Wednesday, October 31, 2012

 Putting Fear In Its Place

Happy Halloween!

Halloween is a funny time of year.  We celebrate things that frighten us, most of which are entirely made up (monsters, for example), and everyone seems to enjoy it!  I’m sure all this “fear” stuff can be taken in an unhealthy and even sinful direction – as many movies and seasonal Halloween stores prove – but when it’s kept at a PG level, I enjoy Halloween traditions too.  And if your experience is like mine, Halloween has always been celebrated at a family-friendly, even kid-friendly level, which makes the season a fun one that I believe Christians can enjoy in good conscience before God.  I suppose the key is to keep all the fear stuff at an appropriate level.

And maybe there’s a faith lesson in there also, in keeping fear at an appropriate level.  What is an “appropriate” level of fear in the life of God’s people?

Well, when you read through your Bible, you will run across several events that tell us about fear, some of which could even make for a good Halloween story:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Pastors – A Description, but also an Authority

            In churches of Christ, we have always sought to make a clear distinction between our preachers and our pastors.  This is sometimes awkward, because so many of our religious neighbors believe that every preacher should be called a pastor.  As a preacher, it is not uncommon for me to meet someone of a different faith background – whether at a hospital or a funeral home or simply a visitor at Great Oaks – who will refer to me as pastor.  I realize they are trying to show me a measure of respect as a preacher, but when it’s appropriate, I usually say a quick, kind word to explain in churches of Christ we just use the description “preacher” or “minister,” and that we have a group of “pastors” who lead each congregation, but I’m not one of them.  At the very least, I’ll let them know they can just call me Tim.

Why be so careful to make the distinction between preachers and pastors?  Well, our understanding of Scripture is that a preacher and a pastor are two different roles.  A pastor is a word for shepherd, and in the Bible, each church was to have men – who were called elders, bishops, or pastors – who were to shepherd that congregation (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-4).  A preacher was to teach the word of God, but is never called a pastor, or shepherd, unless that preacher was also serving as an elder (like Peter did, as 1 Peter 5:1 shows). 

            However, you occasionally hear people within churches of Christ who have decided to stop holding that distinction between preachers and pastors.  In fact, you even sometimes hear preachers who call themselves pastors, often with defense that sounds something like this:  “Well, a pastor is a shepherd, and as a preacher I’m shepherding people more than our elders are.  I’m the one visiting people in their homes.  I’m the one setting the vision of the congregation.  I’m the one doing most of the work shepherding these people toward heaven.  If it talks like a duck and looks like a duck it must be a duck.  So I believe I am a pastor, and it’s appropriate to take that title.”

            What should we think about that reasoning? 


Friday, October 19, 2012

The Wrong Reaction When People Leave

            Studying Flavil Yeakley’s book “Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ” has made for some interesting class discussions.  Leaving the church you grew up in seems to be a national “rite of passage” these days, as the Barna Research Group found a few years back that 61% of 20-somethings attended some church regularly at some point in their teen years but are now “spiritually disengaged (i.e., not actively attending church, reading the Bible, or praying).”  Churches of Christ have not been exempt from that trend, even though it actually seems to be less pronounced in churches of Christ than the national averages; Yeakley reports that consistently about 40-45% of our young people become disengaged from the churches of Christ in their young adult years, but about 12% of those who leave will return, yielding about 33% or so of our young people who leave (page 33 of his book). Whatever the number, it’s higher than we’d like it to be.

            Of course, we must respond correctly to this information about those who leave.  One false extreme might be to see that young people leaving is a national trend, and to thereby suggest that there is no reason for alarm among us at all.  Just keep doing what we’re doing, with no need for deep reflection on our own faith.  Part of the house is on fire, but it’s a small fire compared to the neighbor’s fire, so we can just stay here in the living room and everything will work itself out.  That would be foolish, of course.  I hope we always have the humility to look for ways we can do better at living, teaching, and passing on the Christian faith.  If we have somehow not taught the right doctrine, or not shown the right spirit, or not put forth the right effort, then we must be honest about it and bring our lives closer to what God wants.


Friday, October 12, 2012

The Value of Planned Prayer

            Last weekend, Great Oaks had our 3rd annual 24-hour prayer vigil.  We signed up for 1-hour shifts, so that someone was here at the building praying constantly from 6 pm Friday night until 6 pm Saturday night.  To give direction to our prayers, people turned in prayer request cards about issues in their own life (we might have had more prayer cards this time than ever before), and we had a “Great Oaks Outreach Prayer Sheet,” which listed the many ways we are trying to shine God’s light, both locally and through missions.  So for 24 straight hours, we lifted up our work and our lives before God, asking His blessing, and reminding ourselves that “unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1). 

            Arinne and I had the 3-4 am Saturday morning shift (yes, someone was at our house to make sure the kids were OK!).  It was difficult to crawl out of bed, but I loved praying at that time because it felt like the whole world was stopped.  Hardly any traffic, hardly any movement at all outside of twinkling stars and an occasional breeze, and mostly just a silent, chilly stillness.  It was perfect “prayer weather,” and it made me think of Jesus praying all night while the rest of the world slept (Luke 6:12).

            It also made me think of the value of having a planned time to pray.  Planned prayer seems to be a little out of style these days, or at least seems to be less emphasized.  I hear many Christians point out the value of prayer as a running conversation with God throughout the day.  I love that idea, and I’m glad it’s part of so many of our lives.  It’s certainly biblical.  Jesus often offered short, “in the spur of the moment” prayers to God, such as: “Father, glorify Your name” (John 12:28), “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Matt. 27:46), and the brief 2 sentence prayer before raising Lazarus (John 11:41-42).  A constant communication with God, often in short exchanges throughout the day, is a good prayer habit and shows a proper recognition of God’s presence.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Becoming More Comfortable Discussing the Holy Spirit

In the Bible classes I’m teaching at Great Oaks this quarter, we are using Flavil Yeakley’s “Why They Left” as a topic-starter.  It has already resulted in some great discussions, allowing us to critique ourselves as individual Christians and as a church on topics such as evangelism, our attitude toward the rest of the religious world, and our teaching of grace.  Hopefully our self-critique – which can sometimes be affirming and can sometimes be painful – is being done in a fair and honest way, always letting the word of God have the loudest voice in telling us what we should be.
This week our topic has been the Holy Spirit.  Our discussion has challenged us to not minimize the Holy Spirit in our faith and teaching.  Some feel that churches of Christ have not given enough emphasis to the Holy Spirit, perhaps as an over-reaction to the excessive claims made regarding the Spirit by some parts of the religious world.  I don’t have a wide enough perspective to know whether our churches have consistently neglected teaching about the Holy Spirit, but I know I don’t want to let someone else’s excessive ideas keep me from speaking biblically and truthfully about God’s Spirit.