Thursday, June 28, 2007

Express the Manifold Grace

An interesting post has spurred me to think about the subject of church leadership, in particular the gifts associated with it and how they come into expression over the life of a church. Despite the relative clarity of the scriptures about the subject, there seems to be a lot of fog surrounding it, so I'll add my two cents over my next couple of posts and hopefully not add any dry ice to the bucket.

Today, almost everyone exercising church leadership is called a pastor, as if the responsiblity and authority of church leadership (bishop/elder) tracked congruently and exclusively with the gift of pastor/teacher. That is unfortunate because I think it clouds the scripture and confounds our practice. I don't see that as what was ocurring in the biblical church, nor is it what is suggested in Ephesians 4. In that passage we are told that leadership could come from any of four (or five depending on your take on the passage) gifts or, perhaps, even a combination of those four/five gifts. All four are are the subjects of the leadership action which prepares God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. Properly applied, this passage means a church could be led (bishop/elder) by an apostle, or a prophet, or an evangelist, or a pastor/teacher.

That is, in fact, what happens in practice, regardless of whether or not our theology describes it that way. Although we call them pastor if they lead a church, their true gift is going to make itself known in the execution of their duties. A church "pastored" by an evangelist is likely to stress the invitational message reaching the unbelieving. A church "pastored" by a prophet is likely to stress the revelatory message. A church "pastored" by an apostle is likely to stress getting the church planted. A church "pastored" by a pastor/teacher is likely to stress discipleship.

I think that explains the imbalance we often see in church ministry. Our response to one-sided church emphases is sometimes criticism, but I think what we need is understanding from churches about this reality in the nature of their church leadership, and a willingness from clergy to embrace the giftings of others that can balance their own. I truly do not believe that diversity in leadership gifts is meant to produce handicapped churches, as it often seems to, but instead full-bodied expressions of the manifold grace of God.

7/6/07 Addendum:
An interesting take on the subject.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Ubiquity of Fossils

Ubiquity speaks of the commonness of a thing—it’s everywhere. Fossils have that quality, from the peaks of the Himalayas to the valleys of the Appalachians. In fact, fossils are so prevalent in sedimentary rock that the fossils found in it are the metric used to date and type it. According to classical, uniformitarian evolutionary scenarios, fossils formed by regular processes of death, deposition, compaction and mineralization. Water, winds, even volcanoes, laid down sediments upon the bodies of animals and plants. Millimeter by millimeter for thousands upon thousands of years the sediments built until the pressure was great enough to solidify them and the dead life forms within them into rock. The problem is that if this was the process that produced fossils, we wouldn’t have any!

When things die, especially animal life, there is not much opportunity to preserve it in the fossil record. If a dead thing is not buried completely and quickly, thousands of creatures, microscopic and large, begin a feeding frenzy. What they don’t destroy the elements do. The corpse doesn’t have thousands of days let alone thousands of years to mark it’s existence for all posterity. Fossils could form only if the sedimentation process was rapid, like in floods, landslides, volcanism, or sandstorms. But these mechanisms produce not only fossils, but also sharply delineated, localized fields of sedimentary rock. However, sedimentary rocks stretch square mile after square mile in vast fields of horizontal and uniform strata. In fact, about 75% of the land surface of the earth is covered by them up to an average depth of over 5400 feet.

Most the time, sediments are laid out flat, kind a like a college student during break. If you examine an outcropping in the Appalachians it may not appear that way, but the curvy strata there were caused by folding after sedimentation. In other places where sedimentary rock is present but not horizontal other geotectonic mechanisms can be forwarded to explain it. Sediments are laid horizontally. It’s just the physics of particles precipitating out of solution or suspension. Even if the floor they are settling on is serpentine, sediments settle in the low spots to a greater degree than the high spots until things are more or less evened out. When sediment fields stretch square mile after square mile in relatively uniform strata, a single body of murky water over the entire sediment field must have been responsible. How that occurred simultaneously with all manner of flora and fauna being rapidly covered by those precipitates presents some serious problems to the evolutionist in my mind.

Is there a biblical answer for such features? You bet:
For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. Every living thing that moved on the earth perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark. The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.
Genesis 7:17-24 (NIV)

It seems to me, the biblical account of a global flood offers a better mechanism for explaining the ubiquity of fossils than anything I heard from the nonbelievers.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Paradoxes shape the face of Christianity. A few examples:

We can't do anything to merit salvation, but if we do nothing we won't be saved.

We have not because we ask not, but once we get, God wants us to let it go.

Healing was provided in the atonement (the finished work of Christ), but we still get old and die.

The person who punches us in the nose for telling him about Jesus, isn't our enemy.

There are signs of the time we should be able to read, yet no one knows, nor can they know, the day and hour of his return.

Who knows why God governs things this way? I do know it does keep us humble. It does require us to live by faith. Faith always has been, and always will be the real issue in life. Since God does see faith as such a precious commodity, it behooves us to cherish it too. In that light, I suppose I'm going to have to find a way to accept the counterintuitional and the non-mutually exclusive. I'm going to have to learn to live with paradox.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Interactive Spookiness

Call... what is it? Let me tell you some stories, autobiographical ones, so no names will have to be changed to protect the innocent. God talks to people. Not just the folks in the Bible, but folk like you and me. God has talked to me.

As I was finalizing suicide plans my junior year at Penn State, something strange and unexpected occurred: I heard/sensed a communication inside my mind. The words were, "But you haven't given Jesus Christ a shot at your life yet." My suicide plans stopped, and I began to plan a change in direction. Not knowing what else to do, I called my mom who had "gone religious" about six months before, and asked her if I could join her church. A couple of weeks later I marched down the aisle of that Southern Baptist church and publicly confessed Jesus as my Lord.

About a week after getting saved, the most unusual event that has ever occurred in my life happened. This one makes me sound crazy, so I don't often talk about it. Saying it now sets that ship sailing! Jesus showed up in my bedroom as I was praying. I'm convinced he was really there. His presence was so real, powerful, and scary that I jumped on the bed and buried my head under the pillow for fear I would see God and die. I was lost in the experience, but I did get to ask one rational question of him, "How will I know you, how will I know what you want?" He said, "by the Book, you will know me by the Book." That experience is why I believe in the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. Later, in Bible college doctrine was taught that undergirded it, but it's not why I believe it beyond a shadow of doubt. I became a voracious reader of the Word!

I was at North Central Bible College in the cold climes of Minneapolis. My wife and I had dropped our careers, packed up our belongings, and went sight unseen to Minnesota to pursue the call of God on our lives. We had fasted and prayed, sought counsel, and then proceeded to do the exceptionally stupid. We relocated 1100 miles from home, without jobs, with very little money, to an apartment we'd never seen in a city we'd never been to, all in the dead of winter. I was walking home from an evening class, and the weight of it finally came down on me. I called out to God while walking in an alleyway home, "Am I really called, or did I make a big mistake?" His voice spoke to me, "you are called to the ministry of message. I will send you to the hard and broken places." My wife and I finished my preparation and have been following that call ever since.

In February of 1994, I was interceding for my congregation in the auditorium of our facility. I was distracted by my own sense of frustration but was trying to lay hold of God. Suddenly, I was seeing things. Only my wife, and an old pastor friend, know the details of what I saw, it's something I've kept and pondered in my heart. Yet that vision is what has kept me where I am these many years. I have thought about going elsewhere a time or two, but have never been released by God to another vision. It seems a silly thing rationally; "how?" "no way!" are the responses of human logic, but here I am because God speaks to people. He spoke to me.

There have been other instances in my life of his voice invading the spaces of my heart and mind-- directing my course, cluing me in on miracles about to happen, telling me the secrets of some one's heart, comforting me in the journey, telling me what to say.

I am so glad it's not all an academic exercise of literary criticism and philosophy. I'm absolutely relieved it's not a mathematical equation I've been left to figure out. I'm so grateful it's not an entrepreneurial experiment to see what scares up some traffic. God speaks! So here I am, satisfied and at peace, doing what I do in the midst of interactive spookiness.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Waking Up from the American Dream

A hotly debated issue these days is the relevance of the church in post-modern society. On one side of that argument, there’s a new movement that purports fitting seamlessly in with the world in the name of evangelism. Folk who believe that perspective cite the Apostle Paul as the foremost promoter of relevance, but clearly, Paul never promoted living worldly lifestyles in the name of evangelism. He merely said, more or less, "when you're eating with a heathen eat what the heathen eats." I see no liberty to translate that into watch what they watch, buy what they buy, pursue what they pursue, do what they do. No, we're called to be different.

If our lifestyle looks like the world around us, it’s not a good sign. It means were in sync with the world and out of sync with God. His ways are not mankind's ways, so Christians need to make His ways their ways rather than the world's! If our manner of life looks like the unbelieving world around us, why would any of them buy into the gospel we promote, when they already live exactly the way that we do without the hassle? What point would there be in that case of adding the trappings of religion? Vive la difference!

There's a lot of late in the blogosphere about this very thing, including some especially interesting posts by Dan Edelen and Mark Hadfield. The long and short of it from my perspective: Christians ought to stand out FROM the world even while they live IN the world. Different values, different activities, different dreams. That is in fact what makes evangelism attractive to the world. Once again, vive la difference!

Are you living the different life? If not, why not make a change? What's getting in the way: your suburban palace, the TiVo, the boat in the marina, your investment portfolio, worldly friends, entangling sin, fear? Why not let the hedges grow, sell the boat and buy a well for an African village, coach a Little League team, turn off the TV and spend some time helping the homeless shelter, put your potato chip money into missions, take in an orphan, or even just stop to talk to someone. Isn't it time for us to wake up from the American dream, and to start living God’s?

Saturday, June 9, 2007

At Our Elbow

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippians 4:5-6 (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Often, when Christians hear the biblical phrase “The Lord is near,” they think apocalyptic warning as in: "Oh no, I better behave, Jesus might come back tonight!" That is the case in some passages
, but it is not for this one. If it were, then an eschatological air raid siren would be juxtaposed between some generally encouraging words. How strange that would be if that were the case.

The word translated into English as “near,” literally means “at your elbow.” It can be used as a time reference but can also be used as a spatial reference. Context is key to understanding which way to take it. In this case the verse following is determinant. The thought is clearly nearness, as in a companion being close, "beckonable," and so without the possibility of separation anxiety. We are being told that God is with us, in fact beside us, literally, at our elbow.

Now that is a comforting thought. One that has legs-- it can walk through our entire life with us. When you are in situations which are making you tense, uncertain, or worried, there is someone with you that you can count on. You can tell him about what troubles you and ask him for assistance. Whether at school or the workplace or at home, God is not far away, He’s at your elbow.

This article is abridged from a Baccalaureate Address preached at Kutztown Area High School on June 3, 2007. Thanks to Robert C. Owen, from whom I first heard this particular interpretation of the text, and later found viable through my own study.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Good Heathen Counsel

Why are we so willing to devalue the gifts of another? Is it insecurity, pride, the influence of the enemy? Personally, there are times I don't understand the gifts of another, and admittedly, I can be rather quick to pull out my ladder, go up into the tree and start fruit inspecting. Fruit inspection, testing, and mutual judgment are really the only biblical means we do have to deal with the subject, but do we have to do it with such virulence?

Everywhere in the blogosphere, on the radio, in books and magazines, self-appointed judges are holding self-proclaimed prophets' feet to the fire. It ain't pretty most of the time! Isn't there at least a vestige of respect due to someone who calls Jesus Lord? Even if someone is off doctrinally in what we consider a very dangerous way, we should always be mindful of how our response will affect the unlearned and weak. When we throw ice water on the gifts of others with such gusto, the babes watching decide never to give anyone the opportunity to do that to them. It doesn't make them careful, it makes them timid and silent! If angels disputing over the body of Moses could be respectful of demons, shouldn't we be a little more cautious when disputing those who may well be brothers and sisters in the Lord?

My grandmother was a salty character, not a church lady at all, but I did learn some wisdom from her. In the midst of my adolescent rebellion, I happened to say something disparaging to someone in her presence. She took me to task for being disrespectful. I rejoined that nobody got my respect until they proved they deserved it. She cut my feet out from under me, correcting me with, "Everyone gets your respect until they've proved they don't deserve it!" She was right, I have tried to live by that ever since. She was a heathen, but I find myself wishing we followed her good counsel in the church!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

A Shepherd's Heart

I have five children, thanks to college graduation, they're all at home again, at least for a little while. One of the elders in my church has six kids. He told me something years ago that has always stuck in my memory, and that now can be verified by my own experience. There is a sense of peace and satisfaction that comes when all of them are in bed at the end of the day; safe, sound, and snoring. Until then, there's always a bit of tension or concern, at least enough to keep rest at bay. When one or more are gone, you can remember them in prayer, but it's not quite the same as seeing them zonked out under the covers!

As a pastor, I "worry" about my people. I believe I should be at least a big brother to them, but the truth is, I feel like a father in so many ways. I want to protect them from the predations of wolves. I want to teach them the family business and see them step forward into responsibility and productivity. I enjoy hearing them tell me about their lives, how things went when they tried something, what they've noticed, what they learned, or what God said to them. I like being there in the seasons of life with them, watching them go through their paces.

There is a certain movement afoot today that resents that kind of patriarchal thinking-- that a pastor would consider the folk of the congregation "his", or that he would feel fatherly about them. So old school! Those of that ilk do not want a pastor but a host, it seems to me.

There's also a school of thought out there that's very pragmatic about organizational behavior and the "business" of church. Those of that ilk would see my feelings as a detriment to growth and an inhibitor to leadership. Some sheep, in that kind of view, don't need to be there if they're not part of the demographic the church entrepreneur is trying to recruit or if they're not in tune with his vision. Leadership is about making tough decisions. Not getting bogged down in a singular problem is a ticket to progress: keep the train rolling at all costs! Just because church is about sheep doesn't mean the pastor has to step in something sticky! ;-) Pastors that buy into this kind of thinking end up as the CEO of Joe Schmo & Sons, Religious Practitioners, LLC.

I have a different dream. Jesus said to his Father, in the midst of his high priestly prayer, "None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled." Jesus could bear to let a nonbeliever go, but if one was a believer, he couldn't bear to lose any. I don't know how to follow another example but his. So with fatherly concern, I'll rest much easier, when the twilight closes on the longest day's labor, and I see all the children that have been in my charge under the cover of Jesus' arms in glory. In the meantime, God, grant me neither keen business sense nor savvy marketing skills but simply a shepherd's heart.