pecaspers: a Blog in transition

January 27, 2014

New Year, New Bible

This is my new Bible.

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It’s, as you can see, a Chronological Life Application Study Bible in the New Living Translation.

For a while now, I’ve read through a different translation of the Bible each year. It wasn’t all that intentional at first, but I’m on a pretty good streak. (Of years, I mean. Day to day, it’s rare that I string more than a week together without something derailing at least one day’s extended reading time.) Sometimes, I’ve chosen to simply read book by book through a regular version of the Bible. The rest of the time has been spent working through various study Bibles, reading every last note and article along the way. I’ve gone through The McArthur Study Bible in the NASB translation, The Holman Illustrated Study Bible in–obviously–the HCSB (scathing review pending), The Daily Bible in the old NIV, as well as at least one round through the old NIV, and twice through the ESV.

It’s not complicated. Reading 3 chapters a day carries you through the whole Bible in a year. Typically, you can read only 15 minutes a day and be on track to finish in a year. Reading a study Bible with all it’s notes and such will mean that you either spend more time reading or cover less ground each day of course. I typically read complete “episodes,” which is to say I’m looking for natural breaks in the narrative as places to stop. Sometimes that’s hard, but most of the Bible really is in story form. There are also more reading plans out there than you can shake a hardback KJV at. In fact, many Bibles have one or more reading plans mapped out in some of their supplemental materials.

This year, the Bible of choice is the previously mentioned and pictured Chronological Life Application Study Bible in the NLT. I went Chronological because I found the format very helpful at connecting concurrent events across various books the last time I read a chronologically ordered Bible some years ago. I went Life Application Study Bible because I wanted a study Bible that was less scholar-directed and more average-Joe oriented. So far, it’s been good for my soul to see some simple truths highlighted and applied to everyday life, even my everyday life. I went New Living Translation because I wanted read the whole New Living Translation. That’s supposed to sound obvious. I like the NLT in general. If you are looking to do in depth Bible Study, then it’s not the way to go because it is very interpretive and fluid in the translation philosophy. However, that’s precisely what makes it so easy to read, and that readability is what makes it such a popular translation. So because I know some of my people will be using it, I want to have experienced all of it as well. Besides that, I enjoy the flavor of many of the translation choices, for lack of a better way to put it.

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I’m not posting any of this to say “Hey, look at how awesome I am at reading my Bible.” I am trying to encourage you that Bible reading isn’t that hard and is super rewarding. You can’t deeply understand any one part of the Bible if you don’t have a basic familiarity with the whole thing. That’s not to say you can’t be a Christian until you’ve read the Bible, but what kind of Christian are you if you’ve never read the whole story of the Christ? Do you not want to know this God you claim to worship? Too many “Christians” are like the people Moses led out of Egypt who when confronted with the power and glory of God revealing Himself on the mountain said, basically, “You go hear from God, then come back and tell us about it.” (It’s in Exodus, which you know if you are a Bible reader.) Those people died in the wilderness because they didn’t really know and trust God, and that’s my fear for a person who calls him/herself a Christian but refuses to take up the discipline of Bible reading. “Pastor, you go hear from God, and then come back and tell me about it.” Are you asking someone to tell you about the light rather than opening your eyes?

Hopefully that last paragraph wasn’t for you. I read the Bible because I love the Bible because the Bible tells me about God because He loves us and wants us to know and love Him. God wrote a book. Have you read it? Why would anyone ever stop?

September 24, 2013

Is It Christmas Already?

Filed under: Culture,Ministry,My Life in General — pecaspers @ 6:51 AM
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It is late-September. Do you know what that means? It means that Christmas is right around the corner.

That’s right; I went there.

You can argue that I’m jumping the gun here, but the fact is that most retailers have their Halloween stuff out already and will be putting Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations out in the coming weeks. Our church choir has already begun preparing for our Christmas cantata. Our LibertyYouth Christmas activities have been on my mind for over a month. We are less than 100 days away from the holiday that is the climax of “the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song goes. Ready or not, here Christmas comes.

As stores and churches make long-range preparations for the coming holiday season, I want to challenge you to go ahead and plan to prepare your heart. Ask yourself now whether your past Christmases have been mostly about how the eternal God took on flesh and lived among us, or if they’ve been focused on all the materialistic trappings and traditions with only a tip of a furry red hat to the baby in the manger. Will the biggest gift you give be to yourself, your kids, your spouse, or to your church as the body of the Christ we celebrate? Will you hustle and bustle to get the deals and buy presents and decide that you are too busy to be present among God’s people when they gather to worship Him?

I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on you. I’m trying to give you a heads up so you can make plans that speak clearly about your priorities.

Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21, ESV) Paul instructed the faithful brothers in Colossae, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your[a] life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”(Colossians 3:1-4, ESV)

What treasures will most consume your Christmastime? Will they be laid up under a tree or laying at Jesus feet? When you set your mind on things above, will that be higher than the reindeer paws up on the housetop?

December 20, 2012

Philosophy of Ministry

A church that I’m really excited to hear back from asked for some more information on me. One of the things they asked for was my “philosophy of ministry.” Below is what I’m sending them. I hope it is the kind of thing they were looking for since I found a wide range of examples of what people and churches were calling by that title.

Philosophy of Ministry

I believe God has called me to equip, encourage, and mobilize His people to be on mission for Him in their daily lives and throughout the world. I am convinced that the best way for me to fulfill this calling is by being pastor of a local church and staying with that church for many years. Developing a healthy church full of healthy Christians which reproduce more of both is the desire of my heart following after being a faithful Christ-follower, husband, and father.

God has revealed in Scripture that He builds the church and that He gives each local church the leaders and members it needs to grow to maturity (Matthew 16:18, 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, Hebrews 2:4, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:11-16). According to Scripture, it is the duty of every follower of Christ to, empowered by the Holy Spirit, make disciples of people from all nations by baptizing and teaching them to obey Christ because we are all His witnesses (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-16, Luke 24:45-49, John 20:21-22, Acts 1:7-8). It is therefore not my primary duty as a pastor to do all the work of ministry myself, but to serve the church by equipping every member—directly or indirectly—to do the work to which each one has been called (Ephesians 4).

The task of any pastor, according to the Bible, is to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you,” (1 Peter 5:1). Pastoring is shepherding, and shepherding consists of feeding the sheep, protecting the sheep, and guiding the sheep. Any good shepherd will himself also always be seeking to sharpen his tools and develop his skills, gifts, and abilities (1 Timothy 4:7-16). The focus of pastoral work is “prayer and . . . the ministry of the word,” (Acts 6:4). Prayer and the word of God are what the pastor uses to feed, protect, and guide the sheep as well as to train himself.

A pastor/shepherd serves his flock as an under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd. He does so humbly, remembering that the Good Shepherd is also the Lamb of God who stooped to be one of us so that He could die to take away our sin. The sheep do not belong to the under-shepherd, but he cares for them as if they did because he loves them and the One to whom they do belong and because he will be held accountable for them; he is not merely a hired hand (John 10:11-13, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:1-4).

I fear that many churches are perpetuating their own decline because they keep hiring hired hands who are later hired away by other churches. I believe churches have suffered a great deal in the not-so-tender care of such men. I believe that pastors have suffered a great deal by being treated as if they were merely hired men—some so much that they began to act like it. I don’t want that to be me. I hope to plant my life in a church and stay long enough for there to be a crop of men fully equipped for ministry as shepherds within the church from which to choose the next pastor twenty or thirty years down the road. I hope to lead a church to actively push back the darkness and advance the gospel into places it has never gone before by sending members and not only money. I have vision for a church where at least 1% of the members are serving as missionaries/church-planters, at least 10% of the members have been on some cross-cultural mission trip in the past year, and 100% have done at least some short-term international missions at some point in their life. I hope to take what has been entrusted to me and teach it to other faithful men who will be able to teach others (2 Timothy 2:2).

God, help me.

December 13, 2012

Prospective Pastor Questionnaire – Part 9

9. How do you believe the church should relate to the community, and what ideas do you have to make the church “relevant” to the community?

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

Like the people of God in exile in Babylon, the church is the people of God living in exile in the world while we wait for Christ to return in ultimate judgment and renewal. Though we are strangers in a strange land, we are to work for the good of the community by being productive members of it. Additionally, as Jesus’ body, we are to do what Jesus does: healing the sick, feeding the hungry, setting people free from their bondage, caring for the poor, comforting widows and orphans in their distress, etc. As the IMB is trying to remind us, we are Jesus’ heart, hands, and voice to those around us and to the ends of the earth.

Now, I don’t know your community. I can’t tell you what I would lead the church to do to make the church “relevant” to the community, because I don’t know the community. That said, one of the first things I would do as pastor is begin visiting every home within walking distance of the church building to find out who really lives around us and how we might meet their needs (sharing the gospel with those same people goes without saying). Another thing I would do is spend the first year as pastor watching your church just do what it’s always done, so that the next year we might evaluate together whether those things are actually making an impact and how can they be improved. Every church has things they do well and reasons for doing the things they do, and I’m not going anywhere with a notion that I’m going to start changing things immediately just for the sake of changing things. Likewise, there are usually reasons for not doing certain things, and your help in knowing what we don’t do and why will be invaluable. I’ll come in preaching the whole counsel of God from day 1, but we would be on a slow track for making any changes not demanded by biblical faithfulness.

Ultimately, the church is the people who gather, and so the church as an institution shouldn’t have to do anything special to be “relevant” to the community. If we are each living our individual lives as mature Christians who shine a gospel light into their personal circles of influence, then we will impact people wherever we meet them. That’s what Jesus did; He met people where they were. My primary focus will be on building healthy Christians who will make up a healthy church. Where there is life and health there is always reproduction. As we multiply, we will naturally exert a more beneficial influence on the community. Which is not to say that I’m against evangelistic events or ongoing outreach through regular community service, I’m all for them. Yet, all that the church does together to minister to the community should be the fleshing out of what the Holy Spirit gives the church to do together.

December 6, 2012

Prospective Pastor Questionnaire – Part 5

5. How do you see your duties as pastor in relationship to the deacon?

Perhaps this question is partly answered in my response to question 4. I said there:

I believe the role of deacons is to foster unity within the body by attending to all matters which are important to the ongoing ministry of a local church but would divert the pastor(s) from his(their) primary tasks of prayer and the ministry of the word. …I believe in all churches it is the role of the deacon to intercept issues among the congregation and see that they are attended to before they become a point of either disunity within the body or a distraction from prayer and the word. I believe it is also the role of all deacons to shield their pastor from the distraction of criticism and attack by thoroughly vetting the major decisions regarding the goings on of the church body.

Also, it’s hopefully helpful to reconsider from question 1 that I understand my duties as pastor are to feed the sheep, protect the sheep, lead the sheep, and continue developing my shepherding skills. In all these, devotion to prayer and the ministry of the word take a primary place. Having recalled these things, let me answer the question.

I understand the pastor deacon relationship to be an under-beside-over relationship. Clear as mud, right?

The pastor is under the authority of the deacon. Part of the deacon’s job of guarding the unity of the body is to be sure that the pastor is doing his job; that he isn’t letting things distract him from his primary task. They do this by taking on, or sometimes delegating to others, tasks the pastor willingly lets others do. But they also do this by telling the pastor he cannot do all the things he might otherwise try to do. This can include saying “no” for the the pastor to requests from both inside and outside the congregation. Deacons ought to help limit speaking engagements outside the church; they ought to be a line of defense against church members’ with ideas about things “the church needs to start doing,” when what they really mean is “I want the pastor to do this;” they ought to hold the pastor accountable to giving adequate time to sermon preparation; etc. The pastor is also under the authority of the deacons in that deacons should be the first to act in the case of a pastor who is failing as shepherd. Deacons are the sheep who should know a good shepherd when they see him, they should lovingly correct a mediocre shepherd so he can care for the flock better, and they should be strong enough–and love the church enough–to put out a false shepherd and care for the flock themselves until they find a real shepherd to follow. As seen in Acts 6:1-6, the deacons are spirit-filled and wise representatives of the congregation, and the pastor who is servant to the church is therefore under the authority of the deacons as they represent the church body.

The pastor is also to bring the deacon alongside him in ministry. Part of a pastor’s responsibility is to set an example for others to follow (see 1 Timothy 4:12). Deacons carry the same responsibility, implicit in the qualifications to become a deacon (see Acts 6:3 and 1 Timothy 3:8-13). Along with that, pastors, deacons, and all other church members are all part of one body and mutually important to each other and the whole as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 11, 12, 18-20, 26).

I firmly believe God gives pastors to churches. I am equally firm in my belief that He gives deacons to churches–and nursery workers, Sunday school teachers, and so on. He puts us all together in the body as He sees fit, therefore we are all on the same level as members of the body of Christ by grace. The pastor has been given his role just like the deacon has been given his. Deacons and pastors are called to work alongside each other for the building up of individual Christians, the local church, and the broader Kingdom of God.

Finally, the pastor has authority over the deacons and is responsible for them. In Acts 6, the apostles act as the first pastoral team when they give the qualifications for these proto-deacons. The congregation sets their seven choices before the apostles. The apostles are the ones who pray and lay hands on them, setting them apart or “ordaining” them to the work. Additionally, the pastor’s task is to “shepherd the flock of God…exercising oversight,” (1 Peter 5:2). When Paul instructs Timothy on the qualifications of what we would call a pastor, the word he uses is perhaps most literally translated as “overseer” (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7). As the deacons are part of the flock, the pastor/shepherd has authority to lead, teach, correct, rebuke, affirm, and inspire. This is an authority under authority; the sheep do not belong to the under-shepherd but rather to the Great Shepherd. And the under-shepherd will be held accountable for how he cares for the flock. The author of Hebrews gives this instruction to all believers including deacons, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17). Deacons ought to submit to the pastor’s leadership and teaching as he shepherds the flock. Deacons set an example for the rest of the church as they follow closely and reinforce the pastor’s teaching and leadership. Pastors, then, ought to give close attention to equipping the deacons to be servant-leaders of the flock from within.

And so, when I say that the pastor/deacon relationship is an under-beside-over relationship, I mean (1) the pastor is under the deacons’ authority as they hold him to his primary duties, (2) the pastor and deacons work together as equals with different assignments for the upbuilding of the church into health and maturity, and (3) the pastor is over the deacons because he is responsible to care for, teach, and lead them as part shepherding the whole church.

November 3, 2012

Prospective Pastor Questionnaire – Part 6

Filed under: Job Hunt,Ministry,My Life in General — pecaspers @ 10:47 PM
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6. Which Bible translation do you prefer to use from the pulpit?

The English Standard Version is my preferred translation for sermon preparation and preaching. I like it for it’s essentially literal translation philosophy, which makes it great for in-depth study in sermon preparation. I like it because it follows the King James Version in how certain passages read (Psalm 23 comes to mind) giving it a familiar feel to many hearers who grew up with the KJV. I like it because the ESV is based on the largest pool of extant ancient manuscripts ever available to us. I like it because the poetry still sounds like poetry, and Paul’s very long and very Greek run-on sentences are broken as little as English readability allows. I like it because it’s the Bible, and I love the Bible.

That said, I have preached from the old New International Version (NIV 1987), the New American Standard Bible, the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), and even the Good News Translation (GNT)–that last one was in South Sudan and was the translation most familiar to attenders of the English service of that church. I typically consult a number of translations as I study to preach. I typically teach my youth from the HCSB because that’s what our pastor uses from the pulpit. I regularly intentionally call on the two sisters in our youth group whom carry the New Living Translation because of the vivid and interpretive language it uses. I’m not afraid of other translations, I just prefer to study and preach from the ESV.

October 30, 2012

Prospective Pastor Questionnaire – Part 1

1. What do you perceive as your biblical pastoral duties?

My duty as pastor according to the Bible is to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you,” (1 Peter 5:1). But that begs the question, “what does it mean to shepherd the flock of God?” In 1 Peter 5:1-3, Peter exhorts pastors to exercise “oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” I think Peter has in mind the distinction Jesus made between a good shepherd and a hired hand in John 10:11-13. “…The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” A pastor is an under-shepherd under the authority of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Actual shepherds have three main duties in caring for literal sheep: feed the sheep, protect the sheep, lead the sheep where they need to go. Pastoral duties come in those same three categories. Pastors have the duty to preach and teach God’s word, to feed God’s people on every word that comes from His mouth and to teach them how to feed themselves (Deuteronomy 8:3). 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” The pastor has all he needs in God’s word to meet the varied spiritual needs of God’s flock.

When it comes to protecting the sheep, the pastor must deal with both external and internal threats. Paul explained this to the Ephesian church leaders in Acts 20:28-32:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

“Fierce wolves” will try to come in from the outside, other threats will arise from within the church, and it is a pastoral duty to keep the wolves away from the flock and to administer the “word of his grace” to confused sheep. Practically speaking, this means that the pastor is the point-man when it comes to issues of maintaining right doctrine and church discipline. This does not mean that the pastor must be involved in every conflict that arises in the church; that’s what deacons are for (see Question 4 for more). According to Acts 6:4, the apostles, the original pastoral team of the First Jerusalem Mega-Church, protected the church by delegating some tasks to spirit-filled men so that the apostles could “devote [themselves] to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” This also points to the pastoral duty to pray for the church, and this too is a protection for the flock.

Now we come to the pastoral duty to lead the sheep where they need to go. Paul wrote about the reason Jesus gives various kinds of leaders to the Church and to churches in Ephesians 4:11-16:

“And he gave…the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

(I’ve removed a few commas which are correct according to English syntax but can cause the reader to misunderstand Paul’s thought.) Pastors have the duty of leading individual Christians and the church as a whole to spiritual maturity. Jesus gave pastors to “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” not to do it all themselves. Which is not to say that a pastor does not do ministry himself, but that he is equipping others as he does his share of ministry.

A final thing not mentioned in my list above is that any good shepherd or pastor is constantly honing his skills, training, and learning. Paul instructs his son in the ministry Timothy to “train [himself] for godliness,” to “practice” certain things before his congregation “so that all may see [his] progress”, and ultimately to “keep a close watch on [himself] and on the teaching.” Paul says that “by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers,” (1 Timothy 4:7-16). It is the duty of every pastor to keep his tools sharp, to always be learning, to always be growing, and in so doing he also is setting an example worth following.

Now, maybe you were wanting a list of things like visiting the sick, counseling the hurting, preaching on Sundays; but I figured all that goes without saying, and precisely what goes on that list depends greatly on the individual church. I can tell you that checking to see if the men’s room toilets have been flushed on Wednesday nights is not a biblical duty for youth pastors nor is it in my job description, but I still try to do it each week so our building doesn’t smell come Sunday morning.

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