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Pastoral Care

Just about every day, I read posts from several pastor groups on Facebook. Many of the groups are very supportive, providing a “safe place” for pastors to air their frustrations without worrying that their comments will be seen by mean-spirited church members. Other pastors will add a “praying for you” comment or a “Praying Hands” emoji. Sometimes other pastors will point out errors in someone’s thinking, bringing them back to a Biblical foundation for discussion.

And then there are others.

It seems that some people feel they are God’s gift to pastors, someone whose divine destiny is to correct everything that’s wrong with everyone else’s theology. Rarely does such hard-worded rebuke — in the absence of a relationship with the other person — accomplish anything substantive. And then other people (with no relationship with each other) chime in and the “flame wars” begin.

In today’s Bible reading, Paul says it shouldn’t be like this. He says that if someone falls into temptation (or wrong theology or practice), they should be gently corrected and restored. (Galatians 6:1) This gentle correction is only possible in the context of a relationship between people. And this gentle correction is almost impossible when using Social Media.

The bigger context of Paul’s remarks is that we should be about encouraging each other, bearing each other’s burdens, humbly remembering that at any time, any of us could make some bad choices.

Application

Humility is a scarce character trait. But developing it will keep a check on your mouth and on your behavior. When someone steps up and either offers to correct a wrong belief you have or exposes a sin you’re involved in, listen. They could be completely wrong in what they’re saying. Or they could be correct and you could be wrong. Don’t “get your panties in a wad”, but listen. Ask them to help you (even if you’re right and they’re wrong).

God gave us two eyes and two ears and only one mouth. Perhaps He designed us to look and listen more than speak. (see James 1:19)

When you speak and when you listen, do it with a humble attitude.

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In today’s Bible reading from Hebrews 5, the writer concludes the chapter with,

Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil. Hebrews 5:12–14 (CSB)

delicious steak meal

I remember when our kids were little. Their first meals were milk. As they grew, we began to introduce formula, then rice, and then baby food as they were ready at each step. As they continued to grow, they began to eat other foods. No longer were they relying on us to prepare their food; they could slap together a nourishing, delicious PB&J sandwich in no time! Today, they are completely self-sufficient. They can buy their own food with their own money and prepare that food in a variety of ways. Their food oftentimes tastes better than mine!

But what would happen if they never prepared their own food? What if they never fed themselves? What if they were completely dependent on us to prepare and feed them? Obviously, something would be wrong!

The same is true in the Spiritual realm. One of the things we did as the kids grew was to prepare them to feed themselves. When a person becomes a believer and is born again, they are completely dependent on other people to feed them spiritually. The goal is to get people to feed themselves from God’s Word. Unfortunately, like many other pastors, I’ve heard, “Pastor, we’re leaving the church. We just don’t think we’re being fed.”

I remember wanting to say, “Well, if you aren’t being fed, it isn’t my fault. I spend hours preparing the meal and setting the table. I do all I can to present the meal that the Master Chef wants me to deliver. Am I supposed to put it on a spoon and stick it in your mouth for you? ‘Open the hangar so the airplane can fly in!’ If you aren’t being fed, it’s your own fault!” But I didn’t say that.

Application

So, what about you? When you go to church, do you feel that you’re being fed a nutritious meal? Unfortunately, it’s entirely possible that you aren’t! A lot of pastors don’t prepare. A lot of pastors don’t know how to feed themselves from God’s Word. A lot of pastors just like to make people feel nice and comfortable. The bottom line is, if your pastor isn’t delivering God’s Message from God’s Word, maybe you need to prayerfully consider looking elsewhere!

But isn’t it also possible that the pastor is delivering God’s Message from God’s Word, but you aren’t benefiting from the prepared meal? Perhaps you aren’t ready for the meat. Maybe you’re just not mature enough. Maybe you need to go back and eat more basic foods.

If you’ve been a believer for more than a few months, you need to begin feeding yourself from God’s Word. No pastor is able to feed a well-balanced diet of what each person needs to everyone in every church.

So how do you start to feed yourself? This is a good place. Read along in your Bible from a translation you can understand, asking God to speak to you. Don’t use an “inspired finger” approach to your Bible reading; read your Bible like you would any other book. Look at a verse in its context within a paragraph and within a chapter.

Yes, it will take time to get used to feeding yourself from God’s Word. But as you read and study, comparing what you’re learning with what other people are learning, you’ll find it easier, more fun, and more nourishing.

You are what you eat.
Are you eating mature food you prepared yourself
or baby food prepared by other people?

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Many of my family members are United Methodists. Many of my friends are United Methodists. Some of my “Facebook Friends” (whom I have never really met) are United Methodists. I was saved during revival services at a small country United Methodist Church. My number one reason for leaving the Denomination and not pursuing vocational ministry in the UMC – aside for obvious theological differences – was I knew that I could not with a good conscience hold to my theological differences with the UMC while drawing a paycheck from the Denomination. Those theological differences are unrelated to this post.

Last week, the United Methodists from around the world met in St. Louis, Missouri to try to make sense of its differences and chart a way forward. At the forefront was the issue of ordination of openly gay clergy and gay marriage. There were several paths they could have chosen, including a “One Church” Plan that would have allowed churches and their clergy, regardless of their position on these issues, to affirm or forbid gay clergy and/or gay marriage.

However, the “Traditional” Plan prevailed. The “Traditional” Plan, backed by a large number of delegates from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, affirms The Book of the Discipline, UMC’s statement of doctrine and practice. The Book of the Discipline states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity. Therefore, by default, gay ordination and gay marriage would also be incompatible.

In several Facebook posts, several of my United Methodist Pastor friends have expressed their deep concerns for the future of the second largest denomination in the United States. They are concerned about those on both sides of the issue being hurt by the vote. This morning, one posted a link to an article posted yesterday by another Methodist pastor. In the article, Jason Micheli’s parishioner (the article’s actual content writer) says, “The United Methodist Church’s unfixable rot has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with polity.” The writer lays out his argument that the root of the problem in the UMC is its polity, and as such, the denomination was destined to reach the impasse they currently find themselves in.

While all of these things may be true, I think the article writer – and perhaps most United Methodists – miss is an even deeper issue, which I encountered a few days ago with a “Facebook Friend”. This person shared someone else’s post. Here’s the thread:

Original Post:
“Please don’t say the struggle for LGBTQ rights is dividing the church. No one is being divisive by simply claiming their rights as a human being. What is tearing the church apart is the hypocrisy of those who claim grace for themselves but inflict judgment on everyone else.”

My response:
“No one’s being divisive by pointing out a denomination’s written statement of doctrine and practice and calling those paid by that denomination to adhere to it. No one’s being divisive to say the Bible is still authoritative. John Wesley held a high view of the Bible and based his own ethics and behavior on all of it.”

My Facebook friend’s response:
“Scripture does not condemn Homosexuality.
Policies are not scripture or the Church.”

My responses:
“Which Bible are you reading? I know which one you aren’t reading.
It shouldn’t be too much to expect organizational employees to faithfully represent the organization, regardless of the organization – McDonald’s, Starbucks, UMC, IBM, etc. – if they wish to keep a paycheck. The Book of the Discipline is what the UMC has codified. Those drawing a paycheck should faithfully represent the UMC, or find another organization they can faithfully represent.
This is reason #1 I did not pursue ministry in the UMC.”

– End of Thread –

The problem with the UMC which has brought division is not the “hypocrisy of those who claim grace for themselves but inflict judgment on everyone else.” The problem with the UMC is that they can’t agree on the place of the Bible in the Denomination’s theology and practice. Therefore, they can’t define sin in an objective way, because they don’t have an objective source. From the reaction I have seen in the press and on social media, it would appear that “sin” would be to act in an “unchristlike” way: judgmental, intolerant, and unaffirming of others.

And therein lies the problem.

Those on both sides of the gay ordination/gay marriage issue claim the other side is being “unchristlike“. But how can someone actually define “unchristlike” apart from a Biblical standpoint? After all, everything we know about Jesus Christ and what He was like is in the Bible. Jesus had some very divisive things to say to a lot of people as He called out their sin. And those He reached out to in mercy and grace, He told to repent of their behaviorand sin no longer.

There can be no objective definition of “Christlike“/”unchristlike“, “sin“, “repentance“, and “reaching the world with the gospel” apart from the Bible.

And until the United Methodist Church decides the place and authority of the Bible, there can be no definition of “unity” or any of these crucial and highly relevant words.

Until good people are more concerned with fidelity to the Bible and historic, Christian teachings on homosexuality – consistent for nearly two centuries – than with their concern for “friends on both sides of the issue who are hurt by the vote”, the future of the United Methodist Church is bleak.

Methodist friends, you have passed a historic vote to stand firm on your position stated clearly in The Book of the Discipline. The only two choices you have is to remain true to Biblical truth (as you voted last week) or bend to the modern morays of the Sexual Revolution. I’m not saying that homosexuals and those ordaining them and/or performing homosexual marriages are evil. But the Bible unequivocally denounces homosexual behavior.

With today’s Bible reading, we conclude our reading through the book of Acts. The book ends rather abruptly, almost as if Chapter 29 has been lost. But of course, that didn’t happen. Some have suggested that Dr. Luke didn’t finish the book and that we are living today in Acts 29.

One very important thing I want to point out from today’s reading is easily missed by reading many of our Bible translations. Now, before I go any further on this, please hear me say this loud and clear: I believe that God’s Word is inspired by God, it is infallible, and it does not err in any way. Having said that, let me add that modern translations of the Bible accurately convey God’s Word very clearly. I encourage you to read from several recent Bible translations in your native language, comparing words and phrases used by the translators. Doing so can bring out nuances that don’t always translate as clearly as they should..* No, I don’t believe that you have to be a Greek or Hebrew scholar to hear God speak as you read your Bible. But knowing the languages can help to bring out a better clarity in your study.

Most of us in the US have at least one TV in our home. A few of the older TVs display shades of black and white, while the newer ones display in color. Some of the newer TVs are digital. And some of the newest (and most expensive) ones have 4K High Definition displays. It’s possible to watch your favorite football game on a 13″ black and white TV and not miss a single play. However, watching the same game on a 60″ high-definition 4K color TV allows you to see more detail as you watch. Reading and studying with most of our modern translations is like watching the game on most people’s TVs. Studying the Bible in its original languages is like watching the game on a high-definition TV.

Unfortunately, several modern English translations miss a very important point in Acts 28:8-9. This is one of those cases where comparing translations, and perhaps using some language tools can help to bring God’s Word into clearer focus.

Ok, I’ve spent a LOT more time prefacing this than I intended, but here’s the point. Let’s compare a few translations of Acts 28:8-9.

Christian Standard Bible
8Publius’s father was in bed suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went to him, and praying and laying his hands on him, he healed him. 9After this, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed.

English Standard Version
8It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. 9And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.

Did you catch the difference? The CSB uses the word healed twice, but the ESV uses two different words: healed and cured. Dr. Luke was very precise in how he described what Paul did with Publius’ father and what he did with the other islanders.

When Paul visited Publius’ father, God gave a miraculous, instantaneous healing. However, the rest of the people were given therapy which led to their restored health over a period of time. The end result was the same. Publius’ father and the rest of the islanders were restored to a healthy state. And Dr. Luke points out that God just restored them differently.

Application

So what difference does it make? It makes a huge difference!

Someone may tell you that you don’t need to see a doctor; all you have to do is believe and pray. Another person may tell you that there are no miraculous healings; the way God heals today is with doctors and medicine. Each person prays differently. One prays that God will miraculously, instantaneously heal you. The other prays that God will use the medicine and guide the surgeon’s hands during surgery to restore you to health.

I pray both ways because both ways are Biblical! And you can’t (or you shouldn’t!) do either one without the other. Know that regardless of how He does it, God always heals!

God may choose to heal you miraculously. God may choose to cure you through medicine, surgery, or some other therapy. Either way, praise God for restoring you to health! But don’t neglect praying for healing, and don’t neglect going to your doctor and taking your meds.

What about people who aren’t restored to health miraculously or cured over time? Great question!

A couple of paragraphs back, I said that regardless of how He does it, God always heals! But God doesn’t always restore people’s health the way we want Him to and He doesn’t always restore people’s health when we want Him to. Sometimes God brings healing when the person crosses over to the other side of eternity, where there is no sickness, no pain, no suffering, and no tears.

The bottom line is: God is God. Let Him accomplish His work His way in His time. Yes, pray for healing! Yes, pray and seek medical help.

Do both … and trust God to be God.

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* I don’t want to get distracted too much by this, so please refer to my other posts on Bible translations for more information.

Stormy seas

As I was reading today’s Bible reading in Acts 27, I was struck by Paul’s confidence that everyone would survive the horrendous storm. Growing up in Eastern North Carolina, I lived through a few small hurricanes, but I can’t imagine fourteen days at sea in a storm as powerful as the one Dr. Luke describes.

And yet, here’s Paul, encouraging the men to sit down for lunch. He confidently tells them that an angel from his God (not the god they believe in) told him things would be alright. (Acts 27:22-25) He adds, “Oh, and by the way, we’re going to run aground.” So this prisoner tells a ship of 276 people, including seasoned sailors that they’ll all survive this storm, but the ship will wreck.

While everyone else is filled with despair, Paul is as cool as a cucumber. Why? Because he has heard God’s message of hope. He is convinced that the God Who brought the storm will deliver him … and everyone with him … through the storm.

Application

The prosperity gospel televangelist will tell you that God wants you to be healthy and wealthy. He’ll tell you that no harm can come to a child of God, that God will never give you more than you can handle.

But I’m telling you that everyone will face storms in life. You will. I will. We all will. To believe otherwise is to deny reality on this side of eternity. And if God never gives you more than you can handle, you’ll never see that you need Him!

So how do you face your storms? Do you despair? Or do you face them with confident hope?

Believer, regardless of how your storms may look, you can rest in the arms of your Father: a loving, completely sovereign God who has never been surprised about anything. He has never frantically run around heaven worried about how He’s going to fix a problem. And He has promised that He will work every thing out so that you will be more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29)

Paul says that if you will replace worry with prayer, God will give you His incomprehensible peace. (Philippians 6:6-7) And if you keep your focus on Him, He promises to give you not only His peace, but He promises to give you … Himself. (Philippians 4:8-9)

Sometimes God calms the storm and sometimes God calms His child.

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