The Source of Christian Knowledge

Providence sees fit to weave a variety of people into my regular comings and goings. I live in the neighborhood where my faith family gathers for worship, so the neighbors know my vocation is to be a mouthpiece of God and a shepherd of His people. With that in mind, the conversation tends to hover around spiritual matters.

There is a bewildering common denominator in most of these conversations: people readily ask spiritual questions but refuse to listen to spiritual answers! It’s the strangest experience. I get that unrighteousness causes us to suppress the truth (Romans 1), but I’m not talking about one’s ability to be converted and embrace the truth. Simply, I’m astounded at the level of incompetence and/or arrogance exhibited by one who asks a deeply personal and eternally significant question yet refuses to hear any answer that differs from what s/he has already decided is the answer. Are “incompetence” and “arrogance” too harsh? You decide:

If one lacks the ability to be teachable/intellectually curious, then it’s a competency issue.
If one lacks the desire to be teachable/intellectually curious, then it’s an arrogance issue.

Particularly troublesome to me are the souls who claim to be Christian but know literally nothing of the Christian Scriptures [Christian Scripture being both the Old and New Testament]. And instead of searching the Scriptures to find answers to God-questions, such a “Christian” relies on folksy religious sayings to help interpret their life experience. To be sure, the Bible won’t answer every question we ask, but as we learn what the Bible teaches about God, humanity, life and eternity, we will find ourselves asking a set of questions that is different from the typical questions I hear some “Christians” ask: Why does God allow children to starve? Why do pastors run off with girlfriends? What’s God’s will for my life? How can you trust the Bible when it has so many translations? How can you believe Jesus is the only way to heaven? These are reasonable questions that are reasonably and clearly answered in the Christian Scriptures. [I know there are some passages that can be interpreted differently, such as the parables and apocalyptic writings but the majority of didactic Christian Scripture is pretty cut and dry.]

I am most troubled that these questions cause some to experience years of spiritual paralysis, yet they can be answered in an afternoon conversation!

Christians, let us learn from the One who is the source of Christian knowledge so we may enjoy our relationship with Him and help our friends find reasonable answers to their reasonable questions.

Pray that I continually point self, family, neighbors and congregation towards Jesus Messiah/Christ (both terms mean “anointed one”) Who is both the Wisdom and Power of God (1 Corinthians 1). He is, for us, the source of Life, Knowledge, Reason, Wisdom, Power, Righteousness, Sanctification and Redemption.

And may the Scriptures – His living and active Word (Hebrews 4.12) –  lead us to Jesus, from Whom we eat, drink and live.

 

 

 

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Should I Be A Pastor? 10 Q’s from Chrysostom

It is said of one of the early church’s greatest preachers, John Chrysostom of Antioch:

Though his sermons (which lasted between 30 minutes and two hours) were well attended, he sometimes became discouraged: “My work is like that of a man who is trying to clean a piece of ground into which a muddy stream is constantly flowing.” At the same time, he said, “Preaching improves me. When I begin to speak, weariness disappears; when I begin to teach, fatigue too disappears.”

Galli, M., & Olsen, T. (2000). 131 Christians everyone should know (84–85). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

John Chrysostom (late 300s AD) formulated thoughtful questions to help one discern whether or not he should “aspire the work” of a pastor. Over 1600 years later, his questions help this 21st century pastor develop self-awareness towards maturity and faithfulness to the Chief Shepherd.

Don Lewis (same Don from previous post) brought Chrysostom’s questions to light, with commentary splashed here and there.

  1. Am I apt to teach?
  2. Do I love? This is the most effective apologetic (They will know you are My disciples by the love you have for one another. -Jesus).
  3. Am I willing to embrace the desert like Christ? I must have a deliberate withdrawal from the busyness of daily life.
  4. Am I a self-starter? Committed to life-long learning? Consider Paul: he wants books towards the end of his life, even after all he saw, did, experienced and taught. Bring the parchments…
  5. Am I a people-pleaser? Do I go along to get along?
  6. How am I doing personally?
  7. Am I thin-skinned? [Disciplemaking Pastor, Brother Tim often recalled a minister needing the heart of a lion, the gentleness of a lamb and the hide of a rhinoceros.] 
  8. Can I stand relentless examination? Can I take unfair critique? The better a pastor preaches, the strong the critique if he falters.
  9. Can I handle praise maturely?
  10. Am I aware of burnout? What are my tendencies towards burnout? I must care for my own soul before caring for the souls of others. (Sort of like the airplane safety announcement “put on your own oxygen mask before helping others put on their oxygen mask.”

Am I Called To Ministry? Quick Lesson from John Newton

Earlier this year, Kevin and I took a roadtrip to West Virginia to retreat with fellow pastors. We enjoyed Ian’s hospitality and Don’s teaching. Along the way, we made a stop to visit a dear friend, Aubrey, which in itself was worth the eighteen hour drive.

During the retreat, Don gave us a snapshot of John Newton’s life and call to ministry. You may recall that John Newton was the son of a sea captain and a godly mother (she died when he was six or seven years old), captained a slave-trade ship, was a slave himself, but was converted by the Spirit of God, called to pastor and wrote many songs, including Amazing Grace. (His friend and fellow songwriter, William Cowper, often accompanied Newton on pastoral visits).

Newton’s conversion took about four or five years in his 20s. (There’s a Baxter quote, God breaks not all men’s hearts alike.)

He spent seven years, age 32-39, discerning whether or not to become a pastor. During this time he gave himself to study, including learning the Biblical languages.

Also during the seven years of discernment, Newton sought counsel from friends and engaged himself with ministry opportunities. He held internships with various pastors of various traditions, not knowing which tradition he felt most at home. He considered ordination with the Baptists, the Congregationalists, the Presbyterians, the Methodists and the Anglicans. Later in his life he was appointed an Anglican pastor in the heart of London via Lord Dartmouth (no separation of church and state with The Church of England).

Don’s portrayal of Newton was that of a kind, warm, gentle pastor who discipled others and worked to evangelize London.

So why the John Newton story? Because it fits the narrative of some who wonder if God is calling them to “aspire to be an overseer”.

There are questions one should ask. These questions are drawn from Newton and others. They are nothing original with me:

  • Am I able to do this? (while remembering who is sufficient for such things?)
  • Have I considered the price?
  • What is the end I am seeking? Men’s applause or the Chief Shepherd’s approval?
  • How do I know God is calling me? There is an inward call and outward call: do other people affirm my inward calling?
  • Am I guarding my life and doctrine? Is there integration?
  • What am I going to preach before the people?
  • What is it going to look like me being a pastor? (what does the day-to-day schedule / pattern of life look like? For instance, Newton would use Saturday night to acknowledge God’s grace in his life during the week, thus building a pattern of rest and work in his ministry.)

Thank God for those who have gone before us and developed the questions we may not know to ask…

A Prayer That Evidences Conversion Is Evidence of God’s Grace!

Ever since the replant of Grace Baptist Church in Mid City Baton Rouge eighteen months ago, I’ve had a variety of conversations with a variety of people. Many times I’ve identified with Paul as he encountered the people of Athens, Greece (“Athenians, I see you’re very spiritual. You have an alter to every god imaginable, even one for ‘The Unknown God’ – well, let me tell you about Him…”). It has been frustrating at times to discuss Christianity with people who have a warped view of Christianity; thanks in part to a Bible belt culture, some wacky spiritual leaders, and/or folksy theology ingrained by well-meaning family members (some examples include God helps those who help themselves. Jesus would vote [insert political party]. God meets you halfway. The Bible says what you want it to say.)

To make a long story (about God’s grace at work in our lives) short, the following prayer was written by a person who has been gathering with us for a few months. This is the person’s “first prayer”.  I’ve been asking God for discernment into this person’s spiritual life. After the person read their prayer to me (with some deeply emotional moments), I requested a copy; the person was very happy to share it.

Now I’m sharing it with you…I got your “sinner’s prayer” right here!

A prayer

God almighty, bringer of life, all that is and all that is not. Maker of the world and universe. Leader to all, you who bring breath and life to all living and non living creatures.

I come humbly to you asking for forgiveness for I have been a sinner. I have ignored your commandments. I have refused to live and honor you. I continually ignore to love my neighbor. I have been blinded by greed and closed myself off to your love. I have closed myself off to your guidance and refused to walk the path you place before me.

I ask that you recall the promise you have made and remind me of it. I ask even louder that you open my being to that promise so that I may uphold it. I am your servant. I no longer do as I please and ignore your love. I beseech you to help me hear you and not my thoughts.

I am grateful for the guidance and love you present to me continually. I have sinned and yet you have stood beside me, guided me, loved me. My greed has blinded me and yet you sent me angel after angel to open my eyes.

I am humbled. I see the errors of my ways. My heart aches because I keep ignoring your love and requests. And yet, you have never stopped supporting me and loving me. You continue to bless me, your daughter, each moment with a love I can only strive to give to others.

God, I feel scared. I do. Our financial situation is presenting me with the opportunity to continue sinning against your love. I see that there is a natural order to life. It is stress that makes me want to overlook this order.

God, I ask that you please grant [husband] the insight and awareness to keep providing for all of his family. I ask that you help him hear your guidance and see the abundance that is. God, he as I have sinned. We have been lost for a long time in the wilderness. And yet, you have been there with us. You shone the light to the path for us to meet. The love and life you grant us has no words. God, I am your simple servant and yet you have blessed us with amazing gifts. We all have a love and respect for each other that all I can express is gratitude.

God, I ask that I may be cleansed of all unnatural and impure thoughts, feelings or activities that does not reflect you.

God, I am your servant. My mission is to do as you will for me. May this body be your vessel.

God, I also ask that you guide us out of the financial place we are currently at and into abundance and freedom as is your wish and plan. Please grant me the wisdom and capacity to pass your love and acceptance on to all of your children so that they may pass it on.

God, we have sinned so much. You have given us scriptures after scriptures of your love, yet we refuse to hear and believe. We continue to do as we please without any regards to your laws. Laws that are here to show us the way out of suffering.

God, please bless us, your people, so that we hear your voice and learn to truly embrace your love and life.

Finally, God, I ask that you grant me the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual maturity to fully fill your purpose for me.

In the name of your son Jesus Christ who embodies your  love I pray,

Amen.