Jesus is Strong!

Quote of the Day from my friend Luke:

So, I want to say something here, and I’ll confess I don’t find it easy, because I am concerned it will come across as trivial, but I’ll say it anyway, assuming there’s a chance that one or two readers may be in the frame of mind to grasp the depth of my sincerity. I have a prayer in my blood, even now; I pray that the spirit and movement behind my words will stretch beyond this keyboard, cut across cyberspace and reach at least a few who are worried about our country. I think you need to be reminded that Jesus is strong. Things are getting bad, yes, and they will continue to get worse. Jesus is strong. People in Washington on both sides are corrupt, doing corrupt things. Jesus is strong. Millions are suffering because unemployment is rocketing and healthcare is a mess. Jesus is strong. It is the nature of organizations, even vast and mighty ones like the United States, that they will go to pieces over time because they are run by flawed, often contentious human beings. And times like these may become our greatest, because more of us will learn to stop clinging to the pipe dreams of mere men and cling to the Savior who gives His life to us all.

Quote of the Day: Fight Sin through Worship

From here:  (A Tim Keller sermon transcribed)

If you are a Christian and you are dealing with enslaving habits, it’s not enough to say, “Bad Christian, stop it.” And it is not enough to beat yourself up or merely try harder and harder and harder.

The real reason that you’re having a problem with an enslaving habit is because you are not tasting God. I’m not talking about believing God or even obeying God, I’m saying tasting —tasting God.

The secret to freedom from enslaving patterns of sin is worship. You need worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and to be moved by it — moved to tears and moved to laughter — moved by who God is and what he has done for you. And this needs to be happening all the time.

This type of worship is the only thing that can replace the little if only fire burning in your heart. We need a new fire that says, “If only I saw the Lord. If only he was close to my heart. If only I could feel him to be as great as I know him to be. If only I could taste his grace as sweet as I know it to be.”

And when that if only fire is burning in your heart, then you are free.

Quote of the Day: The Pastor

“…I want to insist that there is no blueprint on file for becoming a pastor. In becoming one, I have found that it is a most context-specific way of life:the pastor’s emotional life, family life, experience in the faith, and aptitudes worked out in an actual congregation in the neighborhood in which she or he lives – these people just as they are, in this place. No copying. No trying to be successful. The ways in which the vocation of pastor is conceived, develops and comes to birth is unique to each pastor.”

-Eugene Peterson from his new book just published The Pastor: A Memoir (HarperOne, 2011)

I think this quote alone is worth a million dollars.  It is (and should be) freeing to know the process of becoming a pastor is highly individual to each person – each pastor is different and each pastor should feel free to be who they are and function in the role of pastor as God has called them and as is befitting with their own personalities and makeup.  I don’t know if I can say any one pastor is better than another but to say some do “seem” to live out their callings as pastors more effectively than others.

But then again, if the process of a life lived as a pastor is unique, how can such a statement stand?  What is considered effective?  Who is considered a “good” or “bad” pastor?   I think I can make such a statement because of a concept called “pastoral identity.”  Some pastors reveal a strong and healthy pastoral identity (which is a kind of sense of security in one’s calling and vocation as a pastor) whereas, I know there are others who have more or less weaker senses of pastoral identity, they do not seem to be as comfortable with their calling or vocation (which could call into question the validity of such) – I would suggest those with stronger pastoral identities are “more effective” in their callings than those who are not primarily because they are not trying to be something they are not.

Seems to me that anyone who is a pastor should read this book and those struggling with their own sense of pastoral identity should seriously consider reading this other book by Peterson.

You can learn more about the book here.

on pastors as servants and stewards

I am reading this book: Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic (Zondervan 2009) right now (which is pretty good and if you’re in ministry and tired, you should get it too – it will help).  Burn out can affect our whole being and life: spiritual, emotional, physical, even relational health.  Throughout the book the author has short little interviews with pastors from around the country who have burned out (or came awful close to it) and survived to tell about it (or even in some cases, lived to tell about it, literally).  In the section about getting back to Spiritual health, she interviews a pastor in Texas named Matt Carter.

A.J.: Do you see the current Western church as being ineffective in reaching people with the gospel and growing them?  why?

M.C.: Pastor Bob Roberts asked the question in a recent book, “If we (the church) could plant one thousand mega-churches all over the United States over the next ten years, wouldn’t we be able to completely change this country for the cause of Christ?  The answer Pastor Roberts reached was, “No.”  Why?  Because that is exactly what the church in the United States did over the last ten years.  We planted over one thousand churches that have grown to more than two thousand members apiece; and yet, per capita, there are fewer people going to church today than ever before in the history of our countrySomething is terribly wrong.

Why is this occurring? I think there are several reasons, but I’m personally convinced that one of the main reasons people in America are leaving the church in droves is because there is severe biblical malnourishment in the body of Christ.  They are leaving in droves not because we aren’t clever enough, not because we don’t have enough resources, but because people come to church, are entertained, and the leave starving, anemic, and utterly ineffective for the kingdom of God.  I believe this is a direct result of pastors not fulfilling primary responsibilities God designed for them through Scripture (130).

Here is the part I wanted to get to but felt I had to include the above for this to make better sense.

A.J.: What do you see as the primary responsibilities of pastors and church leaders?

M.C.: In Scripture, we see two primary responsibilities of the pastor: servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  The apostle Paul wrote, “Men ought to regard us [pastors] as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.  Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful’ (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).  Unfortunately, so many pastors view themselves first and foremost not as servants of Christ, not at those responsible for stewarding the deep things of God to their people, but rather as servants of the church! I grew up in a church that expected the pastor to be available to meet the every whim and need of every congregant.  If someone needed to meet with him, he better be available!  If someone was in the hospital, he better go!  If someone needed to meet with him, he better be available!  If he spent too much time on his sermon rather than with the people, it was said of him that he was “a good preacher” but “not a good pastor.”  Although hospital visitations, meetings, and coffee times with the church are important, Scripture reveals that they are not the pastor’s primary responsibilities.  Being a servant of Christ and a steward of the deep things of God are (130-131).

In view of Mark’s post the other day, perhaps not just pastors and leaders, but Christians in general are burning out of church and or ministry because there is first malnourishment in the pulpit (though not in all cases) and second, because there is confusion and perhaps conflation of roles and responsibilities within the congregation?

If pastors are doing everything or more than they should, they will burn out, fast.  And it seems, that burn out is not limited to just pastors.  Even the rest of the folk can burn out when trying to do too much or when they function outside of their proper or spiritually gifted roles within the body (and when they are not taking care of themselves adequately).

Finally, any thoughts about the pastor’s primary role being servants of Christ first and foremost (not servants of the church) and then as stewards of the mysteries (the deep things) of God?

If I could do it again

I’d have dumped my biblical languages credits into an MA and made chaplaincy the focus of MDiv and then did a full year hospital residency (CPE) – why?

Because I think the training one gets for the chaplaincy is very pertinent to pastoral ministry.  Now, I am not saying pastors are to be chaplains (they must not) but I think the pastoral care and skill sets one learns in chaplaincy will make one a better pastor who is able to provide good pastoral care and spiritual direction to a congregation and to various individuals as well.

For example in the chaplaincy focus at AGTS – one can take a class learning about PTSD and how to work with those dealing with it (it’s not limited to military personnel); you take a class on interpersonal techniques in helping relationships so you learn what to do and what not to do in helping others; you can get a class on addictive behaviors in family systems and gain insight on pastoring those caught up in addictions; you can get a class on counseling diverse populations so you learn to deal with all sorts of different folks and learn to get out of one’s own ethnocentric mono-culturalism, :-); you can take a class on psychopathology so you don’t get confused and think every person who comes in the door “acting weird” might have a demon, or maybe they do…. or don’t.

These are, of course in addition to the normal MDiv requirement and most of these are electives so not all would be required, but you’d be surprised at their general usefulness.   In the three years we’ve been at the Canyon we’ve already encountered all of these issues and have more than once been left wondering what to do or how to handle it.

So, proably, if I could do it again, that is what I would do! 🙂

Book Review: T.F. Torrance’s Incarnation

It is with much thanks to Adrianna Wright of IVP for her graciousness in allowing me to read (in part) and review T.F. Torrance’s Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (IVP, 2008).

This is a long overdue review (over a year) and for that I sincerely apologize.   I have to say at the out set I have not yet read this book in its entirety so there is just no possible way I can offer a full and complete review – so it will only at best be an inadequate partial review – why have I not read the whole thing? Well, its a big book from a theological standpoint.  It’s not light reading by any means, so though it is only 371 pages including endnotes, appendices, index and so on, there is a lot to read and chew on. It’s going to take me a while to really get through it – so instead of delaying I am writing a partial review.

In this book on Christology, Torrance “addresses both the heart and head through a deeply biblical, unified, Christ-centered and trinitarian theology.”  He “presents a full account of the meaning and significance of the life and person of Jesus Christ, demonstrating that his work of revelation and reconciliation can only be understood in the light of who he is – true God and true man united in one person.”    Torrance contends that the whole life of Jesus Christ from his birth through to his resurrection and ascension, even to his second coming are of saving significance.  (quotes from the inside cover).

One question I want to address is what is the value or purpose of reading such a deeply theological work such as Torrance or even Barth and others for the pastor and preacher? The primary value lies in nature and purpose of church dogmatics.  The editor writes “Christian dogmatics is that discipline which which attempts to express the essential content of Christian faith and doctrine as an aid to the church in her teaching and preaching” (xxii).  In sum, the purpose of reading this particular work on Christology or even a work like Barth’s Dogmatics (even if one does not agree with all the finer points being discussed), is it allows the preacher to proclaim Christ and the Scriptures in a richer and deeper way.

Essentially, it adds theological depth to the sermon or teaching.

You want to be a strong pastor/theologian?  Read Torrance, Barth and the like!  🙂

Both Torrance and Barth (Torrance was for a time, a student of Barth) sought to put forth a dogmatics of Christian Theology for the help of the pastor so he or she could faithfully proclaim the Scriptures in an articulate and unified way that was line with faithful interpretation, historical Christian teaching including the Fathers (“all the saints” xxiii) thus proclaiming Christ and bringing glory to him.

Some of the leading features of Torrance’s theology are as follows:

The heart of Torrance’s theology is the Trinity and deity of Christ…. The truth of the Trinity, ‘more to be adorned than expressed,’ and the deity of Christ belong together (xxx-xxxi).

The deity of Christ is the guarantee of reconciliation.  Because Jesus Christ is God, he not only makes God known, but what he does is the work of God.  The words and acts of Jesus and of the Father are identical.  The deity of Jesus is therefore the guarantee that the reconciliation we see and receive in his the reconciliation of God himself (xxxi).

The full humanity of Christ is of equal importance with his deity.  If Jesus is not God then it is not God that has saved us, but equally, if Jesus is not man then man has not been saved.  The deity and the humanity of Jesus are equally important and neither without the other can bring salvation (xxxii).

The humanity of Jesus is the guarantee of human reconciliation and forgiveness.  In fact, the very act of incarnation is an act of reconciliation because now in the person of Jesus Christ, there is a permanent union of God and man (an act of reconciliation or re-union) (xxxiv).

The hypostatic union of God and man in the one person of Christ needs to be understood dynamically – not statically.  It needs to include the whole life of Jesus from his birth through to his resurrection.  This ‘hypostatic union’ had to be maintained throughout the life of Jesus not just at his birth.  “Throughout it all, the hypostatic union held fast as Jesus clung to the Father in utter and obedient dependence in prayer.  And the hypostatic union emerged victorious and unscathed in the resurrection as the eternal union of God and man in Christ Jesus” (xxxvi).

The hypostatic union is at the heart of the gospel.  “The doctrine of the union of God and man in Christ is the absolute heart of the gospel.  it tells us that the full reality of God in his love has come all the way to suffering and sinful humanity and has united himself with us. It tells us that we have been accepted in the fullness of our humanity and brought as we are into union with him in Christ. It tells us that because Christ is the permanent union of God and man, his person is the indivisible and living center of our salvation for all time”   (xxxvi).

There is much much more to this work than can possibly be reviewed here – so this will have to suffice!  I highly recommend this as a work for pastors to read and consume and integrate into their thinking and theology and preaching/teaching ministry.

so I got my copy

of Dave Black’s second edition of his Why Four Gospels? book yesterday!  It is a gracious reprint of the book by Henry Neufeld of Energion Publications.  Thank you Henry for your gracious willingness to keep Dave Black’s book in print.  It is appreciated by us pastors and students of the Word who desire to know more of God’s Word.

Here is a description of the book:

In Why Four Gospels? noted Greek and New Testament scholar David Alan Black, concisely and clearly presents the case for the early development of the gospels, beginning with Matthew, rather than Mark. But this is much more than a discussion of the order in which the gospels were written. Using both internal data from the gospels themselves and an exhaustive and careful examination of the statements of the early church fathers, Dr. Black places each gospel in the context of the early development of Christianity.

Though Markan priority is the dominant position still in Biblical scholarship, Dr. Black argues that this position is not based on the best evidence available, that the internal evidence is often given more weight than it deserves and alternative explanations are dismissed or ignored. If you would like an outline of the basis for accepting both early authorship of the gospels and the priority of Matthew, this book is for you.

This will be an interesting and challenging read I look forward too – so far most of my exposure and understanding of the composition and authorship of the Gospels comes from reading Robert H. Stein’s Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation (Baker Academic, 2001).  At least now I have a couple books from two different perspectives and be able to get a better understanding of the issues.

A review is forthcoming…

$5 for 48 hrs. – A Portrait of Paul at WTS Books.

Yup, that’s right five smackers for the latest work on Paul called: A Portrait of Paul: Identifying a True Minister of Christ. You can read the introduction here.  and learn more on the product page (you can hear a sermon from the authors there too). I won’t go into the potential merits or demerits of the book.  lol!  Too bad I cannot get it right now – maybe some of you might look into getting it?

The best part of the introduction reads as follows:

Is there an ideal pastor? There is one: His name is Jesus Christ. He sets the standard for all who would follow in His footsteps. But do not forget the interwoven and full-orbed perfections of the Lord Jesus: no one was gentler than He or consumed with such holy zeal.  No one spoke with such tenderness to those in genuine need or with more bite to those who bitterly opposed the will of God.  He was a true friend of sinners and a fierce enemy of hypocrites.  He could call a child to Himself and embrace him; He could make a whip of cords and drive thugs from the temple of God. He was loved with profound attachment by His friends; He was hated with deep loathing by His enemies. At times thousands hung upon His words; He died a deserted and forsaken man.  Those who follow in the footsteps of a crucified Christ partake of His character, though always imperfectly.  Would you want such a man to shepherd you?

Well, would you want such a person to shepherd you?  I think most if not all of us would find that quite challenging.

understand the Bible for yourself

Dave Black muses on his blog today:

11:20 AM With some embarrassment and hesitation, let me share with you a crazy thought that occurred to me while writing today:

We spend a lot of time, as writers and teachers, studying the Bible so that others can keep abreast of what thoughts and ideas it  contains. Wouldn’t it be better, in terms of both efficiency and satisfaction, if they could do it for themselves?

Now, with a bit of irony, it’s back to writing….

Yes, my friend, and it is called Inductive Bible Study – something every pastor should be encouraging folks in their communities of faith to be learning – be careful though, it’s dangerous and could cause you to be knocked down a pedestal or two!  Wouldn’t that be a shame if you were no longer the smartest person on the Bible in the congregation anymore?  Really now!  🙂

To be able to effective study the Bible on your own (or even with others) you do not need a Bible college degree or  a masters or a PhD degree – you don’t need any degree.  You just need to be able to think!  If you can think you can do inductive Bible study!

Please know I simply linked an example – it is the method that is important not the ministry that promotes it – though I happen to think Precept is as good a ministry as any in promoting inductive Bible study for Christians worldwide!

Pastors and church leaders, if you are not promoting Inductive Bible Study in your congregations (either leading the studies yourself or empowering and encouraging others to do so), you are only hurting your people – not helping them.   That’s how I see it.

the sermon: more than just preaching

it can also be expressed through art and drama and all sorts of other ways! It’s more than just the sermon that disciples people – it is involving them in the process as well allowing them to use their giftings from the Spirit to edify and lift up the body and glorify Christ – this is one reason why I believe spiritual gifts Paul mentions in his letters were first and foremost “ad hoc” lists and so do not have to be limited just to Pauline lists – their are many ways the Lord gifts his people!

Mark Stevens, Aussie pastor exemplar, does exactly this when they had “Creative Sunday” at their church where art pieces were put up and all sorts of other expressions of the congregation’s understanding of God and love for him, so far as I could tell from what Mark wrote:

Today has been a very different Sunday for our church. Sometime ago we formed a creative team to look at ways in which we could help our congregation harness their creativity and mine! I felt it was important to help people engage with certain aspects of the gospel story; whether it be Easter, Christmas or the book I am preaching through, using means other than just the sermon. I feel preachers can easily make preaching the only means by which teaching or revelation can occur.

Anyway, over the past 18 months we have had many special events and exhibitions. This morning we decided to shake things up a little and held our first “Creative Sunday”. We asked people to allow themselves to be creative around the theme of “In Christ” which has been the overarching theme of our journey though Ephesians. We had many people come forward with paintings, poems, photography and much much more. People sat at tables and served themselves communion and we planted seeds as an expression of growing together in Christ. We have installed proper photo gallery railing so that we can keep the artwork hanging in our church permanently. As the photo-slide below indicates, it was a great morning and people of all ages said how much they loved it and were touched by people’s sharing.

Well, I thought it was a great idea and so should you!  lol!  Head on over and see how things went with the slide show put up over on his blog.