blessedly not let off the hook (by James)

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8

James gets right to it, but throughout the letter from start to finish there’s no letting up. He’s certainly a pastor, but gives us needed insight into one aspect of pastoral ministry as well as what the church is to be. Yes, there’s mercy and patience. But for those who really follow Christ, there are certain nonnegotiables.

If we’re to follow Christ we do what we’re told here. If we fail to do that, and I’m referring to sincere honest attempts, not letting up, then we aren’t following, indeed can’t follow Christ. We either consider it nothing but joy, whatever trial we’re in, letting endurance have its full effect toward full maturity in Christ, or else we’re not. We either ask God for wisdom, as indeed we’re all lacking in that of ourselves, and ask in faith without doubting. Or we plain don’t. There might be something in between, but James would tell us that’s a part of being double-minded, and thus unstable in every way. As Eugene Peterson points out in The Message, that can be simply a matter of “keeping all your options open.” No, we either trust God or we don’t. The difference between darkness and light.

This has been helping me immensely, but I can’t let go of it. And it’s not like we’re passive and no longer involved in life. But that God is there to help us through whatever it is we’re facing, whatever responsibilities we have to fulfill. God wants to use all of life to mature us, and to help us gain wisdom. As we not only commit ourselves to this course, but follow through on it, God helps us to live in God’s peace, as well as get God’s help.

An important part of what it means to follow Christ along with others in this life. In and through Jesus.

what John, “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 1:5-2:2

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[b] sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 1:5-2:2

This, in essence, is the message we heard from Christ and are passing on to you: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in him.

If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we’re obviously lying through our teeth—we’re not living what we claim. But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purges all our sin.

If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—simply come clean about them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.

I write this, dear children, to guide you out of sin. But if anyone does sin, we have a Priest-Friend in the presence of the Father: Jesus Christ, righteous Jesus. When he served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good—not only ours, but the whole world’s.

1 John 1:5-2:2; MSG

My guess is that if John were here today with us, he might say something along the lines of why it’s essential that we walk in God’s light in Christ and see all other light as darkness. Where do we get our life from? Do we get it solely from Christ, or do we see something else as a necessary part of that light, or included in it?

We need to see everything, try to look at anything in the light of God in Christ. Therefore we view with a critical, by which I mean discerning eye all that is happening, noting what on the surface is good and what is not.

The only criterion by which we live is God’s light in Christ. We think and act and are accountable from that basis, and none other. Any divergence from it is considered a sin that needs to be confessed. And we in Jesus are in this together.

Just touching on what John might say to us today from this passage. I don’t think he would simply teach it as it is, and let it go at that. A good pastor takes note of the times, and seeks to guide the flock accordingly. In and through Jesus.

more cushion

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

John 10:14-15

Jesus is our shepherd, and he knows each one of us. A good pastor knows his people. He understands their felt needs, their propensities, what they need to realize their full potential- what God created them for, to be fulfilled in the new creation in Christ. And it comes out of a heart of love. Pastor is another word for shepherd, and Jesus knows us, his sheep through and through. Out of a heart of love, he gives us the cushion we need, grace to continue on in spite of ourselves and all the troubles we face. We then pass that same love to each other, as we continue on in our quest to follow him.

leaders must lead by being examples

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

1 Peter 5:1-4

Yesterday I suggested that given certain guidelines, it’s possible for a fallen pastor to be restored. This scripture from Peter is another basic essential passage for pastors and leaders in the church. Here money and power are both alluded to. The passage is rich, and every part important, but what stands out to me is the necessity that the pastor and leaders of the church must be examples in how they live. Of course their calling involves oversight and service, even as a shepherd takes care of their flock.

Paul said that others should follow him as he followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Being an example is key, along with the service in God’s gifting of the leadership for the church. A great and wonderful calling. To help others realize the “high calling” that is also their’s (Philippians 3), in and through Jesus.

can a fallen pastor be restored?

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders,so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

1 Timothy 3:1-13

On questions like this we need to go back to both scripture and the church. It’s not like there’s one uniform answer to this, but the general answer is yes, but only after submitting to a program for restoration. And contingent on the leadership of the church deciding, the decision not automatic or to be taken lightly. And this should take some time, how much, depending. Maybe at least a couple of years, but only with loving, regular ongoing oversight.

The picture I read here is not suggesting a pastor has to be perfect, since there’s no sinless perfection in this life. But there should not be even a whiff of impropriety in matters of morality or money or power, for that matter. And just because a man (or woman) is genuinely sorry not only over the consequences, but necessarily over the sin itself both against God and man, doesn’t mean all is now okay. It takes time to consider the underlying issue which led to the decline and fall, and more time to see the change of that pattern in character which led to the actual misstep and sin. It is one thing to step out of the sin, but quite another to get the sin out of one’s life. And the needed help for those who have been hurt, such as the pastor’s spouse and family, must be given.

When it comes to morality, both adultery and pornography would have to be considered in this category. Power is more subtle, but there should be a mutual submission going on in leadership with much prayer under Christ. Any church should beware of depending on one person to guide them, no matter how much wisdom they have. And money is also a difficult one. Often pastors haven’t been paid enough. They must be willing to be sacrificial in their lives, but the church also must look out for them, and honor them with giving them at least enough, and preferably more than enough. But that’s the ideal. Sometimes in smaller works, like Paul, pastors must work on the side as “tent makers.”

In the end, pastors must be show the way, as well as tell, not giving in to any thing that is wrong, “little” things included. Temptation is one thing, giving in is another. But confession of sin and change is also important along the way. The point is that there should be a pattern of behavior which brings no reproach to Christ or to the church, and is an example for the church. And I believe that this surely can include restored pastors as well. In and through Jesus.

 

why do I write?

Periodically, ever since a trusted pastor asked me why I write, I check myself on this, trying to understand better, myself. In 2004, I began to visit blogs, the first couple years on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog, which I still go to to this day. Around 2006, I started my own blog at the suggestion of one of the Jesus Creed  readers and contributors. I was surprised to find that I could actually write a post. And even Scot took to liking my blog. So I thought I must be on to something.

Back in those days, blogs and blogging was hot. Almost everyone was reading a blog. Nowadays, it has cooled off quite a bit, except at some quarters, like where I work, Our Daily Bread, where their ministry blogs get exponentially more hits than the few my blog gets. At the beginning I was on Blogger and didn’t know how many hits I was getting since that wasn’t what I wanted to be in it for. I lost my original blog for a year and a half, until it mysteriously returned. On the day I lost it, I went to WordPress. And (on Blogger) probably a year and a half into blogging, I started to do it daily, as that was recommended for the best impact for readers and blog followers at the time. Besides, I do better whatever I do, regularly, probably daily. And getting back to the point on stats, WordPress simply has that in your blog, whether you want it or not. I don’t think I have to worry about getting a big head considering the number of hits I get.

I think the most basic answer to why I write is simply because I am a writer. I am one who thinks, and thinks and thinks some more. And it’s mostly been in and about scripture. I’ve been in God’s written word, the Bible for more than four decades now. And in the past, year after year, I’ve listened to it being read from the New International Version. That is an accurate and highly readable translation. I still think it’s the best at combining those two traits. And so I learned my English in writing from hearing that. And that word more and more penetrated my mind, heart, and life. Not that I lived up to that, and of course we need grace every day to have any hope of growing in that direction.

I also write, because I’ve sensed a calling on my life right from the beginning of my Christian journey, and perhaps a bit, before. To share God’s word with others, and be a pastor. To this day I go to a nursing home on Sundays to do a worship service which includes teaching the word, along with visiting afterwards. So that is my passion, as well. In my heart of hearts, I’m a pastor. So part of my writing is sharing my heart that way. Trying to help people in all the ways a pastor should.

And I’m a thinker. I’m forever and always thinking on something. That can drive me nuts, and those around me if I don’t keep my mouth shut. Thankfully my wife is used to it, and listens. And just like anyone who knows a few things about the subject they’re engrossed in, be it sports, music, politics, or whatever, I have learned, and more precisely am learning, mainly from the Bible itself, but also through the tradition of the church, especially the evangelical tradition I’ve been a part of for so many years. And thinking on scripture makes one think on life. You become a student both of scripture, and of life. You try to read both.

Bloggers are a dime a dozen, mostly just reading each other’s blogs nowadays. Of course there are many good ones out there. And anyone can write a book if they want to. If the Lord gives me the time and health to do it, I would like to write a book or two myself. But we’ll see. It would be like along the lines of my blogging. Hopefully helping someone, maybe a few along the way. And helping me sort out some things myself.

Blessedly, not everyone is like me. That without question would be a boring world. We need each person, and the gift from God that person is, with the gifts they have. But I try to do my part, and a big part of it, it seems, is in and through my writing. And as I always like to say, all of this always in and through Jesus.

 

the church’s mission and politics

America is in a presidential campaign that is so bad, it’s compelling. A presidential election here gets enough people’s attention, but is usually accompanied with what is considered, and to a large extent I’m afraid, rightfully so, the humdrum of American politics, often more about personalities and polls, than actual policy, style (and often bad, I’m afraid) over substance. This election is different in that one of the nominees is clearly outside the norm, but in ways that arguably, and I believe without a doubt is not for the good of the nation. Though maybe out of it some good can come. But hopefully not at the expense of this candidate getting elected.

This leads me to consider just what role the church might play in all of this. And front and center, for me, I’m not sure directly if the church should play much of a role at all. Because the mission of the church is to be a witness- in life, proclamation (which includes regular Eucharist), and deed- to the gospel, the good news in Jesus. That gospel actually is political, because it addresses all of life, not only an individual’s relationship to God. Through Jesus in his person, life, teachings, death and resurrection, ascension, with the promise of his return. All of that is part and parcel of the good news of God in him.

What is left then, for the church to do with reference to the politics of this world? I think it gets tricky at this point, myself. Jeremiah 29 (see verse 7) might be a key in trying to think through what our role as God’s people can be this election season. I am looking forward to the release of a book to help us forward in this consideration and potential activity: Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity , by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz. I think we have to consider the full sweep of scripture, beginining in Genesis 1, as well as the Story we find embedded in it. The church must not get sidetracked from its call to be a witness to the gospel in Jesus. But out from that call can come efforts to help even state institutions where that’s possible, without getting caught up by those insitutions, and merely used by them for their own ends.

Perhaps the most the church can and should do with reference to the politics of this world, and specifically considering the upcoming presidential election, is to be an example of what the true politic from the Truth (Jesus, the way, the truth and the life) looks like, and that in a broken world of which the church is a part. So that we are first to help the poor, to help women and the unborn, to help victims of evil in practical ways, etc., while we point everyone to the one hope that will endure.

Maybe from our midst might come those who like Daniel might sense a call to serve in some civic duty. If so, the church would do well to lay hands on them and pray, and always be present for counsel, while continuing to hold them up in prayer, even as they remain faithful as members of the one body in Christ.

What the church must refuse to do is take any partisan position, say either Republican or Democrat; conservative, libertarian, liberal, progressive, whatever. The church should not be known for taking such partisan stands. Even if there might be a time to take a difficult stand, as was the case with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Allan R. Bevere’s book, The Politics of Witness, is a must-read, and crucial in considering this.

We as God’s people in Jesus, the church, will do our best work in a kind of inconspicuous, yet ever present way. We need to hold steady to our calling, which itself is much more communal than individual, and political than we have been led to imagine. Unfortunately we have given the political reins over to the state. In some matters, only the state carries on certain affairs, such as police action, and stopping evil doers, hopefully only when necessary with force. We live in the present with the promise of the future, the fulfilling of which begins here and now in Jesus. And we seek to promote good wherever we can, as we pray for the good of the nation in which we live. As witnesses of the King of kings, and Lord of lords. Bringing light into the darkness in every corner, in and through Jesus.

preach the word

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

If there’s one thing I want to hear from a sermon (or when I preach one) I want to hear the word of God proclaimed and taught. And whatever text we are in, I want to hear that text, and nothing more and nothing less. For those of my generation, I’m not referring necessarily to “expository preaching,” that is, going verse by verse, line by line, and sometimes almost word by word. For some that might work well as at least one of the main ways they share God’s word. It can be delivered in a number of ways, with always an accent on reading the text and actually letting the text speak for itself.

Too often we might import this or that idea, or better, a teaching from some other part of scripture into the text. We need to let the text speak as it does, if we are going to hear it as it is, and receive the needed word from God.

I appreciate that our church uses a lectionary which, if I remember right takes us through at least most all of scripture every four years. We need all of scripture, the entire witness, whether we can make heads or tails of it or not. We need to let each part have its say. And taking in the whole, we may end up with some kind of coherent understanding of the message of God in Christ. Of course scripture leads us to Christ. If it doesn’t do that in our preaching, then we are missing the boat. Breaking the bread of life means helping the hearers feed on Christ. The Spirit is present in the preaching to bring us into the presence of Christ and God’s will in him.

I am thankful to be part of a church where the pastors do this. Any of us may falter here and there, somehow bringing something that is not helpful into the mix. But God  knows our heart, and if its our desire and prayer for his word to get through, in spite of ourselves, and by the filling of the Spirit (yes, we need to be dependent on the filling of the Spirit both in our preaching and for the hearers, that the Spirit would minister to each of them), God will speak through his word.

We are told earlier in the same letter quoted above:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

That must be our aim. We who teach or proclaim God’s word (or our pastors, I’m not a pastor by the way, though I think I’m still one at heart to some extent, and I still do preach and teach a bit) must aspire to be servants of God, people given to the ministry of the word and prayer. That will certainly keep us humble as before God and people we endeavor to share nothing of ourselves (even when we may share from our own lives) wanting to hear nothing except from God in and through Christ. As we together in Jesus seek to live out God’s will in and for the world.

the Spirit’s insight

The Spirit of God knows and reveals the depths of God. And the Spirit gives us insight into others, so that we might better minister to their true need.

Of course this is all in line with scripture, God’s written word. None of this excludes our need to work hard at doing our best to handle accurately the word of truth, which is a big topic by itself. The Spirit will help us in that as well, but such help does not exclude serious attention on our part given to the work we must do to understand the word. In the end, the Spirit gives us the insight from the word to apply to our own lives first of all, as well as to the lives of those we seek to serve in the ministry of God’s word.

While the Spirit gives us insight to help people, similar to what has been said about the word, this does not exclude our need to get to know the people. That we spend time with them, and are committed to them. We need to understand something of the nature of their particular situation, to get a sense of where they live. As we make that effort, the Spirit can help us.

In all of this, we need to consciously and consistently seek the help of the Spirit of God. Sometimes that help comes in ways that we can hardly tell until perhaps afterward. But we will sense the help of the Spirit at times as well. Helping us to better apply God’s word to the people’s situation. We need to keep our contact with them going, along with our contact with the word, and with the Spirit of God.

Together in Jesus we do our part in this for each other and ultimately for the world.

are we communicating clearly?

Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?

When I went to seminary, I often found myself speaking over the heads of people in church. Really, I hardly knew that, except the people would tell me. I think my own wife told me. Of course we were reading books which were hard for us to understand, and we were hearing lectures that at times were steeped in theologically technical language, known only to those who had studied it.

I had the blessing of doing children’s church for a time, and that helped me speak concretely in simple terms. I think I remember even then a helper remarking that I was speaking over the children’s heads. And so between all of this, and being (still true) a firm believer that scripture should be translated in the (heart) language of the people, over time I learned to speak with simplicity and clarity.

I think it is good to stretch people a bit, intellectually. But pastors and teachers in churches are supposed to feed the sheep with the teaching of God’s truth from scripture and in Jesus. So that must be first and foremost, front and center. If anything else is added, it should be secondary to that in any church setting.

Of course an academic setting is another story. Some good intellectual challenge is important there, indeed essential, although I also think that the best academic setting will bring the students along. And in a pastoral or church-oriented context, the best education will work at helping the students speak in a way that is understood by the hearers. Otherwise, as Paul remarked in the scripture cited above—what good is it? To be honest, I need to translate in my mind the technical language I am reading in such education, so as to try to understand it well, myself. This does open up other subjects, beyond the scope of this post.

Yes, I think those in my culture seem averse, or not trained to think well, logically. And we are not adept in critical thinking. In a church setting there’s a place, hopefully, to help people love God with all of their minds, as well as in every other way. We are so easily given to laziness, and to not being able to think well critically. Hence the sound bite culture we live in.

But when it’s all said and done, we must all speak to God, and listen for his word to us—in our own heart language. It must be kept simple, where we live (and beware of information overload, as well, another subject I suppose, beyond this post).

As we go on together in Jesus for the world.