MOST LEARNED – MOST JUDGMENTAL

The season is here where we remember the resurrection.  In my view the best theologian on this subject apart from Jesus during His earthly ministry was Martha.  At one point we have her telling Jesus about the resurrection (John 11:24).   At that point she is disappointed Jesus was late in responding to Lazarus’ sickness … too late was her conclusion.  Relying on what she knew, she was judgmental.  In her mind Jesus should have been there sooner, hope was lost, a life was now gone!

Now there are great advantages of gaining knowledge.  I am extremely thankful for the privilege of sitting under good teaching on many topics in my life, including an awesome amount of Biblical training through the years.  I can add to that the personal preaching and teaching experiences of my life that have added to that data.  On one level I am ready to argue theology until the cows come home, armed with resources to ‘give an answer to anyone’.  Now that stance, however, can make me feel comfortable and smug because I know the answers.  I also now feel as if I know how churches ‘should’ operate, how preaching ‘should’ be done, and how others ‘should’ behave.  Unfortunately if I let those ‘shoulds’ get in the way I can become hindered in further learning, argumentative, critical of others in their ministry, distant in relationships, as well as too fast to speak and too slow to listen.

This Winter I have audited a course on Islam at King’s University College with a teacher who is a moderate Shi’a Imam.  I have mostly sat silent learning about an area previously unfamiliar to me.   It has involved middle Eastern history, the development of Islamic thought, and a sense of what is more normal for Muslim people.  (Sure there are fanatics, but Christians have had many of their own over the years.)  The class has not changed my theology at all, but I have been amazed how ignorant I have been.  I was previously loaded up with stereotypes that would have kept me from speaking openly and without reserve to Muslim people.  Unexpectedly I’ve learned much about myself in the midst of this class.  Now I hope I can enter better conversations with these people in my own neighbourhood.  I think I could even commend many pieces of their practices and beliefs and not come across as overly biased and judgmental.  An actual meaningful conversation can now take place.  There is still lots I do not know about Islam, but much of my irrational fear has disappeared.

Our own learning can keep us from truly listening to others.  This might be from our own children, our spouse, our employers, or another pastor/teacher.  Recent studies by Ambrose’s Joel Thiessen show that Christians are known by average Canadians as judgmental.  People often close us out because of their stereotypes, but I’ve had my own through the years.

Can I change how the average Canadian sees me?  Can I be known instead by my love, my grace, and my listening ears?   I trust I can do this while showing an unwavering faith in the Resurrection of Jesus and His current work in me.

Your ever learning co-worker,  Dennis

P.S.:  Celebrate the Risen Jesus!

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Can You Let Go Of The Baby?

The statistics continue to show the general aging of pastors serving churches.  One recent study stated that over the past 25 years the average age of a senior pastor in the USA has risen from 45 to 54.  Consciously or unconsciously as a pastor ages everyone connected quietly thinks, “when is he or she going to retire?”  So we have more and more churches, church boards and pastors beginning to talk about this and thinking intentionally about the transition out.

There are so many facets to consider in the transition of a well-loved retiring pastor who has been perceived to be successful.  Factors include the following:

  • Rural or Urban: A rural retiring pastor may be linked to the community because of the employment of a spouse, location of children and grandchildren, value of current home, value of established friendships in the community.  It may be hard for a retiring pastor to consider going to a different church as options may be few or of different traditions that his or her own.  An urban pastor may more easily find another church to attend, but it will not be like his or her own.
  • Stay or go: If a pastor stays in their church after retirement there can be difficulties.  The level of difficulty depends on the pastor’s ability to settle in and be supportive of new leadership.  In candidating for the pastorate almost every pastor will say they are a ‘team worker’, when in fact many are not.  Some are self-deceived and do not have accurate self-knowledge.  The same is true of retiring pastors who think their presence will not be an imposition on the new leader or new leadership in the church they used to pastor.  Many who stay end up being grumpy, perhaps even bitter cynics.
  • Plan succession or let things go: Plans while a pastor is still in place can be good, but I would caution against being too committed to them too early.  Personally I have seen several situations where an associate was hired with a view to having that person become the senior pastor, but seldom has that plan worked out.  It is not the norm for an associate or a youth pastor to become that church’s senior pastor at a later date.  Churches are more likely to want some new skills, a new presence and they resist having what they have already had to date.  It may be best for a pastor to ‘let go’ of their ministry and to commit its future to God.  Likely the fruit of a pastor’s discipleship over the years will reveal itself.  If good principles have been passed down, then the remaining leadership will make good choices.  After His resurrection Jesus left his work to a dozen men who were not united, were of questionable experience, and wrestled with what to do next.  Often leadership succession feels like that to the one stepping down or retiring.

I know having left ministries before that it is hard to watch from a distance the decisions of a former church.  You have loved those people and invested yourself into that ministry.  For whatever the reason God now has a different path for them.  Even in my current role I’m thinking more intentionally about having some people grab onto the principles of this position, but I will not be appointing my successor, whenever that is done.  I too will have to let go.  For this season let me not coast … let me be helpful to the Kingdom!

Your co-worker,  Dennis

 

No, I Don’t Agree With You, But ….

In life we cannot go very many minutes without running up against someone who has an opinion contrary to our own.  We might see it in the paper, hear it on the radio, watch it on the television, possibly absorb it from our kids, sense it in advertisements, and glean it from clerks at the store.  The feeling of wanting to stop the world at some point and set others straight is a common experience, especially when we feel like we are in touch with the heart of God.

I too have to cool myself down on minor or even major confrontations to my values.  The verses of 1 Peter 3:15-16 have had special meaning to me lately.  You may have it memorized, but hear it anew:   “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (- NIV).”  Historically for me I’ve placed these verses as a shield about me for when I feel formally attacked for my beliefs.  It can certainly be applied that way, but more often in my spirit I feel attacked by informal encroachments upon my values.  I think there is something here for me in terms of how I handle myself in those moments.

The part that sticks out to me is “do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience”.  If in my spirit and attitude or words I fight back hoping to dominate as though I have an argument to win, then I lose.  I need first to have gentleness, respect and a clear conscience.  The verse says I am to be ready to give a reason, but it is not my duty to convince an opponent.  My opponents are ultimately accountable to God themselves.  If my words convince them of my position I will indeed be pleased.  But if my words are void of gentleness, respect and a clear conscience, then something is truly wrong.  Dare I forget the challenge to ‘love your enemies’?  The internal attitudes reflecting the fruit of the Spirit in the inevitable challenges of opponents speaks volumes for the Kingdom.

Another challenge in these verses is to be sure your behaviour does not give others the privilege of slander against me or against the Lord Himself.  In the moments we feel challenged are the very times we need to breathe, pray, request the Spirit’s filling, then respond with attitude, then think of what words God might give.  The truth sets us free, but it does not set us free to release attitudes that reflect badly on His name or His work within us.

May God help us all to be known for shining forth ‘love, joy, peace, patience ….”

Your co-worker,  Dennis

The Walk

Think again about the common Biblical phrase of King David, “… though I walk through the valley of the shadow ….”

In an age where we get everything immediately, so much so that we complain when our download speed does not make images appear in nanoseconds, we forget that trials often need a ‘walk mentality’.  The three year old at the table may want what they want right now, and make a scene while stating their case, but a mature being should not take that posture.

In prayer we often want immediate healing, an immediate job opportunity, an immediate influx of cash, an immediate removal of an addiction issue, and this list could go on and on.

Who would ever stand in their garden, plant a seed and water it, then stand by five minutes later and question anxiously why they do not see results?  Sorry but some things take time and some beautiful twists by God’s hand are only to be experienced with patience.

Josiah was a good king of Judah who set things right after several faltering generations on the throught, and he honoured God and especially the Word of God.  What he walked into was a kingdom reaping the judgment of God on Solomon.  Solomon did not see the dividing of his empire, but God is faithful and he judges fairly.  So Josiah could not fix Solomon or the rescue the ten tribes already in Assyrian exile, but he could fix things in his own backyard.  That is what he did … and it took years.

So can I walk through my next anxious moment?  Maybe if my faith is strong at the moment.  I will fall and expect immediate results from time to time.  But my God is in this for the long haul.  The effects of Jesus resurrection reigns 2000 years later and is destined to continue bringing results, and it followed the commitment of ‘Not My will, but Yours be done’.  God knows the timing for the end of my problems, but my petty issues are so small compared to the greatness of our reward for cleaving to Jesus with patience. May we trust in Him!

Your co-worker,   Dennis

 

What Jesus could not show us

Historically we see that Baptists are an independent bunch.  Church constitutions, policies, practices, style and outreaches are often quite varied according to opinions and callings of any individual church.  Perhaps some of this is due to what we see in Jesus.  He was One who often went against the norms of the day – healing on the Sabbath, who would ever!  He was One who claimed to gain His leading from above with an unwillingness to be bound to any human structure.  He was One who spoke truth even when it was hard to follow (die to self, etc.).

In John 2 we read, “24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person (NIV).”  This special ability He had was able to make Him rightly independent of anyone else.  With this character quality of His we find He was never under anyone else or under any other system.  This made him completely unpredictable.  Certainly He was a Jewish man, but clearly He did not fit the mold of following the crowd, confirming necessarily to socially standardized behaviour.   To say He was unique is of course an understatement.

Again let me reiterate that Baptists are an independent bunch.  We may even have unconsciously adopted this independenct character trait we see in Jesus, but we have carried it without Jesus flawless nature.  We have carried it with some judgmentalism, some pride, some sense of privilege, or some entitlement.

Jesus lived independent of any subjugating relationship except to His Father.  As Baptists we hold a value which is regenerated Church membership.  What we have is access to the Holy Spirit but also access to one another.  We need not be so independently minded.  Ephesians 4:3 says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (NIV)”.   Oddly enough Jesus displayed grace and friendship, but He did not clearly portray to us how to work along with other humans to discern a path forward.  He did, however, work along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which we are now able to do as well.

Let us not be so independent we do not share the journey with others.  Let us not forsake opportunities to gather together.  With others we can worship, pray, discern truth, learn, gain guidance as well as give and receive support.  What a rich possession we have with our shared faith.  Interdependence open to the Holy Spirit … what a concept!

May God truly help us to be the kind of Baptists He desires.

Your co-worker,

Dennis

Discrimination? What Do You Think?

The following was recently written and circulated by John Barlow, Member of Parliment for Foothills in Alberta:

Good afternoon,

I want to bring to your attention substantial changes brought forward by the Liberal Government to the rules around which employers can qualify for funding through the Canada Summer Jobs program. These changes ostracize groups or individuals who disagree with the Liberal policy platform on abortion or LGBTQ2. Due to these changes, some applicants will no longer be eligible for funding and many students will not find work because of this discriminatory decision.

Under the new rules, organizations wishing to participate in the Canada Summer Jobs program will be required to attest they respect reproductive rights and gender identity and expression. As Canadians, I think we can all agree, protecting Human Rights is vitally important. However, while this declaration asserts reproductive and gender rights as a human right in Canada, it simultaneously abolishes the right to freedom of belief and opinion, which is guaranteed by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

 The Liberals are basing funding decisions on whether or not you hold a certain belief, and whether or not that belief aligns with Justin Trudeau’s political policy opinion on abortion, gay marriage and transgendered rights.

This policy isn’t about supporting and promoting the activities or services an organization is engaged in within a community. This policy targets the personal beliefs of the individuals who run those organizations, and penalizes the organization and students as a whole for not aligning their beliefs with those of the Liberal Party.

 Canadians are allowed to have different opinions from the governing party, that is what a true and free democratic country is founded upon. This new attestation in the Canada Summer Jobs program is the beginning of a slippery slope of prejudice and discrimination against Canadians for their religious beliefs.

I share the writing above not to support a political candidate or party but to draw attention to a policy which, if as described, will affect many of our churches across Western Canada.  The moral considerations regarding discrimination has a couple different faces.  Do we only want rulings that favour those who think like us?  If a professing Christ follower understands the scripture as against discrimination of LGBTQ2 but reads it as standing against same sex marriage, is that person discriminating?  Does the State have the right to command allowable religious beliefs?  If diversity is essential for our culture today, does the more conservative end of the Church necessarily get the short end of the stick and marginalization?  Polarization often brings an end to conversation.

Again if this is true and if maneuvers like this occur, what will it mean for the future of faith-based hospitals, summer camps, street missions, many food banks, or even general volunteerism?

I do not have immediate answers for every possible moral code violation and I admit political decisions can be difficult.  I am for freedom of each one to practice their religion, but I am against hatred and unjust discrimination.  My hope would be for more conversation before legislation.  Let us pray for those in authority over us, for justice and for a proper approach to injustice on the many levels of our governmental rulings.  If the eventual ruling is not quite as restricting as the MP implies, then I apologize now for the anxiety I may have fostered.

Your fellow-worker,  Dennis

In Heated Moments

This text continues to return to me over and over:  “I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God” (Philippians 1:27b-28).

In today’s world I find large sections of our Christian society running on fear.  I hear it in reactions to proposed or existing legislation, in concern over financial security going forward, in the public exposure of aberrant theologies, in demonstrations at board meetings where faith and unity seem distant, in harsh broad sweeping tweets making mountains out of molehills, and regularly in sermons.

I find too often Christian leaders have used fear to motivate and get people onto the same page with them.  In truth this strategy can work, but it has a short-term return.

Absolutely preach the truth!  Absolutely share the Gospel!  However in the middle of our efforts, as the text says, let’s remember to seek the unity in the Spirit.  Let us intentionally make our faith a reality in the midst of what may look like overwhelmingly negative circumstances.  Perfect love casts our fear.

We need to remember the three Hebrews facing the king and a fiery furnace when they said, “Our God is able to deliver us, but even if He does not ….”  Well, obviously, in their case if God does not deliver them they die.  If that is the worst that can happen we still win.  They saw past the heat and flames.

Where is this kind of faith evident among Christians today?  Why do we not see this today: a faith so strong we can deal with any circumstance while manifesting our faith and while also demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit?

I think to a large degree it is the lack of this kind of faith in today’s believers that has weakened our message.  When Christ returns will he find faith on the earth?

If fear is what drives us we are far from the maturity Jesus desires in us.

Let our fears be reminders of our need to be trusting.  “Shall not the God of all the earth do right?”

Your co-worker who needs more of this kind of faith at work in his life,

Dennis