Teaching My Boys the Apostles’ Creed

We have devoted part of our family worship time in recent months to learning the Apostles’ Creed. If you are unfamiliar with the Apostles’ Creed, I recommend Alister McGrath’s book, “I Believe”: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed. McGrath writes: “[The Apostles' Creed] is the oldest and simplest creed of the church. All Christian traditions recognize its authority and its importance as a standard of doctrine. To study the Apostles’ Creed is to investigate a central element of our common Christian heritage. It is an affirmation of the basic beliefs that unite Christians throughout the world and across the centuries” (14). Here is a video of my sons reciting the Creed (with only the slightest bit of coaching from dad).




A Lesson from Jesus’ Use of Illustrations

In his Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon compares illustrations in preaching to windows in a house—they “let in light.” A house made of windows is unstable. A house with no windows is just plain dull. Somewhere between these two extremes is where I try to live.

I recently listened to Richard Bauckham give a lecture on becoming “fishers of people” (Matt 4:19; Mark 1:17). Toward the end of the lecture, Bauckham made the interesting point that, though Jesus was a carpenter, we find no carpentry illustrations in Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. He went on to suggest that this is precisely because Jesus made an effort to find illustrations in the lives of the people he was trying to teach. I think there is an important point for preachers and teachers here. It’s easy for me to think of an illustration about running, because I like to run, and I know a decent amount about the subject. But do I have any other runners in my congregation? In a rural church, would I “let in [more] light” by using an occasional farming illustration? If I have a number of architects in my congregation, would an illustration from their domain be more effective? I might not know anything about farming or architecture. It might require a bit of research, a little more effort on my part, to craft a quality illustration that comes from an area of life with which I am fairly unfamiliar. But it seems to me it would be worth it. We pastors probably should spend more time thinking about the people we are trying to teach when crafting our illustrations.

And if I’m right about all of this, if some of the best illustrations come from the lives of the people in our own congregations, then this is one reason why we pastors should not—not even for all of Spurgeon’s cigars!—use a book of generic illustrations.

Just a thought for your Saturday morning.

Challies Says “Character is King”; He’s Right

I have a lot of respect for Tim Challies. Without a doubt, his post is the best thing I have read on the events that have transpired recently within the young, restless, and Reformed crowd (i.e., Driscoll, Acts 29, etc.). I commend the post to all the young guns in ministry out there. Challies writes:

When the Bible lays out qualifications to ministry, it is character that rules every time. The Bible says little about skill and less still about results. It heralds character. And from the early days, Mark Driscoll showed outstanding natural abilities which led to amazing results. He knew and proclaimed sound theology. But he also showed an absence of so many of the marks of godly character. A hundred testimonies from a hundred hurt friends and former church members shows that what we saw from the outside was only a dim reflection of what was happening on the inside. The signposts were there, but we ignored them.

The entire post is worth reading; you can find it here. And concerning the biblical qualifications for ministry, see my post here.

Remember Jesus Christ

Today was a sad day for me, Jamie, and the boys. It was our last Sunday at our church, Owaka Grace Fellowship. Our time in New Zealand is quickly coming to an end. We will greatly miss this beautiful country, and especially those caring and generous folk in Owaka. They have made New Zealand feel like home for us. It has been a tremendous blessing serving alongside each of them.

For those who are interested, I have provided a copy of my sermon manuscript below. What does a pastor do on his last Sunday? He points the people to Jesus one last time.

Remember Jesus Christ (2 Tim 2:8-13) – August 17, 2014




Is ISIS Beheading Children?

This article by TGC editor Joe Carter is worth reading. He concludes that, while there is no doubt ISIS is persecuting Christians in Mosul and in other parts of Iraq, there are good reasons to question the claim about ISIS “systematically beheading children.” Carter writes:

As Christians, we have a duty to champion the truth. We should avoid spreading unsubstantiated claims and inflaming dread and panic by playing on people’s natural disgust of harm to children. ISIS is an organization that has committed heinous acts of violence and violated the human rights of many of our fellow believers. But we must not partake in the spreading of lies, even if it is against our enemies.

And the C.S. Lewis quote at the end of the article is worth its weight in gold!

Hopefully, the situation is not as bad as we have been led to believe. But our brothers and sisters in Iraq still need prayer. Pray with me for the persecuted church.

Acts 29 Removes Mark Driscoll

I’m sure I don’t know the full story, but based on what I’ve read and heard from Driscoll over the past few years, I think this is the right move.

Hoping that “the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored,” the Acts 29 church planting network founded by Mark Driscoll has removed the Seattle pastor and his Mars Hill megachurch from membership.

“It is our conviction that the nature of the accusations against Mark, most of which have been confirmed by him, make it untenable and unhelpful to keep Mark and Mars Hill in our network,” said Acts 29 in an online statement signed by Matt Chandler and other board members of the network of 500 churches.

Acts 29 came to the drastic decision “with deep sorrow,” according to the statement. “In taking this action, our prayer is that it will encourage the leadership of Mars Hill to respond in a distinctive and godly manner so that the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored.”

Mars Hill is no longer listed on the Acts 29 church directory page for Washington state. Acts 29 declined to comment further to CT.

In an expanded letter reportedly sent to Driscoll and Acts 29 pastors and obtained by Driscoll critic Warren Throckmorton, board members explain that the church planting network has received “countless shots and dozens of fires” over the past three years for Driscoll’s “ungodly and disqualifying behavior.”

Thus, even though Acts 29 remains “eternally thankful for what [Driscoll] as a man and Mars Hill as a church have meant to our network,” board members decided to remove Mars Hill churches from the network because the association “discredits the network and is a major distraction.”

“Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help,” board members told Driscoll.

You can read the full Christianity Today article here.

“Back to school, back to school, so my dad won’t think I’m a fool…” –Billy Madison

It’s the start of a new school year in the States, so here’s some helpful reading. First, for parents: “Educating Our Kids: Exploring the Options.” Second, for college students: “10 Things to Do in College (Probably) More Important Than Going to Class.” And a hearty “Yes!” to numbers 1, 4, 7, and 10. Here’s number 10:

10. This is the single greatest piece of advice I’m going to give you: Go to Office Hours.
This is time that faculty has (to) set aside to meet one-on-one with students, and you should take advantage of it. Go early and go often: Form relationships with your teacher, ask questions about difficult material, prime them for that moment when you’ll ask for a letter of recommendation, and show them that you care — not just about your grade, but about your education. Do this whether your instructor is a TA barely older than yourself, or a world-famous professor once interviewed on The Daily Show. Just don’t be surprised if that hilarious, engaging lecturer acts, in office hours, like you’ve just walked in on him in the toilet. Academics are some of the most socially awkward people on the planet.

I hope I don’t fit the stereotype…

The Intimacy of the New Memorials

Over at Marginalia Review of Books, Peter Gardella has written a piece entitled “July 4th and the 9/11 Museum in American Civil Religion.” Particularly interesting is his discussion of the difference between older and newer memorials/monuments. You can read the full essay here. Gardella writes:

One quality all of these new and transformed memorials share is an increase in the intensity of personal experience they seek to induce in the visitor. Traditional monuments — such as the obelisk of the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty, the Lincoln Memorial, or Mount Rushmore — gain their power through scale and emotional distance. Evoking greatness by inducing awe, they lead viewers to revere the people and ideals for which they stand.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial changed that dynamic by bringing the names of the dead down to the level of the living visitors, and by writing the names on black granite so polished that the visitors see themselves reflected in it. No distance separates the living from the dead. Visitors respond by leaving items for the departed, as they do on the polished brass of the 9/11 Memorial.

Similar intimacy marks the other new memorials. The Holocaust Memorial and Museum has piles of shoes from victims. Ellis Island sends visitors past heaps of old luggage, to climb the same stairway where doctors quickly judged immigrants’ health.

At the new 9/11 Museum, visitors hear the last messages victims left, calling their loved ones on cell phones and answering machines. Police and fire department radios play their announcements, messages, and requests for help. A bicycle rack stands with bent bikes waiting for riders who never returned. Eyeglasses and shoes, racks of jeans and sweatshirts to be sold on that day, mangled fire trucks and ambulances, all mingle in rooms where televisions constantly play the news of one airplane hitting the North tower, another hitting the South tower, then the news of the plane that hit the Pentagon, the one that crashed in Pennsylvania, and the search of rubble with no rescue. Though I have visited Auschwitz and Maidanek without crying, in this setting the message from a flight attendant on Flight 93 moved me to tears.

Church Leadership: A Noble Task

When you hear the words “church leader,” I wonder what comes to your mind.

Unfortunately, the words probably have negative connotations for many people today. After all, it’s the scandalous shepherds who get all the media attention these days. We don’t often read a story in The New York Times about a pastor who has served in a congregation faithfully for thirty years. We don’t see reports on CNN about the churches with wonderful children’s ministries, where godly men and women are introducing children to Jesus. No, these stories are far too “dull.” We hear about the cases of sexual abuse and misappropriation of church funds. And so, sadly, church leaders have for many people become paradigms of hypocrisy.

For others, church leaders are a laughing matter, the butt of a joke. This is no doubt related to the way pastors are portrayed in movies. Whether a drunken friar (Robin Hood), a creepy demon fighter (insert your favorite horror movie), or a lively mega-church pastor played by an ex-country-music star (Four Christmases), the clergy of the cinema don’t exactly demand to be taken seriously.

But in the midst of all this, the Apostle Paul speaks, and he does not allow us to have a low view of church leadership. Despite the failures of certain individuals in the ministry, and despite the way the world portrays the church offices, the task of church leadership, Paul says, is “a noble task” (1 Tim 3:1). It is a task that is pleasing to God.

In 1 Tim 3:1-7, Paul provides fourteen qualifications for pastors/elders. Paul has little to say in this passage about the responsibilities of elders. But, based on other NT texts, we can sum up the work of an elder in four words: feed, lead, protect, and care. Elders minister the Word of God to the people; they guide the congregation to participate in God’s plan for the world; they do what they can to keep the congregation safe from false/destructive teaching; and they love, pray for, and encourage the members. In Peter’s words, the elders “shepherd the flock of God that is among [them]” (1 Pet 5:2). But we need to be very clear about one thing here. Elders shepherd the church under the authority of Christ. The church does not belong to the elders. Christ is the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet 5:4) who gives under shepherds to his church (Eph 4:11). So if you want to know who “runs the show” or who “calls the shots” in the church, the answer is Jesus.

With that said, let’s look now at 1 Tim 3:1-7. Here, Paul gives us a lengthy list of qualifications for elders. I don’t think this is meant to be an exhaustive list. The NT has other things to say about elders. What is most interesting about this list is that it is not really a “to-do list”; rather, it is a “to-be list.” For the most part, Paul is not here telling elders what tasks to perform; he is telling Timothy what types of people to look for as he installs elders in the city of Ephesus. The idea seems to be that if you get the right kind of person in place as an elder, he will know what needs to be done in the house of God. So, what is “the right kind of person”?

The Summary Requirement (vv. 1-2a)

1 If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach,

As I said earlier, Paul speaks highly of eldership: eldership is “a good work/noble task.” Paul probably is thinking here of an “aspiration” or “desire” that comes from the Holy Spirit. We sometimes refer to this as “the call.” It is the Spirit of God who indicates individuals and gifts them for pastoral ministry. Such noble work calls for worthy workers: “Therefore, an overseer must be above reproach.” The idea is that an elder must present to the world at large a Christian life that furnishes no grounds for accusation. He is to be a model for others to follow.

Six Positive Qualities to Display (v. 2b)

First, an elder must be “the husband of one wife,” or the better translation is “a one-woman man” (μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα). This qualification has been interpreted in a number of ways. 1) Some interpret the phrase as a requirement: all elders must be married. This interpretation fails to do justice to the term “one.” 2) Some interpret the phrase as a prohibition of polygamy. This is highly unlikely, however, since monogamy was the norm in the Greco-Roman world. 3) Some argue that the phrase is intended to exclude from eldership those who have remarried after a divorce. But this interpretation stands in tension with those NT texts that seem to allow for divorce under certain circumstances (e.g., Matt 5:32; 19:9; 1 Cor 7:15). 4) Most likely, Paul is speaking here of marital fidelity. A man must over time prove himself to be faithful to one woman. I don’t think this qualification automatically excludes all men with a divorce in their past, but it does exclude those who have not been faithful in their marriages.

Second, Paul says that an elder must be “temperate” or “sober-minded.” He must be a clear thinker, one who possesses the discipline to refrain from any excess that would dull his alertness to spiritual matters.

Next we find the closely related terms “self-controlled” and “respectable.” The idea here is that an elder must have command of his emotions and behavior. He must not be controlled by harmful desires, whether for sex, money, fame, or power, and he must be known for his respectable conduct.

Fifth, an elder must be “hospitable,” a “welcomer” of people of all kinds. His life and home are open to those in need.

Sixth, Paul writes that an elder must be “able to teach,” or “an apt teacher” (διδακτικός). This is the only qualification that is related to a specific giftedness. An elder must be a skilled teacher of God’s Word, a competent communicator of the gospel.

Four Negative Characteristics to Avoid (v. 3)

First, an elder is “not a drunkard.” The word Paul uses here is a compound of the preposition παρά (“by”) and the noun οἶνος (“wine”); the picture is one of a person who spends too much time sitting beside his wine. An elder must be free from addictions.

Second, an elder is “not violent but gentle.” An elder reacts to disputes in the church and in his own family with calmness and gentleness. A hot-headed church leader is a contradiction.

Similarly, Paul next says an elder is “not quarrelsome.” Elders are to be known as the peacemakers, not the troublemakers. The idea of “quarreling” refers not so much to physical fighting (though that would certainly be included) but to a propensity for arguments. In the words of that wonderful, practical theologian, Johnny Cash, elders “don’t take [their] guns to town.” They are not always loaded up and ready for a dispute, on the lookout for an argument to win.

Finally, an elder is “not a lover of money.” He is not greedy, stingy, or even financially ambitious. This is the very opposite of what we find in 1 Tim 6:10: “By reaching for riches, some have been led away from the Christian faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

Three Final Qualifications, Each with Elaboration (vv. 4-7)

4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

The final three qualifications have to do with family (vv. 4-5), humility (v. 6), and an elder’s reputation in the community (v. 7). An elder must “lead” or “direct” his household. He must be a good steward of all the people and resources the Lord has entrusted to his care. Specifically, he must ensure that his children display consistent (though certainly not perfect) obedience and respect.

In v. 6, Paul explains that an elder “must not be a recent convert.” An elder must have ample time to grow, to mature in the faith, so that he will not become prideful, for “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov 16:18).

Lastly, in v. 7 Paul says that it is necessary for an elder “to be well thought of by outsiders.” He must have a good reputation, not only in the church, but also in the entire community. He must be a positive example for the watching world.

Final Thoughts

As we come to the end of this list of fourteen qualifications, it is important for me to say that no elder will ever be “perfectly qualified.” There is only one perfect pastor: Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, who laid down his life for his imperfect flock (elders included!). No elder, no under shepherd, will ever meet these qualifications perfectly. Paul’s point is that people who exhibit these characteristics in high and increasing measure should be leaders who fill the office of elder.

In closing, let me encourage churches to stay committed to the biblical qualifications for church leadership. As people step forward, desiring to be leaders in the church, we need to make sure that these people are measured by 1 Tim 3. The question is not: Is this person charismatic? The question is: Is this person a competent communicator of the gospel? The question is not: Is he the former manager of a Fortune-500 company? The question is: Does he manage his own household well? Leadership in God’s church is a noble task. But it is God’s church. He tells us who is fit to lead.

Russell Moore on Engaging Issues with the Strangeness of the Gospel

Below are a few of Russell Moore’s comments from an interview that focused on the issue of gay marriage. You can read the rest of The Huffington Post interview here.

What I often tell people in churches and at Christian conferences is about a conversation I had with a lesbian activist, a secularist, about a Christian view of sexuality. She said, ‘I don’t know anybody who believes the sorts of things that you people believe about marriage and sex and it sounds incredibly strange to me.’ And my response was to say, ‘Yes, and we believe even stranger things than that. We believe a previously dead man is going to show up in the sky on a horse.’ In order to try to say to our people, ‘You know, Christianity didn’t emerge in Mayberry. Christianity emerged in a Greco-Roman environment that found the Christian sexual ethic just as shocking and strange as American culture increasingly does now.’ So what do we do? We don’t run from strangeness. We instead learn to articulate it with clarity and with mission. And also to say you can’t find a shelter to keep you from having to engage these issues.

You’re embracing the idea of strangeness now, but as people learn to articulate more persuasively and winsomely, do you think that strangeness is still sort of an ideal, or is it to transition from strangeness to reasonableness, or however you would characterize it?

No, I don’t think we should ever transition from strangeness. I think we should have a strangeness with clarity. What I see happening in the New Testament is very different from the sort of dime store prosperity gospel that we often see in evangelicalism, which wants to say that Jesus is a means to living a normal Christian life, with all of that and heaven too, which doesn’t make sense of what the New Testament model is. Every time that Jesus is preaching the gospel, and people are starting to respond to his message, Jesus always turns around and clarifies, not clarifying in order to remove the strangeness of his message, but clarifying in order to reveal the strangeness of his message. He says, ‘I don’t think you understand what I’m talking about. I’m talking about taking up a cross and following me.’ I think that’s what has to happen, where we’re not quarrelsome, we’re not seeking to demonize our opponents, we’re seeking to be persuasive and we’re seeking to articulate the gospel, but we’re articulating that gospel without trying to evacuate it of its strange otherworldly message, which is what we believe is the power to save. That’s how people are transformed. coming into contact with something that is radically different from what they’ve otherwise experienced.