I’m learning to be… a Philippians 4 kind of guy.

This past Sunday, I taught two of the most quotable verses in the Bible:

Philippians 4:10 —  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:19 — And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Really, be honest. How many times have you quoted one or both of those  scriptures to convince someone else (or yourself) that things will get better, that you can do absolutely anything you put your mind to, that your “increase” is just around the corner?

Continue reading “I’m learning to be… a Philippians 4 kind of guy.”

The Leaves that Leave Us Smitten

Part of my devotional life recently has been to go back to the writings of the historical church–not as a replacement for scriptural devotion, but as a subtle effort to break through the facade that our modern culture has painted into and over what we believe it means to be a Christian. In hindsight, I think the genesis of this has been in teaching through the Bible over the past six years, and especially through the four gospels the past three.

When going earnestly to scripture for what scripture says–and with a decision to break it out of the box of our cultural interpretations, allowing it to speak from its own motives and cultural setting–I think one incapable of ‘not’ noting the vast chasm between what scripture (Jesus) says, and what we bend it to mean, thus allowing us our lukewarm, milquetoast, disconnected ‘discipleship’ of our Lord and Savior.

Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, God in flesh.

Continue reading “The Leaves that Leave Us Smitten”

A Pastor’s Justification — Book Review

The Pastor's Justification--Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry
Jared C. Wilson
Ministry
Crossway
July 31, 2013
e-book
192

Great, easy, Biblical read that will benefit those in ministry, and those who know someone in ministry.

OK… The legalese stuff up front… This e-book was given free of charge by the publisher in exchange for a book review. There is and was no expectation from either party that the complimentary material would be exchanged for a positive review–just and honest one. And that’s exactly what this review will be.

Now, with all of that said… Buy this book. If you are a pastor, in Christian leadership, have a pastor, know a pastor, want to become a pastor… If you are a Christian, you should have a pastor in your life, so you should read this book.

This book will probably be most beneficial to pastors. It’s basically a dissection of 1 Peter 5, and the qualifications of a pastor/elder.  As such, it is very Biblical. Very. The author doesn’t stay constrained to 1 Peter 5, though. It carries a heavy dose of Biblical instruction and encouragement.

The book’s major premise is to lay the freedom of the pastorate singly on the gospel of Jesus Christ, just as our salvation and all blessings are. Pastors should know this. We really should. But the statistics in the introduction indicate that many of us don’t. The sense of burden that can so often become synonimous with ministry indicates that we forget. The sense of isolation and loneliness, depression, fatigue… The unBiblical sense that the health and success of the church depends on us… The unhealthy and detrimental feelings that those in the congregation are problems to be fixed, as opposed to people whom Jesus loves enough to have died for…

Yah. If you’re not a pastor, you’re shocked that pastors could feel any of this. If you are a pastor, you feel convicted that you’ve fallen into this at times and in seasons.

But we’re flawed people, members of that same congregation, who have been given the great privilege to under-shepherd a portion of Jesus flock. As members of that congregation, with one job among many to be done in that congregation, the same gospel applies to us. And that gospel is so momentous, so grand, so perfect and complete–it’s big enough even to cover the role, office and person of the pastor.

Praise God!

This book convicted me. It encouraged me. It reminded me and informed me. It was quite powerful, and I suspect that it will be again upon a planned reread.

So again… If you’re a pastor–especially a pastor who is dealing with any of the symptoms listed above–read this book. If you are on a support staff for pastors, please read this book. If you have a pastor, please read this book. If you are frustrated with your pastor, please read this book. He’s going through things that you have no idea about, and you’re probably giving him the short stick with all of your judgments.

If you don’t have a pastor, get one. Then read this book. Then buy it for him, tell him how much you appreciate him, and give it to him.

Ephesians says that pastor-teachers are a gift to the church. I am convinced this book is a gift to pastors.

The hands and feet are connected to the heart

I’m reading a great book by Jared C Wilson called ‘The Pastor’s Justification’. Crossway gave me an electronic copy to review. This is not that review. It’s just a few thoughts as I read it. It’s a dissection of 1 Peter and Peter’s instructions to church leadership on how and why they do what they do. It really is a liberating and instructive read. I look forward to writing the review.

Chapter 1 covers, in part: “Do it without compulsion”, i.e. do it because you get to, not because you have to.

In describing the need to do everything for Jesus, and combat the fatigues, depression, desperation, etc inherent in the work of a pastor, he describes his Monday mornings. Well, first he describes his week, and I can empathize. His whole week drives toward Sunday. It’s spent basically on call 24×7, tending to church needs, peoples’ needs, family needs, and all of it driving toward Sunday morning. He describes the responsibility carried throughout the week to receive and develop the word Jesus has for His church that week–not a feeling of production, but of responsibility. He describes the spiritual and emotional toll that Sundays usually take. The spiritual and emotional tax of relaying God’s word, then making himself available to all of the congregational needs–large and small–before going home and basically collapsing.

That’s why pastors usually take Mondays off. They’re spent.

But he has a wonderful reason for not taking Monday off. He takes his weakness to Jesus that his ministry may be empowered by Jesus. And he never loses the awe, privilege and humility in the fact that he gets to serve Jesus’ flock.

Our omnipresent Savior is waiting for me in the office on Monday
morning. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will
give you rest,” he says (Matt. 11:28). I am plum tuckered on Monday
morning. I face ample temptation to wallow. But Jesus promises rest. I may be a shell of a pastor at this time each week, but God is no less
God. His might is no less mighty. His gospel is no less power. His reach
is no less infinite. His grace is no less everlasting. His lovingkindness
is no less enduring.

 

My first thoughts on Monday mornings are to my fatigue and all I must
do, but I must push them into thoughts of Christ, of all he is and all
he has done. There lies the vision that compels my will.

 

Then I want to think of the flock God has loaned out to me not as
items on a task list but as people made in the image of God, precious
and broken and beautiful and sinful, like me. I want to see them as
people, not problems. I want to see them not as obstacles in the way
of some vague missional purpose but as the missional purpose itself.
The minute I begin seeing God’s people as problems to be solved (or
avoided) is the minute I’ve denied the heart of Christ. [emphasis mine]

OK church. You translate that from pastor-perspective to daily walk. How do you view people? Do your actions show it? You can’t be the hands and feet of Christ until you have His heart.

Are there people that you dread? Then see them as the mission, and not an obstacle.

Here’s spit in your eye.

In Mark 8:22-26 there’s this odd little story of Jesus healing a blind man. Now, the fact that He healed a blind man is not odd. Old Testament prophecy predicted that that’s what the Messiah would do–that and more! The blind would see; the lame would walk. The broken would be restored. That’s what the Messiah would do.

What’s more, in His ministry up until this time, we’ve seen all kinds of healings and miracles.

There’s nothing strange or abnormal about restoration through Jesus Christ. It’s just the way Jesus did it that seems strange to me–that and the the Blind man’s response.

Jesus was ministering in Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man for Jesus to heal. Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Once alone and away from the crowds, Jesus spit in his eye.

Yes. You read that right.

Jesus spit in his eye.

Gross. I don’t want to offend anyone out there by calling Jesus’ spit gross, but gross. If I had been that blind man–not knowing much about this man who was leading me around in the dark–and I’d felt his breath close to my face, followed by warm wet dripping down it, I would have thought: “Did he just do what I think he did?”

Now, true… When He told me to open my eyes and asked if I could see anything, and I opened my eyes and saw people for the first time in a long time–even if they were blurry–all would have been forgiven. And when he laid His hands on my eyes and asked again–and I had 20/20–I would have worshiped at His feet.

But then, having gone home and bypassed the village like Jesus instructed, and perhaps having heard of other recounts of this great, powerful, compassionate man, I would have asked a few questions. If I’d heard of Jesus healing the Roman official’s servant with just a word from afar, I would have wondered why He needed to spit in my eyes. If I had heard of Him delivering the Canaanite woman’s child from demon possession from afar, with just a word, I would have asked why He needed to lay his hands on me the second time. If I had heard of Him raising a dead girl immediately, with just a command, I would have asked why it took a second try on my eyes.

I’m an inquiring mind. I would have had the same questions I have now, reading the account two thousand years later.

But, being this formerly blind man, contemplating these questions after the fact, I think I would have then imagined the first thing I’d seen clearly after years of darkness. His eyes. Those eyes searching me intently with all of the power and compassion that fuels the universe.

And I think the questions would have melted away into oblivion.

Why did He spit in my eyes? I don’t know and really don’t care anymore. I’ve been touched by God Himself! Why did it take two tries? Beats me; does it matter? I see now, and I’ve seen God in the process!

Last week, in preparing to teach this section, I left it with more questions than answers. I’m OK with that. I really am, because the questions gave me perhaps the greatest answer. What, how, when, where, why? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’ve been touched by God. All that matters is ‘Who”.

When God allows something gross into my life I have all the questions about it, but the one simple answer is always there. What does it matter? I’ve been touched by God. Things look blurry and I can’t see clearly? It’s OK. I’ll see clearly in His good time, and He’ll be there peering into my soul when it happens. Taking longer than I expected? That’s OK too. It’s just that much longer that I’m helplessly in His presence being personally ministered to by…

All of the power and compassion that fuels the universe.

Psalm 8:4 — what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

But you do, God. You do. That’s all the answer I need.

The misfits, the Kingdom, and God’s glory…

One of my favorite scriptural passages is 1 Corinthians 1:26-28. As someone who has never considered myself as particular strong, or smart, or creative, that verse ministers to me. As someone who never saw myself as ‘pastor material’, and having received that call, it ministers to me on new levels.

I’ve learned that if I am to boast in anything, it is in my weakness, because in my weakness God is glorified (2 Corinthians 12:9). I’ve learned by experience that God chooses to use the weak because when He does radical things through weak and ignoble vessels, He gets the glory.

I was reading in 1 Samuel today and something occurred to my pastor’s heart. How often are we short-changing ourselves and the kingdom of God by not recognizing the scriptural references above? Where we are so free to apply the above God-logic to ourselves, are we so free to apply it to others that we view as weird misfits?

How many see a fellow Christian that is a little strange, downcast, odd, weird, disenfranchised, and we give them a wide berth? When we pick people on our spiritual basketball teams, they’re not only the last to be picked, but they aren’t picked at all? How many are excluded and made to feel as outsiders because they are different, and we somehow designate them as unimportant, with little or no potential?

Oh… Yah… I mentioned 1 Samuel, didn’t I?

1 Samuel 22:1-2

David was fleeing Saul and went into hiding because Saul wanted to kill him. Saul actually saw David as too profitable for the kingdom. Saul wanted to kill David because he was successful and Saul didn’t want competition. This is a separate blog post altogether, fellow pastors! (But worthy of mention here. Our job is to raise people up, equipping them for ministry. If you are threatened by those you lead, get on your face before God!)

But notice verse two. Who rallied around David? The desperate. The indebted. The discontented.

The weirdoes. The ‘failures’. The forgotten and cast-offs.

They rallied around David. And they were the men who would overcome Saul with him. They are the people that God used to eventually seat David on the throne. In 1 Chronicles, when David’s “mighty men of valor” are listed, I’m sure many of these misfits are listed among them. Where Saul saw unprofitable weirdoes, David either recognized or created mighty men of valor.

That’s a powerful thought.

Think of Saul’s failure here. And think of David’s great victory in surrounding himself with these men, pouring into them, leading them, investing in them. Saul removed from the kingdom. David credited it.

I encourage you not to look at people with human eyes. See them with spiritual eyes. Love people as Christ loves you. Accept them as Christ accepts you. Invest in them as you have been invested. Lead them. Even train them. Recognize what others miss, whether it be hidden skills or just potential. Have David’s eyes and Paul’s heart (1 Corinthians 3:9-10).

Do this. Every Christian that reads this post–do this. One day, you will find yourself surrounded by great people of valor. And God will be greatly blessed and glorified through it.

 

PS: For future reference, what’s the plural of weirdo? I trusted autocorrect in this post, but will need to know in the future as I write about the church. 🙂

New Year — Old Man

So, it’s a new year. 2015.

Praise God for a wonderful year with my beautiful and amazing wife, my kids (OK, they’re all old enough to hate being called that, but I’m a dad, sue me…), each of whom I am so proud of, and all of whom I love more than words can describe. Praise God for all of the wonderful family I have at Calvary Chapel Ooltewah. I don’t deserve to have you in my life, much less have the privilege of serving you, serving with you, and leading you.

Praise God for the coming year. I can’t imagine what God has for me, our family and the church. I can’t wait to see. As far as the church, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God has an exciting new season for us. (The building we’ve leased for 4 years has sold to a new, amazing, very Godly owner. But nonetheless, we’ll need to find a new place to meet by April of this year.) I’m not sure what God has in store, but He owns the church. Jesus leads it. And He doesn’t do things for no purpose. So, I am excited to see what He has for us.

In any event, for whatever reason, I awoke this morning thinking as much about last year as the coming year. I had several questions on my mind that I want to consider balanced between my own ‘old man’ nature and God’s gracious heart that loves that me wherever I am.

  1. Did I give my everything for Jesus?
  2. Did I give my everything for Judy (that beautiful, amazing, supportive, loving wife I mentioned a moment ago)?
  3. Did I give my everything for my kids?
  4. Did I give my everything for Calvary Chapel Ooltewah?
  5. Did I give my everything for my day-job?

That’s a lot of ‘everything’ isn’t it? Now, I’m not a math teacher, I just teach one on Sunday mornings (love you, Toni-sis!), but I know enough to realize that none of us have 500% to give. Maybe some motivational speakers will tell you that you do, but they’re bad at math too.

So I guess my questions revolve around the idea of whether I gave my all to others or held back for my own comfort, entertainment, laziness, whatever… Did I go to the mat or throw in the towel? Did I run the race to win, or flail my arms?

The answer to all five of the questions above is– ‘no’. No I did not give it my all. I still have many of the same character flaws that I started 2014 with. I have failed everyone in some way, whether they know it or not. I have had my lazy moments, my scared moments, my weak moments. I have procrastinated, given partial effort, lacked faith, lacked empathy, lacked resolve, lacked courage…

But here’s the cool thing. God has used the introspection today to swallow me in His love and grace. He has gently caressed me. He has whispered that that’s why it all has to be about Him, what He thinks, what He does… And He’s used that introspection to give me a renewed zeal, renewed vision for how I may pour myself out–ways I can be with and for others, ways I can develop in Him, ways to serve Him, my family and my church.

There is an excitement in introspection sometimes–if we do it with Jesus. He’ll shine a light into our heart. The old man retreats, and the shadows get smaller.

I can’t wait for the new year. My hopes for that year are varied. Among the hopes is this:

When I awaken on January 1, 2016, I’ll ask the same questions. I’ll undoubtedly receive the same answers. But I’ll have spent more time on the mat, more time running, and less time flailing my arms. The old man will have another foot in the grave, and I will be closer to what Jesus calls me to be.

Happy New Year. I hope to serve you better. I hope to serve and represent Jesus better. I hope we both do it together.

 

AJ

 

 

 

 

 

The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) translation…

I posted last week about the need to pick one translation of the Bible to teach with, and thought this would be a good time to do so, in accordance with the need to get a large print Bible for teaching purposes. I polled the congregation to get an idea as to what most people use when they follow along with me, and got mixed results. But also playing largely in the decision was my thoughts on the best translation for both study and public reading purposes (Note, I’ve been using HCSB all along for sermon prep, along with several other translations.). I started this post as an actual Bible review for my new teaching Bible (coming soon), but thought the translation talk would bloat that review, since it’ll be a review of an actual Bible and not the HCSB translation itself. So, here’s my thoughts on the HCSB and why I decided to return to it for public teaching…

(1) It’s a translation.

That may seem like a bit of needless or redundant information, but it’s pertinent. Almost all of the new ‘translations’ in the past 30 years or so have been revision of older (some quality) translations. The NKJV, ESV, NRSV, NLT while great translation which I highly respect and actually use for both study and devotional reading, are all revisions–not new translations.

Now, there is nothing wrong with revisions. There are good points to a revision, but a new translation that uses the latest in discoveries per manuscripts, ancient languages, ancient cultures, etc, is a good thing if the translators use proper translation principles. The HCSB does, as we’ll discuss.

(2) It’s a trustworthy translation.

The translation philosophy was to be as literal as possible, while expressing the thoughts and intents of the author in a way that we can best understand them. In other words, it’s not a paraphrase. The translators tried to be as literal as possible, but they made allowances for such things as literal word order, and translated cultural idioms (which would have been lost on us) into phrases that get the point across.

To be honest, I’ve always been a little conflicted about the two translation philosophies. Is it better to translate literally what they wrote, and leave interpretation to the reader? One would think so. Especially if the reader has the technical knowledge to correctly interpret. (But how many do? How many know that the phrase “I gave you whiteness of teeth”, in OT Israel, was a bad thing? How many know that it’s a description of starvation?)

Or is it best to translate something into a less literal format that is more comprehensible to the reader?  I’m conflicted, except for the fact that I’m realizing that the purpose of language is to get the thought across in such a way that the reader can comprehend. I may use technical language to a fellow System’s Analyst and non-technical language to my wife, who just recently broke down and accepted a smart phone. Either is appropriate, and either is inappropriate, depending on who the audience is, and whether they can understand what I’m saying. That’s what I’ve come to.

I think the HCSB, of the translations available to us today, does the best job of walking the line of literal but understandable. It’s made only better by the fact that it is better ‘footnoted’ than any translation I have ever come across. If they make a decision between different manuscript evidences, they give alternates in the footnote. If they make a decision to not translate something literally, they offer a footnote offering the literal translation.

So… It’s trustworthy, yet easy to read. It’s perfect for my study and teaching Bible.

For more detail than you probably want on translation philosophy, go here.

(3) As mentioned above, it’s easy to read.

The language is concise and natural, which lends itself well to public reading. This is a big deal for me. As mentioned in my other post, there are a couple of decisions that have made it a bit harder at times to read aloud–like the use of “Messiah” when the traditions in my brain are expecting “Christ”. But in researching their motives in making such changes, it makes sense, I’ll deal with it, and I can defend their decisions if anyone ever asks me about it. It’s not a deal-breaker.

(4) I had gotten lots of folks in our congregation hooked on the HCSB, then quit teaching from it for a while.

I have no good reason for not using it on Sunday mornings. I have a lot of good reasons to use it. I have always loved it. And I have to look people that I love in the face every week.  (OK… This wasn’t really the big reason, but it looks good on the blog.)

So, that was the translation decision, if not a full translation review.

 

 

Without faith…

I am convinced of something… If you are going to claim to be a follower of Jesus, God will not allow you to live in your comfort zone. He just won’t do it. We should stop trying right now, just get over it, and continue along our spiritual journey.

Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith, it is impossible to please God because (a) we’re called to come near to Him and (b) to draw near to Him we must first believe that He exists and (c) He rewards those who seek Him. The rest of the chapter basically recounts OT examples of what it cost people to do this.

Think about this for a second. We are called to draw near to God. That would be easier for me if He showed up and began splitting cows as proof of His covenant, like He did for Abraham. It would be easier if He was explicit in His direction and promises like He was then–telling me where to go and what (personally) was awaiting me.

It would be easier if He was the voice from a burning bush–if He was pillars of fire and smoke–like He was for Moses. Something physical that I could follow with my eyes, or maybe even with my nose. Someone I could meet on the mountain and have conversations with.

But no. That’s not for you and I most of the time. Most of the time, we’re just told to draw near to Him. We’re told to just believe that He exists and He’ll reward us if we seek Him.

I’m making some choices right now that will require faith. The stakes are going up and I’m feeling it. I don’t want to move when He hasn’t said to, nor do I want to stand still when He’s calling me to take a step. Moving may be wrong. Inaction may be wrong. I see no fire and I smell no smoke.

I just have my faith and a pursuit of God.

I’m outside of my comfort zone.

But I also praise God for that verse up top there. I praise God that I have access and privilege to draw near Him. I take comfort in the promise that He will reward me for my efforts. Note that… For my efforts. He rewards those who seek Him. It doesn’t get explicit and say that He rewards those who find His perfect will and walk perfectly within it.

He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

I’ll do that. I’ll earnestly seek Him and His will. I’ll follow His will as closely as I can interpret it. And I will take faith in the fact that He’ll reward my efforts. He’s big enough to tell me what He wants if I’ll listen, and powerful enough to reward/cover even my mistakes if they’re honest mistakes.

Out of your comfort zone right now?

Believe Him. Seek Him. Follow Him. Then trust Him and not yourself. Walk confidently evenly while you’re seeking Him.

Bible translations…

OK… I have another confession to make.

The older I get, the harder Sunday morning preaching is on my eyes. It’s getting harder and harder to turn the slight blur on my Bible pages into spoken words for the congregation.

I’m forced into the regions of the large print Bible.

While I was as the used book store the other day, I picked up a couple of nice large print slim-line Bibles for potential use. Then I happened to think: “This would be a great time to settle on a more stable version to teach, out of respect for the congregation so that they can know what I’ll be teaching from and get the same version if it’s that important to them. (It’s a smaller deal than it sounds, since it’s just the Sunday morning teaching Bible. I use no less than five translations for study and sermon prep.)

I’ve been bouncing between the ESV, HCSB, NKJV and occasionally the NASB (mostly the ESV lately) to teach from. I like them all, by the way.

So, I’m asking our folks at CCO, what translation do you bring to church to study along with me? I know a few folks went to HCSB when I started teaching from it. I love that translation. The main reason I stopped teaching from it as often is a nit-picky and selfish one. It was awkward for me to read aloud, “Jesus Messiah” when my brain is screaming “Jesus Christ”.

Yah. Stupid I know. I’m funny that way sometimes.

I know a few have the NKJV, and I really like it. I’m familiar with it, which makes it easier to read aloud at times. But, to be honest, it retains a lot of awkward sentence structure from the original KJV, which makes it awkward for me to read aloud at other times.

I like the ESV. But it too has some of the awkward sentence structure too.

Ditto the NASB.

One of the large print slim-lines I got was a NLTv2. I know it gets a bad name because of the Living Bible paraphrase, but I’ve been using the revised NLT ever since about 2005, and I have to say, I’ve been impressed with its overall trustworthiness. This is no paraphrase. It’s a legitimate translation, and I’m intrigued by the thought of public teaching from it. It sure would be easier to read and hear aloud.

But alas. I’d like to settle on something that would serve the greatest part of the congregation.

So… CCO… What translation do you use? What do you prefer? Do you care? Let me know in the comments section below!