Category Archives: Church
the evangelical blindspot
I think I’m like the Banksy of blogging. I sporadically spring up at times rarely expected. The difference being, Banksy makes bank while my office is in a former one. But today, I was moved to write for the first time since sometime late in the Obama Administration, for today marks 1-year since our church went digital due to Covid. What is the 1st-anniversary gift for a pandemic anyway? N95’s? Toilet Paper? A Flowbee? (ask your parents). Regardless, such a benchmark gives you an opportunity for reflection. So today, I was reflecting. In tandem with this, I read an article this morning and found personal reflection mingled with pastoral grief.
Before we get underway, I want to acknowledge that evangelicalism in the United States is a complex ecosystem with nuanced views on politics, social justice, equity, cancel culture, science, Covid, and the policies around such things (you know, the stuff that made 2020/21 the great social Tilt-A-Whirl). Evangelicalism is not quite as monolithic as cable news implies, but close. That’s why I say an ecosystem. It’s much like rainforests; they look slightly different from place to place, but everyone knows when they are looking at one. Also, like an ecosystem, it affects the larger environment around it. As a pastor, my focus is on how the world experiences the effects of our collective faith ecosystem.
In real-world speak…
would our communities say that what we’re doing, stating, posting, etc., has communicated unmistakably that above all else, we’re here to love and serve them as neighbors because, in doing so, have we truly loved and served God?
would our disbelieving or de-churched communities be even the slightest bit tempted to think, “Yeah, I don’t like their religion, but I’m sure glad they were around for this last year.”?
would they come even close to describing evangelicals as a people of selfless love in a season of cultural suffering?
would “loving” be in the Top 5 descriptors used of evangelicalism in 2020/2021?
But, deeper questions are gnawing at my heart, questions of deep spiritual consequence.
Did we as evangelicals sense…
a burden to ensure that above all else, putting others before ourselves was our priority, both in the optics of how it looked to them (since we are to be light) and in the application of how it was experienced by them (since we are to be salt)?
the weight of the First Commandment more heavily on our soul than the want of the First Amendment? Which did we quote more? Which gave us hope more? Which bothered us more when we didn’t see it applied? Which of the “Firsts” was truly first and drove our actions, reactions, dispositions, and perspectives this year?
resolve to love others well with an unmistakable calling to care, even if we looked foolish (per Paul), weak (per Peter), or perhaps worst of all, like sheep (per Jesus)?
In the article I was reading today, written by a conservative Christian publication, this was the line that struck me,
“The survey, which has a sampling error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points, also found that white evangelicals are also the least likely faith demographic to consider their overall community’s health effect when it comes to deciding whether to get vaccinated. Just 48% of white evangelicals said they would consider community health effects “a lot” compared to 70% of black Protestants, 65% of Catholics and 68% of unaffiliated Americans.”
Now, I know some will find themselves pinned down on the beachhead of the word vaccinated. Others, wary of the woke culture, have already cued an eye-roll with the phrase white evangelical. While important discussions in their own right, they are not my focus here. The devil’s in the details, and he would most certainly love to sidetrack us on those topics so we overlook the real issue that may be of concern. So what’s the “buried lead” of the story? “evangelicals are also the least likely faith demographic to consider their overall community’s health effect when it comes to deciding… Just 48% of white evangelicals said they would consider community health effects ‘a lot’”
That little bit of data may have unearthed a lot about our collective ecosystem’s heart.
Think about it. A faith demographic…
whose founder modeled selfless love toward a planet of sinful neighbors and told us to follow his example (1 Peter 2:18-25).
whose number one most crucial commandment calls it to love God and neighbor (Mark 12:29-31) since to love our neighbor is evidence that we actually love God and it’s not just lip-service (1 John 4:20).
whose entire moral code is summed up in the one great umbrella virtue, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law… Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)
whose final exam is explicitly rooted in what we did to the least of those around us (Matthew 25:31-46).
That faith demographic is the least likely demographic to consider their overall community… Community, a synonym for what the Bible calls our neighbors.
Now, I can imagine right now some will be quick…
to take offense.
to reject the conclusion.
to add disclaimers.
to write a retort.
to stop reading and punch an angry emoji into the comments section.
to point out that this is only about “community health effects” (while adding something to the effect of “alleged” or “over-hyped” or “politicized” to the front of the phrase), and that such a topic is not a tangible way to measure if we genuinely love our neighbors.
But God seems to disagree!
Don’t miss me here; I’m not seeking to squeeze public health policy into a command to love our neighbors. God did that for us; I’m merely attempting to take the Bible at its word. The law to love your neighbor comes from a book of the Bible that is explicitly about “community health effects” on our neighbors. How coincidental is that? Leviticus may read like a kid playing with a sensory box in a petting zoo with its 247 laws about disease, diet, discharges, and polycotton blends, but it’s also the birthplace of the “love your neighbor” command (Lev. 19:18). And its 3300-year-old decree to make love tangible toward our neighbors in real world ways still stands. It’s on the lips of Jesus. It’s in the letters of Paul. And it’s seeking to find a home in a 21st-century Christian internet article from a Pew Research poll. God was clear in Leviticus that not considering your neighbor’s well-being (due to leprosy, mold, scaly skin, bodily fluid, disease from sickly animals, [insert your favorite communicable disease here]) was a failure to love them. The failure to consider another is the failure to love.
If I consider myself more than you, regardless of the inventory of reasons, excuses, justifications, rights, laws, problems, or rationalizations, I’m deciding – by intentional will or partisan blindness – not to love you as God instructs me. And thus in the process failing to love God since he tells me to love you. I’m sunk instantly on God’s top-tier expectation.
Paul said a proper display of authentic love is when people “in humility consider others more significant than themselves.” (Phil. 2:2-3). Therefore my friends, a failure to love our neighbors may be the gravest of our collective sins since love stands at the pinnacle of our Lord’s priorities.
That last line is not for dramatic effect, but sober reflection. When the church in Ephesus was about to lose its love, Jesus started packing his bags. They were doing all sorts of good conservative religious stuff, but without love Jesus said there was nothing worth sticking around for (Rev. 2:1-7). Regarding a lack of love, Paul said worse.
We, as evangelicals, are very good at identifying the sins of our society, but perhaps our efforts would be better rewarded by addressing our sins against society. That’s why I’m not all that invested in the pro/con debates between pro vs. anti-mask. Pro vs. anti-vaccination. Pro vs. anti-lock-down. Pro vs. anti-[fill in your blank]. What I am interested in is that each of us, as evangelicals, looks deep and prays hard so as to be confident that whatever positions we take, we take them because we find those to be the most biblical and unmistakable way we can let the world know, “we’re considering you as more significant than ourselves” for that’s what “loving a neighbor” is all about. If our positions clearly communicate to others, “I care about your …” I think that’s what God cares about. If our positions clearly communicate to others, “I care about my …” I think that’s what God is concerned about.
Jesus was emphatic that “the world will know we are his followers by our love.” Wouldn’t it be amazing if the world agreed?
Since this has swollen to the length of a book, I might as well offer a reflective epilogue for the one poor completionist who stuck it out. As the article came to an end, I felt a deep-seated pause in my soul. One of those “I don’t want to take another step” pauses that occurs because you don’t want to face what may be the most challenging possibility of all.
Not simply that, perhaps…
we haven’t loved a disbelieving world as well as we would like.
we became diverted by self-interest even though we desire self-sacrifice.
we let our fears or frustrations disrupted our intentions.
we inadvertently became more caught up in the passions of amendments over commandments.
we became too focused on our personal rights vs. God’s gospel objectives.
we are all too human and failed to live up to the ideals of love and want to do better.
But, when confronted with the idea that perhaps we don’t consider or love our neighbors as we should… we’re more bothered at the accusation than the possibility.
Or worse still, we hear it and frankly don’t care.
The state which lets you know Jesus has long since left the building.
An Open Conversation Between A Gay Son And His Pastor Dad
We have saved the best for last. In this recent installment of The Everyday Missionary Podcast, I sat down with my son to talk about what it’s like to come out as gay in a Christian pastor family. Our hope in this was not simply to offer a glimpse into the challenges and closeness that can emerge, but also to display how the Christian and gay community can communicate with one another in a spirit of kindness, empathy, and understanding.
An Open Conversation Between A Gay Son and his Pastor Dad (Pt.4)
I’m A Pastor And My Son Is Gay, Now What? Pt. 2
Three months ago our 17-year-old son shared with us that he no longer held to our Christian faith and that he was in a relationship with a young man. However, our journey with our son and his sexuality began far earlier than a fall day back in October. In this episode of The Everyday Missionary, I have sought to retrace our steps as a family from 12-years-old until that autumn afternoon. In doing so, I seek to highlight some of the things I believe we did thoughtfully as parents in light of our faith, but also some of the things I know I handled badly. Equally, I share how there were things Gray did right in this process, but also things he handled poorly (though I share no specifics regarding Gray since that is his story to be shared in Pt. 4). My hope in this series is that our experience can act as an aid to better handling such events in life with grace, truth, awareness, compassion, seeking and granting forgiveness, and love even in our differences.
Call Us Crazy! 5 Reasons Our Church Voluntarily Pays Taxes
Six years ago this month Redemption Church was planted out of chaos and in hope. Since that time, Jesus has seen fit to not only keep us alive, but has stirred us to thrive. It has been a season loaded with times of uncertainty, yet consistently each uncertainty has been upended by the gracious incursion of God’s provision.
One of the most amazing things is related to how God put all sorts of crazy pieces in place to make it possible to purchase an old bank building along with two adjacent lots on the main street of our city. We are not yet able to use the space for Sundays, but it’s trending that direction within the next two to three years – which is incredible since just two to three years ago we thought there was no way possible we would ever have a building of our own in our city. God still does BIG things.
In becoming property owners, we also wanted to face bigger questions as to the use of our property. A component of our mission statement is “for the good of our city” as highlighted in Jeremiah 29:7. How then would our space fulfill that mission? What things could we do to show our love for the city? To show our commitment to the cares and needs of the community? How could we be good stewards, not only of the facility and finances related to it, but also to exist for the welfare of the city Jesus put us in? So far we’ve come up with a lot of ideas, many of which are already underway in the space as it currently is. But one of the truly novel things we came up with was an added step that I’m not certain I’ve come across before; we proactively decided to voluntarily pay property taxes. Crazy, right? Maybe. But it’s missionally crazy, and if you’re going to be crazy you might as well do it for missional reasons. So why have we chosen to do this? Here are the 5 core reasons.
1) To Display Solidarity with Our Community
Communities need resources to be communities. In the case of cities and counties these resources come in many forms, but one of the key elements is fiscal resources that are acquired by taxing the members of a community. Thus it was our conviction that we could display a heart for “the welfare of our city” by making the conscious decision to contribute, as an organization, in a way that is similar to the inhabitants of our city. Some may find this an odd way to display solidarity, or they may say there are better ways to spend money on community needs. But we believe there is a different form of generosity that is displayed when you let another party that is commissioned to lead a community to decide the best way to use resources for that community. In this way we display that we are in the community like everyone else.
2) To Show Goodwill toward Our City
Believe it or not, being a city official is difficult work. Whether this is an elected official or an employee of a particular department, there will always be the stress of a collection of citizens with different views on how a city should be managed. This stress is compounded by how the city is going to pay for it. This is why to some degree city and county officials don’t get vigorously excited when they hear that a church wants to buy up 5-500 acres for a new campus. It’s not driven by opposition to religion. Rather, there is no revenue for a tax-exempt building and as long as it is a church it will not generate revenue. Thus in a strange sort of way, not only are churches not paying customers, but they take up the space of something else that could be. Therefore, if we are in this “for the good of our city” then one of the ways we can truly stand behind this conviction is to invest in a way that puts tax money where our mission mouth is. In fact, it’s been fun to see how quickly pleasant surprise come across the face of community officials when they discover our position. In this way we display that we are concerned with the concerns of those who lead our city.
3) To Remove an Understandable Area of Criticism
I will assume that most of us have come across some meme on social media that shows a picture of the most ornate church cathedral or megachurch with the caption “tax churches now”. While as a pastor I know that this is a provocative image dislodged from a whole plethora of facts, there is another fact that still remains; the unbelieving communities that we are seeking to reach see this exemption as odd and unfair. It’s a perk for churches, but it’s equally a stumbling block for those not in churches. And if our mission is to remove unnecessary stumbling blocks for the sake of Christ, then for us it made sense to remove this stone in the path of our mission field. In this way we display that the souls that we hope to see saved matter more than the money we can save.
4) To Govern Our Own Sense of “need” vs. “want”
Churches have a strange pull to want more than they need. More staff, more supplies, more tech, more budgets, more of more. This is also true when it comes to space. We tend to believe that bigger buildings will equal bigger crowds, even though we’ve all been lectured ad nauseam to the contrary. We have still blazed ahead with multimillion dollar debt loads that we can’t easily manage since “we built it and they didn’t come – just like everyone told us from the get-go”. Now, I’m not saying big is bad. Nor am I saying that there are not legitimate space needs in churches that are growing. But I do believe churches would make more conservative decisions on buildings and debt if they also had to consider the taxes on the facilities they were building. For us, our future expansion looks to maximize a footprint that is efficient and effective without being intrusive or ostentatious, especially as we look toward future generations which may be more inclined toward minimalism and outward investment. In this way we model that restraint is a virtue that allows for the freedom to pursue opportunities God places before each generation.
5) To Prepare for a Possible Future
Quite honestly, the odds of property tax exemptions sticking around in our post-Christian climate are not in favor of churches. Already we know that the question of the constitutional legality of exemptions for clergy are working their way through the court system. Some project that property tax exemptions for churches will be next to follow. In light of these strong possibilities, we opt to prepare ourselves in the present for the future. By including property taxes in our budget now we have been able to adjust our overall budget so that we are acclimated to this particular cost of doing ministry in our culture. If that day ever comes, we will have already been doing it far before that day. In this way we proactively mitigate sudden budget hikes that would harm our missional priorities.
In the end, am I saying all churches should do this? No. Am I saying that we are more missional, trusting, godly, sacrificial, (fill in the blank) for doing this? No. Is this a creative way we have been led to connect with and build bridges within our community that most churches have not considered? Yes. Ultimately the question for all churches is not what they are required or free to do in matters such as this, but what is Christ leading them to do in order to display commitment toward the welfare of their city?
Why I Write My Sermons In A Bar
One of my “insider” interests is learning how other pastors handle sermon prep. What I have discovered is no two pastors are ever exactly the same except that all have a process, every step in the process is intentional and the whole thing begins with with an initial Monday morning panic, “Can I make a message out of this by Sunday?”
My process isn’t terribly novel. In general terms, I prefer to preach either expositionally (through books of the Bible) or theologically (some people call this “topical” and yet my focus is more on the theology of a theme than merely good advice giving). Where I may differ from many of my fellow preachers is that my prep is sliced into two distinct environments. It begins in the lab of my study and ends in the field that is a bar.
In The Lab That Is A Study
I recently read an article that said pastors should not have offices, but studies. I like that. So I have a study. My study is like a lab; a controlled environment with everything I need for the task of research. I begin in the lab by copy-and-pasting a double-spaced version of my biblical text for the week into a Word document. I then read the passage over and over, identifying patterns, scribbling notes, logging insights and asking random questions with each pass. I would guess I scan and scribble through the passage around 20 times, usually finding that the most valuable insights hit around the 15th pass. From there I do my exegetical work. For those unfamiliar with our hip clergy nomenclature, exegesis is when we seek to understand the meaning of a book of the Bible in its original language, culture and context. It may sound dull, but for Bible nerds this is the biblical peanut butter to our theological jelly. Once that is complete, I pile my desk with books and read till I feel I need to unbuckle my mental belt like its a post Thanksgiving Day dinner.
As the above process unfolds I regularly shake out the cramping in my right hand. I’m feverishly jot down informational aggregate on my narrow rule TOPS white legal pad, using my Pentel 0.7mm mechanical pencil and rotating through my pile of Ticonderoga Emphasis highlighters (shameless product placements) to mark varied themes with various colors (yellow is technical, green is illustrative, pink is pithy, orange is for us today, blue is transitional and purple is key points). Finally, I figure out the key breaks in the passage that will act as transitions through the sermon and I put each of those sections into a PowerPoint build. By the end of my time “in the lab”, I have logged around 20-30 hours and piled up anywhere between 10-20 pages of notes. With my lab research done I grab my ESV Bible, research notes, TOPS pad, Pentel pencil and head to a bar.
In The Field That Is A Bar
Labs are pristine, antiseptic and protected. That gives us the ability to research in ways that are ideal, controlled and precise. Field research is messy, inconvenient and unpredictable, yet true to life. A local bar (a cantina technically) is my field research. It is the last stage in my process and the location where I put the majority of my sermons together.
As I walk in, the familiar Latino bartender greets me with our customary ritual, “Amigo! Mac and Jack?” Mac and Jack’s is hands down the best African Amber on the planet and is brewed just over the hill. I give him my usual thumbs-up and find a place to sit down. My table is the far back corner. It gives me the best view of the room.
On this day there are two middle-aged women at the far booth. Each has a margarita the size of a kiddy pool. They are loud, animated and angry – at a man. The one on the left is mad at her man. The one on the right is mad at the same man, but only as a show of solidarity for the friend across from her. Hell hath no furry like two angry women with a gallon of margarita between them.
I smirk and think, “I’m glad I’m not that guy.” And I write.
Further to my right, two men sit at the bar. One is retired, has a cane, wears a veteran hat and is eager to initiate a conversation with anyone who sits within three seats. A couple seats down is a young guy, blue collar, no wedding ring and looks like he came straight from moving a mountain of dirt with his bare hands and then used his face as the wash cloth. He’s sipping Fireball, watching the soccer game and riding that fine line with the vet of being just polite enough to keep conversation at arms length without being disrespectful.
I’m like the younger guy. I’m sad for the older guy. And I write.
Closer to my immediate left are two young women in their 20’s. I can hear how the one feels betrayed because she just found out her boyfriend has a porn issue. Her friend seeks to console her, assuring her of how the boyfriend in question doesn’t deserve her. Suddenly one of the the two loud margarita ladies unexpectedly shouts, “Men Suck!” and the consoling 20 something responds, “Amen!” (Yes, you would be surprised how much “Amen” comes up in a bar). The laughter and camaraderie cuts away the anger and betrayal for a few brief seconds before reality returns, and with reality the conversations.
I grieve. I pray. And I write.
Behind me around the corner is the restaurant area. Just within earshot I can hear a family. The newborn baby is crying and big brother (who may be all of 4-5 years old) is repeating, “I’m bored! I’m bored!” Dad must be lost on his phone because of the terse female voice that comes next, “Are you going to deal with your son?”
I remember. And I write.
After a few minutes a third man appears at the bar. I’ve seen him a few times before. White collar, wedding ring, never really talks. He sits at the bar for one drink in a small glass and leaves. It seems to be his soft space between stressful worlds.
I look. I ponder. I pray. And I write.
It is in this immersive environment where I begin to construct my final thoughts; pushing what I have studied through an ether vastly different than the atmosphere of my study. As I do my mind bends toward various questions as the message unfolds:
How would people in a bar understand this?
Would people in a bar know what to do with this?
Do people in a bar even care about this?
What biases might the two younger women have about the importance of this?
What words or ideas would the unmarried dirt covered guy be unfamiliar with?
What questions would the married business guy and his one drink have about this?
What confusion might be stirred up for the worn out parents with their two young kids?
What objections would the loud margarita ladies have about this?
What conclusions would the retired veteran have about this?
What humor, illustrations, word pictures or pop culture references can I use that most of the people in a bar would instantly understand?
What religious clichés are so loaded that they might sabotage what I believe people need to understand regarding this?
How can I do all of this and still ensure that Jesus, above all else, is honored and pleased with what I say?
Now obviously I don’t systematically walk through these questions after every point. They are more the natural consequence of the environment as I compile the sermon. Completing my message in a bar forces an awareness of and sensitivity to people in real life. It unlocks the questions in a way far more authentic than anything I might duplicate by just imagining people in the isolation of my study. And I do this, not in the hopes of understanding the “lost”, but so as to understand people; not the least of which being the “saved” ones. The bar is a transparent microcosm of the same realities, challenges and conversations “saved” people face. A bar is filled with the same kind of demographic diversity that a church seeks to create. And ultimately a bar is popular for the same reason a church; because people are looking for a safe place in which some seek to hide, others want to connect and still others invest to belong.
Mind you a bar isn’t a perfect place, but neither are people. Praise God that His Bible, His Gospel and His Grace always is.
A College Girl’s Letter To Men
Honor, my 19 year old daughter, wrote this yesterday and I felt compelled to share it here.
Every little girl dreams of getting married. I work at a daycare and half the time my little girls are playing “marriage” or “house”. Every one of them talks about being married to their husbands one day and having sweet babies and being mommies. While they aren’t old enough to fully comprehend the responsibility of such things, it is still something they desire, from a very small age. I was one of those little girls.
For years I have prayed for the man that God has set aside for me. I have prayed he comes quickly. I have prayed he seeks the Lord and loves little ones and loves me. I pray that he knows how to lead me. But as of late, I have begun to become discouraged by such things. Days go by. Months. Years. And as I have gotten older I have been forced to recognize the utter ugliness of the world I dwell in. Pornography and sexual temptations haunt young men around every corner. When you’re young you don’t realize it, but then something happens and suddenly it seems so much closer and so much more real than it did before. Porn used to be an ugly word, followed by shame and lust and sin. Nowadays, it is thrown around freely. As if it is just a part of life. As if it is okay. As if we should just expect it to always be around. As if it is perfectly normal for every young man to have seen it and struggle with it.
The average age for a male to view pornography is by the age of 9. Nine. 9? 9! As I stated previously, I work at a daycare. The kids I work with are as old as six. It both startles and scares me to think that by the time my young boys are 12, most, if not all of them, will have viewed pornography. By the age of 16 many of them will struggle with porn addictions. 10 years and the little boys I once knew will be forever tainted. It breaks my heart into a thousand pieces to think upon such things. Because they are so innocent and so sweet and one day they will have wives and girlfriends, who will never be able to compete with something this graphic.
I have seen women struggle over the fact that their boyfriends or guy friends or husbands struggle with porn or a sexual desire that cannot be quenched. I myself have been a victim of a young man who decided to choose porn and temptation and lust over me. Perhaps you don’t know it…perhaps nobody has ever told you what it feels like when someone chooses a computer or an iPhone screen over you.
I knew a young man who was addicted to porn by the age of 16; he started viewing it when he was 10. Josh Duggar recently admitted he was cheating on his wife and struggling with porn as well. Strippers and pornography and graphic movies and unfortunate sexual interactions have forever changed the world. They have forever changed the world for so many young women who are put up to compete with things that are horrifically violent and devastating and painful and ultimately unreal. And nowadays I wonder…is there even a young man who hasn’t looked at porn? Because now I expect that every man, every young man and boy has viewed such things. The movie/book “50 Shades of Grey” is celebrated and now more and more women are told that they should be able to take on mental, physical, sexual and verbal abuse in order to maintain a man. But where in the Bible does it say that men are supposed to abuse and hurt their wives and significant others? I have yet to find such a thing. In fact, I believe the Bible says otherwise. Colossians 3:19 says, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.“ Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”. 1 Peter 3:7 says, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” I have looked. So far I don’t see anything about God telling men to view pornography and hurt their loved ones.
I am 19 years old. I used to be excited about getting married. Now…now I’m not so sure. I am fearful. Because I have already been left behind for a girl on a computer screen. And I know, like I know many other women have felt, like I could never compete with that. She is perfect. And photo shopped. And told how to act. She does whatever a director tells her to do, even if it physically destroys her. How could I ever hold a candlestick to a girl that’s so flawless? She does things I am too afraid to do. And if I’m not willing to do it, a trip to the strip club or elsewhere will fix that right up. Or will it? I never thought I would be so worried about getting married. I want to be married. I want to have kids and a happy home. But I do not want to be betrayed. Or abandoned. Or have something so fake be put above me. I am already hurt by the possibility because chances of meeting someone who has saved himself or not viewed pornography are so slim they are little to none. I am not saying they are impossible, for all things are possible with Christ. But sometimes it feels like my odds aren’t very high.
This letter is a plea. A plea to men. To the men who have wives – I have given you evidence to not view pornography. You have a wonderful wife that God gave you – why would you treat her such? There is a big chance she gave you her everything…and now it is time your body is hers, and only hers. To young men who have yet to have wives but perhaps have girlfriends or are struggling – please turn away from temptation. Pull a Joseph and flee! Flee from sin and run into the arms of God. You will save your future wife/girlfriend so much grief if you choose not to act upon your sinful desires. To fathers – encourage your sons. Please, oh please fathers, encourage your sons. Encourage your sons in the way of the Lord. Encourage your sons to save their minds and their bodies for their future wives. Some of you fathers have daughters. How would you feel if you find out your little girl couldn’t stand a chance against a glowing screen? How would you feel if your daughter felt forced to sexually exploit herself because the world tells her that is the only way she can keep him around?
William M. Struthers writes, “Pornography thus enslaves the viewer to an image, hijacking the biological response intended to bond a man to his wife and therefore inevitably loosening that bond.” Bonds are broken. Relationships are torn to shreds or put under strain because of something the devil is trying to use to fight against us and fight against God. But I encourage you! Take up your shield and raise your prayers and the Bible up and fight off such temptations! For the Lord is strong and he will fight for you (see Exodus 14:14).
1 John 4:8 says, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” We are called to love one another, men and women alike. And when we choose to give into sexual temptation and let Satan run rampant we are choosing not to love. Not to love wives. Not to love one another. Not to love girlfriends or someone’s daughter. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Men love your women. Love your wives. Your girlfriends. Your future wives. Your future girlfriends. Love them enough that it prevents you from allowing temptation and struggle to enter into your life.
This is a call to arms. A call to fathers and sons and uncles and husbands and boyfriends. A call to young men and boys and old men who have walked the earth for many years. A call to defend the Lord’s word and yourselves from Satan’s desperate attempt to tear our world limb from limb. Kick Satan’s butt. Scream at him and tell him you know love and will not fall into his ways! Resist. Flee. Run from temptation, take up your cross and follow the Lord desperately.
The Girl Who Was Chosen By A Man 2000 Years Ago
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” – James 4:7
You can read more of Honor’s stuff at her blog http://teawiththree.blogspot.com/
The Supreme Court, Idols and The Ruining Grace of the Friday God.
The original Good Friday was not so good. In fact it was downright a punch in the gut followed by a brisk boot to the head. By the end of the day a pagan government flanked by a corrupt religion had managed to kill God’s Son, instill fear in God’s followers and give the illusion that God’s plans were buried in the dirt. As night fell on the angst-ridden apostles they found themselves lamenting the end of their movement along with the inevitability of their demise. Yep, it wasn’t exactly a Good Friday from anyone’s perspective: except God’s. For on that Friday many things yet to be seen were transpiring and one easily overlooked reality is that more than one “god” was slain that day.
Part of the angst of the Apostles on that Friday evening was rooted in a problem they were unwittingly blind to at the time. The problem? They had the right God, but they saw Him in selectively wrong ways. They thought Jesus was to be their partisan judge in an earthly court, their commanding general in a Roman invasion and their kingly monarch in a not-really-so-new-but-at-least-Jewish global empire. In short, they believed in a politically empowered messianic idol more than understood Jesus the Messiah who stands outside yet over all human rulers. Therefore when things fell apart, their idol – by way of God’s ruining grace – was slain. So while every part of it looked like a really bad Friday, it was the beginnings of the first truly Good Friday.
In thinking about this, as it pertained to the SCOTUS decision this last Friday, I couldn’t help but run through some parallels of how we too as Christians may have idolized certain things within our country. For a while I have noticed how we have slipped into a form of idolatrous doublethink regarding political powers. In one sense we have generally affirmed that government is not the solution to our problems, but then every election cycle we roll into sounding like politicians or parties are the key to curtailing the very problems we are certain government can’t fix. Now in saying this please don’t take my words further than I intend. I believe that every American Christian has an important public responsibility to be involved in the political process and some even running for office, but my suspicion is that we have gone further than mere civic duty; we may have set our faith and fear in it. We appear to have gone beyond casting our vote to placing our hope and trust and anxiety and distress in the outcomes of the civic arena; making idols out of platforms, methods, legislation and their aftereffects. Some idols we feared so greatly we made a point to desecrate them as often as possible, alarmed that they will rise up and overpower our rights. Other idols we opted to venerate in the hopes they would stem the tide of the idols we feared. Hence we played a game of “my idol can beat your idol,” and now we sit dismayed at the fact that “their” idols are shoving “our” idols butts in the cultural dirt. Yes, the political arm of Christianity is getting a beat down, but oh what a glorious beat down it will be if we are willing to endure it.
In relationship to times of opposition the Apostle said, “It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God.” While some may speak of the need for God to judge America, we must remember that Peter here says judgment comes first to us. The difference however is that for the Christian God’s judgment is not to dole out sinful penalty, but to forge spiritual maturity. In light of this…
Perhaps the events of Friday, and the feared future consequences of those events, are actually the beginnings of a spectacular grace designed to filter out the worldly contaminates that have inadvertently mixed with what is to be an other-worldly faith.
Perhaps God is stripping us of our power, our privilege and our position specifically so all that remains is living by His Power, His Privilege and His Position.
Perhaps the best way we were ever going to love others selflessly was to be stripped of our ability to resist others socially.
Perhaps what our prayers most required, what our faith most desired and what our thankfulness most needed was being socially humbled so as to display Spirit-filled humility.
Perhaps because our idols have fallen, all other idols will eventually follow in suit so that Jesus reigns in the lives of an eternal multitude secured specifically because of the witness of our temporary discomfort.
Perhaps we will find a new found anguish for people who are estranged from God’s grace more than be agitated that they break God’s rules.
Perhaps by not being as focused on winning the culture wars for Jesus we will now be more focused on winning a war worn culture to Jesus.
Perhaps because we gladly pass through the fires of reviling with only blessing on our lips the embers of revival will settle around our country.
Perhaps we will be freed from the fear of all earthly calamity and rejoice in certitude of our eternal certainty.
Perhaps we will now know with steely assurance that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Perhaps what we least wanted we most required to be holy as God is holy.
Perhaps with less and less we will realize more and more Jesus meets every need.
Perhaps with all our idols broken down that is when His Cross, His Gospel, His Church and His Glory will be most lifted up.
Perhaps what feels like a very bad situation will be the beginning of a very good opportunity. It wouldn’t be the first time world changing things sprang from the ruining grace of the Friday God.
Things To Consider In Assessing How Much To Pay A Pastor
This is not for all pastors (though I am sure they will appreciate this). Nor is it for all parishioners (though they may find it interesting). It’s really for the group that sits down to consider a pastor’s salary. Yes that ominous board, committee or senior leadership that is commissioned with the task of sifting through the cultural aggregate to discern the answer to the ultimate question, “What Do We Pay A Pastor?”
Now to be sure, there are more than a few resources that provided formulas rooted in “How many years in ministry?” “How many degrees on the wall?” “What is the national/regional average of pastors in a church our size?” and the like. Yet I believe we need to look at the issue as a philosophy of compensation: developing a set of thoughtful layers to ensure – as much as a church can – health, longevity and expectation. In this three aspects should be considered.
Consider What You Are Asking For On The Familial Front
Pastoring is the only job I’m aware of where the entire family is explicitly highlighted in the job description. No other vocation in the totality of American culture hires and fires based on one’s marriage. No other trade requires one’s home or kids to be a part of the assessment for both initial and continued employment. Perhaps this is why we don’t hear of dentists’ children growing up to reject oral hygiene or the kids of contractors being referred to as CKs. Now in saying this I don’t want to diminish the standard, but equally it should be considered when evaluating compensation. A church is doing more than merely paying a pastor; they are subsidizing an example that others are to emulate.
With that said, everyone knows that financial instability places incredible stress on families, so imagine how much more stressful it becomes when your family’s spirituality is being measured as it faces those woes. This is where healthy compensation can alleviate some of the overall burden. Instead of thinking, “Ministry is a calling, and thus should be compensated less.” churches would do well to think, “Ministry is a calling, and thus should be insulated more.” When a pastor is financially freed-up to focus on the business of the church (because he is not burdened by figuring out how to get to the end of the month) he is also freed up to be a focused and thoughtful pastor.
Consider What You Are Asking For On The Longevity Front
The less a church pays its pastor, the shorter his stay will be and consequently the weaker a church will become. I know this swallows like a jagged pill, but don’t reject the facts merely because you don’t like them. If your church wants to recreate a honeymoon period every 2-3 years, intentionally elect to pay a pastor considerably less then the median income of the community and you will all but guarantee a revolving door.
If however you hope to keep a pastor for the long game, the more generous you are the more focus he will exhibit; particularly when things are hard. When a pastor knows his board will fight to financially care for his family (which is one of the reasons you hired him in the first place, because he displays biblical care for his family), the more he will fight to stick out the hardships and invest for the long haul.
Consider What You Are Asking For On The Education Front
This one is a distant third, but if you want a person who has both a Bible College and Seminary degree, then realistically you are choosing a person who’s sitting on educational debt. Institutions that train theologically are private, therefore there is no such thing as an inexpensive Bible College or Seminary. If you expect to have a pastor who has made this level of academic investment, then consider how you can help them recoup the fiscal sacrifice that made it possible. This is especially important when dealing with younger pastors who typically start off low on the salary scale while possibly juggling the full force of student loans.
How To Pay vs What To Pay
You’ll notice that nothing in this addresses “what” the magic number is. My goal isn’t to answer the final question of what the amount is, but rather “how” to work through “what” to pay. With that said here are some useful reflections as you come up with that number in light of 1 Timothy 5:17-18 which says, “17 Let the elders who lead well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
#1. Error on the side of generosity.
When Paul speaks of a paid pastor he uses the phrase “double honor.” Now while this is open-ended in terms of dollar value, the spirit of the phrase communicates that a recipient should feel extra honored by the givers.[i] Therefore in the most general sense, the double honoring of a pastor financially is an expression of grateful generosity. Now I know the push back on this may be to point out the handful of examples where pastors are paid exorbitant salaries, but in all reality for every one over-paid celebrity pastor in a megachurch somewhere there are thousands of other pastors who are under-paid (both in megachurches as second-tier pastors as well as in standard size churches).
#2. Don’t have a huge gulf between the highest and lowest paid pastor in the church.
In the New Testament there is not a top paid senior pastor and then a distant associate, worship, youth and children’s pastor; there are simply “elders who lead well, especially in preaching and teaching” who are worthy of compensation. If you are the senior staff leader you particularly should be going to bat for the rest of your team in order to inch their salary closer to your own. No place in Scripture do we see where staff pastors are employees of the senior pastor, rather they are fellow elders who shepherd collectively. If you are in pragmatic doubt on this point as a senior leader, think you work harder than your team and thus you deserve way more than everyone else; go run the youth ministry for six months and get acclimated to reality.
#3. Pay at a level that expects hard work and measures results.
Pastors are to be paid because Paul says they “lead well.” Having a degree or years in ministry isn’t the standard, quality biblical leadership is. By compensating well you are acknowledging that people should lead well and thus they should be held to a high standard.
# 4. If you are a lay leader who is deciding on salary, don’t let your own personal pay cloud what you think a pastor should be paid.
Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” If your pastor makes more than you, be happy he does. Most of the time we are happy for others when they do well financially, the same should be true when it comes to those in ministry.
#5. Match or exceed the median household income of your community.
Make sure a pastor and his family can be engaged in the same activities and social structure as the community you expect him to engage with. Again, the goal is to free up their family to engage people, not strap them to keep up with the Joneses. Additionally, pay him enough that if his wife works it’s because she chooses to, not because she is required to.
#6. If your church can’t provide at a solid level – at this time – make it a future goal.
Churches have several material goals such as expansions, remodels, technology and the like, but they don’t typically plan for raises with the same level of aggression. This is perhaps one of the bigger financial mistakes a church can make. We are called to invest into people far more than stuff, not the least of which are those who equip us in the things of God. There is no shame in not being able to financially support a pastor at a healthy level because the resources are not there, but it is altogether a different matter (and perhaps sinful) if the conscious decision is to not do so.
P.S. Thank you to the elders and people of Redemption Church for being a true example of love, care and generosity. You are amazing!
[i] The New Testament often forgoes speaking in terms of percentages or dollars because it is pushing us toward a deeper generosity of heart. Thus while Paul doesn’t tell us how much constitutes a cheerful, bountiful, non-reluctant and non-compulsive giver in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 we get the sense his encouragement is more, not less. The same attitude applies to double honor.
Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is himself its Savior. Ephesians 5:23
I recently wrote a pragmatic response to the alleged reasons people are leaving the church. I call them alleged because I suspect there are just as many sin-inspired or self-satisfying reasons as there are “justifications.” But my goal here is not to re-pound that sand. My purpose runs deeper. I want to target the biggest problem exiters (those who are officially rejecting church all together while still claiming Jesus) face, “How exactly does one go about decapitating Jesus without killing Him in the process?”
In the western mind everything can be segregated for personalized appeal. “Selection” is the optimal word in marketing. “Customization” beckons us to put the “ME” stamp on everything from phones to diets and cars to cloths. Individuality, personalization and particularity dominate the landscape of American life, and that slams straight into Christian attitudes about spirituality, ecclesiology and theology. Specific to this topic, it laces people with the illusion that one is free to retain Jesus and their Christian spirituality, but to reject the church and all it’s irritating fragility. It’s customized spirituality at consumerism’s finest, but is such a division biblically permissible? Can a Christian separate the head of Jesus from the shoulders of His body and still follow Him in the way the New Testament specifies?
Now it would be easy to make this matter complicated by raising all the emotional and practical baggage that is associated with the discussion. However, I want to make this as simple as possible, not because simplicity makes it easier to swallow, but because some truths should be communicated to professing Christians with a simple matter-of-factness, minus the sentimental caveats that are designed to soften up the listener. And yes, I am aware that last sentence is beginning to sound a little harsh, but I would maintain that we are discussing truths here and truths are not inherently harsh. Opinions are harsh, people are harsh, circumstances can even be harsh, but truths are just truths. They may feel like cold comfort in that we don’t like certain truths, but they endure unabated precisely because they are fixed regardless of our feelings, situations or opinions. And so here is the simple truth, it is biblically impossible to decapitate Jesus, stick His head under your arm and move along with your own disembodied Christ. One must take Him head and body or – by default – He is rejected altogether.
In 1 Corinthians 12:12 & 27 Paul unequivocally highlights this truth when he writes, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ… 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Notice that Paul does not advocate a distinction between the Person of Christ and the Body of Christ as though they are complementary partners with distinct boarders of independence. He says that just as the body is one, so it is with Christ. Do a double take on that. The fullness of Christ isn’t isolated from the church (neither the church universal or local – remember 1 Corinthians is written to a local church after all); rather the church is an extension of what constitutes the fullness of Christ’s glory revealed. As one set of commentators put this, “Christ may be said to be a body with many members” therefore “to dishonor any part of Christ’s body is to dishonor Christ himself.”* Now we should not read this as some weird quazi-Christian-pantheism, but we must read it in the sense that the Body of Christ is ultimately indivisible from the Head of Christ because together this displays the Glory of Christ. I know this all sounds very mysterious, but truths are no less true simply because they are filled with mystery (Ephesians 5:32).
In the big picture, to reject the church – locally or universally – is to reject how Christ chooses to display His very own self. You may not want to accept that. You may attempt to reduce what you are rejecting to a frigid political institution of religious jargon and entertainment saturated marketing, but you rejecting far more in the process. For in leaving the church entirely you do more than divest yourself of a governing board, philosophy of ministry or group of people; you are also leaving that which Christ identifies as part of Himself. Therefore the raw reality is that any wholesale rejection of Christ’s Body, driven by personal hurts or biases, will not hold up as legitimate before Christ who is the Head. Jesus will not allow individuals to enthrone Him as their decapitated king. He cannot be divided against Himself for the fulness of His glory is shown through His unification as Head and Body (Ephesians 4:1-6). The gospel brought this together (Colossians 1:24-29) and no disgruntled, disenfranchised or discouraged Christian has the authority to tear it asunder.
Now are there some wonky local churches and jacked up denominations? Yes! But there are also a great number of them getting far more things right than wrong.
- Churches that are filled with people who also have been hurt, but don’t give up.
- Churches that are struggling with how to love a pluralistic culture while still maintaining a biblical vision of life.
- Churches that are fighting to pursue a healthy blend of what it takes to reach consumers while still developing true disciples.
- Churches that are proclaiming the fullness of the Bible while still admitting the ongoing battle to become everything Jesus seeks.
- Churches that are replete, not with judgmental hypocrites, but imperfect people who are imperfectly trying to “be perfect as their Father in Heaven is perfect.”
So come back! We all agree that the church at times can seem like a saggy, broken, out of shape body with stretch marks and a few scars, but it’s Jesus’s very own Body which is indivisibly and gloriously joined to His headship (Ephesians 5:25-30 & 32).
[*] Vaughen & Lea, 1 Corinthians BSC, p.150 & Ciampa & Rosner, 1 Corinthians PNTC, p.609