1 Cor. 2
3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

There would be few Bible scholars who would disagree that Paul was the best exegete the Church has ever had. Few would argue that he saw things in the Scripture that others would never understand – the mysteries, the reasons, the explanations of God’s work in salvation-history. However, it was Paul himself who said that his speech and his message were not in words of lofty and profound wisdom. Instead, they were characterized by the Spirit and power. The reason behind all this is so that our faith might rest in the power of God and not the passing words of wisdom that men utter.
        We shouldn’t discount the words that men speak because Jesus said that every word we utter will be judged. Paul is not advocating some kind of babbling that has no rationale to it and thought. This would be a travesty indeed. If Paul were to write repetitions and bare emotion without reason his words would not have been recorded. They would have passed away when his lips ceased. What Paul is talking about here furthers his teaching from chapter 1.
        So many people lift up a teacher in the Church who seems to know all the deep secrets of Bible interpretation. They do back-flips through the Scripture just to show this wonderful new insight. Others don’t even use the Scriptures. They get a psychologist to visit their pulpit and tell people how they can be happy. They push the power of God aside in exchange for the wisdom of men.
        Woe unto us, brothers, if we ever diminish the Word of God for the sake of our reputation. We serve and are not to be pedestaled by people. We are to lift up, expound, and delight in the power of God – the Word of God as empowered by the Holy Spirit.
        The other trait of this reason lies in the fact that our faith is to rest in the power of God. It is like a tense child who is held by his mother. He gets riled up and cries, but when Mommy picks him up, he is calm and does not fear the world raging around him. Could this be the reason why so many men worry when they are in the pulpit? They are afraid what others will think – am I smart enough, did I convict, etc? We should be concerned about what we say, but not seeking the pats on the back others will give.
        We are called to preach and teach in such a way that our people can rest in the power of God. They can call God on their side in whatever fret they have. When their marriage is failing – they cry out to God, not some self-help book with ten steps. When their teenager has run away from home, they cry out for mercy. When they can’t pay their mortgage because they lost their job, someone is ill, their pay was slashed, they cry out for sustaining grace.
        Finally, lest we think we go to stand in the pulpit and say whatever is on our minds and say that we are trusting the Holy Spirit to give us the words we need, Paul says in verses 6-7: Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. We do teach with the wisdom of God – Jesus Christ our wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30). Take heart! The wisdom we impart will not pass away. If we are faithful to what the Lord has said in his Word, we know that the seeds we sow will grow to maturity. But we must preach from his storehouse and not sow seeds of our own understanding. Think, brothers, what you will say. But let there be a governor of the divine word to hedge you in from heterodoxy and lies.

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Leading with a Limp

Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip (Gen. 32.31; NLT)

Too many times we focus on the action of leadership and not the ontology of the leader. That is, when asked to define what a leader is, most people’s responses are boiled down to “They lead.” This is what a leader does. This is not what he is.

In my experience, the most important characteristic of a leader is humility. True, a proud and overly confident leader may get the pin to move on the measuring gauge. In the long run, however, her leadership will lose its effectiveness over time. What is more, those who follow her will not be shaped. The primary goal of a Christian leader is to shape the whole person, to see people mature and grow in their love for God and neighbor. If they are coerced or pressed into a mold of conformity, their hearts will not be changed because a law has been imposed on them.

Leaders ought to want to see people changed more than a goal to be reached. Or put another way, the goal to which a leader aims ought to be Christ being formed in those that follow him. This is the metric we see throughout Scripture. This, then, ought to be our goal in leadership. this Christ-likeness

The primary way a leader promotes this Christ-likeness is through his own Christ-likeness. And what do we see in the Lion of Judah save the wounded Lamb.

I remember going through a pastoral assessment wherein the interviewers looked at me and said they weren’t sure that I had worked through past pain. This is after I had shared with these brothers a lot of hurt and told them how the Lord had drawn near in those times. Surely, there is some time that people need to work through their pain. This is, however, a first world problem. How many other brothers and sisters don’t have the luxury to go to a year of counseling or to step out of a painful ministry experience?

No, we are called to minister not after our wounds are healed but in the midst of our wounds. We are called to show the scars and still feel the cold breath of unrequited loves and expectations. This is where we ought to live and minister from. We ought not to hide our limp. We ought to highlight the fact that we lean on another. We are frail. We fail. When we model that kind of bold dependence on God, we, in essence, reveal that we are but pilgrims moving toward another country and the path is hard and the pain is real. Not something we learned from and not something got over–as though it’s something in the past. Rather, the pain and problems ought to be the very stuff our ministry’s are made of.

God’s Broad Shoulders

One of the fascinating aspects of my profession is that I come in contact with a lot of Christians who want to engage with their faith in a deep way. Rather than being content with showing up on Sunday or being CINO (Christian In Name Only), these folks want to understand the Bible better and tease out the implications for their lives.

On the flipside of this, many of these same people are afraid to engage with their doubts in a deep way. It’s almost as if, doubts and questions are treated from a distance–“I don’t struggle with this, but…”

The biggest breakthrough in my own journey of faith came through (and continues to come through) engaging my doubts and questions as my own. They are not theoretical. They are honest struggles: problem of evil is the perennial one. I was in the throes of one of these bouts several years ago when a friend told me, “God can handle your doubts.”

I have used this same bit of advice for my struggling friends and self. If truth is not relative. If God is truth. Your doubts and questions will not overthrow this objective, transcendent truth. It’s not as though you are the first to struggle with doubts and fears and pain. The heavens will not collapse under the weight of your doubts. You won’t come up with a question that will cause God to close up shop. You can honestly engage with your doubts and fears and pain and suffering without having to be quick to give the typical and trite answers to matters of faith.

Go ahead, roll your burdens on God. He’s got broad shoulders.

a faulty understanding of the relationship of the pastor to the people

Here’s a quick response to what I meant in my last post with the above phrase:

With the advent of the Spirit empowering all believers in giving life to all who have trusted in Christ comes the advent of the priesthood of all believers. That is, whereas lineage to the priesthood had to be traced to Aaron or Levi, through being born anew through the lineage of the once-for-all priesthood of the Mechizedekian high priest Jesus (see Heb 5-7), all people are called to be a holy nation and priesthood.

Too much of modern-day evangelicalism has unwittingly ascribed through word and deed the following of celebrities. This tendency has trickled down to where the pastor is still viewed through the lens of the Old Covenant. That is, people still refer to him as “anointed,” not knowing that in their baptism they have also been anointed for that work through new birth.

This is also seen in how so many pastor’s conferences frame the discussion. They speak of the “calling” to the ministry–forgetting Luther’s and the audacious Protestant Reformers’ claim that all vocations are “callings.” Luther said that God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid.

As a result, so many pastors buy into the notion that the sheep are entrusted to them only. Yes, many times brothers will say that Christ is the Chief Shepherd, but they act as though they are the ultimate person the people must answer to. Thus a division between those who are “called” as pastors and “lay” people.

If we start with the fact that we are all in need of a Savior–and perpetually so!–then such a false dichotomy and hierarchy will go away. In this way, the pastor is a sheep and needs shepherding from other sheep.