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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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!

A Kingdom Harvest…

I taught the first half of Matthew 13 this week and loved the Word time in preparation. God seems to always filter a sermon through me before He unleashes it on the world. In other words, my toes get stepped on first; I am encouraged first; I am challenged first; I am humbled first…

One key theme in Christ’s Kingdom talk resonated with me much this past week. Sunday, I gave the theme mention but not what it deserves. (To give all of the Word all that it deserves every Sunday, we’d probably cover a verse a week, I guess.) So I wanted to give more spotlight to this Kingdom Key.

In Matthew 13, when Jesus explained the Parable of the Seed/Soil, He explained the soils.

There is trampled soil (a person’s heart) that is too pressed down and busy for the seed (Word of God) to penetrate. So the seed doesn’t penetrate and no germination happens. The birds (evil one) steal the seed and the soil remains dead.

There is rocky soil. This is a heart will little depth and rock close beneath the surface. Puny roots develop, so when the heat of the sun (problems) comes along, the plant which sprang up quickly, quickly dries and dies out. There was growth, but no fruit.

There is soil with brambles and briers. The seed takes root, but is soon crowded out and smothered by parasitic competition. The briers and brambles represent the cares of the world–anxieties and materialism. The plant may come to a semblance of maturity, but it is killed off by competition and never bears fruit.

Then there is the good soil. It is deep and soft. The seed germinates with life. It grows deep roots that nourish it through droughts and it escapes the competition of thorns. Because it is nourished, it grows tall and strong. In its season, it bears fruit to bountiful harvest. It’s a beautiful picture of the Christian. The seed dies and gives life to a new plant. That plant is rooted and immovable. It is connected to the life-giving nourishment of Christ and flows with living water. Through spiritual photosynthesis, that living water is transformed into a harvest of fruit that blesses the vineyard owner.

The running theme of the Kingdom of God is ‘bear much fruit’. We get caught up in the process and think that the process is a means to itself. Be planted in the word… Soften your heart… Endure the heat of trials… Resist the call of worldly pleasures and treasures… ‘Be mature…’

All of this is wonderful, and we shan’t minimize the importance of holiness, maturity, steadfastness and right priorities. But that’s all a part of the process. Even when James tells us to let troubles have their way with us that we may be perfected… I think even he knew he was just describing the process and not the end result.

In the Kingdom economy, it always comes back to harvest. It always comes back to bearing much fruit. It always comes back to God producing something in us to be shared.

Are you reading your Word and planting the seed deep? Praise God! But it’s merely a part of the spiritual process. Is it bearing fruit? Are you plugged into Jesus and rooted in Him? Praise God! Are you bearing fruit? Are you enduring problems? Praise God! Is it bearing fruit? Are you resisting the idolatry of materialism? Praise God! Is it bearing fruit?

Are you coming to maturity? I’ll give you the end-all, be-all test for that. Are you bearing fruit? If not, you only look mature. You have some stones to dig out of the soil of your heart. The plant in stony ground sprang up quickly and gladly. It looked mature and healthy. But its roots were poor and it never came to the part that matters…

Bearing fruit. It’s all about bearing fruit. It’s all about what God is producing in you.

I think of the day that Jesus was walking with His disciples and saw the fig tree. It was the season for harvest, but the tree was bare. Apparently, by all other visible standards, it looked healthy–but Jesus saw the bare branches and basically said: “What use is this?”

Perhaps we should give ourselves the same test. Perhaps we should worry about the process but not stop short at perceived maturity. Perhaps we should be bold enough to judge maturity by bearing fruit.

Am I bearing fruit? Maybe not, ‘Am I laden with fruit and the branches are drooping?’ Maybe you’re early in the process and you can take great joy in the first fig of the season! Perhaps you can let that first fig make you hungry for drooping branches! Thank God for the production and ask Him for more fruit on your branches.

Am I bearing fruit? Perhaps you’re well into the process and you still see no fruit. Start digging for rocks and clean out the soil. Plant the Word deep in your heart. Cut away the cares of the World. Ask God for direction while thanking Him for His grace. Dedicate your life to the process–but with the sole purpose of seeking fruit for His Kingdom.

In the Kingdom economy, God loves fruit. So we should love fruit too. He is a God of grace, so I’m convinced that you’re not earning anything from Him with it. He’s not buying your fruit, He’s producing it through the blood of His beloved Son and the power of His Spirit.

He just loves fruit. So we should too.

Jesus, the radical…

Of all the things I wish I could minister to the youth of the world today about Jesus–in addition, of course, to the fact that He was and is God in flesh, their savior–I’d like to tell them that Jesus was a radical. He came to turn society upside-down and change it for the better.

The Millennials are known for many things, but they’re known most as a generation committed to change. They’re a generation that is primed to change the world for the better. They’re a generation that sees wrongs and takes actions to right those wrongs. It’s a generation of radicals, in many ways.

I believe the church needs to tap into that by showing Christ for who He actually was and is. For some reason, our generation and those before us have been content to portray parts of Jesus, while ignoring and suppressing other parts. We’ve created a Jesus that we were comfortable with–a faith that matched our American dream–thereby putting Jesus in a box. We’ve ‘tamed’ Jesus. Thus, we’ve robbed Him of His power, His ministry on Earth, and in large part His plans for the church.

When the younger generations think of Jesus, they think of what they see in the modern pulpit. Jesus has become either a stuffy, grumpy, unhappy pastor who preaches for the sole purpose of emptying wallets into the church coffers. Or He has become a smiling, slick, snake-oil salesman that tells you His greatest concern is your happiness (oh, and by the way, give me your money so you can have a watch like mine). Or He has become a moralist whose greatest concern is that you act right. Or He becomes… Well, you get the picture.

I’m teaching through the gospels chronologically right now. And yes, Jesus talks about good stewardship. He talks about ethics. He talks about joy and fears and anxiety–all of the things that pertain to living everyday life. But do you know what?

He talks about all of those things within the greater context of living everyday life in the Kingdom of God.

Think about that for a second… The Kingdom of God! Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion or update an old one. He came to take over the world. He came to announce His right and intent to reclaim what is His. He came to point out how messed up the world is under its old government, and show what it would look like under His rightful rule.

He said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12)

He said, ” But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:28-30)

(In other words, He came in power to overthrow the strongholds of His enemy, and the enemy can’t stand against Him. He will overpower the spiritual forces that have no right to rule, abuse and oppress God’s creation. He came to bring a new Kingdom, to overcome the old guard, His power proves it, and you’d better pick your side–there’s no middle ground.)

I’ll say it again. He came to take over the world–to turn it upside down. He came as an agent of change, gave us the blueprint and our marching orders, left us the Spirit to empower us to those orders, then promised to come back and take possession of what we are called to take in His name. He left us to do battle with the spiritual forces that are squatting on His rightful turf–to announce His lovely and loving leadership as contrast to the burdensome, oppressive rule of religion, sin and death. He left us to live His Kingdom ethics as a contrast to the messed up, selfish, destructive values of wicked generations. He called us to sell out completely to His cause and prioritize our entire life–all of our time, treasures and talents–to that cause.

Jesus is a radical and He’s called us to be as well.

I think our generations have put Him in a box because we’ve been uncomfortable with that very blatant fact. I think we’ve been uncomfortable with that fact because of its implications–because we haven’t wanted to be radical. Because we’ve been hesitant to sell out to that Kingdom. Because we’re really neither for Him nor against Him. We’ve been milquetoast, moderate, diluted, idolatrous, American Dreamers.

How could we ever expect another generation–one that is fed up and rebelling against such a soft, moderate, watered-down society–to accept such a Jesus, much less sell out to Him?

Church, choose your side. Become either for Him or against Him. Get radical or get off. Turn in your dual citizenry card. Show them the real Jesus or none at all.

Have no enemies…

OK. So first, I want to apologize to those of you who’ve subscribed here for content. I know I’ve dropped the ball this week. I’m usually not one for making excuses, but I will. 🙂 To be honest, I’ve been dutifully and furiously working on my novel, and I’m really excited about the progress this week has produced. So, I apologize if you’ve expected content this week and haven’t seen it. Maybe you’ll enjoy the content from this week one day when you’re snuggling up to a nice fireplace, with a cup of Chai tea, and my novel in hand.

Hint, hint…

On to the blog post.

There’s these guys I sometimes argue with. OK. I realize this isn’t the next sentence you expected from me. And perhaps argue is a strong word. But there are several people that I interact with that are almost the polar opposite of me in politics, philosophy, religion, sports teams… All of those things that one is usually most passionate about? Yes. That’s what we discuss pretty frequently.

As the Lord continues to work in me about what’s really important, one huge thing is my personal testimony. He’s refining my sensitivity to how my actions, motives and character are perceived by those around me. Matthew 5 comes to mind. Jesus didn’t just whistle Dixie when He was here. He said things of importance, and they were recorded into human history because they’re important. The Sermon on the Mount was his treatise to the church about living the Kingdom of God among the Kingdom and man.

In the beatitudes, He said something we often miss. He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Wow. Don’t consider that if you don’t want your life rocked.  When we are seen as peacemakers, we will be called God’s children. God is the ultimate peacemaker. He sent His only begotten Son, that He could make peace with fallen humanity. Jesus came and willingly bore our sin to give the Father a just excuse to make peace with us. He didn’t concentrate on what we deserved. He peered through our trespasses and saw people He wanted to have relationship with.

Do I do that? I mean, really… Do I seek to live out His character? Do I look for reasons to love instead of dwelling on trespasses? Do I seek opportunities for relationship, or reasons to break it? Do I try to create peace–with myself and God–or stand on my perceived rights to be angry, hurt, resentful, right, smarter, more refined, more cultured, holier, etc?

Do my actions make the world look up and say, “That’s God’s kid. He looks just like Him. And if that’s what His God looks like, I want to know Him”?

That brings me to the next snipped from Jesus’ sermon.

He said, “Let your good deeds be seen so that you Father in heaven may be glorified.”

Wow. What was He talking about? Obviously, He wasn’t talking about public religious piety so that you may be glorified. He was talking about a life poured out so that God may be glorified in and through your actions. He was literally saying that people will judge God by what they see in and through us.

What do people think about God, based on you deeds? I’m not picking on you. It’s the question I live with these days.

Praise God.

So, there’s these guys I’ve been arguing with. They’re basically the polar opposite of me in the major areas of life. And I decided not to even appear to argue with them anymore. I decided to converse with them and profess my beliefs within whatever platform I have. But I decided to do so as a blatant peacemaker. I began to secretly pray for them–their salvation, their health, their beliefs. I began to compliment them and tell them blatantly that I respect them. I began to reassure them that I understand how they have come to their views, as I express different perspectives. I invited them for dinner and offered to cook for them (if they take me up on it and taste my cooking, they may view me as adversary more than ever).

I decided that I have control of whether I have enemies. I and only I. I just decided to have none. I consider that the only way a Christian can kill his enemies is to befriend them.

And do you know what has happened? That platform I mentioned? It’s grown tremendously. And isn’t that the point? The point isn’t to win. The point isn’t even to be right. The point is to grow God’s platform to work through you. It’s to glorify Him in both truth and action.

I encourage you, in the name of Christ, have no enemies. Kill them with kindness.

2 Corinthians 5:18-20

 

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Take the stone off the well

I’ve been doing a fairly intense study of Acts over the past couple of weeks, really seeking to see how the early church did things when they had no traditions, only the Holy Spirit and a very real love for Jesus. Today, as I studied Acts 2, I was struck by something. As soon as the Holy Spirit fell upon the church, they were supernaturally united in speech, they were supernaturally united in message, and they were supernaturally united in an outward-focused attitude.

They began speaking in tongues– the supernatural gift that enabled the gospel to go out and be understood by all of those outside the church who had traveled to Jerusalem from afar. This supernatural gift ministered from the inside out. Did you catch that? The Holy Spirit’s first order of business was to proclaim the gospel to the unsaved. Thousands got saved and the Church grew.

We have new traditions these days. We want our churches to grow, but unfortunately we’re not doing it by the example of the Spirit-empowered church. We’re not about the Spirit’s first order of business.

Walk into any Christian book store. Ask for their church growth section. Open any book at random. I would wager you that the greatest part of that text will be (subtly) dedicated to stealing sheep from another pen. It will be showing you how to make your church more appetizing to current Christians than the one they’re going to, or at best the one they last attended.

Now, they won’t tell you that’s what they’re doing, but that’s what they’re doing. They’re showing you how to market your church to someone who wants a church.

It’s sad, I think.

I can’t help but think of good old Jacob, back in Genesis 29. You remember him? He’d lied to his father, stolen his brother’s blessings, and high-tailed it out of town because his brother wanted to kill him. He’d gone to hide (I mean stay) with Laban, his uncle.

When he got there, all the shepherds were hanging out around a well, and the well was capped with a huge stone. And it was hot out in that desert! Jacob looked around and saw all the sheep, thirsty and suffering. He asked the shepherd, “Hey! Why are you letting the sheep suffer out here in the hot sun? Give them water!”

The shepherds answered, “No. It’s too much trouble to uncover the well. The stone’s heavy, so we wait for all the sheep to gather, then we take the stone off once, and then water them together.  That’s more convenient.  That’s more efficient.”

Seeing his beautiful future wife walk up, it appears that Jacob got the strength of ten men, because he uncapped the well and watered the sheep. It wasn’t too much work when love was involved.

I look at much of our church the same these days. It’s too much effort to roll the stone away and offer the unending stream of living water that Christ promised us in he Holy Spirit. So, we only take the stone off and let the water flow when the sheep gather. (That’s usually on Sundays and Wednesdays for us evangelicals.) Anything more is just too much. And it’s not worth it unless lots of sheep are gathered to drink.

But what about the Spirit’s first ministry? What about a rushing torrent of living water that wants to empower the gospel outward to the unsaved– those who don’t even know that they’re thirsting? Those whom Jesus said would never thirst again, if we’ll just roll the stone off the well?

In Acts 2, the church went from nothing to a mega-church in one day, because the Spirit empowered the gospel outward. The early church didn’t just wait for sheep to gather. They gathered and made sheep.

Do you want your church to grow? I’m not just talking to pastors. I’m talking to you. Do you have a heart for the unbeliever like Jacob had a heart for the sheep, standing and thirsting in the sun? I’m talking to every Christian, so let me rephrase… Do you want Jesus’ church to grow? Do you want to see it filled with people that once were lost and now are found– once were thirsting to death in the sun, but are now satisfied in the Son?

Roll the stone off. Start watering wherever you find them.

Rationality, empiricism, and spirituality…

Let’s start the week with some philosophical musings, shall we?

I’ve been considering some things this morning, and thought I’d share them with you.  I sometimes get a little frustrated in conversations that are based in obvious, and easily proven, fallacious logic.  It’s fallacious logic posited as rational, and because it’s so widely defined as rational, both the secular and Christian world gets sucked into it.

For whatever reason, I’m often asked to give proof for my faith.  I’m asked for the evidence.  I’ve even been told that if I try to give evidence for the Christian faith, I’m a bad Christian because Christianity is a ‘religion’ (let’s call it a worldview to escape the term) that is built and founded on faith.  Skeptics confidently tell me that if I produce evidence, I’m not being very Christian.  Christians have even told me that if I produce evidence for my beliefs, I’m not pleasing God, because Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please Him.

It seems that I find myself between a rock and a hard place…  OK.  Let’s smash some boulders, and perhaps expose some sponges masquerading as granite…  I’ll get to the ‘Great Fallacy” in a few minutes.

If what I believe is true, there should be some sort of evidence to show it.  I readily admit and proclaim this.  If God created the universe, then what we see in the universe should indicate this.  At the very least, what we see in the creation should not tell us that God did not create it.  (I’m inferring the Judeo-Christian God that cannot lie.)  In other words, if my beliefs are true, what we find in reality should not negate that truth.  We should find rational and perhaps even empirical evidence to that truth.

I believe that we do.

Further, if Jesus really lived, taught, ministered, died, and rose again– all (partially) as a message from God, then that message should have been recorded for us.  In other words, I should expect to find it reflected in history.

He did, and we do.

There is nothing wrong with the Christian finding and sharing this rational support for our faith.

Here’s the rub.  None of that evidence is enough to empirically prove that God exists, that Jesus was His Son, that Jesus rose from the grave, that He ascended to Glory to build us a room in the Father’s house, that the Holy Spirit indwells us, that Jesus will return, or that any of us will go to heaven.

I’m sorry.  You’re not going to get it.  That’s not how God designed the world.  That’s not how God designed His redemptive plan.  That’s where faith comes in, and that’s why faith pleases God.  God gave fallen man plausible deniability so that we can choose to worship ourselves, and thus fall fully under His wrath (go read Romans 1).  He gave us some rational reasons to believe in Him, and the gift of faith to take us the rest of the way.  If we choose to deny the idolatry of self and accept Him, we do so with pierced hearts, armed with the gift of faith.

So, for me, I never try to prove Christianity right– well, not anymore.  It’s futile, and in my opinion as I grow in my walk, it’s counter to the gospel.  Instead, I try to give the reasons that I consider my worldview to be rational, and then pray that they are led to the faith that is the next step.

In any event, I now refuse to get dragged into the empiricism fallacy.  I just refuse to.  If you ask me to, prepare to be rebuffed, and prepare to be rebuffed on very rational, logical, well-reasoned grounds.  Let me explain what I call the “Empiricism Argument”.

This is the argument that professes that the only valid and acceptable form of knowledge is that which has been empirically tested and verified.  (In other words, the only things that we can truly know, we have empirically verified with our physical senses.)  It sounds pretty rational, right?  It sounds like a strong argument– partly because at its face, it sounds believable, and partly because we’ve been indoctrinated into the logic for so long.

But it’s philosophical clap-trap.  It’s easily rebuffed and exposed for fallacious reasoning.  Don’t believe me?  OK.

Prove it.  Because if that’s what you believe, your beliefs demand that you be able to empirically prove it.  If empiricism is true…  If it is knowledge that is trustworthy, you must be able to empirically prove it.  It has to live up to its own standards.  It has to eat its own dog food.

The problem is that, in claiming that all truth must be empirically verified while the claim itself is empirically unverifiable, it proves itself wrong.  If the empiricist statement is true, then it has proven itself false.  It’s called ‘the internal consistency test’.  And empiricism fails.

Please pardon me while I continue at a bit of a snail’s pace.  I want this to be as clear as possible to as many as possible.  So, I’ll show the fallacy another way.  Note the logic:

For empiricism to be true, empiricism must be shown as true empirically.  If empiricism cannot be empirically proven, then its claim fails on its own criteria.  For it to be true, it must be accepted as false.  It’s a logical contradiction.

Now, here’s the beauty of the Christian claims.  Not only does Christianity claim that one can know truth of a non-empirical nature.  Christianity claims that the greatest truths are known non-empirically.  The greatest truths are known spiritually!  This claim is in complete agreement with the rest of the Christian worldview (it’s internally consistent), and it’s completely rational.

Go read 1 Corinthians 2:6-16.

Paul says that the wisdom of God is not accepted by unbelievers because it is not physically ascertained.  It is spiritually ascertained.  In other words, they are not empirically proven and experienced.  They are spiritually proven and experienced– and they’re greater than anything the fallen world can formulate.  The ‘foolishness’ of God is greater than the wisdom of man!

Here’s what Paul was alluding to:  When a person takes that step of faith from empiricism, rationalism, etc to faithful acceptance, then they are reborn.  They become a new creature and their spirit (which was dead) comes to life– and that newly born spirit is the fresh receptor for spiritual truths.  Paul said that ‘His Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:16)  As a Christian, you have new receptors!  You can almost say that it then becomes empirically proven, because now you have new ‘senses’ that you didn’t have, and which the unbelieving world doesn’t have.  The Spirit testifies the wisdom of God that goes beyond any philosophical reasoning that has been introduced by humanity alone.

Existentially?  Do we really exist?  The Spirit testifies that you do and you belong to God!  Theologically?  The Spirit testifies that God exists, and loves you as His child.  How can we know truth?  The Spirit testifies it.

I can think of one particular discussion with a secular philosopher, and he got pretty irritated with me for this line of reasoning.  In our discussion, he was painted into a corner of whether he could know truth.  I had forced the issue that, without access to anything outside of himself for reference, he could not know if his perceptions are true.  He can never know what he thinks he knows.  He admitted that he could not, and countered that neither could I, so we were at a stalemate.  I told him that I can know truth because I have been spiritually born and God Himself ministers truth to me.  God Himself tells me that my perceptions are real.  I have something greater than myself and my perception to inform me of truth.  Because I am spiritually alive, I have insight into that which he does not.

I promise I am not and was not being purposefully arrogant.  I believe that I am and was just being honest and rational.  And it is both honest and rational that even the ‘foolishness’ of God is greater than the wisdom of man– because empiricism will only get you so far.  It will only get you to the questions.  It can only get you to a decision as to whether you’ll have faith.

God takes you from there, and He does so in a very rational way.