Matt Postiff's Blog
All the Psalms share the genre of Hebrew poetry. Among the 150 Psalms, there are groups or categories that share the same form and subject matter. These could be called "sub-genres," but I have elected to call them “categories.” In this article, I provide a categorization of all the Psalms using a simple lettering system.
To see the entire document, please download this PDF. I provide it in the hopes that it will be helpful.
I feel that it could still use a lot of work. If anyone wants to take on the project of doing some spot checking the document, or even exhaustively checking it, be my guest. Let me know what you find!
A pastor friend sent me this list, written by Michael Hyatt. The following summarizes his points:
- They don’t have enough confidence to lead at their level.
- They’re arrogant, assuming they always know what’s best. It takes confidence to lead. It also takes humility.
- They’re disorganized.
- Their words and actions erode trust, even with their supporters.
- They over-promise and under-deliver. This one affects more than just politicians.
- They don’t articulate a clear vision.
- They don’t enroll others in their initiatives.
- They’re not transparent. Openness encourages honesty.
- They’re blind to what’s happening in their own organizations.
- They don’t hold people accountable—especially themselves.
I did some under-the-hood work on the blog today. The RSS feed is at the same place as it has been, but all the old entries are included, with improved titles. Broken links have been fixed, but probably some more have been introduced. Let me know if you run into any--thanks!
For some Christians, thinking about the end times, the Tribulation, the Antichrist, and how bad society is these days is a traumatic thing. Every current event is interpreted as if it is a herald of the immediate collapse of the world. This can bring paralyzing fear, or a morbid kind of existence. Here are a few quick pastoral thoughts on living in light of the end times.
- Do not worry. Our Lord taught us this in His sermons, but it is a hard lesson to learn.
- Do what you know God wants you to do. The Bible is very clear about this. Obey the instructions you have, don't concern yourself with the future which you do not know.
- Do not follow conspiracy theories. Your focus needs to be on things that are true and honest and just and pure and lovely, not on ugly and speculative and sinful things.
Are you evil?
The point of this post is that you cannot call a genuine Christian evil in an unqualified sense.
Variations on the question "are you evil" have repeatedly come up over the years of my ministry. I was reminded of it again as a I read a post by Ben Edwards at the DBTS blog.
Consider the following interchange between two born again believers in Jesus Christ:
Bill asks John, "How are you doing today?" John replies, "I'm good." Bill retorts, "John, there is none good, no not one!"
Ouch! John is not good? He may be feeling fine, but Bill has pulled the rug out by changing the context of the question in the middle of the conversation.
Certainly none of us measures up to God's standard of perfection (Matthew 5:48). Certainly Jesus called fathers evil in Matthew 7:11 and Luke 11:13, although He may have been speaking to a mixed audience of believers and unbelievers, or mostly unbelievers. Certainly there is none good like God (Mark 10:18).
But does that mean that we have to see ourselves as just plain-old evil people, even if we have repented of sin and are making good progress on the narrow way?
Not at all. Consider Barnabas. "He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith" (Acts 11:24). Other texts that refer to people as good are Proverbs 12:2, 13:22, 14:14; Matthew 12:35; and Luke 6:45.
Barnabas was a good man. If you are a Christian, you should be a good man or woman too. You should be more like your Heavenly Father instead of like the evil earthly fathers Jesus mentioned. You should be good and getting better. You must NOT be evil. You must stop any evil that you are doing.
God is in the business of taking the raw material of evil people and making them into good people. Where are you on God's assembly line?
Answer these questions and see.
This is a self-evaluation tool for you to determine if you are thinking and living like a Christian, by the Bible's definition of Christian. Make no mistake that this is not a to do list to accomplish in order to become a Christian. You become a Christian by repentant faith placed solely in Jesus Christ who died for sinners and rose again. You can evaluate if your repentant faith is real by asking yourself some questions such as the following.
You will notice that some of these questions are about your conversion, while others concern the evidence that exists in your life to justify or disprove your claim that you are a Christian. Note that the evidence comes from a general pattern of your life. To answer a question yes, you need not have perfection in the area in question. But answering yes also means that your life gives the evidence much more than "once in a while."
Is your assurance is well-founded? These questions will help you to think clearly on that topic.
- Do you believe that Jesus is Savior?
- Do you believe that Jesus is Lord?
- Do you believe that Jesus physically arose from the dead?
- Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?
- Are you a follower of Jesus?
- Do you tell others these things (#1-#5) about yourself?
- Have you made a conscious decision that you do not want to sin?
- Thinking of the time when you became a Christian, could an external observer see a difference in your life now compared to before?
- Do you enjoy sin?
- Do you desire to behave better?
- Are you ready to forgive those who have offended you?
- Has there been a change in your speech since the time when you became a Christian?
- Regarding your sinful habits, are you fighting against them?
- Do you believe Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient to completely save you, or is something else needed to save you?
- Do you believe that you must do good works in order to obtain salvation?
- Do you do good works?
- Do you regularly confess your sins?
- Do you love the world or the things in world?
- Do you believe that Jesus has really come to the world in the flesh?
- Do you love others in what you say?
- Do you love others in what you do?
- Do you acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God?
- Do you believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah?
- Have you been baptized by immersion in water?
- Do you love God with all your heart?
- Do you hate sin?
- Do you make a regular practice of attending church?
- Are you an active, serving member in a local church?
- Do you pray regularly?
- Do you read the Bible regularly?
- Do you love the world more than you love God?
- Do you believe the Bible is inspired (inerrant, authoritative, etc.)?
- Do you tell other people how to be saved?
- Do you believe Jesus died on the cross to pay the debt and penalty for your sins?
- Do you believe Jesus was born of the virgin Mary?
- Do you have idols in your life (things you can't live without)?
- What kind of television shows do you watch?
- Do you give a significant amount of your time and finances to support the Lord's work?
- Do non-Christians mock or persecute you for being a Christian?
- Do you believe Jesus is coming back to the Earth?
- Do you believe God created the heavens and the earth as recorded in Genesis?
- Do you believe God judged the earth with a world-wide flood?
- Do you believe that Adam and Eve were real individuals?
- Do you believe that people who don't believe in the person and work of Christ will go to hell for eternity?
- Do you believe in the Trinity?
- Do you believe Jesus is God?
- Are you dating an unbeliever?
- Do you refuse to obey clear commands in Scripture?
- Are most of your friends Christians?
Hit a run post. I feel like I've said this before. We need to acknowledge that it is possible to ask a bad question. We can ask a question that misleads, or a question that exposes our own answer before we give an answer.
For example: can a Christian drink alcohol?
A better question would be: should a Christian drink alcohol?
In this case, the first question is one of permission. It biases the discussion from the start, so that if a "yes" answer is extracted from the respondent, then all seems to be well for the alcohol drinker. The second question asks a question of value and points the discussion in the direction of what is best, rather than the lowest permissible standard. In reality, both questions need to be asked, and it is a failure to stop at the first question and not ask the second.
That is the subject of a blog post worth reading.
Last year, I wrote briefly about several software packages that are great tools for a small church or church plant. This is an update, so I won't discuss some of the programs.
Skype continues to be a very helpful tool for calling free over the Internet as well as using the Skype credit to call landlines and cell phones throughout the world. One thing that I was disappointed to learn is that Microsoft has added (or was forced to add) features to make it easier for the government to have a backdoor into the communications being shared over Skype. That may not bother some of us since we don't have anything to hide, but a backdoor here in the U.S. means there is a a backdoor in closed countries, and our Christian friends using Skype could be found out.
OpenOffice is upgraded to 4.1.0. FileZilla and GIMP also continue to see updates, as does Scribus. I have not had great luck using Scribus to do some simple one-page layouts, but it has been helpful on other occasions. Ghostscript 9.14 is the latest release of the postscript and PDF tools that Scribus uses under the hood. Thunderbird is well maintained and with the Nostalgy plugin helps me file and find emails very quickly.
Occasionally someone in the church will ask help to fix a computer problem. OK, I can do that, but not too often! TeamViewer allows you to connect remotely and see the screen of the computer you are working on.
This is the one program on this list that is not entirely free, but it is worth the modest registration cost. We use Goldwave to record sermon audio and do edits on it afterward to clean up the audio. Top notch.
ImgBurn can take a DVD and create a .ISO image from it, and then turn around and put that .ISO image onto a new DVD. I have used it to make backups of important DVD material that we have at the church.
Finally, I add Password Safe 3.33 to this list. With all the websites for banking, shopping, utilities, healthcare, etc. the list of passwords you have is probably quite long. If you don't some kind of secure password management tool, you are opening yourself up for trouble. For each website you use, you should have a unique password. And it should be hard, because about 70% of passwords you think are pretty good are actually fairly easy to crack. I can't show you a really good example here because it has so many strange characters the blog software or RSS reader will be unhappy.
Since it is hard to create and remember such passwords, Password Safe helps you to to do it. It has a generator function for good passwords, and an easy way to copy them to the clipboard and paste them into the website you are visiting. It stores the passwords in a database that is encrypted, protected by one password that you remember that is very long, complicated, and never written down! It organizes the database according to categories so that your passwords are easy to find.
With all the crooks out there and government snoopers (total depravity is a real problem, isn't it?), a good password program is a must.
I have been reading the Greek New Testament this year. I have two editions: Zondervan's Reader's Greek New Testament, 2nd Edition and Crossway's UBS Greek New Testament, Reader's Edition With Textual Notes.
The Zondervan edition is very nice in a number of ways. It is a very handy size, nice paper, and inexpensive. It lays fairly flat even in Revelation. However, it has some ghosting because of the thin paper. Its font is small. And the biggest strike against it is that the footnotes are very difficult to locate with the eye because they are bunched together in a single huge paragraph at the bottom of the page. The notes only define terms but do not give verb parsings, which is another strike against this edition.
The Crossway edition is much more expensive, has thicker paper (and still some ghosting), and is about twice as thick as the Zondervan. It does not lay flat when reading at either end of the New Testament. (Later addition: I take that back! After spending quite a bit of time reading Revelation, the binding is apparently happier and it stays open fairly well.] However, where it wins for me is the type is larger, a little darker than its competitor, and very clear. Even better, the footnotes are arranged in a two-column tabular format which makes locating the necessary note easy on the eyes. The footnotes define rare words and additionally give parsings of verbs.
There is a lot to like about both editions, but I prefer Crossway's offering. Pick up either one and read! —MAP
A couple of weeks back, while I was taking a group from our church to the Creation Museum, we stopped for dinner at a restaurant in Lima, Ohio. Members of our group got into a conversation with a businessman there who was a Presbyterian. He has a ministry of encouraging people to pray. He handed me a laminated card that had these two lists on it:
- Ourselves - for cleansing from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9) and for wisdom from God (James 1:5)
- Our spiritual leaders - open to them a door for the word to speak the mystery of Christ (Col. 4:3)
- The believers who are sick - save and raise them (James 5:15)
- Our rulers - all in authority to come to knowledge and truth (1 Timothy 2:2 and 4)
- Our enemies - help us to love them and do good to them (Matthew 5:44)
- In praying we must be reverently single minded with a purity worthy of God as we contemplate God.
- We must be aware of our insufficiency and whether prayer be free or liturgical it must never be casual or perfunctory.
- Humbled through awareness of our residual depravity, we must give glory to God alone.
- Pray with confidence while laying before God or predicament and its perplexity and horror and expectantly look for God to extend his helping hand.
To be sure, this is not a comprehensive theology of prayer. It is a good reminder nonetheless. I have no idea if it comes originally from another source, but I was thankful to meet someone else out there who is not ashamed to name the name of our great God and speak of honoring Him in prayer!
One use of technology that we have found very helpful at Fellowship Bible Church is the conference call. When there is very bad weather, as today, we invite our people to participate in our Bible study and prayer meeting by telephone.
We set up an account with freeconferencecall.com. The services gives you a phone number to call and a passcode. We are able to use the free level of service. There is some cost associated with using the service because our church members must be able to call a long distance number either on their land line, or be willing to use cell phone minutes to make the call.
From caller's perspective, the service is easy to use, if perhaps a bit awkward at the first for those who have not done a conference call before. The caller dials the phone number, enters the access code followed by the # key, and then is connected to the call. When they hear the signal, we ask as a matter of etiquette that they announce their presence on the call. There is a special touch-tone command *6 that they can use to mute their side so that the rest of the callers cannot hear background noise (say, children making noise in the background). Pressing that touch-tone command again will unmute their side so they can be heard on the call if they wish to say something. If the person wants to speak, they might ask the moderator, "Pastor, this is George..." and await an acknowledgement from the moderator before "taking the floor."
From the moderator's perspective, it is also fairly easy. While people are joining the call, he can welcome each person and others will also say 'hello.' After a couple of minutes when most people have joined the call, he can begin the meeting. The moderator has "special powers" and can mute everyone on the call simultaneously with a special code (*5) if the accumulated background noise is too much.
Tonight, I plan to lead the call in prayer or ask someone to do that who I know is ready and willing to do so. Then I will start off with my Bible study by reading the passage and then saying what I want to say about it. This takes some adaptation from regular preaching since there are no visual cues such as body language. (We have not ventured into video conferencing yet.)
I then plan to ask people to share prayer requests. This part is a bit tricky because everyone might start talking at once. A good moderator will help by asking the participants in a round-robin fashion if they have prayer requests. I might start with some folks I know already who have some, for example, some of our leaders or people who are not shy. Then I will ask other people by name and go around until I have gone through everyone I know to be on the call. After this, I would ask several to lead in prayer and then conclude the meeting.
Since the prayer time is short on the call, I usually request that after the call, the people spend more time in their family units praying for all the requests that have been mentioned, or other things they wish to pray about. I might also ask them to take a moment to call someone else in the church who was not able to participate in the meeting just to greet and connect again.
Sometimes people do not announce themselves at the beginning of the call. That's OK if they want to stay somewhat to the background. Also, the service sends a log after the call to the email address registered with the account. That way, I can see a list of all phone numbers that participated.
This technology is a nice way to have a meeting if the weather constrains travel, or if a person is not able to get out due to some health issue. We do not do it often because church requires real contact with real people, but as a backup it is helpful.
Guest post by Vincent Brattin, one of our church members.
Consider Well (2/3/2014 by VJB)
Does your church take a stand against moral decay
Or are they afraid of what people might say?
Does your music uplift, and teach real Christian truth
Or do you have drum sets to placate your youth?
Tell me true, is your pastor just "one of the guys"
Wears t-shirts and jeans, never jackets or ties?
And is your congregation so large over there
That only a fraction gets pastoral care?
Is the sermon you hear now so watered and thin
That you're never challenged to deal with your sin?
Are you being prepared to face worlds of wrong?
Instead, will you fall when that cult comes along?
Does your Bible translation still honor what's true?
Or rather, will your paraphrase have to do?
Do you help out the missions with treasure and prayer?
Or maybe you act like they aren't even there?
You attend Sunday morning--well, that's a good start
Or do you think "Finished! Now I've done my part."?
Do you enter your church and think "what can I do?"
Or do you think "serve" is what happens to you?
Consider well your house of worship--
Are you where God would have you be?
And are you growing as a Christian?
Just ask the Lord to help you see.
Here's a nice little book about the spiritual gift of tongues. It sticks close to Scripture and its organization is easy to follow:
- Tongues Predicted by Christ (Mark 16)
- Tongues Fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2)
- Tongues Fulfilled at Caesarea (Acts 10)
- Tongues Fulfilled at Ephesus (Acts 19)
- The Gift of Tongues in the Assembly (1 Corinthians 12)
- The Problem of Tongues in the Assembly (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
- The Duration of Tongues in the Assembly (1 Corinthians 13:8)
- The Value of Tongues in the Assembly (1 Corinthians 14:21-26)
- The Purpose of Tongues in the Assembly (1 Corinthians 14:21-26)
- The Regulation of Tongues in the Assembly (1 Corinthians 14:27-40)
Appendix 2: 1 Corinthians 13:8 and Temporary Gifts
The lengthiest chapters are the 8 and 9 regarding 1 Corinthians 14. Zeller has an interesting thesis in chapter 9 that has to do with 14:21, which says:
In the law it is written: "With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me," says the Lord. (1 Corinthians 14:21 NKJV)
Zeller notes a repeated pattern in the Old Testament, and in the New, that goes like this (p. 78):
- God has a message for the people.
- The people refuse to listen to God.
- God causes tongues to be heard as a sign of judgment.
- Dispersion follows.
The point is that tongues are a sign of judgment against unbelief. This view is not novel, as I have heard it preached by other dispensationalists. I have not heard about this idea in the recent debate on continuationism—but it would be interesting to hear the continuationist response. The "tongues for judgment" view is fairly convincing, as the pattern is evident from Babel through the major prophets and then into Acts 2. As such, it baffles me why some Christians are so insistent on wanting a spiritual gift that has to do with judgment and has such a low edification value (1 Cor. 14:5).
Zeller then uses this as the basis of his argument that tongues must have only lasted until the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 because step 4 of his paradigm (dispersion) was completed at that point and therefore tongues had served out their purpose. This is intriguing, but I am not convinced. (I understand the termination of tongues contextually from 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 2:20.)
The book is by George W. Zeller, God's Gift of Tongues: The Nature, Purpose, and Duration of Tongues as Taught in the Bible, Wipf & Stock Publishers 2005, 126 pages including bibliography. This book was earlier published by Loizeaux Brothers in 1978. It is available at Amazon. A better way to get the book is to send me an email request through our contact page. I will get you in touch with Brother Zeller and he can get the book to you at a reduced price.
NPR and newspapers around the country recently printed a political cartoon by Signe Wilkinson supporting gay marriage. In the cartoon, Rev. Frank Schaefer is shown reading a suspension letter. He was defrocked for officiating at his son's gay wedding and "not denouncing gay marriage." The second panel shows a sympathetic caricature of Jesus saying that he did not denounce gay marriage either.
That would be convenient, if it were true, but any honest reading of the New Testament would not be able to come to that conclusion—not if the reader takes the text at face value. Certainly Jesus did not "denounce" gay marriage using Westboro Baptist methods. He did not get on a soapbox and preach against gays or one or the other specific form of sexual sin. He didn't express hate toward sinners trapped and dying in their sin. But he did set out the positive expression of God's holiness, and that is one man joined to one woman for life:
And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." (Matthew 19:4-6 NKJV)
Jesus also set forth the principle that all sins, not just sexual ones, come from within the heart of man, that center of personality and will that is the real person.
For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. (Mathew 15:19 NKJV)
Not only did Jesus himself teach these things; his followers, the apostles, were even more pointed in their letters, which form most of the New Testament. Jesus authorized and superintended the writing of the New Testament, so he is "implicated" in all of its contents. Consider:
However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13 NKJV)
The apostles came to this important conclusion in an early church council:
As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. (Acts 21:25 NIV)
Sexual immorality is any sexual activity outside of marriage, defined as one man and one woman joined together permanently.
Paul was another of Jesus' commissioned writers:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NKJV)
It is instructive to note that the sins of homosexuality, sodomy, fornication, adultery, thievery, greed, drunkenness, and others are placed on the same "level." Good Christians are not out to pick on one sin more than others. Christians want to live holy lives as a reflection of the purity of their God and Savior Jesus Christ. They proclaim an upright kind of life.
There are lots of reasons why people think of some sins as worse than others. In some cases, the earthly consequences of certain sins are heavier than the consequences of other sins. And in other cases, sins are especially distasteful to the Christian because they seem unnatural. Paul gives warrant for this thought in Romans 1:
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. (Romans 1:26 NKJV)
Paul's statement about the natural order doesn't require that we be obnoxious in our presentation of the truth. Unfortunately, supporters of gay marriage will normally perceive the Christian to be obnoxious just because of the content of what he is saying, regardless of his manner.
Back to the original question then: did Jesus denounce gay marriage? Basically, yes. He set forth the right way to do things, and commissioned certain ones to write further details on it in which he, together with them, spoke against gay marriage.
Or is it?
There are many people who would agree that the Bible is fiction. They would argue that Costco should have kept the category as is because it is accurate. But on what basis do they make that claim?
The news articles did not impart information that would help readers to know whether the Bible is actually fiction or not. Here are some thoughts to fill in that gap.
The first four New Testament books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) are biographies of Jesus written by eyewitnesses and close associates. The fifth book, Acts, is a history of the early church, also written by an eyewitness. As they consist of eyewitness accounts and have been confirmed in many points by archaeology, they can hardly be called fiction. Those who suggest these writings are fiction would do well to consider the historical evidence for Jesus in comparison to any other major figure of the ancient world whose existence they acknowledge.
The remainder of the New Testament books are letters from Paul, James, John, Peter, and Jude to particular recipients. As such, they are first-century "epistles" of great historical value that discuss the Christian faith. Such letters are not in the fiction genre but are rather of the epistolary genre.
As for the Old Testament, the first five books were written by the hand of Moses. They record events before his lifetime, such as creation, and many events in which he was a firsthand participant. Many of these events, again, are substantiated by archaeological evidence. No one can doubt that the law of Moses was a historical reality and greatly influential upon the Jewish people. Joshua and Judges and the books of the Hebrew Kings (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles) are also historical books. The prophets basically predict Israel's demise and call the nation back to faithfulness to its covenant with God made through Moses. These are ancient documents of no small import, many replete with fulfilled predictive prophecy and prophecies that have not yet come to pass. The argument can be sustained that none of these books are fiction.
The poetic books are the remaining section of Scripture that I haven't mentioned. These books, such as the Psalms, contain Israel's hymnody and wisdom for living. These may be called poetic in genre, but not fiction. Many Psalms, for instance, reflect back on the historical realities of the nation of Israel. Proverbs mirror the historical Mosaic covenant.
True—our atheist opponents will say that the Bible's content is fictional. Some events recorded in the Bible, such as the creation account, are rejected in favor of evolutionary origins. Other parts of the Bible are rejected because they are not convenient to an un-holy lifestyle. But all this is a reflection on a belief system or worldview, not on the Bible itself. The Bible presents itself as non-fiction.
Sometimes I run into a handy list that serves as a good reminder. Other times I create one. I thought I'd collect such lists here both as a place to store the summary of what I learned, and to hopefully help my readers. Enjoy!
- Gradual slippage is hard to detect
- Relationships can blind pastor to reality
- Pastor has received positive feedback from some
- Pastor does not ask for feedback from all guests
- Feedback from members is positive
- Getting around: plenty of signage for everything
- Website: easy to find service times, doctrine, map
- Parking: make clear visitor spots
- Restroom: make it easy to find one
- Bible: show me how to follow along
- Connect: make it easy to connect to a small group
- Connect: tell me how to join the church
- Historic orthodox doctrine
- Protestant Reformation doctrine
- Fundamental doctrine
- Calvinistic doctrine
- Covenant Theology
- Writings of C. H. Spurgeon
- Writings and preaching of D. Martin Lloyd Jones
- Publishing of Banner of Truth Trust bringing Calvinist doctrine to readers
- Evangelism explosion showed Calvinists can be evangelistic
- Inerrancy controversy brings Calvinist theologians to forefront
- Founding of the PCA
- J. I. Packer's Knowing God
- Preaching and writing of R. C. Sproul and John MacArthur
- John Piper and Desiring God
- Young and African American Calvinism
- Reformed para-church ministries like T4T, TGC, 9 Marks, Acts 29 and popular speakers
I was asked a question about the general role of vocation. As a Christian, how should I use my vocation? Is it OK to have a non-great-commission job? Here's a first cut at an answer.
Is it OK to have a non-great-commission job? Absolutely. Not only is it OK, but it is necessary for most people. There might be one-half of one percent of the population who are pastors and full-time Christian workers in any denomination. This means that the vast majority of people will have "regular" jobs. However, it may be that if you are asking yourself that question, you should dig a little deeper. Are you gifted for ministry? Would it be better stewardship of those gifts if you entered full-time ministry? Do you desire to be in ministry?
Assuming for the moment that you confirm your place in a secular vocation, how can you use your job as a Christian?
- Be an excellent employee: hard working, reliable, honest, timely, skillful and growing in skill.
- Be a witness on the job: show and tell your faith to others.
- While avoiding greed, seek to excel to earn more that you may use to give to the Lord's work.
- Do not allow the job to take you away from family and church and ministry. A common mistake is for a husband to take a job in which he is often traveling away from his wife.
- Take seriously the negative effect that the workplace may have on you. Are your co-workers especially lewd and coarse? Is alcohol served in this job? Does the job demand that you miss Sunday and mid-week meetings at church? It's probably time to find another job in such cases.
- If you are in a place of influence in a company or policy-making role, think about how Christian values can be plugged into your policies and practices. They need not be called out by chapter and verse, but somehow include them in how you do business.
- Use your job as a way to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Today I happened upon an interview of Billy Graham by Larry King. I was taken aback by his answer to a question about abortion in the case of violent rape. The question at 10:40 was, what is "your stand on abortion in the case of violent rape"? Graham's answer starts at 11:40:
I would be for abortion in violent rape. I am against abortion...except in cases of violent rape and in cases where the mother's life is in danger.
Now, this is not meant to be a Graham-bashing post. I will let the facts speak for themselves for this particular interview. This post rather is meant to challenge you to re-think the issue of abortion in such a case, and I use Graham's statement as a template that probably fits many people who believe the same way he does.
So, do you support abortion in the case of rape?
One more question: would you support capital punishment for the rapist?
I am thankful that God has permitted us to live in an age where we have the computer as a tool to carry on the work of the ministry. Furthermore, I am thankful that we have at our fingertips a lot of freely available software. Some is produced by commercial entities trying to drive their bottom line, and some is produced by communities of open source developers. I thought I would take a minute to share a few of the key software programs I have used.
Chrome, Firefox, and Adobe Reader
These tools are probably well known to you. Chrome and Firefox are popular alternatives to the Internet Explorer web browser on Windows computers. Adobe is the standard PDF reader program. It is not the most lean, but it works.
Need to talk to and instant message with missionaries across the globe, and do it cheaply? This is the tool for you. It has grown to have a lot of other features, like connecting with facebook. When I travel for the missionary work that I am involved in, I love to have this so I can video call my home and see my wife and children, and even read to them before bedtime.
This email and rss reader program has been mentioned on this blog before. But I use it to aggregate together all seven of my email accounts so I can read them in a single place and store messages in a single database. Perhaps in the future I will describe how I use it to quickly store email messages in predefined folders with a keypress, or how I use it to do an "email merge" so I can write a personal letter to all our church members.
Open Office 4
This open-source, free office productivity suite has a word processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation program, drawing program. It obviously competes with Microsoft Office. I have used this since back in version 2; the spreadsheet and database were helpful to me at various points. I did have a bad experience with a corrupted database, at which point I moved to Microsoft Access (may it never be!). I use the database for maintaining my list of contacts and church members. Also, I hope sometime to convert my Excel library catalog into a database.
This program is an "FTP client" which means that it understands the File Transfer Protocol" and lets you transfer files back and forth easily with an FTP server such as your webhost. We use this weekly to upload content to our church website, such as sermon audio mp3 files.
Gimp is the Gnu Image Manipulation Program, another open source project that provides functionality like Adobe Photoshop. It does what is called raster grahpics, which basically means pictures and other images made up of a bunch of pixels. It used to be a toy, as the experts say, but it is the real thing today. It does have a bit of a learning curve, but once you learn basic selection tools and how to manipulate layers, you can do a lot with it to develop graphics for fliers and web sites.
If you think Photoshop = Gimp, then you can think of Inkscape = Adobe Illustrator. Inkscape is a vector grahpics program, which means that it represents images with mathematical formulas. Images designed with this tool scale very well to different sizes.
Last but not least is Scribus. It is like Quark Express or PageMaker of old, and can substitute somewhat for Adobe InDesign. Adobe has adopted a new subscription pricing model that will keep many small-time users out of the market for it. In other words, with the new editions, there is not a way to buy it once and forget it for awhile. This makes software like Scribus even more desirable. I picked up Scribus and used it to do the layout of a one-page flier in a couple of hours. I had some experience as a news editor of my high school newspaper with PageMaker on the Macintosh platform, so I am familiar with some of the concepts of desktop publishing. But I believe familiar with Word can learn to navigate around fairly well in this tool. It outputs PDF files so you can share them with your print shop or on the net.
These tools are ideal for a small church or church plant because they don't break the budget. You will probably come to a point when you need to hire help for graphics and printing, but these can get you started. The amount of work that has gone into creating these software packages is incredible--and they freely available. What a blessing.
Today our family received an envelope with a nice letter full of Scripture and a monetary gift. It was sent anonymously, and we are unable to guess who sent it. We thank the Lord for His provision. And we thank you, whoever "you" are, who were thoughtful and generous enough to send it. May the Lord bless and keep you too!
My blog has moved, along with our church's website, from one host to a new one. The new RSS feed url is http://www.fbcaa.org/cms/feeds/MAPBlog/, accessible above in the title next to the orange RSS icon. Sorry for any inconvenience that this might impose on you. I hope you continue reading!
On January 4-5, 2013, the second Preserving the Truth Conference will be held at First Baptist Church in Troy, Michigan. Please visit truthconference.org for more information.
Mark and Heather Snoeberger have written a helpful two-part article on surviving seminary as a family (here and here). I greatly appreciated the principles that they promoted, such as unity in their marriage, maturity, spiritual growth and formation of their family, hard work, and frugality. Particularly noteworthy is their testimony of treating the seminary education as a shared task between husband and wife. My wife and I find that pastoral ministry requires the same kind of shared view of things. Trying to carry on in ministry while the husband pulls the load and the wife heads in another direction is a problematic situation. But that is not my point in this post...
In response to the article, a prospective seminary student asked me some questions related to time management and how to "balance" seminary with work, church attendance and ministry, and personal life. He is concerned about providing for the family so that his wife can fulfill her biblical role of keeping the home and working with the children. He is concerned about attending and serving in the local church in a way that he is faithful and not skipping meetings. Finally, he is concerned about maintaining his spiritual/devotional life as well as his physical health.
About work: Mark did not say if he had to work full time or part time during his seminary education. During the M.Div., I had the blessing of being self-employed and working afternoons (not the afternoon shift--just afternoons). Travel for my work was required on only a few occasions. This left my mornings available for classes and evenings and weekends for study. Students who are fully supported are greatly blessed because they can devote themselves entirely to their studies. I think that is a rare situation, at least in our circles. Many students struggle to work about 40 hours a week and then try to divide the remaining time for their wife, children, church, and personal health.
About church: I was able to be fully involved in the ministry of the local church as I went to school. When Fellowship Bible Church called me to be their senior pastor, I was taking the Th.M. During the first months of the pastorate, I took some time off from classes to focus on the initial ministry. As far as the seminarian's attendance at church goes, it is unacceptable for the student to be so consumed with work and seminary that he does not attend all the regular meetings of the church. If it comes down to it, it is absolutely appropriate to dial down the number of classes taken during a semester and take more years to complete the training. It is not very important to finish seminary in three years anyway; there is no need to be in a rush. A good case can be made that taking somewhat longer is better--it gives more time for the material to sink in. I took the M.Div. in four years; the Th.M. in six, with one year of overlap between the two.
About physical and spiritual health: Taking the M.Div. in four years (the majority of it in three with summer classes thrown in to help) was a challenge. It was at once spiritually filling and spiritually draining. Physically I was ill on a number of occasions due to exhaustion and dehydration. Trying to learn while you are dead tired is not the wisest approach. My questioner is rightly concerned about his spiritual health as well. It is easy enough to downplay 'devotional time' for a seminarian--after all, he is deeply in the Word in all his classes, right? What value does a skimpy devotional life have compared to that? To the contrary, the reality is that academic studies are of a different sort than personal spiritual maintenance. You might object that seminary shouldn't just be academic. Indeed! But when there are so many classes, so much material, tests that are looking for specific information, papers to write, etc., it is all too easy to pursue studies in an unattached, academic way that does not fully engage the soul along with the mind.
Seminary education is not to be treated lightly. It is a huge commitment. I fully believe that at the right seminary, it is an investment that is well worth the effort. However, a sense of proportion in the elements mentioned above will help you to succeed. You don't want your program of study to overwhelm the day-to-day concerns of church attendance and ministry, physical and spiritual health, and family. MAP
Here is another question for my Great Commission and Church Planting class: How do you view the two churches I describe below? Do you view them as very different?
You walk into the first church and begin to notice that all the people there are old. Say 70 years old or older. The pastor is likewise elderly. You begin to look for another young or middle-age family like yourself. You don't see any. What do you think of this church?
You walk into another church the next week and there are tons of children running around. There are many youthful looking families. The pastor looks young too. The place is bustling with activity. In contrast with the church you visited last week, you don't notice any elderly folks. What do you think of this church?
A common first impression of the elderly church is that it is dying, not reaching out to its community, and somehow it is "bad." The younger church seems vibrant and alive, and it is somehow "good."
But why would we think of the church this way? What if the elderly church happened to be in the middle of a retirement community? And why do we think that a church with no elderly people is better than a church with no young people? Don't both churches have a key missing demographic—in other words, both are lacking something they really ought to have?