Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Way to Harmony



“When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ?  And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body.” –1 Corinthians 10:16-17

            Imagine waking up in the morning eager to go to work.  The harmony between you and your co-workers makes for a happy work environment.  The challenges of accomplishing tasks are easy because you have a supportive boss.  The sales team communicates with you and your colleagues so that production happens with a seamless co-operation.  Lunch-time talk is discussing one another’s families and your hopes for the upcoming evening with them.

            Imagine going home and enjoying conversation around the dinner table with your loved ones.  Laughter, inside-jokes, hilarious stories about the day’s antics are shared with great food and great fun.  Everyone lingers at the table, enjoying the time and staying in their chairs to put a puzzle together.

            Imagine getting out of bed on Sunday morning with joyful anticipation in your heart of worshiping God with people of like mind.  You know the interaction with fellow believers in Jesus will be open, honest, sweet, and full of grace.  The wonderful relationships between God and people will be celebrated at the Lord’s Table….

            It could be that somewhere in those descriptions you pursed your lips with a “ppfffff” – like that’s gonna happen!”  That’s because you feel drained from the lunch-time gossip gab session at work; you couldn’t wait to finish supper at home because of the bickering between your kids at the table; and, you drag yourself out of bed on Sunday out of duty, knowing that the Lord’s Table will be just another ritual to do with people who don’t talk to each other across the divided aisle. 

            There is someone who understood this reality first-hand, and knew that it really could be different – it could be a new reality that fulfills, even exceeds your imagination of harmony and unity. 

The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the 1st-century Corinthian church to emphasize that the work of Jesus on the cross effected what we call “reconciliation” between God and people, and between each other as people.  This means that God, in Christ, has restored relations between us and God, and between one another.  The relations between the Corinthian believers had broken down into special interest groups, and there was no interaction or fellowship or participation between those various factions.  People basically just hung out with others who thought just like them, and did not care about what other people in the church thought; each group wanted their own way, and they had not yet learned how to work together and have true unity and fellowship with each other.

Participation in Christ, and participation with each other is the result of the reconciliation that has been applied to us because of the cross; and, it is this reconciliation that brings unity or one-ness to your church, to your workplace, and to your family, allowing you to work together and play well with others.  So, when we come to the Lord’s Table, it is this truth that we celebrate, enjoy, and re-create together.

            Jesus is not just someone we remember, but someone we participate in through the Lord’s Table.  Sharing the Table together brings healing and forgiveness, and builds up our faith so that we might joyfully live in the reconciliation that Christ has brought us. 

            Therefore, we must live up to what we possess - our participation in Christ results in participation and fellowship and unity with each other.  Since we are forgiven, we work at being harmonious at church, at work, and at home.  This is symbolized by partaking of the same loaf of bread, and drinking from a common cup.


            Peace, harmony, unity, and fellowship begins with Jesus Christ.  Workplace enjoyment will happen with an intentional development of encouraging language on your part, based in your participation with Jesus.  Family harmony will come when you seek to live into the reconciliation bought for you with Christ’s body and blood.  Church unity will exist when you make things right between you and God, and you and others with the cross always at the forefront of your mind and heart.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Hermeneutical Hubris



            What in the world is that!?  It’s the shortest little phrase I know to communicate a practice that I believe has been and currently is a destructive force in the church today.  With it, the best-case scenario is that congregations will continue to decline and eventually fade away and die; and, a worse case situation, congregations will abuse other people in the name of Scripture and leave a footprint of pain, depression, and woundedness that has terrible effects for all.  But without it, congregations can learn to do more than survive; they can thrive and flourish under a fruitful understanding of Christianity.

            “Hermeneutics” is the technical word for Bible interpretation.  “Hubris” is excessive pride coupled with misplaced self-confidence.  I can’t think of a better two words to describe the current state of a great deal of churches today.  It typically comes in the guise of “upholding the authority of Scripture.”  This is an evangelical catch phrase which means, “a literal interpretation of the Bible is what we hold to, and any other way of looking at Scripture is just wrong, and we will squelch any other view because we are right.”  Other interpretations are categorically labeled as “liberal” and discarded as progressive bunk.  Without a literal interpretation of Scripture, many churches believe that the Bible is thrown under the bus.  Like I said, hermeneutical hubris.

            Now, before you try and label me as liberal, just know that I take a “literal” interpretation on a good chunk of the Bible.  But I also take a poetic interpretation of Scripture; a mythological interpretation of Scripture; a metaphorical interpretation of Scripture; and, a typological interpretation of Scripture.  I do this because Scripture itself interprets itself in several different ways.  This is the reason why folks who hold to a solely literal view of the Bible continue to be befuddled by all kinds of Scripture verses.

            As one of many examples, the New Testament Gospel writer Matthew had a habit of referring to Old Testament passages in very non-literal ways.  When the child Jesus was taken to Egypt and came back to Judea years later, Matthew (2:15) quotes Hosea 11:1 – I called my son out of Egypt.  Matthew only quotes part of the verse.  The entire verse says, When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.  Hosea was talking about the ancient Israelites’ deliverance from Pharaoh and the Egyptians. 

            Matthew employs this kind of interpretive method throughout his Gospel.  It is an old Jewish hermeneutic called pesher.  It is a way of interpreting Scripture that believes there is a plain surface meaning to the text which everyone can know, but also a deeper level of meaning buried within which one must dig out.  Matthew was “pesherizing” the prophet Hosea to identify Jesus with Israel as the Son who fills and fulfills the promises of God.

Another Jewish mode of interpretation is midrash, which is a way of looking at Scripture as a practical means to live by, and uses the narratives and stories of the Old Testament for contemporary significance.  Paul does this in his letter to the Galatians in talking about the Old Testament characters of Hagar and Sarah.  “The son of the slave woman [Hagar] was born in the usual way.  But the son of the free woman was born because of God’s promise.  All of this has another meaning as well [my emphasis].  Each of the two women stands for one of the agreements God made with his people…” (Galatians 4:21-31).  Paul was using an Old Testament story to highlight the freedom which believers have in Christ and that they should never return to the bondage of the law.

Speaking of bondage, insisting that a literal interpretation in the only means of understanding the Bible’s authority is to ignore and abuse the actual and real authority that exists with the Bible.  Let me be clear: I am in no way encouraging an “anything goes” type of approach to Holy Scripture that lets it say whatever you want it to say.  What I am saying is that the biblical writers themselves employed different methods of interpretation, not to mention that the early church fathers did, as well.  Its just one reason that I hold to the interpretive guides of the ancient Christian creeds, i.e. The Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed.

Far too often churches stick to a literal interpretation with the notion that they are keeping its fidelity out of fear that Christendom will be lost to the broader culture, and society will sink into an abyss of egregious sin.  The irony is that many churches are sinking into forms of abusive and ungracious behavior by fighting battles that Scripture itself never calls them to fight.


It’s time to do your homework.  Quit listening to evangelical pundits who prognosticate with scare tactics, and take up your God-given freedom in the power of the Holy Spirit to read your Bible.  The binary thinking of “I’m right and you’re wrong” is not an approach you’ll find in God’s Holy Word.  Set the hermeneutical hubris aside, and allow Scripture to do its intended work of leading us to Christ and to live into his words and ways.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Church Outlaws



            My wife’s family loves Westerns.  In fact, the first time I went to Mary’s house the first thing I noticed was the rather large print of John Wayne above the TV.  So, as you can imagine, I’ve watched my share of gun-slinging cinema.  Probably the classic Western is one in which the band of outlaws comes into town every so often and shoots it up, drinking and carousing and having their way.  The town sheriff might have the authority as the law, but he can’t face the outlaws by himself.  In typical Western movie build-up, the final shoot-out of the film has the town folk convinced to quit hiding in their homes and businesses.  The outlaws come into town thinking they will have their way again, but this time the people are ready with rifles on their roof tops, and a plan to bring them down to size.  It works, and the town once again restores law and order, having found their courage to not only survive in the Old West, but to thrive.

            Christian pastors are some of the loneliest people on earth.  They’re that way because far too many congregations are like the old Western town folk.  They don’t have the gumption to stand up to the church outlaws.  So, they let their sheriff get shot in the street by the bad guys while they cower in fear behind the bar. 

            No pastor can stand alone.  He/she needs the strong support of church members who will stand with that pastor when the outlaws ride into church on their high horse.  When individual church members have had their way with a congregation for too long, they use every trick in the book (even trying to use the Bible for their backup) to keep the status quo because the way things are keeps them in power.

            Make no mistake about it, keeping power is what the outlaws want.  They will appeal to the fact that:  they are charter members; they give more money than anybody else; they did a certain ministry for decades; they know what the congregation is really thinking and feeling; and, they’ve seen pastors come and go and they’re still there.  Therefore, you should always listen to them and do what they say. 

            Never mind that the church outlaws have never led another person to Jesus Christ (even though they’ll tell you how to do it).  Never mind that they don’t read their Bibles (even though they’ll let you know how many thousands of sermons they’ve heard over the years).  Never mind that they don’t worship God as a lifestyle (even though they’ll fight to the end over what a worship service is supposed to be like).

            If you’re reading this right now, chances are that you are not one of the church outlaws.  That’s because church outlaws are never learners and growers in Christ – they are only power-brokers in the church system.  This is precisely why you need to support your local sheriff and get that rifle out and head for the roof top.  If you don’t, the outlaws will keep throwing their bluster and weight around to get what they want.  And what will get lost in it all is God’s kingdom getting extended to the people who need it the most, and God’s will done on earth, as it is done in heaven.

            What’s at stake is not only your church’s reputation, but your community’s need for Jesus Christ.  Church outlaws don’t need to hold your congregation hostage.  Conflict in and of itself is not bad – it’s how you go about it.  But leaving a pastor out in the street to be hung by the outlaw mob in the name of keeping the peace is very bad and is not at all becoming of a faithful follower of Christ.  Not to mention that God himself will take notice of it if we refuse to act.


            Seek out your pastor.  Listen well to him/her.  Hear their heart for the church, and for the community.  Ask them how you can help.  And determine to stand with them when the outlaws ride into town.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Unimaginable Darkness



            Recently, a confluence of circumstances came together at once to create some rather dark days.  Last week, an explosion at a local corn mill killed four people and injured many more.  Spending time with employees, family members of maimed and lost loved ones, and a shocked community has caused me more than once see that I am staring in the face of unimaginable darkness.  Post-traumatic stress and survivor guilt are just a few of the more mild responses I’ve encountered.

            In addition, my seven-year old grandson is looking at a brain surgery within the next month.  His literally hundreds of seizures a day with generalized epilepsy has caught up with him.  In the last six months he has digressed in several capacities.  Radical intervention is now required.  Spending time with my daughter and family is at times gut-wrenching with the decisions she must make.  Although she is a wonderful Mom, the unimaginable darkness she must stare into every day I believe would crumple most parents to lifeless mush.  Not to mention that her husband was an employee of the business that exploded – and now he has no work.

            If you throw into the mix that there has been an above normal strain of ministry wear-and-tear in the past few months with church matters, and now you have a volatile mix of faith-testing.  That is, at least, what I choose to label it.  Way back in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, God tested Abraham’s faith.  He told Abraham to take his only son, go to a certain mountain, and there sacrifice him as a burnt offering.  If you read the story for the first time, and don’t know the ending, you might wonder if Abraham heard God right.  “Huh, God, you want me to what!?”  But we don’t get any reticence on Abraham’s part.  In fact, we get the opposite.  Early the very next day, Abraham is up and at it.  Even a three-day journey to the mountain doesn’t dissuade him from resolutely following through with God’s instructions (Genesis 22).

            When real genuine faith is put into action, it oftentimes just seems like sheer stupidity to others.  Abraham’s incomprehensible submission to God in this matter of sacrificing his son is unthinkable to most people.  The fact that Abraham has to do the deed himself shows the utterly extreme nature of what was being asked of him by God.  But I believe Abraham understood something that so many people nowadays cannot possibly comprehend unless they have endured extreme spiritual testing:  God can be trusted even in unimaginable darkness.

            Yes, the story concludes with Abraham being called upon at the last minute to withdraw his hand.  A ram caught in a thicket becomes the burnt offering instead of Abraham’s son Isaac.  But Abraham had no idea this was coming.  He simply plodded forward with his mind set on doing exactly what God had for him to do.  To have faith in God, to authentically worship Him as Abraham did, means to trust God totally and to put oneself and all of one’s life into God’s hands completely, even when we don’t know what the outcome will be.

            Even the Lord Jesus himself once cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Whether we like it or not, the Holy Scripture reflects an important life-truth that there must be suffering before glory.  Jesus himself became the substitute, the ram in the thicket.  He is our sacrifice, the once-for-all offering to end all offerings. 


            Unimaginable darkness exists – but so does crazy unthinkable unimaginable grace.  Unfathomable and bottomless mercy from God is available for every situation and each hard circumstance we face.  We are not always promised the outcomes we desire; yet, we are promised that God is with us, and that the Lord will provide.  “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…. The LORD Almighty is with us” (Psalm 46).  May the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit be with you, today and always.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Pray for Your Pastor



 "Obey your leaders and do what they say. They are watching over you, and they must answer to God. So don’t make them sad as they do their work. Make them happy. Otherwise, they won’t be able to help you at all” (Hebrews 13:17, Contemporary English Version).

“Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit” (Hebrews 13:17, New Living Translation).

“Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God. Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?” (Hebrews 13:17, The Message)

A survey on American clergy by the Schaeffer Institute found some of the following information:
·         90% of pastors report working between 55-75 hours per week.
·         70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
·         50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they had another job lined-up right away.
·         80% of pastors believe church ministry has negatively affected their families.
·         80% of pastoral spouses feel lonely and underappreciated by church members.
·         40% of pastors report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
·         50% of pastors starting out will not last five years.
·         Only 10% of pastors will actually retire as pastors.
·         Over 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month in the United States; 1,300 of them are fired by their churches.
·         The number one reason pastors leave the ministry is that church people are not willing to go the same direction and support the goal of the pastor; pastors believe God wants them to go in one direction but the people are not willing to follow.

Speaking as a pastor, the one thing I want every single church member to know about me is this:  Your prayer support is my life support.  Without regular, earnest, sustained, fervent, and constant prayers sent for me and my family, no matter how hard I labor or how much I work the ministry will go nowhere.  But with habitual and spirited prayer, even the most anemic weaknesses can be transcended and the church can grow with thriving health and joy.

Lift up prayers for your pastor today and every day, appealing to God concerning these things:
            P rotection from the enemy
            R est
            A nointing of the Spirit
            Y ielded heart to God
            E ffectiveness in ministry

            R ighteous life of integrity

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Theological Thespian



           Every one of us has experienced the awkward times of sitting through a boring preacher, a monotone teacher, and/or a pasty looking person leading a ministry with about as much life in him as a bowling ball.  Yes, God’s Word is always relevant no matter how it is presented.  But that doesn’t mean it has to always feel like eating rice cakes and brussel sprouts.  The Word of God ought to be presented in the life and power of the Holy Spirit and with a great deal of flavor!  Ministry done with some attention to the ministered will have a winsome and gracious tone about it that is attractive. 

This is where we could take a lesson or two from the world of actors.  The ability to connect well with an audience; showing emotion and empathy; and, exhibiting confidence are just a few ways where church leaders and ministers can take the sacred Scripture text and communicate it with all the gusto of an actor – to be a kind of theological thespian who is concerned not just to know the Bible, but to communicate it in a riveting manner that displays all of its timeless message.  For the Word of God is really a divine drama, an unfolding production of redemption.  And we are to be the divine dramatists who proclaim the creation, fall, redemption, and new creation of God’s tremendous work in the world.

We are, therefore, to be mindful and present both to the text of Scripture and the congregation who we serve.  The ability to connect authentically with the thoughts and feelings of others in order to demonstrate a resonance with God’s Word and Christ’s ways needs to be established so that parishioners can walk away taught and inspired toward a more biblical path to live their daily lives.  But sometimes fear can get in the way, keeping us from being confident in what we are doing – fear of failure; fear of what others might think; fear of being hurt emotionally; fear of not being good enough.  Yet, if we focus more on our identity and security in Christ and less on our abilities or lack thereof, then we can step boldly into ministry to others using various means at our disposal to express ourselves dynamically as we present God’s Word.

Maybe this all sounds a bit contrived.  But consider the Old Testament prophets.  They were filled with pathos.  They did anything but simply say God’s message – they proclaimed with incredible passion and sometimes even with arresting object lessons and shocking word pictures.  Whether it was Ezekiel lying on his side for 390 days to symbolize the upcoming siege of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4); Jeremiah putting a linen belt around his waist to communicate the worthless pride of the people (Jeremiah 13:1-11); or, Elijah on Mount Carmel taking on the prophets of Baal with physical altars and speeches of sarcasm (1 Kings 18:16-39); God’s messengers have always communicated their given message with the same tools used by actors in order to bring that vital Word to people in the power and pathos of the Holy Spirit so that it is believed and obeyed.

There are a few simple ways we can develop this ability to communicate a bit further.  If you have children or grandchildren, read to them.  Take on a unique voice for each character.  Read the story with emotion and enthusiasm – even if it does not feel natural to you.  Picture immersing yourself in the characters of the book as if you were them, and let the words flow through that grid.  If there are no kids around your house, volunteer to read in a church Sunday School class, or even at the local elementary school (which, I guarantee, are always on the lookout for those who will come to a class and read).

Another way, similar to reading to kids, is to begin always reading Scripture aloud with the same attention to character, voice, and situation.  Read a particular text over several times in different translations, playing with different tones of voice and various emphases on words.  After a few weeks of doing this, it will begin to become part of you.


Other suggestions are:  taking an improvisation class; reading a biography or, better, an autobiography of a favorite actor; and/or actually re-creating some of the object lessons in the prophetic books of the Bible for your ministry.  Whatever it is you choose to do, be intentional about the development of connecting the biblical text to people.  It is an endeavor you will be glad you invested in, with eternal results.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

God - The Jilted Lover



Throughout the Bible, God likens his relationship to his people much like a lover – as if he were married to them.  God’s covenant relationship with his people is at the heart of understanding the whole of Scripture.  Whenever they stray from his promises, God is offended and hurt. 

            Yes, God feels pain.  God is an emotional Being, which is why we have emotions as people created in his image.  One way to look at the Bible is that it is a book primarily about a jilted lover – and that lover is God.  He has set his affection and his love upon people, but, for the most part, people have spurned their lover’s advance.  And it pains God.  When the original man and woman decided to find satisfaction outside of God, he was jilted and hurt.  When people went on to have children and raise them, they did so largely apart from the God who loved them.  People strayed so far from God that it hurt. “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.  The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:5-6).

            But God was still gracious, sparing Noah and his family.  He took a group of Noah’s descendants, Abraham’s family, and set his covenant affection on them.  Through the Israelites God hoped to lead the entire world to himself.  Yet, they, too, came to fail God and set their affections on others.  So, we have a large chunk of the Old Testament devoted to communicating God’s hurt and disappointment.  Like a jilted lover, God longed for Israel to remain faithful, and, at the same time, was hurt and angry.  So, then, we have prophecies like Hosea.  Hosea had an unfaithful wife, and throughout the book of Hosea the relationship between him and Gomer mirrored the relationship between God and Israel.  Just as Hosea did not give up on his wife, even though she was brazenly unfaithful, so God looked at Israel as his wife and could not bear to give her up.

            But Israel still did not seek God’s love and grace.  And it aroused within God pain and anger because not only did they spurn God’s affectionate advances, they actively sought other lovers, as the prophet Ezekiel communicated in language not suitable for children:
25 At every street corner you built your lofty shrines and degraded your beauty, spreading your legs with increasing promiscuity to anyone who passed by. 26 You engaged in prostitution with the Egyptians, your neighbors with large genitals, and aroused my anger with your increasing promiscuity. 27 So I stretched out my hand against you and reduced your territory; I gave you over to the greed of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were shocked by your lewd conduct. 28 You engaged in prostitution with the Assyrians too, because you were insatiable; and even after that, you still were not satisfied. 29 Then you increased your promiscuity to include Babylonia, a land of merchants, but even with this you were not satisfied.
30 “‘I am filled with fury against you, declares the Sovereign Lord, when you do all these things, acting like a brazen prostitute! 31 When you built your mounds at every street corner and made your lofty shrines in every public square, you were unlike a prostitute, because you scorned payment.
32 “‘You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! 33 All prostitutes receive gifts, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors. 34 So in your prostitution you are the opposite of others; no one runs after you for your favors. You are the very opposite, for you give payment and none is given to you (Ezekiel 16:25-34).

            Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God could not help but be gracious to his beloved wife (Isaiah 54:5-10):
For your Maker is your husband—
    the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
    he is called the God of all the earth.
The Lord will call you back
    as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
    only to be rejected,” says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
    I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
    I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord your Redeemer.
“To me this is like the days of Noah,
    when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
    never to rebuke you again.
10 Though the mountains be shaken
    and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

            As the Old Testament comes to a close, God was still longing for his beloved to return.  “This is what the LORD Almighty says:  ‘I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her.’” (Zechariah 8:2).  All of this was in the heart of the Apostle James when he wrote to the church about their spiritual adultery (James 4:4-6).  He knew that she was flirting with the world, and he wanted them to stop and return to the God who loved them and longed to show them grace, if they only would but humble themselves.  The Apostle John put it this way: Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17).

            Here is the bottom line, my friends:  God does not want us to go somewhere else to have our needs met.  God yearns, passionately, for us to find our pleasure and enjoyment in him.  If and when we adulterate ourselves with the world, it hurts God deeply, like it would any jilted lover.  God waits with loving patience to show his grace and compassion.  But we have to be in an attitude of humility in order to receive grace.  Pride prevents us from receiving God’s good gift. 


            Seek the Lord while he may be found.  It is through the Lord Jesus Christ that all of God’s good promises and love find their ultimate fulfillment.  Come to Christ.  Receive the forgiveness he offers.  Walk his path of discipleship.  Follow Jesus.  Forsake all to obtain Christ.  He longs to show his affection and love to you.