trinity

Inexplicable God

One of the most mind-bending and yet rewarding things we can do is meditate on the trinitarian nature of God.  While not all agree, the Trinity, or Triune nature of God, is a reality most definitely affirmed by the teaching of Scripture.   The biblical testimony portrays God as existing as three separate persons who all equally share one divine essence.  These persons have revealed themselves as God the Father, Jesus (who is God the Son), and God the Holy Spirit in the Bible.

 

The Bible and the Nature of God

The biblical teaching on the nature of God can be summarized as follows:

1. The Father is God (Jn. 6:27)

2. The Son is God (Jn. 1:1-3; Heb. 1:7-8; Col. 1:13-17)

3. The Spirit is God (Gen. 1:2; Job 33:4; Ps. 104:30; Acts 5:3-4; Acts 13:1-4)

4. There is only One God (Deut. 6:4; Mk. 12:32; Rom. 3:30; 1 Cor. 8:6)

5. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are NOT each other (Matt. 3:16-17; Jn. 1:1-3 & 18; Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14)

 

What Does the Biblical Data Mean?

The Bible clearly teaches each of the above five realities regarding the nature of the One true God.  There is only One God. He exists in the three Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Each of the three are divine, and they are not One another.   They are not three separate God’s.  They are not one divine Person portraying Himself three separate ways.  They are three literally distinct Persons unified by one divine essence.

 

Um, Can You Explain that Please?

Usually this is the point that our brain starts to hurt.  As we try to stretch our finite minds to the point where we can wrap our proverbial arms around the awesome and infinite reality of God’s nature, feelings of futility and inadequacy soon follow.  While we can certainly apprehend the biblical teaching regarding the Triune nature of God, we cannot fully comprehend it in it’s fullness.

 

How ’bout an Illustration?

The truth is that we cannot even adequately illustrate the Trinity.  Many have tried to do so, and I personally believe they have done so in vain.  Even the closest illustrations fall short at the end of the day.  Let me point out the most common illustrations people set forth in attempt to better understand or articulate the reality of the Trinity:

 

1. The Clover- Some say that to illustrate the nature of God to the people he was trying to reach in Ireland, Saint Patrick would point to the three-leaf-clover.  He would suggest that the nature of God is like a clover that, while being one entity, has the three parts in the leaves which ultimately all connect as one.

2. The Egg- Some suggest that the fact that an egg has three parts (yoke, white, and shell) while still being one egg can serve as an illustration of the Trinity.

3. The Water- Others point to water which can exist in three forms (gas, solid, liquid) as an illustration of the Trinity.

4. The Family- Still others would point to the family as a potential illustration of the Trinity.  Admittedly this is my personal favorite.  These folks point out that, biblically speaking, men and women become one flesh through marriage and sexual relations.  When parents reproduce and have a child, the child genetically proceeds forth from the essence of both the father and mother who are one flesh through marriage.  In the end, it is contended that this illustrates the Trinity in that the human father, mother, and child are all three separate persons and yet one in a legitimate sense.

 

The truth is all of these illustrations fall short for various reasons.  And while helpful for lifting our minds to a perhaps good starting place as we begin to try and appreciate the complexity and beauty inherent within the Triune nature of God, none of these should serve as absolute pictures of the precise nature of God.

 

Reaction Time

When we get to this point in meditating on the Trinity, I have found people react in two ways depending on where they’re at with Jesus in their personal lives.  First of all, the skeptical non-Christian begins to mock.  They say, “If I can’t explain it, or find something of comparable nature to illustrate it, it must not be true.”  Secondly, the new or untaught Christian might begin to doubt.  They might find themselves thinking, “Can this be true if we cannot explain it?  Are the skeptics correct, and the Trinity is just another made-up human superstition?”

 

Answers for the Skeptic

In response to the skeptic I would say three things:

1. Either the Bible is God’s Word, or it isn’t.  Many who are in opposition to the doctrine of the Trinity also affirm the inspiration of the Bible.  Their are some religious groups who affirm the divine inspiration of the Bible, and yet because the Trinity doesn’t make sense to them logically, they reject it and come up with other translations of Scripture foreign to the original languages in which the Bible was written for the sake of supporting their view.  This is all done to justify making Scripture conform to their logic, rather than bringing their supposed logic into conformity with the plain meaning of Scripture.   At the end of the day either the Bible is God’s Word and must be accepted, or it’s not.  But you can’t have your cake and eat it too on this one.  If the Bible is God’s Word the Trinity is the only possibility based on the teaching of the whole counsel of God as summarized above.  Either the Bible is God’s Word or it’s not.

 

2. Don’t think more highly of your logic than you ought. Don’t you think it’s possible that there might be some things that are true about the infinite, sovereign Creator of the universe that are just a little difficult to wrap your much smaller, finite mind around?  Do you really think you’re so smart that you should be able to fully wrap up everything about the nature of God in a nice little intellectual package that is easy to understand and explain? Don’t think more highly of your logic than you ought.

 

3. Don’t be a hypocrite. The fact is that every skeptic who scoffs at the doctrine of the Trinity based on it’s incomparableness is a hypocrite.  They know that there are many things they affirm to be true though they can’t fully understand or explain them.  I know there are many things like that in my life.  There are things that I know are true, that are scientifically explainable, that I still can’t fully comprehend.  I know there are scientific explanations regarding how giant aircraft carriers made of steel, transporting thousands of people, planes, and supplies can float in the water, but it still doesn’t make sense to me.  I know science can explain why it is that a fly can float in the cab of my truck while I’m driving 75 down the freeway and not splat against my back window, even though I know that fly isn’t moving in the same direction as my vehicle, at the same speed.  And yet, if I were to stand up and jump in the air in the back of my truck going the same speed, I would be dead in the road.  How does all that work? I mean, is there a problem in the matrix, or what?  You can explain it to me scientifically, but it still won’t fully make sense.   I believe even the most ardent skeptics regarding the Trinity hold to many truths in their lives which they  apprehend and affirm while knowing they cannot fully explain or comprehend them The honest skeptic would agree.  Don’t be a hypocrite.

 

Answers for the Christian

For the new or untaught believer who is struggling with doubt over their inability to articulate, understand, or illustrate the Trinity, I would comfort you with the truth of Isaiah 40:18: “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him?”  In short, the Bible itself declares the inexplicable nature of God!  We don’t need to worry about not being able to explain or illustrate what God has already told us is inexplicable and without illustration.  Part of being God is being absolutely unique amongst all other things in existence!  The reason you can’t point to an illustration and say, “That is what God is like,” is because He is altogether unique and incomparable in every single possible way!

 

At Refuge we like to say in regard to meditating upon the mysterious nature of our God that, “Logic can only take you so far before all you can do is stop and worship in awe!”    I hope this brief reflection on the inexplicable nature of the One True and Living God has inspired you to do that.  Let logic, reason, and understanding take you as far as it can.  And when you come to the end of that finite road, worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who together exist as our One True God!

King Solomon in Gibeon

From The Archives…

“Ask what I shall give thee.” 1 Kings 3:5

 

These are the words of the Lord God of Israel to the third king of Israel, Solomon. And I take great great comfort in these words from God because they are so applicable to me today.

The context of God’s offer is an interesting one. At least ten (10) times, definitely more, does God’s word speak of the Lord establishing Solomon’s throne. (“Let God be true and every man a liar.” Romans 3:4).

Then, at the beginning of 1 Kings 3 we see Solomon breaking one of God’s laws for the king…he joins himself, and thereby the kingdom and people of the Lord, to Egypt, by marriage to the daughter of Pharaoh. He then brings her to Jerusalem, but not until the temple of God is built (which is 7 years), and not until his palace is built (which takes 13 years), and not until the city of Jerusalem is walled in. Even if these events took place concurrently and were all accomplished within 13 years, in the midst of this activity something is strangely missing. And that missing component is the voice of God.

Why the long silence?

King Solomon has compromised. The result? Verse 2 of 1 Kings 3 begins thus, “Only the people sacrificed in high places.”

Only?

All those years before the temple was built the nation sacrificed in high place.

Verse 3 tells us, “And Solomon loved the Lord…only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places.”

Only?

Verse 4 says “The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there; for that was the great high place…And the king made a ‘great’ sacrifice, as well. A thousand burnt offerings!”

And what happened to Solomon? Is he struck dead? Does he contract leprosy? No. Verse 5 tells us, tells me, that God came to Solomon.

“And God said, “Ask what I shall give thee.””

In the midst of compromise and sacrificing and burning incense on high places, the greatest of high places, God, in His mercy, appears to Solomon in a dream and says, “What do you want Me to give you, Solomon?”

What comfort! What encouragement! To know that God comes to me when it seems so long in not hearing His voice because of compromise. Just as He is stirring my heart this last week, He comes, through the Living Word, and asks me today, “Ask what I shall give thee.”

“Ask of Me, and I shall give the the heathen (the nations) for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” Psalm 2:8

“Call to Me, and I will answer thee, and shed thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” Jeremiah 33:3

“Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

“And he cried, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me…but he cried so much the more, “Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.”

“…He asked him, saying, “What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?” Luke 18:38-41

He is asking me, He is asking you…

“Ask what I shall give thee.”

“What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?”

“Ask of Me…”

Call to Me…”

“Ask…”

“Seek…”

“Knock…”

“What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?”

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Hard-wiring and conviction–my internet input dilemma!

Because of the way God has wired me personally and as a result of my understanding of what I believe He has revealed as the responsibilities for one of His under-shepherds, my interaction with all things internet related, including this blog, leaves me self-conflicted on a regular basis.  When I couple those two realities with the fact that I’m also a techno-lamer, I give myself enough ammunition to beat back the frustration I feel with myself about not being more active on this incredibly interesting and relevant blog.

Clearly, this blog serves an important purpose for those called to pastor and/or plant churches and is highly relevant to pastors and church leaders.  I absolutely love the way these things are discussed with honesty and vulnerability and I’m convinced that this blog is “scratching an itch”.   Since I believe this is true, my prayer is that what I’m about to share will be of some help to others who may be experiencing a dilemma similar to mine.  What dilemma?

Keeping the proper balance between the time it takes to love, serve, and lead the people in the church God has called me to pastor, and the time it takes to read, comment on, and contribute to this blog.  I find enjoyment and encouragement in both endeavors and therein lies the rub.

As is fairly obvious to those of you who know me personally and anyone else who reads this blog regularly, if given an opportunity to either spend a portion of time with a member of my church or spend that same time in front of my computer, I almost always choose the time with another person.  Here’s why:

FIRST:  My personal hard-wiring

I LOVE face to face interaction and relationship with people.  I genuinely love hearing a person’s “story” and their description of their current life, struggles and all.  But I always prefer hearing these things in the context of a face to face encounter.  Especially if they are convinced God has called them to be a part of the local body that He has called me to pastor.  If I can’t see the tilt of their head, the lifting of their eyebrows at key moments when they tell me about how surprised they were about something, what they’re doing with their hands as they describe crucial events that have happened to them–in a nutshell,  if I don’t see firsthand those mannerisms that are a part of making them uniquely who they are, then I’m not sure how effective I can really be in helping them progress into Christ-likeness.

I’ve been described as a “people-person” by the majority of the people who know me at almost any level.  That probably is an accurate description of me. But if I truly am that kind of person, it’s obviously because God hard-wired me to be that way.  And I’ve discovered that when I operate in the realm I’m hard-wired for, I find joy and fulfillment.  And, those I know and serve relationally feel love and find encouragement as they progress in their walk with Jesus and God is glorified.

Of course, being hard-wired by God as a “people-person” doesn’t qualify someone to serve as a pastor.  But I do believe that it is one of the key components of the inventory God gives a man He calls to shepherd His people.  It’s similar to the idea that every pastor must be gifted with the ability to teach but not everyone with the ability to teach is gifted or called to pastor.  Pastors must have people skills but not every believer with people skills is called to be a pastor.

My conviction about the role of a pastor based on my understanding of God’s Word:

The Word has much to say about those who shepherd God’s people.  Much can be learned from Jesus and His interaction with the apostles, the larger group of disciples, and of course, the multitudes.  In His brief discussion with Peter in John 21:15-17, He made clear that regardless of the level of love Peter had for Him, Peter is commanded to feed, (2x) and to TEND His sheep.  The remainder of the New Testament gives many examples of what shepherding God’s flock looks like and there are even 3 specific books in the New Testament devoted to helping young pastors to do that.

But personally, the text that really encapsulates what God expects of those He calls to shepherd His people is found in Ezekial 34:1-6.  When I look at the things He accuses the shepherd’s of NOT doing, I don’t believe I’m going astray by inferring those are the exact things He expects the shepherds of His people to be doing.  I admit that in the context in which this was written the word “shepherd” was probably referring to more than just the priests, (perhaps prophets and civil leaders too).  But clearly, the primary targets of this rebuke through Ezekial are those responsible for the spiritual care of His people.  There are 6 key areas that God holds the shepherds of His people responsible for:

Vs. 2,3  (1) Feeding the flock, not using the flock to feed themselves and their egos and lifestyles.  This is mentioned first and I believe is the number one responsibility of the shepherd, just like Jesus told Peter.

The remainder of what God expects His shepherds to be doing for His flock is the fleshing out of what Jesus meant when He told Peter to TEND His sheep.  In other words, this is what “tending” the sheep looks like:

Vs. 4 (2) Strengthening the weak

(3) Healing those who are sick

(4) Binding up those who are broken

(5) Bringing back those who have been driven away

(6) Seeking those that get lost

What the above descriptions look like in the context of a local church, even a local church today, isn’t difficult to unpack.  I trust that God is able to show a pastor of a local church how these principles are put into practice in the context in which he and the people God has called him to shepherd reside.

But what I can’t escape….what provokes me personally to pastor the way that I do, is that the only way I can truly know which of the sheep are weak, sick, broken, have been driven away, or wandered away and are now lost, is if I spend some significant time face to face with them on a regular basis.  As they live life day to day in the crazy but real world of our community, I’ve been given the privilege and the time to build deep, meaningful, and real relationship with them so that I can know them and be known by them.  This is what makes it possible for me to tend to them at the level that God clearly expects me to.

I learned an interesting lesson connected with what I’ve just written when I planted a church the first time.  I’ve passed it on to other young men feeling called to church plant and/or pastor over the years.  Here’s what I tell them:

“Your first and primary responsibility as a pastor is to feed, (teach), the flock, no question about that.  But it won’t be your great teaching ability that will keep the people in your church, (since very few people are actually good teachers when they first begin pastoring).  No, what will keep them with you is your genuine love for them that you express by spending time with them as individuals and as families, getting to know them and letting yourself be known in their homes and your home, not the church building.   And when your teaching gift really does develop and the church grows, don’t fall into the trap of being so busy using your teaching gift for the crowds that you no longer have time to tend to the flock in the same way you did at the beginning.  If the church grows to the point where you can no longer tend to them, then train and tend to the leaders who will tend to the flock.  But tend to the leaders the same way you used to tend to the flock–individually and with families in their homes and you own”.

When I pile the reality of being a techno-lamer on top of this conviction I have about God’s expectation for those who shepherd His people which is already piled on the way He’s hard-wired me as a person, I come face to face with the dilemma that I pray I’ve made understandable.

As stoked as I am about the interaction, fellowship, and encouragement I find on this blog with all of you, I must keep my face to computer time limited so that my face to face time with my flock is not diminished.  I know that my interaction with all of you through this blog is minimal, and I sincerely regret that.  But please know that it isn’t the result of a lack of desire, it’s primarily because of my hard-wiring and my conviction about being a shepherd of God’s people.

rutlandphoto

Lessons Learned On the Trail

 

Church planting is often referred to as trail blazing ministry. I think that would’ve been true maybe ten years ago but that is probably not the case today. The reason is that so many people are walking that path today that it has become a highway. Don’t get me wrong many people are blazing new ground in very hard areas to reach but with the technology and resources out there it has become incrementally easier than a decade ago.

Blazing a new trail is hard work. I ride mountain bikes on some of the best and most beautiful trails in all of California. Those paths are well defined and have been put there by people who did a lot of back-braking work. Just recently a guy in our church decided to develop a new trail which runs right behind my office. We decided to meet after church one Sunday to do some manual labor on the trail. We never made it.

First he decided to pre-ride the trail before I got there and ended up bending his derailer on tree stump that was sticking out. Just as he was getting hauled off the trail by a friend I started on the same trail. I got to a bridge, which I promptly rode off, and bent my front rim. My friend had to come pick me up.

The thing is that established trails are so much more fun because they are defined. They may be difficult due to hills and soft sand but all in all you have a good time while you are out there. New trails are no fun at all. They are poorly marked out, many elements that can do serious damage to your bike, and you often have to backtrack because you got off the path. Usually when you are frustrated by time you are done riding.

This got me thinking about blazing new trails in ministry. You see many of us want to be seen as out in front of the pack blazing trails (i.e. as church planters) but few of are willing to truly do the legwork necessary to develop new trails of ministry. The reasons for that are not always clear seen.

Here are three needed to cut new trails:

  1. You Have To See a New Path No One Else Does: The hardest part of starting a new trail is determining the direction you want to go and having an idea how you want to finish. My friend is a biology teacher. He chose to cut his path along the natural flow of the animals who live in the area. It wasn’t logical or efficient but the trail developed quicker than if he had used other indicators like ease of use.
    This is more than just vision. This is being able to see things that others can’t right now. It is being able to see the connection between what you are doing right now and where you want to go. This take fortitude.
  2. You Have To Go Over the Path Multiple Times: Once you complete the path you will often find that no one is ready to follow you yet. This is because they can’t see what you do. This necessitates you going over and over the path to make clear designations. People want to know where they are going. Our turning from trail blazer to trail guide helps calm their fears.
    So many people take the Lewis and Clark approach to ministry. They do something once, get some notoriety, and then they hit the speaking and book circuit. Being known for the trail that we cut should only be a fruit of the whole reason we cut the trail in the first place
  3. Your Path Has to Go Somewhere: Some of the best trails are never ridden because they go nowhere. Mountain Bikers want ride trails that connect to other trails so that they can go somewhere. Blazing a new trail for the sake of doing something new will end up in a dead end or an unused trail. I have met so many people in ministry who have developed great programs, systems, and events that never caught on because people couldn’t see the value in it. Don’t get caught up in doing a new thing without seriously considering the benefit of it. Being trendy only last for a while because something new comes along.

The best paths that are blazed are those that God has led us down out of necessity. They are total faith walks. Let God use you to blaze new trails.

prophpastor03

The Prophetic Pastor

The prophet has a stern word, a severe word, a timely and tumultuous word which he speaks into spiritual confusion, moral compromise, and carnal indifference.   The pastor faithfully, systematically, and regularly expounds the timeless truths of the Bible week in and week out to a congregation of wheat and tares.  Are the roles of prophet and pastor mutually exclusive?  The OT says, “No.”

In the OT, the teaching office was the domain of the priests.  They were not only to officiate at the altar, they were also to teach the law of Moses and make its ordinances, statutes, commandments, warnings, penalties, and blessings known.  Consider the following-

 God speaking to Aaron, of his sons –

LEV 10:11  “… teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them through Moses.”

Speaking of the priests –

DT  3:10  “They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob, and Your law to Israel. They shall put incense before You, and whole burnt offerings on Your altar.”

Speaking to the priests –

MAL 2:7  “For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.”

The priest was to be both teacher and prophet – instructor and warner.  The priest could even receive supernatural direction that was not part of the law of Moses.  The Urim and the Thummim gave the priest access to revelation not included in the Torah.  But when the priest was faithless, he corrupted both his teaching office and prophetic role.

When the priests became corrupt and were no longer faithful to their calling and twisted the law of Moses, God would raise up prophets to do the work that the priests were not doing.  This is why, for the most part, there is always tension and hostility between priest and prophet.  The priest saw the prophet as competition as the prophet took upon himself the teaching office of the priest (but not his sacrificial role).  The prophet had one basic message: ‘return to the law of Moses or else.’  The forthtelling message of the prophet was ‘return to Moses.’  The foretelling message of the prophet was ‘or else.’  They fulfilled the teaching and warning ministry of the priest.

For the most part, whenever you see a prophet in Israel, you can assume one thing – something is wrong.  You can see this in the ministry of Samuel, who was judge/priest/prophet.

So Samuel did what the LORD said, and came to Bethlehem. And the elders of the city came trembling to meet him and said, “Do you come in peace?”1 Sam. 16:4

The elders of Bethlehem saw Samuel coming and thought, “Uh-oh.”   When the priests of Israel became morally corrupt, spiritually collapsed, and doctrinally compromised, in come the prophets.  The prophets were God’s mechanics – they fixed things.

Here’s the thesis I would like to explore with you: the NT pastor combines within his office the roles of both OT priest and prophet.  Obviously, the call to the pastorate is a call to the teaching ministry of the church.  Here, I would also like to suggest that, in addition to the priestly teaching role, there is a prophetic dimension of the pastor’s office.  (Even though there is a separate prophetic office in the NT, this doesn’t obviate the need for the prophetic dimension of the pastorate.  My sense is that the NT prophet doesn’t minister w/ the same regularity as does the pastor.  The NT prophet, as his OT counterpart, ministered occasionally – not w/ the rhythmic regularity of the pastor.)

Though there are significant differences in how the prophet and pastor prepare for ministry, there is sibling DNA in how the two go about ministry.  Contrasts between and comparisons with the prophet and the pastor are worth exploring.

The pastor has time constraints that the prophet didn’t/doesn’t.  The pastor works under the time constraint of Sunday and midweek while it seems the prophet does not have the same regularity of demand.   The pastor speaks a scheduled word while the prophet speaks an occasional word as he waits upon the initiative of God.  Yes, the pastor is to wait on God also, but consider the following –  Jeremiah, in C42 of his prophecy, waited ten days for the Word of the Lord to come to Him.  Elijah stood in the council chamber of the Lord, whereas Elisha received the Word of the Lord when the minstrel played.  Of course, as pastors, we can stand in the council chamber of the Lord and be stirred in our spirits by anointed music, but we can hardly wait ten days for the Lord to speak!

The pastor studies his Bible; the prophet waits on God.  There was no text in front of the prophet except that of the Torah.  Yet his calling wasn’t to systematically expound Torah; he waits for an immediate, unmediated Word.  He has no commentaries in front of him and does not concern himself with word studies.  Yes, he is part of a historical tradition and community, but this supplies him little grist for the mill.  His task isn’t to take the words of others and gain richer insight, follow paths of implication, or give contemporary application.

Even the NT prophet, as I understand this office, does not ‘study’ as the pastor studies.  He listens for the Lord as he discerns the times and discerns the people.  He may minister with regularity, but not in the same place.  Again, my sense is that the ministry of the NT prophet is extra-local.  He can have one message that he then brings in 20 places.  The pastor has a local ministry, he is in one place, and therefore needs to bring forth many messages.

The Word we pastors study is a mediated Word – it has already come through someone else.  Yes, it is the Word of God as much as it was for the prophets, but it is not an immediate Word.  The prophet is given bread; the pastor is given grain to make bread.  The prophet’s bread is the pastor’s grain.  The prophet is given a fully cooked meal; the pastor is given all the ingredients to serve-up a healthy dinner.   The pastor expounds the timeless Word; the prophet proclaims a timely word.  The pastor develops a text and brings an exposition of the information found in the text whereas the prophet seeks the burden of the Lord.

OK – so what?

The Prophetic Pastor

The prophetic pastor will develop the Biblical text and seek the burden of the heart of God.  The prophetic pastor will labor to bring forth the timeless truth of the Bible and proclaim the timely word of the Lord.  The prophetic pastor will exegete the Bible and exegete the people and the times in which he lives.  The prophetic pastor will bring forth a stern word, a severe word, a timely and tumultuous word which he speaks into spiritual confusion, moral compromise, and carnal indifference.  The prophetic pastor faithfully, systematically, and regularly expounds the timeless truths of the Bible week in and week out to a congregation of wheat and tares.

Many pastors avoid bringing forth a stern word for fear of being condemning.  Many pastors avoid bringing forth a severe word for fear of hitting a note of harshness that could be interpreted as undermining grace. Discipline for sin, the destructive consequences of irresponsible decisions, the anger of God at the sin of individuals and the sin of the church, etc. are not common or popular themes in today’s pulpits.  Because the prophetic dimension of the pastorate is at low ebb, many pastors, in the systematic and regular teaching of the Bible, rise no higher than giving theological lectures.  The click and paste method of sermon preparation has hobbled the pulpit and turned it into a lectern.  The sermon has lost its prophetic edge and has become an information dump.  Cultural/linguistic/historic/theological background fills the sermon, leaving no ground for the voice of the living God.  Biblical information is a means to an end – the revelation of God.  The sermon, as the exposition of Biblical information, is meant to translate into the spiritual revelation of God in the heart of the hearer.  The prophetic pastor will seek the burden of the Lord as he labors in his study of the cultural/linguistic/historic/theological background of the text for that week.  I want the people not only to know what the Bible says, I want them to encounter the living God!

(I am not making the neo-orthodox claim that Biblical information becomes spiritual revelation in an existential moment.  I am not saying that the Bible is not revelation, but contains revelation.  I am not saying that Biblical information is not revelation in and of itself.  I am not talking about the Bible – I am talking about the pulpit and the man who stands in it.  I am talking about sermons and what they are meant to accomplish.  The Bible is always revelatory – some sermons aren’t.)

Let me hasten to add that I have driven home many Sundays stinging in my spirit because I had failed to deliver the severe word, the stern word, because I thought it wasn’t the loving pastoral thing to do.  I have also been guilty of using the pulpit as an information dump.  I am so grateful that the Holy Spirit continues to use my poor attempts at preaching to reveal Himself to the people.  I am amazed.

OK – that’s enough.  This article was painted in broad brush strokes.  If I painted outside the lines you are comfortable with, please let me know how you understand the roles, callings, ministries, and offices touched upon in this article.  What is the role of the NT prophet?  Do you know of any?  What does their ministry look like?  Has too much information made the sermon anemic?

HotWok-A-Rusted-Flash-in-the-Pan

Flash in the Pan, not for Me!

I am not a fan of the emphasis that seems to be encouraged, or rewarded in many church-planting circles today.  We love numbers…big numbers that is.  When they’re up–we rejoice.  When they’re down–we feel like incompetent failures.  We are encouraged to chase programs and events that draw a huge crowd.  I have seen many church-planters who get a huge flash in the pan with big numbers and they stick around between 1-3 years before moving on claiming they are “Paul’s” who plant and move on.  These types love numbers that show many people came, many professed, and many were dunked–regardless of how shallow any of these events were in reality.  Sorry if I seem critical, I know their are people who do this well, but I just don’t think this is a model we should strive for.

What should a church-planter, church-restarter, or leading pastor focus on in His journey?  I don’t know that I have the answers, but I have a few principles that have guided me along this journey.

1.  Plan on plowing this hard path for the long haul.  I have read a number of church-planting books that suggest the planter buy a cemetery plot in the town he is pastoring.  This shows himself and the community that he isn’t just passing through, but he is committed to sticking it out for the long haul.  While I haven’t bought a plot in Valley Center, I have taken this principle to heart by trying to make decisions that reflect a person who is sticking around.

2.  Preach the Word faithfully and a book at a time.  I think I apply this point to just about everything relating to pastoring because this is the critical element in all that we do.  I don’t do altar calls (not that I am against them), I don’t lead “the sinners prayer” after every sermon.  But I try to convey a biblical worldview through the preaching that ultimately changes the person’s worldview with one that corresponds to that of the Bible.  I often don’t know when, or how many people, have accepted Christ as Savior.  But what I do notice after four years of preaching like this, there is a large crowd of people who love Jesus, take His Word seriously, and about 30% of the body have been baptized at the church over the last four years.  I prefer people to process and wrestle through the text and then follow Jesus, rather then “follow Him” after an emotional response.

3.  Prefer slow growth with lasting results over flashy results that fade over night.  I think many planters feel rushed to push and force things to happen quickly because they are chasing the clock with support.  Money should never be a motivator, but money will always be tight for the life of the pastor in the early stages when he is trying to create something out of nothing, or something from something that is broken.  Therefore get your financial life in order.  Get out of debt, save, spend less than you make.  Do whatever you can to remove money from being a driving factor in your decision making process.

4.  Invest in people.  This is sort of a sub-point of the previous paragraph.  Get to know people, invest in their lives, live out Christ before them.  This takes time.  If your goal is to change a person’s world view from that of humanism to that of a biblical model it will take years, not in one message.  Don’t fall for false expectations that you are going to roll into town, preach a few messages, and then see radical life change.  Sure it can happen, but the reality is that it takes time to see change.  I think this is why Paul tells Timothy to serve “with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).

Hopefully this makes sense as these are just some ramblings I am feeling in my heart at this moment.

 

rock fortress

Random Thoughts

I love when people pray publicly, and actually pray to God.  Sometimes preachers finish up their sermons under the guise of prayer, instead of actually praying.  Sometimes people explain situations to humans, and call it prayer.  Sometimes we make excuses for ourselves and others, or politely but inappropriately consider the people around us too much. Sometimes we do everything BUT actually speak to God, almost as if no one was there.  The prayers that impact me the most seem to be spoken in such a way, that the pray-er isn’t even mindful that any other human is in the room.  Those kinds of prayers rock me in a good way.

A few of you guys have heard me say this before, but I wish we could reserve the word “awesome” to be used only of God, instead of using it as a common word for everything from lattes to the good eq of a snare drum.  Anybody with me?

At the Pastor’s conference at Murietta last June, one particular main speaker was very powerful.  A colleague of mine said of this pastor, “It was like he just came out of his prayer closet”.  There was a power and authority that flowed forth from his life in a magnificent way.  Paul tells Titus in 2:10 that we ought to “adorn the doctrine of God our savior in all things”.  The power that flowed forth adorned the doctrine of God, and I had a holy jealousy of it. It reflected a life of quiet discipline and obvious power.

I need to remember to tell people “thank you”.

I need to “follow the peace”.

There is a healthy and holy way to not care what other people think.  That is probably a good mindset to maintain, and I think it can only be found from being in deep and regular fellowship with Jesus.  I think “freedom from the burden of self awareness” is a great need for pastors.  I think I am probably doing my best work when I am totally unaware of myself.

I have found that in foreign missions, focusing on one area year after year can really be rewarding, both on a personal level, and for the kingdom of God.  Relationships, trust, love, cultural understanding, learning the nuances of a community….all these things take time and repetition.  As a pastor who travels a lot to a certain area, I have been very blessed to limit my travels to one region, as opposed to a more diverse approach (which isn’t wrong, just different).

Jesus is our perfect example in the balance between being people oriented and task oriented.  Sometimes it is hard to slow down and love people.

I am more impressed with a man’s heart than with his gifts.

Surprisingly, we are getting more 20 and 30 somethings in our church, and all that without an overly deliberate attempt to do so.  That is a pleasant surprise.

Some people in our churches are really intimidated by us pastors, and we feel the emotional and social strain of that.  Sometimes it is hard to identify that this is happening, much less believe.  I need to continue realizing that by virtue of my position in the Body of Christ, some people will treat me like a school principal, or like a dad, or like a policeman.  I don’t want to be seen in those ways, but I am and will be.  I need to be OK with the fact that their mindset of me may force me to work harder to have relationship with them, but that is OK.

I am sure that Jesus must be much more pleased with me and our church than I am.