Friday, October 28, 2016

Armchair Political Meanderings from a Christian Pastor

I'm seeing letters, emails, and speeches galore on the impending elections. On one hand I agree with everything they say, and on the other hand, I think they overstate some things. Let me give it a crack:

1) You do not have to vote. Despite what people say, you can express your political opinion by not voting. You can be a good citizen and not be a voting one. Not voting says, "Something's rigged; the candidates are unfit; I refuse to believe our voting and governmental systems are right." Personally, I will vote, but it is not a requirement (Christian and or otherwise).

2) This election is not make or break. The pundits warn the end of America as we know it if either major party candidate is elected. The reality is our world will change minimally based on the president, Senators, and the like (the world is already fallen, is is not?). Yes, leaders influence, and yes, policies matter. But the sum and substance of history flows through the human heart. 1930s Germany became what it did not because of Adolph Hitler, but because of the hearts of post-WWI Germans crying out for power and vengeance. It's easy to point the finger at party leaders and political heroes/villains, but culture is shaped by individuals. Change the heart, change the world. Each election is simply a reflection of the culmination of individual values; lament that before you lament and lampoon any particular candidate. Vote your conscience, but more importantly, check your conscience. Do you know what is good? Are you living a good life? How you assess the condition of your own soul is make or break. Are you ready to meet your Maker?

3) The world will not be transformed by political power (good thoughts on this in J.D. Hunter's To Change the World). Whether we vote left or right, we trust in the coercive power of law to make the world aright. The right wants laws to protect the unborn. The left want laws to force others to finance certain programs. And yet, history has shown that coercive power offers little for substantive change. Love changes the world--love marked by service, sacrifice, persuasion, and mercy (cf. 1 Corinthians 13 and Christ's example in 1 John 3-4). Abraham Lincoln won over our nation not by winning the Civil War, but by passing on his conviction of one nation, under God. Martin Luther King, Jr., transformed people through his words, life, and martyrdom. William Wilberforce's success in Parliament fell on the heels of cultural transformation through evangelical preaching and anti-slavery teaching (both amid great suffering and persecution). The coercive power of the state cannot transform the culture. Love (or hate) does. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A quote worth our cogitation...

In Donald Bloech's fantastic God the Almighty: Power, Wisdom, Holiness, and Love, he writes,

"God has new experiences, but they do not so much enrich his being or add to his perfection as bring out the perfection that he already possesses."

Theologically, we know that God does not change and that His plans and purposes are eternal. But that does not mean he is some inept father unaware or unconcerned about his children at play or in the throes of suffering. God is not aloof or absent to creation. He really does experience things with spiritual beings, human persons, created species, and the like.

The LORD experiences these things in His unique God-like way, and then He acts (a free act, done in love, never by compulsion). And when He acts, his eternal, unchanging perfections are on display for anyone willing to look, notice, and admire. God was perfect prior to sending Jesus to die on the cross for human sin, but through seeing and experiencing our experience of sin, God chose to bring out His perfections in the glorious gift of Jesus' life and death. He is the powerful Father who sees all that His children face and not for one second keeps from them exactly what they need. Your experiences today are seen by Father, and His unchanging perfection remains our unchanging hope.

Glory to God--"God has new experiences, but they do not so much enrich his being or add to his perfection as bring out the perfection that he already possesses."

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Book Review: "Don't Fire Your Church Members"

                What would you do if you had a long-standing attender, who recently left his wife and moved in with his girlfriend, show up on communion Sunday? That happened during my first year as a senior pastor. How does a local church hire its first part-time staff members after years of paying only a single pastor? That question came up recently. What would you do if a member of your church left their husband accusing him of emotional abuse/neglect, refused to meet with any sisters in Christ or the elders, then started dating someone else, and then submitted her resignation for membership? That happened too.
                Who makes decisions in such situations? What decisions go before the entire church body? What tasks fall to appointed leaders? Jonathan Leeman, a veteran writer on all things ecclesiology, weighs in:

Practically speaking, that means the gathered assembly should probably not waste its time debating the color of curtains or approving photocopier purchases. It means they have been tasked with receiving and dismissing members (the who [of the Gospel]), with ensuring that the teachers are teaching biblical doctrine (the what [of the Gospel]), and by inference, with being involved in any significant decision that sustains or directs that church’s existence as a gospel-bearing witness.

In short, the keys of the kingdom belong to the membership of a local church. Bishops and presbyters are not invested with the authority; the local church is.  The church (according to the pithy and theological accurate song) is the “people….I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together.” Or as Leeman defines, “A particular church is a gathering of two or three witnesses who together testify to the name of Jesus and to their shared membership in him. They do this by preaching the gospel and by employing the keys of the kingdom through the ordinances.” (italics original)
                Let me give three reasons you should read Don’t Fire Your ChurchMembers.
#1:  Leeman offers biblical rationale for duties that the local church body should be doing. Even if you are not convinced that congregationalism is the biblically-stipulated polity, you should consider Leeman’s arguments for the responsibilities of church members, individually and corporately.
#2: Leeman makes a compelling case that congregationalism takes seriously all the blessings of the New Covenant (cf. Jer. 31:31-34) and thus, that New Covenant people are capable to make authoritative decisions for a church. Likewise, Leeman warns if we take away New Covenant responsibilities from New Covenant people, they will not mature or serve, as they should.
#3: Leeman challenges elder-pastors to lead, but not do, the work of the flock (cf. Ephesians 4:10-12).  This was by far the most convicting theme for this already-convinced adherent of congregationalism. I am quick to do the work of ministry rather than equip the saints to do the work. Because it is hard to communicate and invite the congregation into importance decisions, I often by-pass them, and thus, I miss out on the congregation’s full participation. Sure, I’ll let the congregation eventually vote or eventually affirm decisions (the bylaws require it), but I’m seeing ways I need to equip the saints now so they can help exercise authority more faithfully in the future.

This glorious mystery, the church, is God’s means to display His wisdom to the visible and invisible world. Let us serve this glorious gift well.

Should You Care about the Work in Front of You Today?

Do you find yourself living out this instruction from Colossians 3:22-23 in your daily work, serving "with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters [read: bosses, children, fame, power or paychecks]."
Are you engaged in work as defined by Dorothy Sayers: "The only Christian work is good work, well done."
If you need a pick-me-up today to engage your daily calling(s), consider listening to one of the sermons I preached in a Fall 2015 series: "Contributing to God's Kingdom."




Thursday, October 06, 2016

Should Christians 10% to God?

Here's a great article from Pastor Sam Storms on financial stewardship as it relates to supporting a local church and global missions...

I like how he starts summarizing his ideas at point #9:

(9) Is it permissible for a New Covenant Christian to tithe, i.e., to give 10% of his/her income to the work of the church? Not only is it permissible, I would strongly recommend and urge you to do so. In choosing to give 10% of our income to the Lord, we are honoring a God-given, Old Testament principle. In the absence of a prescribed percentage for giving in the New Testament, why not adopt the Old Testament pattern? However, this does not mean you are sinning if you don't. To give only 8% or to give 15% is equally permissible. Not to give at all, or to give disproportionately to your income (which is the case with most Christians today), or to give grudgingly, is indeed sin. Let us be joyful and generous in our giving. After all, everything we own belongs to God anyway!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Sage Advice on Choosing a Church...

I think this is fantastic advice from the veteran Christian statesman, writer, and pastor, Eugene Peterson from a recent interview with Jonathan Merritt (whole interview available here):

JM: Eighty-one years is a long time. As you enter your final season of life, what would you like to say to younger Christians who are itchy for a deeper and more authentic discipleship? What’s your word to them? 
EP: Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place. That’s what I always told people. If people were leaving my congregation to go to another place of work, I’d say, “The smallest church, the closest church, and stay there for 6 months.” Sometimes it doesn’t work. Some pastors are just incompetent. And some are flat out bad. So I don’t think that’s the answer to everything, but it’s a better place to start than going to the one with all the programs, the glitz, all that stuff.