The Weekly Tour… A Church Tale

I’m in a writing mood today, so there’s a bit of a vent coming. The pressing need, which is code for what’s on my mind, is to discuss a great cultural elephant that sits in the church’s living room. Some, maybe even many, are ready to discuss this elephant, but it seems few are willing to pay the price to make the change required to make the elephant go away. In order to set up this mornings thought I want to offer a central thought that will drive the rest of the article.

The church, universal and local (big “C” and little “c”), exists for one distinct purpose; the display of God’s glory. The church, locally (little “c”), consists of covenant members who are growing in truth, sharing & serving in life, and declaring the gospel to the world. To be part of the one you must be part of the other.

This is more or less a summary of the stuff I’ve been reading on biblical, healthy church,  church, as well as being part of it. I even preached a sermon on it last fall. I would even hazard to say that most people would agree, and certainly most pastors would agree. However, the church buffet just seems to keep growing, and thus we have our elephant.

The local church, which is really the local, visible expression of the universal church, is the most talked about form of the church (or assembly, gr. ekklesia) in the right half* of the bible, yet it seems to lack value, culturally, when it comes to living out our faith. It’s not that people don’t go to church, in fact I think the problem is the exact opposite, they go to too much church, or maybe it would be better described as going to too many churches. In my experience, in our region (and I suspect this may be happening in others, but who knows) it is all too common to see people taking part in multiple churches. You might read that and then ask, “what’s the problem with that?” which is a legitimate question, but has an answer in what is really the heart of the problem. While people are busy taking part in multiple churches, they are committing to none. People have largely come to see the church as just how I described above, a buffet of sorts. When this occurs the local church suddenly exists to provide for the larger Christian community a swath of programs, opportunities,  and events. I’ve even heard people comment on how cool it is that people partake in so many different churches and their activities. Going Saturday evenings to one church for the preaching, another on Sunday for the music, attending small groups with another church, kids going to youth group at another, Awanas at yet another.  Then when asked which is the home church, there is no definitive answer, and if there is, the answer is not backed up with membership, or even commitment to that local body. It’s just the place where you might find that person, or family, most often. Now, the argument can be made that I’m being a bit hyperbolic, and yes that’s true, but only a bit. While this specific extreme may be rare, there are many degrees of the problem at work around the region. I have even heard church leaders talk positively about this happening, without realizing what they are then promoting.

It may be time that we asked ourselves some honest questions, seriously, have we ever stopped to think that maybe the reason the world holds the church in such low regard is because they see so many “believers” doing it first? Let’s be honest, the world may see us running around going to all these churches, but do they really see the church as being a valuable part of our lives? Is our involvement in church lending to more meaningful interactions with our neighbors, especially our unchurched neighbors? Are we taking part in the life of our local church, or are we just partaking of the offerings of local churches? Do we count involvement (membership) in a local church as essential to our understanding of what it means to live as a Christian? Do we understand that hanging at the lake, going out to golf, riding the dirt bikes, heading to the mall, the slopes, the river, or the coffee shop, is not church? (Unless your local church happens to meet in a coffee shop.. shout out to my friends over at Origin Church)  Do we understand that being part of the big “C” church happens by being part of, not just attending, the little “c”? (in other words the big ‘C’ consists entirely of the little “c”) Do we know that loving the church means loving the people, not the cool factor? Do we love the church

WE NEED A RESET! We need to get back to the place where the church, the local church, the local, on the corner, less than 30 minutes away, expression of the BRIDE OF JESUS, matters, and we are rejoicing that we get to be part of her sanctification. Where we have “our church” where we are members, committing by covenant to be part of the life, the doctrine, the beauty, and the grime of our church family. This is one of the most essential needs of the church in this age. It’s not a return to some utopian dream, it’s getting back to a proper biblical view of the church. It’s not pitting churches against one another, nor is it promoting isolationism, exclusion, or superiority,  it just means we stop flitting about town going to many churches and neglecting our responsibility to be part of one. In fact I would hope that it would be at that point that local churches could stop trying to build massive ministries and partner together in the communities they exist in.

It’s holding to an understanding that the primary purpose of the church is a proper display of God’s glory to the world around us. We as Christians are not the purpose of the church, the church does not exist for us, because we are the church. This means we exist to display God’s glory to the world around us. This does not mean we consume every program that we enjoy from every church within an hour driving distance and never commit to becoming members of a church and submitting to church leadership and spiritual authority (Heb 13:7). It doesn’t mean just going once a week to a specific church either, going and taking in is still just another form of consuming, you need to commit being part of the body, its life, its ups, its downs, its sorrows, and its amazing joys.

We need people that are willing to start adopting this view and then making the sacrifices necessary to follow through. Although the odd thing is that you may find that there is more time available to you to get rest, and not be so rushed. You may find that the ache to be more deeply connected (known by, and knowing others) in a church becomes satisfied. It requires an understanding that it’s messy and beautiful, painful and joyful, weighty and light all at the same time. It’s serving one another and serving together in the communities we live in. It’s resisting the urge (the enemy) when we want to abandon ship because of something petty, or slander leadership when they make a mistake. It’s submitting to that same leadership in humility, trusting their lead, yet a willingness to go to them when there are issues in the church. It’s committing to covenant membership, submitting to healthy accountability and possibly discipline.

In addition we need church leadership (pastors/elders) who are clinging to this view and are willing to walk through the costs that come with it. It requires true life on life discipleship, especially by the pastors/elders. It requires the pastors to live in and invest in the communities where their flocks are (My good friend in the bay area always says; good shepherds smell like sheep). It may cause people to leave the church, which we hate to see, but may be necessary. It means churches need to stop pandering to the consumerism and may even need to correct those in the congregation that are taking part in it (it may even require direct conversation with other pastors and people, helping with that local church working as a network thing). It means churches evaluating the practices of membership, discipline, and discipleship.

I don’t say this lightly, and I don’t say this just to stir up controversy, I say this because the Church was purchased, called and set apart through the blood of Jesus. It’s His Bride, and yes He has entrusted it to flawed humans, but that doesn’t mean we get to abandon ship for our own versions of church. We desperately need to get a good view of the biblical church, the amazing way in which it was set up that we as God’s people would flourish. We need to value Jesus’ Bride, be involved and invested in her growth, which is our growth, in her sanctification, which is our sanctification, and her mission, which is our mission. So really the question is, whatever your part is, will you settle in to one church, make it your church family, for better for worse, putting the fun in dysfunction at times? More importantly… will you love the church? Because Jesus loves the Church, and He loved her enough to purchase her with His blood. And I say all of this, because I love the church…

Here are some things for further listening/watching and consideration…

The sermon series by Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Seattle – Jesus Loves His Church

Plus check out the material from IX Marks, it’s spot on in evaluating what a healthy church and church member look like. With books like, “What is a Healthy Church?”, “What is a Healthy Church Member?”, “9 Marks of a Healthy Church”, “A Display of God’s Glory” and so many more, they are a more than helpful resource in firming up your understanding of the church (ecclesiology)

and for a little more fun, but still deep

Stephen the Levite – Membership  (it’s a gospel rap song, but even if you don’t like rap, listen to the lyrics)

Lecrae – The Bride (more gospel rap but listen)

 

* right half = NT (you may have to think about it for a second but it’s direction right, not correct right)

Resurrection Monday… Easter Afterthoughts.

So, maybe it’s because it’s my first Easter as a “real” pastor, or maybe it’s because I woke up this morning in a weird, sorta off, mood, or maybe it’s because I just feel like writing about something more significant than the marriage thing, but there’s something that has got me brewing today. It may have been amplified when I saw this tweet this morning that my good friend Mike La Farge wrote:

“Live every day like it’s Easter! #heisstillrisen

     It got my mind turning and thinking, and there may have been some pondering involved, and when that happens there are always questions, thoughts, and deep condsiderings (not really a word, but we’re moving on). I heard lots of good feedback on my sermon yesterday, mostly from people who’ve heard it all before, and that still left me wondering if it mattered. I don’t doubt the content of it, I mean I got the amazing opportunity to co-preach with the pastor of the church where we rent space on Saturday nights, and we hit the Easter story cleanly. The life, death, and ultimately the resurrection of Jesus were the end point of the sermon. I just wondered; were there non-believers there? Did they hear? Are they thinking about it today in the aftermath of all the family, food, and colored eggs? The always encouraging and poignant words of my wife met those concerns this morning as she reminded me that the outcome is not up to me, but that it’s a work of the Holy Spirit.

      She’s right (as most married men know… wife = usually right), but that still doesn’t satisfy my mind and my heart. Partly because there’s a flip side to that coin, and that’s the people that have heard the Easter story year in and year out. There is the thing that has my heart heavy/burdened today, and that’s why Mike’s tweet, those short and simple words, has my mind turning. That, my friends, is what brought me to the main question: What are we moving people toward? The aim here is not to berate or diminish what churches are doing program-wise, but to ask a question to myself and maybe out into the ministry realm. There is little satisfaction at this point in preaching a good rendition of the Easter story, there is little peace in seeing people hear the message of our greatest hope; a risen and victorious Savior who has both taken and taken away the punishment for our sins, and see them carry on as usual. The burden seems to be to get people to live in light of the resurrection all year. To see that the greatest news humanity has ever received, should continually transform our hearts and minds. That’s what I’m feeling today, wondering if we are doing a good job of connecting people to the life-giving truth of the gospel and connecting them to the idea of growing as followers of Jesus. Are we drawing them in to deep connection with authentic community by cultivating an invitational environment or a sea of opportunity by creating more stuff for them to choose.

  I know that the answer again is that many of these things are not my work, but the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. However, that doesn’t stop the wrestling, it doesn’t stop the burden. I want to know that I’m doing my part, that I’m doing all I can to point, connect, show, teach, live, and lead people toward Jesus. Not because it’s attached to a worth or value in God’s eyes, but because every time I preach, and I hear the gospel again, all I can do is walk away astounded at the gain I have received from a work I did not do, and that I could not accomplish in any way shape or form, and I want people to see that beauty, that glaring, awesome, amazing, incomprehensible beauty, and be moved to follow the one authored it. All in all, it’s just not moving people toward another good rendition of the Easter story, not moving people into a love of the coolness of production or program,  and not moving people into mere church attendance, but desiring, by the grace of God, to see people moved into a deeper relationship, understanding, and love of Jesus. The kind that transforms lives, the kind that breeds disciples, and the kind that declares the power, freedom, and love of the gospel through word and deed. And to do all of this weekly… not just once a year. Again, these are just thoughts, questions I have for myself, stuff I’m wrestling. Maybe they have significance for others, or maybe they don’t, but I have to wonder… does anyone else feel this way today?

Indebted to Grace

j-

The Plank… or Marriage Mayhem.. or ARRRGGGHHHH!!

As I write this, I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more burdened by a cultural conversation than I am right now. I received a text from a friend this morning asking my opinion on the swirling marriage controversy and I, though I am really not sure why, found myself feeling a definitive weight… So please walk with me through the journey of my mind as I weigh in on what seems to be the defining issue of my generation for the church.

First… I think it’s by scheming design that it’s Holy Week and this topic has grabbed everyone’s attention. The enemy wants no more than to distract from the awe that is the resurrection of Jesus, the complete substitutionary atoning work of the death and resurrection of our Risen Savior. I mean after all, who wants to be reminded of the greatest butt whooping they’ve received to date? So he wants to distract believers with the one social thing that divides, frustrates, consumes, and embitters more quickly than soft butter melts in a hot skillet. So let’s push back… because true equality is found only only at the feet of the Savior, in the redemptive work of His gospel (at least that’s what I get from Col 3:11)

So that brings me to the rest of it, and truly let me say this is an honest and open struggle, not with the biblical definition of marriage, or sin, or love. Those who know me, know that I am a rather huge fan of the Word of God. The struggle is the collision of culture and church, government and faith, hypocrisy and sanctification. So let me start with the asking of a couple of different questions I struggle with. Some of this stems from the wave of facebook profile picture shifting that I have witnessed over the last few days seeing the red = sign pop up everywhere. So to my Christian friends I have questions, a few for each side of the fence. These questions are meant to cause thought, whether introspective, or outwardly processed through discussions and comments, either way as long as we are talking honestly and openly.

To my Christian friends that are changing their profile pictures to red = signs, and declaring to stand in the camp of marriage equality:

What is the reasoning behind your stance?

Where do you stand with regards to the Bible, sin, and the rather direct way in which marriage and homosexuality are defined?

What is the church’s role in your thoughts? (for example, if the government mandates marriage for all, will it then be o.k. for the govt. to mandate that the orthodox/evangelical/Christian church perform gay weddings?)

To my Christian friends who are opposed or have changed their profile pics to something else in response:

Same first question as above (and feel free to expand on your thoughts…or in other words… don’t just say “because the bible says”)

Where does the role of church and government balance out? In other words, are we in a right place as the Christian church to say that the government should mandate a one woman-one man definition of marriage?

To anyone who is reading this that is not a believer, or perhaps is LGBT… and honest question (and in thinking about it maybe everyone should consider this):

What is it about the word “marriage”? Let’s face it, at this point the argument is over a label and certainly not an institutional definition of what it is, because the reality is those camps will forever be differentiated by a host of inputs. Basically I see a bunch of people at the center of this argument with both sides trying to scream louder than the other “IT’S THE PRINCIPLE!!!”, without anyone willing to lay down their hatchet to see what’s really going on.

I know I’m at risk here, I know that I’m at risk of hard core conservative believers saying I’ve gone liberal, and at risk of those on the other side of the argument saying I’m judgmental and un-loving (which is kind of an odd place to be considering the argument itself) but I’m willing to be at risk as I’m in process.

These words have been floating around facebook as well, a quote from Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest Ca:

“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

This particular quote gives me great hope that there are those who are looking to have an honest perspective, and hopefully honest dialogue. I want to, I am longing to be involved with an open and honest dialogue that involves an actual agreeable disagreement that is founded in love, respect, and dignity (kind of like the model seen in John 8)

I’m going to speak from an honest point of view, maybe it helps maybe it doesn’t, maybe it clarifies, or maybe it’s just rambling, it’s in keeping with the “Mayem/ARRRGGHHH” part of the title. I’m in agreement with the idea that we should in no way as believers feel that we are to compromise our convictions in the center of this issue… but let’s be honest.. the sanctity of marriage issue, should really start at home.  How is it that we as the church aren’t putting forth a better model of marriage for the world to see? Why is it that the church is wrought with divorce, abuse, and other marital dysfunction? We aren’t offering a better image of marriage! It seems to me that most times the argument being made that the world is defiling the institution of marriage is the epitome of the plank in the eye. I mean we live in a world that does little to honor the actual covenant bond of marriage, where people get married on a whim, in drunken stupors, out of desperation, in complete selfishness, men and women sacrifice marriage on the altar of “ministry”, fail to serve one another, fail to cultivate dependence on Jesus rather than spouse, and so much more, all this and we have the audacity to try and tell the world it’s corrupting the institution of marriage? Ouch.  Perhaps it’s high time we realize the greatest thing the church could do for the institution of marriage, is change the face of marriage in the church! I mean, I have a tough time justifying my preaching at an unbelieving world about the “morality” they should espouse when I need to spend more effort encouraging Christians to actually adopt and practice a biblical model of gospel centered marriage.

Does this mean I deny God’s Word and condone gay marriage as cool in God’s eyes? Nope, sorry, I’m not swinging that way either. In my eyes the biblical institution of marriage is by far the best model, in fact when the biblical model of marriage is put in place and grounded in the Gospel it’s one of the most powerful cultural tools for redemption man has ever seen. The problem is, most Christians can agree with that, but then fail to realize that the government never mandated that, nor is it by any government institution that that occurs. So maybe it’s my opinion that the government can’t change the institution of marriage, any more than they can re-write the bible. Perhaps, I wonder at what point to we simply render unto Caesar and let them do what they will do. People get married without the church all the time, whether it’s Vegas or the courthouse and millions upon millions of people are legally married and don’t hold the Christian value of marriage as esteemed, other than they are “one man and one woman” and let’s face it… that alone is not the biblical definition of marriage. People are longing for something more though, something to give them them value, meaning, and really to give them a sense of satisfaction in life, and that is where we can enter the discussion in love and in truth.

When we get to the point that we can understand that one of the main roots of sin is the heart of man/woman seeking deep satisfaction, then maybe we realize the battlefield isn’t one of espousing morality, but elevating Jesus as the true means to satisfying our hearts deepest thirsts. Perhaps that’s where we get back to the real crux of the matter, That 2000 years ago God came, at just the right moment, in the flesh, lived the life I should, died a death that I deserved, and walked out of a tomb, all that I could have that satisfaction. Maybe the priority should be getting beyond the “marriage” issue and pointing out the Jesus is the better Groom and has come to redeem for Himself an undeserving bride, who is broken, imperfect, and flawed, but in whom He places beauty, perfection, and flawlessness. That’s the only solution I can see as lasting, as meaningful, or as viable for the believer… I guess I’m not sure how demanding a biblical standard be endorsed by the government helps that mission, or how the government endorsing the other side of the argument, changes or hinders that mission. AT the same time… I KNOW that walking away from, watering down, or abandoning God’s design for ourselves as believers, our marriages especially… that does hinder the mission. Anyway… there are other good reads on this matter, the guys over at The Gospel Coalition have THIS to say and it’s hard hitting and thought provoking for believers (and Biblically accurate).

The bottom line… I’m sure that this is not the end of the process for me, because, like all of us, I am continually being sanctified by the grace of God and grown in maturity, but I just want an honest, grace-filled, open discussion about a really difficult issue, I think we could all use a little more of that.

Please pray and consider your words and hearts before leaving comments or questions.

Indebted to Grace,

j-

P.S. – This is the actual bottom line.

The Pulpit & Politics Part 3 – The Crux

Now we have come to the final part and thus the final point of this particular line of thinking. If you need to catch up you can can click to see Part 1: Election Year; here or see Part 2: Confusion; here. So if you are caught up or have been keeping up we now come to the crux of the matter, the center point, the lynch pin, the meat and potatoes, the bottom line… the point, which I need to get to. It comes down to this:

Involvement in the political process is a matter of wisdom/stewardship/discipleship

In other words it is the role and responsibility of the individual believer.

This being the most important aspect of this whole statement (blog series), it must be understood that I believe in the process and being part of it, being wise in stewarding your community, voting based on your convictions. As a pastor my job is not to tell anyone what to think, but to sharpen those believers who are under my care, challenging each of them to grow in wisdom, grace, and understanding of the word, which then would effect any participation in the political process. This is where it matters that we live for truth rather than carry truth around like a club, where it is of the utmost importance that we do not live like hypocrites, but walk in humility.

If we actually live out the freedom and hope that is given us through the gospel we can let go of our fervent political ideology as a means to that freedom or hope. Then we are free to enter into discussion and thought about politics more practically and less emotionally. Then people can vote with wisdom and conviction based on what they understand to be biblical, without the need to tell everyone else how sinful or unintelligent, or worse, un-Christian they are for not voting like Jesus would have voted. It also disallows the assigning of one political party as more Jesus centered and keeps the election year free from needing to turn the pulpit into a series of sermons on the hot topics, and keeps the pulpit focused on the elevation of Jesus, not the United States’ political climate, as our central object of worship. In reality it transfers politics into one of the least aspects of who we are as believers and how we express our faith (unless of course you work/serve in the political arena) and puts us back on mission to live for Jesus consistently in every aspect of our lives, this is how impact is truly made.

Change is brought by Christ-like character lived out (the Gospel in action in our lives)

Every biblical example of a man standing for right and effecting change in a government leader or system is based in that individual living as set apart and in the case of Joseph (Genesis 39-45) and Daniel (Daniel) they were first taken into slavery and then in submission to those in authority over them and by living righteous and Godly lives, as well as using the gifts God gave them to serve (even those who held them captive) it was only then that they were able to effect change and offer counsel to the leaders.

In the case of Paul before Felix and before Agrippa (Acts 23-26) it was more of the same, Paul was living out his calling as an Apostle and after being accused by the Jews he stood trial in defense of the Gospel, then he was able to share wisdom, which honestly Felix rejects and leaves Paul in jail.  However even knowing that didn’t stop Paul from preaching.

The final piece of this is John the Baptist before Herod the Tetrarch in which John had spoken out against Herod’s adultery, keeping in mind that Herod was a Jewish leader and subject to Jewish law (Matt 14:1-12, Mark 6:14-29) and John was calling him out on living outside of the law. To contrast this last example, we cannot hold a non-believing President or legislators to biblical standards and get hacked when they don’t “follow the Lord” by implementing policy we disagree with.

 The bottom line of the bottom line:

I hope you can understand that this is not a position I take out of fear of offense, or out of lack of conviction, or certainly out of biblical ignorance, but as a pastor I understand my calling is to elevate Jesus, compel believers to draw close to Jesus, preach the gospel, and teach the full counsel of the bible. I am convinced it is more important for us to live as faithful, seek righteousness & holiness, love mercy & justice, and from that our lives then make impact. Believe me when I say I will preach like a lion in defense of God’s truth and certainly I hope you understand that I am willing to do whatever it takes to forward the gospel in a manner consistent with the biblical calling of a pastor/elder, however I see little kingdom value in using the pulpit to contest the political measures of a fallen world, endorse clearly secular political candidates, or in any way press people toward aligning any political ideology or party as more “Christian”, when I know that such contesting, endorsing, and pressing will not bring about change in men’s hearts, nor will it draw them closer to Jesus. I will continue to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ as our only hope, the only thing that brings lasting change to our sinful hearts, the only measure of righteousness, and our only means of salvation.

Hopefully this blog is a catalyst for understanding and growth in this particular matter as I was preparing to post this this morning I came across another blog from another pastor whom I respect named Ed Stetzer and you can find that here. It may convey some of these things more concisely, but I will end with a quote from his blog this morning

“Pastors should preach something more important than politics– they should preach Christ. They should preach Scripture. When they preach Scripture, they will indeed address issues that the world sees as political, but they distract from their message and mission when they start using the church to endorse candidates”

Grace and Peace to you.

The Pulpit & Politics Part 2 – Confusion

From the last post, which you can grab here if you haven’t read it, we left off having established the basic roles of church and pastor in an effort to set some right expectations when it comes to politics in church. So where did the expectations get out of line? I think it really took hold when people somehow blended their patriotism with their faith blurring the lines of truth and making their “Americanism” an intrinsic part of their Christianity or in some cases out an out replacing Jesus with the American flag and the founding fathers. Then of course followed along the right manner of political involvement and the assigning of particular partisanship to the Church and to it’s people.

What I believe is the mix up in this particular issue, is the confusion of roles.  It involves the confusion of the role of the Pastor, how he instructs, what he’s supposed to talk about, and how he leads. It also involves the role of the church, local and universal, what it stands for, what it’s primary message is, and how it reaches and impacts the world. Finally the overarching, and most concerning, confusion is the role of the Gospel in contrast to moral change, which leads to hope in legislation of Christianity as opposed to faithful belief in Jesus (for more on that you can read a short article I wrote a long time ago here)…

So let’s clarify some roles…

Political/Moral Instruction is not the role of the pastor:

The pastor’s job is not to teach the unbelieving world to live morally, but to faithfully declare to them the glory of Jesus through the Gospel. My fear is that we are falling into a pattern that has elevated morality into a place of substitution for the Gospel. That if we simply declare what is moral according to the Bible, then people will somehow get it and come to saving faith in Jesus.  This is not the way it should be because according to Romans 1:16 the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”. The pastor is called to share the hope of Jesus first, then to instruct those who believe to pursue Christ with all that they have, because of what He has done. If we as pastors slip into merely teaching and declaring morality we are leading people toward a false Gospel and hope in their own righteousness. Indeed pastors should not shy away from the full counsel of the Bible (Acts 20:27, 2 Tim 3:16-17, Titus 2:1) but this truth is intended to guide the believer in growth and maturity, after all we must understand that Paul’s letters are written to believers in churches. In the same fashion that Jesus continually rebuked the Pharisees and religious leaders so we are to call ourselves (believers) first to live in response to the Gospel, thus declaring its power in our own lives.

If we place our hope in morality or moral reform (which generally takes the shape of a socio-political agenda) then we are in effect rejecting Jesus as the only hope the world has. Again the gospel (as defined: the good news of Jesus birth, life, death, substitutionary atonement, and resurrection which offers man reconciliation to God the Father) is listed in Romans 1:16 as the power to save and nothing else is given that role.

The pastor’s role is indeed to defend truth, biblical truth (2 Tim1:13-14), but it is also to avoid foolish controversies (2 Tim 2:23) which leads me to understand that any pastor must be wise in what he defends and why. Pastors should, and I will always, preach and trust the word of God stand in its defense, and declare its truths. However, we are also to live wisely and trust God faithfully and this means that we cannot view every non-biblical declaration by a secular government as an assault on the church or Christianity. Certainly we cannot react to that by running around screaming our heads off about how God doesn’t like it when they do that, as it serves no good purpose. Let’s face it, the secular world is not confused about where the moral compass of the Evangelical church points when it comes the majority of issues.

Let me expand on this point. As a pastor, or simply as believers, we are not capable of pointing out the nature of an unbeliever’s sin, at least not without coming off as judgmental, prideful, arrogant, and unkind.  As a matter of fact, that’s not what the bible calls us to do, but for some reason we have taken that as our primary calling. The issue is to contrast one’s sin by elevating Jesus’ beauty, righteousness, and mercy.  Think about it, as believers our sins were not repulsive to us until we heard, understood and were moved by the gospel of Jesus. Then as we have grown we have been able to accept the counsel of others in our lives that call us to account for our sins and we thank them for that, again… after coming to more maturity in Jesus.  We aspire to cling to Jesus more tightly as we grow in maturity because we realize that it Him alone who is better than all things and is our only hope. An unbelieving world does not possess this understanding, yet in a tragically misguided fashion Christians believe that through moral declaration, they will somehow open their eyes.

Instructing people, believers and non, to simply behave morally is insufficient and does not have the power to save (Eph 2:8-9)

Socio-Political/Moral Reform is not the role of the Church (local or global)

As I stated before the mandate of the Church is clearly laid out for us in Matt 28:19-20 and in Acts 1:8 and we see how they conduct themselves and establish church community in Acts 2:42-47.

What is important in this matter is to recognize that we have no biblical reference or inference or outright command for the Church to involve itself in Government matters (flex it.  In Romans 13 Paul shows that God has placed us under the governing authorities and we are to submit to those authorities with the understanding of, and faith in, God’s sovereignty. Then in 1 Timothy 2 he writes that there should be prayers for “kings and all who are in high positions. So in an apparent stark contrast to a cultural mandate that many have adopted in the U.S., we do not see any biblical evidence that the early church, including the gentile churches throughout Asia, ever engaged in, sought to sway, or for that matter were encouraged to sway or steer, the governing authorities.  In fact they were instructed to live in harmony as best they could persevering through whatever persecution would come as a result of living for Jesus. In fact we can reference several occasions where they (hence we) are taught in scripture that they should expect persecution and they should praise God for it. The church existed to draw people to Jesus that their lives would be of eternal purpose and in that the mission of the Gospel is accomplished (which, for those of you who are worried I am advocating a lack of action or involvement at all, includes gospel driven social justice)

To sum up: the role of the Church is to elevate Jesus, glorify God, serve one another, share hope with the world, and train up believers to continue this work, placing our hope in Jesus alone.

That last line is what’s most essential… Place our hope in JESUS alone. The government,  the political party you like, the agenda item you carry around, the national citizenship you possess; NONE of these are where hope should lie, yet all of them will compete for your affections and lead you toward distraction at best but at worst straight into idolatry.

So what is the answer, avoid politics all together? Stick our heads in the sand or look the other way? NO…

but that’s for the next post where we tackle the role of the believer in the political process.

The Pulpit & Politics part 1: Election Year

PART 1 – It’s an election year…

Maybe you’ve heard, maybe you haven’t but a great number of people will be involved in a small process at the end of this year to decide who would be president of our nation.  Every election year it seems that we see many people become involved in, not just the political process, but politics and all that it entails for better or worse, and often worse. In any given election year, and at my age I’ve seen a few, there is an overwhelming outpouring of opinion and in those opinions it often looks like people who normally love Jesus, don’t really think He’s capable of much in the way of influence or power.

During this time it seems a lot of people want their church to chime in on such issues and declare moral rightness in voting one way or another, whether in regard to a candidate or party, or with regard to specific propositions.  It may be that there is a mass of confusion for people who love Jesus and are trying to follow after Him when it comes to political involvement. There are a lot of questions that come from this confusion, at least questions that need to be asked. Such as; where do we truly find hope? How do the hearts of people really change? What makes me so passionate about this stuff?

At the very least there is the obvious confusion and at the very worst there is a borderline idolatry (or maybe even outright idolatry) that occurs every election cycle. Some people, as followers in Christ, want to know what their role is, if they are supposed to have a specific political affiliation or if it is the church’s job to tell them how to vote. Others believe they have the answer and are more than willing to share… many of whom are wrong (there… I said it).

So to help bring perspective, I thought I would offer this 3 (maybe 4) part blog into the conversation. By the way, a conversation that involves people who love Jesus who find themselves on either side of the “aisle” for whatever particular reason, so please read on.

First thing we must start with is the basic mandate of the New Testament Church (big “C”), which is found succinctly stated in two scriptures:

Matthew 28:19-20 – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Acts 1:8  – But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in all Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the Earth.

From these two passages we can see and discern Jesus intent for the Church. We are to be about proclaiming the Gospel, baptizing, and teaching people who have come to faith to follow Jesus (making disciples).  In addition there is as outlined in Acts 2:42-47 the church in community, but I believe this is what it looks like when the Gospel is lived out by the people of God. This is a corporately held mandate for all believers; it is not one that is executed solely by the pastor or leaders however we do understand that there are positions of leadership given to the church for it’s guidance and benefit. So then we have to look at the biblical role of the pastor.

The pastor or pastor/elder (the Greek word is the same) is given a very specific role within the church and it’s important that we understand what that is.

1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 lay out the qualifications each man should possess as he is called, as well as Paul’s second letter to Timothy he instructs him this way “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” 2 Tim 2:2

Paul also gives what I believe is the most complete and concise pastoral directive in Ephesians 4:11 – 12  “And He (Jesus) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ” The passage goes on to describe that equipping as building in maturity that we may grow in Christ-likeness.

From these two things I have drawn the distinct conclusion that my role as a pastor is to preach the Gospel (Acts 1:8, Romans 1:15-17) , teach the full counsel of the word of God (2 Tim 4:2), continually lift the name of Jesus as our Lord and Savior and only hope (John 3:14),  challenge people who have come to faith (believers) to live lives in response to the Gospel (Romans 12:1)  , and teach/empower those believers to share, teach, and lead (Ephesians 4:12) all of this is also encompassed in Matthew 28:19-20

You may be able to see where I am going but we are not done, and I would please ask that you refrain from passing total judgement before getting all 3 (or 4) parts of this blog. Feel free to comment and ask questions. There is more to follow and in the next post, we will cover the confusion of the roles of the church and the pastor and more importantly the confusion of the role of politics and the gospel in our lives.

Turning the Tables

This thought has really been brewing for a while, but it was brought rushing to the forefront of my mind this week in light of sermon prep and other contributing factors. It started this week with a look at the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each of these accounts starts of the final week of Jesus’ ministry with a particular event. It occurs in Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18, and Luke 19:45-46 ( a really small amount of text but big in content) For our purposes take a peek at Mark’s account:

”    And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.”
(Mark 11:15-18 ESV)

As this thought and these verses tumbled through my head, it caused me to use twitter to communicate some snippets (which are on the right side of the blog window) but that just wouldn’t do. So here I sit this Wednesday morning at the kitchen table, laptop open, Mickey Mouse coffee cup freshly filled… onward!

Jesus going into the temples and turning over tables does some things to our minds and hearts, on the one hand we love Jesus when He’s “sticking it to the man” and we love Him as the hero. On the other hand, we also experience the reality of Jesus being righteously angry, and this can be a little unsettling for some, if not many people.  I want to get to the heart of this event and look at it from a place that challenges our hearts and helps us to examine the possible tables we are setting up.

Jesus went in and overturned the tables of the money changers, literally these men were crooks taking money from Jew and gentile to sell them “temple coins” at a significantly inflated exchange rate. He also drove out the people that were “buying and selling”, and these men were selling animals for sacrifice, again at inflated rates, for the aforementioned temple coins. It was a crazy racket to be sure and it was going on in the church of the day. These people had turned church into something for their personal private gain and it was an insult to Jesus.

That of course turns a fat spotlight on our hearts and asks this crazy question:

“Have I turned church into something it’s not? Have I turned it into something that’s just for my gain?”

This is a hard question for us to wrestle with and can evoke a number of responses so let’s break it down a little more specifically:

First we have to know what church is for. The corporate gathering of believers for worship is for the glorification of Jesus, the lifting up of Him, His name, and His saving grace. Secondarily the church exists to disciple believers and proclaim the Gospel to the lost, notice these are equally important as discipleship contains both equipping and evangelism. From this community is fostered, service happens, needs are met, burdens are borne.

Enter the problems of the day, and the proverbial setting up of tables. We have in so many ways determined that the church exists to serve us, rather than serve God. When this happens we start exalting things in the church such as programs, buildings, events, formats, styles, and so much more, rather than exalting God. We start to turn the church into something that is for me, rather than having a perspective of “I am God’s and thus I am for Him”.  Here are some tables to consider in the modern day…

Consumerism – are we part of a church because of a specific program or person? Or are we part of multiple churches taking part in a bevy of program diversity, never really immersing ourselves into the fabric of the church, yet complaining that we are “not as connected as we’d like to be”? Symptoms of this table would include:  Knowing you’d leave a church if the pastor wasn’t there anymore, if they ended or significantly modified your favorite ministry program, or the music changed. “Dating the church” going from local church to local church, usually within the same week, taking from the buffet table of program options and never plugging in or becoming a member of a local church.

Building Dependence – Yes the church needs a local place to meet. There is no advocating doing away with church buildings, but we should consider doing away with depending on the building to house every last program, bible study, small group, coffee meeting, discipleship, mentoring… bleh!!!  (you may gather that this one is a big deal to me). Can we stop running to the church facility and return to the home, have bible studies in our homes, do life together in view of our neighbors, heck… include your neighbors! Acts shows us the community of believers meeting both in the temple courts (corporate worship) and together from home to home breaking bread. I realize that it can be inconvenient to clean up the house, and have kids around during groups, but authentic community and discipleship CANNOT happen without inconvenience, discomfort, and stretching. Plus imagine the benefits of your children seeing all of their parents studying the bible together. Or what would happen if they took part? Symptoms of this table: Booking your small group bible study for a room in the church months and months if not years in advance.

Political/Moral Ideology – The church can become a place where some are determined to promote their cause specifically in the political and moral arenas. The struggle here becomes an issue of competition with the gospel. The temptation exists to elevate our agenda item to an equal importance with the gospel and take passionate stances about certain ideas, arguments, and actions. Petitions are highlighted and announced, candidates are trumpeted (but not outright endorsed) measures are rallied for or railed against, and then we make some drastic mistakes. We can elevate certain sin issues into the spotlight offering (sometimes unintentional) condemnation, forgetting our own sin is just as filthy before a Holy and Righteous God. We can also assume that ALL Christians think politically the same, and assign a morality or maturity to our political bent, when in reality Christians are a diverse political spectrum (some are just too polite to say anything). We can no more assign a “Christian way” to vote, than we can determine whether pews or chair are more holy, nor can we rally against a specific sin without realizing that ours is equal, and that someone sitting in the congregation could be struggling and needs the gospel, and we could close them off simply by our tone. Symptoms of this table: Constant attempts to get petitions in the church lobby, political/moral handouts in the bulletin, or flyers on the windshields of cars in the parking lot. Frustration at the lack of “participation” by the church leadership or joy at the level of “participation”.

Check-list Religiosity – Are we in church because it’s the “right” or “good” thing to do? Now understand, to be in church seeking, or searching is a good place to be, but that’s not what’s on deck here. I’m talking about “churchianity” where God is acknowledged but church is simply on the morality check list and serves to keep “The Man Upstairs” happy with me.  Believe me when I say that this is indeed a table and Jesus wants to tip it over. Symptoms: Church feels like a chore to accomplish and accounts for all the “bad stuff” that’s done all week.

Realizing that this list could continue to grow, we will close out with these four items. You may be able to recognize and add more from your experience and I’d invite you to do so in the comments section… but more importantly, there cannot be a close to this blog without this important fact:

JESUS DIDN’T JUST TURN THE TABLES OVER… HE DIED SO YOU WOULDN’T NEED TO SET THEM UP!!!

That is the beauty of the Gospel, Jesus died so that we could be set free from the tables, from the agendas, from the “for me” church mentality. The problem exists because we forget the all sufficient nature of the gospel and the freedom that flows from it. We also forget that nothing is as important to communicate as the gospel and its freedom. That we celebrate this weekend that Jesus came and died for us while we were opposed to Him. So please if anything on this list convicts or challenges you… please contemplate and reflect on the gospel.. and for the sake of the gospel, repent and ask Jesus to nail those things to the cross and give you freedom.

Thoughts Occuring on My Last Day in the 30’s

So here it is… It’s my last official day as a thirty-something, and to be honest… it’s a bit odd.

The day started pretty much like any other in the Pritchard household. We arose early and charged through our morning in a flurry of coffee, oatmeal, cereal, hair-brushing, and of course the required guidance from me… then I went on to deal with the kids. Totally kidding… I had already dealt with the kids :D… Please if anyone finds me broken and bleeding anywhere, I was beaten up by the most amazing and beautiful, and of course completely Godly woman ever!

I digress… After getting my wife coffee and getting kids to school, I was off to Crossfit for one of the three weekly torture sessions I subject myself to there. I think that is where the day shifted for me. Perhaps it was the completely obvious difference in my physical ability or the aftermath of being caught looking like I was about to die after the workout, but somewhere in there I started thinking about turning 40 tomorrow (even typing that is just weird) and the lessons that I have learned in the last decade of my life, those slightly-less-than-roaring thirties (growling?) I am going to take a minute or 10 to list them out… some are deep, some are amusing (at least to me).  So if you have ever been curious as to what a guy thinks on the eve of his 40th birthday… or if you suffered a 40th birthday and were struck with senility (which I hear can happen) and can’t remember your thoughts… here are mine. Feel free to borrow.

1. The Gospel is the most important bit of information the world has ever received.

2. My wife is without doubt the coolest, most amazing, wonderful, hottest, best friend I’ve ever had.

3. Whew… I finally have an excuse for all this gray hair.

4. I can now admit I am not as quick as I used to be.

5. One can actually hang out with Jesus…it’s called abiding, and it rocks!

6. Where did this hair on my shoulders come from?

7. It’s never too late for a fresh start.

8. Is it too early to start anticipating how cool of a grandpa I’ll be?

9. Ministry is honestly not just a job… it is an adventure (take that Navy)

10. All the things I thought I had to get accomplished by now… life is just as sweet, if not sweeter, without them.

11. That is actually a bald spot starting on the top of my head.. bummer.

12. Manhood is deeply important, and not as cliche as so many people think.

13. Do I really have to start wearing Dockers and polo shirts?

14. Christian sub-culture is weird.

15. Authenticity is definitely worth living by.

16. Humility is of incredible value, and is probably the central character trait of Jesus.

17. Standing on convictions can be costly, but in the end is always worth it.

18. My relationship with my Dr. is about to change dramatically.

19. At whatever age you are, you should be mentored and mentoring someone else.

20. The most significant thing a pastor can do aside from preaching the gospel… is raise people up to perpetuate ministry. That my friends is discipleship.

21. I have never been more thankful for friendship in my life, as I am at this point.

22. Community is not a buzz word… it’s a lifestyle.

23. Talking to my own sons about puberty, sex, and so on… wasn’t bad at all

24. The Bible… freaking awesome.

25. Politics…. riiiiiiigght.

26. I can learn a lot from my children… especially my daughter, who loves to laugh.

27. I promise not to complain about weird ailments starting tomorrow.

28. I believe I am becoming the father I always wanted to have.

29. I actually like “dub step” thanks Gray, for introducing me.

30. All that I need or could ever want is given to me through Jesus and His amazing truth… everything else is just gravy! (but I am blessed to have been given a wonderful marriage to an incredible woman, four amazing kids that I am deeply proud of, a humbling and satisfying career as pastor/shepherd, truly gracious and caring friends, a roof over my head, food on my table… and who could forget the cat.)

Thanks for reading… See you on the other side!! (of 40)

j-

The Elegance of Last Place

We live in a culture of driven, winning (thanks Charlie Sheen), hard charging, take no prisoners mind sets. As long as I have been alive that is the attitude that will carry you through life to the place where you are on top of things. When that’s the case, is it any wonder that so many people struggle with the gospel? To be honest it shouldn’t surprise anyone that so many people… Christians included, struggle to grasp the gospel message. Especially when we are honest with the fact that the gospel puts us in perpetual, life-long last place.

Last week I was watching (be prepared for surprising, or not, tv show confession) “The Voice”. The actual episode was from two weeks ago but sometimes we just rely on the ole DVR to help us catch up. Anyway… moving forward. There  was a young man who had made it through the trial rounds by offering a very stirring rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”. Prior to that moment he was a mere sandwich maker from Chicago named Jamie. Having thoroughly enjoyed his performance I thought for sure he might go a long way, but alas, it was not to be. He was ushered out in the “battle rounds” after singing a duet version of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” with a real powerhouse singer named Jamar. All these details are really pointless, it probably just shows that I’m paying too much attention, but what really struck me is the reaction from Jaime as he was interviewed afterward. He said something so noteworthy…

 “I feel like there is a reason I’m here and maybe that’s to be here to let Jamar go through and win everything… he’s such an awesome person”

I was dumbstruck… through tears this young man just pointed out something that I think so many of us miss in life. He went to a place that simply elevated the elegance of last place. Jaime is a talented musician and singer, and has the potential to go far, but he has the intangible element that truly matters; humility.  This stands out in a world where we celebrate the outspoken, self-aggrandizing, and the winners (if you doubt it… turn on the t.v.)

As those who follow after Jesus, we have to realize that we are following after a Savior who, in His example to us, did not exalt those positions. This is something we miss all to often in our lives and it can have a detrimental impact on our hearts. We can get wrapped up in being good, and then can become proud of just how “good” we are. In Andrew Murray’s book aptly named “Humility” he writes this:

“The question is often asked, “How we can consider others better than ourselves when we see that they are far below us in wisdom and in holiness, in natural gifts, or in grace received?” Asking this question proves at once how little we understand what humbling ourselves really involves. True humility comes when, in the light of God, we come to see ourselves as nothing, consent to put our self-will aside, and let God be all.” (language updated/revised by C. Walth)

Murray nails it. We can never forget that we are not in search of self glory but self sacrifice, and we are not looking to be elevated but to be in surrender.

So where does the this understanding really come from? Surprise… we need look no further than the gospel. It provides us with an example, with freedom, and with sufficiency to live in a mindset that allows for the stirring, and possibly offensive, idea that I may exist in this moment not for what I can get out of it, but for how I may sacrifice myself so that someone else gains. This is the entire narrative of Jesus’ ministry & message summed up in a single verse:

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” Matt 20:28.

It echoes out again and again throughout the NT and is staring us right in the face challenging us with the example of a humble Savior who could have been a “winner” but chose to wash the feet of the man who would turn Him over to be killed. This is the example that should keep us from self-righteousness, spiritual pride, and free us from drowning in the “must do” mentality of religion. It also frees us to then love and serve those around us with an honest humility that allows for true discipleship, servant leadership, and sacrificial servant-hood.

So how do we respond? Seek to cultivate humility and weaken pride… not by efforts and checklist based religion, but by grabbing hold of Jesus and staring into His example, allow the message of the Gospel to remind you “How can anyone be arrogant when he stand beside the Cross?” C. Henry. For much better insight into this I recommend starting with Philippians 2 and a host of other texts in the Bible, and for opinions that are way smarter and more practical than mine… try reading “Humility” by Andrew Murray and “Humility: True Greatness” by C.J. Mahaney

And of course… we need to constantly die to ourselves, pray that we draw near to Jesus in His perfect example of humility and when given opportunity walk it out in every relationship we have, and in our interactions throughout each day, trusting that He is enough for us and through His sacrifice we are free to live this way. That ultimately, in Jesus, there is a beauty, a freedom, and an amazing elegance, in being in last place.

j-

It’s Not Illegal to Pray

So it’s Wednesday and that means another retro blog post… WOO HOO! (really the thing that excites me is the efficiency, maybe when the retro blog posts are done, it can turn into re-posted blog day, someone else wrote this blog day, or totally plagiarized blog day… who knows. We’ll vote on it later)

OK… so this blog dates all the way back to April of 2008. I was kind of on a tear then and I wrote this in a bit of a huff. I still totally believe in the principal of this article, and I hope each person who reads it can see the heart behind it. It really speaks to the need to be aware of what we say and/or promote and the effects those words can have. Read on!!

It’s Not Illegal to Pray…

April 1, 2008

Ok… this blog was scheduled for about a month and a half ago but got sidelined while I worked out some other stuff. Since it’s a political year and I am a recovering political addict, I should hope that this would speak to those much like me, or that need to start the recovery process from rabid politicalism. It all started with this thought…

“You know… It’s not actually illegal to pray in schools.”

There is a growing exasperation within me for those that run around spewing forth (whether vocally, by those horrid e-mail forwards, web-sites, pulpits, whatever) this blatant lie that it is illegal for our kids to pray in school. That’s such a load of crap. No where in our country is it duly established that our students cannot pray in school. So the propogation of this lie by Christians at large infuriates me, and I am pretty sure that it’s not a real jewel in the eyes of Jesus either.

Why is it that while real persecution of Christians is going on in other parts of the world the american church has the audacity to whine about a complete falsehood? The problem is the underlying unspoken truth of the matter in the hearts of these people. MANDATED PRAYERS in school. This becomes the true crux of the matter. What some Christians want is for schools to return to a mandated prayer time in the morning, a time where those that don’t believe in what we do are forced to recite some prayer, all the while holding malice in their hearts toward the Church, Christianity, and ultimately God. So… it seems that in order to cover up this issue and give people a cause they can rally around they tell all of these stories about our children’s rights being trampled on because it’s illegal to pray in schools, or that… and this one kills me… God is not allowed in schools (I’m sure some of you have seen that shirt, bumpersticker, or e-mail). How can we presume for a second that God is not allowed anywhere? Or that by some mandate of man God himself is forbidden from entering someplace? It’s crazy on it’s face, but how many forwards have passed into your e-mail box, propogating this kind of crap.

We need to stop teaching our young people that this is the case. We need to start telling them that they can pray at school, that they can talk openly about God and their own faith in or walk with Him. We need to instruct them to do it in a way that meshes with scripture (2 Peter 3:15 “do so with gentleness and respect”). They don’t need to be turned into the next generation of whiners about our rights, they need to be raised into a generation of those who God has empowered with a spirit of Strength, Love, and Self-Discipline. We must stop relying on the institutions to do our job for us. We (that is parents, families, friends) must rise up and teach those in the generations to come that they can and should pray at their school, pray for their school, pray for their unsaved friends, pray for their teachers. They have been called to be salt and light and to shine like stars in a darkened world, SUPRISE SUPRISE… the darkened world includes the school campus. Stop waiting around for teachers, counselors, and other school adminitrators to come on line and start doing what we should be doing in the home, the church and at large.

thoughts?