Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Spurgeon on Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemane

"May we not conceive that as in a garden Adam’s self-indulgence ruined us, so in another garden the agonies of the second Adam should restore us. Gethsemane supplies the medicine for the ills which followed upon the forbidden fruit of Eden. No flowers which bloomed upon the banks of the four-fold river were ever so precious to our race as the bitter herbs which grew hard by the black and sullen stream of Kedron." Charles Spurgeon 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

5 Things to Do Before Leaving Your Church: The Pastor Edition

Excellent article from TGC.  As a pastor who loves the church, I have built enough trust with our elders that they know I will discuss with them and help them with my transition if and when I leave.

In my last post on leaving well when you’re a member of a church several respondents pointed out that pastors often leave churches in very poor way. Sadly, they’re correct. We’ve all heard the horror stories about pastors who announce their departure after the morning service and U-Haul arrives first thing Monday morning. Or, we’re familiar with the all-too-painful accounts of pastors who apparently take a scorched earth approach to leaving, destroying everything they touch before they leave. We can add to that those pastors who leave by splitting the church. The pain abounds.
It’s hard on everyone when a pastor leaves–usually. Sometimes congregations are happy to see a man go and seem to do everything they can to ensure it happens. The story is told of the irate pastor who stood before the unhappy congregation and announced in no uncertain terms that he was leaving. Today would be his last Sunday at that church with those people. Then the congregation spontaneously and in union broke out in song, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
We don’t want to be that guy or that church. So, in response to those concerns, I want to offer five things pastors should do before they leave their local churches. The aim would be much the same as the goal of members who leave: to leave in as healthy and Christ-honoring a way possible.
1. Talk with Your Fellow Leaders When You Begin to Think Seriously about Leaving
Most of the problems begin right here. Far too many pastors either lack sufficient trust with their leaders or fear man to such an extent that they don’t talk about their interest in leaving until it’s a done deal. That’s devastating for a church’s leadership and for the church as a whole. Showing up with a decision to leave without having allowed the leadership to speak into your life is tantamount to serving divorce papers to a totally unsuspecting spouse.
So, if a pastor wishes to be faithful to his charge and humbly submissive to others in leadership with him, he should share his desires with the leadership well before he has made a decision to leave. This is tricky and requires some thoughtfulness with regard to timing. The pastor shouldn’t “think out loud” about a possibility he’s not seriously considering, otherwise he’ll make his fellow leaders uncertain when he doesn’t need to. Better to not share comments about leaving when you’re frustrated or when you’re having the occasional bout of “what ifs.” Instead, at the point that you think leaving could be a serious possibility, then talk with your fellow leaders about the possibility. Perhaps meet with them individually first so that their initial reactions, often emotional and sad, aren’t first offered in a group meeting of the elders. Prepare them for the group conversation by allowing them to process individually. Give them a general heads up on your thinking and take any initial questions or reactions they may have.
2. Be Genuinely Open to Counsel and Correction
I tend to stay away from the sometimes mystical and authoritative language of “call.” Far too many pastors have led congregations in unhealthy directions or abandoned a pastorate because they “felt called” to do so. Sometimes people use the language of “call” or “calling” as a way to circumvent any hard thinking and testing of motives. We speak as if a “call” ends all debates because the decision was really in God’s realm and will. When, truthfully, God extends and affirms calls through His people and leaders in prayer together (Acts 131 Tim. 4:14).
Rather than making a highly subjective and privatized decision in the pseudo-spiritual language of “calling,” pastors should actively seek the counsel and correction of others. Don’t just take advice; go after it. They should be willing to hear hard things about their hearts and motives. They should be willing to accept the challenge of those who think they should stay, especially their fellow leaders who most likely know them best. They should be willing to lay out their potential plans–as far as they know them–so that their fellow leaders can shepherd them through their thinking. This would be a good time to receive counsel and correction about how they’re leading their families, since wives and children will undoubtedly be affected. These talks should take place over months of meetings, not a meeting or two. The meetings should involve significant prayer rather than fleshly reactions.
Then heed or take the counsel and correction. Don’t dismiss it. Receive it. Make yourself accountable to the leaders by stating your agreements where you can and by explaining why you won’t or can’t take counsel where you can’t. Not everyone will agree about everything in situations like this. But where there’s disagreement and the pastor wishes to take a direction the other leaders advise against, he should humbly explain his reasons and hear again the elders’ admonishment or affirmation. Here’s the place and time to be ruthless with your motives and desires.
3. Resolve Any Conflicts Before Leaving the Church
According to a couple of surveys I’ve seen, the number one reason pastors leave churches is conflict. They feel embattled about a direction they wish to take. They are constant recipients of criticisms. Sometimes their wife and children bear the brunt of unloving and un-Christian attacks in the body of Christ. And a great many pastors feel they have no friend in the congregation with whom they can talk about these things. Most pastors feel overworked, under-appreciated and put down by some of the people they serve. Conflict abounds.
But before a pastor leaves, he should allow plenty of time to mend relationships and settle conflicts in as biblical a manner as possible. In fact, as much as it’s possible, he should plan the timing of his leaving in accord with his being able to restore peace in the ministry. The same things that are required of members who leave are required of pastors. Obey our Lord’s instructions in Matthew 5:23-24 and 18:15. Go and be reconciled to the best of your ability.
If pastors obey the Lord in this before moving on then everybody wins. Lord willing, pastors win their brothers and sisters over and relationships are mended. You may find you don’t have to leave at all and experience renewed joy in the church family you’ve already invested years of life with. Even if you still need or want to leave, you’ll experience freedom from guilt because you’ve “made every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). The church you leave behind will, by God’s grace, be in better repair for their next pastor. Don’t make the next guy do your work in healing the sheep. Position the next guy to begin smoothly, or at least make his own conflicts and mistakes. And your new church family will be able to receive you without the baggage associated with the previous church.
One person in the comments section of the last post suggested churches should contact a candidate’s previous church to see if they left in good standing. I think that’s a wonderful idea and am surprised at how many do not check references or complete background checks before calling a pastor. Many have simply inherited unresolved problems from previous pastorates because men have not left well and have not dealt with their relational demons before moving on.
4. Plan Your Transition and Succession with the Elders
Don’t just pack up your books and disappear into the night. As much as you’re able think with your fellow leaders about how to address the condition of the various souls in your care, the state of the various ministries and major needs in the transition. The church may feel like it’s stopped with the announcement of your departure and you may feel tempted to disengage, but keep your head in the game. Life continues apace and that means people continue to need shepherding, decisions continue to come before the leaders, and time remains (or should be taken) to get things in order for transition.
Hopefully you’ve been grooming a potential successor as part of your ministry in the church. Hopefully you’ve been sharing the leadership so that others have “stepped up” long before any prospect of your leaving was on the table. And perhaps you have a successor in mind. Talk that through with the leaders. Give them your honest assessment of a prospective replacement. Resist the urge to simply speak in glowing terms about the next guy because you want everyone to feel good after your difficult announcement. The truth lovingly spoken will make them free. And if there is no successor on the horizon, help the leaders think through their recruitment strategy. Give them counsel from your unique perspective on what they did well when recruiting you and what they could improve. Let them benefit from your watching this process unfold with many of your friends and associates. Lead through the transition.
5. Express Your Appreciation to the Church and Say “Goodbye” to Friends and Saints
Sometimes pastors fall into the trap of thinking they’ve done the church a favor by being their pastor for some season. We can fall into thinking we’ve made all the sacrifices, borne all the difficulties, and exercised all the patience. But, truthfully, the church has put up with us, patiently prayed through our shortcomings and failures, and sacrificed to partner with us in the gospel. It’s been our privilege to shepherd the people of God–no matter how difficult we found the shepherding or how rowdy the sheep. We were not called to pastoral ministry in order to enjoy a life of ease. We were called to get in the pen and smell like sheep. And we should be happy and grateful for the opportunity to be Christ’s under-shepherds!
Which  means we should be able to step back and express sincere and profound gratitude for God’s people. Paul could do it with Corinth, surely we can do it with out congregations. Before we leave we should make every day an expression of appreciation and thanksgiving. We should do it publicly and privately, in groups at planned functions and in chance encounters in the hallways or grocery stores. We should do this as an act of love and with the hopes that the people would be reminded of God’s grace at work among them and strengthened for the transition ahead.
Pastors should spend adequate time saying “goodbye” to friends. They should make sure their wives and their children have opportunity to do the same. From the time of your public announcement to the actual date of departure, give yourself plenty of time to have dinners, coffees, small group meetings and the like to make the rounds and relay personal appreciation with people. Weep together. Rejoice together. Pray together. Be together so that being apart might be softened in time to come.
Well, there’s much more that could be said. A thousand details need to be attended and without question lots of sticky issues addressed. But in broad strokes, here are some thoughts that I hope churches and pastors find helpful in the sometimes painful process of losing a shepherd.

Monday, July 22, 2019

8 Shackles Every Pastor Should Shatter

Great article for young leaders just starting out in ministry from TGC.
Before my first pastorate, I had often heard pastors lament the challenges of ministry. I always assumed they were warning me of the cranky congregant or divisive deacon.
What I didn’t know is the difficult person they were warning me of would not only be in my church, but in my skin.
Before I became a pastor, I had no idea that the greatest ministry challenge a pastor faces is not a “trouble person,” but a troubled heart—and that heart belongs to him. I didn’t know that the nastiest looks a pastor gets is when he looks at himself, and that his harshest critic is not a voice in the Twittersphere, but the troll that lives within.
Yes, difficult situations bear down on every pastor occasionally, but the cruel ankle weights of unrealistic expectations, unfair comparisons, and other pressures that weigh a minister down most often occur because his own heart has been deceived (Jer. 17:9).
Here are eight lessons I’m learning that are liberating me from myself.

1. Be Free from Comparison

In an age of podcasts and celebrity pastors, it’s harder than ever to be an average, unimpressive pastor. Pastors everywhere are tempted to be like all-star quarterbacks, calling the plays and throwing the game-winning touchdown. But the role of the pastor is much more like an equipment manager, providing the saints needed service to help them fulfill their missions (Eph. 4:12).
The role of the pastor is more like an equipment manager than an all-star quarterback.
People don’t need you to become like the pastor across town; they need you to become like Jesus (1 Thess. 4:3). You will serve people best by being the most Christlike version of you, not someone else.

2. Be Free from Unbiblical Expectations

On top of preaching and shepherding, pastors today feel incredible pressure to be visionary leaders, competent businessmen, professional counselors, cultural commentators, and many other things.
But pastor, you haven’t been called to do “all the things.” God has called you to simply give yourself fully and freely to prayer and teaching the Word (Acts. 6:4). Excel in what you are uniquely called to do as a pastor: feed Jesus’s sheep (John 21:17).

3. Be Free from Fixing  

Some pastors are never happier than their saddest congregant, and they often feel personally responsible for every person and problem in the church.
Pastor, you can’t pull everyone from the clamps of depression, or salvage splitting marriages, or liberate addicts from their sin-shackles, or bring peace into wartime homes. But you can passionately, powerfully, and persistently point them to the One who can (2 Cor. 4:5Acts 5:42).

4. Be Free to Say, ‘I Don’t Know’

Pastors often feel they’re supposed to be knowledgeable and up-to-date on the latest news, theological controversies, political conversations, and cultural trends (after all, we went to seminary!).
Pastor, you don’t need to be the smartest guy in the room. Your people may actually love to hear you say, “I don’t know,” because it reminds them you’ve been entrusted with only one message: Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). You don’t need to have something profound to say at all times on every topic. But know this: when you do speak, they’re listening.

5. Be Free to Rest

Most pastors hate to be seen resting while others are working. They feel guilty when they tell others they’re taking a much-needed vacation, and they feel embarrassed when they have to utter the words, “I can’t; that’s my day off.”
Pastor, you are not omnicompetent. You need to rest. A lively, well-rested pastor can do more for his people in 40 hours than an exhausted one can do in 80. Moreover, your family needs you home. Many men can pastor your church, but only you can be your wife’s husband and your children’s dad. Show your church and your family what it looks like to radically trust the Lord with all things by taking weekly rest (Ex. 20:8–10Matt. 11:28–30).

6. Be Free from Competition

Pastors often feel like failures when they see other churches with better music, better childcare, a nicer gathering place, or a sharper website.
Pastor, God is growing a kingdom—not a castle, not communities, not commodities—and an outpouring of grace in any church is an outpouring of grace on every church. Release yourself from a corrupted spirit of competition by celebrating every evidence of grace you see in other churches, and be content in giving yourself to those under your care (1 Pet. 5:2).

7. Be Free to Surrender

Many pastors feel intense pressure to grow their churches. Giving statements and weekly attendance reports become like brutal college midterms, empirically and irrefutably revealing what an utter failure they are.
But pastor, on your best day you cannot grow your church (1 Cor. 3:6–7). You’ve been called to roll up your sleeves, get on your knees, and focus on seeds. Maybe the greatest thing you can do for your church today is to finally and fully leave the growth up to God.

8. Be Free to Be Happy

And I mean really, really happy.
When all the various burdens of ministry accumulate, the weight becomes such that few men can carry it long. Often pastors just put their heads down, keep their hand to the plow, and slog through another season. It’s not surprising the burnout rate is so high.
Above all, your church needs your joy in Jesus (Heb. 13:17). A pastor exuberantly happy in God will do far more for his church than an industrious pastor who has sacrificed joy in Jesus for optimal productivity. Slow down and become increasingly satisfied in him.
May the highest aim of your life, and the greatest prayer of your pastorate, be that of Psalm 90:14:
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Beware of a “Test the Fruit” Hermeneutic

Here is a helpful article on the importance of rightly interpreting Scripture and the devastating consequences of failing to do so by Denny Burk . . .

When Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian came out in 2014, I could hardly have imagined how much of an impact it would have among evangelicals. Nevertheless, it has had an impact. Some of the high-profile evangelicals (e.g. Jen Hatmaker) who have come out affirming gay marriage have done so on the basis of arguments found in Vines’ book.
Among the ideas from Vines’ book that I still see gaining purchase among evangelicals is a particular hermeneutical oddity that Vines draws from Jesus’ teaching about “trees” and “fruit” in Matthew 7:15-20, where Jesus says,
Every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.
Whereas Jesus applies this to false teachers, Vines applies the principle in a way that goes against the way Jesus intended it. Vines writes,
While Scripture tells us not to rely solely on our experience, it also cautions us not to ignore our experience altogether… Jesus’ test is simple: If something bears bad fruit, it cannot be a good tree. And something bears good fruit, it cannot be a bad tree.
The earliest Christians used a similar, experience-based test when making what was one of the most important decisions in church history: whether to include Gentiles in the church without forcing them to be circumcised and to obey the Old Testament law. As Peter declared of early Gentile believers, “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us…. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:810). The early church made a profoundly important decision based on Peter’s testimony. Gentiles were included in the church, and the church recognized that the old law was no longer binding…
Neither Peter in his work to include Gentiles in the church nor the abolitionists in their campaign against slavery argued that their experience should take precedence over Scripture. But they both made the case that their experience should cause Christians to reconsider long-held interpretations of Scripture. Today, we are still responsible for testing our beliefs in light of their outcomes—a duty in line with Jesus’ teaching about trees and their fruit (God and the Gay Christian, pp. 14-16).
Vines uses this “test the fruit” hermeneutic to test whether traditional interpretations of biblical texts are harmful or helpful to gay people. He concludes that traditional interpretations of texts like Romans 1:26-28 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 are harmful to gay people. So he reinterprets those and other texts of scripture in such a way that affirms committed gay relationships.
The bottom line is this. Vines twists Jesus’ teaching about fruit in Matthew 7:15-20into a tool for suppressing biblical texts that clearly condemn homosexuality (e.g., Rom. 1:26-271 Cor. 6:9-111 Tim. 1:10). Because opposing homosexuality harms homosexuals (a bad fruit), the Bible’s prohibition on gay relationships are themselves a bad “tree.” Thus traditional texts must be reinterpreted in a way that is no longer harmful to gay people.
There are a number of serious problems with Vines’ “test the fruit” hermeneutic, not the least of which is the fact that it constitutes a complete misunderstanding of Jesus’ teaching about fruit. The “fruit” metaphor appears a number of times in Matthew’s gospel. Contrary to Vines, it does not signify bad outcomes generically. It’s talking about people (trees) and the deeds (fruit) that issue forth from their lives. In Matthew 3:8, “fruit” symbolizes behavior that comes from a repentant heart. In Matthew 12:33, “fruit” stands for blasphemous words which flow from an “evil” heart. In Matthew 13:823, it signifies “a lifestyle which responds to the preaching of the word.”1
Here’s the key point to observe. The good or bad quality of the fruit is determined solely by its conformity to God’s revelation in Christ, not by any particular sinner’s subjective impression of it. Vines’ misuse of Matthew 7:15-20 would create ethical anarchy if applied consistently. For example, it may cause someone personal distress and psychological “harm” to tell them that stealing is wrong. That distress would be a “bad fruit” on Vines’ definition, yet it would be absurd to conclude that the 8th commandment itself is a bad tree. Would Vines justify stealing in order to avoid the “bad fruit” of making a thief feel badly? Vines’ reading is no way to construct an ethical theory, and it is not a faithful application of Jesus’ words in Matthew.
Not only is Vines’ approach a gross misinterpretation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7, it is also an uncritical use of an ethical theory called consequentialism. Consequentialism bases moral judgments on the consequences that accrue to human actions. On this theory, no human action is inherently good or evil in itself, only its consequences. Thus one must not pronounce judgment on human actions, only on the consequences that flow from those actions.
The problem with this theory is that it elevates our evaluation of consequences above Scripture as the standard for evaluating what is right and wrong. Also, consequentialism provides no objective definition of what defines a good or a bad consequence. A good consequence for one person may be a bad consequence for another.2
Nevertheless, this is exactly how Vines approaches the issue of homosexuality vis a vis Matthew 7:15-20. He alleges a variety of negative consequences that flow from calling homosexuality a sin. We must, therefore, modify/reinterpret the Bible so that people no longer feel badly about the Bible’s sexual ethic. On this basis, Vines sweeps away the entire 2,000-year old consensus of the Christian church. The church’s understanding of scripture causes some people to feel badly, so it must be done away with.
I agree with Richard Hays’ comments on this approach to ethical reasoning: “How strikingly indifferent is the New Testament… to consequentialist ethical reasoning. The New Testament teaches us to approach ethical issues not by asking ‘What will happen if I do x?’ but rather by asking ‘What is the will of God?'” 3
Matthew 7:15-20 does have a warning for us, but not the one that Vines alleges. It warns us to watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing. In this instance, Vines is concealing the wolf of consequentialism in the clothing of Matthew 7. In doing so, he manipulates readers so that they feel they are doing the right thing when they suppress the message of key biblical texts. Readers would do well not to be taken in by this false teaching.
Jesus says that his commands are not burdensome (Matt. 11:28-30), but Vines says that they are not only burdensome but also harmful to gay people. Who is right? Vines or Jesus? Hopefully disciples of Jesus will find the answer to that question fairly obvious.
The problem we are having today is that some evangelicals have latched onto Vines’ “test the fruit” hermeneutic, and this way of adjudicating doctrines is a poison pill. It removes authority from the word of God and gives the reader the authority to scrutinize the Bible’s truthfulness based on whether or not it hurts people’s feelings. This is no way to read the Bible. And it is no way to determine the truth about one of the most contested ethical questions of our time.
If we are listening carefully to the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:15-20, we would see that they are highlighting for us a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In this case, the false teacher is using Jesus’ own words as sheep’s clothing.4 Let us hope and pray that the real sheep will detect the ruse.
1 R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 291.
2 Denny Burk, What Is the Meaning of Sex? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 27-28.
3 Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 455.
4 “Matthew Vines’ Reformation Project, promoting full inclusion of LGBTQ people by reforming church teaching, is founded on this faulty concept of ‘bad fruit.’ If a leader blatantly takes Scripture out of context like this, twisting the Bible to say what it doesn’t say, everything else he teaches should be suspect.” See Christopher Yuan, Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2018), 155.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Necessity of Genuine Community for Spiritual Growth

I didn't come to the conviction easily, but finally there was no getting around it: there can be no maturity in the spiritual life, no obedience in following Jesus, no wholeness in the Christian life apart from an immersion and embrace of community. I am not myself by myself. Community, not the highly vaunted individualism of our culture, is the setting in which Christ is at play. ~ Eugene H. Peterson.

Like it or not, we need a genuine community for spiritual growth and discipleship.  You cannot have one without the other!  Community is more than showing up to church on Sundays or even going to a small group, it requires a level of transparency and accountability many do not want.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Longing for Home

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood (1Pet 1:1-2, ESV).

“We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams, or as we turn a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes.” ―Madeleine L’Engle