The Waiting Game…

October 23, 2009

No one likes to wait. No one likes to sit at a red light, or sit in a waiting room, or be stuck in traffic, or endure through a course of study until you graduate. We are not a patient people.

The reality is we are in a waiting game. Waiting until death comes and the judgment. The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is that one waits by doing and working, the other simply waits for time to run out.

My wife and I are waiting. We’re waiting for our work visa so we can join our church in Pennsylvania on a permanent basis. We hate popping in and out and not being there for the ups and downs of the life of the church, getting settled into our community, and serving the flock. Yet, God in his infinite wisdom has called us to wait. It could be months before the US government issues our visa. Yet, we simply pray and work and do in the meantime. We may not always be the most patient people, we Christians, but we are often called to wait, which grows patient endurance in us.

I hope I can win in my waiting game!

Book Review – Practicing Hospitality: The Joy of Serving Others

October 20, 2009

Practicing Hospitality: The Joy of Serving Others. By Patricia A. Ennis and Lisa Tatlock. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008

What is biblical hospitality? According to Pat Ennis and Lisa Tatlock, biblical hospitality is simply a demonstration of love (p. 50). The motivation for this love comes from a heart that responds to God’s work in our lives. When we demonstrate love for others, we demonstrate our love for God in a tangible way (p. 50).

While all Christians would probably agree that hospitality is important, even commanded (Romans 12:13), most would also acknowledge this is a neglected area in Christian practice today. If we are honest, many of us would have to admit to rarely, if ever, practicing biblical hospitality in a formal, intentional way. This is the issue addressed in Practicing Hospitality: The Joy of Serving Others.

Perhaps it is not for lack of good intentions that hospitality is neglected in today’s world. For many of us, life simply gets in the way and we forget to make time for others. We find our lives are busy and pressed already—who has time to invite that new family at church over for lunch? We find ourselves pressed financially. We rationalize that we really don’t have the money to present a nice dinner to someone else. We find we have so little “alone time” as it is, we guard our evenings and weekends with a jealous fervency. For some, the particular season of life presents unique challenges. What if you have several young children and babies at home as it is? The house is barely livable for you and your family, let alone presentable for company. What if you just aren’t Martha Stewart and you don’t feel that creative or even adept in the kitchen?

These concerns and many others are answered in this book. The authors assure readers right away that perfection in being the perfect hostess or quantities of money spent on expensive foods are not necessary for biblical hospitality. An important distinction is drawn between entertaining and offering hospitality. When we entertain, we are more concerned about presentation—the perfectly clean home, the dinner cooked to perfection, and the serene atmosphere at every moment. While events like this may be fun and appropriate at times, they really miss the mark when it comes to biblical hospitality. Hospitality is concerned with showing simple love to people and ministering to their needs. It involves humbling yourself and offering the best of what you have however simple it may be. It means being willing to be vulnerable before others and not worrying if someone sees you or your family in a less than perfect condition. Hospitality focuses on others where as entertainment focuses on the impression others are getting of me and my abilities. For this reason, the first chapter of the book addresses the character qualities all Christians should be striving for as they live everyday life and practice hospitality.

Chapter two challenges believers to follow the biblical command to reach out to strangers. This was common in the New Testament times, but is much neglected today as people find it much more comfortable to associate with those they already know.

Chapter three addresses the very important topic of showing hospitality to your family. Readers are challenged to remember that family always comes first in God’s economy. If we neglect our family, we have no business opening our homes to others. Also, balance is needed, especially in families with young children. This chapter includes some helpful ideas regarding family traditions and special times of year, as well as everyday ways women can minister to their families.

Chapters four and five offer many practical suggestions for ordering your home and life to make hospitality easier to accomplish. Home management is crucial if we are to have homes that are ready for visitors. There are many practical suggestions here for preparing foods with minimal preparation time, decorating economically, keeping the house basically clean on a daily basis, and even how to brew the perfect cup of tea!

Chapters six and seven talk about offering hospitality to people from other cultures as well as those with special needs such as hospital patients, those who are sick, and those who are grieving. Sometimes hospitality happens outside of the home and we take demonstrations of Christian love to people where they are. These chapters will be especially helpful to those who find themselves in situations where they want to reach out to people who have different needs, but are nonetheless important in God’s eyes and in need of a special touch from God’s people. There is also an emphasis on using hospitality as a platform for ministry and evangelism. Especially helpful are ways to incorporate children into learning to serve others and share the Gospel through hospitality.

Study questions and suggestions for creating a personalized hospitality notebook are provided at the end of each chapter for those who want to make personal application out of their reading. Recipes are also provided at the end of each chapter. These recipes are practical and often geared to be economical and easily expanded to accommodate even large groups easily.

Perhaps the most practical and helpful part of the book is the suggestions sprinkled throughout gleaned from a survey the authors took while writing the book. The women surveyed represent all walks of life from single working women to stay-at-home moms, to pastor’s wives, to those married for many years. Reading these hands-on suggestions from real women who have had many different experiences in practicing hospitality is very helpful and motivational in giving us all a push toward serving others on a more regular basis.

Throughout the whole book, the authors’ clear intention is to motivate and enable believes to follow the biblical directive to practice hospitality to all people. The book is neither pushy nor difficult to understand. Instead, it seeks to encourage all believers to take up once again this very important aspect of Christian ministry and to reap the many blessings that come with practicing biblical hospitality.

Tracy Mickle is a homemaker living with her husband Allen. She has a Bachelor of Sacred Music and a Bachelor of Science in Bible from Baptist Bible College, Clarks Summit, PA. She is also a certified Suzuki piano teacher. She and Allen are currently relocating to Tunkhannock, PA where Allen will begin serving as Senior Pastor of Tunkhannock Baptist Church in the near future.

Book Review – Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society through Christian Higher Education

October 10, 2009

Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society through Christian Higher Education. By David S. Dockery. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2007, 264 pp., $19.99, paperback.

A problem area in Christian ministry is the area of Christian higher education. As we continue to progress through the 21st century we continue to see the decline of the Christian higher education movement. What was once a strong area in the Christian ministry, Christian higher education is failing. The Bible College movement has been in decline for sometime. Schools are folding without the students or the funds to stay open. Most people are going to secular colleges and universities over Christian schools. One of the major problems with Christian higher education has been the failure to critically interact with the movement and offer an approach to dealing with this decline. David Dockery has helped fill this void with his recent volume, Renewing Minds. Dockery, President of Union University in Jackson, TN, is extremely qualified to write in this capacity. A clear and thoughtful theologian, he has extensive experience in the areas of leading and administrating a Christian higher education institution. Not only has he lead Union University he also serves as chairman of the board of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. With recommendations from J. I. Packer, R. Albert Mohler, Chuck Colson, and a foreword by Robert P. George of Princeton University, this is a volume that should be seriously considered by all who love Christian education.

In Chapter 1, Dockery highlights the problem in America. He writes,

I believe that the integration of faith and learning is the essence of authentic Christian higher education and should be wholeheartedly implemented across the campus and across the curriculum. This was once the goal of almost every college in America. This is no longer the case…. What happened was a loss of an integrated worldview in the academy. There was a failure to see that every discipline and every specialization could be and should be approached from the vantage point of faith, the foundational building block for a Christian worldview (pp. 5–6).

Tracing the history of the departure of American schools into secularism and surveying the kinds of Christian higher education institutions in  North America leads to a defense of the system derived from Matthew 22:36–40 and the Great Commandment to love the Lord your God with your mind! The rest of the book explains how to go about obeying the Great Commandment in Christian higher education. Chapter 2 builds on this by explaining from the Scriptures the role of the Christian higher education institution and deals especially with the role of the Church, and therefore the Christian higher education institution in society. Chapter 3 explains the process of shaping a Christian worldview and the impact on this on Christian higher education. Chapter 4 is about reclaiming the Christian intellectual tradition. Dockery writes here after tracing the history of the Christian intellectual tradition,

Certainly we all learn apart from the great Christian intellectual tradition, apart from the vantage point of faith. But we cannot connect these things into a unified whole, we cannot fully understand the grand metanarrative; we cannot truly grasp how to explore and engage the issues in history and science, business and health care, apart from this approach to learning. Thus we must seek to sanctify the secular because Jesus Christ has come to earth (p. 84).

Chapter 5 addresses the issues of integrating faith and learning. Chapter 6 addresses the necessary concept of developing a place of belonging and community where scholars, educators, staff, and students live together, share, serve, and learn. Chapter 7 begins to offer practical ways of establishing this grace-filled academic community. Chapter 8 articulates how to develop a theology of Christian higher education. Developing this theology would have positive implications for the academic community and the individual. Chapter 9 serves as the culmination of the book with thinking globally about the future. With the changes in communication we must embrace the new in order to communicate the orthodoxy of the past into a new global world. This means listening as much as talking especially as global Christianity begins to reflect non-Western images, positions, and principles. Christian higher education does not just simply say the West is best but listens to all Christian voices in order to best communicate the timeless truth in new ways. This is then concluded by an extensive bibliography on the integration of faith and learning.

Dockery’s book fills a great need in the area of Christian higher education. He states the issues and the problems, traces the history of Christian higher education, articulates a biblical defense of the integration of faith and learning as well as a comprehensive theological defense. Not only does he articulate this at an academic level but he does not neglect the spiritual aspect of things, emphasizing not just “smart” Christians but “spiritual” Christians. The movement from “theory” to “practice” in Dockery’s book is exceptional. I hardly find anything in it that I would disagree with or anything I wish I say that I did not see in the book. It is an even handed treatment that should be read by those who care about Christian higher education and especially those involved in Christian higher education. May we see a renewal of a close integration of faith and learning on our campuses as we emphasize the great truth that all truth is God’s truth. May we raise up godly men and women who are passionate about the truth and about serving Christ in the world around them through the Great Commission. And may those of us involved in Christian higher education lead the way through authentic spirituality grounded in the truth. Highly recommended!

Flexing the Pastoral Muscles

October 5, 2009

“It really doesn’t matter how many sheep we gather if we don’t intend to feed them” (Stan Toler, “Leading from the Pulpit,” Preaching [Sept/Oct 2009], 17).

This past Sunday I was able to be with my flock again at Tunkhannock Baptist Church in Tunkhannock, PA. It is painful to “pop in” and “pop out” like this as we wait for my work visa so we can set roots down full-time and begin serving Christ’s flock that He has entrusted to us. But, I love to have the opportunity to begin to develop relationships with my sheep and to seek to feed them from the Word of God. One of the blessings I have is beginning to lead them in a study of What is a Healthy Church? in our Sunday PM series. This week we talked about Expository Preaching being a defining mark of a healthy church.

I tried to articulate that expository preaching (preaching that takes as its main point the main point of the Scripture that is being preached upon) is defended in the Bible itself, and tried to articulate both the benefits of it for the pastor and for the church. One of the things I noted was that a good thing sometimes takes a lot of effort. It is in expository preaching that we really flex our pastoral muscles.

Often it seems that many in our churches expect that we can feed them from the Word of God without actually preparing for it. This is both a crime for the preacher and for the congregation.

I have a friend, Heinz Dschankilic, who is a wonderful servant of Christ and Executive Director of Sola Scriptura Ministries International, who offers an excellent analogy about sermon preparation. He explains that there is quite the difference between a microwave dinner and Thanksgiving dinner. The microwave dinner is quick but rarely tasty and frankly, far from filling. Thanksgiving dinner though is delicious and highly filling, but it takes substantial time. For a shepherd to effectively feed his flock, he needs to take time to prepare the feast for the flock. Isn’t a feast better than a Hungryman TV dinner?

In the recent issue of Preaching magazine Stan Toler has an excellent article called “Leading from the Pulpit.” He offers the story of Pastor W. A. Criswell of First Baptist Church in Dallas, TX and the importance of study in preparation of Sunday. He writes that Criswell,

… used to stay away from the “office” during the weekday morning hours. He was home in his study–pouring over the Scriptures, seeking the Spirit’s leadership in putting the menu together for a sheep-feeding the following Sunday. Criswell said in his autobiography, Standing on the Promises, “If you want to succeed in ministry… keep your heart fixed on Jesus and your mind centered on God’s Word.” His afternoons were given to the church business, but his mornings we devoted to Bible study.”

It is important as shepherds to feed our flocks. If we want our flocks to be healthy and to live according to the glory of God, we need to feed them what they need, a steady diet of the Word of God. And before we can feed them, we need to prepare the feast. This takes time and effort on behalf of the preacher, but the rewards for both the pastor and the flock are extraordinary.

So, for my flock at TBC, know that I want the best for you and I intend to prepare feasts for you each week from the Word of God. This means that it will take me time each week to prepare the meal for Sunday. It means I need dedicated time to study the Scriptures, to apply them to my own life, so I can proclaim them to you. But in the end, this dedicated time of study will pay off as you are able to experience a steady diet of the Word of God. I intend to feed you and feed you well. So, I must prepare the meal well!

Pastors, love your flock so much that you spend time deep in study in the Word of God to prepare the feast of the Word of God for them each Sunday. Flex those pastoral muscles! Remember, it really doesnt’ matter how many sheep we gather if we don’t intend to feed them. And I would add, feed them well.