourselves from the political process is tantamount to abandoning the Gospel!

For the second part of the above group, I would suggest that this is no Christianity at all. Christ is Lord of every part of us, or he is Lord of no part of us. I am still a Christian, whether in a public setting or a private setting. While a public setting may offer more constraints, it shouldn't change my basic personhood. I cannot cease to be Christian in public any more than I can cease to be male.

I live in a fairly small town, and a few months ago was elected to the local school board of education. After the election, a community leader (who I promised never to name), grabbed me for breakfast. He expressed concern that a pastor was elected to the board, and made it very to me that he voted against me. Furthermore, he wanted a commitment from me that I would not allow my Christianity to influence my decisions [see note 1].

Odd.

I certainly committed to never using this position to evangelize or to preach a sermon. Yet I refused his request, for to refuse to allow Christianity to influence my decisions means I would be incapable of making any decisions at all. I cannot remove my faith as if it were a pair of jeans. More importantly, I reminded him that in his role within the community he seemed to have no problem allowing his non-faith position entrance into the decision process.

I have no delusions. My presence in politics will not turn Indian River into a Christian "light on a hill" in Northern Michigan. Frankly, that is not my goal. My goal for serving was simply to be a good citizen. Not a pastor. Not a theologian. Not even a professional counselor (the other "hat" I wear). Simply a good citizen, who makes decisions that are in the best interests of this local community. Yet, I happen to be a good citizen who recognizes the reality of a higher political authority, namely Jesus Christ. I now have the solemn duty to make decisions that are good for my community, and decisions of which my Lord would be proud. My faith doesn't make me do less for my community; instead, it calls me to do more.

And so our Lord asks of us all.


[Note 1: I should also mention that I received much support from many leaders within this community. It is a wonderful town, and a great place to raise a family].

Monday, November 26, 2007

"God Doesn't Change, Neither Should We"

This past Sunday a friend at church handed me the religion section of a downstate newspaper. She drew my attention to the section where various churches advertise their Sunday service times (with business-card size ads). She pointed to one of the churches (sadly, Baptist) that contained the following statement as a logo:

God doesn't change,
neither should we.

It went on to claim that it was a "new church" with "old fashioned values". Certainly nothing wrong that the "old fashioned values"---depending, of course, on what is meant by "old fashioned".

But think about the first statement. It certainly is true that God doesn't change. Scripture, as well as logic, demand all Christians believe this doctrine. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He never "grows", never differs in his opinion, and is always trustworthy and true.

What about the next statement (neither should we)? This violates so many laws my head is spinning. It doesn't make sense logically, philosophically, biologically, or (more importantly) scripturally. While God never changes, since he is immortal and the philosophical first cause of all things, we are in a constant state of change. Our bodies change, our feelings change, and even our beliefs change (as we grow in God's word). Praise God for change! If we didn't change, then we would all be pagans with no hope for salvation, and certainly no hope for growing in our knowledge of God's word! By the way, if the church is "new" as the ad suggests, isn't this a change (from a state of nonexistence)?

So, what could this church possibly mean? Perhaps they mean that they are committed to the historic faith "once for all delivered". Generally, however, such churches emphasize their commitment to Scripture.

Sadly, they are telling the world that their service styles and way of life are fixed. Everything they do is the way it was done in the 1950's (or 60's, or 70's, or whatever generation they choose to model). Unless, of course, they are all wearing first century clothing, speaking Greek (or, maybe if we are lenient, Hebrew), worshiping with harps and clanging symbols (are those drums?), picking up neighborhood children using donkeys (fueled by diesel, of course), and reading from the Septuagint-- which I somehow doubt. Obviously, Peter and Paul conducted worship services at 11:00 AM (it had nothing to do with American farmers needing to milk their cows), Sunday evening services (obviously this was not instituted by American churches after the invention of the gas lantern), and held Wed. prayer meetings at 7:00 PM (which, by the way, has nothing to do with the shift of the normal working day from 8am-5pm). And, of course, Jesus regularly conducted a visitation program on Saturday mornings at 10 am (thus allowing his congregation to sleep in a little). Oddly, I wonder if James or John advertised their church(es) in the local Jerusalem newspaper? And what's with that phone number listed on the bottom? Well, obviously Jesus used a telephone too (and spoke English!).

Apparently, the God of all eternity, who never changes one iota, happens to be a 1950's American God.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Watson and the Human Condition

As part of a future message series on the Lord's Supper, I have been reading several books on the subject (including the previous post, which was a book review of an excellent summary of the various views on the subject). Currently I am reading the thoughts of some of the Puritans.

Today was earmarked as a hunting day with my Dad. While I didn't see any deer, I did manage to work my way through Thomas Watson's work The Lord's Supper (Banner of Truth, Puritan Paperback series). As I was reading, I came across this powerful psychological truth:

It is hard for a man to look inward,
and see the face of his own soul.
The eye can see everything but itself.
Thomas Watson, The Lord's Supper, p 41.

The Puritan's were phenomenal students of the human person. As a vocational pastor as well as a licensed professional counselor, my two chief areas of study are the Immortal (God) and the mortal (humanity). Most don't seem to be aware that the Puritans (and the Reformed pastors and theologians in general), were equally consumed with these two spheres of study. Watson's statement is so very true, as we are all too often blinded to our own faults and dysfunctions.

Yet, faith requires that we do turn our eyes inward. Unless we see who we really are, we can never clearly see Christ. God can only be seen through the veil of our own humanity. To illustrate this, Watson goes on to say (note the change of metaphor):

The more bitterness we taste in sin,
the more sweetness we taste in Christ.
(p. 46)

In essence, I believe Watson is saying that until we come to grips with the darkness of our souls---the true and horrid depths of our own depravity---we cannot comprehend the biblical vision of God. As the stars are seen clearest from the deepest pit, so Christ is seen clearest from the depths and misery of acknowledged sinfulness .

Thursday, November 22, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Four Views on the Lord's Supper


Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper
Counterpoints: Church Life
John. H. Armstrong (Editor)
Zondervan Publishers, 2007


In the latest edition to the Counterpoint series, Zondervan Publishers now offers the Christian world an irenic discussion of the four major approaches to the Lord’s Supper. Wisely, the editor (John H. Armstrong) chose to include the Roman Catholic position, despite Zondervan’s almost exclusively Protestant readership, allowing for a broader discussion.

Russell Moore’s Memorialist position was perhaps one of the best baptistic statements on the Lord’s Supper ever put into print. Particularly useful was his willingness to recognize the Supper as a means of grace, though of course defining this within a memorialist framework. Of all the participants, Moore works most directly with the biblical data, and thus provides a strong scriptural framework for his position.

I. John Hesselink offers the Reformed position, though he notes other positions (including the Lutheran and Memorialist) could also rightly be considered reformed. Nonetheless, Hesselink provides an excellent summation of that position, with frequent quotes directly from John Calvin.

David Scaer provides the Lutheran perspective. While the article is well written, it lacks serious interaction with the Biblical data, with almost no attempt to justify what many consider to be an overly literalistic interpretation of Christ's statement ("this IS my body"). Considering the recent attention over the past decades by Biblical scholars on the Bible's literary styles & techniques, it is now more important than ever for Lutheran (and Catholic) scholars to provide some sort of biblical rationale for their interpretation. While Scaer does an excellent job communicating the Lutheran position, he fails to show us *why* one should hold this position.

The Catholic view is fascinating, and very helpful for Protestant readers who most likely do not fully understand their historic position. Baima’s article contains a wealth of quotations and historical data from Catholic councils and writings, though he interacts with Scripture least of all the contributors. Yet, in both his article and his responses to the three Protestant contributors, Baima writes with clarity and humility.

The articles in the introduction and conclusion are also very helpful, and the editor included two appendixes that are of great value. The first is a list of recommended works on the subject (which, sadly, are not categorized), and the second is quotes from various confessions and creeds regarding the Lord's Supper (though, oddly, a few key Baptist documents are missing from the list).

While there is much that divides Christendoms on this issue (and appropriately so, since this is no minor matter), there is also much that unites us (as the conclusion rightly notes). All look to Christ as the sole means of salvation, and all understand the Supper is an essential duty for the believer. True, each position disagrees with the others regarding the nature of Christ's presence in the Supper. Yet, as one writer in the book notes, “I look forward to the day when…every tribe, tongue, and “communion”…can fellowship around a supper in the new earth. Then, though perhaps not until then, we will be united around the table. On that day, I expect, the “real presence” of Jesus won’ t be a matter of dispute at all” (Moore, “A Baptist Response to the Reformed View”, p 74).



Monday, November 19, 2007

Lessons from my first year in Ministry: Lesson #4 - Pastors Need to Stink Like Their Sheep

This post is part 7 of a 10 part series of the most important lessons I have learned in my first year of ministry. While I understand that family, friends, and congregants will read it, please remember it is written more to other pastors--especially those new in ministry.

Previous Posts in this series:


Lesson #9: They had to hate someone, it might as well be me.

Lesson #8: Poor Pastors Have Pretty Knees

Lesson #7: Know the Waitress by Name

Lesson #6: The Need is Not the Call

Lesson #5: I'm an Idiot

Current Post:


Lesson #4: Pastors Need to Stink Like Their Sheep

For centuries, pastors (clergymen, ministers...whatever term you prefer) have been clearly distinguished from the people in their congregations. In prior ages, the pastor was generally the most well educated person in the community (more so than even than the royals in many instances). Keep in mind that even as late as the 1800s the requirement to get into college was fluency in Latin. The only person in the community that spoke Latin was the local pastor, who therefore became the tutor for all the young intellectuals. Though difficult for most of us to understand today, the pastor was considered higher on the social order than medical doctors and lawyers.

In our "high church" denominations today, this distinct social position can still be seen to some degree. Yet, even in the "low church" movements there generally is a social distinction between pastor and congregants. For example, most churches still insist that the pastor be called "Pastor". For most, it is unthinkable to refer to a pastor by his first name--as this is seen as offensive and disrespectful. In my current church, within the first few weeks of my pastorate, an older gentlemen confronted me on my shameful lack of respect for my position. What, you ask, was my crime? I had not corrected some of the younger families who had called me "Josh", instead of pastor [see note #1].

Odd. When is the last time you heard a pastor refer to a member of his congregation as "Congregant Bob", or "Sunday School Teacher Susan". This emphasis on referring to a pastor by his title cannot be supported anywhere from scripture. Where then does it come from? It comes from centuries of cultures where the pastor lived in a higher social circle than his congregants. He was 'better', more elite, and part of the upper crust.

But interestingly, scripture refers to us as 'shepherds' (i.e. 'pastors'). A shepherd is a filthy, dirty, and smelly job. All day they are out in the hot sun. Dirt been caked onto their bodies from hours on the job. Their hair is matted from sweat, and they are covered in sheep hair. Even worse, from all their handling of the sheep they smell like a wet sheep themselves. All in all, this is hardly the image of a respectable figure who goes by a title.

Pastors, in this first year of ministry I am learning that I must stink like my sheep. My interests and hobbies must take a back seat---something which I find is difficult to do. I have a holy duty to watch football---simply because most people in my congregation do, and to relate to their world I must enter into it. I must hunt and fish, because this is a sportsman's community. If a congregant loves antique cars, it is my duty to learn about these so I can speak into his world.

Furthermore, I am called to enter into the joys, sorrows, and grievances of my people. Pastors, we must weep with those who mourn over their adult son's rejection of the faith. We must rejoice with the young mother who is excited her daughter made the honor roll. We must hear and seek to passionately understand the anger of the man whose hours were cut at work.

But, to do this implies a close proximity. I am most at ease in my pastoral study. It is filled with my precious books---volumes and volumes of scholarship on virtually any subject within (and even outside of) Christendom. Here is the world I love---the world of ideas. I could spend the rest of my life here, and my dream of heaven is the continual pursuit of scholarly interests. To fill my days researching and writing scholarly articles would indeed by a dream.

Yet...I cannot be pastor there. Yes, I can--and should be--a theologian there. I am also the resident theologian for my congregation. They need me in that study, diligently reading, pursuing, investigating.

But even more importantly, they need me in their lives. While they need a Reverend, they also need a "Josh". While there is a place for the positional entity of "Minister", there is also a place for the fellow Christian who stands with them in all their life experiences.

Note 1: There is nothing wrong with calling your minister 'pastor'. This, in fact, can be a good thing. Yet frankly, there are many people who have used the title pastor but have shown more disrespect than any who refer to the pastor by name. In the end, its not what you call the man, its how you treat him that counts.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New Poll - Should Conservative Pastors Join the Local Ministerial Council

There is a new poll on the left sidebar (through 11/20/2007). Please vote, and feel free to share your thoughts. I will post on this subject when the poll closes.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Baptists Who Dance...

In my reading this past week, I came across a quote by H.L. Mencken. He said, "The single contribution made by Protestantism is that Christianity is a bore". Now, Mencken was no friend of the Church, and is being supremely unfair, but think about the implications of his statement. He had observed a Protestant style of worship (and, I would expand this to also include Catholic and Orthodox) that was marked by its dullness and boredom.

Most Church services are almost indistinguishable from a funeral service--except for the crying (maybe). Even worse is our "celebration" of the Lord's Supper. Being in both the Plymouth Brethren and Baptist traditions, I can say that both groups approach Communion with the same morbid drudgery. It is if people honestly believe that God wants us to be somber during this time. Isn't the Lord's Supper also to be an occasion of profound joy? If so, shouldn't that joy be expressed a little?

Also recently, I heard a story about the time the first organ was introduced to a church in the United States. It was in the city of Boston, and when it was brought in the "faithful" Christian remnant cried, "They have brought the Devil into the Church. Soon our young people will be dancing in the aisles." Leaving the issue of the organ (an organ!!!) aside for the moment, just exactly what is wrong with dancing in the aisle?

This morning I did a quick word search in the Bible for the word "dance". Ignoring the original Hebrew, and working only with the contemporary translations, I found that the word "dance" occurs less than 10 times in the Bible (though I suspect my brief search is inadequate. If someone has the time, please let me know what you find in your research). Interestingly, I only found one time when the word was used negatively. Almost always, the word was used in a positive context. Frankly, it was often used to describe or command dancing as part of worship.

Perhaps the Devil isn't with those dancing in the aisle, but with those sitting in the pew.

Put on your dancing shoes, and start dancing before the Lord.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Home is where the Wife is...

My beautiful bride is off for a 3.5 week trip to her native India.

It has been quite some time since she has been home, and is anxiously looking forward to seeing family, and friends.

We only wish we could have gone with her, but finances and ministry duties would have never afforded the required time. Mizoram, her destination in North East India, is an amazing place. We have long considered retiring there, and perhaps someday will.

On a completely selfish note, I stood in the airport with three teary-eyed children who fear they will starve to death in their mother's absence (hint: send food). 3.5 weeks as "Mr. Mom". Keep in mind I am the kind of guy who doesn't pay bills, isn't exactly sure where we actually bank, have no idea who our utility providers are, and for the life of me can't figure out why the washing machine has two knobs.

Previously, my clothes just keep mysteriously appearing clean & hung in my closet. My keys somehow found their way out of my pants pockets and onto my dresser top, and my shoes polished themselves.

My theory is, that despite my wife's absence, these things will continue to occur. Well...don't blame a guy for being hopeful!

China declares Bible its chief competitor

According to the official rules for athletes released by Beijing for the upcoming 2008 Olympics, visitors are restricted from bringing more than one Bible into China.

While this itself is not particularly surprising, what is interesting is that this ban makes the "top of the list". The official web page (see here) list the basics of travel to China. The page contains several expected items, such as information on restrictions of those will contagious diseases, needed travel documents, and the like. Yet on this page the Chinese government felt it necessary to specifically mention Bibles. No other book is mentioned, nor are "books" in general referred to. Furthermore, no other religious scripture (Koran, etc) is referred to.

What would cause such fear? According to Martin Lee (of Hong Kong), who was quoted in the New York Sun on this issue, the Chinese are afraid of Christianity. He states, "As a Catholic, I don't mind dying. I go up to heaven. I know somebody is up there, guiding me." It is the fear of sentiments like that that no doubt explains why Chinese Communist authorities would try to keep the Bible out of their country. Once it gets in, there is no telling where the ideas will spread or what will be the consequences".

Let China compete against the Bible. Let it throw all its political, economic, and military might against it. The Bible won't win the Gold anyway...it is the Gold!

Main Pic

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pastor's Gone Wild - Case #010


A new series highlighting the odd, bizarre, funny, or perhaps even heretical behavior of those who claim the title "pastor".
__________________________________________________________


Case #010 - The Case of the Pastor who Actually Believed His Bible

Shocking as it may seem, there are some pastors who actually believe the bibles they carry with them into the pulpit. While "Pastor's Gone Wild" generally highlights the stories of bizarre pastors, in this case we've made an exception. Instead, we are highlighting a very faithful pastor in a "bizarre" church structure.

Rev. Edward Johnson, former pastor of the South Hill United Methodist Church, was suspended from his pulpit without pay for one year for denying church membership to a homosexual. The Virginia Annual Conference (his authoritative church government) overwhelmingly voted for the action, despite the admission he acted on his conscience and his action could be defended "in theory" from the Methodist Book of Discipline.

The District superintendent, Rev. Anthony Layman, spearheaded the suspension. "I was trying to show him the church was opening to receiving [the member]," Layman said. "He, in turn, relied on his interpretation of the scriptures."

Imagine that! A pastor who actually had the audacity to do what Scripture teaches instead of what the congregation wanted! While one might argue that this was only Rev. Johnson's interpretation of Scripture, I find it interesting that Rev. Layman and the district council didn't even bother offering their own interpretation of Scripture.

Scandalous! A preacher who actually uses the Bible! What's next? Congregations full of actual Christians? People actually believing in heaven? Sunday school teachers who actually tell their children about Jesus? Church bodies that actually believe they are answerable to God?

...wow, what a bizarre thought.

________________________________
Do you have a "Pastors Gone Wild" tale? Submit your stories to pastortales@gmail.com. Please read the Submission Rules page before submitting a story. Your name, and a link to your site, will be included if the web owner uses your submission.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Why John Piper Doesn't Get It


[Please also see my early post title: Men For Whom I Am Thankful: John Piper. Pastor John is an incredible gift to the Church, and I humbly acknowledge his great influence on me. May the Lord continue to raise up such servants]

There are three types of people who read this blog. First, the people who know me. These generally are friends and/or congregants from my current (and former) church body, as well as those whom I have met in some other ministry involvements. Second, there is my mom (thanks, mom). The third category are those individuals in the blogging and internet world that have stumbled upon this blog and have become regular (or at least occasional) readers.

It is this last group that I risk offending, as the majority of these are reformed, perhaps baptistic, individuals who for the most part have a deep respect of John Piper. With such a brazen blog article title, I have some quick explaining to do.

Recently John Piper wrote an article on his blog about Fundamentalists. The article was particularly moving because Pastor Piper was responding with grace to the personal attacks against him by hyper-fundamentalists. I was moved by his restraint, as well as his loving tone to those who openly maligned him. His response evidenced a deep faith, a commitment to Christ-likeness, and a concentrated humility.

However, Piper ended his article with a jab at (presumably) those who criticize these fundamentalists. His last sentence states, "I think that some of the whining about its ill effects would have to also be directed against the black-and-white bluntness of Jesus".

Hyper-fundamentalism is a world that John Piper only knows from afar. He attended Wheaton (a non-fundamentalist school), Fuller (the 'center of compromise' to a fundamentalist), and the University of Munich (which is in liberal Europe). The mere fact that he went to these schools indicates that he either was never part of, or cut ties early with the brand of fundamentalism under consideration. Add this this the fact that he pastors in the Baptist General Conference, a baptist denomination that hyper-fundamentalist view as being either heretical, or tolerant of heresy. To be frank, Piper is an outsider to the Fundamentalist world.

While I appreciate John's attitude of reconciliation, one is at a loss to explain exactly how hyper fundamentalism looks like anything Jesus would do. Certainly the need to separate from sin is biblical, but the more conservative quarters of Evangelicalism already make this call. In fact, other that the word "separation", there is little in common between the separation Jesus advocated, and the separation advocated by hyper-fundamentalists.

Jesus is to be honored and followed because of his black-and-white bluntness against our sins of pride, drunkenness, adultery, and greed.

Are we to honor hyper-fundamentalists for their black-and-white bluntness against the "sins" of speaking in tongues, long hair on men, contemporary chorus music, and anything non-KJV?

What Piper considers as "whining" against Fundamentalism many of us see as lovingly, but firmly, responding to an errant theology and distorted Christianity. Was Piper "whining" when he responded to NT Wright's views on justification? Was Piper "whining" when he wrote his responses to the evangelical-feminist movement? Or, was he lovingly but firmly responding to an errant theology and distorted Christianity?

I love John Piper's ministry. He continues to be a massive influence in my life both theologically and pastorally. However, when it comes to the threat of fundamentalism, John Piper doesn't get it. But then again, that's OK. He is much more effective outside that world.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Lessons Learned In My First Year of Ministry: Lesson #5 - I'm an Idiot


This post is part 6 of a 10 part series of the most important lessons I have learned in my first year of ministry. While I understand that family, friends, and congregants will read it, please remember it is written more to other pastors--especially those new in ministry.

Previous Posts in this series:


Lesson #9: They had to hate someone, it might as well be me.

Lesson #8: Poor Pastors Have Pretty Knees

Lesson #7: Know the Waitress by Name

Lesson #6: The Need is Not the Call

Current Post:


Lesson #5: I'm an Idiot

"Professional" ministry is a challenging little beast. Both pastors and church bodies have misconceptions of the role of the pastorate. For many congregations, the pastor is to be a miracle worker. The theory behind this idea is that given the right pastor, the church will grow. "All we need", such churches maintain, "is a dynamic pastor and our church will take off". Even worse, many pastors think this way, and then hustle off to the latest conferences and book tables to learn how to unleash the dynamic pastor within.

Keep in mind the main portion of our life (at least to the eye of the general public) is performed on a stage. We stand before 50, 100, 500, 0r 5,000 people on a given Sunday, and all eyes on are us. Frankly, we love it. I have been fortunate to preach before crowds of multiple thousands, and I can honestly say the larger the crowd, the more I enjoy preaching. There is a power, a passion, an energy....and of course, an ego that comes from preaching. We are the experts, the scholars, the ones with the knowledge of the original biblical languages (and perhaps even Latin). We have intimate knowledge of systematic, dogmatic, and historical theology. We understand the cultural and historical background of the Old and New Testament worlds, and are well versed in church history.

Furthermore, we understand the human heart and soul. We can peer deep within the thoughts and feelings of others, empathize with their pain, and offer counsel. Many times, we can finish the sentences for congregants who are struggling to put words to their pain. Often, we here the phrase, "you know me so well". Not only are we 'experts' in the ancient Word, but also the modern person.

Hearing stuff like the above gets to one's head after a while--and ultimately leads to distorted ministry. Many years ago I played basketball in high school. The school was quite small (my senior class was only seven), but even for its size I was one of the worst players on the team. I could never touch the rim, could hardly dribble, and my shooting was even worse. One day I was moaning to one of the assistant coaches that I wish I could jump as high as Michael Jordan. He responded with the stupidist (but powerful) response I've ever heard. He said, "If your both jumping to touch the moon, there's really no difference between the two of you".

The problem was my standard was too low. I only wanted to touch a 10 foot rim. With such a low standard, Jordan far outshined me. But when my standard is infinitely higher, he fairs no better than I.

Pastors, whenever your tempted to think highly of yourself, keep in mind your standard is too low. When we fix our eyes on the Cross, we realize how insignificant we really are. Far from being experts, we are merely idiots. Only when we realize this can we do the sort of ministry God has for us.

Merciful Father,
Save me from 'professionalism'.
Save me from my prideful, and therefore false, thoughts.
Save me from myself.
Save me.
Amen.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Baptist Have Highest Divorce Rate

According to a Barna research report, Baptist lead the denominations when it comes to divorce. Please understand, this post is not meant to put down those who have went through a divorce. To reform an old phrase, "Divorce Happens". There are biblically warranted reasons for divorce, and forgiveness for unwarranted divorces.

All that aside, it still seems strange that Baptists lead the denominations in divorce. The only group higher in the divorce rate was the nebulous "Non-denominational" tribe. Oddly, Baptist pride themselves as being a "People of the Book", but it seems they don't live according to Scripture anymore than any other group.

To my great amusement, all the groups Baptist' hate (at least the Fundamentalist Baptists--non-fundemantalist Baptists are much more irenic) were more faithful to Scripture on the divorce issue.

Statistically, the best way to protect your marriage is to become a Lutheran!

Actually, just be a Baptist who joyfully lives according to Scripture.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Pastor's Gone Wile: Case 009


A new series highlighting the odd, bizarre, funny, or perhaps even heretical behavior of those who claim the title "pastor".
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Case #009 - The Case of the Pew & Pulpit Profiteer

Pastor's are overworked and underpaid. Everyone knows it, and frankly, few churches are willing to do anything about it. There are pastors all over this country who get paid peanuts, and are--literally--kept in the poor house.

Many congregations, if given time and biblical teaching, will eventually come to realize the necessity of paying their pastor's well. However, there are some congregations that stubbornly refuse--and continue to pay 1950 wages for 21st century professional labor. If I meet a pastor in that situation, I usually counsel him to find another church (if they don't value their man of God, no ministry will happen there anyway).

Of course, some pastors decide to take matters into their own hands. A California pastor was recently arrested for selling the church and parsonage out from under his congregation. Forging key documents, he made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars before the unsuspecting congregation caught on. While that is certainly a guaranteed method for achieving a qucik pay raise, it is perhaps not the wisest course of action. Pews, pulpits, and even the offering plates were all part of the sale.

For many of us, when we suspect a church is after our money we have a desire to hand on tightly to our wallets. Next time, forget your wallet...hand on to the pew!

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