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?

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January 22, 2014

Whiners All

My son is sometimes quite the whiner. The other day he was crying because he wanted to both eat and wear some candy jewelry, which he was already wearing and had permission to eat. Another day he had a full-blown meltdown because I pulled his pants up for him. In fact, that previous sentence could have ended with a hundred different benign actions and would still have been true. Don’t get me wrong; I love my son, and he is awesome most of the time. However, he is like any other three year-old and throws a fit over little things regularly. He has plenty of time to grow out of it.

God could say the same about me. He could tell you of how often I let little things get me down. What kind of little things? It really doesn’t matter. Pain, conflict, fear, difficult circumstances of any sort are all little things in comparison to God and His Kingdom. And that isn’t me making light of whatever troubles you or I might face; it’s me inviting you to step back and get a better perspective on the suffering common to all of us and specific to each of us. This is for all of us because, if you are honest, you have to admit with me that we’re all whiners sometimes.

The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal,” (ESV). We must keep in mind that Paul had seen plenty of affliction that we would naturally categorize as neither light nor momentary. He had already seen plenty of rejection by his own people including being stoned and left for dead. Eventually, he would endure beatings, stoning, shipwrecks, and danger from all sides. However, if you back up in 2 Corinthians 4, you’ll see that Paul endures all (and encourages all Christians to endure all) because the good news is in him and his greatest joy is in getting it out.

God, in His goodness, made a way for sinful people like Paul, me, and you to be brought into a right relationship with Him through the sacrificial death of Jesus–God in human flesh. This is the message Paul suffered to spread so that people would hear it and believe it and turn to God in response to it. Paul looked beyond his present troubles in thanksgiving for those who were receiving salvation by faith in Christ Jesus through his labor; he says as much in the early part of many of his letters. As we progress into 2014 and beyond, I wonder how much more Kingdom impact we would have on those around us if we would complain less and express thankfulness more, focus on our troubles less and consider the gospel more. Let’s find out. What do you say?

[This article was submitted to the Tallassee Tribune on behalf of the Tallassee Ministerial Alliance for the January 21 edition of the paper.]

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.

November 20, 2012

Prospective Pastor Questionnaire – Part 4

4. What do you believe the role of those in the office of Deacon should be?

I follow in the tradition held from the ancient church that Acts 6:1-6 describes the setting apart of the first deacons.

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

In fact, these men aren’t called deacons at all in Scripture–they are appointed to handle the “distribution” (Greek diakonia) to widows so that the apostles can be devoted to “prayer and the ministry of the word,” (ministry = Greek diakonia). Luke choosing not to call these men deacons isn’t that significant because it likely only shows that this wasn’t immediately considered to be a specifically named office of the local church–remembering that the idea of a “local church” wouldn’t even make sense until after persecution broke out and the believers were scattered beyond Jerusalem. Luke goes back and forth in his use of “Saul” and “Paul” in reference to the same man until he reaches a certain point in the story of Acts when one can assume everybody only thought of the man as Paul. The term “Christian” isn’t used until Acts 11:26 when the disciples are first called it. All that to say, we can learn something about the office of deacon from how these men are described even if they were only prototypes for the office.

In light of that, this text is still instructive, but it doesn’t tell us all that we might need to know about the office of deacon. We do learn here that they were “men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” who were selected from among the body of believers and appointed to serve to preserve the unity of the body so the apostles would be free to devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And so, 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 their primary tasks of prayer and the ministry of the word.

The only other major passage in Scripture about the office of deacon is 1 Timothy 3:8-13.

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

And here’s the problem, this text doesn’t tell us much about what deacons actually do either. It is clear that it is an office of the church since Paul is careful to list out qualifications for being a deacon immediately after listing out the qualifications of being an overseer/pastor. It is also clear that this is a position of servant-leadership within the body, otherwise the qualifications would not be drawn up along so similar lines as those of being an overseer/pastor. The wonderful beauty of it is that God left great latitude in his word about the precise duties of the deacon. God knew that in some churches, some things would fall to the deacons that would not necessarily require their attention in other churches. O God, I love being a Baptist!

And so I say again. 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 their primary tasks of prayer and the ministry of the word. Let me unpack that a bit. The role of those first deacons wasn’t to keep widows properly fed, though that was their task; their role was to be a front line defense in maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4:3). And so today the role of a deacon is to handle issues of need within the body that would be a distraction to the pastor(s). In some churches, that might mean deacons see to the custodial and maintenance needs of the church building, and in other churches it might mean that deacons oversee all the financial matters from counting the offering to paying bills. It is those duties which are important to the ongoing ministry of a local church, whatever they may be for any particular church, which are the responsibility of deacons. And it is only those things which would distract the pastor(s) from their primary duties that must be the responsibility of deacons. On one level, pastors will find different matters distracting depending on their spiritual gifts, natural abilities, and personality. On another level, I read somewhere once that the average pastor of a small church (less than 250 members) spends around eight hours a week doing janitorial work; somebody’s deacons are failing them if that’s the case.

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. Deacons must not be “double-tounged” because they must deal honestly with pastors, other deacons, and the congregation; they must not say they agree with the pastor to his face only to sow division within body when he isn’t around. Deacons must not be “greedy for dishonest gain” because they must not steal when entrusted with finances of the church in one way or another. Similar inferences could be made from each qualification, but the point is ultimately that deacons are to be exemplary Christians who defend the unity of the church by guarding the pastor(s) from distraction.

November 10, 2012

Prospective Pastor Questionnaire – Part 7

7. With what worship style are you most comfortable? If that is not the working style employed by the church, would you expect to lead the church to develop that style?

Allow me a detour before I get to the answer to your question. I know that when you say “worship style” what you really mean is the style of the music in the worship service. However, one thing I would be careful to lead the church to develop is an understanding that worship is more than music. All of life ought to be worship (see Deuteronomy 6:5, Romans 12:1-2, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 10:31, 1 Peter 4:7-11, and many more). We as Christians have done damage to the truth of what it means to really worship God by allowing this word to become a synonym for church music. There is nothing wrong with talking about “worship music,” but we muddy the waters when we use the word worship to mean nothing more than music. We make it all the worse when we use the term to mean a specific style of music as though any other style wasn’t worshipful. For instance, if you say that your church service begins with “worship” followed by taking the offering and then preaching, what does that say about the value of giving and hearing the word of God preached? Is generous giving to the work of the church, for the aid of God’s people, and for the spread of the gospel NOT an act of worship? Are the preacher preaching and the congregation hearing the word NOT worshiping by doing so? No! We sing in worship, we give in worship, we hear the preached word in worship, and we ought to also work at our jobs, play at our sports, mow our grass, eat our food, and do all we do in worship to the one true and living God.

However, I know what you mean. And use of the word worship to mean music is a pretty common error. It’s not like I jump down someone’s throat every time I hear them do it. The point of these questions and answers is for you to know my heart a little better. I figured it might be helpful to get this pet-peeve of mine on the table. Now, to the substance of your question.

I am most comfortable with whatever style of music is most appropriate to the setting of the worship service and can be performed live well. Not terribly helpful, is it? Let me explain.

It makes me uncomfortable to have a two electric guitars, an amplified bass, a keyboard, and a full drum-set rocking out in a small, country church full of stereotypical country church folks who don’t like loud music. At the same time, it makes me uncomfortable to be in a large church with plenty of competent musicians and hear an old Sandi Patti song sung off-key accompanied by a background track on a cassette tape.

Now, I like a band with one or more vocalists for leading the singing as long as they are good and the room will support them. If they are falling off the stage or making the walls shake, then that’s distracting and keeps me from fully worshiping. If they keep hitting wrong notes and can’t hold a tempo, then that’s distracting and keeps me from fully worshiping. However, if they have a strong, well-rehearsed sound, then dim the lights if you like–or don’t, either way–and let’s raise our hands–or not, to each his own–and let’s get our corporate worship on.

At the same time, I like one vocalist accompanied by a single piano. In a small space without amplification, or a larger one with one or both of them mic-ed, that’s a great way to go. Simple, focused, and it’s easy to find that melody for those who don’t read music. If the pianist can handle playing the harmony, then that’s even better. The church I grew up in had a one pianist playing the song as written and another pianist playing chords and ad libbing, and that’s a great sound. I’m also a big fan of a piano and an organ together. All this, is assuming you’ve got someone who can sing well enough to lead and someone who can play well enough to accompany.

My current church is struggling because our three capable pianists’ hands are all getting stiff and painful with age. We’ve had to switch to using mostly tracks rather than a live accompanist, which I think takes something away from the experience. Still, what else are we to do? Sometimes you just make do until God brings to you someone who can fill the need, I guess. Canned music should be a last resort, in my humble opinion, but sometimes it can’t be avoided.

I would have to say that if it were all about me, then I’d prefer to have a man who sings baritone leading the vocals backed by a choir of 55% men and 45% women accompanied by a twenty-piece orchestra including brass, woodwinds, strings, percussion, piano, and pipe organ with the ability to add an acoustic guitar or two, an electric guitar or two, a keyboard, and a bass when wanted for just the right feel. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Worship music isn’t about me. It shouldn’t be about mere personal preference. If it’s all about me and my preferences, then it’s self-centered idolatry instead of Spirit-and-truth-filled, God-focused worship.

So, would I expect to lead the church to develop a small orchestra, choir, dueling pianos, or a band? Only if there are bunch of talented musicians in the church who want to start an orchestra, etc. There are really only a few things I would expect to implement when it comes to the music of the church. First, we would sing songs that honor God and are biblical. Some people are amazed to find out that many songs sung in many churches are in-fact man-centered and/or full of bad theology if not out right heresy. Second, we would sing songs we can sing. There are some amazing songs full of wonderful truths that just don’t work for congregational singing. Those can be for other parts of the service or other settings, but we shouldn’t knowingly deprive John Pewsitter of the experience of joining in the singing when he hasn’t got a prayer of singing the songs. Thirdly, anything that meets those first two expectations would be fair game.

Bear with me for a bit on this last point. I’m amazed by elder church members who reject all music that is younger than they are. It makes me sad for them and for the whole congregation who is missing out on the wonderfully rich new “hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16) that are being written right now. I’m equally amazed at the mindless way many of my own generation and younger want to exclusively sing new songs. “Amazing Grace,” “How Great Thou Art,” “Just as I Am,” these are songs that have stood the test of time and are good for our people to sing and know. I’m not even fully comfortable with the attempt to re-vamp old hymns to give them a contemporary feel, but I do think this has it’s place and is something that people have been doing throughout church history.

I have observed that previous generations are more likely to miss out in this regard. At our association’s annual meeting a few weeks ago, you could tell by the marked difference in volume level that the songs popularized in the last ten years were unfamiliar to many of the messengers. The average age in the room was probably somewhere in the fifties–sixties if you only counted lay people. We are an association made up predominantly of small churches in rural communities and small towns. No one is teaching most of these senior saints the current hymns of men and women like Keith and Kristen Getty, to say nothing of praise songs of Chris Tomlin and the like. I have not experienced the same phenomenon at youth events. At StudentLife Camp this year, our band for the week was Rush of Fools. One night they said we were having a hoedown and proceeded to play bluegrass style versions of “I’ll Fly Away,” “I Saw the Light,” “Victory in Jesus,” and more. Maybe it was because there were words on the screen, but the 1,500 or so young people were all singing along just fine. “Victory in Jesus” may have even been up a notch compared to the newer songs sung at other times. Martin Luther, Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby, Bill Gaither, Charlie Hall, Laura Story, Aaron Keyes, they all can help us as we approach the throne of God with an offering of songs of worship.

That said, if your church doesn’t currently sing any songs written after 1981, then we would introduce this very slowly and carefully; likewise if you presently sing only songs written since the turn of the millennium. I have no desire to ignite a so-called “worship war.” That falls far short of maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4:3).

November 5, 2012

Presidential Election Prediction and Commentary

I’ve pretty much held my tongue until now. Perhaps a grassroots movement would have begun if I put this forward sooner, but I doubt it.

Barak Obama will win. Let me tell you why. Democrats are still all going to vote for President Obama. Republicans aren’t all going to vote for Romney. Remember all those Christian Republican voters who didn’t come out and vote for McCain? Many of them aren’t coming out to vote for Romney either. Many independent voters who would go Republican for a strong candidate aren’t going to vote for Romney. Independent voters who typically go Democrat certainly aren’t going to flip for Romney. And then you have people like me.

I voted for Bob Dole, I voted for George W. Bush twice, and I voted for McCain. I kind of liked Dole, but I probably didn’t know as much about him as I thought I did. I don’t know if I’d vote for him if he were up this year; it’s possible. I liked the W. No, he wasn’t a perfect president. I didn’t like all he’ll be remembered for, but I still think he is a good man – – perhaps evidenced best in his withdrawal from the political scene after his presidency. I didn’t like McCain. McCain was a big-government, Washington-tainted, moderate Republican. I did appreciate the fact that he had actually served in the military. At any rate, I voted for McCain because I bought the “lesser of two evils” argument. However, I knew Obama was going to trounce McCain.

My mind has changed. In what way does choosing the lesser of two evils actually make sense to the Christian worldview? Given that choice, shouldn’t we choose neither? If you lock me in a room, duct tape a gun to my hand, and force me to shot either my wife or my son; I’m not pulling the trigger. But the situation isn’t that limited. We’ve been lied to by both democrats and republicans telling us we have a two-party system. We don’t have a two-party system. We have a system that is dominated by two parties, and that’s not the same thing. Did you know that you can vote for anybody you want to who meets the constitutional criteria for being president? Anybody, even if they aren’t a party candidate, they don’t even have to be on the ballot. You can write someone in. So that’s what I’m going to do, I’m writing in Ron Paul.

Why Ron Paul? It’s not because I agree with him on every issue. It’s definitely not because he has any chance at winning. I’m voting for Ron Paul because he’s the one guy I can think to write in that might show up in some statistically significant way in the polling data. I’m voting for him in an attempt to say to the Republican party, and in a small way to the Democrats too, that I’m sick of them picking some loser who’s been doing nothing but running for president in step-by-step fashion for the last twenty to thirty years. If the best you can do is put up a moderate guy who adopts Obama’s winning strategy of saying whatever you tell him the people he’s talking to at that moment want to hear, then I’m just going to vote for someone else.

Here’s the reality folks. I’m more afraid of 8 years of Romney, or 4 years of Romney followed by 4-8 years of some other liberal Dem, than I am of 4 more years of Obama. Obama is fighting a Republican House of Representatives, and he could be about to face a Republican controlled Senate too. I’m pretty sure the more-or-less-conservatives will keep him in check for his next term. Hopefully they’ll have the intestinal and testicular fortitude to live up to their constitutional duty to throw down some checking and balancing on his executive ordering and declaring ways. But can you imagine what a mess of nonsense would get pushed through by Romney and a piggy-eyed Congress (especially if it’s both houses)? Now, if Obama wins AND Republicans lose the House and stay the minority in the Senate…maybe the Mayans were on to something. If Romney wins and the Democrats get both houses, then we’re back to Romney losing in 4 years to an all lady Clinton/Pelosi ticket or something equally maddening.

Please go vote. Vote for whoever you want to be your president. I don’t want either of the front-runners, so I’m voting for someone else.

Whatever you do, don’t believe the hype. Don’t believe Fox News, CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, or anybody else when they tell you why Mitt couldn’t unite the Republican base…unless they say “Gotcha, we knew he’d lose! I can’t believe you let us pull this off. Will you let us convince you Obama 2016 is a good idea too?”

Don’t believe hype, no matter who is feeding it to you.

P.S. For all you Christians rocking a Romney/Ryan sticker on you bumper right over your Jesus fish, think about this. Obama may be pro-choice and in favor of redefining marriage, but when Romney says “God bless America!” he has a completely different definition of the nature and identity of that God and how he relates to humanity than you do.

SomebodyBetter2016

November 3, 2012

Prospective Pastor Questionnaire – Part 3

3. What is your style of pastoral oversight/administration, including working with staff members, committees, and departmental leaders?

I suppose I don’t yet have a fully developed “style of pastoral oversight/administration,” or not a fully tested one at least. My current church doesn’t have a defined organizational chart, but I’m pretty sure I would be on the bottom if it did. That’s fine with me; as I understand it, a pastor is supposed to be a servant to the rest of the church body in many ways. Jesus taught his disciples about servant-leadership long before the conference speakers and authors ever picked up on it. As far as working with staff members, I have a firm grasp of the facts that the pastor is not the boss and that other staff members are not his employees. The whole church staff is employed by the congregation, and the whole church has only one Boss.

I can also tell you that I love a good meeting. A good meeting accomplishes its purpose efficiently and only involves the necessary people; a bad meeting typically has no purpose, is a waste of time, and involves people with no stake in the task or issue at hand. This applies to working with staff members, but is especially important for working with committees. All committees are not created equal, and I can’t say precisely how I would relate to the committees at your church. I can say that I wouldn’t expect to be part of every committee. Every committee shouldn’t need direct pastoral involvement. Some churches do operate that way, and we would take our time in moving away from that model if yours is one.

Like committees, the role of departmental leaders differs greatly from church to church. At Lakeview, a large church, there were very few non-staff departmental leaders. At Liberty, a small church, there are no paid departmental leaders except youth and music. At Lakeview, the adult Sunday school is under the oversight of an associate pastor who trains teachers, decides when to start new classes or divide growing ones, ensures class leaders are ministering effectively to their members, etc. At Liberty, the Sunday school directors’ two primary duties are to collect the roll books and offering envelopes and report the count to the pastor. One is not better than the other, but I’d just hate to say I’ll relate to departmental leaders in such and such a way then find out we are thinking about completely different roles.

Finally, my father taught me when I was in Boy Scouts that a good leader never asks someone to do something he wouldn’t do himself. I have changed diapers in the nursery, pulled weeds in the parking lot, made copies, brewed coffee, cooked meals, driven vans, taught Sunday School, lead Bible studies, taken youth to camp, stayed up all night at lock-ins, built buildings, given cold water (and Coke products) to thirsty people, taken evangelistic surveys in public places, gone door to door with the gospel, visited the sick, run audio and video, sang in the choir, and much more. Some of these things were serving in my area of talents or spiritual gifting, and some of them just needed doing. What I know about my general style of oversight and administration is that I see these as aspects of equipping the church to do the work of the ministry. I have done the ministry and have been equipped to equip others to equip others.

June 22, 2012

A Preemptive Word on the SBC Annual Meeting

What follows was originally composed as my contribution to the Tallassee Ministerial Alliance column in the Tallassee Tribune. This is the article before I or the paper’s editors cut it to fit the allowed space. I wrote it prior to the SBC Annual Meeting and it–as far as I know–appeared in the paper on Tuesday, June 19, the first day of the actual Convention.

I am a Southern Baptist. (Curious about what that means? Look at the Baptist Faith and Message tab on http://www.sbc.net.) This week, thousands of Southern Baptists are gathering in New Orleans, La. for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Because of this, you will likely hear many things in the news in the coming days about what Southern Baptists are saying and doing at the Convention. I beg you, please don’t judge us too harshly.

I’m always ashamed of some of the ridiculous things that come out of the Convention. I can tell you that someone will say something stupid about alcohol, race-relations, politics, environmentalism, homosexuality, the King James Version of the Bible, and many other issues of both major and minor significance to the general population. Media outlets will handle these things with differing degrees of malice or kindness depending on how they prefer to spin things. You need to understand that the Annual Meeting operates as an effectively open forum for anyone sent as a messenger from a Southern Baptist church. Just because someone says it at the Convention doesn’t mean much. Just because the SBC votes for or against some statement doesn’t mean that all Southern Baptists now agree on that issue–many Southern Baptists can’t even agree on what it means to be Southern Baptist. Most importantly, remember that every fifteen second sound bite you hear coming out of my SBC brethren has been ripped out of a greater context.

What you probably won’t hear much about is the real reason that Southern Baptists convene. The SBC exists so Southern Baptist churches can cooperate together in fulfilling the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus says to His followers, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” (HCSB). Though we do much else, the SBC ultimately exists for the primary purpose of sending missionaries to all nations (read “nations” as people groups with distinct culture and language, not politically recognized countries) for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus.

A disciple is nothing less than a person who has been baptized–identifying with Jesus Christ in His death, burial, resurrection–and is being taught to obey all that He commanded. The only reason one gets baptized and seeks to learn and obey is because he or she believes the gospel. Simply put, the gospel is the good news that God exists and He is good, that all mankind has rebelled against Him in sin, that Jesus is God-become-man who suffered in our place the punishment for our sin so we could have a relationship with God, and finally that we are all accountable before God to turn from all our own attempts to please Him and rely solely on what He has already accomplished in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So remember, don’t accept the spin the talking heads on cable news and internet bloggers will put on the SBC Annual Meeting. Feel free to ask of what you hear, “How does this serve to advance the gospel?” But before you throw stones at me and my SBC friends, ask the same question of every aspect of your own life. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory,” (1 Corinthians 10:31, HCSB). Oh that we would all be all about the gospel for the glory of God. You are welcome for all the opportunities to bring this gospel naturally into your conversations with your lost friends, relatives, co-workers, and complete strangers that our Annual Meeting will provide you.

Addendum: I am happy to report that I was largely wrong in my expectations for the Convention. I watched/listened to the vast majority of the meeting via live streaming and didn’t hear nearly as much nonsense as expected–hardly any at all, in fact. The importance of the gospel and our Great Commission was this year’s main focus, but Fred Luder’s election as our first Black president is what seems to be getting all the press. That’s pretty good, I’d say.

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