Sunday, March 30, 2008

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

Abraham Piper with 6 reasons why pastors should blog.

And while at DG, check out this helpful short piece from John Piper called The Leniency of Excommunication. Never thought of it this way.
C.J. with Sinclair Ferguson. A must read series of fun and insightful interviews based on Ferguson quotes that C.J. has appreciated over the years. The multiple pictures with C.J. in a tie also make the interview series unique.

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: An Awkward Introduction
Part 3: Looking Outward
Part 4: Legalism in Eden
Part 5: Jesus Grows in Favor with God

While I'm on Sinclair Ferguson, and Abraham Piper gives pastors to recommend things on their blogs, I can't recommend enough Ferguson's collection of short meditations on Christ called In Christ Alone. I'm reading it in as part of my morning devotions. Short meditations on Christ that will have you reading the pages over and over.

For Humor: You know your wife is a redneck if......she says this in the local paper (HT: Tom).

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mohler and Redmond on Wright at Town Hall

A partial transcript of Eric Redmond's discussion of Jeremiah Wright on the Al Mohler radio show is available here. The radio interview is here.
Read more about Redmond here, and about the church he serves, Hillcrest Baptist Church, and the SBC here. And, here the brother share his views on pastoral ministry here and preach here.
Any preachers out there know this feeling? And need this grace?
So many aspects of ministry demand excellence, and there are not enough hours in the day to be excellent in all of them. When I was a young man, I heard D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones comment that he would not go across the street to hear himself preach.Now that I am close to the age he was when I heard him, I am beginning to understand. It is rare for me to finish a sermon without feeling somewhere between slightly discouraged and moderately depressed that I have not preached with more unction, that I have not articulated these glorious truths more powerfully and with greater insight, and so forth. But I cannot allow that to drive me to despair; rather, it must drive me to a greater grasp of the simple and profound truth that we preach and visit and serve under the gospel of grace, and God accepts us because of his Son. I must learn to accept myself not because of my putative successes but because of the merits of God’s Son. The ministry is so open-ended that one never feels that all possible work has been done, or done as well as one might like. There are always more people to visit, more studying to be done, more preparation to do. What Christians must do, what Christian leaders must do, is constantly remember that we serve our God and Maker and Redeemer under the gospelof grace.
From D.A. Carson, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor (pp. 92-93).

(HT: Expository Thoughts)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

T4G Highlights

T4G 2006 highlights. Greatly anticipating our time together this year!

Deacons: Keep Hold of the Faith

I have a ritual when visiting restaurants, especially restaurants I don't know very well. From time to time, I like to have the waiter surprise me with whatever he or she thinks I will enjoy eating. This got started one day when some co-workers and I went to a restaurant following an excruciatingly long day of meetings and decision-making. I simply didn't have another decision left in me. So, I handed the beautiful menu with all its mouth-watering fare to the waiter and asked, "Could you order something for me? I'm an omnivore, so there isn't much probability of disappointing me." The waiter returned with a scrumptious meal and I was spared the agony of another decision that day.

In the 10 years or so that I've been doing this, I can only count about two instances where a waiter brought back something disappointing. Once, on a day much like the first day when this ritual developed, after telling a young man that I was quite hungry and preferred meat, he brought me a large plate of shrimp and grits! Now, I know that's a S.C. low-country delicacy, but there's no way to fuel this tank with shrimp and grits. My jaw nearly hit the table when he returned with this meal. My bargain with the waiters, so they aren't laboring under too much pressure, is that I will eat whatever they bring and be content. So, I gave thanks to the Lord and enjoyed the shrimp and grits.

This entire ordering philosophy rests on one simple fact: the waiter or waitress should know the menu and the kitchen far better than I can or do. Their knowledge of what the chef cooks well, what customers appreciate, and the ingredients available to make a delicious meal either makes this a great strategy or a grand adventure in culinary tomfoolery. As I said, only twice did I leave feeling like I wore a dunce cap during my meal. Waiters and waitresses generally know their product.

Well, what is true for table servers in restaurants is truer still for table servers in the Lord's church. Deacons must know their "product." In the words of the Apostle Paul, deacons "must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience" (1 Tim. 3:9).

The practical "table server" aspects of deaconal ministry may inadvertently obscure or come to de-emphasize the utter necessity that deacons be people sound in the faith. Because we understand deacons to be people who care for the practical needs of the body, perhaps even being assigned a specific area of service, we may run the risk of thinking of deacons as technocrats, people with specialized skills but little or no theological requirements.

To "keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience" is to grip or possess the gospel of Jesus Christ with full assent. First, the prospective deacon needs to have embraced the faith him or herself. Deacons are not to be unbelievers, people unsound in the faith, or who cannot give a credible profession of faith and knowledge of the gospel. Second, they must know what they have embraced. There is a cognitive requirement here. They must know "the deep truths of the faith." Articulating and explaining the cardinal points of the gospel and of Christianity is a requirement. How else can deacons be the kind of servants that point others to Jesus as they serve? Third, the deacon must hold these truths "with a clear conscience," that is, his life and conscience must conform to the faith he professes. It's not merely that he holds the truth of the gospel without doubt or mental reserve, but that he also lives a life worthy of the Christian calling (Eph. 4:1).

What are we looking for in spiritual table servers? People who know the truth of God's word in their own converting experience and with sufficient understanding to live it out and model it for others. This is important because deacons will inevitably find themselves in gospel conversations, applying the truth of the faith to their ministries and the lives of the people, and modeling the faith to those who look to them. That they "keep hold" is then a must, a necessity.

Some questions to ask:
1. Does the prospective deacon give a credible profession of personal saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? If the church practices some form of membership interview as part of its membership process, they will likely have heard the person's testimony of conversion at some point. But it's good practice, as part of considering a person for service as a deacon, to set apart some time for first the leaders and subsequently the congregation to hear and discuss the potential deacon's testimony. This is not an inquisition. But it is an opportunity to search for and affirm evidences of God's grace in a person's life.

2. Does the prospective deacon understand the gospel? Part of hearing the person's testimony should include a statement of the gospel itself. What has the person believed about God, man, Jesus Christ, repentance and faith? Can they articulate and defend the biblical truth about the triune nature of God, about the creation and fall of man, the Person and work of Jesus Christ, and the nature of true conversion?

3. Does the prospective deacon bring the truth of the gospel and the Scripture to bear on his life and ministry? Is the person known among leaders and others as someone who thinks from the cross outward? Does the Person and work of Christ govern their perspective on service, or are they motivated by other philosophies and ideas? Does the manner in which they now live and think give confidence that their service would be informed by the Word of God? Are they known to open the Bible with others when thinking through issues, or are they mostly reliant on their own understanding? Are they known to live the faith inside and outside the church?

4. Does the prospective deacon hold the deep truths of the faith without reservation? The plethora of rival "Christianities" makes it necessary that the servant-leaders of the church be committed to the truth revealed in Scripture. Does the deacon profess any major doubts or even disagreements with the church's statement of faith? Are they able to sign it in good conscience, indicating their complete agreement and willingness to defend? Are they committed to immediately informing the elders should they find themselves out of agreement with the church's statement of faith? Does the deacon also support and uphold with clear conscience the biblical distinctives of the church? This might include things like baptism, the church's position on women in ministry, gender roles, etc. In so far as a position is shown to be biblical, does the prospective deacon support these positions?

5. Is the prospective deacon someone who perseveres in the faith? This I think is somewhat implicit, but needs to be brought out. The deacon will be someone who often enters into difficulty with the goal of bringing peace, stability, order, and fruit in an otherwise chaotic area. To do that, they must persevere in the faith and in the truth of the faith, applying God's word and patiently awaiting fruit. There may not be, and often will not be, immediate fruit from the labor. So, a patient abiding and persevering are necessary to faithfulness in this ministry.

In many churches, deacons serve in the teaching ministry of the church. That's a good thing where the men have gifts for teaching. But whether a deacon leads a Sunday school class or not, they will inevitably be in a position of professing, living, and modeling the deep truths of the faith. And it's necessary for the God-glorifying and healthy functioning of the church that the deacons be mastered by and be committed to mastering the truth of God's word and the gospel it reveals.

Charity and Disagreement

This is probably the best review and interaction with Obama's speech on race that I've read from someone opposing Obama's basic political philosophy and outlook. It's "fair and balanced" in a way that most reviews are not. (HT: JT)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Deacons: Sober and Content

Who wants to be waited on by a drunk person badgering you for bigger tips or trying to get you to order much more than you need so the restaurants profits would be greater? Having an intoxicated person fumbling around you and breathing fermented drink on you as you order or eat isn't a pleasant dining experience. Nor is it pleasant to have greed show itself in poor service for fear of not getting a big enough tip.

This isn't another post on tipping! It's a post on church leaders, table servers in the house of the Lord, Deacons.

Paul's instructions to Timothy remind us that deacons are "not to indulge in much wine, and not pursue dishonest gain." They are, like elders, to be sober and self-controlled. And they are to avoid taking advantage of others for their own profit and benefit.

It's interesting that the apostle says deacons are not to be given to "much wine," suggesting that some wine is fine, while requiring that elders are "not given to wine," suggesting abstinence. Perhaps it's the case that the elders drive the deacons to drink! But in any case, in neither office are people to be controlled and ruined by the grape.

Also, deacons must not be "greedy of filthy lucre" (KJV). The KJV brings out something of the ugliness of the disposition. Deacons are not to be greedy. And while "pursuing dishonest gain" (NIV) sounds more polite, such a pursuit is nonetheless greed for "filthy lucre." Avoiding this with deacons is particularly important since deacons will have intimate access to the lives of many in the congregation who they will from time to time be called upon to help. Deacons have as their mission to care for the practical concerns of the body, often involving benevolence. That is a terrible platform to give to someone who looks to exploit others for their own gain.

So, some practical questions may be helpful when thinking about potential deacons in the church.

1. Does the potential deacon drink alcohol? If so, have you observed or others observed self-control in the use of alcohol or does the person exhibit weakness or sinfulness in this area? Are they capable of saying "no" when offered alcohol? Do they use their freedom in this area in a way that does not cause others to stumble, being aware of newer and weaker Christians when they partake? Would you be comfortable holding the deacon out as a model for how to responsibly use and abstain from alcohol? Much good is done in the life of others when they have leaders and teachers who model the ability live free of addictions and compulsions.

2. Does the potential deacon exhibit godly generosity and self-denial or greed when it comes to personal financial matters? Are they primarily generous givers or hoarders of money? Do they appear to steward their resources in keeping with the priority of the kingdom or in keeping with their own desire for gain?

3. Does the potential deacon encourage others in generosity or does he/she foster selfishness and financial self-concern in others?

4. Does the potential deacon demonstrate pastoral care and self-sacrifice when interacting with others in need? Is the potential deacon someone who tends to blame others for their financial straits, or someone who primarily ministers to others even when their is admonishment or rebuke to be given? A blaming and punishing spirit isn't fitting for someone whose basic task is to solve problems and help others in difficulty. For such a person, each occasion to help will be embittering and harmful to others.

5. Is the potential deacon honest in his or her financial dealings? Do they pay their bills on time? Do they report accurately on tax returns? Is the person willing to "fudge a little" whenever the church's business requires sacrifice or large expenditures? A deacon must be a good witness for Christ and His church, so honesty and integrity in all his dealings is essential.

6. What is the potential deacon's attitude toward wealth? Whether they are wealthy or not isn't the issue. A person can be greedy for dishonest gain while living in a hovel or a palace. Some of the greediest people we meet may either be poor or wealthy. Does the potential deacon witness the wisdom of Agur when he says, "Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' Or, I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God" (Prov. 30:7-9). Does the man know how to abound and how to be abased? (2 Cor. 9:8; Phil. 4:11-13). Does he hold all things loosely or with a miser's grip? A deacon who knows how to be content will be a tremendous asset in teaching and modeling that contentment for others in the body.

Deacons filled with Spirit, evidencing self-control, are tremendous blessings from the Lord. They faithfully wait tables and therein multiply the ministry of the word and prayer in any congregation.

Friday, March 21, 2008

"Confusing God and Government"

In the interest of a more complete exchange between (a) brethren in Christ from every ethnic background and (b) fostering more careful sermon listening, I thought I'd link to the entire sermon that landed Jeremiah Wright in so much trouble, the "God damn America" sermon. The sermon is actually called "Confusing God and Government." To find the sermon, scroll down to the bottom of the post and you should find a media player with the full audio of the sermon. Also, you'll see extended excerpts from the sermon posted by CNN contributor Roland Martin.I'd be interested in your thoughts about the sermon, not just the reactions already circulating around the media, but your technical critiques as a preacher or a consumer of preaching. All are welcome.

Here are some questions that might be helpful as you listen:

1. What passage of Scripture is the preacher considering?

2. What are the major points of the sermon?

3. Do the major points/content of the sermon grow out of the text itself? Are the preacher's points the same points made by the text?

4. Does the preacher adequately situate the text and the sermon in the context of the chapter, book, and Bible?

5. How does the preacher illustrate his points? Are the illustrations helpful?

6. What are the preacher's main applications? Are the applications clearly related to the main point of the passage? How would you evaluate the usefulness of the applications?

7. Does the preacher make the gospel clear and urge his hearers to respond to the gospel?

8. What improvements might you recommend?

Answer one or all of the questions if you like. Again, the spirit I'm hoping to engender in this conversation is one of cross-cultural exposure and understanding, careful and charitable critique, and prayer for the Lord's body and His pulpit. I'll post every comment that embodies that spirit--whether critical, appreciative or indifferent. No one should feel disenfranchised because they're from a particular ethnic group or another. Critics inside and outside the African American church experience are welcome and encouraged to comment.

And the MEC ("the most edifying critique") Award will go to the best five answers received on or before Friday, March 28th. If the winners are interested, I'll send them a copy of either The Faithful Preacher or The Decline of African American Theology.

Grace and peace

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Obama Drama Rama

The airwaves have been jammed with all the comments and punditry surrounding Barack Obama, Jeremiah Wright, and Obama’s recent speech on race in America. It’s a fascinating time to be an American or to be interested in American politics.

But amid the din of so many voices and digital transmissions, something profound is about to happen… or not happen.

What did we see on Tuesday morning when Obama gave his speech? What did we hear? No, I mean in ourselves. What did we see and hear in ourselves?
Did we feel anything? Was it disgust, trust, anger, or pride? Were we overcome with hope or doubt? Were we led by our sinful natures or by the Spirit of God if we’re Christians?

Galatians 5 tells us the difference between the Spirit’s response and the sinful nature’s response. “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious… hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy….” On the other hand, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

What did you see when Obama spoke? What have you seen in yourself since the speech?

Think carefully. Has your sinful nature or the Spirit been in control of your passions and desires, your acts and reactions?

On Tuesday March 18th, in my opinion, the most eloquent public address on race or race-related issues since the Gettysburg Address was offered the American people. (What do you see in yourself reading that statement? Is it the Spirit or the flesh?)

A moment never-before-seen in American history happened before our eyes and listening ears. An American stood poised with the attention of the entire nation and for 37 minutes discussed the complexities involved in ethnic identity and the subterranean lava pits of anger and resentment that threaten to explode every time “race” is the topic. From the country’s history with slavery to the candidates own grandmother, this thing called “race” was opened up before us that we might see ourselves and forever be different.

I’m not a romantic. I just recognize a good opportunity when I see one. I’m the kind of man that shops for a suit or a pair of shoes for 6 months to a year, even though I saw the suit or shoes I wanted the first Saturday I went to the stores. Most of my friends think I’m sober, if not downright intense at times. I’m not generally gullible. I have other faults—serious ones—but that’s not one of them.

When I watched Obama’s speech and reflected on what he said, I saw an opportunity of great importance. For the first time in the country’s history we have an opportunity to have a national public reflection and discussion of who we are without being needlessly bogged down with the old paradigms and stereotypes regarding “race.” It’s not the first time a national discussion was offered. You may remember that the Clinton administration had a presidential commission race chaired by John Hope Franklin, the respected African American historian. Or, maybe you don’t remember that commission. If you don’t, that’s likely because nothing substantially different occupied the thinking of that group. It was the same old framework, with the same old laments, leading to the same old outcome—nothing.

For most of our lives, most all of us have lived with the assumption that “race” is real… and inescapable. We have lived with the assumed corollary that the meaning and prescribed limits of “race” were intractable. On Tuesday morning, a young man significantly post-Civil Rights in time and attitude, and self-consciously post “race,” stood before flashing lights, television cameras, and a row of American flags and announced that a new day of racial understanding is possibly upon us. The fact that he could even say such a thing—defying all the orthodoxy of race—black and white—was itself tangible evidence that the country could possibly be in a new place. Possibly.

“In the most important matters a man has always been free to ruin himself if he chose” (G. K. Chesterton, What's Wrong with the World, p. 118).

Chesterton may be prophetic. Again. For sure enough, in many op-eds and tv shows we’ve had the full display of man’s stellar propensity at ruining himself. Professed Christians often have been the most ruinous and the least optimistic. How is that possible given Who we love?

There has come from some quarters a quick and relentless effort following the Wright videos to say, “Aha! We knew it! The old racial paradigm does still hold!” I’m fascinated—and saddened—at the constant effort to make Barack Obama “an angry black man.” If Obama won’t give us the evidence we need, we’ll argue that his pastor is a good enough proxy, and his pastor’s association with men like Farrakhan will do just the same. Never mind that Obama himself has until Tuesday been the one man in America to participate in this election steadfastly determined not to inject “race” into the discussion.

“It’s a contradiction!” we’re told. Of course it is. When has “race” been anything but a contradiction, a confused and confusing mess? Are we really more clear-eyed than Barack Obama? Are we really so astute at playing the “race” game that we can judge Obama quickly and summarily for his contradictions? Do we really have so much integrity that we can be the first one to cast a stone at this man? I have enough of my own contradictions to work through without pretending his are more egregious. They are now more public, but I fear that for most of us they are not any more problematic and deep-seated than our own fears, questions, doubts, anger, and pride regarding “race.”

Here’s why it’s all contradictory. And here’s why Obama’s speech was one idea short of perfect. “Race” does not exist. We’re engaged in a collective delusion. We are like men in the woods of Alabama sitting in a tree waiting to shoot the next unicorn that comes along (no offense to Alabamians). We’re certifiable. The only thing that keeps us out of the institution is that we’ve agreed, contrary to God’s word (Acts 17:26), that we like this strong delusion called “race.” We think it’s useful. And we may be on the verge of agreeing that we’d rather sleep with the devil we know (“race” and all its entailments) than hazard a new world where this most basic assumption about ourselves is brought into the light, questioned, re-examined, and re-defined.

Here is precisely where Christians should be of the most help to this discussion. We're the ones who are supposed to know that all men are descended from Adam, made in God's image, may be re-made in the image through faith in and union with Christ, and in Christ are free of the old creation boundaries of the flesh. We should be rushing in to provide the theological discernment and ballast that Obama's speech (as good as it was) lacked.

But finding out you’re not who you thought you were is a very scary thing. We’re scared.

Part of the brilliance of Obama’s speech is that he dared put his finger on the fact that black and white, Hispanic and Asian, we’re all afraid… and resentful. One outrageous pundit wants to know: "How long must we all marinate in the angry resentment of black people?" Contrary to what we tell ourselves, our sinful anger and resentment and lack of forgiveness and grace are cut from the same tattered cloth. Despite our protests that Obama’s grandmother (the Lord bless her) is not like Jeremiah Wright, she most certainly is. The same root system of depravity that sprung up in the flower of her stereotypical views of Blacks is the same root system that produced the poisonous vines of Wright’s comments. Have we forgotten that the “innocent” or “mild” discomfort of white women historically has led to the brutal beatings and murders of black men? Remember Emmett Till? And sometimes those “innocent” little attitudes have led to massacres of entire towns. Remember Rosewood?

We’re an angry and afraid people--Americans, that is. And we need the collective call to repentance and forgiveness that Obama’s speech opens the door for.

As I’ve written before, I am a delivered racist. I know how racism works in its black and white varieties. What most of us have not yet recognized is that racism is only possible where “race” is admitted. The difference between holding to a view that “race” exists and being a “racist” is a matter of degree, not kind. Most of us just haven’t gone as far as Wright or Farrakhan or Duke or Thurmond. But in holding onto the unbiblical and unreal notion of race, we have everything we need in our depraved hearts to get there.

A while back, I suggested that Obama’s association with Trinity would hurt him (here). Honestly, I didn’t think he would be to respond as admirably as he did. Also, I didn’t anticipate that in God’s providence Obama’s response would become a yardstick for measuring how far all the rest of us have come (or not) on “race.” But it has. And we have an opportunity. Something major could happen… or not.

What did you see and think when watching Obama’s speech? Do you need to re-view and re-think the speech? It might be good if we all prayed and watched again, asking the Lord to grant us grace and victory in these difficult issues and sins.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

Sermons I'm listening to today:

Excellent questions from an excellent article for pastors who want to make the gospel central:
  • When I correct someone are they primarily aware of the hope of forgiveness in the gospel?
  • Do I encourage people around me to obey because of Christ’s work or because they simply have to?
  • Are people more aware of my encouragement or my correction?
C.J. Mahaney and Sam Storms debating the greatest giftedness. I'm with C.J. on this one.

Also, ESPN is doing a great documentary ("Black Magic") on players and coaches from the golden era of HBCUs. Here's there Top Ten.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

First Hair Cut

My son came into this world with a head full of hair. And it grew over this first year. Contrary to what this first picture suggests, he did not like to have it combed. This is the chronicle of his first haircut.
"But dad... this is my strength! Don't cut it! I want to take a Nazarene vow! Or Nazirite vow! Either one!"

"I can't watch!"

"Ooohh... my head feels so light... and tingly."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Deacons: Sincere

Not only should deacons be men and women full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6), it follows that they should also be "sincere" (1 Tim. 3:8). The deacon must not be "double tongued" or "two-faced" or "indulging in double talk." A person may be double-tongued in two ways. They may say one thing to one person and another thing to someone else. Or, they may say one thing and do another. In either case, their tongues are forked and they are not reliable persons for serving as deacons. The deacon's "yes" must be yes, and "no" no (2 Cor. 1:17-18). Bunyan's "Mr. Two Tongues" is not a suitable candidate for this important office.Why sincere? A couple of reasons come to mind.

Sincerity reflects the character of Christ. Our Lord never spoke with guile. He did not shade the truth or mislead others. He did not flatter. He was sincere in all His dealings with men, from telling them their desperate need because of sin and addressing self-righteousness to holding out the promise of eternal life. In all his dealings He was pure. Likewise, His servants are called to be sincere (1 Thes. 2:5) and to put away flattering lips (Ps. 12:2-3; Pr. 26:28). False teachers and divisive persons, not the servants of Christ, employ flattery (Rom. 16:18; Jude 16).

Ever had the experience of talking with someone about something important but leaving the conversation unsure that you were talking with a "good faith partner"? It leaves you unsettled if not anxious. When we think someone has been insincere in their interaction with us, our trust is eroded. Deacons are people who are meant to solve problems and to get involved in sometimes intimate matters of a person's life. Not surprisingly, then, sincerity in a deacon goes a long way in helping to calm distress and resolve issues. Even if the resolution isn't what one would hope for, they are helped immensely if they have been dealt with sincerely and lovingly. Phil Ryken makes some helpful comments on this qualification: "the word of a deacon ought to be one of the strongest guarantees in the church. People both inside and outside the church must be able to take deacons at their words." (1 Timothy: Reformed Expositors Commentary, P&R, p. 124).

Some things to look for and questions to ask:

1. Does the potential deacon have a reputation for keeping his or her word? Do they follow through on their commitments? The deacon should have a track record for completing assignments and tasks in keeping with their words.

2. Does the potential deacon speak consistently to different parties? Is there confidence that what the person says in one setting is what they will say in others? Here, it's helpful to find people who are not overtaken with fear of man. Deacons will be sent into trouble situations, so they can't be vulnerable to the faces of men or the pressure that's sometimes felt in tense situations.

3. Does the deacon speak the truth in love? It's one thing to say the same thing consistently. But that won't be helpful if what's consistently said is harmful to others or said in an unhelpful way. The deacon should clothe all his or her speech in the greatest of all virtues: love.

4. Churches should look for men and women who are known to be fair brokers. Are there men and women who already demonstrate an ability to "stand in the gap" between conflicted parties and serve the needs of both parties? Are there people generally trusted by the congregation as people who are impartial and who speak for justice?

Our deacons are often the front-line of caring for the body. Given that, we need persons whose words can be trusted and who follow through on their commitments.

Monday, March 10, 2008

So You Want to Pastor...

Matt Schmucker lists some helpful things to ask when considering a church to pastor.

Deacons: Full of the Spirit and Wisdom

By God's grace and kindness to me, He has allowed me to serve as a senior pastor for just under two years now. The longer record of His kindness includes the blessing of watching and serving as an elder at two other churches over the course of the last 10 years. I'm a young pastor, but the longer the Lord allows me to serve in pastoral ministry the deeper He impresses the importance upon me of praying for faithful men and women to serve as deacons in the church.

Last night at our members' meeting, the congregation had opportunity to celebrate the ministry of a brother who is ending his term as our deacon of personnel. Tim Adam heads the country's largest telecom corporation, and yet person after person remembered him for his humility, spiritual focus, eagerness to serve, and wisdom.

I was reminded of the Spirit-given wisdom and insight of the apostles in Acts 6 when they instructed the young and rapidly growing church in Jerusalem to "choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom" (v. 3). Tim certainly met those qualifications, and as elders we are gripped with the importance of praying for many others in the body to use, show, and grow in these qualities.

When looking for deacons, it is imperative to look for men and women full of the Spirit. The office is a spiritual office. It's discharge is a spiritual work, even if you organize your deacons around specific primary tasks as we do. There is no advantage to the church and the gospel in seeking those who are not full of the Spirit.

Some Questions to Ask When Looking for Deacons Filled with the Spirit

1. Does the man put the ministry of the word and prayer above the "practical" needs of the church? The very purpose for which the apostles appointed deacons was to make sure the ministry of the word was not neglected. Does the potential deacon understand his or her role in terms of freeing up the ministry of the word and prayer, and not as competition with it? Do they recognize the facilitating aspect of their role, or are they "advocates" for more attention to this or that "practical need"? Lloyd-Jones, commenting on this verse, noted three ways in which the deacon must recognize the priority of spiritual matters and the ministry of the word:

It is wrong to put 'serving tables' before the preaching of the Word of God because it is always wrong to put man before God. That, in a nutshell, is the real trouble with the world. Man is at the center; man is everything....

So it is wrong to put man before God, and, second, in exactly the same way, it is wrong to put the body before the soul. In other words, we are not only wrong about God, we are wrong about man. What is man? According to the modern theory, man is only body, and so you must attend to everything to with the body; give it plenty of food, plenty of drink, clothing, shelter, medical care, plenty of sex. Oh, the tragedy that humanity should think it is complimenting itself and exalting itself by turning its back upon God to concentrate on physical needs. And this is what this Word of God encounters, what it denounces....

Finally, is it not the height of folly and indeed the greatest tragedy to put time before eternity? The feeding of the body only belongs to time. A day is coming in the life of all of us when we will not be interested in food, and when food will not be able to help us at all; we will be beyond that" (Victorious Christianity: Studies in the Book of Acts, v. 3, p. 236, 237-8).

2. Is the person a servant? Though our culture thinks of table service as demeaning and lowly, we Christians ought not miss the fact that such lowliness and willingness to serve is a mark of Christ's life and humility. He came to serve, not to be served, and to give His life as a ransom (Mark 10:45). He made himself of no reputation, but humbled himself and took on the form of a bondservant (Phil. 2). Does the potential deacon see service as a necessary part of following Christ? Are they happy to accept "menial" tasks, duties that lack glamor? Or, do they want applause and recognition and attention for "their" ministries?

3. Does the person evidence the fruit of the Spirit? (Gal. 5:22-23). Are the virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control evident in the way they serve and their conduct? Deacons are people who will attend to any number of thorny frustrations and problems in the local church. So, they need to be people full of grace who are able to address issues with the Spirit's power and qualities. They should be able to "keep in step with the Spirit" and "not become conceited, provoking and envying" others (Gal. 5:25-26). Does the potential deacon stir strife or settle it? Are they talebearers or are they able to keep appropriate confidences and to end murmuring and complaining?

4. Does the person demonstrate Spirit-inspired wisdom? A deacon must be able to resolve problems. Often they must be able to anticipate problems as well, so that the unavoidable bumps along the way don't completely derail the church in her mission. But to do this well, a person needs wisdom. Is the potential deacon known for their discernment, insight, and sound judgment when interacting with people? When addressing problems? Are they slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to anger? Do they consider the ideas of others, or are they committed to their own thoughts more than others? Do they show wisdom in not only arriving at decisions be in implementing them and in helping others to understand the decision? Are they prudent when it comes to working through a process for arriving at a decision? Wisdom is needed for both the final decision and the process for getting there.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Keeping My Perspective Realistic/Jaded

A brother and friend sent this picture to me today. A healthy reminder about the political process:

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Power in Preaching

From C. John Miller's, The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (pp. 100-102):

"Power in preaching comes from a strong faith that is qualified by wisdom. Preaching is faith speaking; that is what it means to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit. And faith and confident praying are two sides of the same coin. Basically I am convinced that men who do not make praying their first priority in life and ministry should not preach or pastor. As preachers they will be confusing models of a Christian man, and as shepherds they will not show willingness to die for the sheep. Their spirit will inevitably drift in the wrong direction.

"As we seek faith and pray together, the power will be in the preaching, and other matters such as style will begin to take their own course. However, I don't mean that the models we imitate, the decision whether to use a manuscript, effectiveness in eye contact, and tone of voice are not important. They can reveal some hang-ups in us, specifically a hanging on to some kind of false self-image, or officialism, which quenches the Spirit in us.

"But I do think the chief thing in effective ministry--as a total endeavor--is the presence of the Spirit in the man--changing him through the gospel, breaking down our idols, and building us into the glorious image of Christ. Often a wrong self-image or a distorted one, which hinders liberty in preaching, is simply a life minus much real fellowship with Christ through the Spirit. When preaching is blandly intellectual, contentless exhortation, or heavily doctrinal, usually there is also missing the Spirit's presence. The man is only a man preaching to men--not a 'bush aglow.'
"My own struggles in this area have been utterly humbling. When believers come and entreat me to talk with their pastors about the lack of excitement in their preaching, I remember well how crushed I felt when a brother said to me, 'I'm sorry, but your preaching doesn't edify me.' Those are the words a member of New Life spoke to me about four years ago. But God made this comment into a great blessing. I asked the brother to pray for me. He later came and said, 'Your preaching has really helped me.' God used his words to shock me awake, to cause me to simplify my messages, to recruit people to pray for me, and to make my preaching more Christ-centered.

"Also, I have been gifted with Rose Marie, who not only speaks about my failures with clarity, but is not afraid to tell me that the message 'sounded more like Jack than the Holy Spirit.' Almost always she is right. There is a mystery in the Holy Spirit's presence, but the mystery should not be overstated. Most non-intellectual types can tell intuitively whether the Spirit is present in preaching. They feel His wooing, a conviction, a desire to be changed, and a longing to be holy, and they know deep in their conscience that God Himself is speaking through the preacher to them personally.

"Of course you must evaluate both praise and blame, and when it comes to non-intellectual types, they need to be taken seriously. When they say, 'I'm not being changed by your preaching,' one must do some soul-searching and be driven to new earnestness in prayer.

"I do not, of course, think of prayer as retirement from the battle to the isolation of a remote study, but the vertical aspect of vigorous shepherding. Usually when our praying is weak, so is our shepherding spirit; we have more in common with the hireling than the Shepherd who died for His sheep. To me this is probably my worst sin--lack of love for God's sheep, a holy passion to see them kept from the cliffs and wolves, and fed in greed pastures."

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

This Is Not a Retraction

Since posting some reflections on the Barack Obama campaign (here) a few people have contacted me with concern that whatever influence this blog has has been put in service to a pro-choice, pro-abortion candidate. These have been good brothers; men I hold dear who've taken the risk of faith to speak to what they see as an inadequacy in my post and perhaps my thinking. Others have left shown similar kindness in the comment section of the blog. I'm thankful for every one of the comments, emails, and the 1 or 2 phone calls.

Since there was never an endorsement, I suppose this is not a "retraction." But throughout the discussion there has been the feeling that Barack Obama is to Thabiti Anyabwile... as Louis Farrakhan is to Barack Obama. I've felt that some have assumed a kind of guilt by association, and the need for some distancing. That's been curious to me in some ways. I don't know that I understand it, but at the least I should try to respond with some additional clarification.

So, let me try to say some things fairly clearly so there's no misinterpretation and try to offer one suggestion to my white evangelical brothers.

1. As stated in the original post, the post was not an endorsement of Barack Obama or any particular policy position Obama takes or has taken. Some have essentially said that because I reflect positively or wishfully on what the candidacy means for things like opportunities for all and ethnic self-understanding, I must be endorsing Obama. That amounts to a complete disregard of what I actually write in the post, and, to that extent, is not good dialogue. To be clear, I am not endorsing Barack Obama.

2. I am pro-life. Not because it's the litmus test for the "evangelical" or "conservative" agenda, but because it's the agenda of the Sovereign God who created us, gives life and eternal life, conquers death, and seeks a godly offspring to fill the earth with His glory (Mal. 2:15). To my knowledge, I've never voted pro-choice and I don't have any plans to. Whatever is written in the post is in no way to be mistaken for softness or indifference to Sen. Obama's position on the matter.

A Suggestion:
Well, those are my two clarifications. Now a suggestion that I hope helps dialogue between black and white brothers on the issue of abortion.

A lot of the comments I received, and quite a few of the comments I see on other blogs, tries to approach abortion with African Americans by likening it to slavery. The argument goes: (1) slavery was a heinous sin perpetrated against African Americans; (2) abortion is a heinous sin that claims the lives of black babies; therefore, (3) African Americans should oppose abortion the way they would oppose slavery.

On behalf of some black folks (certainly not all), let me say that that arguments hits many of our ears as a bit heavy handed and self-serving.

It rings heavy handed because it says (or, many of us hear it as): "You black folks should care about this. You need to side up with us. We know what's in your best interest." Now, I know many of the folks who make this argument. And I'm quite confident that's not their heart or intent. But, brothers, I fear you're losing many potential allies because that's the way it sounds.

And it rings self-serving because many African Americans will instinctively respond with: (a) yeah, and where were white evangelicals on the slavery question. Please don't lecture me about the horrors of slavery as though you know something about its effects. And, (b) isn't abortion white folks' problem.

Now, certainly 'b' is false. Abortion is all of our problems. But, please know your audience. Many African-Americans view this as largely a white middle-class issue. So, calling upon slavery in an effort to enlist African Americans seems really self-serving. And evoking slavery while assuming some moral authority just flat sounds condescending and hypocritical to many black ears who assume that white brothers showed no interest in the real lives of slaves when those chips were down a couple hundred years ago. And when coming from many brothers who would act as if--maybe even argue that--racism and discrimination were no problem today, the argument is almost unbearable.

This email is friendly fire, brothers. Let's pray, work, vote, lobby and act to end abortion today. Let's do it in a big tent with everyone who will labor with us. But just a suggestion: please leave the argument from slavery at home, know your audience, and let's work on some better strategies for winning those to our cause who may be willing to enroll.

Grace and peace.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Peacemaker Blog

One of the most valuable books and resources available to the local church has to be Peacemaker Ministries. Ken Sande and the team have served the body exceptionally well in the practical resources and biblical insight they've developed and taught over the years. Well, those helps should be expanded considerably with the new Peacemakers blog, Route 5:9. Based on Matthew 5:9, the blog's purpose is "To reflect on the peacemaking journey, gospel-centered relationships, and life in the church."

Check them out and be edified.

Choosing Your Waiter

I frequent restaurants fairly often. It's where a good deal of one-on-one discipleship happens, as I meet with men from the church and discuss together the Scripture, their lives, and good Christian books. Aside from the joy of sharing a meal together, one of the things that makes these visits fruitful is having a good waiter. If the waiter enjoys their task as a table server, if they're eager to serve, if they are available when there is need but otherwise not intrusive, then the experience is really quite enjoyable.

The downside, of course, is that restaurant patrons don't generally get the privilege of choosing their waiters. We arrive, are seated by a host/hostess, and then the waiter working that area shows up to provide service. In secular speak, "it's the luck of the draw."

In many ways, our experience in the local church is akin to eating a meal in a favorite restaurant. Just as is the case with restaurants, the local church has table servers as well. We call them "deacons." And as the experience in Acts 6 reveals, the joy, peace, unity and fruitfulness of the local church depends in part on having a cadre of faithful table servants who are there when needed, not intrusive, but eager to serve.

Lord willing, the next several posts will focus on finding deacons in the local church, faithful table servers who give themselves in caring for the needs of the body. With the move of many churches to eldership, the deaconal role has necessarily been redefined and sometimes been neglected. But deacons are an indispensable part of serving the body of Christ and of multiplying the church's ministry.

We see this quite clearly in Acts 6, where the apostles charge the church in Jerusalem with finding deacons among them.

The Opportunity: Acts 6:1 points out that "the number of disciples was increasing." It was a time of spiritual prosperity in the conversion of souls and enrollment in the school of Christ. The word of God was advancing and producing much fruit.

The Threat: However, inside the church complaint was lodged by Greek or Greek-speaking Jews against Hebraic or Hebrew-speaking Jews. The practical challenge was the distribution of foods to widows. There was inequity in the distribution. The related problem was disparity along cultural or ethnic lines. According to the Grecian Jews, the problem wasn't randomly affecting the widows, or affecting widows along income lines, or in accord with spiritual maturity. Greek and Hebraic Jews were treated differently. Cultural or ethnic prejudice threatened the unity of the church as well as the physical well-being of some widows.

The Solution: So, the apostles (a) made the necessary decision to prioritize the ministry of the word and prayer over the real and present physical needs. The squeaky wheel would be oiled, but not at the expense of the very life-giving word of God that had created the church and produced new disciples; and (b) recommended that the brothers choose seven men to "wait on tables," to deacon.

To modern sensibilities, "waiting on tables" is a low-level, sometimes demeaning position. It's what you do when you're working your way through college, or passing time until your career takes off. Many people think serving tables is beneath them, perhaps necessary sacrifice to make ends meet, but altogether undesirable as a way of life.

But how different it is in the Lord's church! The apostles under the inspiration of God's Spirit create an entirely new office in the church for the specific purpose of serving tables. And the loftiness of the office is seen (a) in the character that's required to fill it, (b) the ministry of word and prayer it facilitates, and (c) the unifying and strengthening effect it is designed to have on the church. The deaconate is every bit as essential to the spread of the word as the apostleship and eldership!

Are there widows in our churches that are not well-cared-for? Perhaps we need to consider our work with deacons? Are there inequities in the distribution of benevolence or resources in the church? Sounds like a job for deacons. Are there cultural tensions and threats to unity in the church? Do we wish to see a more diverse church integrated in Christian life? The position of deacon was established with an eye toward harmony across cultural and language lines. Are churches threatened by potential splits? Deacons were the early church's "shock absorbers," able to take complaints and concerns and resolve them in godliness and preserve the unity of the saints.

When Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas were commissioned for the deaconate, "the word of God spread" and "the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7). Who among us would not like to see the word spread, number of disciples rapidly increasing, and large numbers of people and priests becoming obedient to the faith? An effective deacon ministry facilitated this in the early church as it freed the deacons of the word to do their work. It's with this hope in mind, that I pray the Lord would guide us in our consideration of deacons and how to find them.