Thursday, March 31, 2011

What they don't teach in seminary

Seminaries train theologians, not pastors. They teach hermeneutics, systematic theology, Biblical languages, church history...but with the exception of homiletics, there's little offered for many of the critical tasks pastors need to do regularly, to include:
-The Lord's Supper/Communion
-Anointing the sick
-the conduct of church/board meetings
Some seminaries hope their mentored ministry (apprentice) program will cover these matters, as the student works with local clergy. But there's no way of knowing for sure, unless the pastor maintains a thorough checklist of topics.
Case in point: the first funeral I ever attended, I conducted, and with absolutely no preparation. I literally made it up, and hoped what I was saying and doing was OK.
Hopefully the church will strive to do a better job of equipping future pastors to effectively serve God's people.

Monday, March 28, 2011


It was pretty exciting for me yesterday in church. My father (92), who moved in with us a month ago, came to church...he asked to come. He'd been living in New Jersey and his doctor told him he couldn't live alone any more. We are now caregivers, and it is going better than expected. Yesterday for the first time ever he saw me conduct worship, and heard me sing and preach. I will admit to some nervousness, but twelve years at a church does make one confident, and the service went by nearly flawlessly (we had a problem with one of the candles, that's it). Everyone fussed over dad and it was a great day. I showed him my office with all my Army memorabilia, to include a photo of him in uniform. Afterwards, he told me "the people at the church really like you," which is a nice affirmation. Praise the Lord for something I never thought I'd ever see.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Heresy or Hope?

Rob Bell is getting a lot of criticism for his new book, Love Wins. He was on Good Morning America this morning explaining his view of universal redemption, how he believes that one's destiny is not fixed at death, that even in Hell people may be given an opportunity to repent and trust in Christ. The result is that one day "every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Christ as Lord."

This could be classified as a theology of hope. No one hopes people will end up in Hell (I hope no one wants that). Before using the "H" word (Heresy, not Hell), let's be charitable and remember that evangelical universalists (not Unitarians) believe the critical Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, creation, sin/the Fall, the atonement, the inspiration of Scripture, the return of Christ, and salvation through Christ alone, by grace alone, with faith alone.

God can save everyone if He wanted to...does He not want to? Should we limit the scope of God's love? If Hell is eternal conscious torment, how does God console the intolerable loss of believers who have non-believing loved ones? Will we get a lobotomy or make us callous to their torment? Does this mean He loves me but not my mother? And does human choice end at death? These are but a few questions that arise from this debate.

Bell is likely going to lose a lot of followers for his controversial book. "Gregory MacDonald" published The Evangelical Universalist under a pseudonym out of concern over backlash. I realize that wanting something to be true doesn't make it true, and that Scripture is our only authority. While we might disagree with the paradigm, are these individuals heretics, or simply hopeful?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

John Piper's prayer for Japan

Father in Heaven, you are the absolute Sovereign over the shaking of the earth, the rising of the sea, and the raging of the waves. We tremble at your power and bow before your unsearchable judgments and inscrutable ways. We cover our faces and kiss your omnipotent hand. We fall helpless to the floor in prayer and feel how fragile the very ground is beneath our knees.

O God, we humble ourselves under your holy majesty and repent. In a moment—in the twinkling of an eye—we too could be swept away. We are not more deserving of firm ground than our fellowmen in Japan. We too are flesh. We have bodies and homes and cars and family and precious places. We know that if we were treated according to our sins, who could stand? All of it would be gone in a moment. So in this dark hour we turn against our sins, not against you.

And we cry for mercy for Japan. Mercy, Father. Not for what they or we deserve. But mercy.

Have you not encouraged us in this? Have we not heard a hundred times in your Word the riches of your kindness, forbearance, and patience? Do you not a thousand times withhold your judgments, leading your rebellious world toward repentance? Yes, Lord. For your ways are not our ways, and your thoughts are not our thoughts.

Grant, O God, that the wicked will forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Grant us, your sinful creatures, to return to you, that you may have compassion. For surely you will abundantly pardon. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus, your beloved Son, will be saved.

May every heart-breaking loss—millions upon millions of losses—be healed by the wounded hands of the risen Christ. You are not unacquainted with your creatures’ pain. You did not spare your own Son, but gave him up for us all.
In Jesus you tasted loss. In Jesus you shared the overwhelming flood of our sorrows and suffering. In Jesus you are a sympathetic Priest in the midst of our pain.

Deal tenderly now, Father, with this fragile people. Woo them. Win them. Save them.

And may the floods they so much dread make blessings break upon their head.

O let them not judge you with feeble sense, but trust you for your grace. And so behind this providence, soon find a smiling face.
In Jesus’ merciful name, Amen.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Healthy Churches

Churches are a lot like families...they're often dysfunctional. So the messy stuff of interaction and healing relationships goes on in the fellowship hall. This should come as no surprise. I talk to a lot of pastors, and some are very discouraged by in-fighting, gossip, and general dissatisfaction within their congregations. I realize how blessed I am that my church is so healthy. It is hard enough to be a pastor without having a stressful environment in which to minister. Ministers need the support of their flock, and I'm not talking money. It is an encouragement to me that my congregation prays for me and doesn't expect me (or my family) to be perfect.