Thursday, August 30, 2012

A cultural prophecy fulfilled

The 'forward' of a book is a thing often overlooked.  Most readers skip forwards to get immediately to the meat of the work.  The forward to Neil Postman's classic Amusing Ourselves To Death, though, deserves thoughtful pondering as much as his book.  In our age of social media, reality TV and electronic billboards, his trenchant observation is even more clearly a cultural prophecy fulfilled than it was when he wrote his book in 1985.  Even if you've never read 1984 or Brave New World, I think you'll get his point.  Here it is in full:
We were keeping our eye on 1984.  When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves.  The roots of liberal democracy had held.  Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.
But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.   Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing.  Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression.  But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history.  As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books.  What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.  Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information.  Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.  Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us.  Huxley feared the truth would be drowned out in a sea of irrelevance.  Orwell feared we would become a captive culture.  Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.  As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny 'failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions.'  In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain.  In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.  In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us.  Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.  This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How I cross-reference my Bible

Today I listened to an interview with a seasoned pastor who was asked, "How do you catalog the most helpful parts of the many books you read for future reference?" His response was, "I don't." That is fine for him since he has an amazing memory. I, on the other hand, need to write down references for future use. My present system is proving so helpful, that I thought I'd share it with you in hopes that some of you might find it fruitful to replicate. In simple terms, here's what I do:

  • I read with a pencil in hand.  That makes it possible to write notes in the margins and underline significant quotes.  I used to make notes and underline with a pen but do so no longer.  Many of the notes I wrote in books 20 years ago I wish were not there.  Therefore, I only use pencil now so that someday I can erase wrong-headed notes or quotes which I've grown to believe are no longer worth underlining.
  • I cross-reference my main study Bible.  Personally, I find most biblical cross-references published in a Bible's margins (Thompson's or otherwise) positively unhelpful.  Some are just plain hard to locate or discern between marginal and footnote references.  Others seem to have nothing to do with the text.  Therefore, I use a Bible for my main study purposes which has large margins, allowing me to write in my own cross-references.  Those references become very valuable when teaching/preaching on a text which is greatly illumined by another part of God's Word.  
  • I cite salient book quotations in the margins of my study Bible which help illumine a given text.  This has become the primary way in which I am able to recall in the future and use thoughts I found unusually helpful while reading secondary sources.  This practice adds to the value of my study Bible since it is not simply a copy of the Word of God but a depository of wisdom culled from the minds of great Christians from over the centuries.  An example from the Genesis 3 page of my study Bible is included here.

What is the Gospel Coalition?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Psalm 103 epilogue

For the past two weeks, we've had the privilege of unearthing many of the evidences of God's grace found in Psalm 103.  We looked at ten in total.  Do you remember them?

  • Forgiveness
  • Physical healing
  • Redemption
  • Renewal like an eagle
  • Justice
  • Knowing/enjoying God
  • Compassion
  • Love
  • Significance 
The grace of Christ showers us with these ten blessings.  During my messages, I emphasized placing these evidences of God's grace front and center in our minds as ammunition in our war against sin and in our pursuit of happiness.  With blessings like these through Christ, we lose our appetite for sin and find contentment and happiness no matter what else we may not have in life.  Remembering Christ's grace is the key to our happiness and holiness.

This week, as I've pondered Psalm 103 some more, it struck me that as we remember, meditate on and stir up thankfulness for these gifts of grace through Christ, we ourselves begin to change and take on these very characteristics in our own lives and relationships.  Think about it:
  • Forgiveness: The more I receive forgiveness from God through Christ for my sins and delight in His mercy to me, the more I will be a forgiving person toward those who sin against me.  For instance, what empowered David to be so forbearing of Shimei, the man who cursed him after Absalom's revolt in 2 Samuel 16?  One significant factor has to be the great forgiveness David had received from God in the wake of his great sins in 2 Samuel 11.  Do you want to grow in your capacity to forgive others? Focus on the greater forgiveness in Christ God has extended to you.
  • Physical healing: Now, none of us has the power to physically heal another person, but we can exhibit care for those who are ill or injured in our lives, and our remembrance of God's past healing of us can inspire such feelings.  Back in 1991 I returned from the Gulf War with a residual disease which dogged me until the spring of 1995.  At that time many friends prayed for me, and God healed my body.  None of those symptoms have ever returned.  What grace!  But what a shame it would be for God's healing grace not to flow over to an increased sensitivity to and care for the many hurting, injured and ill people around me.  One practical effect has been that whenever I see or hear an ambulance, I pray for that person/situation.  Remembering God's healing grace to me makes all the difference when I encounter others who need His healing.
  • Redemption: Again, we don't have the power to 'buy another out of spiritual slavery' as Christ has redemptively done for us.  But, think about what Jesus' redemption took: it cost Him His life.  Philippians 2:1-11 is a great expression of that.  The more we as redeemed sinners contemplate the cost of Christ's redemption of us, the more we will be transformed by His Spirit and become increasingly willing - even eager - to lay down our lives for one another and, as Galatians 6:2 says, "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."  
  • Spiritual renewal: Though only the Holy Spirit can 'satisfy us with good so that our youth is renewed like the eagle's,' the more we call to mind the wealth of goodness God has poured out to us and feel its renewing effect in our hearts, we find ourselves empowered to bless those around us with goodness (rather than the badness of our sin and selfishness) in a living prayer of blessing for them.  I think of Epaphroditus in Philippians 3:25ff. of whom Paul (who was in prison) says, "ministered to my need" or  Onesiphorus in 2 Timothy 1:16 who "often refreshed" Paul.  We don't know the details, but without doubt the refreshing good flowing through those Christian men was rooted in the deeper renewal given them through the grace of Christ.  Making much of that in our lives can make us such friends of refreshment to our friends, too.
  • Justice: Every day we have opportunities to stand up for what is right in defending the oppressed and seeking justice for the helpless and marginalized in our world.  That could take the form of anything from expressing some righteous anger when you hear about human rights in Syria being violated or writing a letter to the city council suggesting a ceiling on local rental prices because of gouging.  But our passion for justice will not grow unless we keep a clear and steady gaze on the justice of God for the sake of Christ's righteousness.
  • Knowing/enjoying God: Perhaps the greatest of all gifts of grace is the welcome for us to know and enjoy God.  That's the big point of our salvation according to Christ (John 17:3).  Where would we be without knowing and God, and how pale our enjoyment of creation with the Creator excluded?  The more we ponder this joy and privilege of knowing Christ, the more we'll be compelled to share it with others.  All of us want to increase in our witness, don't we?  Taking time daily to ponder who we would be and where we would be (not to mention where we'd be heading) without knowing God has great power to launch us into an evangelistic mindset with greater fervor and passion.
  • Compassion: None of us would say that we lack compassion.  We like to think of ourselves as compassionate people.  Yet, in reality, our compassion is often quite selective and often connected to our personal benefit in some way.  How can we change that and become people who notice hurting people more often, and then seek to alleviate their pain?  Remembering God's great compassion poured out to us every day - that's how.  Think of how compassionate God has been to you the past 24 hours: He gave you the gift of sleep, He provided you with food, He listened to your prayers and complaints, He felt deeply grieved when you were sinned against.  The list could go on and on.  When we consider God's Fatherly compassion to us, suddenly we find ourselves taking note of others' pain and doing something about it.
  • Love: Remember the two key areas of God's love touched on in Psalm 103?  His love which graciously placed a holy fear of Him in our hearts, and His loving plan to generally extend His covenant grace to believer's children.  God didn't need to love us in those ways?  He could have stopped at loving us in merely general or distant ways, but both those ways are intimate and personal. When I think about the depth and scope of God's love, I'm suddenly ashamed at the stinginess of my love for others.  But I'm also motivated to extend it to others; to live out the loving character qualities listed by Paul in I Corinthians 13:4-7: patience, kindness, not envying or boasting or being arrogant or rude or insisting on my own way or being irritable or resentful or rejoicing at sin but rejoicing with the truth as well as bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things and enduring all things.  When I think of God's intimate, replete love for me, suddenly I want to live that way to others.
  • Significance: In my more honest moments, I find myself looking in so many wrong places to feel significant: how well I preach a sermon or counsel a couple; how beautiful my house looks or how many books I read in a month.  Those are empty places in which significance stems from pride, rather than God.  But in Christ's Kingdom our true significance is found.  We bear His name; we get to share His message; we stand cleansed, adopted, transformed and bound for glory for eternity!  Remembering those truths of significant grace we find in Christ, suddenly its not quite so important what I look like in the mirror or how good my grades are or what a fine parent my neighbors think I am.  Christ is enough.  Nothing's more liberating than that.  Just think of the blessing to others and the greater glory that would rise to God if we stopped our perpetual construction project of trying to find our significance in worldly things.  There's only one solution: saying 'yes' to our significance that already exists fully in Christ.  Our significance was settled at the Cross, and now we can rest.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Revisiting Blog Guidelines

When the Trinity Church Blog was created, we set out some ground rules for how we should operate, but as things go, some guidelines were lost and some have not always been enforced. I would like to revisit the posting instructions that we set forth at the creation on this Blog on June 19th 2008.  

Blog Introduction and Appropriate Commenting

Greetings Trinity Church and welcome to the Trinity Church Blog. Andy, or other elder approved persons, will periodically post articles, links and other church related materials to this blog. We would like you to comment or ask questions in the comment section if you so desire. If you choose to comment please provide your name in the appropriate section. All anonymous comments will be deleted.

Please keep the following things in mind as you consider what you will write in the comments section. This has been copied from a long-time, respected Christian blogger.

  • Am I expressing love for my fellow believers? (John 13:35, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.")
  • Are my words gracious and "seasoned with salt"? (Colossians 4:6, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.")
  • Are my words edifying, appropriate, and grace-giving (Eph. 4:29)?
  • Do my words convey a heart attitude of humility before God, contrition over my sin, and reverential awe at God's Word? (Isa. 66:2, "This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.")
  • Am I "speaking the truth in love"? (Eph. 4:15)
  • Am I "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace"? (Eph. 4:3)
  • Am I pursuing "what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding"? (Rom. 14:19)
  • Am I "slow to speak" and "slow to anger"? (James 1:19)
  • Am I "quick to hear"? (James 1:19)
  • Is the fruit of the Spirit--“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control"--evident in my heart and through my words? (Gal. 5:22-23)
  • Am I increasing in faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love? (2 Pet. 1:5-6)
  • Am I writing with eternal reality in view, remembering that my words will serve on judgment day as evidence about my heart? (Matt. 12:37, "By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.")
  • Am I writing in complete candor and honesty, including disclosing my true identity?
We look forward to providing helpful information with a way to promote charitable interaction between brothers and sisters who love each other with the love of Christ.
- Josh Hawkins

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Some leadership perspective

Since Greg Demme made the elders' revised staff presentation in the meeting after church last Sunday, people at Trinity have had a variety of reactions. 

  • Some are excited and ready to go.  They understand that finding the right people for the specific ministry needs Trinity is currently facing is extremely difficult (e.g. out of nearly 100 applicants our search committee has considered, only three seriously considered relocating to Minot).  They also understand that we are trying to hire not just for the present needs of the church but for the future needs we will have more and more as the church grows and as we seek to launch multiple sites in Minot and plant churches in our region.  
  • Some are excited about the possibilities, but hesitant about the financial cost.  They understand rightly that bringing on two additional staff pastors (and eventually other support staff) plus needed facility upgrades if we retain our current building will stretch us and require more giving.  They understand that this will take us out of our comfort zone into the realm of sacrifice and mission-oriented faith.  
  • Some are confused or frustrated, thinking the elders have changed their plans AGAIN, directing the church to yet another vision.  It is true that a different staff proposal from the Executive Pastor position voted on by the congregation in April has been offered, but that does not equal a different vision for the church or even for what the elders have envisioned all along for ou r staff needs.  As some of you will remember from our April meeting, I mentioned that in February when the elders were discussing which kind of staff position we most needed next (operations or pastoral) their conclusion was, "We need both now."  In April we put together a search committee looking for a superman-XP who would do both operations and oversee the congregation's pastoral needs.  What we've realized is that such a position is both difficult to fill and unhealthy as it would stretch one pastor too much.  Therefore, we have concluded that our conclusion in February proved true: "We need both now."  So, that is our proposal.  This recent proposal is also in harmony with our overall vision we communicated in April.  We believe very strongly that the best way to reach and thoroughly disciple Minot's unbelievers is to concentrate first on single-site health (a more healthy staff configuration, changing the focus of the congregation to looking outward rather than inward and establishing a facility which is able to support our long-term vision), then branch outward with multiple sites to target specific neighborhoods and finally planting churches in the growing, unreached towns within driving distance of Minot.  This retooled staff proposal would help us dramatically move forward the entire vision we cast in April.  Nothing in our vision has changed.  If anything, this double staff hire would better position us to make that vision a reality.  It may help to remember that vision is all about an agreed upon destination and the general means to reach that destination.  The destination is exposing more and more people in and near Minot to the glory of the gospel in all of life and enfolding them into gospel-centered churches.  We invite you to join us in getting really EXCITED about that vision.  That's what we should be working, praying, teaching, evangelizing and giving toward.  The leaders of the church who the members have entrusted to lead us have decided that the best way to arrive at that destination is through the three-fold vision (increased single-site health, multi-site local growth and regional church planting).  Now, the details of putting that vision into place is like taking a road trip.  At the beginning we may chart a course in general and head that direction, but invariably mid-course corrections and decisions which slightly shift the course are going to be made along the way: road construction leads us to choose a different road for the next 100 miles, on one day we're hungry for Chinese instead of Mexican, so we travel to a different part of a city than we were originally planning, etc.  Mid-course decisions and corrections are not changing the destination at all, just adjusting according to how our Sovereign God leads us as we proceed.  We have just made a mid-course correction: changing from the proposal for an Executive Pastor to our present two staff proposal.  So the journey goes.  We believe this decision will get us to our desired destination even better, just as a quicker road discovered does the same on a road trip.  So, we encourage you to stay focused on the destination, not the many mid-course corrections which will invariably be made along the way.
  • Some people, in light of the various decisions and directions being vision-casted by our leaders, are feeling afresh the pain they've felt in the past for decisions made by church leaders.  Change always brings discomfort and at times the specific changes proposed hit our comfort or threaten our ministry loves (or what we want the church to look like) the most.  That's painful.  Sometimes church leaders sin in various ways in the midst of leading a church through change as well.  I know I've done that at times and hurt people deeply.  I think I've tried to communicate and repent to all I've sinned against through leadership gone wrong in the past.  The danger for those in this category is equating change or bold, visionary leadership with pain or something negative.  All growth (of the church and us through sanctification) requires change.  Change for mere change sake is unhelpful, but those who are simply change-averse will find themselves eventually warring with God Himself and that's a very dangerous place to be.  If you or someone you know is having a difficult time with Trinity's changes and vision because you still have unresolved hurt or unforgiveness from the past, I plead with you to trust God and talk with the person(s) with whom you have an issue.  If you allow it to fester and spread, it will both eat at you and infect others with an ungodly cancer of dissension.  God cares more about the unity of His people than he does about our opinions about ministry direction pro or con.   
  • Some people just want to be comfortable and are willing to sacrifice the glory of God on the altar of their comfort rather than sacrificing for the greater fame of Christ in our city.  I have heard of folks at Trinity in the past few days who have asked, "Why do we need to grow as a church?  We like it just like it is."  Let's think about such sentiment for a moment.  On the one hand, they are expressing something good about Trinity - they feel welcomed; they feel like they've found a true family; they've found a safe place to grow spiritually, etc.  Those are good things.  At the same time, they must realize that if the church had had that 'no grow' attitude six months prior to their arrival, they likely would not have been welcomed into fellowship like they were.  If the person who told them about Christ had a 'Why does Christ's church need to grow?' attitude, they likely would not have heard the gospel.  What if Billy Graham had had that attitude - or DL Moody - or the Apostle Paul who wrote in 2 Corinthians  6:11, "We spoke freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open."  We need to ask ourselves, members of Trinity Church, is our collective heart wide open to the masses pouring into Minot?  Are we captivated with the excitement of not just hundreds but thousands and tens of thousands of men, women and children trusting, worshiping and being changed by the grace of Jesus?  Are we dissatisfied by the fact that the hotels and restaurants and apartment buildings are multiplying rapidly in our city but churches are not?  Are we willing to take some holy, dangerous risks for the sake of Christ's Kingdom knowing that for eternity we'll have no regrets?  True, we don't have to set our sights on growing as a church.  We don't have to grow if we're willing to forego and ignore the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18ff).  We don't have to grow if we don't care about Christ becoming more glorious and the hope of the unbelievers we know, let alone the Hope of the nations (Psalm 67).  We don't have to grow if we are o.k. with the sinful immorality which is laced through our city and its families and institutions.  If we are fine with setting aside the authority of Scripture and instead ordering the church and her priorities according to what feels most comfortable to us, then we don't have to think about looking ahead and beyond ourselves toward the growth of Christ's Kingdom.  We don't have to pray, teach, volunteer, work, evangelize and dream toward the expansion of the church.  But we know that would equal defection from Christianity itself.  As your leaders we're ready to say loud and clear, "It's time to dream boldly and march obediently and with joyful sacrifice into a greater expression of Christ's church for greater glory to Christ."  If this means death to our comfort and fears, then so be it.  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

New staff proposal

The elders believe that moving from illness to fitness will require major staff and facility growth.  The facility details will be explored later this year, but the elders are agreed that in light of Minot’s current real estate market, it may make sense to remain on our current land as a present main site and future south site and maximize it as much as possible (including expansion in areas of office, c.e., nursery and possibly sanctuary space as well as exterior solutions/updates) using the proceeds from selling part of our land.  This would allow us to move forward with significant staff hires (generated by our regular income) and still address our facility needs.
Phase one of our strategic vision will take us into a new pastoral staff paradigm needed to posture ourselves for growth and maximum ministry impact into the future.  Thus far in the history of our church, we have had pastors who were ministry generalists, i.e. though they didn’t do all the ministry in the church, but they were ultimately responsible for ensuring that it got done; and if there was no one else to do it, they did it.  Generalist ministry hinders both pastoral health (they are not able to pour into their areas of giftedness and draw reasonable boundary lines) and church growth (they can only reasonably oversee so much ministry before ministry balls get dropped).  In such a system, growth is only sustainable to the maximum point of that person’s capacities. 
We believe greater health and growth for Trinity will be attained by moving away from seeing any pastoral staff as ministry generalists.  Rather, creating specialized staff positions which limit their ministry focus, allow them to operate in areas in which they thrive and balance each other will posture us for maximum health and growth.  Thus far in our strategy, we’ve believed that the best starting point in this new staff configuration was to shift Andy’s generalist (Senior Pastor) role into a specialist role which maximize his gifts (Lead Pastor of Teaching and Theological Vision), and introduce a ministry partner (Executive Pastor) who together would form an Executive Staff Team and form the ‘senior staff’ hub of the ministry wheel as the church prepares to expand into phases two and three. 
As many know, the XP search has been challenging, as we anticipated that it would.  Given the broad and deep nature of the job description (which some have termed as ‘Superman’), the optimal candidate would be asked to do more than is reasonable or healthy for any single pastor.   The SC has also discovered that the vast majority of men who are qualified for this position are unwilling to relocate to Minot for various reasons. 
By His Providence, we believe God may be opening a door which would provide an ideal solution.  Through this search process not one but two men have risen to the fore with complementary gifts and personalities and we believe that both men serving at Trinity alongside Andy would form a kind of pastoral dream team which would advance ministry significantly – far more than an ultimate XP could do.  Again, at this point we doubt that the ultimate XP role which we’ve been trying to fill would be realistic or healthy.  Therefore, we are recommending that Trinity allow our search committee to explore bringing both men on staff.  At least during our season of single sight growth in health, all three positions would function together as an executive staff team:
(disclaimer: the follow position descriptions are approximate and still in process of final formation)
1. Lead Pastor of Teaching and Theological Vision (Andy)
·         Trinity’s primary Bible student/teacher/preacher over the church as a whole
·         Primary theological/ministry discipler of the elders and other pastoral staff
·         Chief architect of Trinity’s philosophy of ministry and strategic mission vision
·         Trinity’s chief theological thinker, spokesman and writer, seeking to weave gospel-centrality into every aspect of ministry
·         Nurturing/modeling a life of leadership prayer
·         Areas of occasional ministry will include select:
o   Counseling
o   Discipleship of prospective elders
o   Weddings, Funerals, baptisms, etc.
o   Leadership in Minot’s Christian community
o   Mentoring younger pastors from other churches
2. Pastor of Ministry Development with a view toward eventually moving into an Executive Pastor role when Trinity goes multi-site and begins hiring campus pastors and other ministry personnel (worship leaders, etc.).
·         The church’s chief leadership/ministry development strategist
·         The strategic catalyst toward practical implementation of the vision
·         The strategic trainer of staff
·         Hire, manage and develop all administrative staff
·         Create efficient and helpful systems for all church operations
·         The designer of the small group system and trainer of small group leaders
·         The designer of our Christian education system and trainer of CE leaders/teachers
·         The designer of our outreach and assimilation system
·         The operational representative of and to the elder board
·         Oversee all fiscal, facility and policy operations of the church
·         Oversee all operational ministry teams
·         Oversee all operational aspects of the gathering of the church body
·         He will ‘mastermind’ our local multisite and regional church planting strategy
·         He will always seek to know where every person in the church is at in the assimilation/growth/ministry process
3. Pastor of Care and Connection with a view toward eventually moving into a Campus Pastor/Pastoral Mentor role in which he would both lead his own campus and care for other campus pastors and staff members. 
·         The pastoral caretaker of the staff
·         Overseer of all pastoral care systems for the church
·         The leader of the deacons and crisis care ministries
·         The pastoral representative of and to the elder board
·         The mentor/shepherd of small group leaders and CE leaders/teachers
·         The leadership ‘face’ of Trinity’s outreach and assimilation strategy
·         The mentor/shepherd of worship leaders/teams
·         The staff person ultimately responsible for weddings, funerals, baptisms, dedications and the counseling ministry of the church (until we go multi-site)
·         He would always seek to know how every person in the church is doing in their spiritual/personal health and growth in the gospel
At this point, there are still some unknowns.  Both would need to go through the candidating/vetting process and be elected by the members of the church.   What we’re trying to determine as we make this proposal is whether or not our members agree with the elder board and search committee that this configuration would so position Trinity for optimum ministry health and growth that it is worth taking a step of faith and budgeting toward in November.
Thinking about finances, by God’s grace we are doing very well and running a substantial surplus for 2012.  Though we cannot at this time say exactly what both salary packages would total, an educated average would be around $70K.  That translates to $2,700 additional income per week.  In 2012, we have been taking in around $900 surplus each week, which leaves about $1,800 more we would need to be given each week to cover these additional salaries.  We currently have 97 giving units in our directory.  If just 40 of those giving units gave an additional $45 per week, it would be covered.  If 80 families/singles gave an additional $23 per week, it would be covered.  So, this seems quite do-able.  Also, it is highly likely that these new staff positions will both help attract and retain new families which will grow our giving base.  We see these potential hires as ministry investments which will eventually pay for themselves and then some.  Up front other costs would be needed to put these staff members in place (computers, etc.), but we do have sufficient funds in savings to cover those costs.
The elders and search committee only want to move forward with this proposal once we know most in the congregation are behind it.  Therefore, we’d love to hear your questions and feedback.  Please call or email any elder.  Thanks so much!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

7 'A's of Confession

Tomorrow during my first message on Psalm 103 I'll be mentioning the 7 'A's of confession found in Ken Sande's excellent book The Peacemaker.  To facilitate being able to fully listen tomorrow without worrying about having to write them all down, here they are for easy reference:

  1. Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)
  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs)
  3. Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions)
  4. Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
  5. Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)
  6. Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions)
  7. Ask for forgiveness

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Do pets go to heaven?

Given the important role which pets play in many of our lives as Westerners, I am never surprised by the frequency with which I am asked whether or not pets go to heaven when they die.  Well, do they?
Some believe they do.  These Bible teachers base their conclusions, for instance, on Genesis 6:18ff. which speaks of animals being included in the Noahic Covenant.  Psalm 147:9 and Jonah 4:11 reveal God's compassion for animals, and some end-times texts speak of animals in relationship to the Kingdom of God after Christ's return (e.g. Isaiah 11:6).  Others are equally certain that animals do not go to heaven.  The Bible never explicitly teaches that animals have souls and there is no evidence that Jesus' death on the cross atoned for the sins of animals. Also, there is no evidence in the Bible that the animals which may populate the earth after its re-creation are resurrected forms of the pets we knew on earth.  At the end of the day, no matter what our feelings tell us about this issue, we need to conclude that the Bible is silent about it.  It is possible that the subject never crossed the ancient mind. 
Whether it is the death of your own pet or someone you love, eventually the question "Do pets go to heaven?" will camp itself on your front doorstep.  When it does, here are some thoughts  to keep in mind:
1. As Christians we need to be sensitive to friends who love pets which die.  We need to let them know that their loss grieves us because we love them and that since God made animals to live not die, their death is a hateful result of the Fall.  Some Christians, especially from certain farm backgrounds, are revolted by the thought of dogs and cats in the house, being treated like members of the family.  To many in rural America, animals are utilitarian  'mousers' or sheep-dogs to be confined to the barn.  If that is you, then please try to be sensitive to other believers who have a different perspective on pets, see them in more relational terms and grieve deeply at their loss.  Our family lost our dog a year ago, and we have appreciated the compassionate response of many friends to our loss.
2. The Bible is clear that animals are foundationally different from humans.  We are made in God's image (Genesis 1:26); they are not.  We have eternal souls (I Cor. 15:53); there is no conclusive evidence that animals do.  Jesus died for us (John 10:15); not for animals.  The fact that God/Jesus authorized the death of animals when He saw fit into order to move His plan forward and do good to man (e.g. Gen. 3:21, 9:1-5, 22:13, Mt. 17:24-27, etc.) reminds us that animals are in a very different category than man.  We are God's crowning creation with special dignity (Genesis 1:26-28); animals were created for our joy and our use (Genesis 9:1-5).  We need to care for them well (Proverbs 12:1), yet always remembering that they are different in ultimate value than humans.
3. We live in an unusual age and culture.  In most parts of the world for most of history, animals were seen either as food (Acts 10:13) or for labor (I Timothy 5:18) or as dangerous scavengers to be feared (Philippians 3:2).  Certain societies (e.g. ancient Egypt and Rome) have always had pets, but our current culture in which pets have risen to nearly the level of children for many - especially for many single people or couples without children - is unique and potentially quite dangerous.  It is potentially dangerous in that many people spend hundreds or thousands of dollars more on their pets than they do to alleviate the acute human needs around them.  In 2011 Americans spent nearly $51 billion on their pets.  Also, many give inordinate time to their pets while they spend comparably little time mentoring, tutoring and spending time with our society's children, disabled and elderly in need.  Pets in many quarters have become a symbol for American self-indulgence.  Sometimes our sorrow for our dead pets - when it is inordinate - may reveal unspoken idolatry.  
In conclusion, pets are good.  They are wonderful gifts from God.  Will they be in heaven?  The Bible does not speak to that question specifically.   It does, though, encourage us to enjoy them, care for them and see them as a means of joy which should result in our worship of God.  At the same time, the Bible cautions us to guard our hearts against placing our pets in a position of importance which they do not deserve.  When they become too important to us (possibly revealed by our over-concern about whether or not they will go to heaven), it may reveal a need for a correction of values in our own hearts and lives.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Still growing?

In his excellent, little book Leaders Who Last, Dave Kraft writes,

"Howard Hendricks shares the story of a professor he had in seminary who was in his study early in the mornings and late in the evenings.  Howard walked by his home and saw him still at work in his study.  One day he asked the old professor what motivated him to keep studying, assuming that by now he would have encountered almost everything and would be coasting into retirement.  The wise, old professor answered, "I would rather have my students drink from a flowing stream than a stagnant pool."  (p. 112)

I've witnessed over the years how easy it is for someone to become a Christian, pour himself or herself into learning as much as they can for a year or two and then slide into a kind of spiritual auto-pilot, rarely ever again digging deeply in the Bible and theology for new treasures or theological refinement.  That's tragic - especially for those who look to them as model Christians, but find only the stagnant water of what they learned early on in the journey.

In light of that, consider the following questions:

1. When is the last time you studied a text or book of the Bible in-depth, really exerted yourself and became really excited by what you were learning?

2. When is the last time you read a Christian book that really stretched you both in terms of the new concepts it was presenting and the challenging application it was commending?

3. When is the last time you were so excited about some new insight from the Bible or theology that you couldn't keep it to yourself - you had to share it with somebody?

All of us were made and born-again by God to be conduits of His truth to others.  Those others might be your spouse, your kids, a small group, co-workers, neighbors, relatives, readers of your blog/FB posts, etc. None of us were made only to take in truth without it flowing back out to others.  So, answer honestly, are you working hard to remain a flowing stream, or have you become a stagnant pool?  It's never too late to become a life-long learner.