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Can we tolerate intolerance?

At this moment, just days from Christmas, a whole lot of noise has been stirred up in American pop-culture, resulting from the “Duck Commander’s” words that are to be printed in the January issue of GQ Magazine. The Twitter-sphere, blogosphere and mainline newsosphere are all a buzz, which of course means I have something to say too 😉

Two blog articles have stuck out to me in the last 24 hours. One, a post from Brandon Ambrosino at Time.com and the other from Andrew Sullivan on his own site, dish.andrewsullivan.com. Interestingly, both men are openly gay. Thus, their views are particularly interesting.

Both writers essentially agree that Phil Robertson’s firing is unfounded. Sullivan rightly observes that A&E has fired the reality star for doing the very thing that has made the network a boatload of money, speaking his stereotypically southern, redneck mind. Ambrosino closes with a great question, “Why is our go-to political strategy for beating our opponents to silence them?” Amidst all the chatter I find myself continually landing upon the same reoccurring thought: can we tolerate intolerance?

The collective voices of progressive pop-culture tell us “fundamentalist Christians” that we must be more tolerant of the LGBT community and lifestyle. By tolerance I can only deduce that they mean accepting and in many cases celebrate too. At this moment—barring changes that will likely come in the future—the definition of tolerant (according to the New Oxford American Dictionary installed on my MacBook Air) is “showing willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.”

As far as I can tell, myself and most of the Christian pastors and church goers that I know, have been (according to the above definition) doing their best to be tolerant of the Homosexual lifestyle, whether they want to be or not. We’ve tried to show a willingness to allow the existence of opinions and behavior that we—and we believe the Scriptures—do not agree with. However, it does not seem that groups like GLAAD and others within the LGBT community are willing to offer the same tolerance to fundamentalist Christians like Phil Robertson.

My answer to the question is “no.” I cannot tolerate the LGBT and progressive pop-culture’s intolerance of our opinions that they do not agree with. I wish that they were a little more tolerant, and something tells me that Sullivan and Ambrosino would probably agree.

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Thoughts in Response to John Piper

Pastor John Piper’s “Ask Pastor John” podcast this week discussed the question posed by Arminian Professor Roger Olson “Where’s the Arminian John Piper?” Upon listening to John’s response I asked my friend, Pastor Tim Brown, for his reactions. I found them very thought provoking and worth consideration.

Here is Piper’s podcast…

Here is Tim’s response…

I think it is self-serving and borders on intellectual dishonesty to recognize man’s role as opposed to God’s role as being the core of Arminian theology.

  1. I don’t know of any theologians who actually teach this or would recognize it as such.
  2. Man can do nothing unless God has done something. What rule of theology makes the responder superior to the initiator? What metric makes the final move the crucial move? One could argue that the move which makes possible the final move is the crucial move.
  3. If you were to give me $1 million, for me to walk away praising myself for having the presence of mind to extend my hand and take it from you flies in the face of psychology and history.
    1. Psychology – no one does this, i.e., walks away and focuses on their cleverness rather than the generosity of the giver. Everyone would walk away and say to others, “Wow, did you see what that guy just did? That’s amazing! Who is he!?” The focus would be on the giver and not the receiver and anything he did to position himself to receive.
    2. History – we don’t see what Piper asserts even in our most recent history. I am sure that Piper would consider Pastor Chuck an Arminian, or at least Arminianism would be a more dominant note than the principles of Calvinism. We see in our own quasi-Arminian movement a God-honoring focus on Jesus Christ. Our non-Calvinistic soteriology doesn’t produce the praise of man, but the praise of Jesus Christ. Our soteriology can bear the weight of worship and wonder.
    3. Isn’t it interesting that the man-at-the-core theology of Pastor Chuck birthed the Jesus movement and Piper’s God-at-the-center theology birthed the neo-Calvinist movement. The longer I think about it, the more Piper’s little clip strikes me as being self-serving and not well thought out.

In addition, for someone to take up Olson’s challenge to become the darling and champion of Arminian theology would be to betray the very gospel they preach. Pastor Chuck would have no interest in taking up this challenge. He wanted to promote Jesus, not a system. I’m sure that Piper sees Billy Graham as an Arminian. Billy wants to preach Christ and Him crucified – he doesn’t want to promote a system. Greg Laurie would be seen as an Arminian by Piper (no doubt), but Greg wants to preach Jesus and not argue system. It seems like the ones who are accused of being man-focused are more Christ-focused than the ones who say they are the ones who are most God-focused and God-honoring.

Piper’s contentions in his podcast don’t ring true theologically, psychologically, or historically.

[Furthermore] it’s amazing to me in the light of Piper’s contentions, that the Arminian theology of Pastor Chuck got the nation talking about Jesus and the Calvinism of Piper gets people talking about Calvin and Calvinism. You shall know them by their fruits. (struck through per Tim’s comment/retraction below)

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Santa Claus and Chrisitans

How should Christians handle Santa Claus?  Answering this question could start a fight…which I have no intention of doing.  I’m certain that your personal background shapes how you answer this question.

Personally, I really enjoy Christmas.  There are a lot of things I like about Christmas that really have little to do with Christmas Day.  I love Christmas Carols.  I’m not too embarrassed to admit that I look forward to rocking out to Elvis’ Blue Christmas for most of the year.  I love seeing colorful Christmas lights everywhere—the more the merrier!  I love decorating the Christmas tree.  I love seeing the lights on the tree.  Who doesn’t love seeing gifts under the tree?  I love my family’s tradition of Christmas Eve dinner, the opening of one Christmas gift, going to our church’s Christmas Eve Service, and ending the night by watching Elf (yes, you read that right).  I love the laughter and joy this season brings.

I share the previous paragraph with you so you know that I really do like this holiday.  I’m not opposed to having fun through imagination.  I’m not bunkered down teaching my kids that “Santa is just Satan spelled differently.”  However, I am very careful with how we’ve handled the issue of Santa Clause with our children and with my teaching at the church.

I love the imagination and creativity that God has given us.  I’m not looking for a history lesson on the origin of Santa Claus—I’ve already checked out his Wikipedia entry.  I’m fine with telling stories and having fun with creativity.  However, I don’t understand when parents push the line from fantasy or imagination to reality and outright deceit to their children.  I know, I know, that sounds really harsh.  I need to lighten up, right?

Have fun with your imagination.  I’m all for imagination.  I’m not suggesting that Santa can’t be a part of the Christian’s holiday plans.  God gave us creativity and imagination.  Use it, have fun with it.  Children have a special connection to the make believe that I wish I were better at reconnecting with as an adult.  I love that my kids help me tap into my inner child—my wife may not be as thrilled with this as I am.  Just leave Santa here.

Protect your children’s trust.  I have never lied to my kids about Santa.  They have always known that he is make believe, just like the tooth fairy, and any other make believe people.  I will not intentionally deceive my children for a number of reasons, but I want them to know that they can trust me no matter what.  There is nothing greater than anyone’s trust, especially your children’s.  Why would we jeopardize this trust by pitching something as truth when we ourselves know it’s just in fun?

Why this matters to me?  I’m a Christian.  I have a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe through Jesus Christ my Lord.  I didn’t come to know Christ until I was an adult and when I did, I came to understand the overwhelming historical evidence concerning His prophetic coming, His life, death, and resurrection.   In hindsight, I see that during my youth, I’d begun to lump Jesus with Santa Claus, the Boogey Man, and Tooth Fairy.  Jesus has nothing to do with fairy tales and I want no part in deceiving my children or confusing them about who Jesus is.  This is ultimately why I take the matter of Santa so seriously in my home.  We can get our pictures taken with Santa, threaten coal for gifts if they’re naughty, but let your kids know that it is all make believe.

For the skeptics out there, I encourage you to really investigate the gospel.  My prayer is that this would be the greatest Christmas of your life.  Jesus came and died for you so that you might find life in Him.  This grace of God is indescribable and is truly the greatest gift one can receive.  Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Give Thanks!

The famous scholar, Matthew Henry, wrote these words in his journal after being robbed of his wallet, “Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”  Have you ever wondered how some people can be so thankful regardless of their situation?  I know I have!

To be quite honest, I’ve always been a “the glass is half empty” kind of guy.  I don’t like this bent of mine, but because of this hard wiring I notice those thankful types of people.  I’ll never forget one man I met while going through Navy SEAL training.  We were a few days into the miserable rigors of Hellweek (a grueling test over 5 ½ days where only 4 cumulative hours of sleep are given) and he always had a smile on his face and was thankful every minute during this miserable week.  I never asked him why he was so thankful, but his joyful attitude was noticed by all and very contagious.

The older I grow, the more I appreciate Thanksgiving.  As a Christian, I believe this holiday celebrates a virtue followers of Christ are to embody—thankfulness! In First Thessalonians 5:16-18, the Apostle Paul instructs Christians to, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  How do these verses become reality in a person’s life?  I think perspective is everything as it relates to thankfulness.

God desires you to be joyful and to give thanks!  In thinking about this it seems that thankfulness is the antidote to discouragement and ultimately produces joy in a person’s life.  There’s an old hymn titled Count Your Blessings.  The refrain instructs the hearer to, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your blessings, see what God hath done!”  There is great power in simply naming things one is thankful for because it forces the individual to back up and take the larger picture into perspective.

Whenever a wave of discouragement comes in my family, we play the “Thankful Game” with each other.  What is this game?  I’m glad you asked.  We simply work our way through the alphabet giving thanks for something that starts with each letter. For example, I would say, “A – I am thankful for my wife Anna.  B – I am thankful for the Bible.  C – I am thankful for chocolate covered doughnuts at Petersons, etc, etc.”  I know it sounds silly, but it never ceases to amaze me how much better we feel after intentionally giving thanks for the many ways in which God has blessed us.

God has blessed us each tremendously whether we acknowledge it or not.  My prayer is that we each would cultivate a spirit of thankfulness in our hearts.  I’m convinced that as we express our thankfulness our joy will increase.  Ultimately God is pleased with our spirit of thankfulness and others are blessed.  Albert Barnes, a theologian from the 1800’s, once said, “We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.”  Regardless of your present situation, what are your thankful for today?

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The Christian and Halloween

This post certainly isn’t a slam on Christians who do the Halloween thing—I’m all for you dressing up, eating candy and having fun!  Personally, I’m just not really into holidays.  They sort of come and go around here—with exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I hold more of the “to each their own” when it comes to celebrating holidays.

Halloween was nothing more than dressing up for some candy when I was growing up.  Not much has changed since then—other than the fact that I am a Christian now.  I’ve heard a lot of people claim that the celebration of Halloween has become far darker than it was 10+ years ago.  I’m not sure if that is true, or if I’m simply running with Christians these days that are more sensitive than my old SEAL buddies.  Maybe a little of both?

I’m preaching on Romans 14:1-12 this Sunday.  This passage deals with how Christians should relate with one another concerning issues of opinion and conviction that the Bible doesn’t explicating touch on.  I find that Halloween is one of these issues of opinion and conviction.  I can’t tell you the origin of Halloween, nor I am interested in you telling me either.  It is what you make of it.

That being said, I’ll never forget a Halloween when I was in Bible College.  I had class that day and the church where the seminary is located was having a Harvest Festival—you know the Christian alternative to Halloween.  I wasn’t upset that I was missing the holiday for class, but I was pretty annoyed that all the parking was taken up walking to class.  When I arrived in the classroom, I was met with an uncomfortable situation.  There was a middle-aged lady in the room weeping.  Man, I wanted to leave the room as quick as I could, but she saw me—I was stuck.

I asked what was wrong to discover she was heartbroken that the church was doing a Harvest Festival for Halloween.  Inside I thought she was making a big deal over nothing and should just grow up.  Of course I didn’t say that, but I was thinking it.  As the conversation unfolded, it turns out that this lady was raised a Pagan (literally) and Halloween was a day where they did a bunch of evil stuff.  I was shocked to hear her tell her story.  I learned the holiday was far more than pillaging candy to her as it surfaced very dark memories and the present reality for many in her family.  This conversation changed my feelings on Halloween dramatically.

Fast-forward about 11 years to today.  I still don’t make a big deal about this day.  I’m not vocal about it…just sort of slips by without commentary on my part.  I have an almost 8-year-old daughter who just hates this holiday.  Where does it come from?  I don’t know other than I believe she has a deeply sensitive conscience to spiritual things.  Yesterday she came home from an event where the teacher said the kids could wear their costumes to class next week—which falls on Halloween.

I was sitting in my office when she approached me in anguish.  She explained that she had a real problem and wasn’t sure how to handle it.  The issue was that she didn’t want to get dressed up, she didn’t want to lie about why she won’t dress up, and she doesn’t want to condemn her friends.  What should she do?  I must pause to say that as a dad I am so proud of this little girl and her genuine walk with God.  Seriously, these moments are super special for me to help her navigate life in this world.  Nothing greater than being pastor-dad!

After she explained the problem, I shared with her the passage I was studying—Romans 14:1-12.  I found it very relevant to the problem at hand as it gives some insight to how we as Christians should handle things like Halloween.  Here are some points that I told her and I believe these apply to all Christians, regardless of your stance on Halloween.

Pray.  First and foremost, I explained that she should pray and ask God for wisdom on how to handle this.

Heed your conscience.  One’s conscience is a super special gift that God has given us.  It’s not always right, but we shouldn’t make a habit of violating it because we can damage it.  We laid out a bunch of options from going dressed up, not dressed up, not going at all, or making other plans.  My main concern is that I want my daughter to recognize her conscience and to develop a plan on how to listen to it.

You answer ultimately to God.  We so desperately want to fit in and be accepted by friends, but ultimately we must recognize that we cannot make others happy.  So the best option is live your life in a way that you think pleases God the most.  As this relates to Halloween, I can see a case for both sides.  Whatever you do, it should be for God’s glory.

Be sensitive to others.  You want to get dressed up?  No problem, just be sensitive to others.  This holiday may not be to them what it is to you.  You want nothing to do with this holiday?  Fine, don’t get dressed up, but be careful not to condemn others as it probably isn’t to them what it is to you.

There is some debate whether or not Augustine actually said these words, but I think they are an appropriate way to end this post, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

Why I’m optimistic for the future of Calvary Chapel

Calvary Chapel, a ministry and movement I’ve had the privilege of both growing up in and serving with for more than 20 years, is now facing the most significant transitional changes that it has in all the time I’ve been associated with it. With the passing of Pastor Chuck Smith a week ago, the changes will [now] be far more apparent, but they have actually been going on for the better part of the last two years.

Just over a year ago, the internal leadership structure of the Calvary Chapel changed with the creation of the Calvary Chapel Association, and as of yesterday, Pastor Brian Brodersen was chosen to be Pastor Chuck’s successor as the Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. While it remains to be seen what this change at Costa Mesa will mean for the larger Association, I find myself very optimistic about the future of Calvary Chapel. Why?

First, Pastor Brian is (in my humble opinion) the right man, at the right time. He has faithfully served as an associate/assistant to Pastor Chuck for the last thirteen years. In addition to his faithfulness to Pastor Chuck and CCCM, Brian has a genuine passion for foreign missions and a clear commitment to the younger generation of leaders coming up in CC. In my experience—primarily at conferences domestically and abroad, and on occasion at Costa Mesa—Brian has proven to be one of the most approachable senior leaders I’ve encountered in Calvary. He takes the time to be available to those seeking counsel and prayer, and has thus proven himself a pastor, not only to the members of CCCM, but [also] to the missionaries and pastors of the greater Calvary Movement.

The second reason that I am optimistic grows out of an observation I had from outside of Calvary this week.

This week Exponential held its first West Coast Conference in Orange County. I had the privilege of meeting with some of the Exponential and Leadership Network leaders to discuss church planting and the Calvary Church Planting Network prior to the conference; and then I’ve tuned in (online) to several of the sessions throughout the week.

The theme for Exponential West has been DiscipleShift, and while the sessions from pastors such as Miles McPherson, Larry Osborne, Rick Warren, Robert Coleman, and many others have, been substantive, I have found it interesting that much of what is being presented as the new discipleship paradigm in American Christianity, has been standard Calvary Chapel practice for 40+ years. No, it has never been branded, packaged and promoted by Calvary, but for more than 40 years, it has been our practice. Thus, Calvary Chapel is, in a number of ways, still ahead of the curve and continuing to reshape American Protestantism. And, if Calvary can maintain the consistency of simply teaching the Word of God simply, loving God, loving others and making disciples, it will do so for many years to come.

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Remembering Pastor Chuck Smith

Early this morning, Pastor Chuck Smith went home to be with Jesus, after a nearly two year battle with cancer. In thinking about Pastor Chuck, a few thoughts come to mind.

In about May or June of this year I tasked one of our staff members at CCEsco with clearing out an onsite storage area that had become nothing more than an archive of Bible teaching cassette tapes. With more than 32 to years as a church, you can probably imagine that there were quite a few archived tapes. A couple days into the process I walked into my office to find a cassette sitting on my desk. It was a teaching from Pastor Chuck Smith at a Calvary Chapel youth camp at Green Valley lake, from July, 1996. The guys who were clearing out the storage area had no idea what that camp and that teaching series by Pastor Chuck meant to me; it was no less than God’s sovereignty that the tape ended up on my desk.

I remember that youth camp very well. It was the first time I’d attended a Calvary Chapel youth camp. When I, as a sophomore in High School, journeyed up to Green Valley Lake that July I honestly had no idea that Calvary Chapel was any larger than the Calvary Chapel I attended (Calvary Chapel of Escondido), nor did I know the name Chuck Smith. The camp that year was themed “In Christ” and was based completely in the book of Ephesians.

As the sessions opened on Monday, July 22, 1996, Pastor Chuck Smith came to the pulpit and 400 high schoolers sat almost completely silent—aside from occasional laughter at his jokes—through three, 1-hour long studies in the book of Ephesians. One of those teachings (unfortunately not the one on the tape the guys found) I still remember to this day, for it was a defining moment in my life. No, I didn’t give my life to the Lord that day, I had done that many years before, but I am completely certain that I first sensed a call to ministry on that day.

Pastor Chuck, speaking from Ephesians 1, exhorted the room full of 15 — 18 year-olds to not waste their lives. He challenged us to not “meander through life,” but to follow and serve the Lord. I remember wrestling with the thought of what it was that he was teaching. I distinctly remember thinking, “If I do what this man is encouraging me to do, then God is going to call me to do something crazy or send me somewhere I do not want to go.”

Quite honestly, I resettled with that thought and that teaching for 2 more years through High School. But looking back, 17 years later, I’m absolutely convinced that that 1 hour teaching by Pastor Chuck, in Ephesians chapter 1, on Monday, July 22, 1996, completely changed the course of my life, and for that I will always be extremely grateful to Pastor Chuck Smith.

One more thing…

In my lifetime I think I’ve had no more than 5 or 6 personal interactions with Pastor Chuck. I’d like to share about two of them.

On that same Monday night in July of 1996, as Pastor Chuck walked to his car, following the eking Bible study, I followed him out the door and asked, “Pastor Chuck, will you sign my Bible?” Yes, it makes me laugh a little now. Yes, it was a little odd. In my defense (although I don’t need one) I wasn’t the only one who asked. Chuck, with the smile I don’t think he ever was without, kindly took my Bible and pen, sighed his name and a verse reference. Of course I immediately looked up the verse, which is likely the answer for Chuck’s enduring smile.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.

— 3 John 1:4

The second interaction happened two and a half years later, as I was attending Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, California. Following Pastor Chuck’s weekly Friday chapel session, I was talking with a few of my friends in one of the patio areas at the Bible College, when Pastor Chuck pulled up in a golf cart, jumped out, grabbed a broom and dust-pan from passenger seat and greeting us as he passed by us, he began sweeping up some leaves and dirt 5 feet from us. Several of us asked Pastor Chuck if we could help, he of course said “No, no,” and continued on his way.

While it is certain that Pastor Chuck was a huge heavy-weight in 20th and early 21st century, American Christianity, he never carried himself as such. Over the next several weeks I’m sure a lot of stories, like this one, will be told about Pastor Chuck, as he was exceedingly humble and walked in such a way as though nothing was below him. Truly, if anyone could say it, Pastor Chuck could declare, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”

 

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Misericordia Por Favor

Those illegal aliens are driving me…

How did you answer that question?  I have a rant that’s been brewing in me for a while.  I really don’t know where I’m going with this blog, but I have some things that I feel need to be said from a biblical perspective.  I also think this post may get me into some hot water, but that’s okay.  I am a patriot of this country, but my allegiance is to Christ first and foremost.

I feel that racism is growing in my part of the United States towards Hispanics.  From my perspective it seems that the majority of Hispanics are viewed as being illegal regardless of their actual status in the United States.  I’m not sure that the things I hear and the attitudes felt towards Hispanics is glorifying to Christ.

I understand that this is a complex situation.  Don’t let your mind run wild.  I am not speaking of those trying to enter our country to do us harm.  Citizen or not, we must defend and protect the innocent from evildoers.  Period.  The irony is the terrorists who have done us harm in recent years have all been here legally, but I digress.

Yes, I agree that laws should be obeyed and honored.  We see this throughout the Bible.  We have a difficult political and financial situation on our hands.  I have no intention on trying to resolve these problems in this blog.  I resist bringing up the history of how we obtained California or how we treated the Native Americans securing our land.  I don’t have the answers, but I do believe there are two issues here: 1) How should this situation be handled politically with laws?  2) How we as individuals should treat other human beings.  This, in large part, is the part that has been bugging me.

How should a Christian respond to this difficult situation?  I like what our Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  I believe this statement applies to all humans regardless of their citizenship.  Quite frankly, the illegal immigrants that I have met are extremely hard working and are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.  I don’t blame them and I would do the same thing if I were in their shoes.  It pains me to hear Christians speaking poorly towards these people just trying to survive.

One passage that has planted itself in my heart is Leviticus 19:33-34, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD you God.”  Interesting passage as it relates to this subject.

One complaint I hear often relates to immigrants and the medical system.  First, I would encourage you to go to a community health clinic.  View the conditions and care they are receiving.  Hardly world class treatment and certainly not better than any American citizen would receive.  I like traveling.  I like experiencing other cultures.  I’ve never been really hurt in another country, but I certainly hope that I would receive the care I needed because I am a human and not based on my citizenship.  I hope that we as a people would care for other people in need to the best of our ability, yet sadly, in our nation people seem to care more about animals than people.

My prayer is that we who follow Christ would be a merciful people.  For it was Jesus who said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7) and “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).  I don’t know about you, but I’ve received a ton of mercy from God.  May we come to see people as God sees them (2 Cor. 5:16-21).

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Serving in Light of the Trinity

Why should Christians serve in the church? Some will say it is because we are supposed to. Others will say that is how we show gratitude. Without denying these answers, I think there is a fuller answer and this is grounded in the very nature of the God we serve. We serve because of the Trinity.

Have you experienced the frustration of volunteerism in the church? They go on holiday and do not honour their commitment, or they are not punctual whether because they didn’t set/hear their alarm or simply didn’t think it was more important than what they were doing at the present moment. I’m not writing as a grumpy ungrateful pastor, though if I’m honest, my heart’s default is exactly that. How can service in the light of the Trinity inform our service?

The triune God works.

In Genesis 2:2 we read that God finished his work of creation. Creation was a triune work. In the beginning God created. As the old hymn says, “This is my Father’s world.” God the Father created (Gen 1:1; Rev 4:11). God the Son created, for without him nothing was made that was made (John 1:1-3; Col 1:15-17). God the Spirit created (Gen 1:3; Psa 104:30). Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17 ESV).

The God in whose image we are created is at work. He is faithful in his work. In the person of the Son, we see that the work was even excruciating.[1] Jesus’ work of service was not based upon whether or not it was easy or fun.  Jesus’ excruciating work was to the Father’s glory.

The triune God works with joy.

God is the joy giver. He is the joy giver because he is the possessor of all joy. Fred Saunders calls God in Himself being “within the happy land of the Trinity”. There is an ecstatic[2] working of God. We see this “fleshed out” in the Son during the horrendous beauty of the crucifixion. The author of Hebrews tells us that joy motivated the crucifixion (Heb 12:2). True, Jesus despised the shame of the cross, but that didn’t diminish the joy in the work of redemption.

The God we serve works joyfully and ecstatically. If we are to reflect God as those made in his image, our attitude in service should reflect the One who served us. This is also where I preach to myself, for when others fail in their service, I can easily become frustrated, and although my service may be diligent, at that point it is not joyful, and thus not Trinitarian.

The triune God works diversely and inter-dependently.

The Trinity is one God in three distinct persons. They are not symmetrical. In other words, the Father is not the Son. The way the Father and Son relate to each other in their roles is distinct. The Son never becomes the Father. It was Jesus, the Son who incarnated and was crucified, not the Father or the Spirit, although God (the Father) was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor 5:19). Their work was distinct, but the work was not independent.

In our service of the triune God, we need to understand that we do not serve alone. We serve with the people of God. We serve the same high goal. However we serve that goal diversely. As a body’s purpose is to obey the head, the heart and the hands work out that obedience in a different fashion. They are gifted to do different things. We work unto the one God with various gifts, services, and activities (see 1 Cor 12:4-7, notice the triune emphasis). However, we do our part in harmony. In other words, God has written a symphony, and every instrument plays it’s part according to the Conductor’s movements and the Composer’s manuscript. The second violin gets to play it’s part for the glory of the music, just as the first violin does. By the way symphony means a togetherness of sound.[3] In joyful, diligent, diversity there is beauty in our service when conducted unto the common goal.

The triune God works selflessly

Within the Trinity there is no fighting or debating about who does what. There is a perfect harmony of self-giving. This can be seen in the incarnation of the Son. Philippians 2:1-11, clearly shows the humility of the Son and the Father’s exaltation of the Son.

Our service should not be for self-promotion. Whether that promotion is to advance to another ‘level’ of service, or the promotion is to promote the way others view us. If the Triune God, who is worthy of all glory and honour exhibits outpouring service. How much more should we the creature serve for his honour and not our own? This means we can be content with where we serve instead of longing for another’s position or opportunity. We can serve God fully with the opportunities that the Triune God has placed before us.

There is a lot we can learn from the Three in One, regarding how we serve God through the Church. It may go a long way to encourage our people in light of the Trinity. Oh yeah, and one more thing. If we are actually becoming like God instead of simply working for God, then we are discovering something about the partnership of the Spirit (2 Cor 13:14), and that is, in part, experiencing the glorious Gospel.


[1] Latin excruciatus, past participle of excruciare, from ex- + cruciare to crucify, from cruc, crux cross, or literally “out of the cross”

[2] ek-stasis meaning to go out of yourself. Each Person in the Trinity is giving unto the others.

[3] From the Greek symphonia = syn- “together” + phone “voice, sound”

 

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Keys to Successful Pastoral Ministry

“This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, {19} having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck…” (1 Timothy 1:18-19)

In my own ministry as a pastor, I have often turned to this passage to strongly remind myself of the call of God upon my life. I do not think I’m alone in this … we pastors have great need to build upon the foundation that Jesus Christ has laid down for us, and in us.

The passage includes four critical criteria for effective and God-honoring ministry.

1.      We must accept the charge or command of God concerning the focus of our ministry. 

In the context of 1 Timothy, the command of God had to do with the proper interpretation and application of the law of God (“the law is good if one uses it lawfully”), as well as the instructions concerning the nuts and bolts of pastoral ministry found in the letter.

1 Timothy 3:15 …but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

2.      We must conduct our ministries in view of specific prophecies that came to us as part of our calling. 

Every pastor I have ever asked about their call into pastoral ministry has a story to tell. There were Bible verses, there were words of knowledge, there were direct words from God in times of private prayer, there were prophetic words that were often unsolicited.

What Paul is telling Timothy here is that he must call to mind these words from God, and use them for courage, for authority, and for specificity in serving our Chief Shepherd.

3.      We must exercise faith. 

No one can fulfill the ministry of pastor-teacher without faith. Sometimes the faith is the actual gift of faith … the supernatural ability to believe God for supernatural things in a specific situation. Sometimes the faith is visionary faith. The pastor knows the Lord is leading, and trusts God to guide and provide for what He is doing. At all times the pastor is to believe what he believes … about the Bible, about God and about sound doctrine.

4.      We must work hard to maintain a good conscience. 

No doubt this is a difficult task, especially because the enemies of all true believers are also the enemies of the pastor. We deal with the world, the flesh, and the devil. The devil uses these realms—the world and flesh—in his attempts to destroy us. Only through Christ will we emerge victorious.

Thankfully, the pastor has access to all the means of grace … the word of God, the Spirit of God, Christian fellowship, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, confession of sin, sanctifying grace enabling him to repent when necessary. He must be diligent to apply these means of grace in order to live a life pleasing to God and fruitful in His work.

The prize of a good conscience makes the effort worth it. Continued fellowship with and closeness to God are of inestimable value.

The success of our ministries cannot be measured by numbers, budgets, or programs. Success can only be measured by the degree of faithfulness to our calling. God is faithful, who will also bring it to pass if we allow Him.