I Don’t Feel Like I Should be Revered

October 11, 2010

This past Sunday was my ordination. This was a moment in my ministry life that I have been looking forward to for many years. Having served in the ministry in a number of capacities over the last years I always felt it was difficult to be serving in the Gospel ministry when I had never been “set apart” for the Gospel ministry. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand I can do ministry without being ordained, but it always felt funny being a pastor and never being ordained. In fact, during my Q&A when I came to Tunkhannock Baptist Church, some people wondered why I had not been ordained. I remember the words “don’t people usually get sent ordained already?” I sometimes felt like I was missing a crucial component. I always wondered what it would be like as an ordained pastor.

So, once the US government finally approved me to work in the US the church decided I should pursue ordination. So, I planned accordingly. I set a date to hold a council, invited area churches to take part, revised my personal doctrinal statement, invited people key to my life and ministry to come to preach the following Lord’s Day when the church would act on the ordination council recommendation, and planned the days events. One of my professors from seminary flew in from Wisconsin to preach and my father drove from Canada to do the same. It was an exciting time as the council grilled me on both theological and character issues in my life. The council in the end unanimously recommended to the church to ordain me and this past Sunday, the church unanimously agreed to ordain me. I then knelt and had hands laid upon me and was prayed over.

But I had already been serving this church as pastor since last year. What changed here? What was being evaluated that the church hadn’t already done when they hired me? What was the point of this ordaining in the end? Just so I can have a certificate to hang on my wall? Just so I can call myself “reverend?” In Pennsylvania I don’t even need to have that do do weddings! So, what was the point.

As I’ve been thinking about this today, I have come to grasp the wonder of ordination as a wonder of the grace of God. Let me explain…

What I realized, in preparation for the council, the answers I was able to give, the influence of the men who came to preach on the Lord’s Day, the recognition of the council of my calling, and the confirmation of the council on my calling is that it is all by God’s grace. What ordination confirms in my mind, is that none of this that I do as pastor of Tunkhannock Baptist Church is of of me. It is all of Christ. It is through Christ I came to faith, that I was called to the ministry, that I pursued seminary, that I searched out a church to pastor, that the church called me to be their pastor. All these things are of the grace of Christ. From whence I have come, to where I am at, to where I am going, there through it all, is the direct work of Christ in my life. And what the council and the church has done is not recognized me, they have recognized Christ in my life and calling. That is humbling!

My ordination will forever remind me that I have come this far not of my own effort. It wasn’t the hours I spent reading theology, years studying Greek and Hebrew, days preparing sermons, it was all the grace of Christ that has brought me to be a minister of the Gospel. Like Paul I echo 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” I may have worked harder than some, but it was all of Christ.

Over the years ahead that I serve Christ at Tunkhannock Baptist Church, I will remember October 10, 2010 as the date that my local church confirmed the grace of God in my life. Without that grace, I would be dead in my trespasses and sins. With that grace, I am a redeemed servant of Christ and have the privilege of being His undershepherd. My ordination will forever be the public confirmation of God’s grace in my life. I don’t feel like I should be revered, but I revere Christ all the more for the grace of God in my life. Praise God for His grace!

Christianity Truly Offers Gender Equality

October 4, 2010

The Scranton Times-Tribune ran an article on October 2, 2010 about a recent lecture celebrating “Feminist First Friday” at the University of Scranton. The emphasis is to provide full equality for men and women. As Christianity is often criticized for not offering full equality for men and women (particularly against women) I thought it helpful to articulate an important thought: Christianity truly offers gender equality.

Now, first some caveats. I would imagine that no one would think there are no differences between men and women. There are obvious physiological differences (a fourth grade anatomy class can tell us that) and obvious relational differences (any new married couple can tell us that) but I would imagine the University would accept these differences. But, besides these basic differences, can there be true equality?

Biblical Christianity is criticized because it argues that women cannot fill the office of bishop (or elder or pastor). They articulate clearly from such passages as 1 Timothy 2:12 which reads “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” that in the church women cannot have the top leadership position. The reality is that the plain sense of this passage is clear and unless you want to throw it out of the Bible then it’s there and we need to deal with it. But that’s another matter. Also, Biblical Christianity recognizes that the husband is the head of the home. Ephesians 5:22–23 reads “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” Again, a face value reading gives a quite obvious meaning of these verses. So, Christianity articulates that some roles and responsibilities are intrinsically different between men and women. But, at the foundational core, Christianity teaches complete equality. What do I mean?

Before God all people are sinners; completely equal in their sin (Romans 3:23). It does not matter whether they are men or women, Jew or Gentile, or whatever, all people everywhere are sinners, and equally condemned before God (Romans 5:12). And while this is incredibly bad news for all, both men and women, there is great news for all too. Christ died for sinful men and women. “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). And now, Christians, stand before God, completely equal. Galatians 3:28 reads, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” All people, whether male or female, if they trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, are completely equal before God: they are all God’s children.

So, who offers complete equality between men and women? Secular feminism? Not likely. Only Biblical Christianity offers complete equality between men and women where it counts: before God.

New Member Classes

January 29, 2010

I’m planning on designing a New Member Class at our church and was wondering what your church does for a class? What do you teach? Why do you teach it? Any help for a new pastor would be great!

Now I Feel Like a Pastor…

January 18, 2010

Sitting here at Dunkin’ Donuts in Tunkhannock using the Wi-Fi, reading the local newspaper, setting up meetings, before I head into the church. I feel like a pastor now! So thankful to be here today in Tunkhannock serving my church during the week, not just on Sundays! Praise the Lord!

A Noble Task

December 30, 2009

“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim 3:1), ESV.

December 27, 2009 became my first Sunday in a row of many Sundays to come as Senior Pastor of Tunkhannock Baptist Church. Through many ups and downs and much patience (and still more patience demanded) I find myself in the most difficult, most dangerous, and most noble task a man could ask for. Jesus Christ has entrusted me to serve as an under-shepherd in His body. I am entrusted with the esteemed task of preaching and teaching the Word of God and pastoring a small portion of the greater flock of Jesus Christ.

Since high school I have wanted to serve in this noble calling. Paul tells us that one who desires to serve as an overseer desires a noble task. Paul does not say that one should not seek the office of overseer. The desire of this office is seen as a good thing. It is noted this is a noble task and one that men should seek if they feel the Lord calling them to it. What a great privilege it is to communicate week in and week out the riches of the Word of God? What a privilege it is to love and to lead a flock of people into full maturity in Jesus Christ? It is indeed a noble task, in fact probably the most noble. It is a task that comes often with little thanks or appreciation. It rarely causes one to be rich in the worlds eyes, but the one who serves Christ by serving the church as pastor, is truly rich.

Yet, it comes with much fear and trepidation. What follows Paul’s statement about a man desiring a noble task is a great and heavy passage regarding the qualifications of an elder. Paul goes on in vv. 2-7:

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,  sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

When I see these words I tremble. For I look at qualifications I do not feel I have? Am I above reproach? Can someone rightly accuse me of sin in my life? Do I manage my household well or do I fail to lead my wife rightly? Do I control myself? Am I sober-minded? At times, perhaps, at others, I cringe to think of myself. Like Paul I find myself to be the worst of sinners…

but by the grace of God…

The thing is, that while I feel that I do not measure up to the standard that Paul lays out here, I know someone did measure up to it, the Lord Jesus Christ. He obeyed the Law perfectly so that when I do not, the Father sees His obedience not mine. No pastor is perfect in any way. We will fail constantly and continually. In fact, to the chagrin of our congregations, we will frequently make the same mistakes! But like every believer in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven and are justified in Jesus Christ. So, through Jesus Christ my Saviour I can do anything. I have the power through Him to conquer sin in my life and pursue purity so I can be a worthy example for my flock to follow.

The pastorate is a noble task. But it is one to also be feared. If we do not fear for our own souls or the souls of our congregations we do not understand the sacredness and importance of our duty. But, if through the recognition of our own weakness we realize we can do nothing apart from Christ and everything through Him we will serve as the best of all ministers of the Gospel. We will be blood-bought and forgiven men, just as we year for all within our reach to also be. And we will be able to point people not to us or our success but through our failure and weakness to Jesus Christ and His success.

I pray that through the many years of Sundays I will be with Tunkhannock Baptist Church I will be able to say with Paul, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5), ESV.

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!

Planning on Leaving Your Church?

August 20, 2009

Before You Decide to Leave

1) Pray

2) Let your current pastor know about your thinking before you move to another church or make your decision to relocate to another city. Ask for his counsel.

3) Weigh your motives. Is your desire to leave because of sinful, personal conflict or disappointment? If it’s because of doctrinal reasons, are these doctrinal issues significant?

4) Do everything within your power to reconcile any broken relationships

5) Be sure to consider all the “evidences of grace” you’ve seen in the church’s life–places where God’s work is evident. If you cannot see any evidences of God’s grace, you might want to examine your own heart once more (Matt. 7:3-5).

6. Be humble. Recognize you don’t have all the facts and assess people and circumstances charitably (give them the benefit of the doubt).

If You Go

1) Don’t divide the body.

2) Take the utmost care not to sow discontent even among your closest friends. Remember, you don’t want anything to hinder their growth in grace in this church. Deny any desire to gossip (sometimes referred to as “venting” or “saying how you feel”).

3) Pray for and bless the congregation and its leadership. Look for ways of doing this practically.

4) If there has been hurt, then forgive–even as you have been forgiven.

Mark Dever, What is a Healthy Church? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), p. 57.

W. C. Burns on the Glory of the Church as a Motivation for Missions

December 15, 2008

W. C. Burns, Presbyterian missionary to China, in a letter written to his mother on July 25, 1849 reflects on the glory of the church and the motivation that is for motivating us for missions.

“While Jesus lives, the Church whis is his body shall live also, each member receiving by faith out of his fulness and grace for grace. How securely must the Church of the living God be built, when it can stand unshaken while so many who seemed to be pillars are removed! But in the church above, those who are ‘made’ to be pillars ‘shall go no more out’. Blessed, holy, gloriou society of the redeemed in the presence of God and the Lamb! May our hearts be ever there until amazing grace open the door of that inner sanctuary, and call us to come in! Oh! when shall the nations on earth–the many millions of these distant Gentiles–hear the call of the Son of God, bringing them intot he Church below to be prepared for the church above! The change will be great indeed when this takes place! May we have grace to pray and labour that the time may be hastened!”

Michael McMullen, God’s Polished Arrow: W. C. Burns Revival Preacher (Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publishers, 2000), pp. 308-309.

The Problem of Unions: My Reflections

November 20, 2008

Bob Dylan, that great American musician, in 1983 prophesied of the issues facing 2008. In his single, “Union Sundown,” the inimitable poet-musician wrote, “Well, it’s sundown on the union and what’s made in the USA. Sure was a good idea ‘til greed got in the way.” How very true this statement is. It was originally made during the recessionary times of the early 1980s when the automotive industry was struggling against increased foreign competition and failing to respond to the fuel crisis only a few years before. Now, in 2008, with the global market concerns, the automotive industry has fallen on difficult times in North America. The issues have not changed since the 1980s. The North American giants, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler are facing growing interest in foreign manufacturers and a failure to respond. While Toyota and Honda and others are answering the fuel prices of today with high-economy models, the North American manufacturers are still investing in large engine models. They cannot seem to understand what the market is looking for. It is no wonder they are continually losing market share. The reality is, the “Big Three” Detroit automakers have announced that without some kind of economic bailout, there is the real threat of bankruptcy.

While the United Auto Workers (UAW) and its Canadian counterpart the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) have often found themselves with a great influence in the world around them, they, and the manufacturers they work with, are finding they have little support in the community at large. Micheline Maynard recently wrote in an article titled “Clout Has Plunged for Automakers and Union, Too” for the New York Times (November 17, 2008) that “In arguing for a bailout, Detroit’s automakers have found themselves without much help.” Public opinion in general has turned against the Detroit automakers. The clout they once felt they had in Washington and Ottawa has dried up as people everywhere are asking how dumping billions into these manufacturers, with little foresight into actually building cars the population wants to buy, will actually help this economy. The manufacturers and the unions that represent the workers are no longer the giants they once were.

How did this happen? While most are asking this question with regard to the automaker few are asking it with regards to the unions. The important question needs to be, “what happened to the unions?” Dylan helps us with the answer: greed. The automotive unions have set themselves up far beyond their original goals and mission. They have moved into the realm of all-powerful organization that has, for some, become a substitute for the church.

The unions were formed out of a difficult time and were completely necessary. During the late 1930s and 40s conditions were poor for the manufacturing working class. People were tired of working the long hours in poor conditions for little pay. First, General Motors formed a contract with the UAW in 1937, then Chrysler a year later. Hold out, Ford Motor Company, did not form a contract with the UAW until 1941 after a number of years of intimidation, espionage, and even violence on the part of Henry Bennett and the “Ford Service Department” whose sole task set out by founder Henry Ford was to prevent organization. During this time, the union was designed to represent the workers to the company and bargain for better working conditions and pay and benefits that matched the work they were doing. These were noble goals. Those of us today who make what we make in many different industries owe that to the automotive unions which forced companies to actually treat their employees like people and pay them what they were owed. But what happened?

The unions grew too big for their britches. They became a “social club” and were a haven for employees. The problem was, they did not just stop there, instead they even grew beyond the social club concept and moved into the area of a church. More people began to attend union meetings and union get-togethers on Sunday’s then going to church. The union began to take the place of the church in many areas

My father worked for 30 years for Ford Motor Company in Windsor, Ontario. The union over the years helped to keep my father employed, paid, and with good benefits. One of those benefits was that I was able to work for Ford as well during my seminary years as a TPT (Temporary Part-Time). I would work Friday’s and Monday’s at Windsor Engine Plant in Windsor, Ontario where we built the truck engines for the F-Series trucks. It was a great job. It was the best paying part-time job I had. It allowed me to support myself all through my seminary years. But, over my 4 years of working for Ford I noticed some very dangerous things about the union.

I would recall when I was hired, we were strongly encouraged to have funds removed from our cheques to give to a large charitable organization. The union prided itself on giving to this group in large amounts each year. Since this organization supported things I could not in good conscience support as a Christian, I told them I was not going to give them funds. The looks and the queries made me think I was somehow guilty of failing my fellow man for not giving to this organization. It was “expected” to do so as a member of the union.

When election time came around the unions basically told employees who to vote for. These recommendations would usually be very leftward leaning on the political spectrum. As I felt I could not support these politicians because their parties supported issues that I could not support as a Christian I would tell people I would not be voting the way the union wanted me to vote. I was basically accused of not supporting the union; that my vote to a different party meant I was against jobs. The rhetoric of the union had so ingrained the minds of the employees they could not see the lack of logic. I often said to them, “Who pays your salary, the company or the union?” They would reply that it was the company that paid them. So I asked, “Would you rather support a party that supported the company or the union?” People could not grasp the concept of this or anything that did not mesh with what the union was arguing.

The union became the church for these people. It provided them a place to fellowship. It told them what to believe, how to behave, and what was important in life. The reason the unions are failing is because they have attempted to take the place of what the church is. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is the primary vehicle for which God is accomplishing His will in this age. It is the place where God has called us to be a part of and to which we give our lives. Nothing takes precedence or place over the local church in our lives. We were saved to do good works (Eph 2:10) in the life of the body of Christ (Eph 4:16). Nothing should take our allegiance away from the church. The scary part of all of this is, too many believers bought the lies that the unions offered and gave more allegiance to the union than they did the church.

Why are the unions failing around us? Why can they not keep plants open? Why can they not keep people in their jobs? It is simply because at some stage they decided they were more than just a union. They were much more. The problem is, there is nothing “more” than the church in this age. They tried to usurp the role that the church should have in the lives of people. It was an ineffectual substitute. And when the unions attempted to go into areas that were not part of their original mission, they forgot about their mission of workers rights and job security. Until the unions get back into their place and out of the place of the church, they will never be effectual in the world around us.

Dylan’s words hit to the heart of the matter today. “Well, the job that you used to have they gave it to somebody down in El Salvador. The unions are big business, friend and they’re goin’ out like a dinosaur.” The unions will never be effectual again until they find their place as organizations that work to secure worker rights and job security. Not be a big business, or a big church.