A month in Review

I had a great time writing on my blog this past month. Thank you to everyone who read and commented. I’m looking forwards to this next month, but in case you missed a post or two this last month, here are some links.

Isaiah 43:1-4 and What Non-Christians Fail to Understand About Christians

Madmen and Geniuses: The Vice Presidents of The United States by Sol Barzman

Preach Me Something Relevant

Seminary Ruined Me

Leave It All Outside The Door

You Have to Have Contemporary Music

“Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters” by captain Cheslea “Sully” Sullenberger

Immigration Law and Grace

Verbal Elements of Worship

Speaking Up For The Unborn This Morning

If You Can Do Anything Else, Do It

If You Can Do Anything Else, Do It

Mike Leake wrote an article at SBC Voices Tuesday about the “internal call” all vocational ministers are supposed to have received before surrendering our lives to the ministry.  Are You Called to the Ministry?

The article explores the unbiblical expectation we often place on a pastor.  We erroneously think they had to have this mystical, internal call.  I encourage you to read the article as Mr. Leake does an excellent job in pointing out unbiblical such expectations are.

I want to talk about another unbiblical statement with regards to a call to vocational ministry.  We’ve probably all heard the advice, “If you can do anything else, do it.”  This is perhaps the dumbest ministry advice I’ve ever heard, and here’s why:

  1. I don’t want to do something else:  I could certainly do other secular jobs.  I might even be better at other secular jobs, but the plain truth is, I don’t want to anything else.  I don’t want to scare away a potential minister because he or she heard me say something unbiblical.  The truth is, every one of us could always do something else, but we don’t want to.  
  2. Why would I want to avoid doing something difficult?  The intention behind this unbiblical statement is that the ministry is really hard and you don’t want to do this really hard job if you can do something easier.  This insults two types of people.  First, it insults the non vocational minister.  I promise you, the man or woman who counts money for a living and is required to get every number right, down to the penny, will tell you that his job is really difficult.  I’m pretty safe in assuming that the job and responsibilities of an airline pilot are heavy.  If an airline pilot makes a mistake, lots of people die.  Do you know why I assume these people have difficult jobs?  Because they have difficult jobs filled with stress and anxiety.  It insults the non minister when we act like our jobs are somehow more difficult.  Are there aspects of our ministry jobs that non vocational ministers don’t understand?  Yes there are.  Can there be times when our jobs are very difficult and burdensome in a way secular jobs aren’t?  Yes they are, but it’s insulting to somehow insinuate that our jobs are mystically more difficult.  It’s also insulting to a young person considering vocational ministry.  Why wouldn’t they want to do this difficult job?  Do we think they can’t?  I believe one or more young person who was more than qualified to be a pastor has been scared away from vocational ministry because of this bad advice.
  3. Ministry is an obligation for every Christian:  When we become Christians, we become ministers, and that ministry is not an obligation, it’s a desire and that desire should exist for every Christian.
  4. Vocational Ministry is not an obligation:  This advice insinuates that vocational ministry is an obligation.  Vocational ministry is not an obligation.  It is a joy.  I don’t pastor because I have to.  I don’t pastor because no one else will pastor if I don’t.  I pastor because I love it.  Our pride is talking when we act like Ministry is something we have to do.  We’re just looking for affirmation or a pat on the back.  We need encouragement, but none of us need anyone to encourage our pride.

This is bad, unbiblical advice. We need to remove this advice from our brains.  When someone expresses desire to enter vocational ministry, we should encourage them to give it a try to see if they like it. 

Speaking Up for the Unborn this Morning

I’m cranky this morning. I didn’t start out cranky, but as I was parusing my morning email, I came across this article in The National Review. Can Democrats Be Pro-Life? The article refrences this “op-ed” in the New York Times. Of Course Abortion Should Be A Litmus Test For Democrats This article will make you vomit, but I recommend, on the basis of being well informed, that you stomach its contents, but keep a large bowl or trash bag handy.

I don’t normally comment on political issues, and some even advise pastors to stay away from commenting on any political issue. This is not a political issue. This is not a question of whether or not I favor capitalism over socialism. This is not a question as to my views on immigration. This is a life and death issue, and I will go to my grave speaking up for the unborn. I will, with every bone in my body, speak up for the orphans who are being sytematically murdered every day.

The author of the New York Times piece portrays a complete lack of respect for human life, the very crime she accuses pro-lifers of committing. She also states that “there is no recognizable version of the Democratic Party that does not fight unequivocally against half its constituents’ being stripped of ownership of their own bodies and lives. This issue represents everything Democrats purport to stand for.” This statement is wrong and ignorant. I’m not a democrat, but I know many abortion democrats. In fact, the Democratic party would not even exist if there hadn’t been anti abortion democrats.

She also writes, “Abortion is not a fringe issue. Abortion is liberty.” Liberty for who? The baby who is sytematically and surgically ripped from the mother’s womb? Is abortion liberty for the woman who now has to live with the guilt of killing her baby? Studies have been done to document the debilitating psychological effects on women. Post Abortion Syndrom

A quick search of Wikipedia will show that Mrs. West has no children. That does not surprise me, nor does it surprise me that the New York Times would allow someone who has no child bearing experience to provide a voice for those considering abortion.

The most insidious lines of West’s opinion come near the end when she writes, “Abortion is normal. Abortion is common, necessary and happening every day across party lines, economic lines and religious lines. Abortion is also legal and, contrary to what the pundit economy would have you believe, not particularly controversial.” She backs this up with some misleading statistics. This statement does not even merit consideration as something which might come from a sane person’s pen. This is ridiculous.

Here is what I, a Christian, pastor, father of five, and a republican (That last descriptor is way down at the bottom of my list) would like to say to the Democratic party and pro-life deocrats.

1) If you don’t feel comfortable in the democratic party, we would like to welcome you to the republican party: You don’t like to support baby killing? Good, we don’t support it either. There is a place for pro-life Democrats in the Republican party.

2) Democratic Party you are killing your voter base:The democratic party continues to lose elections because for the past forty years they have been killing their voter base. Do all Democrats get abortions? Absolutely not! Are there Republicans who have had abortions? Probably more than we realize, but the majority of those who have abortions are Democrats, and most children grow up to vote in the same manner as their parents. The Democrats are losing these elctions because they are killing the potential voter base.

3) There is grace, forgiveness, and redemptionI’ve taken 643 words to scream about the ridiculousness of advocating for abortion. I will not apologize for screaming for the unborn. My wife is about to deliver our fifth child in less than three weeks, I will scream for her rights because she cannot scream for herself. However, I understand that there are women who are having to live with the scars of a past abortion. I am not screaming at you. You do not deseve to be screamed at. You deserve to be loved. You deserve a country that will help you heal because I know you are hurt. I know you feel guilty, and I know you feel pain. There is grace, forgiveness, and redemption found in Jesus Christ. There are churches in our country who will walk with you through your pain. There are Christians in our country who will come alongside you in your struggle. Pro-life advocates such as myself are not screaming at you, but rather, at Pro-choice advocates like Mrs. West who have no idea what they’re talking about.

Finally, to Mrs. West and those of her ilk. You will continue to lose elections by shunting aside those whom you call unreasonable and abnormal. You have lost this battle on abortion. It is the taking of another humnan life who does not have a choice. Maybe you should be happy that your mother did not exercise the right to choose.

Verbal Elements of Worship

I was a worship leader for 13 years before I became a pastor (I still consider myself the worship leader for our church).  There are many elements of worship services I wish I had given more of my attention.  This post is the first in a two part series on elements of a worship service we should give our attention to, but might escape our notice from time to time.  You may have a small congregation or a large congregation.  The sizes of our congregations do not exclude us from giving our best when it comes to our worship services.  Here are some verbal elements of our worship services that might not get as much attention as the preaching and the singing:

  1. Announcements:  The bane of pastor’s everywhere.  They’re printed in the bulletin right?  Why should we have to spoon feed you if you can read?  Yet, verbal announcements are necessary.  Whoever is giving these announcements should know what they want to say and how they want to say it.  Announcements should be succinct and should be clear enough that a first time visitor would know exactly what’s going on and where.  “Pot luck at Katie’s house Friday night” tells a guest nothing.  
  2. Scripture Reading:  Many of our churches utilize corporate scripture reading.  This is the Word of God and ought to be treated with the utmost respect.  Readers should be taught to read with confidence, taught to look over their reading beforehand, and teach the congregation what is expected during the reading.  Congregation expectations don’t have to be repeated every Sunday, but if there are first time visitors, those instructions will make them feel more comfortable and involved.  
  3. Prayers:  There can be debate about this element.  There are some who prefer the spontaneous nature of prayer, and there are some who prefer a written prayer.  I prefer both.  I like the spontaneous corporate prayer, but I also appreciate prayers that have been thought out and prepared. We prepare ourselves to go to God’s house every Sunday.  Why can’t we prepare some of our prayers as well? Pastors should also avoid the person who prays the exact same prayer every time.
  4. Worship leader talk:  When I led worship I tried to avoid talking between songs.  I was afraid I would say something wrong, and the congregation did not come to hear me speak.  There is a level of worship leader talk that is acceptable, but anything that is said should be planned, thoughtfully articulated, and talked through with the pastor.  Yes, this would require the pastor and worship leader to sit down during the week and walk through the service.
  5. “Specials”:  Have you ever had a soloist spontaneously say something before they sang that made your skin crawl?  I knew a music minister who got fired for just such a faux pas.  In fairness, that music minister had been repeatedly warned.  We can’t prevent all of these surprises, but we can do a better job of heading them off with a 15 minute conversation with the soloist.  

Those are some verbal elements to our worship services that we should spend more time with.  The overall lesson to be learned is that more time, attention, and preparation should be given to our worship services, no matter our church size.  We may just keep some guests from wandering out the back door.

Is there anything you would add to this list?  Is there anything you’ve experienced on this list?  

Next week, non verbal elements of our worship service.

Immigration Law and Grace

I got into a conversation about immigration on Facebook this week.  I try to stay away from controversy on Facebook because, well, you can understand why.  Brent Hobbs, one of the contributors at SBC Voices posted this article:  Pastor Carias

The responses were mixed and emotional.  There were those who declared Pastor Carias’ deportation a crime and a tragedy.  There were those who unequivocally sided with the Trump administration no matter how awful this story appeared.  

I was emotional at first.  How dare this administration deport a pastor?  What about all the murderers and rapists they were supposed to deport?  Doesn’t the current adminstration have more pressing problems than Christians who are here illegally? 

I’m still asking those questions, but I have calmed down and would like to offer a more measured response to this situation.

First, many of us expect the law to provide grace:  “This pastor should be allowed to stay with his family because the immigration laws have been loosely enforced for decades.” 

The law cannot provide grace.  I wish it could, but it cannot.  If the law provided grace, then it would cease being the law.  This is why the law of the Bible cannot save us, but can only point out our need for a Savior.  Paul spends a fair amount of time discussing the Law’s purpose in Romans.   There will be no grace from the law and no grace given by this administration.  We should not expect any.  

Second, there are those who want the immigration laws enforced to the letter, right now, no questions asked. 

When a Boeing 737 lands, it needs between 2000 and 3000 yards of runway to stop.  If the runway is too short, the plane will careen off the end and there will probably be casualties.  The federal bureaucracy is like a Boeing 737.  It cannot be moved or stopped on a dime.  If we want our federal government to pivot that quickly, then we’d better have an answer for the victims’ families, and that answer cannot be, “I’m sorry, but you’re out of luck.”  

That leads me to my next point.  What should our answer, as Christians, be?  Our answer should be,  “I know this stinks pastor Carias, but how can we help you become a citizen, and how can we help provide for your family until that happens?”  The Christian leaders who urged us to support candidate Trump have been strangely silent when it comes to helping the victims of our immigration nightmare.

(I know some will say any illegal immigrant here cannot be called a victim; in fact, Pastor Carias – our test case, if you will – has been deported on three separate occasions, falsified document, and lied to immigration officials.  Still, this man who has broken no American law apart from those related to his immigration status, has a wife and children who have broken no laws at all. They, and many other families in similar situations, are impacted. They are victims here.)

Finally, for those who want the letter of the law enforced with no exceptions, I have a few questions:

1. Why did the Christian community recently beg the Trump administration not to deport Iraqi Christians?  Must it take death threats before you’re willing to advocate for grace? 

2. Why do you throw hissy fits when Americans get arrested and detained for breaking laws in other countries?  They may not be our laws, but they are the laws of a sovereign nation.  Why do you beg for grace from other countries when our citizens break their laws  (but when our laws get broken, they must be rigidly enforced)?  Why do you seem to want it both ways? 

3. What makes you declare that the immigration laws have been loosely enforced for only the past eight years?  The Obama administration actually deported more illegal aliens than the Bush administration.  (Obama Administration Deportations)

I want immigration laws to be enforced, but the 737 that is our democracy needs enough room to maneuver, and Christians should be more thoughtful in their advocacy of tough enforcement.  You’re not punishing the Obama administration or the Democratic Party by supporting immediate, no-holds-barred, no-mercy enforcement.  You’re punishing real people with families. That should give us all pause.

For a thorough discussion of DACA and its effects on dreamers read Alan Cross’ blog post on SBC Voices here:  The Coming Crisis: Why We Should Speak/Act on Behalf of Immigrant Dreamers Right Now

Highest Duty:  My Search for What Really Matters

I did it.  I finished reading my second book of the year.  The book “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters,” is the biography of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.  He wrote this autobiography with Jeffrey Zaslow.  The book is 315 pages long and covers most of Captain Sullenberger’s life.  Following are my three negatives of the book:

  1. It could have been shorter:  There was some unnecessary material. One particular chapter dealt with Captain Sullenberger’s wife, Lorre.  I don’t fault any man for writing glowingly about his wife, but the chapter did not serve the purpose of the narrative.  It was just a nice chapter about how he relates to his wife.  There were other smaller passages like this, and they stalled the forward momentum of the story.  I came away from the book thinking it could have been shorter.
  2. Misleading Subtitle:  The “My Search for What Really Matters” theme indicated in the subtitle does not really play out in the content.  The book is really about the lessons that prepared Captain Sullenberger to land United Airlines flight 1549 in the Hudson River without losing any lives.    Perhaps a better title would be, “Highest Duty:  My Preparation for What Really Matters.”  The reader will find no epiphanies or light bulb moments, just a series of experiences that prepared Captain Sullenberger to save so many lives.
  3. No Christianity and a false theology:  This one is completely subjective.  The book does not purport to be Christian and this wouldn’t bother most readers.  I was disappointed to find no hint of Christianity and a “find the power within yourself theology” throughout the book.  This was by far the most disappointing aspect of the book.

Now with the negatives out of the way, here are my three positives:

  1. Well woven experiences:  The writers weave the experiences of Captain Sullenberger’s life into a seamless story of preparation and opportunity.  They show how each experience, from his first solo flight, to his fighter pilot experience helped prepare him for that day.  They even show how his experiences after flight 1549 continue to shape him.  The book is well written in this regard.
  2. An important lesson:  The story in itself is truly amazing.  I don’t think any of us will ever forget the video of that plane landing on the Hudson River.  It also teaches us a very important lesson.  We may think we live ordinary mundane lives, but at any moment God could call us into a situation like this.  We need to pay attention and learn from our experiences.  We need to learn what God has to teach us and let him shape and mold us.  This book, while not mentioning God, teaches the importance of paying attention and being prepared.
  3. Chapter 18 is awesome:  Chapter 18 deals with the aftermath of the crash, and the letters and experiences Captain Sullenberger and his family have had since that day.  The reactions from others, especially from the daughter of a co pilot who died in a crash had me in tears.  It’s an awesome testimony to the impact Captain Sullenberger’s actions had on so many people.  The author points out that Captain Sullenberger not only saved the people on the plane that day, but possibly saved generations of people who will go on to accomplish great things.  

I would certainly recommend this book, and I would give it a B rating because it’s hard to wade through at some points.  You can purchase the book here if you want:  Highest Duty

Regardless of the book, when I flew last month, I secretly hoped to get on the plane and see “Sully” in the cockpit.  That was not to be, but I appreciate are the professionalism of the men and women who fly us where we need to be and who take great care with the awesome responsibility they’ve been given.

You Have to Have Contemporary Music

This has been on my mind a lot lately. I have heard this statement a little too often, “You have to have contemporary music to get the young people to come to church.” I posted this question in a forum, and I was at the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference where Keith Getty did a forty-five minute question and answer session about worship. Here are three reasons why this statement is wrong, followed by three reasons why this statement is correct.

1) This statement is disrespectful: I still consider myself a young person even though I’m nearing the end of that season of life, and as a young person, when I hear someone boil my participation in church down to guitars, lights, drums, and upbeat music, I feel disrespected. We want more from church than just entertainment. We want community. We want solid theology. We want to be mentored by the older generation. We want to sing our faith. In fact, many surveys of the millennial generation show that type of worship is far down on the list of priorities that influence our church attendance. When we try to cater to the younger generation with one style of music, we are disrespecting that generation.
2) This statement does not deal with quality: Keith Getty, in answering questions at the pastors’ conference, repeatedly mentioned quality. Whatever worship style we have, we need to do it well. That should be our first priority. Do we do hymns? Then we should do hymns well. Do we have a praise band? Then we should do that well. Whatever we do, we do it to the best of our ability. My generation respects quality over type. I’ve seen contemporary praise band sets done badly and it was no more worshipful than a traditional worship service done bad. We canot just throw contemporary music on stage and expect my generation to fall all over themselves to get in the door if it’s not done well.  Check out this article about why millenials are not going to church The real reason millenials aren’t going to church
3) This statement does not deal with theology: Keith Getty also said that people get most of their theology from what they sing. The style of music does not matter more than the theology of the music. Let’s face it, there is a lot of contemporary music that majors on “meology” instead of theology. I’m not against contemporary music, but give me choice between “boring old hymns” that teach deep theology, or great “praise music” that teaches nothing but what God does for me, and I’ll take those boring old hymns every day of the week. We need music that teaches deep, grounded theology rather than music that teaches us to feel good in the presence of the Lord.
4) Young people do not go to church for the music: Ok, this is a bonus fourth reason. I pastor in Rich Hill Missouri. There is not one young person in Rich Hill who wakes up on Sunday morning and says, “I think I’ll go to the Baptist church because I heard they’ve got some awesome music.” That just does not happen anywhere. If that happens in your town, please tell me because I want to know how.

Like I said, I’m not against contemporary music, so here are three reasons why the statement “You have to have contemporary music to get the young people to come to church,” is right:

1) Contemporary music brings more energy: Young people like energy, and contemporary music tends to up the energy level. People want to go to a place where there’s energy.
2) Contemporary music may bring young people BACK to church: While I maintain that contemporary music alone will not bring young people to church for the first time, it might bring them back after their first visit. This goes hand in hand with the energy point above. Contemporary music done well will help with retention.
3) Theologically solid contemporary music IS necessary: I believe each generation has their own particular hymnody. The great depression generation had a very heavenly looking hymnody because during that period of our history, heaven was the only thing they could look forward to.  (I don’t say that to be snarky.  I’ve read accounts from people from that generation who made that statement.)  I believe each generation needs its own hymnody, that body of music they are known for, and good, solid, theologically deep contemporary music is necessary.

These are just my thoughts as I’ve wrestled with this question over the past few months. What are your thoughts? When I posted this in the discussion forum I got all kinds of answers. Some said, we absolutely had to have contemporary music to draw in young people, others focused more on quality than style. The worship wars over style may be fading into distant memory, and hopefully we’ll start talking about aspects that matter more than style. Let me know what you think in the comments section.