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Let the dead bury their own dead….

One of the most shocking statements that Jesus makes comes after Jesus invites a man to become one of His disciples and the man responds by saying, “I will Lord, but first…”  And in this man’s case he says, “First, let me go and bury my father.”  That seems like a reasonable request.  In that day, as in ours, it was very much expected of children to honor their mother and father based upon the Ten Commandment’s exhortation to do so, and a proper burial of your parents certainly is a way to honor them.

According to Dr. Darrell Bock within the Jewish culture a proper burial was such a major concern that it was a religious, social, and ethical priority that took precedence over everything in your life.[1]  So when Jesus invites this man into discipleship and the man responds by essentially saying, “I will Lord, but first let me bury my father,” it’s the ‘best’ possible reason in the world for delaying discipleship to Jesus Christ!  And Jesus will have none of it.

He responds to this man’s seemingly reasonable request by saying, “Let the dead bury their own dead…”  Wow!  This is a scandalous statement coming from the lips of Jesus.  What in the world is He saying? Is Jesus being cruel? Is He being harsh with this man?  Jesus makes this shocking statement to make His point, and His point is that even the ‘best’ excuse for delaying discipleship to Him is no excuse!

Jesus, by making this statement is telling this man (and us) that discipleship to Jesus transcends all other allegiances and priorities and nothing should get in the way of it or postpone it!

So many people postpone becoming a follower of Jesus by telling themselves something such as, ‘when I’m older, then I’ll get serious about Jesus’ or ‘when I’m married and have kids, then I’ll dive into discipleship.’ Others say, “When I have my life figured out, and I’m not so busy, then I’ll begin to really follow Jesus.”  And Jesus by shocking this man with these words is essentially telling this man, “No more delays.  You need to stop making excuses, and stop delaying discipleship and begin today.  Stop thinking that at some indiscriminate point in the future you’ll get serious about Me, make up your mind to get serious about Me today!”

If you’re someone who has been postponing your relationship with Jesus so you can pursue something else, even something the world tells you is honorable, please catch what Jesus is saying here.  Jesus is telling you that you’ll always find another reason for delaying discipleship to Him until tomorrow if you don’t make up your mind and determine in your heart to really follow Him today!


[1] In the Mishnah, M. Ber. 3.1 reads, “He who is confronted by a dead relative is free from reciting the Shema, from the Eighteen Benedictions (the prayer of Israel), and from all the commandments stated in Torah.”

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Circumstances beyond our control

In Luke 2:1-7, Joseph and Mary travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem to take part in a census that Caesar Augustus ordered. Now the trip fromNazareth toBethlehem was no picnic, we’re talking around 90 miles, and one translation says, “Mary was great with child” meaning she’s ready to have this baby!  Now let me ask the women who have been pregnant and ready to give birth, would this 90 mile trip, while you’re “great” with child be a little bit of an inconvenience for you?  Wouldn’t you absolutely everything to get out of this trip?  Yes, of course you would, yet Mary couldn’t. 

So often the things in our lives that we see as major inconveniences, the challenges that we would get out of if we could but simply can’t, are the situations that God wants in our lives to fulfill His purposes in us and through us…just like this episode of traveling nearly 100 miles while Mary is “great” with child.  God uses Caesar Augustus’ decree to fulfill His promised rise of a special ruler from Bethlehem.  God’s providence is seen throughout this episode.

When you find yourself in painful, frustrating situations in life, things that you wouldn’t choose for yourself, but you can’t legitimately get out of, you can be certain that God is working providentially, behind the scenes to fulfill His purposes in and through you. 

What situations in your life right now are out of control?  What situations in your life are painful, and frustrating, and you’d get out of them if you could, but you can’t?  Those are the situations, the events in your life that God is using.  The response on our part isn’t to try and figure it out, or to resist necessarily, but to trust that God is working…and I’ve found that when I’m going through painful situations, or frustrating events that I have to tell myself over and over again that God is at work right now working out all situations and events for His good purposes.

As the Apostle Paul tells us “God causes all things work together for good for those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose” and the “all things” certainly include our pain and frustration over situations and events.  So consistently tell yourself, “God is at work in this painful situation and I’ll trust Him” because if you don’t keep telling yourself that, the natural human response is to doubt whether God loves you, whether He’s really in control or not, whether you’re saved or not, whether He’s really good or not, or to question if you’re being punished for something.  That’s moralism, not the Gospel, so you got to keep telling yourself, “My God is a providential God and He uses all things to bring about His good purposes, and I’m going to trust Him with my pain and frustration.” 

God uses circumstances beyond our control to shape our lives for certain purposes.  It was good enough for His Son, it’s certainly good enough for us!

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Positional Paper 2: Gender Issues in Church Leadership

This is a paper that Rick Booye and I co-wrote regarding the issue of gender in church leadership.  Enjoy!  If you have comments, please let me know.

Gender Issues in Church Leadership

Biblical Guidance/Our Position

At Trail Christian Fellowship we have been blessed because gender has never been a divisive issue among us.  We want to preserve that peace and unity.  Yet, all around us the gender wars are raging.  Even within the evangelical community people disagree, sometimes heatedly.

The reason for the disagreement (aside from the perennial angst in our culture over these topics) is that in one place Paul says that women should not teach or exercise authority over men in the church (1 Tim. 2:12), yet in other places it seems obvious that women prophesied, prayed and were taken very seriously in Christian body life (Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5; Rom. 16:3-16 where women are included with the men as heroes of the faith).  The fact that Paul had to correct some abuses with regard to the sisters’ freedom to join in ministry indicates that Christian women had more clout in the church than the surrounding culture generally condoned.  They were considered equals with the men in service to Christ.  So, how should we understand these seemingly divergent perspectives?

Three main views regarding gender and leadership within the Church have emerged:  Egalitarians believe that men and women are equal before God and therefore women should be admitted to and represented in all ministries within a church, particularly senior pastoral and eldership positions.  They believe a person’s gender is not at all a relevant issue for positioning people in ministry.  Hierarchialists believe Scripture teaches that men and women are equal before God, but that women should strictly avoid ministry to adult men under all conditions.  Complementarians believe that men and women are equal before God, but that he has created some church ministry specifications based not on superiority or inferiority, but on his designed spirit distinctions between male and female souls.  These specifications position men as ultimately responsible for the life and health of the church (elders) in this age.  The complementarian view opens all other venues for women to teach, pray and prophesy within the ministry except elder-board membership and primary pulpit responsibility.  This is the view we hold at Trail Christian Fellowship. 

Love and respect are more important to the Lord than titles and power.  As a church we believe that how men and women treat each other is more important than what roles and titles we have (John 13:34-35; Mtt 20:25-28).  When anger and divisiveness predominate and ministry degenerates into arguments about authority, prestige, and position something very important has already been lost—Christlikeness (see Phil. 2:1-11; Jas. 3:13-18).   We also believe that this issue, while important and worthy of a position paper like this, is not the basis of unity in the body of Christ and therefore ought not to be a dividing factor between brothers and sisters.  We ask that all those who fellowship among us accept the functional position we as elders believe is most biblical and strive to love and respect one another within that parameter.  We do not insist that everybody outside the elder board and teaching faculty “sign off’ personally on our view.  We do ask that for the purposes of fellowship and unity in Christ at our church we not argue or agitate for one of the other two Christian positions on this issue.

Our Position (Complementarian)

We believe God created both male and female in His image, and gave them equally dignity, value and purpose (Genesis 1:27).  We also believe that men and women are equal partners in Christ (Gal. 3:28), and both men and women are equally gifted by God (Eph. 4:7, 11-13) so that the local church may be strengthened (1 Cor. 12:4-7).  In the Trinity, there are three distinct and equal Persons sharing the same essence and yet who exercise different roles.  God the Father sends the Son and the Spirit (John 5:23, 24, 36, Isaiah 48:16).  God the Son and God the Spirit submit to the Father, yet each is equally God.  This is equality in diversity.  At Trail Christian Fellowship we believe there is an equality of persons between men and women, but a diversity of function.

For further reading we recommend:

Women and Men in Ministry by Robert L. Saucy & Judith K. Tenelshof

Two Views on Women in Ministry by James R. Beck & Craig L. Blomberg

Women in Ministry: Four Views by Bonnidell Clouse & Robert G. Clouse

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Positional Paper 1: Elders/Pastors

Elder/Pastor

Biblical Guidance/Our Position

Within the pages of the New Testament the terms “elders”, “overseers” and pastor are interchangeable and designate the primary spiritual leaders of the local church who do the work of pastoring or shepherding God’s flock (Titus 1:5, 7; Acts 20: 17, 28).   The term “elder” emphasizes maturity, the term “overseer” emphasizes the leadership responsibility, and the term “pastor” emphasizes the heart of a shepherd.  The local church should have a plurality of elders, (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14) who are equal in authority, although the scope of their ministry may be different.  Their authority is to be expressed in loving, Christ-like leadership and not lording over the flock (1 Peter 5:3; Hebrews 13:17). God has designated men as elder/pastors (see “Gender Issues in Church Leadership” document).  Leading the elders is a senior elder who is first among equals and is responsible to help train the elders who then, train additional leaders (1 Tim. 5:17).

The Elders have final responsibility before God for prayer ministry (James 5:14), ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4) including teaching and protecting the church’s doctrine (Acts 20:27-31; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:9), the administration of the church (1 Tim. 3:5), and shepherding the flock (1 Peter 5:2) by guiding them in the way of Biblical truth, and by protecting them from false teachers and diseased doctrine (Acts 20:28-31) .

Because the role of a pastor or elder is such an enormous responsibility (Heb. 13:17, James 3:1) the Lord gives the Church qualifications that must be met over a long period of time before a man can be considered to fulfill the role of pastor/elder.  In John 21, Jesus appears to Peter, after Peter had given up on himself, and Jesus asks him three times, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  Peter responds, “Yes” and Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.”  In essence Jesus is telling Peter to pastor His people, but notice that Jesus reaffirms Peter’s role in the ministry after Peter reaffirms his love and loyalty to Jesus.  Therefore, the most important ingredient, the most obvious qualification for pastoral work is a deep love and loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

In addition to love and loyalty to Jesus, the Bible lays out the qualifications for pastors/elders in two key places (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).  Elders must be blameless in character (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), able to teach Scripture (1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17), and refute those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). An elder must be the “husband of one wife” (1 Tim.3:2; 3:12). We believe this qualification does not exclude an unmarried person, someone remarried after the death of a spouse, nor necessarily one who has divorced and remarried. The phrase describes a reputation as a “faithful” husband or a “one-wife kind of man” (see Divorce and Remarriage document).

Elders are public leaders, and so valid accusation of blame should only be accepted by two or three witnesses and result in public rebuke (1 Tim. 5:19-20).

In Scripture, elders were selected by the original church planter (Acts 14:23) or by other elders (Titus 1:5), with recognition from the congregation for its leaders (Acts 6:3; 15:22-23). Scripture does not describe how elders should organize themselves, which gives the local church freedom to determine how best to organize themselves to meet the specific needs of the local body of Christ.

For further reading we recommend:

Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch

Pastoral Theology by Thomas C. Oden

Vintage Church by Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears

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Is It Okay To Be Angry With God?

Daylon was a young man, 25 years old.  He was intelligent, passionate, fun-loving and kind.  He was also deeply in love with the Lord Jesus Christ.  He wasn’t perfect, but Daylon may have been the closest I’ve seen to perfection.  He was a certified pilot instructor, and was training to be a missionary pilot, who would fly into remote areas with supplies and aid for fellow missionaries.  While helping a friend fly a plane to a customer, something went wrong with the aircraft and they crashed over central Arizona. 

When the phone call came to our family that Daylon’s plane had crashed and that he and the other pilot were dead, the news hit us hard.  It was as if someone repeatedly punched us in the gut, only worse. Here was a young man that had so much promise, so much potential to do great things, and his life on earth was over. We walked around in disbelief for hours, and then began to mourn our loss.  My uncle and aunt had lost their precious son.  Our cousins had lost their brother.  We would never see him again, or hear his laugh this side of eternity. We were and still are heart-broken.

In the days that followed Daylon’s death our family received many kind phone calls, emails, and encouraging words, to which we were thankful, but we also had several well-meaning people tell us, “It’s okay to be angry with God.” 

Each time someone told one of our family members this, we made sure to look them in the eye and say to them, “It’s actually not okay to be angry with God.  It’s never okay to be angry with God.”  As our family suggested to different people, “it’s not okay to be angry with God” you could see their eyebrows furrow and they gave us skeptical looks, as if we had gone off the deep end.

What caused them to think it was okay to be angry with God, I wondered?  As I thought about this, I started to notice this idea is everywhere.  Country artist Alan Jackson sings about it in “Sissy’s Song.”[1] New York Times Best-selling novel, The Shack details one man’s anger at God over the death of his young daughter. Movies such as Signs teach us that it is perfectly acceptable to be angry with God.  

What assumptions do people carry around with them that haven’t been examined enough which would lead them to believe that it’s okay to be angry with God? 

There are at least two basic assumptions that many people make that would cause them to think it’s okay to be angry with God, and which would lead them to believe that if you don’t think it’s okay to be angry with God then you’re crazy!

First off, many people assume that feelings don’t matter. Feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just are.  Therefore, if feelings are neutral, than anger at God or anyone else for that matter is neither right nor wrong.  Feelings, they would argue aren’t something that you can control, they just come and go, like tides upon on ocean shore and if they just come and go than they are not moral or immoral, again they just are.  This is probably why people thought we had gone off the deep end when we told them, “It’s not okay to be angry with God.”

To many, a feeling could only be considered wrong if acted upon in such a way as to hurt another person.  This is why many people assume it’s not wrong to be angry at God; because it’s only a feeling, and if it’s only a feeling you can’t ascribe morality to it.

However the Scriptures teach that our thoughts and feelings actually do matter to God.  Within the pages of the Scriptures feelings are both morally good and morally bad depending on how they cause us to think about the Lord.  If they remind us that the Lord is faithful, true and trustworthy than they are morally good, however if they lead us to believe God is anything but faithful, true and trustworthy than they are morally bad.  In fact, Scripture commands that we love the Lord (Psalm 31:23), delight in the Lord (Psalm 37:4), rejoice and be glad in the Lord (Psalm 32:11) and hope in the Lord (Psalm 33:20).  These feelings are morally good because they provoke in us thoughts that cause us to trust the Lord in a deeper way, and find our satisfaction in His presence!  On the flip side to “delight in lies” (Psalm 62:4), or to “have delighted in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:12) is morally wrong because it causes us to think that something, in this case sin, is more satisfying than God, which is blatantly false.

The second assumption that many people have is that God’s not really in control.  Many people believe that God created the world, got it going and then left it to its own devices, like a boy playing with a spinning top. We watch young people we love die, we witness marriages collapse under the most terrible conditions, and we observe older people die slow, painful deaths.  It breaks our heart, it crushes our spirit.  When disaster or tragedy occurs on a national or personal level many assume God’s not aware or is indifferent to the situation.  Which would mean He doesn’t care about what He created, and if He doesn’t care about us, why should we care about Him, thus making it easy to be angry with God.  But this isn’t the case. The Scriptures repeatedly reveal that God is in control over His creation and actively involved in the affairs of humanity.  Psalm 135:5-7 declares, “I know that the LORD is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods.  The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lighting with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.”  Even the smallest events in the life of humans is directed by the Lord Himself: Not even one sparrow “will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father” (Matthew 10:29). And again, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33).  The truth is God is sovereign, which means He is in control over every aspect of His creation, both the world and its people.  The world is not spinning out of control; God is at work right now behind the scenes working all things together for good, even the things that cause us immense pain.  “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25)

If you think it’s okay to be angry with God what you’re really saying is you trust your finite mind and your personal feelings more than God’s infinite mind and God’s character, which is why it’s never okay to be angry with God. 

Now I want to make sure you’re hearing what I’m saying, and not hearing what you want to hear. I’m not saying you’re not going to experience heartache and pain, you will. I’m not saying to stuff your feelings and live hypocritically as if life isn’t difficult and sin hasn’t marred humanity, it has. I’m not even saying you can’t faithfully wrestle with God; asking Him why He would allow such things to happen, you can. What I am saying though is it is wrong for any human at any point to be angry at God for any of His decisions: “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments (Revelation 16:7).

Well what do we do if we find we are angry at God?  Simply admit it. He knows it anyway; you’re not hiding it from Him.  He knows our hearts.  If we are angry at God, we might as well tell Him, and ask Him to forgive us, and pray the He might give us “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) which will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus and also pray that He will help us keep our eyes on Him instead of on our circumstances.

The Good News is that when Jesus died upon the Cross He completely removed the wrath of God for those who trust in Him. This means when God looks at those who have faith in Jesus all He has for us is His mercy and grace.  He received the wrath we deserved; we receive the life He lived!  There may be times when we cry out to the Lord in pain and heartache, angry at sin and Satan, but continuing to have faith in the Lord, because we trust Him and His eternal plan more than our limited understanding. 

 


[1] Loved ones she left behind/Just trying to survive /And understand the why/Feeling so lost inside/Anger shot straight at God…

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Miracles, Rationalism and the Resurrection

http://feeds2.feedburner.com/blogspot/Uwik

Latest teaching from Acts 9:32-43.

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Philip: The Evangelist

In Acts 8, Philip, one of the seven Hellenistic Jewish Christians that the Apostles appointed to deal with the distribution of food was forced out of Jerusalem because of the persecution that Saul of Tarsus was creating.  So Philip went to Samaria and started communicating the message of Jesus there, and all these stinking Samaritans started getting saved to the shock of the Jerusalem church.

The Jerusalem church, needing some eyewitness confirmation that Samaritans are getting saved, send Peter and John to Samaria to check it out.  Peter and John show up, see that the Lord has in fact been at work in Samaria, lay their hands on those who had been baptized and they receive the Holy Spirit. 

So here’s Philip with this growing Body of Believers, with this tremendous responsibility to lead, nurture, strengthen and equip these Believers.  He seemed to be utterly indispensable.  Yet it was at precisely this moment when the Lord called him to leave the area, and go to a desert road.  Amazingly, Philip didn’t put up an argument.  He didn’t say, “Lord, I’m doing great things for you here in Samaria.”  He made himself available for whatever the Lord wanted him to do. 

Sometime later we read that Philip meets up with, guides and baptizes an Ethiopian eunuch who was returning from worshipping the Lord in Jerusalem. The account between The Evangelist and The Eunuch is a fascinating account, but if you want to be an effective witness, if you want to be a Philip—someone who is effective in sharing the Gospel wherever the Lord leads you, please take notice of what Philip did; it’s a great model for us.

  1. Philip was sensitive to God’s leading! (Verse 26)  Here he was in the midst of an amazing work in Samaria, witnessing all sorts of new beginnings and hundreds of lives being changed.  But God called him out in the middle of a desert wasteland—and Philip had the sensitivity to go where God led.  Amazing.  By the way, you will find that there is a direct correlation between having the mind steeped and saturated with Scripture and being sensitive to the voice of the Spirit.
  2. Philip was available. (Verse 27) Philip left immediately after having received the Call.  Availability is sensitivity’s twin.  You can’t have one without the other. Sometimes we forget this, but everyone thinks about God.  We need to be prepared and available to talk about Him. Keep praying for opportunities to talk about the Lord.
  3. Philip started where the man was, but he guided him to Jesus! (Verses 31-35).  When you get into conversations with people, begin with what is on their mind.  Listen well; even ask questions, before you start talking.  Let them talk until they begin to ask questions, then you can guide them….but guide them right to Jesus.  Focus on the personal relationship with Christ.  I gotta tell you one of the worst things about being a pastor is hearing other pastors…I’ll turn on the radio or the TV and I’ll hear sermons on 7 ways to gain wealth, or 9 steps to a better marriage, or 4 steps to have obedient pets.  But at the end of the day people need to hear about Jesus and what He has done by taking our place on the Cross.  In your conversations guide people to Jesus.
  4. Philip used the Scriptures! (Verse 35) The passages you know will be the ones you use—so the more you know, the more effective you can be. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
  5. Philip encouraged him to trust the Lord, and trusted the Lord himself. (Verses 36,38) Philip obviously encouraged this man to trust the Lord with his life, which is why he was ready to be baptized Often times though, when we witness we sense that the situation is not ripe for a response, so we end up hoping that someday this person will be led to Christ, which is the right thing for us to hope, but we must trust the Lord to oversee the follow-up.  The follow-up may be through you, it may not be through you, but trust the Lord is at work in that person’s life.

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