Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Is There Any Justice In Christmas?

By all accounts Jesus should not have even been born! Let me clarify by all human accounts Jesus should not have been born. First, in a highly religious community a young teenage girl who was engaged and practically married is found out to be pregnant. Second her husband, or future husband finds out. No this isn't an episode of 'teen mom' on MTV it's the story of Jesus becoming a baby. We know that Jesus was even considered illegitimate by the community in which he lived and ministered because they said about him, "isn't this Mary's son?"(Mark 6:3) Third in that seriously religious community the penalty for fornication or adultery was death by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:22). Mary should have and would have been stoned typically in that day and age. In this 'legal system' a woman found to be with child would be stoned, and baby, and mother killed. In our modern day and age however a same scenario with a super religious family might just abort the baby. It happens more often than you might think (More than 7 in 10 U.S. women obtaining an abortion report a religious affiliation 37% protestant, 28% Catholic and 7% other Guttmacher Institute)
But for the purposes of this post I want to focus on Joseph the father, or the man rather, who married Mary, and took Jesus to be his own son. It says of Joseph that he was a just man, "And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:19 ESV). Why was he just? Wouldn't it have been just according to the law of Moses given by God to put her away publicly (nice way of saying divorce) and even put her to death? No, Matthew notices a deeper justice, a Godly justice. Like Jesus said later, "Moses allowed divorce because of your hardness of heart." (Matthew 19:8) Wow! what if Joseph had not been just and done what the law allowed him to do? But Gods plans were deeper and richer and more total than we could have ever imagined. And how ironic that He decided to leave the fate of His abounding awesome redemption in the hands of a 'just man'. And that was the plan from the beginning to let justice reign on the first Christmas night in the deliverance of man through a baby. Yes the fate of justice in this world would lie on the shoulders of that baby boy one day on Calvary where he would drink the cup of the wrath of God for us.
Yes, Christmas is just. It is God's ultimate act of Justice. It is God weaving an incredible story to appease his own wrath in Jesus. Christmas is God fulfilling his demand for justice in Jesus' manger, righteous life, substitutionary cross, and victorious resurrection for you and me. This Christmas I rest in the justice of God, and that His righteous and just requirement is met in that little manger scene when God became man.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Are Tithes a New Testament Mandate?

I am going to start off stating my opinion to that question. Are we meant to obey the Old Testament mandate to give to God 10% of our income? YES! I believe that in the Church we should be practicing this Old Testament principle. I am believing it stronger and stronger these past days. I am coming to be aware that it is more deeply spiritual than I have ever imagined, and I pray that it will become that for you too. I have been studying Hebrews, and I came across Hebrews 7 in my study. I commend the whole chapter for you to read. If there is any question that Hebrews belongs in the Bible then this chapter should clear things up for you. It is an incredibly eloquent argument that Jesus is our High Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. The story of Melchizedek is very cool. Abraham gave Him a tenth of the spoils of war. He was the King and priest of Salem which would become Jerusalem.

It says his lineage was not able to be traced. and so he is the quintessential priest. Some even believe that he is one of those mysterious Biblical characters that might be a pre-incarnate Christ. I am one of those people. I believe that this passage at the very least links Melchizedek and Jesus in their eternal roles as priest, but I do think the passage goes further and that the character here is further presented as a pre-incarnate Christ. I was struck by 7:8 mostly that says,"In this case mortal men (Levitical Priests) receive tithes, but in that case one (Melchizedek=Jesus) receives them of whom it is witnesses that he lives on." Verse 17 also points out that Jesus is, "a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek". Meaning Jesus is now and forever more will be a priest! He is also, as Hebrews so clearly shows, performed our atonement "once for all", and He continues to perform the role of priest. So our atonement is an ongoing thing that will be eternal. We also know from Hebrews that the temple that was on earth is only a shadow and copy of the true temple and tabernacle in heaven. Jesus performs his priestly ritual continually in heaven, and sits down at the right hand of the Father. We will know him by His scars. So he stands in the Holy of Holies in Heaven to perform the office of the Priesthood perpetually and to continue to make atonement for our sins until the day of the redemption of our bodies. As the Perpetual Priest He also performs other roles like receiving the tithe. Now a logical question comes up why would he need the tithe? The Levitical tithe was received for the livelihood of the priests. Jesus doesn't need the tithe to survive. We can draw from this and many other passages that he receives the tithe for three specific reasons
1. He receives the Tithe as worship. If he is perpetual priest he is also Holy, Innocent, Undefiled, Separate, and Exalted above heaven. The act of worship is calling someone greater, as it says Abraham did to Melchizadek. He saw him as greater and thus his tithe was given. As Hebrews 7:7 says, "the lesser is blessed by the greater", and make no mistake Christ is greater than us, so only he has the right to bless us, and only we have the duty to worship him. Our tithe is a way to worship him as High Priest. We give to him because in that act of giving something of value to Him, it shows the world, us, and Him that we believe that he is greater.
2. The Tithe displays His greatness to the world. As High Priest Jesus is perpetually standing in the gap and making intercession, advocating, and pleading to the father for us.  He has this office forever! He will continue in it. Hebrews 9:12 describes how Jesus entered the Most Holy place in heaven making redemption with his own blood once and for all. Our tithe to Him is not necessary He does not need it, but it displays His greatness as the one and only all sufficient atoning sacrifice for sins. It is a sign of his High Priestly role to a lost world needing redemption and atonement. It is first a sign and remembrance to me as I give it, of what he has done as my High Priest. Second it is a sign to the world of what he has done as High Priest, and third it is a sign to Him and to Heaven of his great role as Perpetual Priest!
3. The Tithe is a sacrifice. As it was in the Old Testament the Priests took portions of real animal and food from the sacrifices and lived off of them. Jesus doesn't live off our tithe, but he does actually/spiritually in the Church. If the tithe is given to Him and used by the Church here on earth His real spiritual body is benefiting.  If we as a Church (universal) tithed there would be no lack in the ministry initiatives that we could do. I crunched the numbers for you. If the average salary of a churchgoer were $30,000 then the annual tithe would be $3,000 if the average church of 200 people tithed that portion of their salary they would take in $600,000 a year. That is actually a low number because the median income level of the City of Columbia, where I live, is $40,000 and the median income of the San Francisco Bay area where we just moved from is $80,000. The Church I came from had a weekly attendance of 450-500. That would be a $3,600,000 yearly intake. The numbers are really not the important thing, the important thing is that the giver of tithes makes a sacrifice. It is not easy to take 10% of your income away before you even touch it, but it is joyful (2 Corinthians 9:6-7) because you are worshiping a good and faithful High Priest!

The tithe is not the issue here it is the perpetual work of Christ as High Priest! Jesus continually performs the priestly duties because HE LIVES as Priest forever. He lives now as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. So in His scars he continues to perform all atoning work. It is a present progressive act that he does on our behalf.
Jesus receives our tithe as a sign to us, to the world, and to He Himself of the atonement that he perpetually makes for us. The tithe is a sign and witness to a world that, Jesus, as the Great High Priest is greater than we could have ever imagined. His continual life is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. So how could we withhold something that makes Jesus so great? Every time I am presented with such truth I have a deep desire to worship Him for His greatness. King of Heaven Below can assist you in worshiping the High Priest!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Questions Pastors Should Get Asked in Interviews But Don't

I am currently looking for a position in Youth Ministry/Pastorate/Church Planting and I have been interviewed for several positions. I am sad to say that the meat of the interview is usually filled with questions that don't really help them understand you as a pastor. For instance one question I have been asked lately was, "What can you do for our Church?" or I even met for an informal interview recently and was told all about the Church, but never asked a question. As I thought back on my professional life in ministry which has included hundreds of interviews, and service in several church contexts, I have only on one occasion been asked a good question. A search committee of lay people, two women I deeply respect, asked the question, "If you had one chance to say something to a student, what would it be?" I was floored at the great question, and began to share the gospel as I would share it with a student because that is the one thing worth sharing! So, I have been surprised recently by the questions that pastors never get asked in interviews. The following is a list of questions that pastors should get asked in interviews, but don't. A quick disclaimer. I have never been asked these questions in a live person to person ministerial interview (occasionally on a application) but I know some men have been asked these question. So my disclaimer is that most men like me do not get asked these questions and probably should. 
1. Describe your theology.
I know many men get asked about their theology; sadly, I have never been asked this question during an interview. If I have interviewed on hundreds of occasions and never been asked this question, you can bet that many other men are also not being asked this question. Your theology is very important! Your theology describes how great or how small a view of God you have as a pastor. And frankly I want a pastor who has a high, and big, and grand view of God, not a small, measly, inept view. So let's start asking this question!
2. Tell us what you believe about the Bible.
I know that many people get asked this question too, but again I have never been asked this question. I have however been asked this question, but not in such an important process as an interview for a pastoral role, in which I would be responsible for shepherding those put in my care. If I have a weak view of the Bible, how am I to shepherd Christ's flock? Just a hint: the only thing that you can shepherd Christ's flock with is His book, the Bible. We should definitely be asking this question in interviews!
3. Tell us about your devotional life.
Again it would seem like this would be toward the top of the list as a question that we ask pastors in interviews but sadly it is not. A pastor's ability to feed the souls of his congregation is directly proportional to how he regularly feeds his own soul. Does he regularly receive nourishment in his own soul from his disciplined, celebratory, meditative, joyous, worshipful communion with Christ? If not, then you do not want him as your pastor.
4. Tell me about your relationship with your wife and kids.
Unfortunately the state of ministry is abysmal in this area. I know personally so many stories of how ministry becomes a pastor's mistress. I have recently heard of a man who was the leader of a large evangelical ministry and had some kind of "inappropriate affair" with a woman who was not his wife. The board asked him to step down, and the ministry has since closed up shop! Do you want your pastor to fall into this same, sadly, not uncommon situation? Then ask him about this! 
5. When was the last time you looked at pornography? or Do you have an internet addiction of any kind?
Unfortunately, men in the ministry are looking at porn at the same rate as the world. The computer guy at my last church recounted to me several pastors that he had to clean up their computer and the problems were the multitude of porn they had on their computers. You may want to ask them about this in a loving and open way realizing that it might be a problem currently for the guy you are interviewing. I had a serious problem with pornography, and 12 years ago God freed me and by His grace I have been free from it ever since. I take extreme measures in my life today to stay free from it! and My wife graciously is my strongest and best accountability! If you do not ask your pastor you are interviewing about this issue, then your Church might be blindsided by this problem later. At the very least you may find yourself wondering why your Church is not experiencing blessing, and it might be that your pastor has an internet addiction, or porn problem.
6. Tell us about your view of sanctification?
This might relate to the previous question also. If you are a church that values victorious Christian living, you might want to know if your pastor believes, teaches, lives, and exemplifies the victorious Christian life. I know I do, and I have have never really been asked about this in any interview I have had. 
7. If you had a chance to tell a student/person one thing, what would it be and why?
I have been asked this question! It was the best question I have ever been asked in an interview! That probably has a lot to do with why I stayed almost 9 years at that church. They believed in taking opportunities and making the most of them for the gospel. They loved their community, and preached the gospel every moment they could. At this church my office was straight across from the associate pastor for years. I think I must have overheard him lead hundreds of people to Christ over the years. If you ask this question as a church or search committee, it shows you want to make the most of every opportunity you have as a church to impact your community for Christ.

I wanted to also put out there a few questions that might not be as important as the previous questions, but they could definitely help you understand the person you might call to be your shepherd. This could also help you avoid a lot of conflict.

8. What is the most difficult thing you have ever gone through, and how did you deal with it?
The answer to this has shaped my ministry over the years. Has a pastor really ever gone through something of heart-wrenching difficulty? Has he had to deal with the most difficult things in life and how did he lean on the Lord through it? If he has he will be a better pastor. Maybe you would rather have a pastor who has dealt with the very difficult side of life, and has trusted in a great and good God to pull him through. Your church will be better for it. 
9. What is your best experience in church life? And worst?
This might also give you a good picture into how a pastor would lead you in the difficult aspects of church life. Has he experienced some extraordinary level of unity in the body? Or has he ever had to excommunicate someone? Has he ever had to display the love of Christ in church discipline? has he ever been fired or pushed out of a church? Has he ever had to fire a staff member, etc.?
10. How will you shepherd/protect the flock? How will you guard the purity of the church?
His answer to this is very important. He may be able to describe how he would do this, but this question might catch a pastor a little off guard. You may want someone who can describe instances of where and how he has sought to protect the flock, or at least be able to describe how he would. 
11. Describe your vision for the church (universal and local).
This question may be a little higher or lower in importance depending on how your church likes vision, mission, and strategy related topics. If he can articulate, a specified vision for a church, that might help you see how he fits into your particular church's life. 
12. Do you have a personal mission/vision/strategy for ministry?
This relates to the previous question and may also be more important to your church than at the bottom of the list, but it can be helpful so see if a person lines up with the particular direction of your church.  
13. Do you have a life verse/purpose?
I always found this interesting and it always helped me get to know a person more if I knew their life verse. How well do you know the man that you are calling to be your pastor? If he has a life verse that also might be helpful to get to know him better. I have known my life verse to give me direction, purpose, and a deep calling in this life's journey.

These might not all be appropriate to be asked in your particular context, but I have been interviewing lately and I wanted to give churches and ministries something to think about as they seek to hire church staff and especially pastoral staff. One thing you might do, would be to put many of these questions on a deeper application/Biblical beliefs application for those you have narrowed your search down to. I have come up with this also to help churches and people see how lacking our typical search process is for finding pastors. I have found that men are in the pulpit without churches really knowing who a person is, or if he is really walking in victory. I want to assure you many men are not walking in spiritual victory who are pastors (read Dangerous Calling for more in depth look at the state of ministry).
And when you do hire a pastor get to know him, invite him to your home, meet with him, pray with him, and seek him out as a person, and let him pour the word of God into your life. You will be glad you did.

Dangerous Calling from Crossway on Vimeo.