Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Does Luke 2:14 mean Peace on Earth to Everyone?

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
-Luke 2:14 (KJV)

You have probably received Christmas cards containing the above part of the angel’s song to the shepherds on the fields of Bethlehem. But most modern translations read differently for example the New American Standard Bible (NASB) reads:

"Glory to God in the highest , And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."

And the English Standard Version (ESV) reads:

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

Notice that the underlined portion of the newer translations are lacking in the KJV. Now don’t get me wrong I love the KJV, and I am not knocking it. In fact I always check it when I do sermon preparation. The difference between the KJV and the other translations is the difference between the nominative εὐδοκια[eudokia] in the KJV and the genitive εὐδοκιας[eudokias] in the NASB and ESV. The genitive case in Greek is used to show possession, but the function of the nominative case is to indicate the subject of the sentence. In other words, if a word is the subject of the verb it will have a nominative case ending. The new translations used the oldest and best manuscripts.

The Greek manuscripts used to translate the KJV contained a nominative, whereas the older manuscripts used to translate the modern version contains the genitive of the same word.  The literal transition would be “of good will” or “characterized by (God’s) good pleasure.” I n other words, the peace that the angles sang that  night belonged to the earth as a result of the birth of Christ is not a generic, worldwide peace for all humankind, but a peace limited to those who obtain favor with God by believing in his son Jesus (See Romans 5:1). Jesus brings peace to those who trust and believe in him, but to those who reject him their end will be judgement and he will wage war on them (see Revelation 19:11). This is why we must make the most of  the Christmas season to direct people to Jesus Christ, as we should in all seasons.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

What are the greatest changes you are facing in your church and ministry?

Recently I was asked by a member of the Tennessee Baptist Convention the question above. I began in the ministry in 2001. I have watched many changes unfold in these past 17 years. I took my first full-time ministry in 2007. Here is my observations:

1. Social Media-The options of blogs, Facebook, tweeter, and Instagram changed how we communicate. There may have been a time when you could pastor without using these tools but not today. You must be online to be a good Shepherd and know where the pulse of the culture is.

2. Widespread Use of Cell Phones and Text Messaging- This has also changed the way we communicate. We can now have change plans instantly. I think this has led to lower commitment levels. Also, text messaging has allowed for an exchange of information without commitment to talking to one another. Sometimes this is good, but other times important communication cues are lost in translation.

3. Overcoming Legalism –For many years living a holy lifestyle was stressed, but sometimes at the expense of getting the gospel right. Many of those in my generation, Gen X and younger, need help to recover from the scars of legalism. I once wrote a blog answering a question about if it is ok to have a tattoo. I didn’t think much would come of it, but it resulted in the most viewed blog I have written to date. We have to remove the legalistic packing the gospel has been wrapped in if we are going to be effective in reaching out to others.

4. The influence of 24-hour news and shock jock radio –I remember when 24-hour news was kicked off during the 9-11 attacks. I think that the constant bombardment of news, mostly bad has affected our churches and communities. In the culture, the divide between the right and left are more distant than ever. And both sides are becoming more militant in their stance and lack of toleration for the other side. In fact, this has led to an inability to disagree on anything agreeably. The only groups are those who are for us, and those against. The effects of these groups continue to polarize our culture and churches.

5. Waiting longer to join a local Church-It is now not uncommon for an individual or couple to wait up to 1 or 2 years before they enter a church. This may be because of past hurts, and sometimes they just want to “serve God” not joining the membership at all.

6. The pornification of our society- No longer only accessible in movies and magazines, Pornography is now piped in through phones, iPad, PCs, and tablet devise. Also, it is no longer just for men.

7. Increase in Drug Additions- When I first entered into the ministry the empathies was on staying away from alcohol, but ask any police officer today, and they will tell you pills and harder drug additions are a bigger issue. Our area has one of the highest NAS baby births in the USA.

Monday, October 1, 2018

What are the greatest challenges you are facing in your church and ministry?

The biggest challenges facing our church I think are in two categories: Internal (challenges from within the church culture) and External (Challenges form the culture on the church). Let me start with the internal challenges:

  • Fear of the Unknown- In our area the tried and true methods are the most trusted, but the tried and true deliver the same results. Innovation is not valued highly, part of the mountain culture I assure. I think that if you were to ask the average Carter County resident what they fear, they would say "leaving this area." This would be due to the fact that they don't know if they could survive outside this county. Our community in many ways remains in a time warp, lagging some 20 or more years behind many of urban settings in the US. Sometimes this is good, but sometimes it hurts us.
  • Love of Comfort- In many ways this goes hand and hand with the first one. I think that people don't want to try new ministries or models of ministry because they are comfortable with what they have. While we are all guilty of this, it is especially true in this church. We all love comfort food, and to churches there are comfort ministries: Three to thrive, Sunday School, etc... The mistake made here is to mistake the practice for the biblical principle.
  • Inability to Relate or Understand the Unreached- Flowing from an inward focus, the inability to see what the church does through the eyes of someone who is lost. Our Church needs to understand who the unreached are, what they are thinking, where they gather, and why they are not coming to church. The longer we are in church, this gets harder to do.
  • A Balance between "Come and See" and "Go and Tell" outreach- Perhaps it is because the church has spent so much time and energy on its building or perhaps it is bad teaching. But we need a balance between inviting them to come and see what we have to offer, with going and telling what Jesus has to offer. The church often times doesn't see the value in going and telling. The attitude is, “if they want us, they know where to find us same place we have been for 75 years.” Praise God this is not what Christ's attitude towards us!
  • UnGodly Marriages-These are burning up the church. Marriages that are in trouble. Dealing with them takes a great amount of time and energy, sucking life out of a pastor and church. Even marriages we think are “OK” are not as good as we hoped. It is life draining to deal with these. Usually by the time they reach my desk the “eggs are out of the cart and smashed on the floor.” Can we as pastors put the eggs back together?
  • Lack of Commitment to the Local Church –People see the church in one of two ways: either “what can it do for me” or “what can I do for her?” For me this is one of the most cutting. I have had to watch people I would have once counted as very good friends leave the church over petty issues. I often think they are trying to solve internal problems with external solutions. I am not sure how to help them and minister to them when: 1. I am hurt by their actions and lack desire to minster to them, 2. They don’t want me to minister to them in some cases.
  • Legalism-Legalism is a “peculiar kind of submission to God’s law, something that no longer feels the personal divine touch in the rule it submits to.” And just as in the story of the Prodigal Son, we are much more likely to find the legalist near the Father’s house than out away form it. Legalism involves superimposing moral standards that are either non existent in the word or of minor issue. Joyful holy living has been replaced by something more ugly. The unreached pick up on this and run from it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

How should we respond to LGBTQ Festivals and White Nationalists rallies?

On September 15, 2018, the first annual TriPride Parade and Festival took place in Johnson City, TN. WJHL reported that 10,000 people celebrated at the Festival. In addition to this the Tennessee League of the South announced they will hold a rally at Sycamore Sholes State Historic Park on Saturday, September 29, 2018, at 9 am. According to the League State Chairman Tom Pierce, the purpose was to “draw attention to the continued assault upon our people and heritage.” They are protesting the fall of “Silent Sam” at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill campus. The question is how do we respond to these groups in our community? 

First, I would like to point out that these two groups share distortions. Both groups are distorting God’s creation and plan for humanity. The LGBTQ community distorts God’s plan and the creation of gender, sexuality, and the family.  God made two genders in Genesis 5:2. God established the plan for the family in Genesis 2:24 stating that a man shall “leave and cleave” to his wife, beginning a new family unit. Two genders fulfilling the earth through a God defined marriage is His plan for humanity. Anything outside of this plan laid out in Genesis is a distortion of God’s good plan and leads to greater distortions and brokenness.

The nationalist community distorts the value and equality of all mankind through racism. Genesis 1:27 tells us that all are made in the image of God. This includes all skin color. We are also told that all, if we believe in Jesus, are one in Jesus Christ, Galatians 3:28.  The New Testament teaches us that justification by faith does not eradicate our gender, our vocation, or our ethnicity, but it does relativize all these things. Our first and most important identity is not male or female, American or Korean, black or white, but Christian. We are more alike then we are different. 
Lastly, bible last teaches us that partiality is a sin, see James 2:1. And 1 John 3:15 tells us that everyone who hates his brother is a murderer. Hate is murder of the heart because it looks at someone else or some other group and thinks, “I wish you were not around. You are what’s wrong with this world, and the world would be better without people like you.” That’s hate, which sounds an awful lot like murder. 

Here are some things to remember:
1.    We must be salt and light, but don’t throw salt in people’s eyes or blind others.While it may be enticing to join the anti-protests in each group, we should avoid this. We must show love for the persons trapped in these principalities, and stand against their messages. 
2.    Remember the church brings together what the world defines as natural enemies. We are all one in Christ Jesus. The separating of peoples at Babel in Genesis 11:7-9 was a cure, but bringing peoples together at Pentecost in Acts 2:5-11 was a gift God gave us.
3.    Be tough and tenderand be patient with all.Jesus was the toughest on Pharisees and tender towards people, like the woman at the well. We never back down from God’s Word, but we also need to have compassion for the brokenness of fallen human beings. Let us remember, were it not for the grace of God, we would most likely be in one camp or the other.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Why Move Trunk or Treat to Sunday, instead of October 31?

Trunk or Treat last year was a big success! Actually, it was more successful than we were prepared for. The Facebook event was shared some 30 plus times, leading to over 700 children plus attending the event. This led to discussions in church council. It was decided by the council to move the date to Sunday October 31 for the following reasons:

1.     To Redeem Halloween to the Max-Anytime we find something in culture we have three choices as believers- we can:
a.     Reject Halloween-this holiday has pagan roots, so we can’t have anything to do with it. The problem with this view is that we can’t say that just because something has a bad root or beginning means it is totally bad. If that were true, we should stop driving Volkswagens because they were originally invented by Adolf Hitler. We will also be hard pressed to explain to children why biblically we can’t dress up and receive some treats. (see Gen. 50:20)
b.     Receive Halloween- This is simple, we will receive the holiday as it is. The problem with this view is accepting practices of the holiday we cannot go along with as Christains, like inappropriate customs (1 Timothy 2:9), any kind of celebration of witchcraft or pagan worship (Leviticus 19:31), and any kind of seeking to speak with the dead (Deut. 18:10-14).
c.     Redeem Halloween-As I child, I grew up in an unchurched/unreached family, and we always celebrated Halloween. I have many fond childhood memories. We often think of this from a churched or Christian perspective, but let’s try to put ourselves in the shoes of the unreached. My unreached family did not worship pagan Gods, play with ouija boards, or seek out spiritual mediums. For us, it was about three things: a sweet costume, which you wanted to wear every day, letting your neighbors see your sweet costume, and CANDY! I don’t recall ever going to a church to trick or treat, and to be honest, it never crossed my mind. But going to a neighbor’s house, sign me up! October 31 is the ONLY night of the year when lost people knock on our door. Will we be home to be salt and light to them, showing them the love of Christ?
2.     To allow maximum volunteer participation-The reality of last year was that we could have used more man power. For various reasons, several of our volunteers could not come on October 31, as it usually falls on a weekday. Most work schedules simply do not allow for them to participate. Another group stated they always hand out candy at their house, as it is a community event for them. Another still stated they could not help due to family activities on October 31st. These three issues knocked out a block of help, the Sunday before removes these hurtles.
3.     To be kind to our neighbors-We have been approached by several from Thomas Blvd about the tremendous pressure it puts on them when we hold our event on Oct. 31. The 700 plus people will visit the surrounding homes either before or after our event. 
4.     To have a backup plan for bad weather-With this even being outside, holding the event on October 31 gives no backup date. In the event that Sunday’s weather doesn’t work, we can always pick the three other days! 

o  Bonus: If we have good weather, the leftover candy can be handed out at church members homes who have lots of traffic.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

What is an Honorarium, and how much is appropriate for a pastor on a wedding or funeral?

I was once asked by someone if they could rent me from the church to do a funeral or wedding. The answer is, you don’t rent a pastor from the church, but you can be a blessing to him. An honorarium is a payment made without the giver recognizing themselves as having any liability or legal obligation to a person for his or her services in a volunteer capacity or for services for which fees are not traditionally required. So at the conclusion of any funeral or wedding, you may ask the pastor, “What do I owe you?” and the answer will always be, “Nothing.” But what is the service the pastor has given to you in a time of need or blessing worth to you?

Pastors often HATE to discuss compensation with their church, and this falls into that arena. Pastors don’t get into the ministry to get rich. I also understand that funeral costs are rising and fewer people are buying life insurance policies. With that being said, if a family is strapped for cash no decent pastor expects anything; but, in the case where a family has means to do so I want to provide you with some things to consider, and some guidelines for how much to give a pastor.

First off consider how much time he is taking to serve your family and who is really paying the price. A pastor’s time must be weighed against his family and/or church responsibilities. An average local funeral or wedding will easily add on a minimum of 8 to 12 hours of work for a pastor’s week. He has his regular responsibilities to the church and his family. Remember he does more than just preach he takes time to meet with the family when death occurs, plan the service, do premarital counseling, show up for rehearsals, plan the wedding service, and prepare his sermon. He will have to make of the time somewhere, and often time with his family is sacrificed. When I receive honorariums, I seek to use it for Christmas or vacation with the family as repayment to my wife and children for the time they have lost with me.

So now for the scale, I have been asked for many times. Keep in mind I have asked many pastors about this, and this is from personal experience. I spoke to one of my mentoring pastors who has done 1,000 of funerals in his lifetime, and he was in agreement with this scale. So here it is and I have kept this on the low side:

·       Minimum: $100 (note: this has been the minimum for about 20 years so $150 would be a better minimum bar today)
·       Very Nice: $200-250
·       Blessing His Family: $300-350
·       Being Generous: anything over $400

·       One final note that should be considered, if you are going to appreciate a pastor, don’t forget his travel expenses- mileage, meals, and rooms. I would say that you need to add a minimum of $250+ for travel. I have heard of some honorariums being as high as $800-1,000.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

What are Signs of Legalism?

Legalism is defined as adding anything to grace through faith alone. They seek to obey in order to get God to do bless me or be good to me, or I can keep God loving me and blessing me. In the book of Galatians false teachers had entered the church and tried to place the members under the control of the law. Today we face a couple of issues on legalism; sometimes our traditions can become legalistic holdovers from the past. Here are a few signs of legalism.

1. Legalists always settle for a fixation on outward appearances only. Jesus said it best, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27) The legalist will fixate on externals only, with no thought or care of the heart or spiritual growth. Church becomes the building, not the people. Attending church becomes about being seen instead of seeking to be part of the body of Christ and bearing others burdens.

2. Legalists always compel others to adopt their pet peeves. In Galatians, the legalist wanted the church to embrace circumcision. Circumcision was a sign of the old covenant, Jesus had not established the new. We have the same problem today, many legalists push unnecessary pet peeves like using only the King James Version of the Bible (which I love, but we don’t talk that way anymore). Or, to them you don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls that do! Christianity is much more than staying away from things that annoy others!

3. Legalists always maintain a safe distance from grace. Because of their misunderstanding of God’s grace, that is his unmerited favor upon us. A legalist will always seek to contribute to salvation in some form or another. Paul says it this way, “so that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.” (Galatians 6:12) The legalist wants God and everyone to know that God is lucky to have them on his team.

4. Legalists are hypocrites. In Galatians 6:13, Paul says, “even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law…” The legalist will keep a list of things they don’t struggle with staying away from and expect others to keep that standard. I remember a legalistic televangelist who railed ageist drinking beer, but three weeks later he was caught with a prostitute.

5. Legalists seek notches on their belt. Paul also nailed the legalist for bragging about convening others to follow their nonsense he says, “they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.” They don’t see the church as Christ does, but merely as a scoreboard of people who they can convert to their line of thinking, instead of Christ’s example.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Should Local Churches Pay Their Pastor?

“Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.”
–Galatians 6:6

A few years ago, I heard a biblically ill-informed “Christian” DJ say on the radio, “I don’t think we should pay pastors.” He went on to explain that that money should be used for other things like taking care of widows in the body. While this may be an extreme example, many may question the idea of paying the preacher. Wayne Pohl points out, “Churches often fail to count the hidden costs of poor salaries.”

The passage above from Galatians points out the fact that those who teach and preach the word of God faithfully should “share all good things” which means the physical provisions like food, clothing, and shelter. The passage is in the context of sowing and reaping. The reality of human nature remains that we will spend our money on what we value. Paying a pastor for faithful preaching and teaching emerges many places in the New Testament. Paul quotes both Jesus and Deuteronomy in 1 Timothy 5:18, “For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” Also, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:14, “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”

Every church should strive to pay at least one full-time pastor who labors to faithfully preach the gospel and apply it to daily living. Not all churches can afford this, but many have a bi-vocational pastor. The pastor needs time to reflect and study the word. Many issues continue to bombard the church, and the church needs someone to aid them in applying the gospel and biblical principles. Remember the Bible does not focus on private bible study, although that holds significant value. The Bible emphasizes the public teaching of the word, which is taught by pastors supported by their hearers. The human principle remains, we will find money for what we value. Our bank statements are a black and white snapshot of the values of our hearts. Too many times our local churches approach pastors’ salaries with the attitude of, “What is the least we can do?” instead of asking the important question of, “What is the best we can do for our pastor or pastors?” Here are a few practical points to make on this issue to ensure that you as a church member are faithful in this area.

1.    Do you know if your pastor’s salary is livable? Remember pastor’s compensation package is not the same as a salary, what you see reflected usually has to have medical insurance and retirement carved out of it.

2.    Do you know if your pastor’s salary truly provides what he needs to live and support his family (including housing, transportation, healthcare, continued education, kids college savings, and retirement)?

3.    Do you know if your pastor’s salary is comparable to other churches of a similar size? In our denomination, Lifeway often does compensation studies to determine if a pastor is being paid adequately and fairly.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

In Exodus 22 and 23, the Israelites are told not to oppress foreigners, how does that apply to the current situation of illegal immigrants in our country?

Immigration takes the stage as a central hot topic issue. Let's make a few observations before attempting to answer the question. First off, the United States is not a theocracy like the Old Testament Israelites. Second, we cannot point to any Bible passage for U.S. regulation of the issue; and finally, we must submit to the laws of the land (see Romans 13). However, we have been a nation who has been biblically informed in decision making in the past. Think about these conversations on God’s character:

1.    God has always had a heart for those who are on the social fringes. God has a heart for the fatherless, widow, and the foreigner. (James 1:27 and Leviticus 19:24)
2.     The Holy Spirit calls us to bear fruits in keeping with love, gentleness, and kindness which are all perfectly reflected in Jesus Christ. (Philippians 4:5)
3.    God loves all people no matter their ethnic status or background. (2 Peter 3:9; Acts 17:26)

It is clear that illegal immigration is against the law and we as believers cannot say that the law doesn’t matter. Illegal immigration provides benefits as well as some issues for the United States. With the surprising loss of life through abortions each year, someone needs to talk the low paying jobs and rent the low rent housing. So illegal immigrants do provide an economic benefit to the country and communities; however, the law must be honored.

So I would call for fellow believers to seek a balance between mercy and honoring the law.  A position that takes into consideration the mercy that these immigrants may desperately need in pursuit of better lives for themselves and their children but also honors the law. I would personally advocate for the option of a pathway towards citizenship with the reasonable penalty being paid as part of that process. Similar to a speeding ticket or a parking ticket, the punishment must fit the crime.

The oversimplified solution of putting all illegals on a boat sending them back to their country of origin lacks the needed gospel perspective. In 2010, the United States received over 42 million international immigrants, which was around 20% of the global total.[1] We must view this as not just a political issue but as a gospel issue. Immigration, legal or illegal, provides opportunities to fulfill the Great Commission. Dr. J.D. Payne points out that it is estimated that there are 361 unreached people groups in the United States.[2] As Christians, we have a responsibility to take the gospel to the immigrant, legal or not. Let’s not pass up the opportunity to meet the Acts 1:8 challenge in our backyards and across the street.

[1] Payne, J.D. Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2013), 63.
[2] Ibid.