21 July 2017

Ordination, 2017


I've had an eventful month of July.

On Sunday, July 2nd, I preached my first Sunday morning sermon at Fellowship Bible Church.

On Saturday, July 8th, I went before an ordination council comprised of mentors, peers, and church elders, and then -- on Sunday, July 9th -- was publicly ordained as a pastor before my church family at FBC, and alongside my friend and fellow pastor/elder, Scott Foreman.

Photo courtesy of Julie Moore @ Julebug Photography.

I've been deeply encouraged by friends and family at FBC throughout this process, and it has been such a blessing to see the Lord at work in my life, preparing me for this journey.  Over the past weeks, I've recounted to a number of people that my mom was the prophet, not me.  She told me at 13 that I should consider one day becoming a pastor instead of a writer, which is what I always envisioned myself being.  Perhaps as few as 5 years ago, the pastorate still wasn't a goal for me.  But that was before I entered into the realm of full-time ministry, by virtue of simply being available, and gradually fell in love with local church ministry.  Since then, the Lord has been preparing me for this noble task, training me in matters of the heart, leadership, and administration, and appointing in His sovereignty the perfect time for me to step into the role of FBC's youth and worship pastor.

I thought I'd use this post to answer some of the questions I've frequently been asked in the days leading up to and following ordination.

"Are you now an elder now?"

Yes.  As a non-denominational, independent church, Fellowship Bible is governed by a plurality of elders rather than by a top-down, Senior Pastor or executive-style power structure.  We believe that this is the biblical model of church government (as per 1 Timothy 4.14; 5.17 and 1 Peter 5.1), and also that it provides our pastors and bi-vocational elders with a great degree of accountability and encouragement.  Because the Scriptures also use the Greek terms for elder, pastor, and overseer interchangeably (1 Timothy 3.1ff1 Peter 5.1-2), we also bestow the title of elder on each pastor of our church family.  This is a role I am deeply humbled to hold, alongside godly men who have demonstrated themselves to be above reproach over years of service to our local body.

My transition from FBC's youth/worship director to youth/worship pastor/elder hasn't brought any immediate changes, simply because my previous role already carried with it a number of pastoral responsibilities.  So my schedule and priorities largely remain the same in my current areas of oversight, though there will inevitably be new responsibilities and considerations for me as we shape our church leadership team and seek to hire a children's' pastor this year.

"What seminary did you go to?"

The answer to this question might be surprising to some, but seminary is a yet-future goal for me.  My background is actually in English (BA from Rowan University, class of 2012), but I have 5+ years of studying and teaching the Word as a paid, full-time employee of Fellowship Bible Church, in addition to 20+ years of sitting under the pastoral insights of our teaching pastor, Phil Moser, as well as 13 years of discipleship and training under/beside our former youth pastor, Jack Klose (Sr. Pastor at Evangelical Free Church of Keokuk, IA).  This, plus a lifetime of personal investment into the Word of God, which I believe I have been Spirit-gifted to understand and teach.

So seminary is a future goal.  Several months ago, I applied to Southern Theological Seminary to pursue an MDiv with a concentration in Biblical Counseling, and could possibly begin online studies as early as spring 2018.

"Did you get grilled for your ordination?"

No.  And as a positively encourageable person, I'm very thankful for that.  Rather than an adversarial, stump-the-pastoral-candidate kind of ordeal, the ordination council was actually an immensely thoughtful, conversational, and warm experience for me, structured more to discuss sticking points of theology and potential ministry challenges (such as hypothetical scenarios and difficult counseling topics).  In fact, I wish it had been a little longer.  We began at 8:00 AM on Saturday morning and were done by noon.  Scott and I both had one hour each for sharing our testimonies to the council and defending our statements of faith, and forty-five minutes each to interview on our ministry papers.  Because the men comprising the council had ample time to consider our character, beliefs, and Spiritual gifting, as well as serving hand-in-hand with us in various FBC-based ministries (and in Scott's case, in ministry partnerships in Word of Life Canada), the vetting process differed greatly from what might transpire at other churches of various denominations.

It has therefore been my unique experience to begin pastoral ministry as a hands-on disciple, to grow and learn via experience alongside a mentor, and to enter the role of an ordained minister with both feet on the ground, with the loving accountability and support from a leadership team that has watched me grow over the years.  Not every pastor gets to have that kind of homegrown experience, and I'm immensely grateful for it.


For anyone interested, I'd like to make available my Statement of Faith and Philosophy of Youth Ministry paper, documents I wrote/compiled for my ordination.  I welcome dialogue or questions on either.

My heart is full as I look forward to what the Lord will do through me at Fellowship Bible Church over the years to come.  To Him be the glory.


"Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen."
Jude 24-25

23 May 2017

Three ways "internet culture" trains us


I stand by the "right tool for the job" adage.  There's nothing worse than stripping a bolt because you're using the wrong wrench.  I've removed plenty of license plates that way and regretted it.

I also believe in progressively replacing old tools with new ones, because new needs require new methods.  Outside of a "green" agenda and nostalgia, no one can earnestly advocate that we go back to pulling carts rather than driving automobiles, because the tool matches the pace and demands of life.

The internet is a modern tool.  It is the access point for information, for communication, for entertainment, and more.  However, unlike a more conventional tool like a car or a hammer, the internet brings with it some detrimental side-effects -- not just because of the morally compromising content it can supply (though that is certainly a factor), but primarily due to the ways in which its accessibility and pervasiveness can negatively influence our thinking and priorities.  Briefly, here are some subtelties of internet culture impacting our lives.

First, internet culture trains us to require instant gratification.  This is the big one, so I'll get it out of the way.  Thanks to the immediacy of the digital age, I demand service and entertainment at every second.  Whether I'm concerned about my megabits-per-second downloads, or I'm annoyed that the e-mail someone sent me seconds ago hasn't yet appeared on my screen, or Netflix is just lagging, I am in some way expressing a desire for instant gratification.  In fact, the digital age is all about removing the need to be patient, as it seeks faster processers, more reliable cell signal, quicker load screens, better transportation, faster checkout lines, instant downloads.  Furthermore, these things should be accessible wherever you are, and the same philosophy should apply to to needs that aren't digital -- anything in life for which you are required to wait should be reconstructed to deliver a more immediate payoff.

I don't know about you, but whether I'm waiting in the checkout line at Shoprite or sitting in standstill traffic, my immediate urge in any moment of pause is to reach for my phone -- even though I just checked to see if I had any messages, even though I know the notification didn't chime.  We don't know how to be still in the digital age, to be alone with our thoughts, or to enjoy human interaction in a public setting, because internet connectivity demands constant stimulation, constant interaction.  We require titillation at all times.  This is an underlying motivation for replacing percolators with K-Cups, for raging when 2-day shipping isn't a free option, and for trading the genuine intimacy of marriage in favor of casual sex.  Because there should be a way to get what you want faster, without the time, the effort, or the commitment.  Because anything worth having later is better had now.  Because waiting sucks.  Because you should never have to be bored.

Internet culture also trains us to prefer fake interaction to real interaction.  I'm not the only one I know who hates talking on the phone -- I'd much rather text or e-mail because I like having the time to think through what I'm saying.  Only part of this is excusable on the basis of wanting to express my thoughts clearly: the rest falls under the prideful desire to leave a good impression.  It's the same reason we crop and edit and filter our profile pictures, and nitpick the details of our bios.  We prefer texting to talking because we don't have to stammer, we can reply at our leisure, and we can disguise whatever emotion our body language might reveal in an in-person conversation.  We want people to perceive us as intelligent and attractive.

Ultimately, we fear what they think.

In fact, the common defense of "I'm socially awkward" or "I'm introverted," given by people who are absorbed in their phones when they are in public places, is often just a coverup for the idol of boredom.  People are boring and awkward and uncomfortable -- unless we're viewing them through Facbeook, Instagram, or Snapchat, where we can select what, when, and how we want to view their content.  Furthermore, those same individuals who struggle to have a simple conversation face-to-face with a person they know will spew volumes of heated speech to any person they don't know in an online comment thread, at the drop of a hat.

Internet culture provides a false intimacy, an artificial flavor, and we've come to prefer its accessibility and anonymity to the real thing.  The root of this tendency is undeniably pride itself, but sin seizes opportunity wherever it might arise, and the internet left that back window wide open.

Lastly, internet culture trains us by groupthink to believe the worst of people.  By "groupthink," I mean modern witch-hunting: casting topics in extremes, as EITHER supremely righteous OR completely egregious, and rallying troops to share in these voracious opinions.

Groupthink is what inflates the most heated political issues to enormous headlines, and is a major source of the increasing polarization of conservative and liberal peoples.  Groupthink is also why words like "awesome," "awful," "love," and "hate" are commonly applied to pizza, because authenticity in internet culture is measured in exuberance.  Ultimately, groupthink relies on biased, unsourced, and negatively skewed information to demonize those who think differently and glorify "the cause" by uniting its disciples under a crusading banner.

Groupthink is particularly rampant via internet news and other media-based communications.  Those of us who use these tools as platforms for written communication recognize them as powerful vehicles for self-expression, and certainly for sharing particular viewpoints.  And therefore, if we aren't careful, we'll discover that we too are falling into this tendency to draw battle lines, to attack, rather than rationally stating our point of view after carefully considering the other side(s) of the issue.  The internet is a megaphone.  Its booming declarations create radical divisions of EVIL vs. GOOD, training us to think the best of those who share our opinions and the absolute worst of those who don't.

As stated, I don't believe the internet is inherently evil.  It's an incredible resource that fuels society's forward momentum.  But like all things man-made, we must be increasingly aware of our own motivations for using it, and the ways in which we allow it to shape our thinking and our self-discipline.  In fact, it is internet culture, not the internet itself, that I'm seeking to challenge -- that is, the priorities and worldview of a demographic that clings to the internet-fueled priorities outlined above.

Paul cautioned believers to be actively filled with the Spirit rather than wine, because drunken living is a form of debauchery (Eph 5.18).  Rather than simply being a critique of alcohol, this passage communicates a much bigger principle: the only thing that should control a believer should be the Holy Spirit Himself, not any sort of sensual desire.  Instant gratification, false intimacy, and hateful speech are all underlined by such.

Therefore, as a Christian, I must be active, taking responsibility for sin and making God-honoring choices; I must not be passive, allowing cultural trends to shape my thinking and behavior.  In fact, the Spirit's influence should press out any worldliness that might threaten to compromise my testimony as a follower of Jesus.

The priorities of internet culture have the dangerous capacity to do just that.

The next time you're in the check-out line at Shoprite, rather than pull out your phone, force yourself to make eye-contact with the cashier as you say hello, and maybe even think of something kind or encouraging to say.  Maybe the window for gospel truth might even open.  Who knows what God might do when we stop browsing Facebook and pay attention!

03 April 2017

Repentance

Last summer, I taught my teenage students through concepts, postures, attitudes, and elements of worship found in the Psalms.  We spent one week in particular looking at repentance in Psalm 51, the passage containing David's humble words of contrition, penned after Nathan the prophet confronted him with his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah.  Recently, in our church family's read-through-the-Bible plan, we covered the pages of 2 Samuel, which brought the conversation to mind once again.

It's an age-old refrain, but the gospel truth is timeless on this issue: if David, a "man after God's own heart," could still be loved by God and considered an esteemed servant even after such an egregious descent into sin, then there is tremendous hope for the rest of us.

So here are my take-aways from studying 2 Samuel 11-12 and Psalm 51.  Entire books could be written about each of these bullet points, so I'll attempt to be brief with each.

True repentance isn't just an "I'm sorry;" it involves a genuine appeal for mercy (51.1).  In order to properly repent of wrongdoing, I must acknowledge that I am weak (at fault), and that God is strong (in the right).  I have been morally compromised, but He remains holy.  In other words, I recognize that I am a sinner who should never assume I deserve coddling from a holy God when what I really deserve is eternal damnation.  What I am saying through the repentance process is, “Father, I am a wicked sinner, and I am so thankful that, because of the blood of Jesus, you have not given me what I truly deserve.”  Grace upon grace, such as God liberally gives, demands my humble and contrite repentance after I've fallen into sin.

True repentance involves an accurate understanding of my sin (51.3-4) -- that is, acknowledging whom it is against and whom it affects (2 Sam 11 ~ David’s attempts to hide his sin).  All sin is ultimately against God Himself: in doing wrong, I violate my relationship with God either by harming others or by committing some act of idolatry.  This doesn't mean I can deny my culpability toward other people, but it does demand that I recognize all sin as being ultimately against God at the most fundamental level.  Most people probably tend to assume they are on “good terms” with God because they think of their sin being principally against other people, or simply because they just don't think their sin is that big a deal.

Accurately understanding my sin also means I must acknowledge that I can’t fix my problem on my own (51.2) -- whether by penance, practical behavior changes, or self-flagellation.  Attempting to do so is simply a legalistic attempt to atone for my own wrongdoing.  Rather, acknowledging that my sin is a violation of God's moral law and a direct offense to His holy character, I should confess it to Him as such and trust anew in the blood of Jesus that has made me new and permanently righteous in God's eyes.

True repentance involves an understanding that God loves me deeply, and that it is through this compassion that He disciplines (51.1).  "How can this be?" cries a generation that equates love with tolerance -- overlooking another's flaws without changing them, citing a self-deceiving rhetoric that assumes love should refuse to acknowledge all failure and all shortcoming in the name of acceptance.

God's love is so much greater than such shallow concepts.

Truth #1: God loves me unconditionally (51.1, 7, 9-11, 14).  That means He does love me despite my failures, extending grace to me through His Son's own death on the cross, because I could never fix my wrongdoing to live up to the standard of holiness.  However, (Truth #2), God also loves me enough to change me (51.8, 10).  True, biblical love wants the best for others -- it does love despite failures (unconditionally), but it also seeks to build and correct (not to ignore).  Absolutely we should love others for who they are, despite their flaws, but we should also love them enough to respectfully confront them when they are engaged in sinful, destructive patterns of living.

True repentance involves a change in heart attitude.  Not just after things get better, but as I recognize my errors and begin to walk through the process of repentance.  That means I should accept the Lord's discipline with gratitude (51.8), because it is intended to produce a change.  This is not masochistic.  This is a deep and desperate desire to put sin to death and live in the way God intends.  When things around me are crumbling -- relationships, job opportunities, physical possessions -- instead of falling into panic and trying to fix everything, perhaps I should recognize that maybe God is attempting to bring my attention to some unconfessed sin in my heart.  What He is allowing to happen in my life is either a test of my faith or a test of my spiritual sensitivity toward my own sin.  Although I cannot damage my eternal security, to live with unconfessed, unrepentant sin in my heart is to quench and deny the Spirit at work within me.  God is willing to break me so that I don't remain in such a cold, disconnected state.

Therefore, repentance also means that my joy in having a right-standing relationship with God is restored (51.12).

Repentance involves transparently instructing others so they don’t make the same mistakes I did (51.13).  Because repentance results in my return to proper worship (51.16-19), I believe Christians are called to exhort one another out of our own experience of failure -- for the sake of conviction and encouragement.  In other words, God didn't allow me to walk through sin and failure just to hedge my own soul against repeating those mistakes; I now have an enormous opportunity (I'd argue responsibility) to address these issues in the lives of others.  When we see in others the same telltale signs of temptation and failure that we ourselves experienced, we should be bold and transparent for the sake of steering that follower of Christ away from the pitfalls we know are yawning hungrily in his or her path.  This, of course, requires us to be intentionally attuned to the lives of others within our spheres of influence, to develop compassionate attitudes toward them, and to practice humility in the endeavor.

To conclude, repentance doesn’t much feel like a posture of worship, simply because I'm content with my life the way it is.  In other words, it's far easier to live like my sin is not a big deal.  Dragging my errors out into the light and addressing them is uncomfortable, and the old sin nature I still battle doesn't like it.  Furthermore, when I honestly evaluate my heart against the truths of Scripture, I’m never as good as I thought I was.  I don't like to be confronted with how much work I still have to do -- especially if I don't make it a regular habit to reflect on what God is currently doing in my heart.

Repentance IS a posture of worship, however, because God is glorified by my brokenness over sin (51.17) and by my ongoing struggle against it (Lam 3.22-23).

By way of encouragement, it's important to remember that experiencing temptation and giving into sin are two different things: Jesus experienced more temptation than anyone, but He did not sin (Heb 4.15).  In other words, to feel temptation and to say "no" is to glorify God.  Even if we feel guilty because our hearts still desire to sin, we are still walking in righteousness when we consciously deny sinful desires and work to replace them with holy desires.  Not every experience of worship is a mountaintop celebration: confessing the sinful tendencies we still possess and working to conform them to the image of Christ is worship in the trenches, and it exalts the name of our Savior.

You and I still have work to do, so let's be about our Father's business.