Response to Charlottesville, VA

SwasticaThis Sunday, in response to the deplorable actions of white supremacists and according to the necessity of the calling on my life as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I spoke to my church family in a public manner to register my disgust with the racism on display in Charlottesville. It seems odd that a minister of the Gospel would have to speak up and articulate a position which should be assumed as it is the ONLY position that can be held by any follower of Jesus and student of the Holy Scriptures of God. In the very public age in which we live, it seems necessary to also make my comments available as they were given extemporaneously during the first 12 minutes of the service this weekend. The clip is available HERE.

There is no Christian justification for any of the racist actions of what is known as the alt-right movement and the display of hatred at the weekend’s protests is categorically and completed indefensible. The position of our church and my position personally is that of the Word of God: That all men are created in the Imago Dei (Image of God) and therefore possess equal and inherent worth in the sight of God. Any different view discounts and disagrees with Holy Scripture and is cause for man to repent and seek forgiveness from God and his fellow man.

Any movement or action of a person or people that treat others as “lesser beings” based on race is evil, despicable, indefensible, ungodly, unholy, and is the antithesis of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A racist is no worse a sinner than any other sinner. All sin is offensive to God and damaging toward others. Our heart is for the reconciliation of all men to God, knowing that all who come to Him are made acceptable as one people known not by the deeds of our hands or the color of our skin but by the name of our Savior, Lord, and King.

We grieve with those who are hurt, frightened, or justifiably angered by the reprehensible conduct of those who advocate for all forms of racism and for any superiority of person on the basis of race.

We call on sinful men, including those protesting and advocating for white supremacy to repent and turn to God begging His forgiveness and pleading with Him for mercy. Further, we call on sinful men of all ethnicities to turn to God and from self, to trust in Christ alone who is the avenger of the weak and the judge of all mankind, and to seek reconciliation with God in consideration of God’s gospel work in our lives.

I do not know of one evangelical Christian who affirms or tolerates the sinful position of racists of any stripe. Racism is categorically wrong. That said, I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of those who have publicly denounced the actions of racists in Charlottesville in recent days so as to remove any perceived ambiguity as to my position.

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Pastoral Leadership is…

Bible at Night (2)Someone said of her pastor, “He is a great visionary! He has motivated our church to reach our city.” Another states, “He is such a people person. He is the first to be at the hospital bed of one of his parishioners.” Still another notes, “He is an amazing salesman. He raised a ton of money for that building.”

While I might agree that these are skills that serve a leader well in leading a church…I would also ask, “Is this the primary role of a pastor?” More directly…is pastoral leadership primarily about visiting the sick, casting incredible visionary strategies or raising funds to resource the mission?

I had a leader in a church I served once say to me, “You’re a really good preacher, but you lack in sharing vision and getting people to follow the plan.” I’m not sure if that was true, or if it was an attempt to wound, but ultimately, is this what we need more of…

QUESTION:
When did that become the primary criteria to evaluate a pastor’s leadership? 

I know and have heard the pragmatic arguments. I am not dismissive of them; rather, I am wondering why they do not appear 3 or 4 down the list.

Acts 1 states that prior to Pentecost, the disciples gathered in the upper room and gave themselves completely to prayer.

Acts 6 reminds us that the Apostles sought to delegate ministry to appointed men so that they might give themselves completely to the ministry of the Word and to prayer.

It was Peter’s Spirit-anointed sermon at Pentecost that led to the conversion of 3,000 (Acts 2) and it was the teaching of Peter and John that shook the city and incited the leaders to arrest them in Acts 4:1-4. Teaching that also led to the church’s growth to about 5,000 souls.

In his book, Leading God’s People: Wisdom from the Early Church for Today, Christopher Beely notes that, “It is significant…that the major theologians of the early church devote their reflections on pastoral leadership almost entirely to the ministry of the word (105).” Catch that, PASTORAL MINISTRY to the early church fathers was almost entirely focused on the ministry fo the Word of God to the people of God.

Early church father, Gregory Nazianzen stated, “The first of all our concerns is the distribution of the word.”

Beely also notes, “Pastoral leaders are primarily interpreters of the scriptures…teaching Christian truth and opposing falsehood and error.(108). This was the task the Apostle Paul called Timothy to in the pastoral epistles as well (1 Tim 4:13-16, 2 Tim 2:1-2, 2 Tim 3:16-4:5).

Application: 

As I have been meditating on some recent reading that prompted this short article, here are some thoughts that I believe warrant consideration:

  • If you’re a pastor seeking to balance expectations of God’s people…FIRST minister the Word. If there is time left for hospital visits, then do that. If not, equip others to visit the hospitals or call an associate pastor to assist you in this valid ministry of compassion (Eph 4:11-12).
  • If you’re a pastor and you’re not good at teaching, remember it is a qualification of office (1 Tim 3:2). Get better. You can! If you cannot or will not, then quietly leave the ministry and go work retail or file papers or hang lights in houses. I know God uses foolish things to confound the wise (1 Cor 1:26ff) but that is a statement about His power, not an invitation to be foolishly inept at the high calling of pastoral ministry.
  • If you are a part of a local church, guard your pastor’s time to study. He wants to study and meditate and pray but also to serve you. Bless him by telling him you are assured of his love and care, but that you want him to drink of the fountain of Scripture deeply so that he can lead God’s people well through the ministry of the Word. He will need your help doing this…because many fellow parishioners berate him if he is not there for the procedure to remove an ingrown toe nail.
  • Reset the paradigm. Vision casting, business acumen, and mercy ministries are all admirable, but choose to esteem most highly the ministry of the Word. It has been and continues to be the primary leadership task of pastoral ministry.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts…

When the Burden is not Lifted…

Bible praying hands (2)Yesterday, I kicked off a series of messages on what it is to be and make disciples. Like most days, I was burdened. For months I have been burdened in my spirit about the nature of discipleship in the Church and particularly in the church that I serve. I ask questions about whether we are effectively accomplishing the task of “making disciples.”

A “burden” is not a foreign concept for a preacher. Zechariah gives us insight…

1The burden of the word of the Lord concerning Israel. Thus declares the Lord who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him. Zechariah 12:1 (NASB95)

My task/responsibility/privilege to shepherd and preach to God’s people is a burden. Now…it is not that the people are a burden (though the demands and needs of the people of God can be, at times, burdensome; rather, the burden I speak of is that weightiness of the word of God for His people in my charge. This is a “burden” that He entrusts to the preacher to bear.

Most Sundays…I preach until the burden lifts. (Yep, I know that sounds weird…if you are not a “preacher,” but it is what it is).  Preachers are not “public speakers” in the sense that a politician, or motivational speaker, or even a “teacher/professor” is. Preachers step into the pulpit with a divinely given assignment, and are not “released” until they have completed the assignment.

I shared with my people yesterday…after preaching for nearly an hour…that I was not yet “unburdened.” Sure, the service was nearly over…but the burden remained. Why?

  • I was burdened for the response of the people. I sensed in my spirit that there were people who were choosing to leave the service while disobedient to the Lord’s will.
  • I was burdened for the consequence of their disobedience. Literally, our obedience or disobedience to the Lord impacts us…sometimes and ultimately for eternity.
  • I was burdened that the plea of God was not heard. God nearly always DRAWS men to Himself during the proclamation of His Word and the word of the preacher. The hearer may not respond but God is drawing.

I waited for almost an hour after the service…until everyone had left before leaving… because I was burdened.

Now I don’t say this to elicit “pity” or “sympathy.” I am not looking for consolation, nor am I having a “blue Monday” that preachers often have. God KNOWS that this is not my motivation. I am motivated, however, by my clear understanding that eternity hangs in the balance.

Now, honestly, I have heard preachers (and others) offer “suggestions” about the burden. I don’t necessarily understand their logic since it is not my “experience.” Here are a few-

  • “Remember, that results are not your concern.” Sure, I get that…but I am not speaking of the results. I am talking about the burden.
  • “That’s just how people are.” Ok, I get this…but I care about them. I too was the “way I was” and Jesus pursued me…hard. He was unrelenting. I am not sure how to relent…in light of that.
  • “God’s Word doesn’t return void.” Again, I get the sentiment…but what theological understanding allows a preacher to preach passionately and then to dispassionately declare in the midst of NO RESPONSE that God’s Word did what it was supposed to do? (Consequently, when Jesus cried out while looking over the city, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. How I longed to gather you together as a hen gathers her chicks, but you were not willing (MT 23:37),” did He just need to trust a little more that God’s Word doesn’t return void? )

I am convinced that there is and will always be a burden for the preacher. If He cares (not as a hireling but as a shepherd), then he must be concerned and weighed down at the awesome responsibility of the task of proclamation.

The continuation of the burden provokes me to intercede for my people. It drives me to prepare more, to preach harder, to stand in the gap, and to fall on my face. It is the burden that does not lift.

Guaranteed to Fail

Open Bible 1This morning was a bit unusual. I woke up from a fairly sound night of sleep in the midst of a dream that was very unusual. I was no longer in pastoral ministry. I was working for a non-profit and was experiencing a tremendous time of worship AT MY WORK. So, after I woke up and was working through my first cup of coffee, my mind began to wander. I was DAYDREAMING.

Now I am not a “dream interpreter.” Sure, God can use a dream to reveal new or next steps in our lives. He could realign stars or write it on the sky with an airplane too. I am analytical enough to ask if there was some stimuli in my mind from the previous day that maybe I was subconsciously processing that led to this change in ministry assignment. Maybe I was thinking about the pace of incremental growth among my people at church. Maybe I was thinking about those through the years that have given up the “steak” of the Word and chose a liquid diet of “Your best life by Friday.” Maybe, I was just tired still.

Then it happened. I was in one of my morning devotionals and it referenced 2 Timothy 4. So, I diverted there and realized that…if I was not careful, I was guaranteed to fail. 

The Apostle Paul’s exhortation to his “son in the faith” (1 Tim 1:2, 2 Tim 1:2, 2 Tim 2:1) was simple. If you are looking for success the way most people measure it, you are guaranteed to fail. If success for you is a widespread revival sweeping across your City with hundreds of thousands of people burning their magic books and casting their idols into the depths of the sea, you are destined to fail. If success for YOU is watching every person who enters the doors of your church become clones of Billy Graham, Jim Elliot, or “Lottie” Moon, you are guaranteed to fail.

NOW PAUSE but don’t turn away yet. I know it sounds painful to read further. You may want to conclude that Chris is “depressed” and move on…looking for rainbows and lolipops. Maybe you should…or maybe, you could find out how Paul encourages his “son in the faith.”

In 2 Timothy 4:1-8 we find:

  • A Predicted Outcome (vv.3-4).People will choose paths of less resistance. They will want to feel good about it, so they will find teachers who make them feel better. Teachers that offer “six steps to being awesome” lessons. They will shrink back from the commitment associated with the Christian life by the droves. We also find…
  • A Prescribed Activity (vv.1-2,5). This is an authoritative and solemn charge from spiritual father to son… PREACH the Word, always, rebuke, convince, exhort…and do it with GREAT PATIENCE. Think clearly and correctly about what success is. Endure hardship. Do the WORK of an evangelist. FULFILL YOUR MINISTRY. Finally, there is….
  • A Promised Reward (vv.6-8). The reward is found in the example of Paul himself who says, “This is what I am holding onto.” I have been faithful to do all that I have instructed you above. I have run my race all the way to the ribbon. I have KEPT THE FAITH. Because of this, Jesus has laid up for me a victor’s crown of righteousness…but not for me only…also for all those who have done likewise.

 

Faithfulness to fulfill our assignments is the basis for reward. It is not outcome-based but activity-based in spite of outcomes. We are fine to have goals and pursue them passionately and we are exhorted to celebrate achieving goals when they are God-centered and God-honoring! Praise God! Another ten people saved! Another encounter where I magnified the Gospel!

Hey friend. Be encouraged today…if you are faithful today. Be encouraged today if you are doing the work and running the race assigned to you. Be encouraged today if Jesus is the only one in the stands cheering you on…and run all the way to the ribbon.