Thursday, July 28, 2011

Praying for a Car Race

NASCAR still opens its left turn festivals with prayer. Perhaps that’s good, though I have my doubts.

A recent prayer by a pastor has strengthened those doubts, though perhaps the problem is not so much with praying for a race as it is with pastors who have no spiritual discernment and reverence.

In the midst of this prayer, he thanked God for his “smokin’ hot wife.” He then claimed he was trying to be like Paul (the apostle, not the driver … That’s a bit confusing though because I didn’t think Paul had a wife.)

Perhaps the most disturbing thing is that some people think it was acceptable. And some even think it was good.

One hapless commentator said this was “a prayer that at worse [sic] praised a man's wife for being sexy.”


This person even thinks this is a positive for the church.


This is a guy who uses a public prayer to hold up his wife as some sort of sex symbol, and that's a positive for the church?

Now I don’t want to be a crank. I really don’t.

But "smokin hot" is an advertisement for a strip club, or July in Detroit, not a church. This is a blight and embarrassment to God and the gospel. And I am a man, but I would think this would be an embarrassment to his wife.

In the Bible, and in civil society, women are honored for their character and virtue, not their "smokin' hotness." (See here and here for some thoughts on this.)

While Nelms wanted to use this prayer for publicity for the church, to draw people to the gospel, attracting people to your church because of a pastoral prayer like this ain't exactly holding up offense of the cross of Christ as the dividing line.

But in a church world gone mad over relevance and being cool and hip which has confused attraction and novelty with evangelism, this shouldn’t be surprising.

God help a church, or a believer, that thinks this is a good thing for church attention and growth.

And God help a pastor who thinks that this is appropriate for public prayer.

In the Diner

I am sitting here this morning waiting for my three eggs over easy, potatoes, white toast, and strawberry jam. The big storms over night have passed, and the air feels as wet as a shower, only without the refreshing part of it.

The radio is on today. It’s playing a country song called “Tomorrow.” It tells the story of a man who has been in some sort of relationship with a woman. He knows it’s bad, that they are not good for each other. They need to split up. But tonight, let’s have one last time. Tomorrow we will stop.

This is one of sin’s great lies. It’s why addictions never get broken. It’s why sinful relationships never end. It’s why procrastination rules the day.

“There’s always tomorrow. And tomorrow will be different. But today, it’s one last time.”

One person quipped about the addiction to the nicotine in cigarettes, “Quitting is easy. I have done it a million times.”

So it is with us. Quitting is easy. It’s staying stopped that’s hard.

And that’s why the grace of God in the gospel is so important. Paul reminds us in Romans 5 that where sin abounds, grace much more abounds, that where there is sin (no matter how much), there is always more grace. It frees us from guilt that our last time wasn’t.

But that grace does not leave us there. As Paul reminds us, the grace of forgiveness is not the same as permission. “May it never be” that we should “sin so that grace can abound” (Romans 6:1-2). No, indeed the grace that saves is also the grace that teaches (Titus 2:11).

Some of us are slow learners. We have played the “one last time” card over and over again. And, in one sense, that’s okay. God’s grace is big. Bigger than our most recent “one last time.”

But for all of us, it is time to graduate. There will always be sin to deal with in our lives so long as we live in this fallen world.

But by God’s grace, we can be freed from sinful patterns of living and find hope in the gospel that Jesus died to free us from the chains of bondage and to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

This and That

David Sitton has a good article on the call to missions. He says,

“The missionary call is not like a prison dog that tracks us down, sniffs us out, and hog-ties us for the nations. That is silly-talk and really bad theology. Nowhere in Scripture is a mysterious (supernatural) call a prerequisite before we can respond to the Great Commission. The opposite is actually true. … Dramatic calls to ministry are the exception. If you have it in your heart to go, then go. Then, lean on the sovereignty of God to get you where he wants you in the harvest. Don’t worry about “running ahead of God.” You aren’t that quick!”

Man, have we ever overcomplicated things in some ways. I remember times of living in fear of missing the “will of God” rather than just going out and laying it on the line, loving life, and telling people about Jesus. Overanalysis is usually not a good thing if you are thinking about vocational ministry (though underanalysis can be bad as well). Get busy now, and the future will probably take care of itself. And wherever you are, be all there. Don’t be looking for the next big thing.

My friend Andy Naselli has written a dissertation and a book on Keswick theology. For those who have time for neither, he now has a short article that is worth your time. (Unfortunately, the book is only available in the Logos format. Fortunately, Logos has a free version which is enough to read and use basic features.)

There are some things that I just don’t know what to say about. This is one of them. If you have any suggestions, I am not sure I want to know about them.

And one other question: What’s wrong with the other 54%?

All for now.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ministering From and For the Long Term

Some years ago in ministry I made a horrible decision. It didn’t disqualify me or split the church. I didn’t kill anyone, or preach heresy. But it was a bad decision.

I didn’t make this decision based on the memory of past years . I didn’t make it in anticipation of future years. I made it on the basis of six months. And I made it out of anger, hurt, frustration.

And I regretted it.

Oh, I didn’t regret it then. I was hurting too bad. And I wanted to make a point. I washed my hands. I was done. 

In fact, I didn’t regret it until three years later when an event in my own life made me see starkly what I had done. And I realized that it hadn’t been worth it, even if I had been completely right (and I wasn’t).

It took three more years to work up the courage to pick up the phone and call. 

The fact is that had I been thinking about the past twenty-five years, I would have never done what I did.

Had I been thinking about the next twenty-five years, I would never have done what I did.

But I wasn’t. So I did.

The reality is that my decision flowed out of my core values, values that I still hold. And I think those values are correct (which is why I still hold them, even though I would apply them differently today, in a way that might not have changed things even then).

The problem was that my decision took place in the context of fear. You see, for six months I was scared. It was actually longer than six months, but those six months were the killer. I just didn’t want to deal with it. I kept papering it over with avoidance when possible and weak smiles when necessary.

I lived out of fear, rather than out of care. I lived for immediate convenience rather than extended ministry. I lived out of hurt rather than courage. I lived out of isolation rather than partnership. And so I did it.

I have made a lot of bad decisions in my life, but this is one of the ones I regret the most. To this day, I still choke up when I think about it or talk about it, as I did just this week in a conversation.

Back then, in the heat of the moment, a mentor asked me, “What have you learned from this?”

I said, “I learned that problems don’t go away. You have to deal with them, and the sooner the better.”

And that is an important lesson.

Now, some years later I have learned another lesson to add on: “Don’t minister out of the moment. Minister from and for the long term.”

You see, my choices closed a door back then, a door that had stood wide open for more than two decades, and a door that would take years to reopen.

Sure I made my point … to me only. And now I know I didn’t even make the right point.

Now I also I know that long after this moment (whatever it holds), ministry can continue.

So don’t kill it by living out of fear and hurt.

Nurture it by living out of grace, courage, and commitment.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Quotable – On the Olivet Discourse

It is unfortunate that Harold Camping, for all his claims to teaching the Bible, never grasped what Jesus made clear in Mark 13 as evidenced by this excellent word from James R. Edwards:

Most importantly, Mark 13 admonishes readers against attempts at constructing timetables and deciphering signs of the Parousia. Disciples are admonished to be alert and watchful (vv. 5, 9, 23, 33, 35, 37), reminded that they do not know the time of the end (vv. 33, 35), and warned not to be led astray by even the most obvious signs (vv. 5, 6, 21, 22), for the end is not yet (vv. 7, 13). No one is either encouraged or commended for attempting to be an eschatological code-cracker. That is folly, for even the Son of Man is ignorant of the End (v. 32). The premium of discipleship is placed not on predicting the future but on faithfulness in the present, especially in trials, adversity, and suffering.

(James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002], p. 386.)

Faulty Missions Mind-set?

Recently I linked to a series of articles on missions in South America in the middle of the 20th century which I found interesting. There is a new, and interesting, installment.

Read it all, but here are two interesting lines.

First, their understanding of the call of God as primarily to a location soon leads to the question: ‘How fast can I get there?’ However, an understanding of God commissioning us to a particular kind of work would lead to a completely different question, namely: ‘How well equipped will I be for the work when I arrive?’

I admit to not knowing a lot about modern missions preparation. I am convinced that we do not do particularly well in domestic situations of getting men in places where they can succeed, and then giving them helpful and serious mentorship.

Equipping prior to getting there seems like a high priority. I know of one family currently doing a short-term stint in a creative access country to help some other families get adjusted through helping them think through ethnography and mission-related issues. I remember a discussion about this where one person was questioning whether or not this was necessary. I think it absolutely is necessary. And I think this probably needs to start before you spend months or years raising support, only to get somewhere and find yourself frustrated and discouraged because you aren’t ready.

In the future, one thing I want to know from prospective missionaries is this: What have you been doing to get ready? How seriously have you studied the culture and language of your prospective field? How long have you been doing this? What books have you read on the culture you are going to? What kind of ethnographical research have you done?

My friend Dave, who knows a thing or two (get it and watch it, and make sure you watch the interview) about missions, puts it this way:

What you should really ask is “What do I need to learn before going to the field, why, and what source or combination of sources can teach me most efficiently?” Those are not easy questions to answer, so you have to seek help from a multitude of counselors—especially those who have proven themselves faithful and fruitful.

Here’s a second quote from the Speared article:

I just want to point out that the two major interpretations of the Commission – ‘take the Gospel to every person that hasn’t heard it’ versus ‘take the Gospel to every people that hasn’t heard it’ – lead to radically different strategies.

I think (as the blogger says), that both of these are important. But which is the Great Commission? The word “nations” (ethne) seems to indicate the latter—people groups, though it does not exclude the individual people in the groups.

Paul’s pattern described in Romans 15:19-23 of leaving a place fully evangelized to go where “Christ was not named” is equally instructive, at least in some respects (with due respect to this perspective).

By having ‘fully preached the gospel’ he surely did not mean he spoke to every person. He rather meant that he had established a gospel presence that could now continue on without him.

“Pioneer missions” is certainly different than going to places with gospel works already established. And I confess that when it comes to mission support and encouragement, I would rather see missionaries go to unreached people groups or gospel-less areas rather than pile in on gospel preaching churches just because they have a “burden” or have a little different doctrinal perspective than a church already there.

That is not to discount going to evangelized places. If that is the desire you believe that God has placed in your heart, pursue it. But realize that when you try to get me to support you, you will need to convince me that you have a legitimate place there—that you are not merely duplicating the work of someone nearby.

And realize that if I have an option between you and someone going to an unreached people group, you are starting a step behind.

I realize that most communities could stand more gospel witness, not less. And so by going, you will be a help in many ways.

But I am reminded of two things. First, the gospel and Great Commissions is for all nations because Jesus died to purchase people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9-10).

Second, I am reminded of the old parable that if a bunch of people are carrying a log, consider helping out on the end where there are fewer people.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Over-informed and Under-educated

I was recently studying in a relatively public place after a beautiful morning that started with a long walk covering eighteen holes. The sunrise was beautiful.

In this public place Fox News was on.

I was not paying much attention to it, but I noted that every two to three minutes the story changes. It was frustrating since it grabbed my attention a bit, wanting to know what I was missing “now.” And “now” was every couple of minutes. The reality is that it wasn’t anything I actually needed to know. It was just clutter.

It reminds me that we live in a culture of soundbytes. We crave information. But we crave it on the surface. We want to know a little about a lot, but pretend that we know a lot about it.

It’s generally bad for civil discourse.

It’s worse for actual knowledge and informed opinions.

It certainly can’t sustain a decent culture of any sort.

It’s why Carson says we need to read the internet less and books more.

But I gotta keep this short so I will leave it at that.


Read a great deal less on the internet and a great deal more of books.

Don Carson on how you can become a better theologian and better pastor if you are a young pastor or a middle-aged pastor who can’t return for more schooling.

Piper’s comments on reading that follow Carson’s quote are also fascinating, such as when he says that we have been taught not to read by teachers who assign twelve books for one class.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Was It Necessary?

Here’s a series of short articles (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) on the death of ten missionaries in the middle of the 1900s in South America. It is interesting to read this perspective on why these deaths probably were not necessary, but rather a waste. It is probably not a popular view.

Here’s a line that sticks out at me from the third article.

Jim Elliot’s team in Ecuador was afraid of attracting too much attention to their efforts in the jungle, because they thought that too many outsiders would serve to further alienate the Aucas. For this reason, they were extremely secretive with their plans, going so far as to use a code to prevent leaking the details. Unfortunately, this commitment to secrecy kept them from sharing their plan with some of the people that may have guided it to a better end.

And later,

The nail in the coffin was a mission board that prided itself on letting the missionaries do whatever God ‘led’ them to do. From all I can tell, there was virtually no accountability. Three of the missionaries were with a mission board that reminded the missionaries that they were not answerable to any man – only to God.

In missiology and church growth, there is a common belief that the older generation has had their day and their mindset and methods not only no longer work, but that are not even to be considered as having legitimate perspectives on present day ministry.

It is true that the older generation is, at times, a bit stuck in their ways and unwilling to consider the possibility of generational shift. This is (perhaps) one factor in the post I made recently about churches. “We have always done this” becomes the mantra of a church that is slowly dying, or at least only maintaining.

But it is equally true that there is much more to missionary strategy than youthful energy and zeal, with “outside the box” thinking.

Young people would be wise to seek (and actually consider) the input of the “grizzled veterans.” Those lines in their faces and the gray in their heads did not come from vacations at the beach. They came from time served in the trenches.

Your good ideas may simply be recycled nonsense. It may not be. But it won’t hurt you to ask. It may save you a lot of grief if you direct some of your energy toward asking someone who has been there before.

It usually helps to have some experienced eyes to look things over with you.