Sunday, April 30, 2006

should pastors get paid?

Lately, I've really benefited from the faith-based life-coaching ministry of Dan Miller. He's best known for his great book 48 Days To The Work You Love. I was looking at archived articles on his website yesterday and came across this challenging article called Servant or CEO. He's wrestling with the issue of whether or not local church pastors should rely on their parishioners for their livelihood. Here's a couple of excerpts:
According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual earnings for “clergy” in 2005 were $41,976, putting them somewhere between carpet installers at $42,584 and sheet metal workers at $38,680. Is that an accurate reflection of their contribution to society – or should their income even be compared in that way?

In start-up churches it is not uncommon for the pastor to be a “tent maker.” The pastor may be a real estate agent, sell insurance, grow some crops or have a landscaping business to provide for his own financial needs. But the implicit goal is to quickly grow the church group’s resources until he can move into “full-time ministry” and thus be totally dependent on those to whom he ministers. Often this cripples that group’s ability to reach out to others with any financial provision. The small country church near our house, although having no facility debt, allocates 67% of their income to their pastor’s pay package, leaving little for any outreach needs.

This is challenging to common thinking for sure.

(By the way, since I'm out of the closet as a Bible translation nerd, Dan uses the Holman Christian Standard Bible. But it could be simply because his publisher is Broadman & Holman.)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

what he has made us

I love the way this verse reads in the NRSV.

For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
(Ephesians 2:10)

Friday, April 28, 2006

Take the Lead

Last night my wife and I got away from our two kids for our annual date night. (OK, I'm exaggerating a little. Its more like semi-annual.) The town I live in has one movie theater, with two screens. If we're going to get in dinner and a movie in the same date, we have to stay in town. So there were two options for movies yesterday afternoon when I was planning our date night. One was Scary Movie 4, the other was Take the Lead. I knew my wife wouldn't go for Scary Movie 4, and that I would get points if I took her to a cheesy movie about dancing like Take the Lead.

The internet review that I had read had mistakenly reported that Take the Lead was a musical. I was SO pleased that it wasn't! It was actually a really cool movie, inspired by the true story of Pierre Dulaine, who developed ballroom dancing classes to teach values to ghetto kids in near-hopeless situations. There was one scene that was so cheesy that I cried. (It was new kind of tear for me to shed. I cried in Shallow Hal because I was so touched at the end. I've cried in other movies because they were so sad. I had never cried because something was so cheesy before.)

The cheesy scene aside, this actually turned out to be a killer movie. I'm not even joking now. It was VERY good. Antonio Banderas did a great job. And from my memory, there was only one cuss word in the movie. I'm nominating this for Best Date Night Movie of 2006. (Shallow Hal got the same award in 2001.)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

translation vacillation

I must be open with you about the fact that I have been officially diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. So, vacillation is a part of my lifestyle.

After all of the thoughtful consideration of Bible translations, it looks as though I may in fact be switching back to the NRSV from the ESV. This doesn't mean that I deny the liberal bias of many of its translators. It doesn't mean that I think its the best translation on the market (however, Eugene Peterson, Walter Brueggeman, Dallas Willard, and Richard Foster, actually do, in the introductory section to their Spiritual Formation Bible, make the remark that they believe the NRSV is the best translation available).

Here are my reasons:
1) When I began seminary at Austin Seminary, I had a very defensive posture toward my professors. I was always looking for liberalism and heresy in everything they said. At one point, I felt the Holy Spirit convict me of the poverty of my judgmentalism and negative, critical spirit. As a part of my feeling that God was calling me to be more charitable in my attitude to others who profess Christ, I felt that he was calling me to use the NRSV. Every time I switch translations I eventually feel God calling me back to the translation as a pledge of my acceptance of my call to work in a complex theologically diverse denomination, even though I myself am a conservative evangelical.

2) I have spent the past 5-6 years memorizing hundreds of verses in the NRSV translation. It is difficult more me to shift to a new translation because the words are in a different order than what is "emblazoned on my brain" (My friend Bandlady once spoke about Scripture being emblazed in her brain. I thought that was the coolest phrasing.)

3) Sometimes I get frustrated with my denomination and wonder whether I'll be able to stick it out. When I do, I think I better get used to a more conservative translation of the Bible that is accepted in churches outside of mainline denominations. Then God challenges me and says, "Do you not trust me enough to live out my call on your life, believing that I'll take care of you?"

You may think I'm crazy. I often think I really may be.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Mike Raysons

If you aren't aware of the ministry of Mike Rayson, you should check out his website. He's a Methodist and an Aussie. He's coming to Pontiac FUMC in October for a revival.

To check out his website click here.

There's this other dude named Mike Rayson who also has a website. Check his out by clicking here.

Which Mike Rayson do you think is better looking?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Lectionary.org

I'm not really a Lectionary preacher, but I regularly use the resources of the website Lectionary.org. This web service is provided by Richard Donavan. He reads and gleans the best nuggets of commentary from William Barclay, Walter Brueggemann, Fred Craddock, William Lane, and many others.

His free exegesis is my first source when beginning to study a Bible passage. Why read tons of commentaries when Dick Donavan has already harvested the best from each? There are additional services for a slight fee that give more helps for sermon and worship prep (depending on how much help you need! ha ha).

Dick is still in the process of doing exegetical work for the Old Testament Lectionary passages. Most of the gospel passages are already complete, and even if the specific passage is not, usually a parallel passage in another gospel is. Check out Dick's site. Save valuable time and increase exegetical quality.

Monday, April 24, 2006

inclusive language

I had a great weekend with my family. I got back and found some thoughtful responses to my posting about the ESV. One commenter said:
"I, like you, prefer to use one bible translation. Right now that is the NRSV, which I grew up with in my home. I would never use the ESV because it does not use inclusive language- and if you think that inclusive language is a problem then as far as I'm concerned you have no place in the UMC."
I understand that many people find inclusive language very important. When I was in seminary, there was a policy that students were to use inclusive language in their writing. It was also expected in my writing for ordination examinations.

When I entered the parish, I was still in seminary mode, and preached from the NRSV, and tried to use inclusive language whenever possible, thinking that everyone was very sensitive about it. What happened surprised me.

In Bible studies or in conversations with people in my church, i found that most people are offended by the use of inclusive language in the Bible. Many female lay persons are insulted that we think they care about the use of inclusive language, as if they are so ultrasensitive they can't handle a generic "he," or that they are not intelligent enough to understand that "man" often means "humankind."

Other Christians have acted as if I'm a sellout because I think the Bible should be politically correct. My District Superintendent always used the NIV in preaching. He even read from it, in all of its masculine language, when he read Scripture before the Bishop's sermon, when she preached at our church.

My conclusion, after much consideration, is that inclusive language in the Bible is a stumbling block to the average lay person. There may be seminary professors that can't live without it. But most people truly do not care.

In response to the statement "and if you think that inclusive language is a problem then as far as I'm concerned you have no place in the UMC," I would say that there are already thousands of ministers who have declined the church signicantly, precisely because things like "inclusive language" were their primary soapboxes.

We only get to pick a few ditches to die in. I'd rather not die in the ditch of "inclusive language," and stand before God and say, "God, do you know how many people realized the evil of using the generic 'he' because of my ministry?"

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I'LL BE OUT OF BLOGGING RANGE UNTIL MONDAY MORNING. SEE YOU MONDAY.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

ESV - the new standard in Bible translations

In the past few months I have been in the process of switching Bible translations. For some people, its no big deal to use a different translation every day if they feel like it. Personally, I have always wanted to have one version that is basically he one that I use.

For a long time I used the New Revised Standard Version. The NRSV is an update of the Revised Standard Version. It is widely used in seminaries, and is found in the pews of many mainline churches. It is known for being accurate to the Greek and Hebrew, but for having been translated with a liberal bias. It is notorious for its use of inclusive language.

I liked it because it is found in the pews in many United Methodist Churches, and because it is in the middle, between the readibility of the New International Version (NIV), which is translated at a 7th grade reading level, and the accuracy of New American Standard Version (NASB), which is at a 11th grade reading level.

In 2001 a great new translation of the Bible came out, the English Standard Version (ESV). It is the conservative cousin to the NRSV. It is also an update of the Revised Standard Version, but it has an orthodox bias, and does not use inclusive language. Its readibility is supposedly at the grade level of 7.8, which makes it very readable.

I have decided to make it "my Bible." If you are looking for a new Bible, I would recommend this version. Its reliable, readable, and very close to the actual Greek and Hebrew.

Dr. Jeff VanGoethem, pastor of East White Oak Bible Church, tells how he has recently made the switch to the ESV after preaching from the NKJV for 20+ years. Read his reasons for doing so by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

kudos to truth-tellers

I just had a conversation with a dear friend of mine. With a smile on her face she told me that she had a bone to pick with me. I asked her what it was. She said that she felt that I had gone to far in my graphic description of how dirty people's feet can be during my Maunday Thursday sermon on Jesus' washing his disciples' feet.

I was so touched that she cared enough to tell me this personally. She did it in a way that showed her concern for the integrity of our relationship and for me as a pastor/speaker. Because of the love in her approach, and because of the candid nature of the confrontation, I didn't feel threatened by her rebuke. I actually felt loved by a friend who cared about me enough to be honest.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with is neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:25)

Monday, April 17, 2006

graveyards

Yesterday my family went to the graveyard in Greenup, Illinois where my dad is buried. We went to remember him and to mourn him and to celebrate him, if just for a few minutes. My two-year-old son didn't quite understand the nature of a graveyard. He was playing hide and seek behind the tombs and rolling d0wn the hill. After a few moments I joined in. Why not? It was easier than trying to explain that there are hundreds of dead people under our feet (and a lot more fun too).

Later I thought about how maybe we should all dance around in graveyards to celebrate Easter, laughing with joy at Christ's triumph over death. We should remember that because his tomb was empty on Easter morning, all of those gravestones will someday be overturned. His empty tomb was the first of millions to follow. Why not dance around and say, "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we see you in mid-air Dad!"

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
(I Corinthians 15:50-55)

Friday, April 14, 2006

evangelicals increasing, liberals decreasing

I am a registered member of the Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church. I'm not really into organized movements within the church, because they are intentionally divisive. But a few years ago I sent in an email telling them they could put my name on the list.

Every so often I get an email from them called, "Happenings Around the Church." I received one recently that I found very interesting. It reports how the latest published stats confirm that liberal churches are dying and more conservative churches are growing slightly.

The 2006 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches (published by the National Council of Churches), just published, confirms statistically what a number of observers have surmised: mainline Protestant churches continue to decline while a number of other groups are growing. Using figures from 2004 (compared with 2003 figures) the yearbook notes that the Orthodox Church in America grew 6.4%; Assemblies of God church grew 1.81%; the Mormons grew 1.71%, and the Roman Catholic Church increased .83%. The Southern Baptists have averaged .35% growth per year over a 3-year period.

While United Methodists lament the loss of .79% in the one year period, other more liberal churches have lost members at an even greater rate. The most dramatic hemorrhaging is in the United Church of Canada, which over a 10-year period is averaging a nearly 2% decrease per year. The United Church of Christ, one of the most liberal of all US groups, lost 2.38% of its members in 2004. The Presbyterian Church (USA) decreased 1.6%, the Episcopal Church 1.55%, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church 1.09%. It might be noted that all five of the denominations who lost members at the greater rate than the United Methodists, are racked with controversy over homosexuality (even more than the United Methodists).

It is difficult to get a good picture of overall church membership since at least eleven of the top twenty-five denominations (mostly Pentecostal and primarily African-American denominations) either made no report or reported the same statistics as the year before. At the same time there are reports of rapidly growing ethnic churches including independent African-American churches, Hispanic churches (mostly Pentecostal among Protestants), and Korean churches.


If you would like to receive the "Happenings Around the Church" email from the Confessing Movement, send an email to this address confessingumc@iquest.net.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

playboy bunnies

Today I was at the grocery store with my two-year-old son. As we were walking out, a man walked in wearing a black baseball cap with a Playboy bunny on it. I felt embarrassed for this guy, and a little sad for him. Does he think that other people will think that he's cool because he looks at magazines with pictures of really good-looking naked women? How is that cool?

I'll tell you what really proves you're cool. If you can meet a really good-looking woman, convince her that you've got it going on, persuade her to drop her own last name and take yours, and trick her into swearing in front of witnesses that she'll stay with you till she dies (and even let you see her naked!), then you're truly cool. Anybody who can pull that off with a good-looking woman has proven coolness. A hot chick with your last name proves your coolness.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

biblical manhood / Men's Fraternity

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. - I Corinthians 11:3

This is a verse that many of us wish was not in the Bible. When we read it there we have two choices. 1) We can say its not politically correct, and either explain it away or ignore it. 2) We can say its not politically correct but its part of God's created order in the universe, and we can honor it as unchanging truth.

If the fundamentalist wing of Christianity could be accused of forcing women into a subservient role, the mainline wing of Christianity could be accused of diminishing the role of biblical manhood. Biblical womanhood is an issue of critical importance that the fundamentalist wing must be responsible for advancing. Biblical manhood is an issue of critical important the the mainline wing must be responsible for advancing as well.

I have been frightened by the fact that honoring the Bible with regard to the issue of biblical manhood will appear politically incorrect and offensive. But the longer we let men off the hook of their biblical role the more harm that is done to the family of the Church and the families within churches. I've agonized over the dilemma for the past few years.

I'm currently praying about using a curriculum called Men's Fraternity to disciple men in the role of biblical manhood in the church I pastor. This program was creatd by a man named Robert Lewis. My older brother has been a part of a Men's Fraternity at River Glen Christian Church (Waukesha, Wisconsin) for the past two years. I've been very impressed by his growth in his leadership in his own family and in his church. I've also been very impressed by the curriculum that he has shared with me.

I would be interested to hear what other people think of this program. If you get a change to click on the link and check it out, let me know what you think. I would also be interested in what other people think about how to develop the values of biblical manhood in the church. Comment if you get a chance.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

re: Jews for Jesus

My friend Shane Raynor posted my blog entry about Jews for Jesus at his Wesley Daily webpage. There are some very interesting comments posted regarding Jews for Jesus. Check it out by clicking here.

Monday, April 10, 2006

confirmation and salvation

I've always been ambivalent about Confirmation in the church. Confirmation is a class that acts as a right of passage into adulthood and full accountability for young people. Churches that practice infant baptism offer Confirmation because there's no way that an infant can make a public profession of faith in Christ. Confirmation then is the confirmation of one's baptism.

Much of the pressure that kids face as school is peer pressure. The pressure to make a public profession of faith in Christ on "Confirmation Sunday" is parent pressure or grandparent pressure. Parents want their kids to go through this process so that they can be sure that their kids are "OK," and they don't have to worry about them going to hell anymore. Unfortunately, many kids succomb to the parent pressure and stand up there and boldly lie about giving their lives to Christ, and about committing to support the local church with their prayers, presence, gifts, and service. I say this to my dismay.

Last year, after a year long Confirmation program, I spoke to each child individually about how they felt about giving their lives to Christ. They each accepted Christ and made a public profession of faith. Not long afterwards, one of them was boasting to another adult about how he had just done that because his parents wanted him to. He was boasting that he hadn't been back to church since he had been confirmed.

Yesterday (Sunday) I once again spoke to my Confirmation class about my ambivalent feelings about the program because of the way it is abused by parents and kids desparate for their parents' approval. I told them that the only reason that I agree to teach Confirmation is so that I can offer kids an honest, no sugar added, opportunity to dedicate the rest of their lives to Jesus Christ as their Master and Source of forgiveness. I gave them the following information on a half sheet of paper:

Confirmation Decisions

You must decide whether you will believe on Jesus Christ and commit your life to him as your Master and Source of forgiveness. (John 1:12-13, Matthew 7:13,14)

If you do, you will be SAVED (Romans 10:9). You will be saved from the power and penalty of sin, and will be cleansed from the pollution of sin in this life. And you will be saved from the presence of sin in the life to come.

If you don’t believe on Jesus Christ and commit your life to him as your Master and Source of forgiveness at some point in your life, you will spend eternity apart from the presence of God in a place sometimes called hell.

The EFFECT that this will have on your life is called the FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT (Galatians 5:22-24). Compare this to the EVIDENCE of an unsaved person (Galatians 5:19-21).

The EFFORT that you will need to exert as a follower of Jesus will include:
1. Studying the Bible at home and with others regularly. (II Timothy 3:16, John 8:31,32)
2. Continuing to attend worship. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
3. Striving to continually resist temptation. (I Corinthians 10:13)
4. Praying regularly. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)
5. Maintaining spiritual friendships. (Entire New Testament)


After discussing this information, we went down to the chapel in our church. I sat at the altar, and said that I wanted them to pray for a few moments, and if any of them wanted to give 100% of themselves to Jesus Christ, to live their rest of their lives for him, to come forward and I would pray with them.

One by one they came and each one of them acknowledged their sin to God, told God that they believe Jesus is the Son of God who died for their sins and rose from the dead. They told him that they received his forgiveness, and asked the Holy Spirit to fill them and make them born again. They told God that they were giving the rest of their breathing lives to him.

I believe they meant it. Please pray for the following young people who gave their lives to Jesus Christ yesterday:

Gina Brooks
Bryce Davis
Traci Tharp
Michael Voigts
Nicole Dunning
Katy Jones
Dakota Opperman
Kelsey Fairfield

After they had all prayed, I had them write on the other side of the halfsheet of paper, "I committed my life to Jesus Christ on April 9, 2006." I told them to put the paper in their Bibles or somewhere they could see it often.

Please ask God to bless them and magnify himself in their hearts as they live out their commitment to Christ. Pray that they may be bold in sharing their faith and resisting temptation.

Pray for young people all over the world who are being pressured to be baptized prematurely or make premature public professions of faith because someone else wants to stop worrying about them. Ask that God would lead them to a true commitment of their precious lives to him.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Jews for Jesus

Yesterday I got back from vacation with family and friends in Virginia Beach. It was a beautiful trip. Even though we had to drive 16 hours there and 16 hours back, I came back thoroughly refreshed. "He leads be beside quietl waters, he restores my soul." Thank you Jesus, I needed that trip so much.

This Sunday morning at Pontiac FUMC, we had the wonderful privilege of Melissa Moskowitz from Jews for Jesus preach and teach at all three of our worship services. The program that she shared with us was called "Christ in the Passover". She was an incredibly warm, charming, and evangelistic speaker.

I was so impressed with the dedication of this organization to sharing Christ with Jewish people who don't believe that Jesus is the Messiah. They are strictly an evangelistic group. Everyday they are doing the frontline street evangelism that scares most of us to death.

An interesting dynamic that is also at play in their ministry is the work of a group called Jews for Judaism. I had stumbled onto the webpage of this group a few months ago. After our services I asked Melissa about them. She explained that Jews for Judaism is a very zealous group of Jews who are convinced that Jesus is not the Messiah. Their main goal is to keep people from becoming converted by Jews for Jesus and other Christian missionary groups. I was very impressed by the respect with which Melissa spoke of this group. She said that the Jews for Judaism are very hard-working Jews who are 100% convinced that they are doing the right thing. She said its just too bad that they don't believe in Jesus.

My faith was greatly encouraged by the Christ in the Passover presentation that Melissa gave, by her faith and testimony, and by the evangelistic commitment and fervor of Jews for Jesus.

Please visit their website, use their resources, pray for God to grant them success, invite them to your church, and be inspired to ask God to use you to introduce other people to Jesus Christ, that they might be saved from their sins.

P.S. Many of the Jews that believe in Jesus have family members who don't believe in Jesus. They suffer in various ways because of this. Please pray for the conversion of their families to Jesus Christ, the One True God and Savior of the World.