Saturday, April 14, 2018

Death By Credentials

As a professional pastor, I receive a lot of emails for various programs that are supposed to show me how to pastor a church - of course, always for a fee.  Recently, I had an email extolling the virtues of a "coaching" organization, which if I want to avail myself of their services, involved some individual who had become "certified" as a trained, competent professional who would come along side me as a mentor and guide as I serve as a minister.  Now, I'm am sure this is a fine, worthwhile organization that is of great help to many pastors.  However, it struck (in a figurative sense only) me that this "coaching" service is one of many trends in our churches to "professionalize" things that used to occur naturally and informally in the church's many forms of ministry.

When I was ordained 37 years ago, there were always older experienced ministers who became informal mentors to those just embarking on their pastoral careers.  This happened naturally through relationships that formed as newer ministers made friendships among their pastoral colleagues.  In turn, I have in my years of service become a virtual mentor to younger and newer pastors.  As I have experienced this, this is a good and beneficial cycle of mentoring that has always existed in the church, from what we read about the church in the New Testament to this very day.

But now, one can in some fashion leave doing pastoral ministry and become a "certified professional coach" for those who actually are engaged in pastoral ministry.  In some cases, the "coach" has never been a practicing pastor.  My mentors and my serving as a mentor to others is no longer as "trained" as it should be, nor is it as "intentional" as it should be.  Apparently, if this is not part of some course with a certificate of expertise to show for it, then the quality and effectiveness of the mentoring is deficient and less worthy than the informal "coaching" relationships that have always been a part of the life of the church throughout the ages.

This is a path that is destructive to the natural development of the gifts and ministries of people in the church.  It takes away the recognition and evoking of ministry that happens within the life of congregations, and places it in the judgment of groups that are outside and who are not as familiar with the people or the contexts in which they are seeking to serve.  This is the trend in many areas of ministry, such as spiritual direction, evangelism, prayer, or even the process of identifying any spiritual gift.  I'm not saying these programs cannot serve a good and helpful purpose in helping people develop in a particular area of ministry, but I am saying that when these programs claim that a certificate is needed to validate anyone as truly proficient, that hurts the natural organic practice of ministry both within and beyond the church.  This is death by credentials.

The church is to be the "laboratory of faith" (Gordon Cosby's words) where people can discover and explore their place and calls to ministry in the context of relationships with people who accept them, know them, forgive them, and challenge them.  Organizations and programs which claim to develop people in any form of ministry can provide help and assistance to churches in developing people in their ministries, but this should never take the place of the people of the church as the ones who recognize and validate the ministries themselves.  Expertise in ministry happens in the life together of the body of Christ, not in the credentials bequeathed by a commercial course of instruction.

(And yes, I am very aware of the irony of making this point as a "professional pastor.")

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Humble And Respectful Response To Neil deGrasse Tyson

Science is not an absolute truth, it is a paradigmatic process of discovery. Plus the scientific method is not meant to lead to dogmatic assertions by which all other claims must be subjugated or even eliminated, although that is often how people perceive it.
Believe it or not, evolution is still a theory, not a proven fact. Many issues in the field of molecular biology must be solved before anything more on the mechanisms of evolution can be understood (or as of yet even identified). Anthropological observations and paleontological discoveries are used to develop speculative hypotheses that cannot possibly be reproduced in controlled environments. Evolutionary theories (there are actually several) are attempts to contruct explanations of the evidence, a kind of best educated guess. The real frontier for research into evolution lies in the field of genetics, not digging up more bones of prehistoric creatures.
Simple views on evolution happen to be the en vogue understandings in our culture in North America and Europe, and it is indeed a disservice to evolutionary theory and to Darwin's own intentions when people try to squelch other attempts to explain the same evidence. A good theory is meant to challenge others to develop better support for its central tenets or find alternative theories that provide better explanations, not just make an inquisitional decree that all must bow down to it or be declared unclean and reprobate.
So, it is important to be aware of the innate tendency of people (even scientist themselves, and even the most brilliant ones) to misuse science for imposing their own philosophical biases on others. This is scientism, not science. Of course, the discoveries of science are fair game for use in supporting one's own philosophical beliefs, but this means being open to discussion and debate, and relying on means other than science (such as logic, phenomena, metaphysics, etc) to advocate for a particular truth assertion.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

And A Trumpet Shall Sound

These are just a few comments on where I am at in my present thoughts regarding our new president. It seems that lately I have had some people (who are members of pastor search teams) look over my blog posts, and apparently the piece I did on the Donald is drawing some comments (made directly to me, since I hardly ever get a comment on this blog).  One person even called to tell me that, no only did he not like what I said, but that there was "no way we are going to allow something like that here."  While this is definitely an aberration from most reactions, it does point out that I need to provide some kind of update to the post.  After all, it was written very early in the primary campaign, and, as we all know, a whole lot has changed since then.

While I am not yet sure where President Trump is going and what he will actually accomplish, I have joined the wary majority that did elect him to office.  This does not make me a fan, but I have come to be a supporter.  He is the president, duly elected by the will of the people (despite desperate claims to the contrary), and just as I prayed for and sought to support Barack Obama (with whom I disagreed quite regularly and drastically), I do the same for Donald Trump.  Like many during the campaign who found themselves caught in the proverbial place that is "between the devil and the deep blue sea," I had the same choice everyone else had: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.  While I had many  aforeposted misgivings about Mr. Trump, I had ten times more regarding Mrs. Clinton.  One claimed to be pro-life (most likely for public consumption), the other was blatantly and boastfully proud of not only supporting abortion, but made it clear she would do everything in her power to expand its devastation. One would appoint activist judges who want to dictate a judicial tyranny on any who disagree with their progressive or liberal views, and the other promised to appoint constructionist judges who would give allegiance to the constitution as the Founders intended.  Both had personal lives that were far from exemplary, and both were marked by glaring moral failures. So, given my personal views on abortion and the courts, I had very little alternative than to vote for Mr. Trump, hope for the best, and pray a lot.

The bigger issue is the rancor that has happened between some Christians who chose to support Trump and some who chose to support Clinton.  I've read numerous articles on both sides accusing the other of not truly being Christian, and saying that supporting one or the other is tantamount to rejecting the Word and betraying what it means to follow Christ.  One good friend of mine, who does wonderful work (ironically in a ministry reconciling cultural and political enemies), has taken to publishing in Facebook that people like Franklin Graham and others who are willing to identify with Trump's agenda are in fact not really Christians at all.  That is, as our new President would say, "very bad - very, very bad."  I will go one farther, and say it is yielding to the influence of Satan who seeks to divide the church and fracture the ministry of Christ in this world.  While who is a political leader and what they do is, of course, important, and has definite long lasting effects on our lives, our nation, the world, and history, it is far more important to affirm and celebrate the unity we have in Christ, who is, as St. Paul says, "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come."  (Ephesians 1:21)

So, that is where my political predilections are at this time, for what that is worth (not much).  I don't know yet if President Trump is going to be a good thing or a bad thing.  I pray for him, and I pray that he will seek God's direction every day.  My own sense is that there will be great difficulties, but none so large and devastating to a free and hope-filled America as a Clinton administration would have been.  We are all in the same boat right now, Democrat and Republican, socialist and libertarian, liberal and conservative, and if we don't all pull on the oars together in rhythm, we may very well sink.  Thankfully (and I am talking about gratefulness to God), there is One who walks on the turbulent waves and who can calm the storm, and it isn't Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, or even Donald Trump.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Heart Aflame (Calvin's Emblem Redux)

Related imageRecently I was helping with a renewal event at a church here in the thriving metropolis of Cedar Rapids, and one of the speakers, knowing I was a Presbyterian pastor, asked me to talk to the gathering about the crest, or emblem, of John Calvin.  Providentially (as we say in the Reformed tradition), the Lord had prepared me to be able to speak to the dedication and passion that is expressed in this intriguing statement about John Calvin’s personal faith.
“Cor meum quasi immolatum tibi offero, Domine, prompte et sincere” were the words emblazoned over the pulpit from which Calvin preached and taught at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva.  In English, “My heart as sacrifice I give you, Lord, eagerly and honestly.”  It is a statement indicative of the passion Calvin has for God and for serving God.  His heart has been ignited by faith in Christ, which is why in many images the heart is aflame as it is being offered to God.  In this we see Calvin’s view of faith as more than some kind of contractual consent between the believer and God.  Rather, Calvin understands faith to be a tangible “touch” that we experience as a fire in our inner most being!  It enlivens, indeed, it illuminates us with an experience of faith that begins and supports an ongoing growth in the fruits of the Holy Spirit, in other words, a growing healthy spiritual life.  Thus, to have faith in Christ is to enter into a most real, aware, and sensory experience of being a living, breathing human person.
One of the interesting things about Calvin’s motto is that later quotes tend to leave out the phrase, “quasi immolatum” or “as sacrifice” and the image of fire.  Almost everyone still refers to the flaming heart pictured in the emblem, but rarely is it retained in the image.  While this is probably just an innocent development in the passing down of the motto, it does raise the idea of a “cooler,” or less emotive sense of faith.  For many, their experience of Christ, church, and faith are much less than  sacrificial and “fiery.”  For many of us, we’ve never felt that “fire in our bones,” as the prophets describe it.  When Pascal experienced the reality of God in his life, he just repeated the word, “fire, fire, fire.”  Is it possible that those words for sacrifice and the image of the flame have been discarded to fit the “cooled religious feelings” of Calvin’s theological descendants?  How many Reformed, Presbyterian, and congregational ministries can be called “passionate” in today’s churches?  How many Presbyterians, especially in the United States, have any sense of “fire” in their faith? 
Let me submit to you that this is the key to both our personal walk with Christ as well as our experience of being part of a church; that is, is your heart “aflame” with faith?  Is your faith in Christ something that grabs you deep within, something that makes you feel your heart beat, making you aware of the power of life coursing through your arteries and veins?  We can talk about what we should believe, and we can discuss the things we should do.  We can have a basic understanding of who Jesus is, and even have a finely honed orthodox knowledge of Christian beliefs, but it means nothing if we haven’t at some point experienced faith as a “majestic meekness” and a “sweet burning in my heart,” as Jonathan Edwards phrases it.  The writer to the Hebrews is even more descriptive of the experience of grace and faith when he says, “…let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
So, is your faith in God like cooled off lava, having hardened into the religious impressive equivalent of polished basalt or sculpted obsidian – beautiful, but hard and cold?  Or does your faith bear with it the gift of the living God, who breathes life into your soul, causing your heart to stir with the fires of love, joy, and peace; things that lead to life – life overflowing?!   

Friday, May 6, 2016

Of Pastries And Potties

The cruel evil entity called ISIS is on the march in the Near East, Texas is experiencing deadly flooding, the world economy is on the verge of devastating collapse, refugees continue to pour into Europe and the USA from Africa and the Near East, anti-Semitism is on the rise in many places, racial prejudice is tearing apart a number of American cities, a narcissistic criminal is about to be nominated for President by the Democrats, and a narcissistic con-man is about to be nominated for president by the Republicans! So - what is our society focusing on as of critical importance right now - what are companies, states, and other corporate entities taking sides on and are willing to stake their economic and social viability and future on?

The answer: baking cakes with pro-gay messages and who can use what restroom!

Surely, this is a clear sign that American society has lost its senses, or, at least, any understanding of what truly matters and what truly doesn't matter.

Obviously, the so-called LGBT (and whatever else may be being conjured up in the moral abyss for which to claim rights) activists have decided that their agenda and desires are more important than the needs and issues that face everyone else. And they have apparently decided that since the marriage barrier has been broken and conquered, it is time to move on to better and more critical issues, such as making people who have sincere religious objections to gay marriage be forced to write pro-gay messages on cakes (it is very noteworthy that so far only Christian bakers, and not Muslim bakers, have been targeted by star-crossed same sex lovers) and making sure that any man can march into any women's restroom in the name of equality and justice (which is why I will be accompanying my 10 year old daughter into any restroom frequented by men in order to insure that justice is maintained).

The fact that these are the issues de jour at this time in our country shows the moral and character bankruptcy of American society. We are like squirrels fighting over a crushed acorn in the middle of a traffic way, unaware that a huge semi-truck is barrelling down the road, about to crush them and the nut together.

This is seriously silly!  Seriously!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Some Thoughts

When the Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage was a constitutional right under the 14th amendment, the majority and minority opinions said that this should not be used to pressure or intimidate those who disagree with and do not accept same sex marriage.

All the justices made it clear that those who hold to the belief that marriage is a union between one man and one woman are not to be considered bigots, and that it is the just and good right of anyone to hold to this belief.

They also went further to say that the "right" of same sex marriage should not be used to censure or punish those who disagree through either legislation, litigation, or employment.

Also, many proponents of same sex marriage declared with great bravado that giving same sex marriage legal status would not have any substantial effect on "traditional" marriage, and would not change anything for those who practice heterosexual marriage.

Many same sex marriage proponents said that the issue of concern was only same sex marriage, and that the legal status of same sex unions would have nothing to do with polymorphous marriage or people who considered themselves transgendered.

It was also declared that the legalization of same sex marriage would have little or no real effect on American society or the daily lives of most people.

Well, so much for those thoughts!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Clever Kopp Comment

(I came across this clever comment in the Kopp Disclosure, a blog by Dr. Robert Kopp, a pastor in Illinois.  I thought those of you from all political stripes might find this amusing.)

Once upon a time there was a king who
wanted to go fishing.

He called the royal weather forecaster and
inquired as to the weather forecast for the next few hours.
The weatherman assured
him that there was no chance of rain in the coming days.

So the king went fishing with his wife, the queen.

On the way he met a farmer on his donkey. Upon seeing the king the farmer said, "Your Majesty, you should return to the palace at once because in just a short time I expect a huge amount of rain to fall in this area". The king was polite and considerate, he replied: "I hold the palace meteorologist in high regard. He is an extensively educated and experienced professional. And besides, I pay him very high wages. He gave me a very different forecast. I trust him and I will continue on my way."

So he continued on his way.
However, a short time later a torrential rain fell from the sky.
The King and Queen were totally soaked and their entourage chuckled upon seeing them in such a shameful condition.
Furious, the king returned to the palace and gave the order to fire the professional. Then he summoned the farmer and offered him the prestigious and high paying role of royal forecaster.

The farmer said, "Your Majesty, I do not know anything about forecasting. I obtain my information from my donkey. If I see my donkey's ears drooping, it means with certainty that it will rain."

So the king hired the donkey.

And thus began the practice of hiring dumb asses to work in the government and occupy its highest and most influential positions.

And the practice is unbroken to this day...
From KOPP DISCLOSURE: I've Got to Ask!