Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Trap of the Dishonest Skeptic


It was a spring day in Savannah Ga probably over 10 years ago.  I was preaching in the park to a scattering of mostly college-age kids  enjoying the lovely weather and the aftermath of the St. Patrick's Day Festival.  They were seated on benches and some on blankets in the grass, lounging around, talking amongst themselves and generally behaving as if I wasn't there.  One of their number, however, decided that he had endured quite enough of me. He rose to his feet and   presented himself between the crowd and myself.  With a loud voice and appropriately dramatic hand gestures he told the crowd "This man's god would burn me for all eternity  simply because I don't believe in him. What kind of god does that?"  He went on to accuse the God of the Bible of being a petty tyrant who would rather destroy his creation than be ignored by it. By this man's reckoning, "God" was the worst sort of monster; an entity who presents man with either  the option of absolute obedience to His every trivial whim, or  unending torment.
  While its true that a good heckler is worth his weight in gold, sometimes a judgment call must be made. Do you engage, or do you ignore?  For reasons long forgotten to me, I opted to ignore him.
  I use that man as an example of what I call 'the trap of the dishonest skeptic'.   There is an honest skepticism that causes one to carefully evaluate the claims of others and not throw your hat in until you have all the facts.  That's not what I'm talking about.  Most people who call themselves skeptics actually deploy a dishonest kind of skepticism; a suspicion or incredulity towards things they already don't like.  A dishonest skeptic will spend a lot of time being a smart-aleck railer involving things he has a prejudice against while telling himself and all his like-minded cronies that he is more intelligent or more logical or more enlightened than his ideological adversaries.  The internet is full of this sort of thing, and  truth be told, all of us do this to some degree, and to whatever degree we indulge this part of our flawed nature, we blind ourselves to the truth.
  Returning to our heckler in the park, his basic premise was that the God of the Bible was somehow unfair or unjust for instituting eternal consequences for unbelief.  Now while it's true that unbelief is a sin, this man in the park took his limited understanding of his predicament, filtered it through the darkness of his own heart, and missed the point.  Let me explain.
  First of all, we must address unbelief. The Bible says "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard."  According to scripture, creation is self-evident across every kindred and tribe and tongue.  A man who rejects creation rejects the evidence of his own eyes.  The Bible goes on to say in the book of Hebrews "...he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him".  Somebody made everything you see, and He can be found, if He is sought on His terms.  It stands to reason then that if a man doesn't find Him, it must be because he didn't look properly. Why would a man not look? The Bible addresses that too, saying in John 3 "light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.". Men don't seek the God of the Bible because they somehow instinctively understand that His very existence is a reproach to their sin, and they love their sin. They would rather walk "...in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness."  Job says men drink "iniquity like water" and love it.   Unbelief is a sin because of why the unbelief exists; as a cloak for your sin.  A man who rejects God as he has revealed Himself is a man who has chosen to disregard reality itself and instead embrace the  warm comfort of his own self-centered filthiness.  Unbelief is not just an insult to God, it's a crime against yourself.
  The reasons for unbelief carry a penalty as well. The Bible says "the wages of sin is death". Your lies, your adultery, your pride, your self-centeredness drove you to unbelief, and that same unbelief cuts you off from the solution.  While you pat yourself on the back for what an open-minded skeptic you are, you have closed your mind off to He who is truth itself.  You congratulate yourself on how free you are from the trappings of belief even as you bind yourself up with the cords of your own iniquity and stubbornly refuse the only One who can help you. You carry on, making  little internet memes that poke fun at God and mock Jesus, never realizing that you are destroying yourself.  In fact, according to the scriptures, "... after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds"  
  The God of the Bible looked down at you in  your pathetic, filthy, unrepentant, self-deluded, self-destructive state and took pity on you.  He  took on the "likeness of sinful flesh" and became "as a servant". He went to the cross and bore your sin and your shame  in his own body, and took the punishment for your sins on Himself. He rose from the dead, and has secured your justification and your reconciliation  with the only condition being "repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ."  With that sort of unfathomable grace staring you in the face, would you really rather stand in a park and bellow out about how unfair he is?
 You see, the real issue with a  dishonest skeptic is that he's dishonest. The motivations he presents , perhaps even to himself, are so intertwined in his own self-love that he is literally willing to commit intellectual suicide and  earn eternal damnation rather than forsake it. Why should you take a good hard look at the God of the Bible, Mr. Skeptic? Because He's the only hope you have.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Dear Mr. Pastor


 I've been saved, and in church and in ministry for 21 years now.  I try to be a keen observer of all things ministry and let me tell you, I see some pretty troubling things on the horizon.  Foolishness and excess appears to be the order of the day among 'Bible Believers', and a certain amount of blame for this must be laid at the feet of men who occupy a pulpit. But beyond assigning blame, I think we, as the body of Christ need to  engage in some reflection and self-correction  so that all of us can move forward in the victory God has for us.  I write this, and say this as an absolute nobody. I am not a pastor, and the odds are I never will be. But I do pay attention, and I do consider what I see.  So here, in no particular order, are some things you , Mr. Pastor, ought to keep in mind.

1. Pastors are not the head of the church. Jesus is

  The Bible says, in Ephesians 1 "Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all."
  Make no mistake, pastoring is an important position, but the pastor is not the head of the church, nor should he seek to be, as that position is already taken.   I've seen men strut and preen and swagger and boast about their pastoral authority. I've seen men , under the auspices of  'pastoral authority' order their deacons to stand up or sit down and lift one leg to  to show everybody that they, the pastor, are in charge. It has been awkward and embarrassing every time I've seen it.
  The truth is, the pastor is a servant.  Mr Pastor, the  church of Jesus Christ got along just fine before you came along, and the church of Jesus Christ will still be going strong when you are gone. God has placed you in a position of oversight and servitude for a very brief period of time in the big scheme of things. You are expendable. You can be very easily replaced, and if its been a while since anyone has told you that, somebody needs to.
  I understand a man taking a certain amount of responsibility for the ministry that he is entrusted with, but when you take it beyond that and grab authority that isn't yours, you are acting out of pride, and you are in the wrong.

2. Pastors aren't the  shepherd, Jesus is

 In John 10, Jesus says "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd."
  Not much commentary is necessary here.  There is one shepherd, and Jesus identifies this as Himself.   And yes, I am aware that the word 'pastor' is derived from the same word as 'shepherd', but Jesus said that there is one shepherd and that He is it.  Argue with Jesus if it makes you feel better.  Explain to Jesus how you are the 'undershepherd' or 'the shepherd in God's stead'. Let me know how that works out for you.
  Once again I appreciate men who take responsibility for the stewardship of a ministry, but I have heard men say things like "Bless God, son, I'm the pastor here and you aren't. I was here before you came and  I'll be here after you're gone."  The sentiment was clear; I'm the big dog, and you are beneath me.
  Mr. Pastor, please remember that Philippians 2 says "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves."


  3.  Pastors aren't the final authority, Jesus is.

  In John 5, Jesus says  "For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man."
  Sometimes preachers repeat things they hear other preachers say, and  as a consequence, I've heard more than one man make a statement to the effect that if God ever spoke to you audibly, He would sound like your pastor. That is a ridiculous and scripturally indefensible statement.  Plus its a little weird. I mean, do you really think God would condescend to sound like you?
  Mr. Pastor, your opinions, preferences and convictions are absolutely meaningless in the light of scripture, as are mine.  God wrote down how he wants things done, and if you exceed those provisions regardless of your intentions, you are , as the saying goes 'off the reservation'. 
  Keep in mind that the people sometimes make it very easy for this line to be crossed. when you have a congregation that doesn't read the Bible for themselves, and doesn't pray for themselves, they rely heavily upon you.  That's no excuse.  The Bible says "For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself." You sir, are nothing, just like me.

4. Pastors are not above  rebuke or correction 

 "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits." (Romans 12:10-16)
  Romans 12 presents the model of a group of people laboring together as equals, under the same head, taking direction from the same Shepherd, fulfilling their role in the body of Christ.  Does that sound like your ministry, Mr. Pastor?  Or are you above the people, above rebuke, and above correction?
  I heard a pastor say once "The sheep don't correct the shepherd". He was referring to himself as the shepherd, obviously. I've heard men say that pastors can only be corrected by other pastors.  That's an interesting way to  divide up the body of Christ. In fact, it sound like the doctrine of the Nicolaitans to me.
  If you are in the wrong, any brother in Christ ought to be able to take a Bible and present you with the scriptures in regards to this matter. They should do so in a scriptural manner.  After all, just a bit earlier in Roman 12, Paul writes "For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." Your office does not put you above anyone else, and it certainly doesn't make you infallible..

5. Pastors have a very specific job description.

 "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." 1 Tim 4:12
  There is so much in that one verse, and you could delve into all of that for weeks, but the core of it is this; be an example. That is your job.  People being what they are, they need a visible physical example in front of them. If you know the Bible says we are all to love the brethren, then you need to be an example of that. If the Bible says we all need to be humble and prefer others above ourselves, then you cannot be an example of that if you  strut around telling everybody how much closer to God you are than them.  If the Bible says we are to go into all the world and preach the gospel, you are to be an example of that. If the Bible says we are to study to shew ourselves approved unto God, you ought to be the example of that.  You are to be an example of what everybody in the body of Christ should be doing all the time anyway.

 6. Pastors have less in common with Moses than they think 

  I wish I had a nickel for every virtually identical sermon I've heard preached out of Exodus 17.  It's always presented the same way; I, the pastor have a really hard job, and you, the congregation are supposed to some along and hold up my arms while I labor, lest we lose the battle.  I've even seen men bring their deacons or whatnot up on the platform to  hold up their arms while they preach with a  broomstick or rod in their hand.  It's a cute application, and it's a visual way to reinforce people's loyalty to you, but that's not what's going on in that text.
  Everybody forgets about Joshua when they read that story.  While Aaron and Hur were up on the mountain with Moses, Joshua was down fighting the battle, and the Bible calls Joshua Moses' "minister".  If you're anybody in that story, you ought to be Joshua, and Joshua wasn't on the mountain; Joshua was down laboring alongside the common soldier.
  The tendency to want to be Moses in the story, I think, has to do with pride. After all, reasons the proud pastor, I go into the presence of God, and bring the word of God down from the mountain and present it to the people.  I labor night and day for the people. I intercede on their behalf to God. Well, umm..thanks.  But you still don't get to be Moses. The battle has already been won, and we're not counting on you standing there with a broomstick for this to work out.  Just a little perspective, Mr. Pastor.
  The 'church in the wilderness' was, for the most part, a one-man show, and I understand the parallels because people are still people.  But if your New Testament assembly  resembles an Old Testament theocracy, then we may have larger problems.
Take a deep breath.
We're all friends here.

7. They arent you're people, they are God's people

 1 Cor 7 says "For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men."
You would think that, since you're not the head, and you're not the shepherd, that this one would be obvious. But once again, I have seen many a man  behind a pulpit proclaim that the people in the crowd are "my sheep" and he sees himself as the man who decides where and on what the sheep will graze.  He sees himself as holding the rod of correction. I have seen men be convinced of a certain truth from the scriptures, but decide to withold that truth from "my people' because after all 'they can't handle it'. And who decides that? Why, the shepherd, of course!
 
8. We are all on the same team. 

Paul starts out Ephesians 4 saying "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."  This is crucial. We really are all on the same side.
  I've been in church a long time, and I know how church folk can be.  As the 'face' of the ministry, the pastor and his family can live a life of isolation even among the brethren, but it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, it shouldn't be. That's not normal Christianity.
  Another red flag is an 'us vs them' mentality.  If you find yourself regarding every difference of opinion as a foe to be  conquered, you are drifting out of scriptural waters.  If you feel you have to keep your distance from the brethren because after all 'familiarity breeds contempt', then you do not understand the idea of unity of the Spirit of God.
 Look at Phillipians 1; "Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ." See the order? Saints, bishops and deacons, all working and laboring together, and being addressed by the man who wrote most of the New testament who simply calls himself as "a servant of Jesus Christ". Would to God we would all have that attitude!