The Actual Job of the Pastor

April 13, 2015

I’ll mention from the outset, that not all of you will agree with some of the positions that I take. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise since I’m an evangelical pastor that some of my positions are counter-cultural. But that’s not why I’m writing on this issue today. I’m writing concerning well-meaning Christians who don’t think people like me are going far enough.

Recently in the Northern Dutchess News, a letter to the editor appeared to call on the carpet pastors who are “apathetic cowards, invisible apostles, silenced saints while the cross lies abandoned in the gutter.” Strong words. He chastises the church for capitulating to the culture around itself instead of striving to be “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13–16). This is true in a number of cases. There are certainly churches and denominations that have given up on the book that undergirds all they say, think, and do: the Bible. Through amazing feats of hermeneutical gymnastics they rip the book from its context and make it say things it was never meant to say, all to appease the current cultural bugaboos. But, this writer specifically goes out to address evangelical pastors (like me) of not doing our job in leading the troops into the ongoing battle of the culture war.

Now, if all the job of a pastor was to lead a war against and ever-shifting culture, then frankly, I think I have my medals to prove my worth. I don’t normally brag, but I’ll pull a Paul on this one occasion (2 Corinthians 11:16–33):

  1. I have stood out front praying in front of Planned Parenthood.
  2. I have raised money and supported pregnancy resource centers and helped start one in the last community in which I ministered.
  3. I have spoken at a rally for religious freedom.
  4. I have participated and encouraged letter writing campaigns in support of persecuted brothers and sisters around the world and taken a stand for Christian values.
  5. I have publicly spoken out against the ongoing moral decline of our Western culture.
So, according to the letter writer, I should be fine. But unfortunately, the letter writer addresses issues which, fundamentally, are not the core part of what a pastor’s job is. Sure, a pastor is part of the larger world and should be exercising his rights of freedom of speech and religion, but his job is fundamentally about helping the people that the Lord has entrusted to him, and not necessarily as the leader of a culture war. What are the pastor’s jobs?
  1. To teach and preach the Word of God (2 Timothy 4:1–5). My primary obligation is to instruct my people what God has told us in His Word. That certainly includes what is morally right and wrong according to the Scriptures, and how Christians are to live in a world that fundamentally disagrees with them on said morality. But teaching the people is the primary obligation of the pastor. Not necessarily to lead a culture war as the general.
  2. To equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). As a product of teaching and preaching the Word of God, we are seeking to help our churches do the work of the ministry. It’s actually not my primary responsibility to be doing the work of the ministry (whether within the confines of our church doors or outside) but to give my people the tools and resources to do it. In the end, they’re the generals in a war against evil. I’m simply a military advisor.
  3. To lead the church (1 Peter 5:1–4). My job isn’t to lead the world. My job isn’t to be the world’s police officer. My job is to lead the church and exercise authority over it. While I need to speak the truth of the Scriptures into the world at large, my primary responsibility is to effectively lead the church God has given me. That’s enough work already than trying to lead the world too.
While I certainly have moral stands I take that are rooted in what God has revealed in the Bible, my primary job is not as a general of the culture war. Certainly I will speak the truth into the world (and expect the freedom to do so, just as I expect those with whom I disagree to have that same freedom), but I will primarily consider and care for the people that God has given to me. And I’m not going to whip them into a frenzy to brow-beat people of the world into submission. All people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and deserving of our respect and goodwill (Galatians 6:10). And, while that means not calling what is evil good and what is good evil (Isaiah 5:20), it does mean we’re going to be gentle and kind, and show the world a different way, based upon our love for each other, and our love for people (1 Peter 2:12).

I’m not a general. I’m just a humble servant of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, trying to help prepare my little sheep-fold for glory.


Hope for Today

April 6, 2015
Easter sort of builds us up to a heightened level of spiritual frenzy just to let us down again on Monday. We move through a season of preparation, are confronted boldly with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our forgiveness of sins, and then move to a crescendo of joy at His resurrection on Easter Sunday. Then, the next morning, we wake up and everything was as it was before. The climax is over. We move into the denouement of the story and conclude and ask ourselves, “what does this all mean for me today?”

It’s a good question. Why does the resurrection matter? We understand the cross and forgiveness and appeasement of God’s wrath, yet the resurrection looks so much like an end of life thing. When I sin, Jesus death has paid for that sin. But how does the resurrection bear on my life today, and not just as promise of eternal life? How does His resurrection, and my resulting resurrection bear upon my life today?Our hope, not only in the future, but for today, on Easter Monday, and every day, is bound up in the resurrection. Consider Peter’s words in 1 Peter 1:3-9,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Peter tells us, that those of us who are in Christ Jesus, have a living hope through Jesus’ resurrection. Not only do we have a future hope, but our hope is living and real and active for us today. The promise that we will receive our own resurrection, that is imperishable (it’ll never waste away), undefiled (never to be corrupted by sin), and unfading (it will never fade or lose it’s luster). Everything of which we see in our own lives today will be forever changed.

  • The chronic disease or pain will be gone. Have hope in the midst of it today, because it is momentary.
  • The sin issue that you’re constantly battling will be conquered. Have hope in the midst of it today, because it is momentary.
  • The signs of wear and tear and aging will be reversed. Have hope in the midst of it today, because it is momentary.

This is all being kept for us (preserved) by God and His power ready to be revealed to us at the end of our lives here on earth. This is something in which we can rejoice! All of our failed efforts, all of our desires to be young and beautiful, active and in good shape, pure and holy, are momentary pit-stops on our race to the finish line. At the end of the line is Jesus, and the promise of no more pain, sorrow, or tears. These things we experience in this life, are trials of faith. Will we trust in Jesus and the hope He offers in the resurrection, or will we turn our backs from Him.

All of this is simply making us more like Jesus. The trials, the pain, the tribulation, the suffering, is making us more like Him. Refining us into pure gold. So, when I see my trial, my pain, my disease, my sin, I see how Jesus is preparing me to inherit that incorruptible gift of new life. And while we may groan today under the weight of corruption, one day we will receive anew what was promised on Easter Sunday and will rejoice and praise Jesus! We will get to rejoice because we will one day receive the outcome of all of those trials that have refined our faith: salvation. Full and final.

So friends, take the resurrection of Jesus with you daily. Remind yourselves that Christ rose from the dead, and corruption and sin and disease and death have no lasting sway over us. Remember, when these things bring us low to the pits, we can remember, “this is momentary. I will receive an inheritance that will be eternal.”

We have hope through the resurrection of Jesus. Hope for tomorrow, and hope for today.


Book Review – Acts (EP Study Commentary)

March 31, 2015

Of the writing of commentaries, there seems to be no end. And, as the author of the book under review notes, four exegetical commentaries on Acts have appeared since he began writing in 2009. So, why another commentary on the book of Acts? Because, as we continue to study the Word of God, we are constantly understanding more and more the intent of God’s Spirit in how He directed Luke to record this information. And, since each commentary has it’s own niche, this volume in the EP Study Commentary series, helpfully fills a niche between very entry-level popular commentaries and full blown exegetical commentaries. For that, it makes a solid contribution.

Guy Prentiss Waters in this commentary on Acts does a helpful job of providing just enough exegetical and theological details into the text without them making it overburdened. After a standard introduction where he introduces us to the book he moves into the text. He does an admirable job of setting the scene of each passage, analyzing details, and making theological conclusions. At the end of each section, he helpfully provides some application from the text. The application is not rooted completely in our time which makes it more readily able to be applied in different times and in different cultures. The application is helpful overall. For instance, while acknowledging that Pentecost is not completely reproducible in our churches today, that it does not mean there is no application whatsoever. He reminds us that Pentecost has reversed the curse of Babel and men can understand each other in sharing the Gospel and that Jesus has saved sinners from the judgment they deserve and that the Spirit of God is available to believers in full supply. These are helpful elements to consider from the text, especially as Acts is difficult to apply at times because of its narrative form.

While Waters would certainly be of the Reformed persuasion, it does not mean that those who are not will not glean from the text some important truths. For instance, strong dispensationalists might disagree with Waters on Acts 2 and the nature of Joel’s prophecy and the formation of the church and it’s relationship to the Kingdom of God, but Waters helpfully addresses the issues without damaging one side of the theological spectrum or the other. A review of this nature, cannot begin to work through all the issues and possible interpretations that arise, but suffice to say, Waters presents a strong, evangelical approach to the book of Acts that most will be able to find benefit from.

If this EP Study Commentary is indicative of all, these volumes would be helpful additions to the libraries of serious Christians. Theological without being unintelligible, they take the text and show what it meant and what it means. That makes these commentaries eminently successful. Consider adding this volume to your library. You will refer to it often.


Silly Rabbit, Easter’s About Christ

March 30, 2015

I love candy. My wife’s a chocolate person, but I’m particularly drawn to candy. So I love Easter with all the jelly beans and such. Of course I like the chocolate too. Everyone loves a chocolate rabbit in their Easter basket. And sure as shooting we’ll all be digging into Easter baskets in our home on Easter Sunday. But, that’ll come after the important part. Because no matter how good candy is, it’s not better than Christ.

Yet the world is full of people who want to associate the timing of Easter with pagan fertility celebrations around the time of spring. Hence rabbits and eggs. Yet, Christians have utilized the symbol of the egg since the beginning of the earliest Christian communities as a symbol of the resurrection, and the timing of the celebration has coincided with the lunar paschal calendar (i.e., following the Jewish Passover). So, Easter has been celebrated in various forms in generally the same time period since the very resurrection of Jesus that the event celebrates.

But, that’s all beside the point. My point is, that while candy and chocolate and rabbits are good, they can obscure the main point of the holiday: that Jesus Christ died and was buried and rose again on the third day to new life. At this point, Christianity stands or falls, and therefore, is of supreme significance in the life of the church. Easter, is, and should be, the greatest holiday in the church’s calendar. And the attempt of modern advertisers to take a Christian holiday and turn it into a commercial success notwithstanding, the holiday still is about Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 reminds us that without the resurrection there is no Christianity. He writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Christians know there is life after death, and Jesus’ resurrection confirms this for us. If Jesus was not resurrected then we would be a people without hope, still lost and condemned in our sin, awaiting judgment at the end of the line. But the beauty of Easter is that Christ has conquered death. It could not hold him, and therefore, those who trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation have hope of living eternally with him. So, like Paul then, when faced with death the Christian can exclaim, “’O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Corinthians 15:55).

This is why Paul spends time arguing that the resurrection was verifiable. He tells the Corinthians that Jesus appeared after his resurrection to Peter, the other apostles, and more than 500 believers who were still alive at the time. Paul’s point? You could go out and ask for firsthand accounts that Jesus truly was alive. This meant that Jesus truly was God that his death had meaning for forgiving sins, and that God’s forgiveness of our sins resulted in what was originally supposed to be ours from the beginning: life forever with God in paradise. What joy and comfort there is in this life knowing that there is no fear in death, for I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. That’s what Easter does. It reminds us that we have hope that because Jesus lives, we will live too.

Whether Easter is connected to fertility rights from pagan times is beside the point. What’s not beside the point, is that the pagan gods died in winter and rose again in spring, only to die over and over again. Jesus died once, for all, the just for the unjust to bring you forgiveness and by his rising again, to bring you eternal life. That’s a much more powerful message that the world’s view of Easter. Candy and rabbits? I can take them or leave them. Christ’s death and resurrection? I cannot live without them.


Book Review – Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood

March 25, 2015

What follows is a review from my wife Tracy.

Motherhood is demanding, even exhausting at times. Many moms struggle with having the energy and fortitude necessary to keep up with the demands of their lives and the lives of their children. What adds to the difficulty, is motherhood doesn’t allow you to have much time to yourself. Getting adequate sleep can be a challenge, let alone carving out time to nourish yourself physically, emotionally, and most importantly, spiritually.

In her book, Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood (Waterbrook), Melissa Kruger gives us an encouraging and helpful antidote to this problem. This eleven-week devotional Bible study addresses many areas in which moms struggle. The first several weeks lay the groundwork by examining faith, wisdom, and prayer. The second part of the book looks at the fruits of the Spirit. Almost all moms will resonate with chapters covering such topics as joy, patience, and kindness. Each week of the devotional is broken down into five studies. The first four days examine topical Scripture verses, and the fifth day features a devotional reading. There is room right in the book to answer the brief, but helpful questions. The devotional contains all the Scripture readings within the book which is useful as well. Most readers could probably complete each day’s study in about 20 minutes. There is also a study guide in the back of the book for readers who wish to use the book in a group setting.

Moms desperately need to be encouraged and challenged spiritually on a daily basis. This practical book is a great resource for helping to make that happen. Pick up a copy and dedicate a few minutes each day to grow in your relationship with God. It is only at the foot of the cross that you will find the rest and energy you need to face the challenges of each day.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


Character Counts

March 18, 2015

Should it be any surprise, according to a Gallup poll, that when asked which profession is seen as dishonest and unethical, politicians top the list? It seems to be a common understanding amongst Americans that all politicians are corrupt and perhaps that’s just the way things have to get done on Capitol Hill. It wasn’t always this way.

Once upon a time ago, there was something to be said for character among our governmental leaders. We would expect that people who represent us on a national and international level would strive to be honest, prudent, and ethical people with the interest of the people at heart. Of course, now, the expectation is that all politicians are corrupt, unethical liars. And unfortunately, it seems that is more often the case than not.

Now, as a Canadian who cannot vote in the US (yet) I don’t have a horse in this race. Also, being Canadian makes me a little unique as I don’t fit in either extreme of left-ward liberal progressives nor right-wing tea party conservatives. I’m probably more center-right. That being said, it’s important to mention that character should count when it comes to politicians, which brings me to Hilary Clinton.

I’ll start out by saying the mantra, “all politicians are corrupt.” Tis true. The heart is desperately wicked for all of us (Jeremiah 17:9). So this could easily be addressed to any potential Republican presidential candidate. But since the matter in the news is Hilary’s e-mails, I’m going to address that. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) recently wrote regarding the e-mail scandal, “Let’s start having serious discussions about the real issues impacting the people of our country.” I’m with Bernie on this one. There are more important issues out there than whether Hilary did the right thing with her e-mail correspondence while working for Foggy Bottom. That being said, the issue at the core of Hilary’s e-mail problems are about character. And who we are at the core of our being determines how we will handle all those other issues.

As a pastor, I’m constantly reminded that my character makes or breaks my ministry. Paul told us pastors in 1 Timothy 3:2 that we are to be “above reproach.” There shouldn’t be things in our lives that people can point to and then call our ministries into question. It’s because we represent something vital as undershepherds of Christ within the church. In the physical realm, our government plays something of such a vital role that too, our politicians should strive to be above reproach. If they are to represent the best interests of this nation, they cannot do it for their own misguided self-interested pursuits, but must do it for the better good. Let’s bring this back to the Clinton’s.

Certainly, the Clinton’s are not unknown to scandal. We may think of Whitewater or Monica Lewinsky. And none of us are without sin. As I mentioned, all of our hearts are desperately wicked. Yet, for those of specific callings, and the highest in the land being President, we should be considering whether or not our hopefuls are above reproach, or do past scandals and current ones, call into question the ethical positions of those who might one day be in our highest office. If our President is willing to do whatever they want for their own sake, what might that mean for the future of our nation?

E-mails and policies and procedures are certainly low on the priority list of issues facing this nation. Yet, they reveal something about our hearts and about our character. There’s an important warning, to both us and our governmental leaders from former President, James Garfield:

Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature.

Let us not tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption in our own lives, nor in the lives of our leaders.


An Exposition of the BFC Articles of Faith – Creation

March 16, 2015

Last time we considered the Holy Spirit in our exposition of the AoF. Today, we’ll consider Article 6 – Creation.

The triune God, according to His sovereign will, created out of nothing and out of things that He had made, by immediate and mediate action, the worlds and all that is in them.1 He is the Governor and Upholder of the creation by His wisdom and by the word of His mighty power.2

1 Gen.1:1,2. See also Gen.1:3-2:3. Heb.11:3.
2 Col.1:16,17

Exposition

While this article may be brief, it is loaded with a lot of details. And while some may feel the details are unimportant, the nature of our creation is that which is vitally important.

Accordingly, the article tells us that the triune God created everything. A few important elements are here. First, that the act of creation is a joint effort among all three members of the Triunity of God. The Father obviously acts a direct cause of creation, yet we see the Holy Spirit involved as well “hovering over the deep,” and we know of Christ’s direct involvement from Colossians 1:16 and 17. As an outpouring of a unanimous and harmonious decision of the will of God, God created all things from nothing.

We cannot fathom nothing. Even the vast expanse of outer space still contains microscopic particles. Yet, before the entire universe existed, before all matter existed in the space-time-mass continuum, God took the nothing and made it something. The universe as we know it was spoken into existence from no prior matter by God. The article also reminds us that God used matter to create as well. We, as humanity, are the prime example. God took dirt and made man, and took the rib of man and made woman. Not only is the powerful sovereign God of the universe the one who can create from nothing, He can also take matter and fundamentally change it into something completely different.

Not only did He create all things, but unlike the God of deism, He continues His active involvement in all things as well. While God’s creation of the laws of physics allows electrons to spin and build the basic foundation of matter, it doesn’t mean God isn’t upholding those same laws. An atom spins because God wills it to spin. This means that God didn’t just start things off and send us on our way. He’s intimately involved in our lives and in our world and cares about how things operate so as to maximize His own glory.

Now, the article doesn’t tell us how God created all things. This allows for some flexibility on these issues. But, I would be remiss as your pastor to not tell you that I believe that the Scriptures teach and that science verifies, that God created the universe in 6 24 hour day periods from nothing. He did not do it over millions of years nor use evolution to bring us to this point. This position is what is known as Young Earth Creationism.

For some good resources on the issue, consider the following:

Mortenson, Terry, ed. Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth. New Leaf, 2008.

Snelling, Andrew. Earth’s Catastrophic Past. 2 vols. Institute for Creation Research, 2009, 2010.

Kelly, Douglas F. Creation and Change. Christian Focus, 1997.

Pipa, Joseph & David Hall, eds. Did God Create in Six Days? Tolle Lege, 2005.


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