Hope in a Hopeless World

I received some truly heart-rending news last night from our old stomping grounds of Carlisle, Arkansas, where I spent 13 years of my teaching career. News of another student taking his own life.  This was the second such sad news in a month.  Of course, immediately rumors were flying that this was yet another case of bullying. No doubt, bullying is a very real problem that has been around for far longer than any of us breathing have been alive. Yes, young people have access to more avenues to bully and generally be ugly to each other than ever before. But we have to understand, bullying by itself is not a cause of suicide. No, suicide is the result of hopelessness.  When one has a genuine hope, they are not overwhelmed by the hopeless world.  Yes, they may get “down”, and even at times despair.  Further, there are measurable and diagnosable conditions that result in depression, which most certainly can lead a person to a very dark and dangerous place.  Medical science of today even tries to medicate depression (and even those who appear depressed, but are not clinically depressed) with drugs that themselves can, when taken erratically or suddenly not at all, lead to extreme depression and suicidal thoughts. But again – no attempt to help those struggling with depression is complete or should be expected to really work without giving them hope.

Which brings me to a reply I put together on a thread about this most recent death in Carlisle. This reply really deserved its own place – so I include it here to conclude my thoughts on the matter.  And please pray for those involved in this terrible situation!


I cannot comprehend in my own mind and heart why a teen would take their own life. I understand that there are many pressures from our society, as well as I know that in many cases – Christ has been left out of the family equation (I am in NO WAY suggesting that is the situation in this most recent case). I also know that everything from drugs to family dynamics that have been turned upside down by our lost and dying culture often are a major factor. And Satan does, indeed, roam around like a ravenous lion seeking whom he may devour…

There is a message of Hope, found in the lines of Scripture – a Hope for something greater and far bigger than our selves and our current situation. It is within the pages of the Bible that we find the Source of real Peace and strength, the source of containment, the source of hope in a world that seems hopeless. And we who HAVE this blessed Hope must truly engage those around us with the reason for our great Hope – and that is Jesus Christ.

And as I have said most of my life, whether it was my 14 years of teaching, or my 9+ years in active pastoral ministry: May I make a difference in someone’s life… today, tomorrow and every day until the Lord calls me home! Never underestimate what a kind word or act can do. And certainly never underestimate what God can do when you share Jesus!

Discernment

What is “discernment”?

dis·cern·ment
dəˈsərnmənt/
noun
1. the ability to judge well.
“an astonishing lack of discernment”
2. (in Christian contexts) perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding.
Discernment is a form of judgment the Christ commanded His followers to exercise, and the apostle Paul also wrote about. Discernment about what is right and wrong, what is of God and not of God. Discernment is simply exercising good, educated judgment.
Sadly, I see an ever-growing plague afflicting Christians – and the disease is “Discernment Deficiency”. What do I mean?
Well – the most obvious is the lack of discernment regarding who they spend their time listening to. I see many churches hosting speakers and simulcasts of celebrity preachers and teachers, who might offer up some “good stuff” on a regular basis, yet at the same time hold to heretical position, which they generally weave in with the “good stuff” they put out.
Another form of “Discernment Deficiency”” comes when Christians buy up the latest popular “Christian book”, fiction or supposed non-fiction. Devotional books that the author quite literally claims to be speaking for God being one example. Another would be popular books that depict flatly heretical, even anti-Christ ways.  So many “Christians” just lap it up. Then you have the less-obvious form of  Discernment Deficiency comes when professed Christians choose a church based on what feels good and/or tickles their ears. Or, they may just stay “content” with the “milk” instead of the “meat” of the Word. (Hebrews 5:12, 1 Corinthians 3:2).
I’ve heard the arguments before which range from “I didn’t know”, to “I take it in and spit the bones out”. I understand, I really do. But, when faced with the realities of writers who hold to incredibly wrong and unbiblical positions, when faced with the knowledge that that book and movie you so love and tell everyone they should read/see is heresy – do you keep holding on to it?
Better yet, when false teachers actually teach blatantly false doctrines, and you completely miss it time and again, there is a problem.  You see, there are a few things necessary to exercise discernment.  Here are some of the big ones:
1. A personal, saving, relationship with Jesus Christ. We shouldn’t be surprised when the lost lack spiritual discernment.
2. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Scripture is clear that the Spirit guides and directs us, though we are expected to actually listen! This is promised along with salvation.
3. Bible – not just ownership of a copy, not a Bible sitting on the coffee table collecting dust, but a Bible that is read frequently. A Bible that is studied intentionally. A Bible that is heeded.
4. Solid, Biblical, Expository preaching – We need solid, Bible-based, accurate preaching of the Word in our lives.  Preaching that takes the Scriptures and actually expounds on what it actually says IN CONTEXT, not what some guy wants it to say and thus has plucked it out of its context to make a point.
5. Intentional, ongoing, Discipleship.  Jesus said in his Great Commission to go make disciples.  This means intentional, personal, and meaningful time together between mature Christians (read that – those who exercise good discernment) and less mature believers. It means having the tough conversations about what is right, what is true, what is Godly. And it means living it out before others.
Reader – please, before you dish out the money and time to go see the latest speaker/simulcast, or to get and read the latest book, or brag on the latest “Christian” film, pray about it.  Seek out wise counsel, and compare the message with the Bible. Be willing to see through the glossy cover and exciting promotional material.  Look beyond the feel-good “Bible-like” vocabulary.
And watch out for these “code words” and markers:  contemplative prayer (it is a Eastern/Mysic pagan practice being heavily co-opted and rebranded by evangelicals and even Baptists), Social Justice (another concept that has overtaken many Christians – certainly we should desire justice – but those proclaiming it as part of their theology and doctrine have the whole thing upside down and pursue a very unbiblical path to it), any form of “speak it and believe it” (closely related to the prosperity gospel), and most certainly anything that points to your “best life now”!  Pretty much anything that puts you at the center of God’s universe, instead of God at the center of it all is a pretty big indicator of problems. Also, if it is a woman acting in every way like a pastor/preacher, you probably should see there is a problem. And just because their latest book is sold on the shelves of your local Christian bookstore (including Lifeway®), does not in ANY way verify it is a good resource. Quite the contrary, as the dollar has become the master for many of these retailers.
There are too many of these wolves to put a comprehensive list together, but if you have any questions, feel free to contact me and I will do what I can to help you to discern.

Churches, Pastors, and a Problem

I nearly forgot that I set up this blog! I’ve been using my other for some time (though not as regular as I should), and realized I really needed to post here. But it is with a sad heart that I pick this subject on which to post.

The name of this blog is “Contending For The Kingdom”, and that is exactly what I intend for every post to be geared towards. Issues of Kingdom work – observations and experience related to ministry, the Church, and the Gospel.

In this case – I was brought to remembrance of something that has weighed on my heart for some time.  Churches and their pastor(s).  Biblically, we see in the New Testament, elders/pastors basically appointed by the faithful to lead local congregations. Those men were entrusted with “feeding” Christ’s sheep. They were appointed to be leaders who literally ran the affairs of each local church. Church members (saints) were expected, so long as that elder/pastor remained qualified and faithful to the work, to submit to their authority, and to serve along side them willingly and with joy in the Kingdom work.

But there is a sad reality that has grown worse over the years of history, particularly among congregational-rule churches (as most of us Baptists are). The church issues the “call” to a man to pastor, hopefully after bathing the decision in much prayer and after doing do-diligence to find the man God has chosen for the important position. Even though the local church issues the call (usually after a congregational vote with a stipulated margin to consider it a successful call), that pastor is not, biblically, beholden to the congregation first, but to God.

Scripture clearly spells out the framework a pastor is responsible to fulfill. The most important being the ministry of the Word (this is why deacons were called – to take some of the load off the elder/pastor so they could spend more time in that study and preparation of the Word). And while visiting church members and seeing after the sick might not be a biblically-mandated job for a pastor, most of us actually are blessed to be able to carry out this form of ministry as time allows.

Sadly, some church have a great deal out-of-place. They have placed the pastor into a category of little more than an “employee”. Many such churches have lengthy lists of the required “duties of the pastor” that often bear little resemblance to the biblical model. Equally many churches like this have a “ruling body” in the church that leaves out the pastor. This body, often labeled “deacon board”, must approve even move, and hold the pastor under a microscope. Sadly, this is 100% outside the biblical role of the deacons.

Certainly any pastor/elder who has half a brain would LOVE to have a group of men who are godly, spiritually mature, servant-hearted workers to be able to discuss things, to work along side, and to consult with on issues within the church. After all, the biblical qualifications of a deacon are nearly identical to those of the pastor!

Sadly, many in churches have taken upon themselves, either because they have some kind of “seniority”, because of the size of their giving, or the above mentioned title of “deacon”, feel they have the right to exercise ruling authority over the church, with the pastor being the chief (expendable) part of that equation.

I have watched this unfold in several churches, though thankfully not in a church that I have pastored. I have friends who have been flat-out abused by their church, demoralized, and crushed under incredibly un-loving (and un-biblical) actions.

Let me pause for a moment and say this: There are times when a pastor must go. When a man begins to walk outside the clear requirements of a pastor found in scripture – say he is found to be an adulterer, their, or criminal in some other format – obviously he is disqualified and must be put out. Or, if the man occupying the pulpit is not “rightly” handling Scripture, and teaching/preaching spurious, heretical garbage, he should be put out. But even in these extreme cases, there is a process that the Word of God gives us to deal with them – to be addressed “man-to-man”, then take a couple of mature Christian witnesses, then bring it to the church.

Nowhere in the Bible does the Lord say to oust a man from the ministry because he hurt your feelings by preaching against your pet sin. Nor does the Lord indicate that ousting a man for not being able to make it to see you in the hospital. And one the is particularly saddening – when a pastor is bringing in lost people and ministering to them – but members of the church says they don’t want “those people” in the church…

I have been an eye witness to an older pastor, who had endured many health issues of his own, who had recently lost a son to the same health issue, and who was still reeling from it all, when his church, having the un-Scirptural “annual call”  saw a significant (though minority) number vote against him.  How many had actually gone to him to express any concerns they had or any problems that had arisen? To my knowledge, none.  He was blindsided and resigned days later.

Another, more recent case is a personal friend of mine who is one of the most kind, pastoral-hearted men I’ve ever known.  He is biblically-sound and a pretty good preacher who is faithful in His service to the Lord. Yet some of those “leaders”didn’t like that this pastor had disagreed with him (with a biblical response), and was further angered by not being allowed to run rough-shod over the church. This leader (yes, a deacon) pressed for the ousting of my friend. No actual charge was made.

Had my friend been biblically disqualified, had he been teaching or preaching something in error and refused to repent of it, or had he been ignoring his responsibilities as a pastor/elder to “feed the sheep”, I would have been in agreement with the church. Instead he was ousted based on one man’s agenda, who didn’t like the truth (even when spoken in love), and who was offended that those pastor would minister to folks of a different background.

And here we are a few months later, my friend is still hurting – literally wounded in his spirit and heart, and who is drifting in his own world trying to find some clarity. That church had no right to inflict this kind of harm. And I firmly believe that the individual who led this campaign, as well as those who were willing to be pawns in the game, will give answer before the Lord.

In a world of consumer-driven, disposable product, my way mentality, the last place this should be manifest is in the local church. We as a local church are called to be better than that – to be a lighthouse, to offer the world love in place of pain, hope in place of despair, and grace instead of vengeance. In fact, this is exactly what Peter was writing to believers about:

Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

When you genuinely love your brethren, as Jesus said we would if we are His, then that love helps you to overlook or in love, to address issues with a person. And is there anyone in your church that needs more grace and understanding that your pastor, who wakes up each morning with the knowledge that he will give account before God almighty what he has done in the role of pastor as a caretaker of the Bride of Christ?

So – first of all, I would encourage you to love and pray for your pastor. Instead of praying for a new pastor, how about praying for the one you have? Second, if you do think there is an issue, won’t you take the biblical path and go to him. Express your concerns. You might just find that you are the one with the misunderstanding.

But even more important is to address spiritual issues within your church, beginning with yourself. Generally a church that will unjustly oust a pastor has other symptoms of spiritual disease. Often it is a membership that is more flesh-minded that Spirit-minded. Usually there is malcontent no matter who the pastor is. And sadly, there may even be the bigger problem of unregenerate membership – meaning that there are people on the church role who don’t REALLY know the Lord. They base their salvation on their attendance, giving, and position, not on their personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ.  Jesus told His disciples that they would be known by one, very specific, character trait: their love one for another. Do the members of your church really love the brethren? This includes your pastor!

And all this extensive blustering, yet I also am aware of churches led by men who should have been ousted long ago, yet they continue one, exercising a near dictatorial reign over their church. I even knew a pastor who had a reputation for calling people who disagreed with him to the parking lot (apparently to punch them out). Again I say – false teachers and those walking in unrepentant sin must be dealt with, and quickly. But we have to quit hurting good, qualified men of God, because ultimately you are hurting the Church. I wouldn’t want to stand before God and try to explain why I harmed the church!