Pastoral Reflections

The invitation of Easter is simple. Do you really want to be happy? Do you want to know where you find real hope and purpose and significance in life? Come & see. Come and see who Jesus is, what he did you for, and how he changes everything. Whether you’ve been a Christian for years or are just starting to discover faith, the invitation is for you.

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There are four viewpoints on the miraculous gifts like speaking in tongues. First, the people I callcharismaniacs, who often do weird and unbiblical things and attribute these things to the Holy Spirit. This is includes everything from holy laughter to barking (I’m not making this up), from being “slain in the Spirit” [falling over] to handling snakes.

Pentecost drew people from all over the known world to Jerusalem—“God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” It was like a festival with eating, drinking, and fun, which is why Peter will later assure the crowd that the disciples are not drunk. And into this mix comes a small crowd of Galileans speaking languages that these travellers know. It isn’t gibberish; people recognize their own dialects and hear the wonders of God declared. They hear the story of Jesus’ life, death for their sin, and resurrection spoken in a way they can easily understand!

Outsider is not a derogatory word; it simply refers to those who are not yet in the kingdom. They do not yet know Christ. We can’t act like idiots toward those who don’t believe and then expect them to find the gospel appealing. Instead, we are to “make the most of every opportunity” we have to witness and to do so with grace. What Paul is saying is that we must witness with wisdom and charm every chance you get. 

Most ministers have imperfect character and talent takes awhile to develop. I heard a baseball team manager being interviewed about his team’s chances in the playoffs. He was asked about the experience level of some of the younger talent. His response was something like this, “Yes, this is their first experience in the playoffs. But they’ve been playing this game their entire lives.” It may be awhile before you are ready for a ministry position, but you need to have some ability that God can develop.

One of my mentors used to say, “We are all a bunch of approval junkies.” This is why some people are always “managing their image;” they want others to be impressed. And it’s why people are overcommitted; they don’t want anyone to be displeased with them. If you say no, someone is going to be displeased with you. It’s why some people are overachievers and workaholics; they are obsessed with approval from their professors or their parents or some other important person. It’s why some people avoid conflict, unable to bring themselves to follow the command of Jesus to talk face-to-face because they might be rejected. So much of what we do and how we think is fueled by our desire for approval.

Without desire, relationships with God would break down, the human race would cease to exist (having no desire to live, to have children, etc.), and life would be utterly devoid of purpose and meaning.  However, desire improperly channeled can also bring us harm. Some desires—illicit sex or a single-minded pursuit of wealth or power, for example—contribute to moral, spiritual, and mental decay and sometimes even physical demise.  For all the necessity of preserving desire and focusing it appropriately, it is one of the most important things we never talk about.  (I have really enjoyed some conversations with my oldest son about this topic.)  

09:00a  Hop on the bike for a 5 minute ride over to Westminster College and the Henry Martyn Centre.  I’m reading widely—Jonathan Edwards, C. S. Lewis, history of missions (I'm learning about the East Africa Revival), Reformation history, global trends and changes in missions—while surrounded by thousands of the best books on missions and evangelism. 

For 2,000 years the church has encountered change. The ‘constant’ challenge of the church is to faithfully proclaim the unchanging gospel to a changing world. Sometimes we fail: In the latter quarter of the nineteenth century, liberal churches modified the gospel to make it more relevant to the culture. Ironically, liberal churches became irrelevant. The twentieth-century saw a backlash against liberalism in the form of fundamentalism. Fundamentalists demanded a return to the fundamentals of the gospel. But along with their steadfast commitment the gospel message, those within the movement fostered an aversion to culture and a relentless resistance to change of almost any kind. 

At the end of a 50-minute train ride from London’s King’s Cross station lies the historic city of Cambridge. There is a charm to this city that makes it a great place to live and study.   The 100,000 residents are huddled together in the English countryside like a copse of trees in one of Tolkein’s tales.   Cobblestoned streets lined with coffee shops and booksellers, churches, restaurants, and pubs wind through the thirty-one colleges that make up the University of Cambridge.

I have a lot of things I want to do on sabbatical this summer.  Almost everyday is chock full of activities—places to see, things to do, books to read.  The sabbatical was planned out in detail more than a year ago.  But…as with life…I expect that there will be things I had not anticipated.  I can get mad because I want MY will to be done—or I can embrace the journey with all the interesting twists and turns it brings and say, “THY will be done.” 

I have officially begun my sabbatical thanks to a Clergy Renewal Grant from the Lilly Endowment and the support of my church family and the Calvary Church Elder Board. Lilly’s research indicates that continuing professional education for ministers benefits the church. When the pastor grows, the church grows.

Over the past few days I have been giving thanks to God for the people he has brought into my life.  God has totally transformed my life through people.  Notice I said GOD has changed my life.  But I also said God has changed my life THROUGH people.  I often use the expression “means of grace” from the pulpit—a very important theological concept that many Christians miss to their own harm.  God accomplishes his work through means.  If I had a pulpit in front of me, I would pound it right now.  In fact, I can almost feel myself pounding the keyboard as I write.  The Word of God came to us through people (2 Peter 1:21).  The church grows through the work of people (1 Corinthians 3:6).  The treasure of the gospel is carried to the world through people (2 Corinthians 4:7).  Wisdom comes to us through people (Proverbs 19:20).  

If you want to see worship watch a football game.  From the Friday night high school game, to college game day, to NFL Sunday—our region and nation is filled with praise and worship every single weekend.  We make time in our busy schedules to be at practices or drive to games.   We arrange our lives so we don’t miss the big game on TV.  We spend money on tickets and jerseys and trinkets.  On game day we yell, clap, stand on our feet, cheer and give high fives.  After the weekend is over we post comments on Facebook and talk about the highlights all week long.  We are delighting in something we love.  We are worshipping!   

We are getting ready to add a few flourishes to our place of worship at Calvary Church this summer. A team of talented artists from our congregation have given their time as an act of worship to design something that I would describe as “simply beautiful.”  It is "simple" because we have a very small budget to work with and we want to be wise managers of the resources God has given us.  (Anyway, simple is in!) It is also "beautiful" because we believe that beauty glorifies God.  Soon the pasty white walls will be covered with richer colors.  The cream carpet will be torn from the stage and replaced with something more fitting.  Attention will be given to lighting, the stage, and even the cross (the team is retaining some of the ancient elements to give it an ancient-modern feel).  It's going to be a great space for enjoying God together on Sundays. 

My exposition this week includes a command to “sing.”  Not only at church, but we are also to be singing during the week “making music in our hearts to the Lord.”  And then we are to come together on the day of celebration to “speak to each other in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”  (Ephesians 5:19).  In many ways, Sunday is the dénouement of our worship – the high point of a week spent with God in song and prayer.  We are to be singing everyday – worshipping God with lips and lives – and then coming together on Sunday to “sing to each other” and the God who has created us. 

As I prepare to enjoy thanksgiving with family and friends, I am thinking about two of the elders in our congregation who are battling cancer.  I know both of them well, and they are both models of gratitude.  Lindel is old enough to be my dad and over the past 13 years I have served with him in many leadership capacities at Calvary Church. More than once he has been there for me – kicking me under the table at a leadership meeting when he knew I was about to open my pie hole at the wrong time.  He has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me when we have had to make difficult and unpopular decisions as spiritual leaders.  He’s solid.  I was in the room with him when his wife died of cancer last Christmas.  Now he is battling cancer – fighting for his own life – and I am watching him respond to God’s sovereign will for his life with trust and gratitude.  This Sunday I embraced him warmly and he said (with tear-filled eyes) – “I am so thankful for God’s goodness to me.”  Wow! 

I have found that most people fall into one of two categories when it comes to pleasure.  There are the “pleasure avoiders” – the ascetics – the abstemious – those who believe that pleasure is bad or dangerous or in some cases “sinful.”  They may not actually use the word sinful, but they hove in this general direction. The second category of people is the “pleasure seekers” – the hedonists – the epicureans - the indulgent, those who love pleasure more than God.  Both errors must be avoided.  The NT condemns both extremes strongly and clearly.  

Our Sunday morning series at Calvary this fall is “Chosen: Verse-by-Verse Through Ephesians.”  As I have been spending a lot of time preparing for this series in the middle of a very busy fall ministry schedule, I have had little time to write. So – I thought I would reprint a copy of a letter I sent to one of my favorite theological pen pals at Calvary (His name will remain anonymous). The question was related to my emphasis on Sunday mornings that the doctrine of election (being Chosen) was intended to inform Gentiles, who felt like “Johnny-come-latelys” in the salvation story, that they were not “afterthoughts.”  "No" – Paul tells them.  "You were chosen before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)." This thoughtful parishioner asked, “Isn’t the purpose of the doctrine to make much of God – and His glory?” For those of you who love theological discussion, here is my short (edited) response:

It hit me up side the head so hard that I wandered around for a few days like a wounded soldier cut off from his platoon.  My professor mentioned in passing, “the Fundamentalist movement.”  That’s all he said.  He just mentioned it like everyone knew what he was talking about. (I didn’t but was too embarrassed to say anything.)  I had to know more.  Growing up in American Fundamentalism, I didn’t know Fundamentalism was an early twentieth-century movement.  I thought it WAS Christianity.  And so began a life-long interest in the study of church history (or what I prefer to call - "Our Story").