Sunday, February 10, 2013

Thoughts on Ministry

[This collection of thoughts on ministry first appeared in a series of random thoughts on Facebook. They are collected here and will be edited and expanded throughout 2013.]

1. The essence of worship is humility. In order to “lift Him high” we must make ourselves low. There is no true humility without surrender. And there is no true surrender without obedience. The heart of worship is obedience, obedience not to abstract concepts but to the presence of a living God.  JDJ

2.  As a Pentecostal pastor, I have little concern that people will get out of order in worship. The appearance of order is easy enough to reinstate. My concern is that too few ever get into order. Spirit-filled worship requires a conscious surrender to the Lordship of the living Christ and a deep desire to let the Holy Spirit lead in the dance of exaltation. That is the order for worship before the throne of God. Modern worshippers seem all too content to hum the tunes and watch from the gallery. They would rather attend the concert than play in the band. JDJ

3.  For years my welcome to church visitors included the words “please worship in the manner in which you are comfortable.” One Sunday as those words were rolling out of my mouth God spoke to me; He said, “I am not nearly as concerned with their comfort as you seem to be.” In the Scriptures people respond to the presence of God in many ways: they tremble, they prostrate themselves, they weep, they rejoice, they dance, etc. I cannot find a reference where they are described as being comfortable. His invitation is for His children to enter His throne room with confidence (Hebrews 4:16). However, this confidence should be grounded in the assurance of forgiveness, the awareness of a sanctifying High Priest and the certainty of our devotion and reverence. I invite you to worship Him in the manner you believe He is pleased. JDJ

4.  Whatever the church does as church must be done with and for children. Children need to worship with adults and adults need to worship with children. This does not discount the importance of some age appropriate activities. Neither does it demand that children be present all of the time. It does declare that children are important to the life of a congregation. The absence of children when the church gathers as the Body of Christ impoverishes the congregation and cripples the development of the children. JDJ

5.  A people without a song is a people without a soul. We have become a culture of performers and observers, entertainers and audiences, players and fans. We are a nation that exalts vocal talent but eschews public singing. We have no anthems or ballads that we sing to and with our children. Our praise and worship often contains beautiful, oriented choruses, but very few of the songs can be sung without a praise team of gifted singers and an expensive sound system. They may have deep and profound meaning, but they are shallow in our hearts. We have become a people without a song. We are flooded with noise, but little music springs from our souls. We need a new generation of hymns that teach of His greatness and proclaim our shared experience of Him, but even more we need to become again a people who sing our faith with gusto. JDJ

6.  Missional dreams, or ministry plans, are not worthy of the name of Christ if they do not require an element of faith. If our vision is not greater than our resources and abilities it is grounded in us and not in the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, grandiose dreams that exceed our resources and abilities may be just as grounded in us. Church planning must be born out of fervent prayer for God’s direction and faith that He is at work in us to will and to do His good pleasure. JDJ

7. Pentecostal preaching is Christ centered because it is anointed of the Holy Spirit. Under the anointing, preaching centers on Christ in its content ("I have determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified"). It is centered on Christ because it is proclamation of the Word of God: the Word of God inscripturated and the Word of God incarnated is one person. It is centered on Christ because under the anointing it is prophecy, that is, the anointed preacher by the Spirit is speaking the words of Christ. The anointed preacher is the “vicar of Christ.” JDJ #83

8. There is a difference between a multitude of counsel and a multiplicity of counsel. As a pastor I am often sought out for advice. I have been asked for advice/counsel about everything from when to “pull the plug” on a dying loved one to what kind of car to purchase, and with the same spiritual urgency. One thing I noticed early on is that many people want my counsel provided it agrees with what they have already decided to do. They don’t want direction; they want confirmation. If my opinion doesn’t suit them they will seek another and another until they find one they like. I have seen people go from pastor to pastor, counselor to counselor looking for the “right” answer. I call this quest for confirmation a “multiplicity of counselors” which is not the same as what the Bible calls a “multitude of counselors” (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6). In the Old Testament the elders sat at the city gates to provide counsel to those who needed it. They acted as a community of elders, a council, which reasoned together to speak with one voice. When a group seeks together for the will of God in a process I call “shared discernment,” the results are most often greater clarity and confidence in direction. JDJ  #204

9. A bane of modern ministry is the concept and practice of confidentiality. Ministers can be sued if they break confidences and sometimes jailed if they don’t. As a pastor, I no longer make promises to keep conversations in confidence; I promise instead to keep conversations sacred. Holy communication is a primary responsibility and confidentiality is at most secondary. This requires that others trust me first of all to be faithful to God with the information they share. Secondly, they must trust me to respond toward them with love and to act in their best interest in the light of God’s Word. This means that I will not share their information with others without just cause. Third, it requires that they trust me to protect others whose safety might be at risk. My calling is to make disciples, to preach and teach the Word, to care for the hurting, and to defend the flock. The keeping of confidences must be toward those ends and not against them. I want people to understand that confession of sin is required of God not just for absolution, but also for reconciliation, healing and the restoration of fellowship. JDJ #206

10. Physical touch is essential for the wellbeing of everyone, regardless of age. But child abuse is a social blight in our time. Society has put into place better laws and systems for the protection of children. Evidence of abuse must be reported. Convicted perpetrators are restricted as to where they can live and go. Policies prevent teachers from questionable contact with their charges. Unfortunately, in our righteous efforts to protect our children we may be depriving them of an essential nutrient of life, godly touch. It is incumbent on the church to both protect children and nurture them. We need to bring these topics to the surface and teach our parents and children about appropriate and inappropriate touch. We must ensure our children are safe and secure at all church events. They should always be supervised by two responsible adults. We also need to embrace them with holy hugs and cause them to know they are loved and belong with us in the presence of God. The instruction that we greet one another with a holy kiss was not just a nod to social custom; it was call to healthy, nurturing relationships in the body of Christ (Romans 16:16; I Corinthians 16:20; II Corinthians 16:12; I Thessalonians 5:6). [I give a children’s sermon on this topic at least once a year encouraging them to report any events of touching that make them uncomfortable.] JDJ #232

11. Worship is that which we do before God in recognition of and response to his glory, honor and sovereignty. The root meaning of the English word worship is simply to recognize and respond to the worth of something or someone. In the Scriptures the primary Hebrew and Greek words for worship have as their root meaning to bow down before. Worship is the posture of all who know God. It is more than an event, or activity of the church, more than a set of Sunday morning rituals. Worship is above all else an affection of the heart. It is the union of God-toward affections springing forth in actions of praise. Thus, it is the essential character of the people who know God, the defining nature of creation existing in the face of God, the spontaneous response of the created to the glory of the Creator. Everything the church is and does must be permeated with the drive to proclaim the worth of God. Anything less is but filthy rags no matter how advanced the technology, how glittering the performance, or how sincere the service to others. JDJ #234

12. For some time I have believed that one of the great hindrances to bringing people into the knowledge of Christ as Lord and Savior is that our focus has been on the wrong place. We center evangelism on converting others to the faith when we should focus on simply telling others what God has done for us. Efforts to convert others begin with the assumption that we must prove to them how wrong they are, convince them of their need for a savior, and demonstrate to them just how depraved they are. All too often the results are that we offend them and they close their ears to the gospel, or we simply fail to witness for fear of the battle. It is true that outside of Christ people are broken, dead and dying, but that is not the good news. As I read the Scriptures, it is the role of the Holy Spirit to convict people of their sinful condition, to show them they are lost. The good news is Jesus and who we know Him to be. Our job is to be living epistles of Christ, proclaimers of His goodness who are always ready to give reason for the hope we have. When others are drawn by our living witness to the love, joy, and peace of Christ, we must at that point explain the call of Christ to follow Him, including His call to humility, repentance and faith. Our evangelistic focus must be on maintaining our relationship with Christ so that telling others about Him through our words and deeds is just who we are. JDJ #235

13. While I am on the subject of evangelism, I am deeply troubled when believers/preachers seem to gloat over the condition of the lost rather than grieve for them. This arrogance can take on many forms. I sometimes hear believers ridicule their favorite class of sinners. Others rejoice that they are not one of “those,” implying that they could never fall to such depths of depravity themselves. Still others are so emphatic in condemning the sin there is no distinction between the sin and the sinner. At the heart of all of these displays of self-righteousness is a heart deficient of love. Jesus was always angry with sin and sometimes angry with sinners. He rebuked, condemned, and even whipped sinners, but He never belittled them. He wept for them and gave Himself for them. Love will not allow us to be apathetic or to belittle those bound in sin. It may provoke us to confront and challenge the sinner. But it always grieves over the state of those in bondage, even those whose sins we find most disgusting. JDJ   #236

14. Another problem with our evangelistic efforts is that we have largely bought into the Reformers definition of salvation as principally a legal transaction. We approach new life in Christ as if it boils down to a simple decision to be Christian; once we intellectually repent, believe, and confess Jesus, God is contractually required to accept us. But Jesus did not come simply to offer us a better deal than the one Satan tricked us into. Jesus came not just to forgive us of sin but to deliver us out of sin, to heal us, and to make us the first expression of a whole new order of creation. He came that we might have life and that to the very fullest. He came that we might be united with God and share in eternal life. The forensic model of the Reformers robs the convert of the hope of radical transformation in this life and limits the work of the Holy Spirit in believers and in the church even as it limits the atonement of Christ. Evangelism must be more than a call for decisions; it must be a call to total surrender laced with the promise of total deliverance from the power of sin. JDJ #237

15. Many years ago Cheryl and I visited a prominent Evangelical church in Boston. As we entered the historic building we were confronted by a large sign on a stand. In large letters were the words “Children’s Church” with an arrow beneath them pointing down a hall way. I paid little attention until I read the words beneath the arrow, “Children under twelve should not enter the sanctuary” or something to that effect. My thoughts, then and now, were that they had written “ichabod” over their door; the glory of the Lord will not abide where children are not welcome. Did we not learn anything from Jesus and His teachings on, and relationship with, children? Our children must know (1) they are loved by the adults of the church, (2) God loves them – which is dependent on #1, and (3) they belong with us in the presence of the Lord. JDJ #238

16. For the record, I am not opposed to Children’s Church. I am opposed to children growing up in our churches and not experiencing God with adults in the sanctuary. I want them know they belong; I want them to have a voice that worships and speaks of God. In our church they stay with the adults in the sanctuary until shortly before the sermon. I almost always have them up front for a “Children’s Sermon” which is more of a time for me to get them to talk about their life and faith. I try to also use that time to surreptitiously introduce the “adult” sermon. At New Covenant we spend considerable time during intercessory prayer as members of the congregation move around the sanctuary to pray with one another; my heart is often stirred as I see children lay their hands on adults in prayer. One Sunday a month they remain in the sanctuary for the sermon. I don’t have all the answers; I just have a set of deep convictions we must nurture them with us in the presence of God and we must teach them well. May God so help us. JDJ #239

17. One descriptor for the church repeated in the Scriptures is that we are the family of God, the house of God (Ephesians 2:9; I Timothy 3: 15; Hebrews 10:21; I Peter 4:17). This is more than a metaphor. The church is not “like” a family; we are the family of God. However, the modern Evangelical meaning of family has little resemblance to the Biblical understanding. The cultural upheaval that followed World War II led to a conservative obsession with the preservation/restoration of the “nuclear family.” We failed to realize the nuclear family is a product of the modern industrial age. Throughout history families have been understood to be an extended network of complex and interdependent relationships that were primarily biological in connectivity but broader than blood-lines as well. Since the church is the family of God we must pay closer attention to what He says about being family. We will find His concern is more with the character of our relationships than with the structure of our systems. JDJ #240

18. The church has wasted a lot of energy trying to replicate Ozzie and Harriet, a family model that seldom, if ever existed. One devastating aspect of this effort has been that we have tried to mold the church into the kind of family we imagined ours to be. In so doing we emotionally excluded all who do not fit well into our faulty model, especially our single adults. Perhaps the most devastating aspect of the exaltation of the hierarchical, nuclear family has been the oppression of women. If one was to read carefully Proverbs 31, one would discover that an excellent wife would not be welcome among Evangelical complementarians. What God requires of us is that we nurture our families into the kinds of relationships that characterize life in the presence of God. I am convinced that if we give our attention more fully to being the church, we will give ourselves more fully to being Christian within our families. As a result our families will become outposts of the Kingdom. When that happens we will no longer measure ourselves by the families uplifted on television. We will instead emulate the Holy Trinity. JDJ #241

19. Modern myths about Biblical families. I am concerned about families in the Western world. Our culture is disintegrating; there is an absence of core values and even foundational social definitions are suddenly being changed. Decades ago my commitment to the family drove me to study closely God’s plan for family life. Those studies led me to challenge several modern myths about family. If we are going to nurture Godly families we must follow God’s plan which is not the same as the one promoted by many. One overarching myth of the modern church is the very definition of family. To my surprise, there is no Scriptural term for our modern concept of “family.” Instead, Western Christianity long ago adopted a Roman definition of family as being determined by the father as titular head, the “pater familias.” The Biblical terms, both Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek, which are generally translated as “family” are more literally translated “house” or “household.”  The error is that we read into our understanding of the Scriptures our definition of “family” as principally a nuclear, biological unit. In brief, we define family in terms of a contract of “commitment,” and “love,” etc. while the Scriptures understand family as grounded in a social covenant with God. Certainly the marriage covenant is at the core of the family identity, but by its very nature covenant is a different kind of relationship than one defined primarily by affections and genetics. Covenant with God holds families together and not the inverse. [More to come tomorrow. You may wish to read a piece I wrote as a chapter in a book published by the Church of God:  “Our Covenant to Nurture Our Families” in “NurturingPentecostal Families.”] JDJ #242] JDJ #242

20. While it cannot be denied that the Old Testament portrays the Jews as a patriarchal society and patriarchy is somewhat codified in the Law, that does not mean patriarchy was God’s design for the human race. The Law was not given as a description of God’s created order for humanity; it was given in response to the fall into sin and as a call back to God. God’s design for marriage and families is better seen in the opening chapters of Genesis. [See my “Our Covenant to Nurture Our Families”] Neither can there be any doubt that the New Testament was written against the backdrop of Roman culture with its cornerstone doctrine of Pater Familias; the entire empire was structure around that doctrine. However, against that backdrop Jesus and the Apostles carved out an alternative model for all human relationships including families, a model that toppled Roman hierarchy replacing it with unity from within a covenant of love and mutual submission. [See my Pedagogy of the Holy Spirit, Chapter Three.] JDJ #243

21. Another Myth About Biblical Families. A second myth about the Christian family is the idea that the husband/father is the “head of the home” which flows out of the adoption of the Roman “pater familias.” The Old Testament does use the concept of head of household but primarily in the sense of a tribal or clan leader, i.e. “head of his father’s household” and not head of his own household. In the New Testament only Jesus uses the phrase “head of household” and with only one exception He uses it parabolicly as a reference to Himself and His Kingdom. The epistles make reference to “man” being the head of “woman” but not of the home. The reason for this is simple. In Greek the word for “head” can either mean “first” in the sense of “up front, on top, leader,” or “first” in the sense of “source” as in “head of the river.” The Apostle Paul clearly uses the word in the sense of “source” when referring to husbands and wives (See I Corinthians 11, i.e., the woman Eve was out of the man Adam but on the other hand every man is out of a woman). [I have addressed this in a sermon ]. Divine order in the home is built around the character of a Christian marriage as a covenant of mutual submission and mutual fulfillment [See I Corinthians 7] rather than the Roman cultural system of ownership and control. As Christ is the head of the church, so He must be the head of the Christian home. JDJ #244

22. A Third Myth About Biblical Families. A corollary and third myth about the Christian family is found in the use of the phrase “the husband/father is the priest of his home.” This concept is a pernicious deception that simply is not to be found in the Scriptures anywhere. The New Testament proclaims that we are a royal priesthood (I Peter 2:9) who together have one High Priest, Christ Jesus (Hebrews 2:17; 3:1; 4:14f; 5:1, 5, 10; 6:20; 7:1, 26; 8:1, 3; 9:7, 11, 25; 13:11). The etymological root of “priest” in Hebrew is believed by some to be “to draw near,” or “to stand.” A priest of the Lord is thus “one who stands in the presence of God.” By way of extension, a priest stands as a gap-filler who offers sacrifices for those who cannot stand in the presence of God. The problem is that in naming any one person to be the priest of the home we exalt that person to the rightful place of Christ and we restrict others from their rightful place in Christ. When one person is exalted to a special position between Christ and others, it is inevitable that the spiritual growth and vitality of all will be arbitrarily stunted whether they realize it or not. This is true for the church and for the home. The Christian home should function as an enclave of priests standing together in the presence of Christ with each member standing in the gap for the others, ministering the grace of God to each other. JDJ #245

23. A fourth myth about Biblical families: The New Testament Scriptures do not teach that wives are to obey their husbands. This error lies largely in the King James mistranslation of Titus 2:5 as wives are to be obedient to their own husbands. Modern translations replace obedient with subject to or submissive to. But even those translations fail to capture the thrust of the Greek word hupotasso, from which they are translated. [The same word as in Ephesians 5: 21-24 and Colossians 3:18.] Hupotasso is a composite of two words. The prefix hupo carries the meaning of beneath in the sense of being interconnected. For example, the "hypodermic" needle goes into and under the skin (hupo dermis). The base word tasso means stand or station. The underlying meaning of hupotasso is thus to maintain ones position in connection to another. It was used as a military term to describe the position of soilders in battle stationed side by side. When the New Testament was translated into Latin the Roman mindset of hierarchy made sub-misseo the preferred translation. But sub-misseo implies a distinction in purpose that is not found in the original Greek word. Pauls concern for wives was not that they surrender their desires or sense of purpose to the desires of their husbands; his concern was that they find their fulfillment in life alongside their husbands and not independent of them. JDJ #246

24. My underlying thesis in this series is that early in its history Christianity accommodated itself to the cultural values of the Roman Empire concerning marriage and family and subsequently read the Scriptures through the lens of Roman social norms. The church was folded into the Greco-Roman culture of power and control abandoning its more primal Judeo-Christian vision of being the covenant people of God. The modern church in many ways continues that pattern of being more Roman than Christian. This is evident in our polities of power, our blending of patriotism and faith, our Bible translations that impose limits on women not found in the original texts, and in the fact we have made sacrosanct extra-Biblical phrases such as “the husband is the priest of the home.” I am convinced that if we let the Bible speak for itself on these issues we will discover it speaks a convicting word about the patterns of  our lives, especially the way we fall short in our responsibilities to love, nurture, serve, and edify all the members of our own households. JDJ #247

25. Another myth. One myth that became popular in the later 20th Century was the idea that a woman needed a male “covering” for her ministry. I assume this concept is based on faulty understandings of Paul’s discussion of head coverings found in I Corinthians 11. Some translations state verse 10 as saying a woman ought to have a “symbol of authority on her head” and connect that to her husband. Contextually, it is important to note that chapter 11 introduces a section of the letter that deals with public worship: prophesying, praying, love feasts, spiritual gifts, etc. The issue at hand in the opening pericope is proper decorum of women and men in worship. It is not about husbands and wives. Paul insists that women have a head covering in worship and that men not have such a covering. A woman’s hair should be her covering, but if it is shorn she should wear a substitute covering. There are three controversial and interrelated topics at stake here: head, covering, and authority. In this “thought,” I will address the issue of “headship.” Verse three is translated by the New Revised Standard Version as “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ.” However, “husband” and “wife” are translated from words that literally mean “man” and “woman.” It is clear in many contexts that the intended meaning is “husband” and “wife,” but it is also common for their meanings to be literal, “man” and “woman.” Therefore, the New American Standard (NAS) translates the verse as “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” In Greek, the word for “head” (kefalh.)) can have several different meanings. Paul uses it in two different ways in our text. His first use is for the physical head that sits on the shoulders, hence references to hair. Another meaning is “up front” as in the person in charge, a meaning closely associated with the concept of authority. There is a theological problem if Paul is using “head” this way in verse three for that would teach subordinationism in the Godhead, i.e., Christ is inferior to God in authority. A third meaning which I believe Paul clearly uses here is that of “first” in the sense of “source, or fountain from which something springs.” God is the head of Christ in this sense, i.e., Christ is the eternally begotten of the Father. Paul’s argument flows from verse 3 through 4 to 7 into verses 8 & 9 where he describes the creation of Eve out of Adam’s side. Man is the head of woman in that she came out of his side. In verses 11 & 12 he then reverses his logic and clearly implies that woman is the head of man in that every man is out of a woman. As it relates to headship, the overall thrust of Paul’s argument is that men and women are distinct in the existence; they were distinct in their creation and that distinction is evident in nature. That distinction must be maintained in Christian worship. [To be continued…] JDJ #248

26. A second issue that needs clarification about coverings for women is the question of what is the covering to which Paul is referring in I Corinthians 11? Some translations and many cultures have understood this as a woman should have her whole head veiled, with emphasis on the face, of course. There were cultural norms governing the wearing of face-veils during the first century, i.e., slaves were not allowed to wear them, but that is not what is at stake here. First, Paul is not addressing the covering of the face; he is clearly concerned with the presence of hair or a substitute for hair as a covering. Second, Paul makes more explicit what he has in mind in verse 16, “For her hair is given to her for a covering.” In this verse Paul shifts to a different word for covering, a word that is more comprehensive in image. In the other verses the word he chooses specifically relates to covering the head. In this verse he extends the image of the hair to be that which envelopes; a woman is covered in the sense of clothed by her hair. Her hair is an adornment given to her by God, one that signifies that although her origin was out of man and therefore her distinctiveness in hair reflects his glory (v. 7) her existence as woman is to the glory of God. The underlying issue is that of reflecting back to God His glory in worship; in the gatherings and events of worship men must be men and women must be women, just the way God made them, it’s only “natural” (11:14).

27. While the word “authority” only appears in verse ten of this periscope, the central issue being addressed by Paul in the opening section of I Corinthians 11 is the question of authority in worship. By what authority does a woman or man pray or prophesy in the gathering of the church? Verse ten states, “Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (New American Standard). The word “authority” (exousia) conveys freedom to act. Its root meaning is “to act out of one’s being” (ex=out of and ousia=being). The Scriptures are clear that all authority is derived from God; He alone is the ground of His own being. He alone is truly free to act without restrictions. You may have noticed that “a symbol of” is italicized; this is because those words do not appear in the original. Translators often have to supply extra terms in order for a sentence to “make sense” in the new language. This becomes a problem when translators/readers assume “woman” should be translated as “wife.” The implication becomes that she should have a symbol of her husband’s authority on her head “on account of the angels.” Some commentators go so far as to suggest her head covering is like a wedding band signaling to the angels that this woman “is taken.” But, the sentence makes sense as a simple statement that, “A woman must have authority on her head.” That is, a woman’s authority to pray or prophesy rests in her identity as one created by God. Her hair signals her being as a woman. The angels will assist a woman in communicating with and for God because she is a woman in Christ just as they will assist a man; no one in Christ has to pretend to be what they are not in order to speak to and for God. In deed no one should ever attempt to do so. JDJ #250

28. I am not opposed to families choosing a model where the wife/mother does not work outside the home. I have, and will, defend their right to follow that model. I believe it can be a healthy alternative to the modern stresses on family life in which children are too often neglected. However, I also believe it can be a very unhealthy model for some families, especially if it artificially restricts the hopes and dreams of any of its members. When properly approached, a system where both parents are employed and both are fully engaged in the lives of their children can be the healthiest one for some families. My concern is that many sincere couples in both camps have bought into culturally defined roles for men and women that are not grounded in Scripture. It is evil for either parent to be emotionally absent from the home. On the other hand, with a sincere commitment to be faithful to God, generations of Christians have forced the Roman “Pater Familias” onto the Scriptures and have restricted women, and sometimes men, from the full development of their lives. This is more than a shame, it is sin. JDJ #251

29. It is muscadine season here in east Tennessee. For a week or so I will come home from work, park my bike and walk the few steps to the vines and enjoy their unique flavor before entering our house. I will also reminisce as I eat. My vines came from my father who had rooted them from his mother’s house when I was small. In his youth he had rooted and transplanted those same vines from an arbor at her mother’s house, who had brought them from her childhood home on Billy’s Island in the middle of the Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia. I am eating grapes from the same vine from which my great-great-grandparents ate over a hundred and fifty years ago and several hundreds of miles from where I live. My thoughts are on the power and connectedness of life. These vines have survived floods, drought, heat, and freezing cold, season after season. They have been cut off from their primary roots many times and sprouted new ones. The same life flows through them now as then. He is the vine; we are the branches. His life flows through us; we may be battered, cut down, mowed over, plucked up and cast aside but His life keeps flowing and we keep growing and bearing fruit. JDJ #253

30. I believe most modern church leaders sincerely desire to be used by God; at least they start out that way. When they began their ministries they wanted their words, intentions, and actions to be pleasing to God. They wanted to know they had His favor on their ministry. Unfortunately, some began to substitute a hunger for the favor of people in the place of the favor of God. But some made the mistake of reversing the order of their priorities. They sought the favor of Christ above the mind of Christ. We have been called to follow Christ, to take up our crosses and follow Him. Thus, the more important issue is whether we desire to know His will. Do we have confidence we are being led by Him? In the end, all that is required to know the favor of God is to know we are following Christ. His blessings, His favor, will flow through our faith in Him, in who He is, more than our faith in what He can do for us.  JDJ  #254

31. I had my 60th birthday today. Birthdays are good days in which to reflect. I reflected early this morning on commitments I have made and tried to keep. Back when I was a nineteen to twenty year old “preacher boy” trying to sort out what it meant to be called into full-time ministry, I made some commitments to God by which I have lived. I told Him I would preach anywhere and anytime I had an opportunity unless He led me otherwise. [“Be instant in season and out of season.”] I felt I was to be a pastor and so I committed to Him I would pastor anywhere in the world where He led me, “just please don’t make me pastor in New York or Atlanta.” I told Him I would serve in any capacity He wanted me to serve, “just please don’t make me an Overseer or other church official.” I told Him I would never take a job that would tempt me away from ministry, “I’ll bag groceries if I need a job, but I will not be lured by money.” I promised I would never take more time in church services receiving prayer requests than we spent praying about them. I also promised Him I would give an altar call after every sermon unless I felt He did not want me to do so. For better or worse, these are commitments that have and shall mark my ministry. JDJ # 259

32. Last week and this week our Doctor of Ministry students are in for some intensive course work. They have been reading, reflecting, and interacting online since July. They will go home and write papers and complete other assignments until March 1 of next year. This week I have been blessed to team teach, with Herschell Baker, a great group of these students. We are together studying the intersection of worship and discipleship in the Pentecostal context. The base line for me is that Pentecostals have historically approached discipleship differently than others. First, we understand worship services as events of encountering God and His transformative power; worship is the cornerstone and fountainhead of discipleship. Second, we have understood the necessity of communally gathering around the Scriptures as Word of God differently. The Bible is more than a textbook of rules and/or principles; it is light unto our feet because in it we encounter the God who travels with us as His people. Third, we have a heightened sense of journeying together. Historically, our inclusion of children and youth in our communal practices such as feasts (shared meals), care and mutual support in times of grief and affliction (visits and meals), evangelism and visitation (everyone an evangelist), public testimonies (everyone a preacher) and commitments to spiritual gifts (everyone a vessel of grace), etc. have effectively communicated the dynamism of our faith to the rising generations. Finally, I grieve that many of these core expressions of our heritage are vanishing for our Pentecostal life. Are we becoming “nominal” Pentecostals? JDJ # 260

33. Will our children know God? Will they know Him as holy, sovereign, life-giving, and soul delivering in our worship, the one who conquers the chaos of our lives and brings His Kingdom to us? Will they know Him as the one who speaks through our personal and communal Bible study, the one who goes with us in all of life? Will they know Him as the one who binds us together as the body of Christ in our fellowship, mutual submission and loving support? Will they know Him as Suffering Servant as we go with Him into the world to bear witness to Him? JDJ # 261

34. Will our children know God? Will they know Him as holy, sovereign, life-giving, and soul delivering in our worship, the one who conquers the chaos of our lives and brings His Kingdom to us? Will they know Him as the one who speaks through our personal and communal Bible study, the one who goes with us in all of life? Will they know Him as the one who binds us together as the body of Christ in our fellowship, mutual submission and loving support? Will they know Him as Suffering Servant as we go with Him into the world to bear witness to Him? JDJ # 261

35. Long ago the places where Christians gather for worship came to be called “sanctuaries,” a word derived from the Latin for “sacred” or “holy.” Christians were making a transition from thinking of the church as people who are holy to places that are holy, places people enter for assurance they are safe in God’s care. Christian worship came to be understood as entering a special location where the blessings of Heaven came into the world. Thus, the sanctuary became a place where people went for physical safety, or protection, as well. Worship had to be orderly, controlled, and beautiful as is appropriate for Heaven, nothing like the threats and chaos of daily life. With few exceptions, that was the religious norm at the turn of the 20th century when Pentecostalism burst onto the scene. These modern misfits were not concerned with beauty and order and they certainly were not escapists as Niebuhr proposed with his deprivation theory of Pentecostalism, i.e., Pentecostals went to church for an emotional catharsis to escape the misery of their daily lives. No, unlike the rest of Christendom, Pentecostals brought their misery and chaos to the house of God. They believed the Scriptural portrait of God as an all-powerful Father who delivered His children from their miseries. When deliverance came they celebrated with abandon the mercies of God. Yes, it was ecstatic. One of my greatest concerns for Pentecostalism is that we no longer have room for the realities of life in our sanctuaries. Our worship is beautiful, ordered, and other-worldly, exactly what we imagine heaven will be. Now, like everyone else, we go to church to escape, to be drawn upward into His presence. But seldom does He enter our world and break the strongholds of Satan; we are just too good at hiding our chaos from each other and from Him. JDJ # 263

36. Even as Pentecostals have been joining the ranks of those who view church as a sanctuary and worship as retreats into heavenly experiences, they have lost a sense of the holy. There is little reverence for the house of God, little sense of the truly sacred. We no longer go to church to encounter the holy God who is redeeming His creation; we go to church to experience the God who can lift us out of our troubles. When God is revered as holy then the things we associate with God must also be held as holy for His holiness is communicated to those things He touches or they die. The place where we worship must be kept as holy in our hearts not because it is a portal to Heaven, a place of escape; it must be kept as holy because it is the place where God manifests His sovereignty over creation. It is holy ground not because it is other worldly, but because it is the battlefield on which powers and principalities are being conquered in His name. The view from these places where we gather should have Golgotha and the empty tomb in the foreground with streets of gold only visible on the distant horizon. They are places being made holy by the blood of the lamb. JDJ  #264

37. I believe, teach and preach that the Bible is the verbally inspired Word of God. For the record, I also believe the Bible was inerrant in its original manuscripts. But inerrancy is for me a secondary and problematic doctrine, the product of a modernist over reliance on scientific reasoning. All of the scholars who teach inerrancy acknowledge we do not have the original manuscripts; Obviously, God did not consider it important to preserve them. In spite of what is stated on the official Church of God web site, the General Assembly of the Church of God (the highest governing authority of my denomination) has never endorsed the doctrine of inerrancy. This is phenomenal in that the Declaration of Faith was adopted at the time when the Church of God was becoming a founding member of the National Association of Evangelicals and inerrancy was a litmus test for most Evangelicals of the day. It is unfortunate that many Pentecostals have confused faith in the Scriptures as inspired and therefore infallible and authoritative with a modernist reduction of the Bible to an artifact of a bygone time when God actually spoke. (Continued tomorrow) JDJ #265

38. As stated yesterday, I believe in inerrancy, but I find it a problematic doctrine. This doctrine of the Enlightenment devalues the Word of God by reducing inspiration to an event in the past, i.e., the Scriptures were inspired at the point they were originally written. In truth the Scriptures are continually inspired by the Holy Spirit, carried along by the very breath of God. They are Word of God, not word from God as if apart from Him. They carry His very presence. As commonly presented, the doctrine of inerrancy is also in error because it implies there must be an inerrant text in order for us to be certain of what to believe. In short, we cannot know God without an inerrant Bible. This false teaching implies that God cannot effectively communicate His personage except through an inerrant text. It further implies that human reason and ability to read a text are sufficient to gain knowledge of God. But the Bible itself says that God is revealed by the Spirit and the Son. The extremist would even argue the Spirit only works through reason and intellect. Furthermore, I am also troubled by the modernist doctrine of inerrancy because the fundamentalists who formulated it tied the doctrine to a belief that the gifts of the Spirit ended when the Apostles died, a false and blasphemous doctrine that borders on outright heresy. I do not believe in God because I have an inerrant Bible and the ability to read it; I believe the Bible is Word of God (and inerrant in its original manuscripts) because the ever present, miracle working, Holy Spirit has caused me to know the God of the Bible. JDJ # 266

39. [The following thought came to me in the late seventies while listening to Pat Robertson explain why “we” are humanitarians and not humanists.] I am a Christian humanist. It is not enough to be a humanitarian who is responsive to the plight of people but denies their ability to improve. I believe in the great potential of humanity when responsive to the grace of God. I am not a progressive or liberal or secular humanist, if those terms refer to confidence in humanity’s ability to build a better world without the guiding hand of the Almighty. I am a conservative; we have a sacred responsibility to preserve and pass on to the next generation the great truths/values entrusted by our heavenly Father to us through the lives and teachings of our ancestors. I guess this makes me a forward looking conservative; I can’t quite swallow the label of liberal with any qualifiers. I am a humanist because God is a humanist. You cannot believe in the nature and potential of humanity more than the Creator of humanity who left His throne, set aside His glory and became fully human. If God was merely a humanitarian He would have put us out of our misery, but He didn’t. He became human so that humanity might be joined with His divinity. You cannot be more of a humanist than that. JDJ #

40. At the heart of the Northern Renaissance was Northern Humanism with its emphasis on education for the Kingdom of God. The rediscovery of the classics, combined with optimism for human potential, provided fertile ground for the Enlightenment (or Age of Reason) which followed and in turn gave rise to all that is modern. What has often been overlooked by secular historians is the fact that love for the Word of God was the center piece of it all. The dream was for nations to be populated by citizens whose lives were guided by a shared knowledge of the Scriptures. If the masses could not read the Bible in the original languages, surely they could learn to read the Bible in their mother tongue. It was in that environment that the modern battle for the Bible was born. The invention of the printing press made the dream seem within grasp but there was resistance to making the Bible popularly available. It is emblematic that in the Counter Reformation the Catholic Church at Trent reaffirmed both a belief in the Bible as Word of God without error and church tradition as authoritative; the church is the final interpreter of the Scriptures. This resulted in a continued resistance to modern translations that would allow the people to read the Bible. Thus, the real battle was and is not over the nature of the Scriptures but rather over the function of Scriptures; what role is the Bible to play in the formation of people, the administration of the church, and the policies of nations? How should those roles interconnect? I am left to wonder why the modern church does not seem to love the Word of God enough to continue to engage these questions. JDJ # 269

41. I am thankful for the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, and for science. They have given us great advances in health, safety, housing, and comfort, etc. On the other hand, they have given us weapons of mass destruction and the ability to destroy our planet. They also spawned the bane of modernity, positivism, the belief that the only truth that can be known is that which is derived from the application of scientific reasoning to empirical experience. This epistemology denies the existence of knowledge that is based in spiritual or metaphysical experience; thus, it has little room for, and no necessity for God. The error of modern science is not the scientific method for observing/exploring, theorizing and testing but rather the faith assumption to which it has often been tied, i.e., positivism. Science can either function as an epistemological tool, one primary method for seeking truth or it can function as an epistemological god, the only arbiter of truth. Science that begins with faith in God is no less science than is science that begins with faith in the non-existence, or unknowability, of God. It is illogical for someone who loves knowledge and truth to make denial of the possibility of God a prerequisite for knowledge. There are many scientists who know and love God; the more they study the more they are drawn to God. I pray God raises up another generation of scientists who respect creation because of its creator more than its complexity. JDJ # 270

42. One aspect of fundamentalism that I find frustrating is the system’s reliance on binary thinking. Everything is black or white. I am not so troubled by the absence of a band of gray in their spectrum of truth as I am by the absence of red, green, blue, and all the other lovely hues. For most fundamentalists it is not enough to believe the truth; one must arrive at the truth through their system of reasoning. They are functional positivists. Scientific reasoning is the sole, or at the very least, primary arbiter of truth. In spite of their declarations that they are Biblical Christians, they worship Christ at the shrine of the Enlightenment and reject the normative patterns of Christian faith and life as described in the Bible. Fundamentalist Christians believe in God and His ability to “break into” the created world. He does respond to prayer, but they tend to believe God must suspend the laws of nature to do this. In their system it is simply unnatural and miraculous for people to have direct communion with God. It is altogether too messy and uncontrolled for the Spirit to speak through signs and wonders and miracles, not to mention tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophesies, words of wisdom, and words of knowledge. They prefer God to limit His communication to reasoned illumination of the sacred texts through established laws of interpretation. JDJ # 271

43. I have been blessed over the years to have personal friends who are true liberals, theologically and socially liberal. A true liberal has a determination to accept people regardless of political, philosophical, or theological differences. They are committed in principle to all sides of all issues being heard. They make great friends and excellent team players. I consider some of them dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in spite of our theological differences. There is another kind of liberal, one that I call a fundamentalist liberal. A fundamentalist liberal is committed to the same theological views and social agendas as are true liberals, but unlike their counterparts they discredit the intelligence and or integrity of anyone who doesn’t share their agenda. They are just as binary in their thought processes as fundamentalist conservatives. But I find them more frustrating than fundamentalist conservatives; they are not only binary in their thinking, they believe themselves to be liberal and tolerant. In this self-deception they maintain the highest form of arrogance, intolerance and/or condescension for all who disagree. JDJ  # 272

44. There is an overabundance of binary thinking in this time in which we find ourselves. Call it “polarization” or “culture-wars” or “dichotomized thinking” or any other set of terms suitable for divisions into uncompromising opponents. Our society has been reduced into “liberals” and “conservatives” playing tug of war with a rope of animosity suspended over an ideological chasm of fear. The masses no longer think about the underlying issues; they merely react to code words and line up in heated opposition ready for more rope burn. They seem to think that every disagreement will determine the destiny of humanity. And so without critical reflection they stand ready on cue to yank the rope in their direction lest the human race fall into that proverbial bottomless pit. In this thoughtless, reactionary age, I am reminded of an admonition offered by Mrs. Robinson, my eighth grade English Teacher at Ribault Junior High School in Jacksonville, Florida. She told us “Learn to act and not to react. People who merely react without thinking are governed by their circumstances. People who act with reasoned forethought choose their own futures.” The issues bearing down on humanity are of grave importance; they are too grave to be consigned to simplistic, reductionistic thought processes. They require divergent and creative thinking led by persons of good will with humble hearts. May God give us leaders who will seek wisdom and give themselves to reasoned forethought. May God bless the teachers of our youth and inspire them as He did Mrs. Robinson. JDJ # 273

45. Five years ago I wrote a six-part series of blog entries with the title “Why I am a Republican.” If I was writing today I would have to choose a titled such as “Why I am a Secret Republican,” but I don’t have time to do so. My argument was simple (1) I believe the two-part political system is the best and most stable system for democracies, (2) I am a philosophical conservative in line with what I understand of the founders of my nation, (3) the Republican party is the conservative party and is therefore closest to my views, therefore, (4) I choose to be a Republican. My thought processes have changed little over the years; the Republican Party has changed much. Perhaps a better title for my current state of mind would be “Why I am a Reluctant Republican.” After writing that series and other political commentaries leading up to the inauguration of President Obama, God spoke a word into my spirit, “I didn’t call you to be a political commentator; I called you to be a pastor.” I didn’t feel condemned for my excursion into political concerns. I just knew it was time to let go of what was becoming an obsession. As Christians and citizens we must be concerned for the state of the world. But at the point our political or national identity overshadows our Christian identity we have drifted far from the heavenly call. That shadow will lead us into the idolatry of a fused and confused identity; to which kingdom do we belong? At that point our witness is lost and our future is uncertain. JDJ #274

46. For decades a recurring theme in my preaching and teaching has been the necessity of the church existing as a contrast society. The church must exist in the world as an expression of the reign of God which, by its very nature, challenges the powers and principalities of the world. Our current problem on this front is that we have allowed the world to set the agenda for our attention. We fool ourselves into thinking we are different from the world because we have chosen the correct side in the world’s battles. We have become reactionary to the social conflicts of our time instead of acting to set our agenda as is appropriate for the Kingdom of God. In this age of dichotomized thinking, we continually allow ourselves to be drawn into the culture wars of our day; we choose sides. If we were truly a contrast society, we would resist the temptation to fight in the conflicts of a house divided against itself; We would refuse to allow secondary issues to control our energies. We would pay more attention to the condition of our hearts than to the conflicts of our governments. At this time, the church should stand in stark contrast to the world because of our diversity in ethnicity, economic status, social standing, educational accomplishments, and patterns of thinking. Our contrast to the world should be in our openness and love for persons of opposing views. When politics divides the people of God, the people are no longer of God. Certainly, there are issues for which there is only one righteous response: murder is evil, fornication is vile, idolatry is damnation, and division in the house of God is deadly. The church must not tolerate the “works of the flesh.” We are in deep trouble when we honor evil men just because they think like we think. Holiness grounded in love is our most important contrast with the world, against such there is no political opinion that can stand. JDJ # 275

47. In its simplicity, worship is whatever we do to acknowledge the greatness of God in contrast to our own smallness. But worship of God must be much more than that. Our Creator has invited us into His presence to know as we are known, to find ourselves and each other in His face, in the mirror of His all-knowing gaze. The mode of our worship must not be that of escaping present realities but rather that of embracing the eternal. We present our broken and dependent selves before His whole and self-sufficient Self; that which is passing away encounters the great “I-Am-That-I-Am.” Worship is thus an act of surrendering to the embrace of God’s glory and His will, which makes worship at its heart relational. It is that which we do before God and in behalf of God so that we might better know God. It is a response to the heavenly calling to be united in the fellowship of the One Triune God. Not just fellowship with God, but the fellowship of God. This was the prayer of our Lord, “… that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” John 17:21. Love and unity flowing out of worship as a shared encounter with God is the substance of our Christian witness.  JDJ # 276

48. Followers of Jesus Christ are formed and transformed by the Holy Spirit in the context of the church. Formation takes place in the routine experiences of life, the normative rituals and practices of the community; It is the natural unfolding of life in Christ as it is infused with the graces of belonging. Christian formation is a process of becoming acculturated into the faith and ethos of the people of God. It can only take place to the extent the church is itself being formed into the likeness of Christ. Otherwise, the life of the church is stunted and mal-formed. Because of the deadly effects of sin, Christian life must also include radical transformations which can only take place in times of crises. Crises can be threatening or promising, unexpected or planned, but they are always events demanding change. In crisis we are deconstructed and reconstructed; we are transformed. Christian worship should be an ongoing recapitulation of the crises of the cross. (“Crisis” is etymologically derived from “cross.”) Worship should be a drama in which the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus bursts forth in and through the people of God. In worship we join the battle for the redemption of creation and we celebrate the coming Kingdom. In the Pentecostal tradition spiritual formation takes place primarily (but not exclusively) in personal and corporate worship that routinely retells the story of our salvation and anticipates transforming encounters with the Spirit of God. (See, Pentecostal Formation: A Pedagogy Among the Oppressed, by Cheryl Bridges Johns) JDJ # 277

49. The church is the first-fruits of the new order of creation, the New Heaven and the New Earth. Just as the affections are the integrating center of the sanctified life, worship is the integrating center of life in the body of Christ. It is in worship that we lay down all our delusions of self-importance, all of our brokenness, all that we are and all that we hope to be, and we take up our cross and follow Him. It is there that we are tamed, reborn, purified, sanctified, and empowered as those things that hold us in bondage are broken, destroyed, and removed. It is when worship includes encounters with the life-giving, sanctifying Holy Spirit that it most clearly makes manifest the Kingdom of God on earth. In Spirit-directed worship the old passes away and all things are made new. In this we discover what it means to be one in Christ. In conclusion, formation takes place in the routinized rituals of Pentecostal worship and the faith infused practices of the community; transformation takes place in the Divine/human encounters of Pentecostal worship. Those encounters may happen during any of the rituals of worship, but they are anticipated most in the altar service. It is in the altar that we die and it is there that we are equipped for life in the Kingdom. JDJ # 278

50. Jesus gave a new commandment; we are to love one another. With that commandment He gave assurance that our love for one another would be the effectual witness of our discipleship. In our love for each other, His love for all the world will be made known. The commandment is also a promise fulfilled. His expectation that we love is matched by His provision of love. Our love for each other is grounded in our love for Him because it flows from Him. The pattern of God’s love is systemic and not sequential. Love for Christ and love for each other are simultaneous expressions of the same love. It is in loving Christ together that we truly come to love each other. For Pentecostals, our union and communion in Christ is most fully actualized during those times when in corporate worship the Spirit arrests us and knits our hearts together with the heart of Christ. In those times we are being individually and corporately formed and transformed into the image and likeness of Christ. In the presence of our triune God we begin to know as we are known and to love as we are loved. JDJ # 279

51. Pentecostals are not good with silence. It almost has to be forced upon us. A Catholic friend once stated to a group of Pentecostals that if he could give Pentecostals anything it would be the gift of silence. I leaned close and whispered to Cheryl, “If he was ever in a service where the Holy Hush fell it would knock his socks off. But I think he was onto something. We need to learn to appreciate silence as a spiritual discipline and a tool for discernment. In silence we are bombarded with the noise of our lives, external and internal noise. Silence helps us divide the voices competing for our attention into those that are important and those that are merely demanding. As a spiritual discipline, silence teaches us to govern the forces competing for our attention and to choose to listen more carefully to those voices that are important. The choice to be silent is a choice to listen and an opportunity to be discerning. In silence we can better hear ourselves hearing God. JDJ # 280

52. Having extolled the promises of silence, I now offer some cautions about the use of silence in corporate settings. When a leader calls for or simply creates silent space in worship or other settings, that leader is not being passive but is rather actively challenging the audience. Silence is invasive. In public settings, silence makes us uncomfortable and that lack of comfort carries an inherent challenge to respond to the void. In the presence of others, silence increases our self-awareness and triggers our self-defenses. When forced upon us, silence thus serves as a bugle-call for self-presentation. Sitting with others in silence heightens our senses; we become acutely aware of the gaze of others. We are herded inward where we anticipate exposure of our deepest thoughts and the consequential humiliation and shame of that exposure. Forced silence can thus be a tool for manipulation and control. On one hand we should make silence a more normative practice in our private and public worship. But like all other practices it should be an expression of surrender to the Spirit and not a tool to provoke an emotional (even if quiet) response. JDJ # 281

53. Recently Cheryl tweeted something to the effect that discernment is the epistemology of the future. I hope she is right. It is clear that empirical positivism is losing its stronghold as the sole arbitrator of truth. New epistemologies are emerging; there is a growing receptiveness to the possibility that there are truths that can be known through sources other than scientific reasoning applied to sensory experience. This reality is seen in recent observations by pollsters that people are becoming more spiritual and less religious. There is an increasing openness to spiritual experiences and it will be filled. The threats to the church will no longer be limited to internal conflicts, apathy and doctrinal errors. The emerging threat of counterfeit experiences will become more and more prominent. If the church is to keep its youth and its converts, discernment must become its foundational epistemology. We must learn again how to “try the spirits.” If we do not, many will believe an experiential lie and be damned, and the church will slide further into the realm of irrelevance. JDJ # 282

54. Currently, I consider there to be four epistemological anchors for reading the Scriptures: personal presence, knowledge as encounter, knowledge as transference, and discernment as process. First, God is personally present in His Word. All knowledge and truth are grounded in God. But the Scriptures are not just truthful information from God pointing back toward God. They are not artifacts or objects to be mastered, controlled, and used. They are eternal Word of God, breathed by the Spirit of God. The Spirit who searches all things and knows all things is in the Scriptures searching and knowing us. The Bible is thus a point of communion between the Creator and His creation. This is the cornerstone of a Biblical epistemology. JDJ # 283

 55. ­­­The second epistemological anchor is to approach Scripture as encounter with God. As in all inter-personal relationships, Scripture should be experienced as a dynamic system of subject/object reversals. We must recognize that we are actors being acted upon. We are the subject who handles the Word of God while at the same time we are the object being handled by the Word of God. This is the epistemology of the Scriptures themselves. The epistemologies of the Western World have all been built on Hellenistic dualism. The underlying epistemological assumption in Hellenism is that there is an un-bridgeable gap between the knower and the known. Knowledge is gained through observation, analysis, categorization, theorization, and rationalization. We know by objectifying that which we know. In the Scriptures, knowledge is based upon encounter; the gap can be bridged. The knower and the known share common experiences. Thus, Bible study should be approached as personal encounter; it should be an experience of intimacy between the Creator and His creation. Bible study should be an encounter with God, one in which we know Him as we are known by Him. In Bible study we should know ourselves knowing God and being known by Him. JDJ # 284

56. The third epistemological anchor is transference or communicability, knowledge is communion. As we know ourselves being known, that which is known is transferred into us. This has as much to do with character as with cognitions. The person who knows a holy God becomes holy. The person who knows the Word of God becomes an expression of the Word of God, a living epistle. Likewise, as God knows us He takes us into Himself. On the other hand, this is why He cannot endure the sinner, for to know the sinner is to become a sinner; God will not know sin. Thus, the atonement of Christ required that He who knew no sin become sin that He might conquer sin and cleanse Himself from sin so that we might be free from sin and enter with Christ into the presence of God where we know as we are known. Bible study must function as a means of knowing God and not merely to know about God. It must be approached as an occasion of God’s abundant grace, grace that infuses and transforms. The grace of God, like the Spirit of God who bestows it, is communicable. His grace abounds in His presence and He is present in His Word. JDJ # 285

57. The fourth epistemological anchor for reading the Scriptures is discernment. The Word of God cannot be separated from the presence of God, but the reading of the Scriptures can be perverted. Satan himself quoted the Scriptures as he tempted Jesus. It is important to understand that it is not the Word of God that is perverted but our understanding of the Word that is perverted. When truth is wrapped in a lie it remains the truth even though it cannot be clearly seen. Except for the grace of God, we read the Word through lenses that distort the truth. For this reason the Scriptures must be approached with discernment. We must distinguish the voice of God from all the other voices in our life. Voices from without and voices from within struggle to define truth over and against the truth. Since the Bible is the Word of God, carried along by the Spirit of God, to read the Bible without discerning God’s presence in His Word is to distort its nature and its purpose and its message. At the same time, reading the Scriptures in a manner faithful to the Scriptures requires that we read with a view toward being read. Discernment is not a one-way street. Discernment demands inter-personal engagement and response. It is a twin moment of knowing as we are known. We must approach the Scriptures in faith, believing that God is speaking to us and that His Words are powerful and life giving. JDJ # 286

58. Discernment will be the epistemological method of postmodernity. It will displace empirical positivism from its position in modernity as the sole arbitrator of truth. Modernity focused on the particular. It understood the universe as a closed mechanical system and believed it could best understand the whole by studying its parts. Postmodernity sees the world as an open living system in which everything is subject to change. Discernment is a holistic and deeply personal epistemology appropriate to postmodernity. It requires the whole person engage the whole “text.” Discernment seeks to know the whole and its parts. It wants to understand relationships and not just functions. Discernment wants to know the truth, that which is authentic, and not just the details of that which is real. Discernment uses intuition and investigation, the affections and the cognitions. It does not reject the methods and advances of modernity; it merely rejects the limits and boundaries of modernity. It wants to engage the living text on the terms of the text, but it also wants to use the best skills and disciplines for interpreting life experiences. What postmodernity and discernment as a method reject is the reduction of truth to impersonal, mechanical, lifeless facts. JDJ # 287     

59. Having argued that discernment is the epistemological method of the future and that it is compatible with the epistemology of the Scriptures, I now offer some practical suggestions. First, for Christians, discernment should be an act of prayer, a form of prating without ceasing. That is, the quest for truth should always be done with the One who is the Truth. Study should always be an act of worship. Second, discernment is not an infallible method. It is not as precise as positivism; it is highly subjective and lends itself to the privatization of truth. For this reason years ago I coined the phrase “shared discernment” to describe a process whereby people work as a team to discover truth, specifically to discern the voice and will of God. (See my SPS paper “Formational Leadership,” ) Discernment works best when it is practiced in community. Third, because discernment is holistic in approach, it should be viewed as labor intensive, and time consuming. It requires time and effort to get the big picture of a situation. Discernment is not mere intuition even though it appropriates intuition. It involves the skills of scientific reasoning and more. (To be continued) JDJ # 288

60. Practical Suggestions Four & Five -- Fourth, discernment must work from the inside out. We must know ourselves as knowing beings. We must learn to distinguish the voices inside of us before we can hope to distinguish those outside of us. We must distinguish our desires from God’s will. In order to know with confidence the voice of God we must know our own voices. Similarly, discernment must begin in the house of God before it can be applied to the world. The community must discern its relationship with God before it can discern good and evil, truth and falsehood, from beyond its borders. The church must give priority to discerning what the Spirit is saying to the church about the church rather than focusing on what the Spirit is saying about the world or the future. Finally, the primary key to spiritual discernment is a conscience inflamed by the Spirit of God. And the secondary key is patience, hesitation in jumping to conclusions, especially about others. JDJ # 289

61. One of the primary problems of the fundamentalistic approach to the Scriptures is that it assumes there is only one means of knowing God, one hermeneutical lens through which to hear the voice of God. In spite of vociferous cries about inerrancy, the Bible as we have it is considered to be a human text to be dissected and interpreted like all other human texts. Emphasis is place on inspiration as the process whereby the prophets and apostles recorded the Scriptures and illumination is the process whereby the Holy Spirit helps believers understand the Word of God, but the Scriptures themselves must be read like all other texts. This shifts the focus from hearing God speak to understanding a text and makes the Bible itself a barrier between people and God. In short, it gives priority to human reason over faith as the means of knowing God and hearing His voice. It makes intellect rather than character the prerequisite for pleasing God. Metaphorically, the reader is unable to see the forest because he or she is fixated on the cellular structure of the trees. The beauty of the symphony is lost in an analysis of the musical score. When one understands God to be immanently present in the Scriptures it changes the way we encounter the Bible. The importance of the Greek syntax, human reason, and hermeneutical skills are not lost but rather enhanced in their importance as they contribute to rather than limit our capacity to more fully hear the voice of God. JDJ # 291

62. [I was blessed to be the guest speaker for Pastor Appreciation Day at the Daisy Church of God yesterday. It was an honor to celebrate with Pastor Herschell Baker and his wife Laura, and their families. Herschell was a student of ours in the discipleship masters degree and in the Doctor of Ministry degree program. For several years he has team-taught with me in the D.Min. program and he teaches other courses at our seminary. Laura is currently one of my advisees at the seminary. We are so very proud of this family. They are pastors with whom I would trust my family. My thought for the day comes from that sermon.]

Followers of Jesus are blessed beyond measure. In the first chapter of Ephesians the Apostle speaks of those blessings as “all manner of blessings in the heavenly realms.” He proceeds to enumerate them. We have been chosen by God to be holy and blameless. He has predestined us for adoption into His family. He has made us to be accepted, redeemed, and forgiven. And He has informed us of the mystery of His will. These are all ours now, yet we are on a journey toward them. Our union with Christ must find expression in our union with all those in His body (Chapter 2). Our knowledge of the mystery must every increase (Chapter 3). We must walk together toward our destiny as those who know where they are going (Chapters 4, 5, 6). We have been blessed with one more set of gifts for the journey: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers. These ministers are charged with equipping us with that which is need for us to do ministry so that the body of Christ will be edified. When these three elements are fully functioning we are together moving into the fullness of the image and stature of Christ. From this we can draw a picture of Christian maturity. Maturity is not independence or self-sufficiency. Christian maturity is healthy inter-dependency; it is knowing how to give and receive, bless and be blessed. Christian maturity is finding and fulfilling our place in the body of Christ. JDJ # 292

63. Pentecostals have generally been negligent in the practice of the ordinances/sacraments. We were overly influenced by more modernist theologies that reduced the ordinances to outward symbolic acts that point to inner spiritual realities. This dichotomy is grounded in a dualism that separates spiritual realities from material realities. In short, we have lacked the ontological constructs needed to  easily accept the literal presence of Christ in the sacraments. The literal presence of Christ would require a miracle and although we believed in miracles we were not willing to accept them as ordinary or connected with liturgical rituals. However, if we accept that God is always present in His creation there should be little disconnect with believing He is especially present in the sacraments. If indeed, Christ is gathering all things into Himself and we are the first-fruits of the Kingdom, then why should we not believe He has absorbed consecrated bread, wine, and water into His being with us. JDJ # 293

64. I believe the ordinances/sacraments should be special events of Divine/human encounter. They are for me covenant rituals that by and with the Holy Spirit especially enact the union of Christ with His body. Covenants are not private contracts; they create a shared social identity. While the covenant of Christ is personally initialized in the moment of genuine conversion, it is corporately inaugurated in the baptismal waters much as marriage is inaugurated and sealed in the wedding ceremony. Baptism brings one’s personal faith in Christ to its intended state of union and communion with the Body of Christ. From the waters we rise to live in the realm of Christ’s reign over His creation. Likewise, footwashing is a privileged participation with Christ in the ongoing sanctification of the church; in this we actualize with Him His covenant with His people. We are adorned with robes of righteousness appropriate for the marriage supper of the Son of God. The Lord’s Table is then participation in the consummation of the covenant; the present event is one with the coming eschatological feast. The Groom will not leave His bride standing at the altar of baptism. Neither will He neglect her in her preparations for eternity, or reject her at the marriage supper which He has prepared for her. These ordinances then are not events for dispensing special grace; they are special events of God’s abundant grace. They are rituals initiated by Christ in which He bids us to come and receive the fruit of union with Him. JDJ # 294

65. There is a misguided idiom “The Word of God says it, I believe it and that makes it so.” The truth is that if the Word of God says it that makes it so whether I or anyone else believes it. Many practice a similar hermeneutic, one which if verbalized would say “If the Word of God says it, and I understand it, that makes it so.” The underlying issue is whether we have faith in the Word of God, or do we have faith in our understanding of the Word of God. The Word of God is not altered by our faith, our doubt, our understanding, or our ignorance. Modern approaches to Scripture move from interpretation to application with the assumption that we are accountable for applying those portions we understand and the corresponding implication is that we are not accountable for what we do not understand. But there are many truths in the Scriptures that are beyond our ability to understand; yet we are accountable for them. Can we truly understand the incarnation, the resurrection or the ascension of Christ? Can we explain the existence of God, or His mercies? Understanding is important; it feeds and shapes our faith. Understanding nurtures faith just as faith feeds our hunger to understand. Faith in the Word of God calls forth deep reverence for the God who is speaking, a reverence that overwhelms and fuels our capacity to understand. JDJ # 295

66. If we understand the Scriptures to be continually breathed of the Holy Spirit, our hermeneutical lens must be inverted. The primary issue must shift from proper interpretation of the text to allowing the text to interpret us. The goal of Bible study moves from understanding and/or application to communion and transformation. The central question shifts from what-did-God-say in the original texts to what is God saying/doing. It is my contention that we are in error when we limit our encounter with the Word of God to a quest for meaning. We should instead approach the Bible with a desire for the Word of God to accomplish in us the will of God. We should embrace the Scriptures with an expectation that we will be transformed. The personal presence of God in His Word envelops and transcends the questions of meaning and purpose. Cognitions of understanding and changes in behavior are absorbed into the greater goal of transformation. JDJ # 296

67. We ask an incomplete question when we ask what God is speaking through the Scriptures. The better question is what is God doing through His Word. God’s Word is not a mere collection of ideas; it communicates His character and His will. The Word of God is more than a message; it is a personal presence with force with purpose. The central issue is not the content of Scripture but the desired function of that content. The concept of “function” is relational. A function only exists in the processes of change and transformation. I believe the Holy Spirit causes the Scriptures to function in specific ways in the lives of Spirit-filled believers. First and foremost, the Scriptures function as a place of communion with God. He is present in His Word. If Sinai is the place of corporate encounter, the Scriptures are the affirmation of God’s presence in our shared journey. Second, the Scriptures are a point of communion with the saints throughout the ages. In the Word we join the Biblical saints in their trials and victories and they join us in ours. Third, the Scriptures are the template by which we read the world, beginning with ourselves. Spirit-filled believers cannot help but connect passages of the Bible with events in life. By the Word and the Spirit we see God at work in, with, by, and through all things. I believe this is the meaning of God’s Word being a light for our path and a lamp for our feet. The Spirit working through the Scriptures causes us to see what we need to see and to discern God’s presence in all the events of our lives. JDJ # 297

68. I trust my thoughts on Scripture have not been misunderstood. Specifically, I would not want it believed that I oppose sound exegesis and methodical study. The study of the Bible should be approached with discipline and it should engage the full spectrum of our skills of analysis. My primary point has been that we should never approach the Word of God without a consciousness that God is present and purposeful. We are not studying a lifeless corpse. God desires to meet us in His Word and to there transform us into the image of Christ our Lord and Savior. This transformation requires purification and impartation. The Word of God functions to cleans us from our unrighteousness and to infuse us with the life of Christ. In the Scriptures our union with Christ is nurtured and strengthened. In Bible study we should be joined with the Word of God in thought, character and spirit. JDJ #298  

69. My secondary point has been that Bible study should be holistic; it should be an encounter with God that permeates our entire being, not just our brains. This suggests that interpretation of the Word should be a holistic response to the eternal truths discovered therein. We should come out of Bible study with more than fresh ideas. Interpretation of the Scriptures is God’s invitation for us to join Him in creative activity. As we encounter God in His Word, the Holy Spirit broods over us calling forth new life from the deep recesses of our spirits; beauty and the glory of God yet to be revealed emerges from within. In His presence we are being recreated and we join in that creative process. The study of the Scriptures should spring forth in new songs, music, dance, poems, short stories, paintings, and sculptures, etc. Because of our study, we should see new possibilities, new shapes and colors, and sounds; we should envision ourselves as more fulfilled stewards of His Kingdom. Our place and our purpose within His beautiful reign should be more vibrant and certain. JDJ # 299

70. Another function of the Scriptures is to produce a heightened awareness of and commitment to the world around us. The Spirit and the Word nurture the “mind of Christ” within us. The Biblical concept of “mind” is rooted in one’s attitude or disposition more than one’s cognitions. Christ was by His very nature inclined to set aside His glory, take on the form of a servant, and be obedient unto death in behalf of creation (Philippians 2). Spirit anointed Bible study changes what we think and how we think; it nurtures the fruit of the Spirit. Like all other encounters with God, anointed Bible study fans into flame the love of God for His creation. Creativity and love then call forth a renewed engagement with the world. They connect us to all that is broken and energize our ministry of reconciliation (I Corinthians 5:18-19). JDJ # 300

71. For several decades I have lived with a deep inner struggle about the ordinances of the church, especially Communion and footwashing. Early in my ministry I became convinced Pentecostals in North America did not properly appreciate the rituals and therefore did not celebrate them enough. In my childhood, we had Communion and footwashing once a quarter “whether we needed them or not.” However, in accordance with what I had been taught, I retained a fear that should we practice Communion on a weekly basis we would turn it into a meaningless ritual; we would take the meal for granted. In my youth, I had developed a conviction that footwashing was linked by Christ to Communion on purpose; the two should be practiced in conjunction. I even went through a phase where I would not serve Communion to someone who did not first practice footwashing. In practical terms I simply always placed communion at the close of a footwashing service. I still hold to the conviction that people who refuse to practice footwashing are in danger of not discerning the body of Christ in their midst for when we wash one another’s feet, we wash His feet. But I withdrew from this practice because I decided it resulted in the opposite of my intent; it devalued the Lord’s Table by reducing it to the privilege of the few. JDJ # 302

72. One of my first breakthroughs in understanding the ordinances was to accept them as “means of grace.” Although, I struggle with using that phrase for fear many will read it as “automatic means of grace” or as “mediated grace,” i.e., the idea that someone or something is required to distribute grace to us. But the phrase “means of grace” should convey the sense of expectation that God will be faithfully present to minister to us as we draw near to Him in faithful obedience. God has chosen the sacraments as a means of making His presence known. No matter how we understand the bread to be His body and the wine to be His blood, we should expect God’s grace to be abundant at the table where we consume the body and blood of our Savior and at the basin where He joins us to wash one another’s feet. We should know Christ is present and where His presence is known, the grace of God abounds. JDJ # 303

Twitter: God has chosen to make His presence known in the pool, the table and the basin. Come there expecting abundant grace.

73. Communion and footwashing are not events in which the church dispenses special grace; they are special events of God’s abundant grace. They are events with special promise of the presence of Christ and where the presence of Christ is known, the grace of God abounds. Grace abounds because we are gathered in His name, i.e., under His Lordship, doing the things He instructed us to do. Our personal and corporate faith actualize our shared knowledge of His presence. Furthermore, by the Holy Spirit, His presence and grace are communicable; we share in the same grace like inhaling and exhaling the same air. Our communion is always inward and outward; it is never unidirectional. The gifts of God never dead-end in a receiver. The one who is the recipient of grace becomes by their very nature a communicator of grace, salt and light in the world. JDJ # 304

74. In the 80’s I began a pattern of placing the Lord’s Supper at different points of the worship service. I was attempting to move away from the sense that Communion was an addendum to worship. The Eucharist embodies and announces the gospel which we believe. My conviction was that it is a foundational expression of all aspects of Christian worship. We both come into God’s presence through the table and we go out from His presence through the table (for mission = misseo = mass). In this meal we give thanks (the meaning of Eucharist), we praise, we proclaim, and we petition. This meal also should be the fountain of our deepest fellowship, our koinonia. At this table our union with Christ is consummated and our union with each other is born. To be joined to Christ is to be joined with each other. I therefore later attempted to celebrate the Lord’s supper within a Love Feast, or church fellowship meal, the kind of setting in which He introduced it. However, I concluded that our cultural context caused those event to lack the necessary sense of reverence. JDJ # 305

75. In the 90’s I experimented with celebrating the Lord’s Supper in different contexts: Sunday morning one week, Sunday evening one week, our Love Feast one week, and small group meetings one week. That system became very difficult to maintain. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper with the challenge that His disciples were to eat the bread as His body and drink the wine as His blood. In Luke’s record and in Paul’s account there are two key terms that signal the event as being an eschatological community ritual: “covenant” and “remembrance.” This meal was the feast of Christ’s new covenant. Just like the old covenant, the new constitutes a people who are defined by their distinctive relationship with God. In fulfillment of prophecy, the Last Supper inaugurates and consummates the existence of that holy nation which is the Body of Christ. Like the Jewish Passover, this meal sets the defining boundaries of who belongs. Those boundaries are rooted in an historic person and event. The supper must be open to all who are in Christ lest the ritual created to express our union in Christ become an instrument for division. It must also be barred from all who by their words or conduct deny Christ has come in the flesh. JDJ # 306

76. The second term that ties the Eucharist with the eschatological gathering of God’s people is “remembrance.” Jesus stressed that the Lord’s Supper was to be eaten in remembrance of Him, until He comes again. His concern was not that we simply recall the facts of His life and death. He was instead challenging His followers to “member again” or to cause Him to be present. To “remember” is to resurrect the past and join it with the present. Paul’s words “till He comes” further joins the past and present with the future. The Eucharist is not just a ritual of receiving from Christ; it is a rite in which we enter into Christ. The early church tied this rite to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. When we share in the Lord’s Supper we enter into that which is to come. When we are united with Christ we are united with each other; we are united with our destiny for He is the fullness of what we shall become. JDJ # 307

77. As noted earlier, the Lord’s Table identifies the church as the eschatological gathering of the people of God. In this meal the church is fully present. Those who eat and drink do so with all the saints throughout the ages, those past, those present, and those to come. The meal renews and extends the covenant into the future; it bridges time and unites the entire Body of Christ. The focus of the table is on Christ as resurrected head of the church and it embraces both what we receive from Him and what we are in Him. We are the first-fruits of the new order of creation. We are buried in Christ, He in us and us in Him. For this cause, the Eucharist must never be a private or closed ritual. It must be open to all who are alive in Christ. The essential nature of the sacrament as an expression of the covenant of Christ requires that it be practiced in a corporate setting that links the contemporary church with the church universal. We have one Lord, one faith, and one baptism; we therefore share one meal. JDJ # 308

78. In my youth, Communion was a somber occasion. The moment of eating and drinking was always accompanied with deep sighs of gratitude, “Thank you, Jesus.” But the Lord’s Table was to be approached only after careful self-examination. Those who ate and drank without a pure heart risked severe judgment, possible sickness and even death (I Corinthians 11: 27-30). Congregants were always challenged to examine themselves, confess any hidden sins and repent before participating. The Lord’s Supper centered on the forgiveness of sin, the enormity of the sacrifice, and it was therefore laden with reverence and thankfulness. With hindsight, the thing that was missing was any sense of celebration, one of the things for which we Pentecostals were noted and criticized, i.e., our exuberance in worship. Should our remembrance of Him not be marked by both deep reverence and abounding joy? Is that not the essence of passion? Let us be passionate about knowing Him in the sacraments. JDJ # 309

79. A careful reading of I Corinthians 11 reveals that Paul was not as concerned with secret sins being brought into the Eucharistic service as with the very open sin of not honoring the weaker/poorer members of the Body of Christ. During their “love feasts,” the wealthy were indulging themselves out of their abundance while ignoring the poor in their midst who had nothing to eat. They were failing to recognize the body of Christ during the very occasion in which they claimed to eat the body and drink the blood of Christ. Failure to discern and honor Christ in the members of the church made their eating and drinking of the appointed elements ineffectual. That which was given as a source of healing became instead a revelation of sin and pronouncement of judgment. How can we say we know and love God whom we have not seen if we do not know and love the members of the Body of Christ who suffer before our very eyes? We cannot cherish Him while holding with contempt His members. JDJ # 310

80. A funeral should do three simple things: it should honor the deceased, comfort the grieving, and faithfully proclaim the gospel. I have been to funerals in which the name of the deceased was barely mentioned, much less anything being said to honor them. Without honoring the deceased it is impossible to comfort the grieving. The most severe failure for a funeral is the distortion of the gospel. This is often done in a misguided effort to honor and console. There is always a temptation to create a strong sense of hope grounded in the life of the deceased rather than the truth of God’s word. Hope in the mercy of God should not be built on an exaggerated or distorted testimony of a person’s life or of the Scriptures. In recent years I have been especially troubled by efforts to take the sting out of death by making it seem natural, i.e., it is part of God’s great designed route to immortality; sin had nothing to do with it. I have also been troubled by a functional denial of the resurrection, i.e., the deceased now has their heavenly/spiritual body and will live forever with God just as they are. It is as though our material existence, and not sin, is the problem. I am thankful the memorial service yesterday for Cheryl’s mother was a good funeral. Rev. Joshua Bridges did a phenomenal job honoring his grandmother, revealing aspects of her life that exalted Christ and impacted his own Christian journey. Rev. Duree Propes gave a Biblically sound exhortation that wedded his own testimony with the promise of salvation. Yes, it was a good “home-going.” JDJ

81. Three of the essential characteristics of the Christian life are love, humility and submission. Far too often we profess love while feigning humility and circumventing submission. It is critical that we understand these three to be essential traits of the life of Christ and that they are dynamically linked. Working together they are what the Scriptures refer to as the “mind of Christ” (Philippians 2). Christian love, humility and submission constitute the attitude, or predisposition of Christ in relation to the Father and in relation to creation. He set aside His glory, took on the form of a servant and became obedient unto death. Thus, these three attributes are most clearly expressed by believers in their Christ-like relationships. They are gifts from God initially bestowed in creation and restored in Christ. They are also attitudes of choice for which we are accountable. We cannot possess one without possessing all. Subjugation may be achieved through force, but Christian submission is a gift that must be grounded in humility, that sincere desire to honor and exalt the other. Love that is not wed to humility and submission is self-love, the desire to appear to be a loving person. Love and humility bind us together as members one of another and submission is the first fruit of their union in us. JDJ # 315

82. We were blessed this week to host in our home Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, the General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church. She is a long-term friend of Cheryl who was in town to speak at our seminary, at Lee University, and to confer with Dr. Mark Williams, Presiding Bishop of the Church of God. We were blessed and challenged by her call for the union of holiness and justice. To borrow from John Wesley, there is no holiness that is not social holiness. The Church of God is in its origin, its history, its doctrine, and its profession a holiness church. I fear we have ceased to be a holiness church in faith, in experience, in practice, and in our hearts. Holiness is less about what we do, how we look, and where we go, and more about our affections and our passions. A holy heart is passionate to know God better, to serve Him more faithfully, and to participate more fully in His love for His creation. A holy heart burns with the love of God. Father, sanctify us through and through by Your Word, Your Spirit, and the Blood of the Lamb until we have come unto the fullness of life in the image and likeness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. JDJ # 316

83. We are approaching the season of Advent. This year at New Covenant our theme will be “The Mystery of the Incarnation.” Cheryl and I have followed the church calendar for most of our pastoral ministry. Years ago, we were heavily criticized for this, especially for the practice of Lent as a season of fasting and remembrance. I confess my own concerns were that we were sending a subtle message that Christians only needed to take their faith seriously a few weeks out of the year. My hope was that these annual practices would deepen our faith and devotion throughout the year. [Comments from past and present members of New Covenant might help here.] I am now more convinced than ever that the church must reclaim a sense of cyclical time in the Kingdom of God: a time to plant, a time to water, a time to harvest, a time for birth, and a time for death. Modernity has limited our self-awareness to that of linear time. Linear time steals from us the significance of the past; our testimony is nothing more than a prelude to the present and future. We have become functional pragmatists and existentialists who value what works and what we feel above all else. We have no time for Sabbath, for reflection, for renewal; we are too obsessed with the new, a new word, a new revelation, a new experience. We do not value tradition or those who have gone before us. In this drive for the new, we rob ourselves of the depth and breadth of our lives and ironically we blind ourselves to the greatness and glory of the future that is breaking in upon us. JDJ # 317

84. In his ground-breaking and now classic book, The Theological Roots of Pentecostalism, Donald Dayton revealed the origins of the five-fold gospel as preached by early Pentecostals. Jesus is savior, sanctifier, healer, Spirit baptizer, and coming King. Less than a decade after the Azusa Street revival the Assemblies of God was formed and soon dropped “sanctifier” from their list. Amie Simple McPherson followed their lead in establishing the Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Pentecostals have fallen into the two camps ever since. For those of us who hold on to our Wesleyan emphasis on sanctification and holiness, the way of salvation includes three distinct and transforming encounters with God: regeneration, sanctification, and Spirit baptism. Each of these unfolds into new patterns of life. Preachers sometimes would label these pardon, purity, and power. Justification and regeneration are those twin moments when we through repentance and faith are forgiven of our sins and enter into new life in Christ. Sanctification is the process and experience whereby we are made holy as He is holy. We are purified of our transgressions and the old nature with its inclination toward sin is conquered and removed. Spirit baptism is the encounter with God in which we are filled with the Spirit and empowered for Christian witness. Too many of the popular Pentecostal/Charismatic preachers on our televisions today are proclaiming a different four-fold gospel, one of pride, privilege, prestige, and prosperity. JDJ # 318

85. I have never been a fan of the “Church Growth” movement. In spite of the sincere desires of the proponents of the movement to bring more people to Christ, it has too often perverted the gospel, misdirected the mission of the church, and hindered evangelism. Jesus did not command us to focus on numerical church growth. Neither did He instruct us to be “Seeker Sensitive.” He commanded that we proclaim the gospel and that we make disciples, teaching them to obey His commands, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. I was once admonished by a friend who is an expert on church growth that I set the threshold for church membership too high for growth. I asked him this question, “do you think we have set it higher than Jesus did?” With a puzzled look he responded, “If that is your standard, you have set the bar too low.” My reply was “I guess we had better raise it then.” Whenever the church falls into the trap of framing its mission in institutional terms (“church growth”), it must downplay the power of the gospel to transform, heal, and deliver. I am not arguing for stagnation or for a “holy-few” mentality. The church must have a passion for the lost. Under normal circumstances healthy churches grow and sometimes that growth is rapid. But we must avoid the error of confusing numerical growth with spiritual vitality. JDJ # 319

86. Two recurring themes in the New Testament are the will of the Father and the mind of Christ. I long ago concluded these are two of the core concepts in Christian discipleship and that they are overlooked, misunderstood, and misappropriated. It is easy to grasp that Jesus came to do the will of the Father. He stated that fact over and over (see especially the Gospels of Matthew and John). But under the influence of Reformed Theology we tend to think of the will of God as something that happens to us. It is hard for us to grasp that God’s will is something that we are to know and in which we are to fully participate. Indeed, our eternal salvation depends on it. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter (Matthew 7:21, see also 12:50 and Mark 3:35, I John 2:17). The Scriptures teach us that we are to “understand” what the will of God is (Ephesians 5:17), and “prove” the will of God (Romans 12:2). Believers are to be confident that God is at work in them to both know and do His good pleasure (Philippians 2: 15). Essential to the Christian life is faith that the will of God is good and that we have been called to know and fulfill it. JDJ # 320   

87. The disciple of Jesus Christ must be guided by one central and abiding question, what is the will of God? More precisely it must be a prayer, “Father, what is your will?” This is the question that must be raised in every point of decision. It may take differing forms such as, “Father, what are you saying in this situation?” Or, “What would you have me do?” This is not the same question as “what would Jesus do?” WWJD leaves God in the margins of the equation. It assumes the believer is on his or her own to effectively apply Biblical principles. It assumes God is not directly and immanently engaged with all of our life situations or at the very least that He cannot or will not make known His will. Just to sincerely ask God the question of His will creates a learning environment for spiritual growth and transformation. It shifts the focus from what we do before God to what we do with God. This quest to know the will of God is in and of itself an act of faith. We must believe God is present and active in every moment of our lives. He is always speaking, even in His silence He is speaking. Thus, the central method of discipleship is discernment of God’s presence and voice. In this we pray without ceasing, “… Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” JDJ # 321

88. The “mind of Christ” is one of the most misunderstood recurring concepts in the New Testament. It is too often read through the lens of the modern concept of “mind,” i.e., the mind is the center of thought. Thus, to “have the mind of Christ” is construed to mean that one thinks like Jesus thinks. But, the New Testament use of “mind,” while embracing the act of thinking is deeper and broader than thought. The “mind” is the seat of one’s attitude or dispositions that gives rise to thought. It encompasses what we think before we actually think, including our inclinations toward truth, reality, and ethics. This is most clearly seen in Paul’s challenge to the church at Philippi to ”have the mind of Christ” (Philippians 2:5, see # 315). Christian love, humility and submission constituted the attitude, or predisposition of Christ in relation to the Father and in relation to creation. He set aside His glory, took on the form of a servant and became obedient unto death. That is the mind of Christ. Discipleship must concern itself with the transformation of the heart, the attitudes, and the affections. “By this shall all persons know you are my disciples in that you have love one toward another.”  JDJ #322

89. Last Sunday, Cheryl and I were blessed to assist Chris and Julie Green in the Baptism of their new son, Emery. Chris, Julie, Zoe, Clive, and Emery are part of our church family at New Covenant but retain their membership and ministerial identity in the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC). The IPHC historically included a rite of infant baptism. At New Covenant we have a longstanding practice of honoring the diversity of the Body of Christ so that it only seemed natural for us to honor the Green’s request to enfold the baptism of Emery into our standard service of baby dedication. Cheryl and I followed our typical dedication ritual which transitioned into Chris baptizing his young son. It was a joyous and sacred occasion as our theology of baby dedication merged with Dr. Green’s theology of baptism. The focus of both rites is on the nature of the church as the covenant people of God. In both, the parents and the congregation renew their commitment to live out the covenant by incorporating the child into the life of the church where the grace of God abounds. Both rites affirm that a child born into a Christian home should grow up in the fellowship of the church where the presence of God is known so that we have full confidence he or she will in time come to personal salvation in Christ. So may Emery, in the words of Clement of Alexandria, “nurse the sincere milk of the Word at the breast of the church” until such time as he by the Holy Spirit is ready to proclaim his own faith in Christ. JDJ # 325

90. Yesterday, we completed a worship series titled “The Dance.” The central theme of the series was the “perichoresis” of the Trinity. “Perichoresis” is an ancient theological term coined to describe the dynamic relationship of the members of the Godhead. We have one God who eternally exists as three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They share one life and yet they are distinct persons. “Peri” conveys the idea of “around” and “choresis” is movement especially inward or forward. Each member of the Godhead moves in, out, and around each of the others. Jesus alluded to this in John 17 when he prayed that His followers would be one and that they would be in Him just as He was in the Father and the Father was in Him. This divine movement of being may be thought of as a dance choreographed by the dynamics of their coexistence as Three who are One. This concept shatters the Greek implications of God as a stoic, emotionless, fusion of ideas. The God of the Scriptures has a full range of affective expressions. Our God is fundamentally a Being of dynamic, interpersonal relationships within the Godhead and at the heart of His Being is expressive love. Love demands an object and it demands action toward that object. The Trinity is love, eternal, perfect expression of love. JDJ # 326  

91. During the last couple of years I have been especially drawn to reflect on the presence of God in His creation. At least from the time of Augustine we have been inclined to think of God as enthroned above the heavens, so far above the heavens He is outside of creation. God is infinitely above and beyond His creation. But that does not mean He is not in His creation. Creation exists in and by God. He holds all things together. He is fully present in all of the galaxies of the universe and He is fully present in the smallest of particles and in every pulse of energy. He is fully present in the entirety of His Being: Father, Son, and Spirit. Our God who is wholly Other is also everywhere wholly Present. He does not have to break into our world, He permeates our world, which is in truth His world. God is with us, in us, and all about us. We exist by Him and in Him, in Him “we live and move and have our being.” The critical issue for me is the personal immanence of God. Our triune God knows every element of Hid creation intimately. The knowledge He shares of Himself with Himself is dynamic; the perichoresis of the divine and eternal dance of self-knowing flows in, out, and around their shared life. With that knowledge He also dances over His creation, hovering over every particle, calling forth the beauty of His creation even as He mourns the brokenness of its existence. JDJ # 327

92. “Justification,” “Regeneration,” “Salvation,” and “Sanctification,” etc., these are Biblical terms that describe aspects of being Christian. We are made upright before God, born again, delivered from sin, and made holy. They are important words which I have argued need to be retained and explained for each rising generation. They are words that focus on God’s transforming grace actualized in the life of an individual. But they are not terms that convey the fullness of the dynamic relationship of the redeemed with their Redeemer. They do not capture the richness of life in Christ. They are words of transition, describing what happens to us in preparation for our destiny in Christ. They are the doorway into the great ballroom of life in Christ, the prelude to the eternal dance of life. They are gifts of God received by faith which are essential to, but only begin our journey into the fullness of the image and stature of Christ. The Christian life is more than what He does for us; it is what He does with us. It is union with God, being inhabited by the Holy Spirit, and partaking in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). It is joining in the perichoresis of the Trinity; being carried along by the Spirit we dance into and out of their manifest presence. JDJ # 328

93. In Eastern Christianity “theosis” is the theological term for sharing in the life of God. In the West the preferred term has been “divinization.” This doctrine holds that the atonement of Christ is not aimed at the mere restoration of creation to a pristine state of existence, the one it had before Adam and Eve fell into sin. Christ came to inaugurate a new heaven and a new earth, a new humanity. The doctrine hinges on the full divinity of Jesus, His full humanity, and the power of the resurrection. Jesus is the Second Adam, the first-born of the resurrection, who has conquered death, hell, and the grave. His humanity fulfills all that it means to be human; His resurrection provides for us to enter with Him into a whole new order of creation. In the incarnation the Creator became one with His creation. In the resurrection the created are made one with their Creator. Thus, our inheritance in Christ is not mere everlasting life; it is eternal life, the very life of Christ. With great joy God gives us His life so that we might be joined to Him, fused with His very Being. JDJ # 329

94. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is a glorious experience which transforms the believer and reorients one’s relationship with God. The experience should be renewed often until it is the baseline reality for the Christian journey. In my experience, those times of being filled and refilled are rapturous. A flood of praise for the goodness of God bursts forth from the depths of our being. In this union with God all possible positive emotions seemingly swirl in our soul like a tempest of ecstasy. Our rational minds are not bypassed; they are instead kicked into turbo drive as the encounter brings us into a trans-rational knowledge of God. We know that we know more than we can articulate. The central emotion is joy, the central affection is love, and the central volition is praise. One other disposition permeates the encounter, thanksgiving. Union with God, knowing Him and being known by Him floods our consciousness with thoughts of His greatness and goodness while simultaneously overwhelming us with our finiteness. At no time are we more fully aware of grace and spontaneous gratitude sings from every fiber of our being. JDJ # 330

95. We are entering the season of peace and goodwill. Even non-Christians extoll these promises of Christmas. I once heard an American Jew describe how as a child Christmas was his favorite time of the year, not because of presents received (apparently some Jews found ways to compete with our commercialism) and certainly not because of a secret desire to be a Christian, but rather because of the general atmosphere of joy and community that it created. In his words “America is most American during the season of Christmas. It brings out the best in all of us.” To a large extent I believe that continues to be true. But one must wonder how long it can be retained with the Christ Child quarantined within our church buildings. May God give us the grace during this season of Advent to share the reason of our celebration with a world that hungers for good news even as it increasingly despises the name of Christ. May He give us the wisdom to effectively bring the gospel back into the public square. I believe the star of Bethlehem can shine more brightly from the faces and the behavior of the faithful than it ever glowed from our courthouse squares. I believe we can proclaim “Merry Christmas” and display the story of Christmas without willfully infringing on anyone’s “Happy Holidays.” And if we do so with love for all, we will do more to restore the reason for the season than all of our court battles combined. JDJ # 331

96. Many think of peace as the absence of trouble. Respite from the trials of life gives rise to tranquility. Freedom from potential or actual aggression seems enough to satisfy. But peace is more than a negative equation, i.e., the absence of something. By definition Biblical peace, or “shalom,” is wholeness and connectedness that can exist even in the face of conflict and discord. It is a gift, a force, the power to hold all things together in their proper place. The peace of Christ is the knowledge of our union with Him and the certainty of our future in Him. This peace is mysteriously communicable. It is Christ’s gift to us (John 14:27) and it is a gift we can share with others (John 10:5-6). The ancient Christian tradition of passing the peace continues in some churches. Originally practiced as the “kiss of peace,” Christians were not allowed to give the kiss until they had received the Spirit following their baptism and first Eucharist. Those who had so received the Spirit were able by the Spirit to communicate the power of the Spirit which binds believers together in Christ. Thus, the peace of Christ was that wholeness which accompanies being one with Him and with His body. It is wed to our fellowship, or  koinonia and not to our external circumstances. This peace has little to do with the presence or absence of troubles. JDJ # 332  

97. We are in the season of Advent looking for the return of Christ. In my childhood the “Second Coming” was a scary thing. His return seemed inseparable from the “Great Tribulation” with its beasts and the great whore (whatever that is) and the wrath of God poured out. I lived in fear of the rapture; as a five, six, seven year-old I lacked confidence I would go with Him if He came. On occasion Mom would let us stay home with Dad on a church night (which was most any night of the week). My sister and I had a fool proof plan for preventing the return of Christ; we knew we would not go with Him because we were skipping church. Every hour on the hour we would look at each other and say “Jesus could come right now.” Then He couldn’t come because He could only come in “the hour you think not.” Laugh all you want; it worked didn’t it. In time I came to understand the return of Christ to be the great escape. We could be confident of bypassing all that bad stuff just by being ready for the rapture. Christ was coming back to take us out of this world and a heart set on fire for Jesus was the assurance you would make the rapture. As an adult I have embraced a bigger picture of the return of Christ. He is coming back to reign over His creation. There is going to be a new heaven and a new earth. All things will be brought under His reign. I am not as concerned as I once was about understanding the details of His return. Debates about “Pre-,“ “Mid-,“ and “Post-“  Tribulation returns no longer interest me. My longing for His return has overwhelmed these curiosities. Every day Heaven gets sweeter and more real, less other-worldly and more holy. Even so come quickly Lord Jesus, rule and reign over all Your creation beginning with me. JDJ # 335

98. Israel was looking for a messiah the first time Jesus came. The advent of a messiah was expected and yet it was a surprise. Some thought John the Baptist was the Messiah. Others followed various zealot leaders who sought to drive the Romans out of the Promised Land and reestablish Israel as the dominant world power. There was no shortage of Bible scholars and religious factions that thought they had the corner on revealed truth. But, no one was prepared for the incarnation. They were looking for a messiah that could fit into their constructs of what a messiah should be. They were looking hard, but they could not see God Himself in their midst. The first advent of Christ was hidden in plain sight. Only by the promised Holy Spirit could anyone recognize His presence. The Spirit who filled the Messiah and directed His mission also worked in people to unveil their eyes to His presence. The Spirit and Word are One. This truth should guide believers as they look for the return of Christ. We best look for His return by looking for His presence through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit continues to testify of Him, to draw people to Him, to communicate His words and works, and to lead us into all truth. We should look for His return not on the horizon of eternity, but in His presence with us now. Look for His return by knowing Him through the Holy Spirit. By the Holy Spirit the future reign of Christ is rushing in upon us. In this, the Second Advent will not be a surprise because the future is already being made present through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not given to us to know the hour or the day of the consummation of His return. It is given to us to know Him as Lord of Lords and King of Kings as we joyously anticipate that day. JDJ # 336

99. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). Our problem is that we seem to think His anger begins when the legal papers are first filed and climaxes when the courts decree the marriage has ended. In my religious tradition there is often more emphasis placed on not remarrying after a divorce as if that is the greater sin that rekindles His anger. The root meaning of “divorce” in the Bible is simply to “send away” but in the context of marriage it carries the underlying meaning of ending a covenant relationship. To divorce someone is to declare the covenant is dead, however, in most cases the covenant was treated as dead long before papers were filed. Covenants are sacred; God is a witness and participant in every marriage. Whether the couple knows God or not, He binds Himself to them in their marriage. That is a primary reason why He hates divorce. In marriage a man and a woman are to point each other back to the Garden where the image of God was shattered and God meets them there calling them back to His embrace. In divorce they eat once again of the fruit of rebellion and further shatter that image. But God’s grief begins when two lives that are bound in covenant first begin to be torn apart, when either spouse withholds pure devotion from the other and emotionally sends them away. I have long held the view that we have erred by placing our emphasis at the wrong points on the divorce continuum. Far more attention should be placed on building healthy marriages and cultivating the kind of relationships between couples and the church that will nurture those marriages, the kind of relationships that can hold couples accountable for being Christian with each other. The church should intervene when the couple first begins to sin against one another. JDJ # 337

100. Just a Thought: We tend to land on one of two extremes in the way we respond to divorce. Either, we follow the cultural pattern of the world and act as if it is no big deal. Or, we make it an honorary unpardonable sin. Divorce is a big deal: spiritually, psychologically, and systemically. It shatters a person’s self-perception, robs them of their hopes and dreams, and weaves a web of broken and strained relationships. It is hardest on the children, regardless of age, but it is also hard on everyone who loves the couple. For a Christian couple to divorce is to announce to the world they have given up on being faithful to the teachings of Christ. I am not arguing that divorce is not sometimes the best and only valid option. No one should be pressured to remain in a marriage in which the spiritual, psychological, or physical dimensions of their lives are threatened. That person is divorced already. The scars of divorce may be preferable to the wounds of remaining in a deadly marriage. I am arguing that divorce, no matter how justified, always leaves horrible scars on the couple, their children if they have any, and everyone who loves them. And, I am arguing, as I implied yesterday, that if the church is to effectively respond to divorce, it must first address the sins that might lead to divorce. On the other extreme, divorce is not an unpardonable sin. The Bible says “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16). It does not say He hates the “divorced.” Believers who suffer through divorce are wounded and in need of healing. We must walk a tight rope of addressing the sins of the situation while also applying the healing balm of Gilead. Jesus often forgave sin and healed in the same instance, something we, like the Pharisees, find hard to reconcile. Perhaps no other modern situation affords us more opportunity to be faithful to the Gospel than the manner in which we respond to wounded and/or broken marriages. JDJ # 338

101. Just a Thought: Statistics reveal that Evangelical Christians divorce at the same rate as the general population. The church has been inept at preventing divorce because it has been inept at building healthy Christian marriages. The church has given more attention to trying to define the justifiable reasons for divorce than it has spent defining the nature of a Christian marriage, which is much more than being comprised of a man and a woman. Historically, the church has followed society’s definitions of marriage and simply put a spiritual overlay on it. The modern definition of marriage makes it little more than a business contract which turns divorce into the termination of that contract. But Biblical marriage is based on a covenant and covenants do more than delimitate obligations and expectations. Covenants bind people together on a level far deeper than social agreement. The marriage covenant creates a union of mutual fulfillment and interdependency. In the New Testament, the relationship of wives and husbands is essentially that they be Christian with and for one another. The relationship of a husband and wife is analogous to the relationship between Christ and His church because when two Christians are united in marriage they constitute a fundamental expression of the church. Christians who divorce each other do so because they have failed to discern the body of Christ; they have failed to see Christ in each other and I their union. Thus, the primal issue is not what constitutes the Biblical grounds for divorce, but what constitutes marriage within the Body of Christ. JDJ # 339

102. Just a Thought: Formation takes place in the normative patterns of life. Transformation takes place in the crises events of life. Getting married is one of the most significant transformational crises of life. In marriage we not only get to know another person in a deeply intimate manner, we get to know ourselves through the eyes of another. We discover more fully who we are and what we can become. Thus, the season that surrounds a wedding can be a significant period for spiritual growth and transformation. For this reason, premarital counseling should be thought of as an exercise in Christian discipleship. Engaged couples need counsel on communication skills, finances, sex, children, parenting, and other aspects of marriage. They also need to process all of these things as expressions of their relationship with God. A Christian marriage is more than the marriage of two Christians. It is more than two people living their lives guided by Christian values. A Christian marriage is the union of two people in Christ. Two people who in and by Christ live their lives for the glory of Christ and the fulfillment of each other. JDJ # 340

103. Just a Thought: There are many excuses for holding people back, keeping them “in their place.” One of the most ridiculous excuses for not opening full ordination to women in the Church of God may be a determining factor in the prevention of the recovery of this aspect of primitive Christianity. There is a fear among some Ordained Bishops (14%) and others that fully ordaining woman might lead to an increase in ministerial affairs. At least that was one finding of the research by Bowers and Alexander (see their publication “What Women Want” pp. 62-63). This kind of argument presents women as inherent temptresses and men as morally feeble. I am of the opinion that having women serve in the highest positions of our denomination would reduce the number of affairs in the ranks of our ministers. It is rare that a female Church of God minister has had an affair and even more rare for that affair to have been with a male minister. Workplace affairs are most often between men in positions of power and prestige and women in positions of support. A man is most likely to enter an emotional and/or physical affair with a woman who makes him feel good about himself. Persons in support staff positions have extreme pressure to do just that, make those over them look good. It is a scenario disposed toward what the counselors call transference and counter-transference. I believe the presence of female bishops would provide a needed counter to this atmosphere of gender bias that is ripe with temptation. I suspect that for some men it will only be when they must honor a woman as their ecclesiastical superior that  they will be able to recognize all women as their spiritual equals. JDJ # 341

104. Just a Thought: Billy Graham and his colleagues set forth some rules of behavior in the early days of the Billy Graham Association. Among their shared commitments was a pledge to never be in a room alone with a woman. They agreed to avoid the very appearance in impropriety. The ethical integrity of Graham his Association speaks for itself. I confess that as a minister I have attempted to live by their rule in this matter, but that I have on occasion concluded an exception to the rule was warranted. I have carefully maintained my own rules about relationships with women. Those rules are guided by one underlying conviction; I do not believe a married man or woman can have a righteous close, intimate friendship with someone of the opposite sex other than his or her spouse. I believe such friendships are in fact infidelity. By their very nature close friendships require self-revelation of the inner being. At the point a man or woman gives something of his or herself to another that belongs to his or her spouse alone, that person has broken the covenant of marriage. Thus, my first and overarching rule is that I will not enter into an emotional bubble with a woman, one where I imagine we share a private world, i.e., where there is any sense we share a special connection of any kind. I will not share with a woman anything about myself that I have not, or would not readily share with my wife. My point being that far more dangerous than being physically alone in a room is being emotionally bonded in any setting. Emotional affairs are affairs, and they begin in public settings and are generally maintained in public settings even if abetted with the use of modern electronic communication. These affairs are deadly, especially when the participants live in denial about them. JDJ # 342

105. Just a Thought: Continuing yesterday’s thought, for a married person a relationship with someone of the opposite sex becomes wrong (i.e., sinful) at the point it violates the covenant of marriage, at the point it threatens the integrity of the marriage. These violations begin when a person’s affections for another counter or supersede in any manner their affections for their spouse. Unfortunately, the heart is deceptive in such matters and denial is abundant. When is a relationship wrong? It is wrong when the spouse is threatened by the relationship. A spouse has the right to challenge and veto all of the relationships of their husband or wife when those relationships involve interpersonal communication and are feared to become or are perceived to be sexual in nature. Refusal to end a relationship that has been challenged by a spouse is proof the relationship violates the marriage covenant. No one has the right to wound their spouse by insisting on keeping a relationship they consider innocent. A relationship is wrong when reasonable people question the ongoing nature of the relationship. It is wrong no matter how strongly one has convinced him or herself it is an innocent relationship. It is wrong even if the spouse does not object. It is wrong when the Body of Christ is wounded by the relationship. It is the height of arrogance to attempt to justify a male/female relationship when the relationship itself offends others and calls into question the integrity of the church. JDJ # 343
106. Just a Thought: One of the primary duties of pastors, elders, and bishops is to guard against false doctrine. This is the necessary flip side to their duty to teach sound doctrine. I fear we do not take these responsibilities serious enough, especially the first. I get irritated by popular TV ministers who are fascinated by numbers, dates, and obscure prophecies and spew crazy concepts about the economy and politics as though their hair brained ideas are the gospel. No one with authority seems willing to rein them in. These are not heresies that contradict the Word of God; they are false teachings that harm believers by mingling truth with error. Today, I am more concerned by the hidden doctrines than those embarrassingly broadcast for all to hear. In the Scriptures, a “doctrine” is more than an ideological construct; “doctrines” are ideas and patterns of behavior. They are the values/beliefs we hold and communicate by our words and conduct. Today, it is hidden false doctrines that most threaten the church from within. We inadvertently teach white supremacy when our literature is dominated by white authors and the accompanying graphics contain only token numbers of people of color. We teach male supremacy when we restrict women from offices of power and authority and we teach male domination when our worship services restrict women from touching the sacred, i.e., to stand behind the pulpit, to serve the elements of the sacraments, etc. Our children need to be taught the dignity and worth of all people; this must begin with the inclusion of women and minorities in the visual and living images of the sacred that we set before them. It takes effort to effectively communicate the truth that in Christ there is neither male nor female, neither Gentile nor Jew. JDJ # 345

107. Just a Thought: There are many trends in the modern American Pentecostal church that might suggest the future of Pentecostalism is less than certain. One that concerns me greatly is the loss of pastors who are willing to mentor younger ministers. When I was young, pastors seemed to have an impulse to identify people called into the ministry and nurture them. I fear our younger ministers are being discipled more by TV preachers and internet based gurus. They have too little time with and attention from their own pastors and congregations. At least four factors are contributing to this trend: the demise of the Sunday school, the rise of mega and mini-mega churches, the reduction in the number of services each week, and the ever increasing emphasis on performance. For my generation, teaching Sunday school was our first opportunity for ministry; it was a laboratory where the call to preach was incubated, or not. Today, the majority of churches are small (less than 75) while the majority of young adults attend large congregations (500 plus). The larger the church, the less are the opportunities for young ministers to be mentored into ministry by a pastor. It may be argued that the larger churches hire staff who are mentored in ministry, but I would argue that those mentorships are skewed away from a holistic view of ministry; they are necessarily task oriented. When I began my ministry, young ministers were given opportunity to exhort during the mid-week prayer service which opened the doors to preach during some Sunday evening services. Today, most of our churches only have one worship service a week. Finally, we have become so performance oriented we fear letting anyone up front who is not already a proven speaker/singer. Our consumer oriented congregations lack interest in preaching the sermon out of a novice. I recognize that preaching is not the essence of pastoring, but I believe anointed preaching is at the heart of pastoring. JDJ # 346

108. Just a Thought: Our worship theme for the third Sunday of Advent was “The Mystery of the Incarnation: Conceived of Spirit – Born of Woman.” My sermon text was Matthew 1: 18-23. Twice in the text it states that the baby in Mary’s womb was “of” the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for “of” is “ek” which carries the idea that something is “of” in the sense of “out of” or “from” something else. It is the word that Paul uses in I Corinthians 11 when he states that the woman (Eve) was out of the man (Adam). The word for “conceived” (gennao) is grounded in the idea of begetting or beginning as in “Genesis,” the name given to the first book of the Bible. Jesus Christ was conceived in Mary’s womb as fully human and fully God. We can easily identify with Christ in that we all came into this world through the womb of a woman, that place of nurture and security to which we often long to return. We struggle to identify with Him as Son of God, conceived of the Spirit. But we are all conceived of the Spirit who is the giver and sustainer of all life. The distinctive miracle of Christ’s conception was not the presence of the Spirit but the absence of a man. Should we who are now in Him not also identify with Him in that we are twice born by the Spirit. We have died to this world and been born again “of” the Spirit. Our new beginning in the womb of God flows through His new beginning in the womb of a woman. It is the same Holy Spirit who begets us there. JDJ # 347

109. Just a Thought: It is hard to imagine that the misconceptions about Pentecostals made prominent in the early days of the movement are still promoted by persons who otherwise seem so intelligent. But the recent Strange Fire phenomenon makes it clear that narrow minded misrepresentation is alive and well on planet earth. It is not that the errors and excesses within Pentecostalism don’t exist. They exist and some are even very popular, but they are not normative. There are abhorrent forms of the Christian faith within every movement, including the new Reformed groupies. The Fresh Fire people grossly failed to study the Pentecostal movement, its core beliefs and practices. Ours problems may be more evident because we are more public, we generally lack the polity to rein in our embarrassments, and to our good and detriment we are a populist movement. But a cursory review of the doctrinal statements and official publications of the major Pentecostal denominations would reveal they reject the extremes uplifted by the Strange Fire people. One would think that a movement so enslaved to the study of texts as is the new Reformed group would have looked at more texts before drawing their conclusions; one would think a movement so repulsed by phenomena would not be so quick to trust its own critique of the phenomenological. JDJ # 348

110. Just a Thought: In Christianity of the West there has been a tendency toward an economic subordinationism within the Trinity. God the Father outranks God the Son who in turn outranks God the Holy Spirit. Christ is our Redeemer who reconciles us to the Father. The Spirit is a kind of afterthought whose primary function is to help us make the connection with Jesus. This is a distorted view of God, one that affects the manner of our relationship with God and the Scriptures. The three Persons of the Godhead are One. Neither is subordinate in any manner. The Father, Son and Spirit are all present in their every encounter with Creation. They are present in the Scriptures, present in the prophets, the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection. Jesus is both the object of the Spirit’s work in the incarnation and the subject who ministers in the power of the Spirit. The mission of Jesus is the fulfillment of the mission of the Spirit and vice versa. The members of the Trinity are not envious of each other. When we worship one we worship all. Pentecostals continue to be accused of exalting the Spirit above Jesus. (A truly strange accusation since the only non-orthodox group we produced is called “Jesus Only.”) Nothing could be further from the truth for we have learned through encounter that the most certain way to exalt Christ is to do so in the power of the Spirit. Only when God is known through the transforming presence of the Spirit can Jesus be truly known and exalted with the Father and Spirit. JDJ # 349

111. Just a Thought: Competition seems inherent in our culture, perhaps in our humanity; we are driven to win. And winning is determined more by the number of injuries inflicted than by the score on the scoreboard. Public discourse is often reduced to wars over ideas. It seems it is never enough to be understood; we are driven to prove the other person(s) wrong. This is nowhere more evident than in the current state of political disagreements. But it is also readily seen in many aspects of the social media. It is all too often the pattern of our personal interactions as well. Even our most intimate conversations can become a series of verbal power-plays. Transactional Analysis (TA) would suggest this is rooted in the patterns of parent-child communication. This implies the breakdown in public civility is but a symptom of a breakdown in family relations. We are a culture that lacks normative patterns of parental supervision and effective transitions into a common definition of adulthood. To the extent TA is valid, I fear modern society has degenerated into a social order lacking a frontal lobe of reasoned self-control. JDJ # 350

112. Just a Thought: Christmas is a season of wonder and joy except for the group of our brothers and sisters who battle depression. For them Christmas may become the most horrendous of the seasons. During this time of the year there is an increase in hospitalizations for emotional problems and an increase in suicide rates. From my perspective as a pastor, those who struggle with depression need love, understanding, and support more than anything else. They do not need instruction, correction, or exhortation. They do not need anyone to call them out of the cave of their existence. They need others to simply enter that cave, hold their hand and sit with them for as long as it takes. They need to know they are important, valued and wanted; these are gifts best communicated by presence and gentle touch more than words.  If someone you love is depressed this holiday season, give them secure and quiet space with personal, loving but nonintrusive presence. And do your best to get them to a licensed counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist as soon as possible. JDJ # 351

113. Just a Thought: On this day 39 years ago Cheryl and I were married. We were na├»ve, poor, and gullible. But we were in love and we knew with certainty that God was leading us. Less than two weeks later we were in classes in a master’s degree program at Wheaton College outside of Chicago. During our year and a half there we worked and went to class. We had no telephone and no television. Wheaton was good to us and for us. Outside of our faith in God, I believe the most important decision we made before we got married was a commitment to go where God led us and to stay there until He made it clear to both of us we were to leave. We would make no major changes without both of us agreeing it was the will of God. We have lived by that commitment. It has kept us in Cleveland and at the Seminary. There have been times one or both of us wanted to go somewhere else but never have we both agreed it was God’s will. There have been attractive offers from more prestigious schools with higher pay scales (almost always for Cheryl), but we have remained where God put us. I cannot say how our lives would be different if we had followed any of those opportunities. I can say in the words of an old song, “I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.” I am thankful to have made this journey with someone committed to help me find fulfillment in the will of God. And, in the words of another old song, “If it keeps getting better and better O’ Lord, I don’t know what I’m going to do.” JDJ # 352

114. Just a Thought: We all have favorite texts in the Bible. Some of us have them underlined and perhaps even color coded. They are the verses we go back to over and over again. They speak into our lives and serve as anchors in troubled times. Thank God for those verses, but don’t abuse them. They can become tools for reinforcing an immature belief system, one that functions to shut down growth in Christ. Because of our familiarity with those verses, we often overlook the context in which they appear. When that happens they become a Bible within the Bible through which we risk perverting the Word of God to fit our expectations. We can lose our desire to hear the voice of God, substituting shallow confirmation of that which we already believe. It will do us all good to spend more time reading and studying the verses of the Bible we haven’t underlined. I highly recommend the inductive method of Bible study which helps ensure we place our favorite verses in the context of the book in which they are given. JDJ # 354

115. Just a Thought: We know precious little about the birth of our Savior. It was in the small town of Bethlehem outside of Jerusalem, the ancient capital of Israel. We know the Romans controlled the region with the power to tax. We also know the delivery was in a manger, a stable that perhaps was carved out of the side of a hill. In our collective imaginations there are sheep and donkeys gathered around the swaddled infant as the shepherds appeared during the night. Might I also wonder if those creatures so assembled knew they gazed upon the great Lion of the tribe of Judah? Could there sense of awe have been mingled with fear of his majesty? Or did they get a glimpse of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world? Might the dagger that would pierce the heart of Mary have already wounded theirs? Did the glory of the heavens cast the shadow of the cross beneath their feet? Did they catch the fragrances of life and death mingled into the sweet aroma of the coming resurrection? Did they understand then what we must know now, the Lion conquers through His suffering, weakness and death? This is the mystery of the incarnation; this is why He was born a helpless babe in a manger. JDJ # 355

116. Just a Thought: Merry Christmas, 2013!

As newlyweds, Cheryl and I were determined to raise our children with the true meaning of Christmas, free from commercialism and fictitious characters. All of that melted away when we had children. I still cringe at the over commercialization of Christmas but I now believe we are faced with a much bigger problem, the secularization of Christmas. It is as if the Holy day has been reduced to a holiday created just to celebrate the best of human ideals: love, hope, joy, peace, etc. Of late, I have reflected on the power of the Christmases of my childhood to shape my Christian faith, even with their elements of blatant materialism and fictionalized characters. Christmas day gifts taught me that desire can be good especially when tempered with generosity. It was Christmas that taught me about hope. As a child of middleclass America, I had everything I needed. Once a year I was encouraged to hope for more than the patterns of my daily life; I was encouraged to hope for abundance. Finally, Christmastime created in me a sense of expectation. Righteous desire, holy hope, and meaningful expectations are essential to the Christian life. I think it has been good to make these central components of our celebration of the first Advent; may we retain throughout our lives as we look for His return. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. JDJ # 356

117, Just a Thought: Cheryl and I did not receive premarital counseling. Nobody suggested it and although we were both completing undergraduate degrees in Christian ministry, we had no idea it existed. It would have helped. As a pastor I require a minimum of six sessions with a couple before the wedding. I prefer to make it pre-engagement counseling, but I seldom get the chance for that. Most couples only come to me after they have set a date. That makes counseling an uphill battle. A couple that has already set a wedding date is not in a good position to ask deep, serious questions about their relationship. What they tend to want are a few good pointers on how to avoid the mistakes they think their parents made. I understand my pastoral role to center on asking them the critical questions about marriage, family and faith, and to make certain they are hearing each other’s responses to the questions. I do not try to tell them how to create a perfect marriage; I don’t know the secret to that. I try to help them develop a shared vision of what a Godly marriage should look like. It is more important to me that they share a vision than that they subscribe to mine. Long ago I discovered through this process that love is not only blind, it is deaf and imaginative. People in love tend to hear what they want to hear and what they hear seems to fit perfectly in their personal narrative of happiness. My goal is to help them truly hear each other’s hopes and dreams for marital fulfillment so that they can decide if they are compatible. JDJ # 357

118. Just a Thought: During the first premarital counseling session I describe in broad terms what our time together will address and what my role as an active listener will be. Then I ask them to take a few minutes to tell me why they want to marry each other. “What is it about this person that makes you want to spend the rest of your life with him/her.” At this point, I want to hear their hearts and get a reading on their patterns of relating. I practice active listening and monitor how each reacts to the other. It is surprising how uncomfortable many individuals are as they answer this question. I often wonder if they are uncomfortable disclosing their inner desires or are they afraid of being vulnerable. The question is a two-edged sword; while they are describing the other person they are exposing their own value system. Their answers tell me more about what they want in a spouse than it tells me about the person they love. Their descriptions expose their core affections, the foundational building blocks of true intimacy. As pastor, this is one of the most challenging components of our sessions together; I want to honor how they honor each other while challenging any faulty expectations. I also want them to see each other through the eyes of the other and to believe what they see. I want them to know they are at their best that person being described. At the same time I want them to know these early descriptors are but windows into the soul of the other. Marriage is a life-time of discovery. JDJ # 358

119. Just a Thought: In premarital counseling there are a few key concepts that guide my thoughts. First, marriage was part of God’s plan from the beginning; it was designed to be an expression of holy and abundant living. Second, God did not intend for marriage to make us whole or complete. Adam and Eve were each created whole and holy; wholeness is a gift that only God can give. Third, because of sin, marriage must include a commitment to help each other find wholeness and holiness in God. Fourth, marriage is intended to help us find fulfillment in life, to bring to maturity our purposes for being. Fifth, marriage is a covenant that centers on helping each other find wholeness and fulfillment; for Christians it is an expression of their covenant with Christ. In true covenant the two become one without losing their personal wholeness; they are interdependent for fulfillment without becoming dependent for a sense of wholeness. Therefore, I always look for signs the couple is building a relationship that helps each find the fullness of life as God intended. Is the relationship good and edifying for both? Does each person have a healthy sense of self that easily finds fulfillment in serving the needs of the other? JDJ # 359

120. Just a Thought: The defining measurements for the health of a marriage relationship must include the wellbeing of both partners and the wellbeing of the marriage itself. People who are otherwise healthy can be toxic in their relationships. We are all wounded; we all bring elements of toxicity to all of our relationships. The question of the health of a relationship must address all three components: wife, husband, and relationship. Stated negatively, in premarital counseling, I look for indicators the relationship is toxic for either or both members. Is one person losing their identity in the other or in the relationship. Are there signs of codependency? Enmeshment? Control? Emotional abuse? Healthy relationships are both liberating and inhibiting. But, in healthy relationships the limitations are freely self-imposed for the sake of the other and the covenant. Toxic people always create toxic, inhibiting relationships. And for some reason some people are especially drawn to toxic people who put a stranglehold on their inner life. The question becomes does the brokenness of one person threaten the viability of the other? Or, does the woundedness of both find therapy in the relationship? Is the relationship healing and fulfilling for both?. What I want to see are signs each person is free in the presence of the other to express his or her opinions across the full spectrum of relational issues? I want to know they can disagree without disrespecting and wounding each other. JDJ #360

121. Just a Thought: Typically, during the first premarital counseling session for two believers I include a statement like, “I’ll be happy to perform your wedding ceremony if you will just convince me it is God’s will for you to get married.” I ask them to tell me if they believe it to be God’s will for them to marry and why. It is always a bad sign when the couple seems surprised that I would ask the question. They have come to the second most important decision of their lives and they have not even considered that God may have an opinion. In time I inform the couple it is not necessary that they convince me it is God’s will, but it is necessary they convince me they believe it is God’s will and they have sincerely sought to know His will. This discussion helps me discern how important they consider their relationship with God to be and what they understand about Him and His will. My goal is to frame a Christian marriage in the context of discipleship and to establish up front that God is a witness and participant in all of our relationships. In their responses I am looking for (1) have they prayed, (2) their perception of the other as a spiritual partner, and (3) have they sought Godly counsel. If I am not satisfied with their responses, I will challenge the couple to find personal prayer partners whom they consider spiritually mature and who will agree to seek God with them about their marriage plans. All marriages need a healthy community in which to thrive; it is best to build that community before the wedding. JDJ # 361

122. Just a Thought: For the second premarital counseling session I ask both to bring a drawing of their family dinner hour during their childhood or adolescence. The drawing should place each person who was typically present and color code each to represent their emotional presence. Circles and squares are sufficient. [When I started using this exercise 30 years ago I asked that the dinner table be drawn. About fifteen years ago I had to shift to the dinner hour because so few families sit down together to eat on a regular basis.] I ask the couple to not share their drawings with each other until they share them with me. I want to monitor their reactions to their partner’s revelations. The purpose of this exercise is to gain insight to the dynamics of the family systems of their origins. I want to tap into patterns of family relationships on an affective and emotional level rather than a reasoned interpretation. Birth order issues and family systems concepts may arise. I want them to begin their lives together with a shared understanding of the relationships that most helped to shape who they are. This lays the groundwork for later discussions on what kind of family the couple wants to create. It also helps each to begin to see how they might fit into the other’s family system. JDJ # 362

123. Just a Thought: We are largely shaped by the system of values that governed our childhood homes. Those core values were expressed in the patterns of life within the family, the way we related to one another. Those patterns of behavior, even the unhealthy ones, gave a sense of order and structure to our existence and became the primary patterns for how we relate to things and people. Those values were sometimes, but not always, expressed in short, pithy sayings, axioms or proverbs such as “children are to be seen, not heard,” or “a penny saved is a penny earned.” Sometimes there were conflicting values in our families of origin; mom and dad believed and practiced different values. But the patterns they set became the background out of which and against which we live our lives. Therefore, the majority of my time with couples in premarital counseling is spent helping them write a marriage covenant that addresses fourteen core issues of family life (the list changes from time to time), i.e., the values they will strive to uphold. For each issue I challenge them to (1) write a brief statement of the core value that was held by their family of origin, (2) write a brief statement of their individual value on the issue, and (3) write a shared statement to which they are both willing to commit. I exhort them that I consider their shared statements to be binding until they both agree to any revisions. I also tell them that I consider the final product to be a pledge not just to each other but to God and to me. JDJ # 363 

124. Just a Thought: The first covenant item I want a couple to navigate is children. I start here for several reasons. It serves to shift the focus from the present state of euphoria to the long term realities of life. And, it opens windows to their deepest hopes and dreams. No other issue so quickly reveals their individual vision of the future. Specifically, I want them to agree on whether they want children and if so how many? I have yet to counsel with a couple that both have not thought about this question. However, I have counseled many couples who have not talked together about it, especially about the number of children they want. My advice to them is that they agree on a specific number, if any, but recognize that they do not yet know what it means to be parents. They should agree up front to renegotiate the number from time to time, especially after each child is born. The more difficult aspect of the issue of children is the question of their place in a family. The question can best be approached if inverted; should they become parents, what kind of parents are they willing to commit to be? What do they understand to be the responsibilities of parents to their children? What commitment will they make to raise their children to know, love, and serve God? This same set of questions relates to marriages that will create blended families regardless of the age of the children. JDJ # 364

125. Just a Thought: The second covenant item I want a couple to articulate flows directly out of the first and may be considered a sub-point of it. If they are blessed with children, how will they discipline their children? This is perhaps my favorite premarital question. It gets deeper into the couple’s childhoods opening the window on their patterns of behavior in relational conflicts. It reveals their primal concepts of justice and mercy. This question often leads to disagreement that provides new insights to their patterns of communication. Most importantly for me, this issue lays the groundwork for their role as disciple-makers. The question of discipline unearths their vision of the kind of people they want to be and the kind of people they want to nurture. I want to impress upon them that it is through parenting they will fulfill a covenant with God and society to replenish the earth not with mere numbers, but with human beings who bear the very image of God. JDJ # 365

126. Just a Thought: In premarital counseling, I am not concerned that couples express a shared vision of the best methods of child discipline, that wondrous gestalt gleaned from Scripture, child psychology, and Western culture. Such an ideal method simply doesn’t exist. Every child, every family, and every situation are unique. I am concerned that the couple create a united and reasoned approach to the matter. My advice on child discipline is simple, if not brief. First, always discipline as an act of love; children must know at all times they are loved. Second, never discipline out of anger as that is loveless discipline, but neither discipline void of your own emotions as that too is loveless discipline. Children need to know their actions impact you but they also need to know you are not governed by your emotions. Third, set clearly defined boundaries for the child and expand those as he or she grows and learns. Never forget the goal is safety, security, civility, and morality flowing from a self-disciplined life. In the long term, it is just as damaging to have boundaries that are too constricting as to have boundaries that are too free. The greatest harm is done by fluctuating boundaries. Fourth, be consistent; be consistent with the boundaries and be consistent with the discipline. Inconsistency and idle threats of discipline only serve to invite further disobedience. Fifth, be measured; within the economy of your own family system of values, the severity of the discipline should match the severity of the infraction. Finally, be united; always support each other’s decisions. Never disagree about discipline in front of the children. They will learn on their own how to play you against each other; don’t give them ammunition. JDJ # 366   

127. Just a Thought: Sometimes I challenge a couple to study together all of the New Testament passages that refer to husband and wife relationships. There aren’t that many. In the end, I suggest to them that other than I Corinthians 7:2-5 (look it up) the sayings all boil down to this, be Christian toward one another. That should be the primary goal of Christian couples, give the world beginning with your family an example of how Christians should treat people. One of the often overlooked but core responsibilities of Christians is that they outdo one another in honoring one another (Romans 12: 10). Thus my third covenant item for premarital counseling is honor. With our modern fragmented family lives, honor is perhaps the first virtue to be cast aside. Honor is especially due our parents and the elderly but we have reserved it for heroes and sports figures. We have abandoned any normative patterns of showing respect for our elders, things as simple as letting them speak, addressing them with titles of respect, and sitting in their presence. In the Old Testament the concept of honor (kabod) carried the sense of heavy, weighty, glory. I paraphrase honor your parents as “make them fat with your esteem.” How should we show esteem for those we love? We have to be intentional about it or it will not happen. JDJ # 367

128. Just a Thought: When I was a grad student at Wheaton College a classmate asked Dr. Merrill C. Tenney whether it was correct to keep Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday. Dr. Tenney’s response lingers ever with me. “In all my years of teaching no one has ever asked me on which six days we should work. The commandment begins “On six days thou shalt work.” The commandment on Sabbath is as much about work as it is about rest.” Work is part of our nature; we were designed by God to find fulfillment through work. Then sin and judgment made work painful and exhausting. Yet, throughout most of history work remained the central unifying and defining aspect of family life. Families worked together for survival. In the Biblical and Greco-Roman worlds the word for family was “house” or “household” which was also the word for “business” or “enterprise.” It was the Industrial Revolution that took work outside of the family and made it divisive rather than unifying for families; workaholics took their place alongside alcoholics in the pantheon of human diseases. In time recreation has become a multi-billion dollar industry. We work at being a people of rest and recreation. One of the great challenges to modern social order is to rediscover a meaningful place for work and rest in human existence and relationships. In premarital counseling I want the couple to carefully define the place of both rest or recreation and work in their lives. JDJ  # 368. 

129. Just a Thought: The things we value are the things we preserve and pass on to the next generation. The things we value collectively constitute the heart of our culture and govern our desired vision of the future. Our values determine our definition of the good life. They are the standards by which we measure success. One of the traits of the modern word has been an emphasis on the individual to the point that individualism became a cultural value. Another trait of the modern world has been an emphasis on materialism as seen in aggressive capitalism, totalitarian communism, obscene private wealth, and political chaos. Working together, these two meta-values of the modern world (individualism & materialism) have worked havoc on families. Within the dominant culture, individuals and households must have their own unique sets of goals toward which they work, their own utopian portraits of the good life. There is no more important decision a couple can make than to define the values that will govern their lives together. That is what writing a covenant is all about. In our modern world couples need to be specific about how they will measure success in life. How will they define the good life? JDJ # 369

130. Just a Thought: As a general rule couples argue more about money than anything else. A simplistic and misguided explanation for this is that couples compete for their limited resources. Most couples do not fight over money because they are selfish, at least not in the beginning. In my opinion, the conflicts usually begin because they have differing views over what is good for the marriage. Those conflicts are most often grounded in differing assumptions about the purpose of money. For some people money represents safety and security; they are savers. Others see money as opportunity, a tool toward other desired outcomes; they are easy spenders. Of course this is an over simplification of a complex issue, but my point is that money represents something different for every person. And it is those differences that are at the heart of our conflicts over money. Couples need more than a financial plan; they need a shared philosophy about the place of money in their lives. They need to see themselves as co-stewards of the blessings of God. They need to avoid making money a god or a consuming purpose in their lives. They need to agree what role money is going to play in their relationship. JDJ # 370 

131. Just a Thought: Money can have differing functions in our lives, not unlike the differing functions of words in grammatical structures. I call this “The Languages of Money.” For some, money is the subject that acts and controls everything; it is the starting and ending point of all things. For some, money is the senior member of the family. As a businessman I know likes to say about ministry, “It all begins and ends with money.” In a manner of speaking, these people see money or the material possessions it represents as a controlling influence in their lives. Others see money as the verb of their existence; money is a power or force that causes things to happen. For them money is a tool in the hands of its possessor, a weapon to be wielded for the owner’s purposes. For others, money is an adjective, a descriptor for personal existence; money describes the quality of people’s lives. It is money or the lack thereof that defines one’s place in the world. Finally, some see money as an object, something to be used for other purposes. Its value is relative to every situation. Most of us use money in each of these ways at various times, but we tend to have a primary function for money in our lives. Couples need to understand the nature of money for each other and agree on a shared primary place for money in their relationship. JDJ # 371

132. Just a Thought: I do not believe there is a single best model for handling family finances. For some couples keeping one unified checking account works best while others function better with two separate accounts. For some it is best for one person to pay the bills and for others it works well for them to divide or rotate the responsibility. What matters is that the couple agrees on a system that works for them. There are some deeper principles that are important in family finances. One, there should be agreement about the role of money in the marriage and about the system that is used for handling the money. Two, there should be complete openness and honesty about income and outgo. Three, no major expenditures should be made without agreement by both regardless of how the monies are divided or handled; the threshold for “major” expenditures should be clearly defined up front. Four, regardless of income levels, both should have an equal amount of discretionary funds (an allowance) for personal spending. Five, the various responsibilities for administering family finances should be fulfilled according to the personal gift sets of each spouse. Finally, distinguish need from “want” and never go into debt for something that is a “want.” In summation, be united, informed, open, and wise, and share the responsibilities.  JDJ # 372

133. Gender roles use to be assumed; they were quietly passed from generation to generation. The focus was on marriage and family with little concern for outside social interaction. But the 19th century Victorian Era expanded the scope of gender differences by codifying decorum and etiquette and making them synonyms for ethics. The rise of a middle class with a concept of youth/adolescence combined with an awakened sense of leisure and recreation created a felt need to define proper conduct by and between the sexes. A plethora of books and classes for boys and girls were produced. The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) were born, quickly followed by the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. In the complex modern world with expanded social interaction young men and women had to be taught how to be proper men and women at home and in the world. With the rise of the industrial age a century earlier, men had begun to leave the confines of the family farm, but with the prosperity of the late 19th century young women were also expanding their world far beyond the home. In that context, the modern and idealized concept of the “traditional” family was born with a heightened emphasis on gender roles. My advice to young couples is to discover for themselves their own gender roles. Don’t be defined by artificial outside standards. Live for the fulfillment of each other and not the confinement of each other. Neither should have the power to restrict the other. Both should limit themselves. Strive for equality in doing the unpleasant but necessary duties in life. JDJ # 373 

134. Just a Thought: Modern media bombards us with images of sexuality and violence. Human touch is portrayed primarily as either acts of anger or acts of lust. We are rapidly becoming a culture that does not know how to show healthy affection. All humans need Godly, affectionate touch. Infants need touch in order to live. Without wholesome touch we all fail to thrive. But, touch is not the only means of demonstrating affection. Notes, gifts, pet names, smiles, and body language are just a few of the methods used to express affection. There is an epidemic of wounded young people who have never been blessed by one or both of their parents, never sensed love and affection. More times than I can recall I have been told “I can’t remember my father ever touching me except in anger.” Or “I just wish I had one memory of my mother telling me she loved me.” The popular book, “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman, is appropriate here. We all need to understand and learn to communicate with each other in languages of affection and that must be appropriately public. JDJ # 374

135. Just a Thought: It has been said that anger is a secondary emotion, that is, it flows out of fear, or insecurity, or a sense of injustice. Anger is a response to feeling threatened. The irony is that anger is itself always threatening. It provokes fear in others which in turn may give rise to their anger. Humans are complex beings and we are not always aware of the primal emotions buried deep within or the experiences that trigger those emotions. Once anger arises it tends to take an object, typically the person that we find threatening. But anger, especially low-level, long standing anger can be displaced. Anger toward our boss can erupt toward our spouse. People need to understand the primal sources of their anger. They must take care to never misdirect anger; anger should be expressed toward the source. Couples need to develop the listening skills needed to help each other reach an understanding of the source of anger and determine an appropriate response. In interpersonal relationships, violence (physical or verbal) toward a person is never an acceptable means of expressing anger. It helps to remember that anger itself is not a sin, but the manner in which it is expressed is often sinful. The goal should be to work through anger to uncover the true source, our inner woundedness. Move from a posture of defense to one of trust, openness and vulnerability.  Young couples need to have a clear agreement on the boundaries of how anger will be expressed in their marriage. Those boundaries must be inside of the points of lasting emotional wounds. JDJ # 375

136. Just a Thought: I expect couples to develop a shared understanding of the nature and purpose of marriage. We all bring to marriage preconceived ideas about what it is. Usually those ideas focus on particulars, “When we get married we will be able to ________ (fill in the blank).” Those early dreams of sharing life are glorious and important, if not realistic. What we are failing to do as a people is to define the gestalt of marriage. What is marriage as a social/spiritual institution? We have allowed it to degenerate into a legal contract between two individuals when it is by nature so much more. Marriages are based upon covenants and not contracts. Covenants bind people together in a manner that governs their behavior with each other and their shared behavior with the world. Covenants exist to create something new, something that is bigger than the sum of its parts. Marriages exist to fulfill God’s design for humanity to exist as male and female: male or female. Most importantly, I want young couples to know that God is a witness and participant in all human relationships, especially marriages. The marriage covenant binds the couple together in God whether they recognize Him or not. JDJ # 376

137. If money is the biggest open conflict in marriages, sex is the biggest undiscussed conflict in marriages. Some research has suggested that wives think they have sex more often than they actually do and husbands think they have sex less often than they actually do. And the conflict is not just about how often but about how, i.e., what are the boundaries of healthy sexual activity. My premarital counseling is that couples should not pay too much attention to sex prior to marriage. [I am of course here addressing those they are not already sexually active.] I suggest they not buy books on sex; there will be plenty of time for that after they are married. The early season of marriage should focus on the basics and the joys of restrained discovery. I do suggest that each of them talk with a trustworthy married friend of the same gender and ask them this simple question, “What do you wish someone had told you about sex before you went on your honeymoon, or before you became sexually active?” My counsel continues with these principles. First, sex should always be thought of as a shared expression of love and intimacy. It is not principally something we do; it is something we share. Second, as an expression of intimacy, sex is about knowing each other, discovering what is pleasing and fulfilling. Couples have the rest of their lives to continually explore and know each other better. Third, sex should be a twin moment of being both fully a giver and a receiver. But sex does not always have to be equally fulfilling (I Corinthians 7:1-6); it is a reasonable expectation of marriage. Fourth, the marriage bed is holy and should be kept that way. It is not something to discuss with friends except for counsel as needed. Further, the limits on sexual activity for married couples should be set by the couple. But no one should be pressured into doing anything they are uncomfortable doing, anything they feel shamed by doing. In sum, limited to marriage, sex should be holy, shared mutual giving of our entire selves that brings intimacy, contentment, and fulfillment. JDJ # 377

138. Just a Thought: Fifteen years ago I was shocked to have a ministerial student confess to me that he was addicted to pornography on the internet. Today, I am surprised when any young man professes to not have struggled with porn. It is an epidemic problem. [I have been told that online gaming is an even bigger problem for male college students.] This is not a subject I typically talk about in premarital counseling, but perhaps I should. For young married couples it is almost always a factor in their marital tensions. The wife is usually shocked to find the husband’s online browsing history. The husband typically admits it is a problem but feels she is blowing it out of proportion. He does not see how she can feel betrayed since he doesn’t know the people in the video feed; He has not had sex with any of them. He can’t seem to grasp how the “barbie doll actresses” (a phrase used by one wife) make her feel ugly and misshaped. He does not accept my position that watching porn for sexual pleasure is fornication and a betrayal of the marriage covenant. Young men have confessed to me that pornography initially served to intensify their sex drive with their wives only to later find actual sex boring by comparison with what they watched on the net. From what I have read, I have an even greater concern; porn is reported to have taken a marked turn toward the physical, mental, and emotional abuse of women. If that is the pattern it will be to some degree repeated in the home and wives will be reduced to nothing more than an object for the husband’s pleasure. This topic must be addressed; it is wreaking havoc with marriages and with the spiritual fabric of the church. JDJ # 378

139. Just a Thought: “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) and yet we find it so very hard at times to acknowledge God’s presence. The most important item a Christian couple must address in premarital counseling is the place of God in their lives. The most intimate knowledge that two people can share is not sexual but the depths of their knowledge of God. God knows us better than we know ourselves; the Spirit searches the deep things of the human heart (Romans 8:27). In Christ, a couple should strive to know each other knowing God which requires a depth of honesty and vulnerability far beyond normal human expectation. The issue is not what do we know about God but how we have known God to be at work in our lives. In order for a couple to agree on the role of God in their shared lives they must be honest about their personal relationship with Him. They must tell the unadulterated story of who He has been in their lives and they must give a candid account of who they desire Him to be in their lives. I suspect we find this deep communion with one another in Christ difficult because we know we have not always maintained our relationship with God at the levels we should and we do not want to be held accountable for all that we know of Him. Perhaps it is also because we have known God in the depths of our pain and brokenness and we hesitate to share even with our spouse (to be) those most sacred encounters. Regardless of reason, Christian marriage is a call to be joined as one in Christ and not just before Christ, a call the know God as God and in unity to be His people. Couples must define what that will mean for them and this as an act of faithful worship.  JDJ # 379

140. Just a Thought: The last item I expect a couple to write into their covenant before marriage is church. The place of church in the life of a Christian couple is critical. If a couple does not agree on this, that which offers the greatest resources for their growth and support will be a point of strife and division. They need to consider issues such as the level of their participation, tithing & level of giving, the circumstances appropriate for changing congregations, etc. I believe consistency and steadfastness in social relationships are important for stability in any marriage. I believe they are most important in our identification with the church. Ultimately, I hope a couple will agree with me on a few things. First, church membership/participation is not optional. The church is more than a social club; it is the Body of Christ into which we have been incorporated by the Spirit. Second, the church is foremost the people co-joined with Christ but necessarily also the institution. The Church of Jesus Christ has a mission/purpose, offices of oversight, and divergent and delegated functions; it is an organism that exists with organization. Third, and most importantly, their marriage and their home should be the first and most important expression of the church for them. Their household is to be a beachhead for the Kingdom of God; their relationships must be an expression of what it means to be the Body of Christ. They are the church not in its entirety, but in its fullness. JDJ # 380

141. Just a Thought: Healthy communication is perhaps the most critical dynamic of a healthy marriage. Communication is the lifeblood of all relationships; it is the interface of two souls. At the heart of communication is a desire for communion, a desire to know and be known, to be mutually received. In the act of communicating we are giving ourselves to another. That gift may be in words, actions, or intentional presence. Intimacy is then the fruit of effective communication. The Scriptures indicate this in the use of the word “know” as an expression for sexual union, e.g., “and Adam knew Eve and she conceived…” But communication is also an exchange of power; knowledge is power. Words are weapons. We experience a breakdown in communication as rejection, being rebuffed. What often passes for communication today is little more than lobbing ideas toward each other. In loving relationships, conflict is the friction created by failure to communicate, the failure to hear and value the heart of another. At its core a marital fight is nothing more than two people begging to be loved while denouncing the other for failing to love. This is the reason I always introduce couples to Transactional Analysis at some point in premarital counseling. We must work to nurture the impulse to know and be known and to resist the impulse to retreat and control. JDJ # 381

142. Just a Thought: There are two foundational questions in the Christian life. What is the will of God? And, am I willing to do what I know to be the will of God? These are the cornerstone questions for spiritual health and growth. The first question is complex and the second is simple. How can we know with certainty what is the will of God? These questions are a matter of faith. The will of God is discerned by faith. We must believe that God is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. We must believe He is intimately concerned about us and therefore about our futures. We must believe He is able to cause all things to work together for our good. We must believe the all-knowing Spirit of God is alive within us communing with us all things essential to our relationship with God. We must believe God is working within us causing us to both will to do His good pleasure and to accomplish His good pleasure. In short, we must consider our love for God our assurance that God is working in us to guarantee that we will do the will of God. I do not have to know with certainty the will of God. I merely have to desire His will and trust Him to accomplish His will in, for, and through me. Sometimes His purposes are crystal clear and sometimes they are hidden behind a veil. My focus must be on the simple part of the equation; I must continually renew my resolve to be found a faithful servant. My job is to devote myself to doing His will which necessitates that I long to know His will. As a disciple maker it is then my job to provoke these questions within others. Each must hunger to know and do. Each must seek for her or himself. Too often the church cripples spiritual growth by discouraging these essential elements of growth. We do not trust others with this task; but in truth, we do not trust God to accomplish in others what He has done in us.  JDJ # 396

143. Just a Thought: I teach a course titled “Formational Leadership.” The central thesis of this course is that the normative patterns of leadership under which we live in the church greatly influence the normative patterns of spiritual growth within the congregation. A corollary thesis is that the patterns of our congregational polity form, or mal-form, persons in the Christian faith. At the heart of this course is my deep conviction that Christian growth requires a constant effort to know and do the will of God. This effort must be both personal and shared. Yet, the church has incorporated models of leadership and decision-making that discourage people from sincerely seeking to know the will of God. These incorporated secular models of leadership understand it to be the role of the leader to “cast a vision” for the organization. In the church, this becomes a system in which only the senior pastor, perhaps with a small selection of elders or associates, is qualified to seek the will of God for the congregation. The role of believers is limited to catching the vision given to them and laboring to make it a reality. This process counters the pattern of congregational decision-making described in the early church. In the New Testament elders have a distinct role within the body which includes calling upon the faithful to seek God for direction. In consultation the entire body was to discern the direction God was leading. Everyone was to open themselves to be the channel through whom the Spirit would speak. Pastoral elders ensured that what was spoken was consistent with the established teachings of the church. In the church of today too much effort is given to being seen as successful in the eyes of the world and too little effort is given to shared-listening to the governing voice of the Holy Spirit. We are big on strategies and shallow on discernment. JDJ # 397

144. Just a Thought: My pastoral ministry has been guided by a passion to be faithful. I hunger to be found a faithful servant of Christ. I am driven to be faithful to God, and therefore to be faithful to the Scriptures, and therefore to be faithful to the church. I know that if I walk in the light of God’s Word as He shines it upon my path, everything will be Okay. I must be faithful to the church as I know it, the church of my time and context. I must be faithful to the church to which I am called, the Church of God, with which I have entered into a covenant to be together the church. I must therefore be faithful to my Pentecostal heritage. I must be faithful to the one holy, universal church throughout the ages, all those joined to Christ. Therefore, I must take very seriously the traditions of the ancient church and as is prudent incorporate them into my life and ministry in a manner consistent with the Scriptures and the leading of the Spirit. I am not in bondage to them; I want to be informed by them. As a pastor, my core vision has nothing to do with “success” or numbers; it is to shepherd the people of God into green pastures marked by faithfulness. JDJ # 458   

145. Just a Thought: Diversity is a great gift to the church. We can learn much from those who share our worldview, those who think the way we think. But for the most part this is knowledge of accumulation. We help each other add to our storehouse of information and we reinforce our preconceived ideas. In an environment of Christian fellowship with those who have a different culture of origin or those who have a different perspective on things, we cannot help but have many of our preconceptions challenged. We are given the opportunity to look at old concepts in new ways. The temptation is to run from these experiences; they are threatening and call us to change. But the knowledge we can gain from these experiences is the knowledge of transformation; it is the knowledge of growth.  It is convictional knowledge; it exposes our preconceived opinions and brings to the surface our core beliefs. Sometimes the differences surfaced in those settings serve to clarify and reinforce existing opinions. At other times they give us the courage to see the world differently and thereby to change our long-held views. I find this kind cross-cultural diversity most helpful for spiritual growth and development. JDJ # 462 

146.  Just a Thought: People are blinded to much of their own culture; they do not see the obvious, the strengths and weaknesses of their ethos, especially the weaknesses. Persons who enter a culture are able to see that culture with critical eyes. For example, persons from the so-called third world who come into the American church are often overwhelmed by our obesity and our materialism while we Americans do not see ourselves as such. Inversely, American Christians who visit other cultures can readily see the shortcomings of that culture. Let us remember two things. First, we should not try to remove the mote from our sibling’s eye until we have first removed the beam from our own eye. Second, we should not be so quick to condemn based on our system of values; what we first see as a weakness may in fact be a strength. Most importantly, these cross-cultural encounters afford us opportunities to take a fresh look at ourselves through the lens of the Scriptures. While I write this thought from India, it is not international travel about which I am most concerned. What I want is diversity within my own community, travel across ethnic, racial, political and socio-economic boundaries. I want the bonds of Christ to shatter the confusion born at Babel. It is not enough to sit in the same worship services; we must sit together with enough love to disagree on the superficial without threatening the eternal. Only through this kind of exposure can we hope to know the difference between that which is passing away and that which will endure for eternity. JDJ # 463


Just a Thought: I recently saw a clip from a televised ministry broadcast in which the evangelist/teacher asserted that God sees our financial offerings as a sacrifice equal to the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. He had an elaborate, deductive argument with which to convince his audience that their giving was equal to the blood of Christ. The flaws in his logic were glaring but masterfully hidden beneath his authoritative and dramatic presentation. In another clip that I viewed some months ago, this same TV personality assert that the Son of God and the Holy Spirit were created by the Father by the separation of His Word and His breath from Himself so that He might have someone with whom to share His love. Although he did not specifically state it, for him there clearly was a time when the Son of God and the Holy Spirit did not exist as persons within the God-head, heresies denounced by the ancient church. For me, the sad aspect of this story is the reality that this showman has a huge following of faithful supporters and to my embarrassment he is a member and credentialed minister of my own denomination and a popular speaker at our campmeetings/conventions. He may be sincere in his devotion to Christ; I do not know him on a personal level. I have no ill will toward him. My concern is two-fold. First, how did we get to the place that our church members know so little of the Scriptures and sound doctrine that they can so blindly follow persons who boldly proclaim such false teachings? Second, how did we get to the place that the ministers of the church are willing to tolerate such false teachings from their peers? I suspect the answer to the first is linked to the second. I further suspect that a drive to appear successful and a fear of conflict (or the consequences of conflict) are at the root of it all.  JDJ # 471

Just a Thought: One recurring problem for many Pentecostal preachers (and others, but I’m speaking to my own tribe) is the inappropriate use of hyperbole, an over statement for the purpose of effect. It is an issue with which I struggle from time to time. In conversations I am inclined to use hyperbole as a means of humor; unfortunately, many people do not get my humor and think I am stating a fact. In sermons, my temptation is to “pile on” my argument. Many extemporaneous preachers like to build significant points to a crescendo. “If you think that was good, listen to this.” A problem arises when they take their point up an illusionary mountaintop with no solid ground on which to stand. Hyperbole is a legitimate communication tool, but one too easily abused. It is especially challenging within an effort to proclaim the truth of the Word of God. Hyperboles should expose truth without distorting it; they should clarify without misleading. In the correct use of a hyperbole the listeners/readers immediately recognize the exaggeration and the purpose of the exaggeration; for example, the declaration “my heart exploded with joy” is not likely to be taken as a literal reference to an exploding heart. At the core of the abuse of hyperbole in sermons often lies a spiritual problem: pride. The over use of hyperbole is too often fueled by a need to be seen as better than others, more insightful, more intelligent, more wise, and above all more spiritual. Too often hyperbole results in the preacher becoming a false teacher, one who makes promises and declarations that cannot be defended from the Word of God. Then the pride that gave rise to the false teaching serves as the obstacle to confession of the error. JDJ # 474



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