BIBLICAL INSTRUCTION: Monologue or Dialogue?

Natural Extremists

We are prone to extremes.  One issue we tend to go to one extreme or the other on in the church is that of biblical learning.  On the one hand, there are those who are committed to preaching the Bible in the form of monologue.  When they think of Christians learning the Bible, they envision a lone preacher standing before a crowd, delivering a studied and crafted sermon in the power of the Holy Spirit, spitting presuppositions and propositional truth.

On the other hand, there are those who are committed to learning the Bible through sharing and dialogue.  When they think of Christians learning the Bible they picture a group of friends sitting down together to share how the Bible impacts them personally.  They see themselves sitting with friends over lattes in a coffee shop, or over dinner in a home, informally discussing what a portion of scripture means to each person in the group.   They value the contributions and interpretations of each person who is present.

I’ve seen some people who are so committed to teaching and preaching the Bible in monologue, that they are skeptical of any kind of sharing context where multiple people contribute opinions and perspectives on the meaning or relevance of the Bible.  Still I’ve seen other people who are so committed to the truth that “God can and wants to speak through all believers” come to a place where there is no room in their thinking for monologue preaching, or designated pastors who serve as primary Bible communicators for a specific community of believers.


My contention is that both extremes are wrong, and that this is one of many areas Christians need to have a Both/And way of thinking.  I believe the reasons the monologue crowd values their preferred method are generally biblical, and that the reasons the dialogue crowd values their preferred method are generally biblical as well.  I believe that helpful leaders will help those entrusted to them by God to see the value and place of both monologue and dialogue in growing the church in the knowledge of God through His Word.

A Small Case for Monologue

1 Corinthians 12:29- “Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?”  These are rhetorical questions in context.  The apostle Paul is arguing for the unity of the body through the diversity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Because we all have different gifts, we all need each other.  God has designed the body to be dependent upon Him by being codependent upon what He’s doing in each other.  Not all have a Spirit-given gifting to teach God’s truth in the same way, or at the same level.

Ephesians 4:11-12: “And He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  Each of the gifts described here are Bible communicating gifts at their core.  Apostles preach the gospel and plant churches.  Evangelists major in preaching the gospel and equipping Christians to do effectively do the same.  Prophets have a teaching ministry that is trans-movement/denomination, and a ministry which applies biblical truth to timely issues under the spontaneous leading and enablement of the Holy Spirit.  Pastors and teachers give biblical counsel and didactic instruction of the Word to God’s people.  But four times we are told that only “some” are given by God to perform these functions in the ways these men do.  Only “some” are to build the body in these particular ways.

1 Timothy 3:2 tells us that an overseer must be “able to teach.”  This is not a requirement for deacons.  This implies a unique teaching ministry for those called to serve as the governing body of the church.  We can add to this verse 1 Timothy 5:17-18: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.  For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘the laborer is worthy of his wages.’”  The Bible is to be our method for determining how to think about these issues.  That’s why Paul built his case from “Scripture.”  And what Scripture demands, according to Paul, is that some of the governing leadership work hard at teaching the Bible more than any other Christian or leader in the church.  Their job is so important that they are to be paid to fulfill that role as they do it well.

We could go on, but these texts amply demonstrate that God intends there to be monologue-style Bible preaching and teaching in the church.  He has not gifted all to teach the same way.  He does not gift all to deduce the meaning of Scripture the same way.  Specifically, men who are called to be the leader of the leaders in the church are Spirit-gifted to preach the Word, and be the doctrine-setting authority in the local church.

A Small Case for Dialogue

But I’m not just for monologue in the church, but for dialogue as well, and so is the Bible.

Colossians 3:16- “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”  This exhortation was given to all the members of the Colossian church.  They were all to play a part in “teaching and admonishing one another.”

Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”  If there are a couple verses that support the idea of believers encouraging each other in small group community over lattes, these are them.  Considerately stirring each other up to love God and people, and serve God people as we “gather,” is the job of “us” as believers, not just “me” as a pastor.


Preaching the word in monologue is biblical and necessary.  If a Spirit-gifted man isn’t at the helm, preaching the Bible faithfully in collaboration with other Spirit-given leaders in the local church community, heresy abounds, and the church becomes a pool of ignorance.  Men who are specifically called to fill such a “leader of the leaders” function are not allowed to function in their gift.  Frankly, some need to repent of their radical commitment to the autonomy of the individual in the church.  Some would reduce the church to a leaderless weak state in the name of all believers being “equal” and “usable by God.”  We are all equal.  God does use us all.  But the question is how does God use us?  For some, they are called to be primary teachers and preachers in the church in ways others are not.  Let them do their job for the health of the church and the glory of God.

Additionally, God really can and does speak through every believer.  God wants to display how He has changed His kids through sharing in dialogue in small group type contexts and house churches.   The Holy Spirit wants to manifest Himself, and His edifying work, through every Christian.  This means that while pastors need to uncompromisingly engage in the monologue preaching of God’s Word with authority, they also need to help the local church develop contexts of dialogue and sharing.  We need to get over our need to control everything that is thought and said, and remember that Jesus is the real senior pastor of His people.  To be sure, you are His instrument in a unique way when it comes to teaching His truth.  But the goal of your ministry is to enable the body to do “the work of the ministry” which includes “teaching and admonishing one another” without you standing over peoples shoulder all the time.  As pastor James Macdonald said recently, “The biblical picture isn’t that the pastor ministers to the body, but that the body ministers to the body.”

So, pastors, lets preach the Word like crazy, and take no guff for doing our God-given job.  But let’s also make sure we don’t quench what the Holy Spirit wants to do by not developing and encouraging contexts of sharing, where each member of the body of Christ can have a voice and be used.  I don’t do this perfectly, but I’m working on it.  Join me.

Intentionally Limiting…

I love living in the day and age in which we live. We have immediate access to information and I love information! Let’s be honest, I am an information junkie. Growing up in a heavily technological age and then with the internet coming onto the scene, I feel that I have lived my entire life on information overload.

God has been doing much in my heart and life lately. Things like quietness, solitude and simplicity have been at the fore of my heart and mind. I find God is continually simplifying and refining my life. But as God has been stirring my heart for simplicity, I have begun to realize something about all of this information. When you have access to everything, you end up being an inch deep and mile wide. Let me explain it to you. Back in times before there was unlimited access to information, people got to go down deep with just a few things. Instead of scavenging everywhere in unlimited fields, people knew one field very well. Today it is not so. For most people (including myself), we have such access to information that we rarely ever connect to the ethos of few things. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not making a moral judgment about this. Instead I am trying to articulate that the sword cuts both ways, in some ways amazing and in other ways limiting.

Let me give you some personal examples. When I first got into listening to jazz, I owned 3 jazz albums (Miles Davis – Kind of Blue, John Coltrane – A Love Supreme & Bill Evans – Sunday at the Village Vanguard). I listened to those albums over and over and over again for the better part of a year. Even to this day, I can sing many of the solos on every one of these albums. I soaked myself in them and they became part of who I am. But then the world of unlimited music kicked in. Before I knew it, I owned thousands of albums. I grazed in each field but never truly got to know any of those fields nor internalized the music.

Fast forward to my conversion. I had a Bible and I devoured it. Someone gave me a copy of JI Packer’s Knowing God and Andrew Murray’s Humility (I think they were trying to tell me something ;-). I devoured those books. Read them over and over and over again. But in the same way, ultimately the world of Christian books opened to me. Now thousands of titles later (in print, e-book, and on various computer programs), I find myself an inch deep and a mile wide with everything. I imagine that many of you are like me. You get a new book (or album), you read a bit of it and then you never finish it. You get going, you get distracted reading something else and then you put it down.

So I decided to take action and intentionally limit my reading. I decided that I was going to focus on a few authors for the entire year. I decided that I was going to spend an entire year with Eugene Peterson, Abraham Heschel, Henri Nouwen and John Stott. I have to be honest, it has been a total blast! I feel like I am soaking in these men’s writings in a much more special way than just grazing. By making an intentional decision to soak rather than graze, I find myself being shaped in new and different ways.

So my question would be this, “If you were to chose four authors to focus on this year, who would they be and why?” I’m not saying your ‘Desert Island Authors’. But those who would be nourishing your soul specifically right now and why. I am also assuming that you would be reading the Word of God.



To Preach or Be Personable

As I survey the landscape of much of Christian ministry, it seems clear that the preferred evangelistic method of the day is to be relational, and missional.  For many, the days of preaching the gospel openly to a crowd (at church or anywhere) and calling for people to believe then and there isn’t effective or necessary.  Instead, people say what we need is to focus singularly on making long-term friendships with people who don’t know Jesus, and evangelize them through acts of service and conversation in the context of our friendship.

Let me be clear up front about the fact that I’m all for missional living!  I’m all for relational evangelism.  I’m all for organic witnessing.  But I think that our current obsession with the missional/relational approach to evangelism is only half of the portrait of biblical evangelism.  I believe that as we engage in the one-to-one relational evangelistic mission, we must not ignore or despise the place of preaching to crowds, and calling for decisions.  We need a both/and approach.

I come from a theological and philosophical background which promoted skepticism about calling people to respond to the gospel on the spot in a public way.  This is partly due to the abuses sometimes seen in the ministries of so-called evangelists.  But nut-jobs aside, I can remember hearing godly men give legitimate invitations to believe the gospel, and criticizing them.  I thought that it seemed like emotionalism, and lacking in emphasis on discipleship.

 Encountering Invitations in Acts

Today I give public invitations for people to believe the gospel and be saved every week at the church I serve.  I’m in a very different spot than I used to be on the issue of invitations.  What ultimately brought me to where I am today on this was surveying the points of appeal that are recorded in the Book of Acts.  As I set out to try and get a biblical perspective on invitations I had two questions: 1. Are on-the-spot invitations to believe biblical at all? 2. What is the primary thing offered to unbelievers for believing in Jesus in the appeals recorded in the Bible?

What I discovered in my survey of Acts were numerous points of appeal where the apostles called their hearers to respond to the gospel in faith right then and there.  Secondly, I discovered that the main benefit of believing in Jesus that the apostles offered to people publically was the forgiveness of sins.  It wasn’t a better life now or even a personal relationship with God (though of course the latter of these is not wrong).  The primary thing they promised people for believing in the gospel was forgiveness.  This makes sense considering Jesus’ declaration that the Holy Spirit is right now on a mission convicting the entire world of sin, and failure to believe in Christ. (See John 16:7-11)

A good example of this is seen in Acts 2:38 and 40: “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you shall receive the promise of the Holy Spirit…And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying ‘Be saved from this perverse generation.’”

Peter believed in calling people to make an immediate, public profession of faith in Jesus.  He believed in having them demonstrate that profession of faith with action (baptism).  He offered forgiveness to all who heeded him.  He didn’t do so casually or briefly, but with many words exhorted them to be saved!  This same kind of process permeates the testimony of the book of Acts.  On your own time consider the following passages: Acts 2:38-40; 3:19 and 26; 10:42-43; 11:14 and 21; 13:38-39;14:21; 16:3-34; 17:30-34; 18:4-8; 19:4-5; 26:17-18 and 28-29; 28:23-24.

 Objections to Decisions

For various reasons people object to any kind of public appeal to immediately believe in the gospel.  For some their reason is theological.  I’ve heard some from strict Calvinistic backgrounds object to such an appeal on the basis that it is God who makes the decision.  If you believe a person has to be born-again before they believe, there’s no cause for passionate appeals to respond to Jesus right now!  God will take care of their response in His time, so just relax.  They believe it to be miss-leading to tell people to believe.  In response I’d point out that Peter disagrees, if you consider his appeal in Acts 2 alone.  Whatever theology drove him there, he was perfectly content to make passionate, persuasive pleas for people to believe in Jesus right now for salvation, and get baptized.

Others object to appeals for decisions on the basis of emotionalism.  To be sure, some evangelists are simply able to stir emotions and get professions whether they preach the gospel or not.  But this doesn’t mean its wrong to be emotional when you preach the real gospel.  I would contend that if you believe people will spend eternity in hell without trusting in Christ, you’d better be a little passionate and emotional when you call them to faith!  If you’re not, I wonder where your hearts at, and how much you believe the gospel you preach.  I heard Pastor Pedro Garcia tell a story about a question he was asked at the end of an evangelistic service he preached.   At the closing of the service a man inquired, “Are you always this passionate when you call people to receive Christ?”  What was Pedro’s emblazoned response?  “How can we not be!”  Some of us need to ask that question.

 Objections to Common Methods

Still others are bothered by methods utilized to give people a chance to express faith in Christ publically.  We’ve all heard the “Now with every head bowed and every eye closed, if you want to receive Christ just raise your hand up, and I’ll pray for you” approach.  I used to criticize it heavily, and others like it.  Now I even use it sometimes.  Why?  The truth is that the most biblical way to call people to faith in the gospel is to call them to believe, and then call them to demonstrate that belief by getting baptized right away.

As a church meeting in a school, our baptismal is an inflatable portable hot tub originally designed for camping!  So I can’t call people to believe and get baptized at every service.  When we do baptisms we do them open invitation style, and its always beautiful to see how God uniquely blesses the call to believe and be baptized with conversions.  On the other weeks, I figure that giving people some practical way to respond is better than giving them none.  So sometimes I ask them to raise their hands as a symbol of appeal for God to save them in light of the gospel.  Sometimes we just invite them to come pray with us after the service if God’s spoken to their heart.  I find God blesses the offering of a variety of opportunities for people to publically express the faith of their hearts.  What I know is we see people come to Christ in our services when we give them practical ways to express faith way more often than we did when we weren’t offering methods like this.  It also helps us see who God’s been working in so we can follow-up with them.

The funny thing I’ve found is that most who criticize people who use methods other than baptism to immediately demonstrate new faith in Christ don’t call for immediate decisions followed by baptism either.  They don’t really call for belief at all.  When you consider the biblical record, to me, the burden of proof is on them.

How About You?

Do you ever make an appeal for an immediate response of faith to the gospel?  Why or why not?  What practical methods do you use to encourage people to demonstrate their heart’s response of faith to the gospel?  Do you think your theology or practice in this area promotes or hinders you and your church from experiencing the blessing of seeing people come to faith in Jesus the moment they hear the gospel?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!




At the beginning of this month the American South was devastated by 65 confirmed tornado touchdowns in less than 72 hours. The storms resulted in 41 fatalities and countless injuries. Immediately following the horrific storms many in the Christian community began to weigh in, as often we do. We aim, with our words to bring comfort, perhaps hope and, at times, to help make sense of what has happened from a biblical point of view. Following nearly every such event, one well known American Evangelical can be counted on to give his perspective.

Within 48 hours of the last tornado touchdown, Pastor John Piper had posted “Fierce Tornadoes and the Fingers of God” to his Desiring God blog. In his article, Piper wrote…

“We do not ascribe such independent power to Mother Nature or to the devil. God alone has the last say in where and how the wind blows. If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command.”

Piper went on to identify five verses that seem to lend support to his view that God, by His sovereign power, directed the awesome power of these storms to bring about the death and destruction that ensued.

Several well known evangelicals have weighed in on Piper’s words, some uttering their own words in agreement with “amens,” while others challenged his theology. Although I’m not in full agreement with Pastor Piper and have several contentions with the passages he chose to support his view, I do agree with his three concluding points, (1) that we can (and should) bless God in the midst of such tragedy, (2) that events such as these should soberingly inspire repentance, and that (3) Christians are not exempt from such suffering. My purpose here is not necessarily to challenge or question Piper’s theology or position, rather to pose a question that came to my mind as I read his blog earlier this month.

When I visited the Desiring God blog mid-month I found it interesting that this featured article sat right next to another Piper article entitled “Tell Your Children What Hitler Did.” Upon seeing that title, I was immediately struck with a thought, “If I’m to believe that tragedies such as these terrible storms, which took the lives of 41 Americans were the act of God’s sovereign direction and plan, then why not entitle the second featured article, “Tell Your Children What God Did [to the Jews]?”

Just a thought…

Pastoral Busyness as Idolatry

Most pastors that I know, including myself, struggle with being excessively busy. We see how many things we can pile on our ministerial plates. We know that ministering within a local congregation itself is more than a full time job. Most people, who have never walked in the shoes of a pastor, imagine the pastor sitting all day with his feet up, sipping coffee, reading the Bible and generally basking in the Shekinah. For many of us, we expected this when we sensed the Spirit’s call for us into ministry. But in reality, for most of us, it is long days of counseling. Sure there is coffee, but normally accompanied by the tears and struggles of the person sitting across the table from you. There are continual issues, emails, phone calls, meetings and preparation. Whether it be physical (like a broken sound system, coffee pot or a balky back), emotional (us on the top of that list), relational (no there are never any interpersonal conflicts in church), societal (some real world happening that is dramatically impacting) or spiritual (growing in Christ is a messy business), it really never ends. For most of us, instead of basking in the Shekinah, we drag ourselves into the pulpit with broken prayers for the Spirit to speak despite ourselves. And that leaves out budgeting, family time and the most important reality of a prayer life and relationship with God Himself. Please don’t feel that I am complaining or lamenting. I am not. I am just trying to set the stage.

You see all of that is more than a full time job (and for many of us, we also work a day job). But yet, for so many of us, there are a million and one other things that we find ourselves doing in God’s name. Chaplaincy, disaster response, blogging (like I am doing right now), countless hours doing innumerable good things. Oftentimes, pastors have a ton of additional things that they are involved in. For many of us, if we are not busy, then we are not pastoring. If we are pastoring and also busy, then we have value in the ministry. If we can say that our calendar is full then we justify our existence. When we get to the end of our day and we are exhausted, we can say to ourselves, “You are God’s man, well done, good and faithful servant!”.

But we are valuing ourselves not by the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His love and grace. Instead we are valuing ourselves by our busyness. I have often asked myself, “Would I be bored in my Christian walk if there wasn’t so much ministry to do?” I struggle with my own heart’s response. I would be restless and bored. That makes me nervous. Should I be restless or bored with Jesus alone? We all know the answer to that!


When I Knew Everything

I had been a Christian for two years.  I was sitting in a service at a church I’d recently started attending.  As I listened to the pastor preach his sermon I found myself asking hosts of critical and, I thought, righteous questions.

“What is this guy even talking about?  Why doesn’t he preach expository sermons?  Why doesn’t he emphasize this or that doctrine more?  Why does he use that method to invite people to trust in the gospel?  Is this series ever going to end?  Why doesn’t he just hire someone else to take his spot and move into a subordinate role?  Why can’t he come up with a vision and mission I can get on board with?  Does our church even have a mission and vision?”  Blah, blah, blah.

 The funny thing (perhaps sad thing) is that when I was in my season of offering church leaders my hardest and most continuous criticisms over these kinds of issues thinking I was all-knowing about everything to do with church/ministry, I was totally inexperienced.  I’d never spent a single day in the shoes of a pastor, delivered or prepared a single sermon, led a Bible study, crafted any kind of mission or vision statement, trained teams, planted a church, or anything else.  And yet, I thought I had all the answers about how to solve everything those above me were doing wrong.

I describe myself during those days as suffering from what I now call “New-believer syndrome.”  This isn’t to be a knock on new followers of Jesus at all!  Not all new Christians go through what I did.  But the truth is that its very common for new Christians to go through a season after only being saved for a short time in which they get really critical and arrogant.  That was me.  My mindset was like, “Well of course I know everything about Christianity and the church!  I’ve been a Christian for six months, haven’t I! “

Getting Educated

Fast forward.  Now I’ve been in vocational ministry for over seven years.  And what God has slowly showed me through granting the education of actual street-level experience beyond the education of books I’d read and messages I’d heard early on about ministry is that I really knew far less than I thought I did!  I think back to those days of criticizing and challenging my leaders with embarrassment and shame.  I praise God that He was gracious and didn’t give me the cosmic knee-capping I deserved in my arrogance and ignorance.  As I got opportunities to lead I began to discover why leaders do things at times that I used to scoff at.  I learned that there are many things about ministry that you just can’t understand unless you actually are in the positions and go through the experiences.

 Meeting Others Who Know Everything

Now that I’ve been in vocational ministry, served as a pastor and planted churches, and have done lots of leadership training I’ve had the wonderful experience of meeting people who currently have the critical mentality from which I used to suffer.  The saddest and most heart-breaking thing I sometimes see is when people are stuck in this mentality five, ten, or even twenty or more years after meeting Jesus.  As I look back at my own experience and journey and observe others who are stuck in a spirit of criticism there seem to be some common contributing factors to developing this mindset:

1. Pride has always been a struggle

If you have a history of being arrogant, self-important, and a know-it-all in general before becoming a Christian, pride becomes an area of temptation the enemy really hammers you on in your new relationship with Jesus.  Much of those critical thoughts come from your own sinful flesh, and the rest of them come from demonic temptation at work in your mind.

2. They read far more books about the Bible than the Bible itself

For about the first two years of my relationship with Jesus the only times I’d actually crack my Bible open was when I was looking for a proof text to support a doctrine I’d learned from another book, or when I was at church.  What this led to was me using other books as my lens through which I filtered the Bible rather than me using the Bible as the lens through which I filtered the other books I read.  Because of this, when I got into debates about the criticisms I was voicing I would inevitably quote human authors instead of God’s word to prove my point.  That’s a dangerous place to dwell.

 3. They do most of their studying in isolation

Many people who come to Jesus today don’t get involved in local churches.  There is a huge disconnect here.  In the book of Acts no one who got saved refrained from getting involved in the life of the local church.  That isn’t to say you’re not saved if you aren’t in consistent community with other believers who make up a local church.  Its simply to point out that your willful practice of not being in community with a local church is way out of step with the biblical example.  God isn’t merely saving disconnected individuals scattered throughout the world; He is saving a people, a called-out assembly, and an interconnected, interdependent body.[1]

 The biblical example shows us that studying is to be done in community under experienced and equipped, spiritually gifted leaders.[2]  Personal Bible study is so valuable and necessary.  But so is study in community. Without others who are more spiritually mature and biblically educated challenging our conclusions and criticisms we develop unhealthy perspectives and unhelpful attitudes.

If pride has always been an issue for you, you read more books about the Bible than the Bible itself, and you do most of your study in isolation, you are a prime candidate to become today’s Inexperienced and All-knowing!


Maybe you are one of today’s Inexperienced and All-knowing in the church. Or maybe you’re dealing with one of them right now.  If you’re dealing with one, chances are that you played the part of the Inexperienced and All-knowing of yesteryear.  But let me wrap this post up with encouragement for you both.

To today’s Inexperienced and All-knowing, please stop!  You don’t know as much as you think.  You’re hurting your leaders, not helping them.  And Jesus really is quite able to take care of His people without your arrogance and methods.  He’s chosen the leaders who are over you and you need to submit to Him by submitting to them, even though they are weak.  Have you considered that their weaknesses might be the precise reasons God chose them?  Read 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 and ask God for illumination.

To yesterday’s Inexperienced and All-knowing the message is simple- Don’t kill anyone!  Humble yourself and remember your own journey. First, repent to God for your former attitudes.  Next you may need to repent to the person you used to criticize.  After being a lead pastor for two months that is exactly what I had to do and it was healthy for me and the other pastor.  Lastly, deal with this mentality in those who come your way with grace and boldness.

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient…” 2 Timothy 2:24 NKJV

 “Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season.  Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2 NKJV


[1] Eph. 4:11-17; 1 Cor. 12; Acts 2:41-47; Ephesians as a whole.

[2] Acts 2:42; Titus 1:9

Legalize Marijuana?

During the Q&A following our service last night the following question was texted in…

Sorry if this is off topic but with it being in the news so often its hard not to notice, with pat robertson endorsing decriminalization of cannabis what should our position as christians on medical cannabis and cannabis in general?

I didn’t take time last night to answer it as I hadn’t heard or read about Pat Robertson’s statements and I wanted to make sure that I understood his position. That said, I do have some thoughts on this issue and having had a chance to look at what Robertson actually said, I figured I’d post an answer here.

The discussion of marijuana legalization is an interesting one, and I’m fairly certain that within a generation it will be legalized in the US. Public opinion on the subject is shifting and the younger demographic (i.e. Millennials) is largely in favor of the move. So, whether or not Christians and the Church agree with the move, we will very likely see a legislative shift within 10-15 years, or sooner.

Add to the discussion Pat Robertson’s remarks from earlier this month. Although they flew under my radar (which isn’t terribly hard to do), Robertson’s views are not new. He’s been advocating this stance for a couple of years, and primarily for pragmatic reasons.

“I just think it’s shocking how many of these young people wind up in prison and they get turned into hardcore criminals because they had a possession of a very small amount of a controlled substance, the whole thing is crazy. We’ve said, ‘Well, we’re conservatives, we’re tough on crime.’ That’s baloney.”

On this point, I basically agree.

Robertson also said, “I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol. I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.” Again, I don’t necessarily disagree on this point either. My primary concern is that many of the politicians I’ve read or heard on this subject have come at it from a totally different angle that concerns me. The reasoning goes something like this, “The war on drugs is costing us billions and is not working, we could legalize and regulate the marijuana industry in such a way that it generates great revenue for the government.” If we’re going to legalize and regulate marijuana solely to make money for the government, then why not prostitution or other controlled substances? Do we really cast aside morals for profit? What precedent does this set and what are the other unintended consequences of doing so with marijuana?

I am not against the lawful use of alcohol as the Bible allows for it’s use; as long as such use is not in excess, which the bible defines as drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18). There is however a lot of unlawful and excessive use in America, which has grave and costly consequences; such as the human cost… This year upwards of 10,839 people will die in drunk-driving crashes – one every 50 minutes. There will be huge economic and human costs associated with marijuana legalization too; many of which will not be realized until after it’s legalization. The questions abound; how do employers deal with marijuana smoking employees? How does the military? Is there a “legal limit” that can be smoked, or how does law enforcement enforce such a DUI charge for Marijuana? etc…

I could certainly go on, but ultimately this begs the question, how should the church respond when such a shift takes place? When it is no longer against the law and is as prevalent as cigarettes and alcohol, what does the church say when Joe Parishioner smokes a bowl in the church parking-lot before each service? I think the answer lies [again] in Ephesians 5:18. Although alcohol is the direct focal point of the verse, [I believe] the principle still stands for any controlled substance. When you come under the influence of said substance and are essential “drunken” you have partaken unto excess. I’ve never smoked marijuana, and do not intend to, but by observation and interaction with people who have, I’m just not sure that you can take a hit of marijuana and not be “under the influence.” Therefore, I believe that it will still be an issue of sinful excess to partake.

The immediate rebuttal or followup question will be, “Is it then sinful to use a controlled substance for medicinal use if it brings you under it’s influence?” I think that this too has a Biblical answer.

Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

– Proverbs 31:6-7




On Pat Robertson’s position


Washington Post

Seeking that Still Small Voice

I have to admit that I am in a transitional season in my life. Newly transplanted in the Pacific Northwest, transitioning into the Senior Pastor position at Crossroads Community Church, changes are everywhere. I have moved from young, small churches to a very large and established church. New surroundings and experiences. New challenges and events. But truly the biggest change that is happening is in my own heart. God is doing something in me.

I have realized in a new and profound way how loud our world has gotten. I have always been a fan of technology. I have always been an early adopter. But whether it is the Twittesphere, the blogosphere, the new Facebook crazes, viral YouTube videos, so much of it is just straight up noise. For some time I have been noticing how most of the internet chatter is just a regurgitation of a few profoundly gifted people. I find myself waking up and checking the phone first off, Twitter, Facebook, email, texts. All noise I tell you. I have no less than three noise devises on my person at any given time. How many of us find ourselves staring at our devises while people, true and living images of God, are right in front of us being ignored? How many of us hide behind our emails or computers while there is a vast and lost world needing to be connected with in Jesus’ name?

Deep within my heart there is a longing for the simplicity of the still small voice of God. The voice that doesn’t pander to celebrity or the winds of culture. The voice that speaks of love, community, hope and redemption. It’s that voice that doesn’t live in our superficial divides over theology or ministry style. It’s the voice that is deeply Biblical without being legalistic or superficial. It has nothing to do with the proclivities of modern evangelicals and the various camps. That voice has everything to do with love and truth. The voice that wants to help us help others see God’s grace at work in their lives and circumstances.

I have also realized that that still small voice is terrifying renegade. We come seeking one thing and we get another thing. We have wants/desires/hopes/dreams and we get God’s alternative and deeply perplexing agenda. We want to do and God says don’t do. We want reward when God says decrease. We want American dreams spiritually fulfilled and instead we get our status quo called into question and new and terrifying horizon energized.

I cannot speak for you. But for me, I am seeking that still small voice.

The Real Saint Patrick: His Life and Mission


Saint Patrick, the great fifth century Christian missionary to Ireland, has historically been a most intriguing and obscure figure to the Christian church, as well as the entire world. Countless myths and legends have been told about this man. Many poems and stories have been written about him. Many theologians and missiologists have debated extensively on his religious allegiance and missionary philosophy. The question is can anything be agreed upon about Saint Patrick? In all of the hype and interest generated by his life and mission, is there anything that can be known for sure about him in the twenty-first century?

This writing is an to attempt to give an account of the facts generally agreed upon by students of this intriguing man with the goal of painting as accurate a picture of his true life and mission as possible. The life and mission of Saint Patrick are a most fascinating and edifying study, and I’m excited to share some of what can be known about them.


Patrick was born sometime in the late fourth century between the years 385-390 A.D. in the area known today as northeast England. His people were called Britons. They were a Celtic people that had been Romanized under the Christian Roman Empire which in part encompassed modern-day England. Thus, Patrick was culturally very Roman and disconnected from his Celtic roots. The Britons spoke mainly Latin and an early form of Welsh. Patrick was born into an aristocratic, wealthy, and religious family. His father, Calpurnius, was a deacon in the Roman Church and owned at least two estates. Not much is known about his mother.

Patrick seems to have been a fairly average boy in his early childhood. He went to school where he learned Latin (the common language at the time due to the influence of Rome) and Welsh, which was the more native and peasant tongue of the British Isles. Though his parents were actively involved in church and Patrick had grown up going to Mass, Patrick was at best a very lukewarm Christian in his younger days. Through a series of tragic events set in motion when he was a young man, his life, and especially the state of his lax Christian devotion, would change forever.


When Patrick was just sixteen years old he was taken captive along with many of his family’s servants when Irish pirates raided one of his father’s estates near the west coast of Britain at a town called Bannavem Taberniae. Patrick was forced onto a ship which sailed away to Ireland where he was sold in the slave market to a tribal chief and Druid named Miliuc Moccu Boin. The chief put Patrick to work tending his cattle herds in the Irish countryside.

Patrick remained enslaved for six years. It was during this time that he came to know the truth of Romans 8:28— “And we know that God causes all things work together for good to those that love God, to those that are called according to His purpose…” in experience. In his book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West Again, George G. Hunter writes about the three key changes that Patrick went through during his time in captivity:

“During his years of enslavement, Patrick experienced three profound changes. First, the periods when Patrick was isolated in the wilderness herding cattle connected him with what theologians call the ‘natural revelation’ of God. He sensed with the winds, the seasons, the creatures, and the nights under the stars the presence of God; he identified this presence with the Triune God he had learned about in the Catechism. In his more or less autobiographical ‘Declaration’ Patrick tells us, ‘After I had arrived in Ireland I found myself pasturing flocks daily, and I prayed a number of times each day. More and more the love and fear of God came to me and my faith grew and my spirit was exercised, until I was praying up to a hundred times every day and in the night nearly as often.’ Patrick became a devout Christian and the change was obvious to his captors.  Second, Patrick changed in another way during the periods he spent with his captors in their settlement. He came to understand the Irish Celtic people and their language and culture…Third Patrick came to love his captors, to identify with them, and to hope for their reconciliation to God. One day, he would feel they were his people.”


Thus, Patrick was converted, and now God had plans for him. In the sixth year of Patrick’s captivity he received a vision from God in which he was told that he was to escape his slavery and that a ship was waiting to take him home to Briton. A voice told him, “You are going home! Look! Your ship is ready!” Patrick rose from his sleep and fled from his captors to find a ship waiting for him. He attempted to acquire permission to sail home on the ship but the captain refused him. Patrick began praying and he tells us in his aforementioned Declaration that before his prayer was even completed God had changed the captain’s heart and he began calling for Patrick to come aboard. So Patrick made the 200 mile trip back to his homeland and people in Briton as the Holy Spirit had prophesied to him.

Once back home Patrick had hardly settled in when he would receive another word from God, this time functioning as his call to be the first missionary Bishop to Ireland, his place of captivity. John Holmes documents the extraordinary event:

One night he had a vision in which he saw a man named Victoricus coming to him with a great number of letters. He read the title of one which said, ‘THE CRY OF THE IRISH’ and at that moment he seemed to hear the voice of the people who lived by the Wood of Volcut which is by the western sea. Unitedly they said, ‘Holy youth we are asking you to come and walk among us again.’ Patrick was so moved that he could read no more…It would seem that from that moment there was born in his heart a burden to bring the Gospel to that nation from which he says, pointedly, ‘I was only just able to escape.’”


Upon receiving this divine commissioning Patrick determined to prepare himself for his destiny as a missionary to Ireland. He began studying the Celtic people and Irish language intently as his heart flamed for them. He also began to be very active in his local church. He became a Deacon and in a short time was elevated to the office of Bishop. Shortly after receiving his bishopric he left his homeland again for Ireland; this time not as a captive of pirates, but as the slave of Christ for the Gospel to the Irish. It was the year 432 A.D.


The Irish people that Patrick would serve were, in Roman terms, very much uncivilized. They had no organized cities, no real road systems, and they had no unified form of government. They moved in small nomadic groups through the rough countryside and forests of Ireland living off the land. The people lived in tribes (clans) that consisted mainly of extended family. Patrick knew that he would have to be innovative when it came to ministering to them. He would not be able to simply plant parish churches in the traditional sense near a populated city as the Church had done everywhere else. There were no such cities. He had to find new methods to reach a different culture.

So what did he do? Patrick’s method of reaching these tribal nomadic people was what we would call “contextualization” in missiological terms today. It seems that his practice was to seek out the leaders of the tribal settlement he went into in hopes of either converting them or at least getting permission to serve amongst them for strategic purposes. Next, he would engage people in conversation and service ministry for relationship building while looking for receptive individuals within the clan. He would pray for physically impaired and demon possessed people as well as assist in mediating conflicts between tribesmen. He would engage in open air preaching.

In all of this he did a great deal of contextualizing. For example, the Irish people were very musical and poetic, so Patrick employed the use of these art forms which made sense to them culturally in an attempt to communicate the truth of the Bible in ways they would understand. He wrote worshipful lyrics set to Celtic tunes for them to sing and portrayed biblical images for them in Celtic forms of visual arts. This enhanced his ability to communicate the message of Jesus to them effectively.

As groups of people began to be born-again through Patrick’s gospel teaching, instead of forcing them to become culturally Roman he would allow and encourage them to express the essence of real Christianity in Celtic forms. The most fascinating way he did this was by creating what Hunter calls “monastic communities” instead of Roman cathedrals. These were essentially the native Irish version of a church-plant. The monastic community lived the Christian life together in a circularly built fort. They would meet multiple times a day for worship and prayer, and in the evening for a biblical message every night. They lived together, worked together, ate together, and worshiped together. It was an extremely tightly knit body of believers that lived all of the Christian life in vibrant spiritual community. In his book Church History in Plain Language,Bruce Shelley said of these communities that, “…the monastic community, maintaining itself on the land, fitted the agricultural communities of the Celts better than the parish-church system so common in the Roman Empire.”


The main method of outreach from within the monastic community was that of hospitality. They had a guest house in a sectioned off portion of the community that was by far more comfortable than any other dwelling used by the believers themselves. They would love and serve every visitor that came to them and live the life of Christ out before them. Patrick considered himself and the believers in these communities accountable to God to serve this way because of his biblical conviction that believers are each a “letter of Christ.” He wanted the message of the love of Jesus to be communicated without words to unbelievers through their lifestyles of love and grace. They wanted to influence the lost into the faith by extending the love and Person of Christ to them in behavior and community.


Patrick’s method of contextualizing the gospel in presentation and the essence of Christian community in Celtic cultural expression proved very successful in the conversion of massive amounts of Irish people. Though much of Ireland is said to have remained unconverted upon his death in 460 A.D. there is thought to have been thousands of Christian converts in Ireland due to his ministry. Some estimate that there may have been as many as one-thousand believers in some of the individual larger monastic communities.


However, in spite of Patrick’s success in Ireland, his missionary years spent there were not all easy. In his Declaration Patrick writes of being persecuted, slandered, and even enslaved as many as three more times during his ministry. Things weren’t always easy for his converts either. In fact, one of the two original writings of Saint Patrick (unanimously held as authentic by scholars) which the world has access to today is a letter in which he rebukes a local ruler for allowing his men to brutally murder and pillage a group of freshly baptized believers and to sell their young women.

Clearly the most cutting opposition Patrick endured during his ministry was that of the disapproval of his tactics later expressed by the very church and people who had once affirmed and sent him out to serve Ireland. The traditional minds of the people in his hometown did not accept Patrick’s replacing of the culturally Roman aspects of Christianity with culturally Celtic expressions. Patrick clearly wrote from a distressed heart in addressing this issue in his Declaration.

The far-reaching missional impact of Saint Patrick’s ministry is impressive. Historians point to Ireland as becoming a mission work launching pad for years to come after the death of Patrick. It served as the home-base for missionary endeavors for the eventual evangelization of Britain, Germany, and Switzerland to name a few. An example of the great Irish missionaries that are said to have been products of Patrick’s work years earlier were men like Columbanus. A century after Patrick, Columbanus led the missionary charge into the above mentioned countries and established them as centers for evangelistic efforts.


Another thing that has been perpetuated throughout history ever since Patrick’s death is what seems to be a never ending debate between Catholics and Protestants over whether or not Patrick was what people today would consider a good Catholic or more of today’s evangelical theological persuasion. Patrick seems to be an interesting mix of both camps. While he was certainly an ordained Bishop in the Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Roman Empire (which certainly means he had practices and beliefs in common with today’s Catholicism), even a quick reading of his Declaration makes clear that his single most emphasized teaching was that of the simple gospel of grace. That fact shows that he was very evangelical even though the term was not yet used. It seems he was Roman Catholic by tradition, but evangelical in the essence of his gospel faith. This is abundantly clear from this quote taken from his Declaration in which he wrote of his purpose and success, “For I am very much God’s debtor who gave me such great grace that many people were reborn in God through me and afterwards confirmed, and that clerics were ordained for them everywhere, for a people just coming to the faith, whom the Lord took from the utmost parts of the earth as he once had promised through his prophets.” The words “grace…reborn…and faith” in this quotation say it all.


Patrick’s life serves as a reminder to us that our circumstances are never out of the plan or control of God. Patrick was taken prisoner when he was just sixteen and was in captivity until he was twenty-two. I think Patrick must have been confused and lonely and wondered at times (even after his conversion) if God could or would help him. Yet, by the end of Patrick’s life it is absolutely clear that his time in captivity is exactly what he needed to go through to become the missionary warrior God wanted him to be. God was there the whole time working things out for His glory and Patrick’s good, no matter how bleak things probably seemed.

I have certainly never experienced anything like being taken captive for six years, but I have been through things like family divorce, physical affliction, and more. So in terms of application, I believe God would remind us through the life of Saint Patrick that our past is not an accident, and our present and future are not out of God’s control. God has allowed or caused everything we come into contact with because he wants to use it now or in the future to prepare us to effectively serve others for His glory. This is the truth in our hardships.

Holmes, J. M. The Real Saint Patrick. Belfast, N. Ireland: Ambassador Productions, 1997.

Hunter, George G. III. The Celtic Way of Evangelism. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 2000.

Shelley, Bruce L. Church History in Plain Language 2nd Edition. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995.


The Unconscious Ill-Equipping Of The Saints

The good Bible teaching that occurs in many churches is not enough to equip Christ following congregants to interact effectively with the world.  In fact, I believe that some pastors are unconsciously hindering their flocks, and are, as a result, “ill-equipping” them for the work of ministry.

I recently heard a tremendous quote, and I will try to paraphrase.  The speaker spoke of the American Church and said, “We are a subculture of a sub culture.  We read each other’s book, we sing each other’s songs, and we scratch each other’s backs”.

I completely agree that the Body of Christ is a sub culture, and that each movement or denomination is a further sub culture, and finally, that each individual church within a movement or denomination is a sub, sub, sub culture.  There is nothing wrong with that…to a point.

Each culture and sub culture has its own language.  The lack of awareness that we (the Church) have regarding our sub, sub culture language is the thing that concerns me. What do we sound like to the world?

As followers of Jesus, we have been given the Great Commission, to “make disciples of all nations”.  Most of the people in our churches understand and agree with that.

However, here is the rub.  Here is the problem.  The people in our churches often parrot the words they hear us pastors speak.  If they hear us only speak “Christianese”, and our particular brand of “Christianese”, then that is how many of them will speak.  They will seek to explain the eternal truths of God by using language that is familiar only to their sub, sub culture.

I believe that we who stand in the pulpit need to speak in the language of our culture and of the current generation.  We do not need to descend into vulgar speaking or innuendo, but we need to communicate the truths of Jesus in ways that would make sense to any unbeliever walking in off the street.

The purpose for that is not just for the unbeliever who walks into our church.  The bigger and perhaps more important purpose is that we will equip our churches to use words that the unbelieving world will recognize.  Without telling them how to communicate the Gospel, we will be bestowing upon them a language, a vocabulary, and a communication style, whereby they will be unconsciously equipped to speak to an unbelieving world.

A word to those who preach and teach: Let us be careful to not use decades old “Christianese” simply because that is what we grew up on.  May the younger generation of pastors not only use the Christian sub culture language of their generation. May we read and listen widely, that we may adopt the language of this generation, so that we might more effectively preach the Gospel, and equip our listeners to share the Gospel in a language that can be understood by the world around us.