A nice sounding word for puking. I have thought about this word for some time and have come to dispise its significance. And yet, I am so very prone to it.

I may not be hurling in the crass sense, but I do regurgitate those things that I have partially digested. I have read a lot of books…a lot of books in a short amount of time. Rather than spending the time and sweat to come to my own conclusions, I repeat what I have read. I have a tendency to repeat what a professor said one day back when. I have a tendency to put quotation marks around what I say rather than it being my own thought and work.

Don’t get me wrong.There’s nothing lazy with a pithy quote. There’s no problem with appreciating the work of someone else – with them saying something so concise and eloquently so as to not improve on it.

What I am talking about is the proclivity to sound as though you are a theologian, but you are a two-bit copy cat. How many times have I listened to a sermon where there was quote after quote from a John Piper, or JI Packer, or RC Sproul, or John Calvin, or Hodge, or…you get the point. I appreciate the work these men have done and pray that God would so bless my ministry. However, I do not believe blessings will flow into the life of the one who repeats what he has heard without labor.

Not only this, I fear that so many of us who quote certain individuals are doing so just to prove that we align ourselves with a certain theological bent. Or perhaps we quote a certain person so as to give what we say validity. Might I suggest that the power behind your words will not be granted by a quote from Dr. _____. Rather, it will be done when you lay down your life for the sheep. It will be done when you reason and show through solid Bible exposition why you believe what you do.

Paul spoke of yearning and working until Christ was formed in his people. This is the kind of labor that is needed in the pulpit. THis is the kind of labor that is needed on our knees in the study. What kind of labor is it to merely copy and paste half your sermon. Was the same amount of time spent parsing verbs, analyzing verse relationships, asking questions that probe more than the surface meanign of the text?

I have to chuckle when I talk with some folks that say the following regarding a tough passage or doctrine: “It seems spurious for Dr. So-and-So to claim that from the biblical evidence.” What?!?! “I just don’t see that in the biblical text from the many uses of such a word” Really?!?! Does this not seem silly? How old are you? How much exegesis have you done?

Truly, a student of 21 years could have done a substantial amount of exegesis. The thing that is astounding to me is that this student seems so sure of himself. How can you be so sure when you have done so little by way of study (in comparison to so many who disagree with you). Yes, we can be sure of many things, but on other issues we need to exhibit a sense of humility in the way we speak. To be so surefire about your take on a passage is fine. It’s another thing when you have heard a fine sounding argument and cop it off as your very own.

For so many of us, may we extend charity to those who disagree with us (after all this is a mark of a Christian)…and let us read more Bible than commentaries.

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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.