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“Son, you have it in you to be a strong Bible teacher. But for now you should shut your mouth, sell all you have and buy a clue.” 

This statement was made to me after a sermon I preached back in 1995. It’s burned in my memory like a cattle brand. I was hurt, shocked, offended, angry, and embarrassed. It was made by a theology professor in town to preach a revival at the church I served.  He spent more time with me the following week, affirming my gifts and calling while also pointing out how my lack of education was a limitation to me and a liability to those under my teaching.

By 1997 I was enrolled in an undergraduate program majoring in Biblical Studies and Counseling. It was the beginning of an ongoing education that has spanned the last sixteen years.   I am now an unapologetic advocate of education. I am committed to the belief that the moment one stops learning; they stop living. 

I understand that education comes in many forms, and that a formal education (classroom, tests, papers, etc…) is not for everyone. I have and continue to learn from men and women who have earned Ph.D’s and from those who never graduated high school.

However, when it comes to those that endeavor to pursue vocational ministry, particularly roles that involve teaching the Scriptures, I take a hard stand for education. A man or woman intending to pursue teaching ministry must pursue theological education. There’s just too much at stake. 

As a minister in the Baptist Tribe, I recall how easy it was for me to be ordained back in 1995. I had a calling, a passion, gifts, but no education. The local autonomous body ordained me and put me on staff. 

It was a mistake.

While cleaning out some old boxes, I found tapes of sermons I preached in those days. I heard what that professor heard. They were passionate and pathetic. They were intense and inaccurate. They were high energy, but at times heretical. I had no business teaching the scriptures to others.

Yet, I regularly see this mistake repeat itself as uneducated young preachers plant churches, write blogs, make videos, and lead groups – with listeners, readers, and congregants processing and spreading the errors. Some have made big names for themselves, even boasting in their decisions not to acquire formal theological training. Then they teach things that a basic level course in theology, philosophy, Greek, Hebrew, or literature would reveal as incorrect. These are talented young men and women with passion, certainty, and a calling. Their potential is exciting. But right now they are clueless.

I can hear the criticism, “Kevin thinks he knows so much.” 

Hardly!

It’s not that education gives one all the answers. Far from it. I felt like I knew much more before I attended school.

Having completed doctoral studies, I am confident in my assertion that I know far less now than I did back in 1997. I’m educated enough to embrace the limits of my knowledge. I celebrate the confines of my limited capacity. I am at home in the mystery. I know enough to tell you that I don’t know much, but I'm always hungry to learn more.

Education teaches us how much we have yet to learn. Which is why the scriptures are dangerous in the hands of the untrained. Theological education, when successful, brings to the fore the limitations, insufficiency, and inadequacy of the preacher, so that they know enough to get out of the way of the One who is glorified through the foolishness of their preaching.

To my young friends. Do not take up the scriptures until you are educated enough to know how little you know.

Do what I did. Sell all you have and buy a clue.

When we are committed to change, never underestimate the power of small adjustments. 

Maybe that’s why we should redefine resolutions. Maybe this is why resolutions run out of steam; we don’t pace our resolve over the long haul. Resolutions are best kept in daily doses, tempering the immediate in light of the eventual...


For more of this final piece in my series "Keep the Change" follow the link below

"In that space between abandoning an old way and adopting a new way, which way should we go?
In circles."

Here's the latest in my series on change for Columbia Faith and Values


http://columbiafavs.com/2014/02/22/keep-change-week-4/

Part three of an ongoing series about change for Columbia Faith and Values:



Sad that the Bill Nye / Ken Ham debate is being billed as "The Bible vs. Science," or Atheism vs. Christianity. 

This debate is about neither.

Not all evolutionists are atheists. Not all Christians are young-earth creationists. However, there are many devout Christians that are respected scientists and proponents of evolutionary theory and other theories of human origins. For example, Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome project, and Richard Carlson, respected physicist, published author, and dear friend who attends my church.

The debate is between two approaches to science. Nye, who takes science seriously, and Ham, who teaches that one cannot take the Bible seriously in its entirety unless one interprets it according to a strict-literal 6 day creation act and a young earth (less than 6,000 years old). Of course, Intelligent Design, Theistic Evolution, or other positions held by devout Christians are a threat to Ham's grossly misinformed approach to the intent, inspiration, and interpretation of the Creation Narratives Of Genesis. 

In addition, the water is muddied by a failure to seperate the scientific theory of evolution, which does not demand atheism, from the philosophical approach of naturalism, which does reject God or any other super-natural reality.

So, please see this debate for what it isn't. 

Second seek of my series on change, written for Columbia Faith and Values - part of Religion News Service.


I'm writing a series of posts for Columbia Faith and Values, a part of the Religion News Service, on the topic of change.


Here's the link to the first piece. Enjoy!

I love reading blogs and I think Mark Sandlin has one of the best out there. I genuinely look forward to reading his thoughts. He even has that special spiritual gift that I find irresistable - sarcasm! Mark makes me think, and he cracks me up - usually at the same time. We need more bloggers with a serious sense of humor like Mark. One of his posts has been making the rounds recently and for the most part I really like it - check it out ... but come back  

http://sojo.net/blogs/2014/01/21/10-things-you-cant-say-while-following-jesus  

See? It's good, right?  Most of those unholy cliches make me cringe when I hear them. Here's the BIG BUT ... 

BUT ... I have to make a judgment call on two things Mark says that followers of Jesus whould never say (specifically #5 - Love the sinner, hate the sin and #4 - It's Okay to Judge). Initially, I read over them and internally disagreed. Then the post was shared on my church's Facebook page and was getting a lot of traffic. Well, now I feel a pastoral responsibility to weigh in on the items I have a problem with. 

1. I think we should hate the sin that makes us sinners.

Sin put our world in a tailspin of destruction that only the love and grace of Jesus can redeem and restore. I hate what sin does to the people I love. I despise the effect of sin on those who would call me their enemy - it widens the gap between us. I abhor the effects of sin on my own heart, mind, and actions. I loathe what sin costs humanity, and what it cost Jesus to step into our mess to bring salvation. By what contrast does one truly love sinners if not against the hopeless, hateful sin that puts us in need of saving grace? Yes, I love sinners … but you’d better believe I have a hot and holy hatred for sin. 

2. I think Christians should judge.

"Don’t judge others." In one sense, I agree with the notion that Christians are not to stand in judgment on those outside the community of faith. The Apostle Paul says as much, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside.” – 1 Cor. 5:12 However, the very context of Paul’s prohibition from judging those outside the church is contained within a section emphasizing the necessity for the Corinthians to hold accountable those within the church. 1 Corinthians is in large part a letter telling the church how to effectively offer evaluative, instructive, corrective, and disciplinary measures for the health of the Body. In other words, Paul is teaching Corinthians Christians how to judge.  

The idea of a truly non-judgmental posture is unrealistic. To say one should not be judgmental is itself a judgmental statement. As volitional beings, humans make decisions based on judgments toward the value of options from which they choose. There are differing value systems, and those values come into conflict requiring one to judge between which values to adopt. To become non-judgmental is to stop thinking. It cannot be done. 

The concept of judgment is greatly misunderstood. The scriptures instruct Christ- followers to make wise judgments regarding what is true and what is good (Isaiah 5:20, Matthew 7:15-19, Galatians 5:16-23), yet according to Paul Copan, the most frequently quoted verse in the Bible is Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”[1]   A vision for civility grounded in Christian conviction will be fuzzy at best without clarity on this issue. 

Jesus’ instructions here are not a blanket disregard for probing investigation, insightful evaluation, critical thinking, wise discernment, or perceptive decision making. Jesus is waving a caution flag against a particular sort of judgmental attitude - self-righteousness. In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus was condemning those who judge using two standards of morality; one standard for themselves and another for the one they accuse.

Luke 6:37-38 also condemns a self-righteous attitude. Michael Card observes this as the connection between both passages; “A judgmental attitude inevitably leads to a harshness of spirit that renders a person unable to [give or] receive forgiveness.”[2] 

How then did Jesus respond to those living according to beliefs contrary to the Father’s will? How did Jesus model “judgment” that accepted and affirmed people while not approving or affirming their sin? What qualifies a civility that connects conviction and compassion?

When the gospel narratives describe Jesus “accepting” prostitutes, tax collectors, and others considered sinful, there is no indication he accepted their behaviors. He called Matthew to follow him (requiring Matthew to leave behind his previous life), he called the woman at the well to forsake her lifestyle of promiscuity, he called the woman caught in adultery to leave her life of sin, and he called Zacchaeus to redemptive restitution. “Jesus refused to define people in terms of their present sordid circumstances. He affirmed their potential for living as faithful and creative children of God.”[3]

And all this from a position of unconditional love, uncompromising conviction, and uncommon decency – something Martin Marty calls “Convicted Civility.” This is no doubt a difficult position for Christ-followers to take, but one that the church is called to nonetheless,

        It has never been easy for the church to nurture a convicted civility. Indeed, when the biblical writer first urged the followers of Christ to ‘pursue peace with everyone,’ the society was at least  as multicultural and pluralistic as today … If they could work at treating people with gentleness  and reverence in such an environment, what is our excuse for attempting less?[4]


[1] Paul Copan, True for You, but Not for Me: Deflating the Slogans That Leave Christians Speechless (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1998), 32.

[2] Michael Card, Matthew: The Gospel of Identity, vol. 3, Biblical Imagination Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 68.

[3] Richard Mouw, Uncommon Decency (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 24.

[4] Mouw, Uncommon Decency, 19.

I didn’t make the honor roll very often in high school. I was too interested in girls and my souped-up VW Beetle. Yes, you read that correctly. I drove a souped-up VW Beetle. Since my dad raced dune buggies, he could make VW engines do things that were probably illegal. It was a very fast car. Did I mention it could float? I’ll save that story for another post. Anyway, I graduated high school a solid #99 in a class of 300. Not bad, but not that great either.

I experienced a genuine call to vocational ministry as a high school student, so I enrolled in Bible College and flunked out in the second year. Who needed school? I had the Holy Spirit, a call, a passion, and a lot of attitude. So I spent the next several years making a mess of ministry and a fool of myself. Ignorance isn’t bliss when it comes to ministry; it’s dangerous. 

A patient mentor impressed upon me that a good education is as important to one’s calling as the calling itself. There are exceptions to be sure, but for the most part a minister should be as academically equipped as they are passionately engaged. So, I re-entered undergraduate school as a 25 year-old freshman.

I was fortunate to attend a school that emphasized writing as a means of engaging, interacting with, and demonstrating one’s understanding of the material being taught. We were often required to write in defense of views we did not espouse and we were always expected to accurately cite the sources from which our research was gathered. I quickly learned that I had a knack for communicating. I could speak well and put thoughts on paper in an effective way. I remembered the material I studied and recited it on exams. I was becoming a good student. However, my grotesque grammar, poor punctuation, and especially my citations (or lack thereof) landed me in the writing lab at the demand of a professor.  It was there I was introduced to Kate Turabian and the Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. It was the beginning of a tumultuous relationship. 

The last thing I wanted to do when assigned a paper was to read a book on how to write papers. It would delay getting the paper done. Yet, the professors in their conspiracy required that I read the manual. I did everything I could to ignore and escape Kate, but her pursuit was relentless. So I gave in to Kate Turabian and her detailed, meticulous demands.

Kate helped me graduate Magna Cum Laude. Later she guided me through the increased expectations of Master’s level work. During this phase of education, Kate taught me the enormous importance of citations - get them right, credit your sources, leave a clear trail for readers to follow back to the place you found your information. She aided me in earning a Master’s from Fuller Theological Seminary. 

When I began a doctoral program at George Fox University, Kate Turabian was once again by my side. The stakes were even higher now, since a dissertation was required to complete the program. Furthermore, the Lead Mentor of the program would be Leonard Sweet. My dissertation was recently defended and has now been archived. Along with the dissertation there have been hundreds of pages of material with thousands of citations. The sources for my writing have come from books, journals, websites, articles, podcasts, movies, dissertations, speeches, emails, and interviews. At each turn, Kate was there to guide me to the right form of citation. 

Recently, there’s been a dust-up concerning allegations of plagiarism by a popular author and pastor. I don’t want it to be true. I want to believe that it was just a mistake or an oversight. 

However, Kate Turabian and I have completed enough writing by now for me to understand the relationship between a writer and their sources. It is hard work to research, write, revise, cite, revise, correct, cite, revise, and finally produce a properly cited and formatted written work. Be it a book, article, dissertation, etc… 

But it’s harder work to plagiarize. Plagiarism requires a deliberate effort to lift the work of another and claim it as your own. This is why I came to love Kate. She has literally 11 sections that explain in unmistakable detail what plagarism is (2.2.3, 7.9, 7.9.1, 7.9.2, 7.9.3, 7.9.4, 15.1, 15.2, 15.2.1, 15.2.2, 25.1). She makes her instructions on how to create citations so clear, so direct, and so practical that to fail to give proper credit would call for an arrogance, a negligence, or an ignorance that takes a whole lot of work. 

My advice? Work smarter, get to know Kate Turabian, and make your own unique contribution to the conversation, or as Oscar Wilde put it, "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."

So, for all of your patience and all of your guidance; even when I hated you for it, I say thank you, Kate Turabian! 

One of my favorite films is Rudy. If it’s on, we watch it. If we don’t have time to watch it, we DVR it. A pivotal scene takes place when Rudy speaks with a priest he has befriended. Rudy has done all he can to get into Notre Dame. The priest has pulled every string he can to give Rudy an opportunity. But Rudy wants an assurance from the priest that is almost, God-like. The priest gives him the best answer he can. It is a good answer, a right answer, even a wise answer. “Son, in 35 years of religious studies, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts; there is a God, and I’m not Him.”  Rudy is clearly disappointed with the answer. Fortunately, the priest leaves Rudy in his disappointment…and with God – the One Rudy needs more than the priest.

 There have been times in my pastoral journey when I would not have done as the priest did. I would have tried provide answers beyond my knowledge, results beyond my control, and be what was beyond my capacity to be. In God’s name, doing God work, I would have sought to take God’s place.

 Eventually I learned that my limitations do more to point people to God than my feeble attempts to take God’s place. The very things parishioners find disappointing in my ministry are the very things needed for their faith in God to deepen.  So I’ve learned to be grateful for the way I disappoint people. I’ve learned to lean into my limits – to do my best knowing my best is not good enough. That’s okay because there are two incontrovertible facts; there is a God and I’m not Him.

 Therefore, to my fellow pastors, especially those working in God’s name to take God’s place. I’d like to share with you a beautiful letdown. You’re not God. Since you’re not God, perhaps the greatest gift you can give your parishioners is the gift of disappointment.

We are not omniscient – You don’t know everything… and that’s a good thing. 

There is simply no way for us to know about every need. Yes, it may have been on the prayer list, along with many other needs that change week to week. Which prayer list? The one for the whole church, the one for the deacons, or any of the ones exclusive to a small group? Which list contained that need?

Yes, your parishioners may have sent an email about the need. You will no doubt do our best to read and answer those. But there were 26 new messages in my inbox this morning, and another 30 came in before lunch. You’ll try and get to them all, but you are one person. Do the best you can.

Yes, it’s possible a member told you about the need in the hallway on Sunday. Was it before or after the first, second or third service? I know you regret not being able to recall the details of that conversation.  It’s important to that member and you hope they know that it’s important to you, but more often than you’d care to admit, you will get the details confused with other hallway conversations.  Also, please understand that many other people with needs, questions, critiques, prayer requests and book suggestions will want your exclusive and undivided attention. It will hurt when some play the game of keeping their need private, then getting angry that you didn’t respond. You will get that a lot. The expectations will be impossible to fulfill, so don’t take it to heart when you inevitably disappoint them.

 You certainly will not have an answer for every question, and even wrestle with uncertainty and doubt on your own faith journey. It would be easier in the short term to act as if you had it all figured out. It feels good to explain the mysteries of God according to a predictable and controllable systematized theology. Eventually though, God breaks out of the neat little theological containers you put him in. So, unless you deliberately stop thinking and learning, the questions arising from God’s mysterious and paradoxical behavior will quickly outnumber those pat answers.  Eventually, you will learn to disappoint people with how often you respond, “I don’t know for sure.”  Because if you’re honest, you really don’t know for sure. It’s impossible for you to know everything because you are not omniscient.

If their disappointment with your finite limitations awakens them to God’s infinite grace, then they will mature and you will have done your job.

There is a God who is omniscient. God knows keenly and cares deeply. To the best of our ability we as ministers serve others in God’s name, but we’re not God.

 We are not omnipotent – Try as you might, you do not have the power to control or change everything... and that’s a good thing.

We cannot change the heart, so that member’s loved one may reject the amazing grace of Jesus as long as they live. But that church member was sure that if you just went and talked to their lost loved one, they would repent and turn to Christ. Except you went and they didn’t. You tried, but failed. You’re not God.

 A hopeful wife believes that your counseling will save her marriage, but it doesn’t. After weeks of sessions and hours of prayer, he moves in with the other woman. We cannot force reconciliation, so the couple whose marriage people want you to save may still divorce. You tried, but failed. You’re not God

 You cannot force that intervention to work, so that teenager may still die from a drug overdose. You tried, but failed. You’re not God.

 We cannot control the weather, so yes, snow, ice, hurricanes, dust storms, or other weather issues will cause you to cancel church on occasion. Some will be upset because you didn’t cancel sooner. Others will question why you cancelled at all. Both will be disappointed.

 We will use all the persuasion, prayer, and passion available to us, and may even cross the line into manipulation if it will work. But ultimately, we do not have the power to make anyone change their minds, their hearts, or their actions.

The looks of disappointment from people who believe in us can be paralyzing. So maybe that’s the lesson – they believed in us. If their disappointment with us beckons them to the greatness of the One who brings the dead to life, they will marvel and we will have done our job. We do what we can, but we’re not omnipotent. We’re not God.

 We are not omnipresent – You cannot be present at everything…and that’s a good thing!

I understand how affirming it is to be wanted. It feels good at first to have so many invitations. Sooner or later, they will overlap. You will have to choose, which will please some and, you guessed it, disappoint others.

 The young adult Sunday School class’ monthly dinner invitation – which you’ve had to decline the last two months comes the same weekend the senior adults want you accompany them to a Gaither concert – which they believe you aren’t attending because you like that rock music.  This falls on the same night a mission group will deliver sandwiches to the needy - a group that has complained the staff aren’t supportive of hands-on missions. This also overlaps with a party you’ve been invited to by a family that has asked again and again if you would stop by and meet their unchurched neighbors. Tragically though, the phone rings and a devastated member shares that their mother has taken a turn for the worse and will not make it through the night. As much as they appreciate the associate pastor being with them right now, their mother is asking for the senior pastor to come and pray. So, you call your spouse to let them know you’ll get to your child’s band concert just as soon as you can…if you can.

Each will be disappointed that you’re not present. Some will assume you don’t care, others will call you lazy, some may understand, but will keep track of where you do show up.

What will your child think?

You cannot be everywhere. You should not go to everything. You will not be cloned anytime soon. Every “yes” is a “no” to something else. You must become selective with your “yesses” and generous with your “no’s”. Only God can say “yes” to more than one place at a time. You are bound by time and space. Others will have to learn to do what you are doing. Members will have to learn to see ministry from deacons, associates, and friends as equally valid to yours. You must learn to trade the disappointment of every parishioner for the smile of your child. You must pray as Pope John XXIII is said to have prayed: “Well, Lord, it’s your church. You take care of it. I’m going to bed.”

If their disappointment with your absence creates in them a longing for the presence of Immanuel, God with us, then they will deepen in their understanding and awareness of Christ, who abides in us and has promised to never leave or forsake us. And you will have done your job.

 No doubt you will do your best to be as present as possible. But you are not omnipresent. You’re not God.

 Perhaps the greatest gift you will give your people is an ever-increasing awe of our Lord through an ever-present familiarity with your limitations. May our ministry of disappointment always convey to ourselves and our people the reality that God is great, God is good, and we’re not God.

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