Archives For Shepherding

Church discipline (Matt 18:15-20) is often messy, costly, and accompanied by damage. The pain experienced is typically unmatched when a professing believer must be publicly put out of the local church.

Even so, when practiced biblically, it is consistent with biblical love, care, and obedience to Christ. Mark Dever rightly says that church discipline is “a loving, provocative, attractive, distinct, respectful, gracious act of obedience and mercy, and that it helps to build a church that brings glory to God.” Along those lines, a friend of mine was biblically disciplined out of a large church and to this day he confesses that it was one of the best things that ever happened to him. But more importantly, it’s a matter of non-negotiable in God’s kind of church.

perilousNow, the existence of church discipline in a church does not mean that church is a biblical church. It’s a process that is sometimes abused. However, a refusal to practice it is a certain red flag. It’s one thing if a church leadership has not been practicing church discipline and is attempting to implement it. But it’s quite another thing if a church refuses to practice it. That refusal is symptomatic of other problems, making it an unsafe church.

Here are 10 perils common among churches that will not practice church discipline on you:

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I doSince becoming a pastor I have had the privilege of conducting countless weddings. The first few were easy decisions: I checked my schedule and if I was available, I agreed to perform the ceremony. That’s because the first weddings I was asked to do were young, chaste, Christian couples in our church whom I knew well and I was delighted to be part of their joyful day. But then I began to receive requests from complete strangers whose situations required some more discernment than a simple, “Yup, I’m free that Saturday.”

Although we covered the theory in seminary, it wasn’t until I was in the trenches, with no professor to grade my answer, that I was faced with deciding which weddings I would consent to do and which I would not. When there were families and friendships involved, I began to realize this wasn’t theoretical, or target practice anymore; we’re playing with live ammo. And taking a stand can set off some explosive emotions.

Here’s seven scenarios I’ve encountered in ten years of doing weddings, and where I stand on saying “I do…”

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September 1, 1939 was the first day of Autumn in Europe. It was also the first day of World War II. When Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, a series of defence treaties catapulted the Allies–Britain, France, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Canada, Egypt, and later USA– into an inexorable confrontation with the Axis (Germany, Austria, Italy, and later Japan).sprouting

One visible sign that the United Kingdom was at war was that key government buildings in London were fortified with thousands of sandbags, meant to absorb enemy gunfire, and protect the walls and foundations from the percussive shock of bomb blasts. Armies were mobilized, theatres were closed, night life was put on indefinite pause, and the population of Europe nervously awaited Hitler’s next move.

And do you know what happened next? Nothing. For all of September Hitler did nothing aggressive so the Allies did nothing defensive. Perhaps Chamberlain had been right and Hitler, like an overfed dragon, was now appeased by the hearty chunk of Europe he had already consumed.

And do you know what happened in October? Nothing. Then, November, December, January, March, and April all ticked by, uneventfully (although Norwegians would rightly decry my definition of “uneventful”). Compared to what had been anticipated after the First World War, all was quiet on the Western front.

In France Edward Daladier was given near dictatorial wartime power to conscript labor, but he elected not to. Factories that could have been making ammunitions, still cranked out civilian consumer goods, food remained un-rationed, as did gasoline, ski slopes were reopened to tourists and the Cote D’Azure resorts and night clubs in Paris were soon back in full swing. French soldiers were even granted leave to go home until they were needed.

sandbags in londonIn London, well into 1940, idle soldiers were seen napping on deck chairs in Hyde Park and casually feeding the ducks. King Lear was still on show. The Times newspaper had nothing to report about the war and turned it’s attention to the return of migrating swallows and cuckoos to the British Isles.

Alfred Duff Cooper made his fatuous announcement to an American audience that Britain and France had, “found a new way to make war without loss of human life.”  One unpopular Cassandra was Winston Churchill, who passionately warned the Allies not to be lulled into a false sense of security.

And then, one day in May 1940, after nine months of almost no action… something ominous occurred in London: the sandbags, which had fortified the walls of government buildings, all began spontaneously to burst.

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I’m no Scrooge. I don’t object to draping tinsel, jetting off Christmas e-cards, or singing inane jingles about jingling bells. I trust that my family understands that–pagan roots aside–the plastic conifer in our living room is not a subtle mark of our allegiance to the forces of darkness. It’s just a (model of a) tree.

We do, however, prefer singing “Hark the Herald Angel Sings” over the misdirected praise of “Oh Christmas Tree,” though I’m not even fanatic about enforcing that.

We tolerate the poetic inaccuracy of “We three kings of Orient are” because it rolls off the tongue better than “We indeterminable number of Gentile scholars of Persia are.”

But… I am nervous about the potential confusion which may cloud a four-year-old’s faith in my honesty. 

Angels on high, a pregnant virgin, God in a manger, a guiding star… are impossibilities. Yet, “all things are possible with God.” [Yes, you need to believe in the virgin birth to be a ChristianWe ask our children to trust us on these claims, with their lives. Then we add a fictitious, omniscient fat guy with a red-nosed reindeer to the mix. At a certain age we matter-of-factly disclose that we were just kidding about the chimney intrusion, the Elven workshop, and the works-based naughty-or-nice judgment. “Those parts are make-believe, the rest is gospel truth. Trust me, son.”

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yoke1The “L” word. It’s one of the ugliest of all words: legalism. Defined as the idea that we can earn right standing with God, it does violence to the glorious gospel of Christ. It says, “No, sorry, it’s not enough,” to the substitutionary atoning work of Christ. It confuses the way to forgiveness, it tarnishes the gospel of grace, it lays up heavy burdens that no one can carry, it crushes hope, and fuels despair. It declares that man possesses finesse to propitiate the just wrath of God due our sin. For that, legalism is deadly and must be opposed at every level. Paul called it another gospel whose proponents are condemned (Gal 1:8-9).

Consequently, labeling something/one legalistic ought to be done with caution. To bring the charge is to say that this thing or person is in danger of propagating an unsavable system and trampling the cross of Christ. So if we label something legalistic, we better thoroughly understand the gospel, the definition of legalism, and what exactly is happening with what we are labeling as legalistic. Otherwise, we are sinning by erroneously labeling something in opposition to the cross of Jesus Christ.

Even so, the legalism card often gets overplayed. More and more I’ve interacted with Christians humbly and faithfully working out their salvation with fear and trembling, only to have the legalism card slapped on them. As such, they’re being fallaciously warned about legalism boogeymen. There are many I’ve heard of lurking in Christendom.

Looking Under BedHere are 5 all-too-common legalism boogeymen we need to shoo away:

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One balmy Summer day in 1997 Rita Rupp (57) from Tulsa Oklahoma, was on a lengthy road trip with her husband Floyd (67). For no reason in particular, she began to sense that they may be in danger. She started thinking, ‘What if someone hijacks our car and kidnaps us? No one even realize we’re missing for days, and no one would come looking for us.’ So she hatched a plan.save me

Rita wrote a note, just in case she got kidnapped. She scrawled the note in appropriately distressed handwriting, “Help I’ve been kidnapped. Call the Highway Patrol.” She also supplied her name and a helpful description of the van they were driving.

This eccentric emergency plan would actually have proven to be a pretty good idea in the event that at some point she had actually been kidnapped, and managed to dispatch the note before being incapacitated.

At the idea was rather harmless, albeit a bit quirky. Except for one unforeseen eventuality. Mrs Rupp’s paranoia would have remained her private problem if on a bathroom break at a gas station the note hadn’t inadvertently dropped out of her handbag. Oops.

A conscientious attendant found the alarming note and quickly notified the authorities who then immediately issued alerts, mobilized patrol vehicles, and set up road blocks in four states. (Here is the New York Times article that proves I’m not making this up).

All the while, Mr and Mrs Rupp were cruising along to their destination, blissfully unaware of the multi-agency, national rescue operation that been launched to save them.

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November 19, 2013

Help with holiness

by Steve Meister

We must be holy, because this is the one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world [2 Cor 5:15Eph 5:25-26Titus 2:14]… Jesus is a complete Saviour. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, He does more – He breaks its power (1 Pet 1:2Rom 8:29Eph 1:42 Tim 1:9Heb 12:10).

 J.C. Ryle, Holiness

I’ve recently preached a mini-series on holiness for our congregation (audio here). We began with Lev 10:1-11 and 1 Cor 6:9-11, and concluded with Heb 12:1-14.

After being a Christian for nearly 20 years, I can unfortunately say that personal holiness has not been a topic that’s received great emphasis in the churches and ministries with which I’ve been in fellowship. In Rediscovering Holiness, J. I. Packer points to the same reality.

Packer identifies 3 evidences that Christians today evidently do not think personal holiness is very important:   Continue Reading…

ET and the MoonI always thought Halloween was delightful and charming. I guess I always knew deep down that it had scary roots—either something to do with ghouls and witches, or Catholic holidays. But the freckled, buck-teeth kids interrupting my important sitcom watching hardly seemed sinister. I confess that, I actually found it quite charming to be greeted by the Smurfs, glow-worms, princesses, Darth Vaders,  and other beguiling alter-egos salivating on my welcome mat.

Little did I know how dastardly this holiday was. Like a razor blade in a Snickers bar, Satan had impregnated my spiritual life with his malicious influence.  How naïve I was to think I could glorify God and enjoy a cultural holiday at the same time. But I’ve been enlightened.

I’m grateful for the plethora of e-mails and blogs I encountered last week that warned me of the noxious effects of  Halloween. Who knew that what erstwhile druids touted as flagrant demonic wickedness would one day evolve into something so deceptively cute and harmless.

It piqued my curiosity that perhaps there were other apparently harmless days that were laced with esoteric dangers. Since most of the helpful anti-Halloween rhetoric emphasized the poisonous roots from which the holiday sprang, I began my detective work in the same place—the origins of benign days.  To my horror I discovered a day more insidious than Halloween: Mondays!

It turns out that the roots of Monday are as pagan as you can imagine!

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The New Testament often describes the church as a building. Jesus is the “living stone” that makes our foundation, but all believers are also “living stones…being built up as a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5).

Paul uses this same metaphor and stresses the progressive nature of it. He writes that believers are “built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph 2:20). But then he notes that, “the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (v. 21-22).

building prjoect

In other words, the work is on going. We ARE being built…right now the work is continuing. And if the church is an ongoing building project, that affects the way pastors view their work. In fact, this is exactly Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 3:9-14). The work is ongoing, and that should seriously affect the way pastors view their work.

Here are eight brief ways the building metaphor should affect how church leaders view their ministry:   Continue Reading…

September 27, 2013

The Minister as Waiter

by Mike Riccardi

Reposted from August 26, 2011.

In Acts 6, we find that famous passage in which the occasion comes for the Apostles to designate the priorities of the Christian ministry. The twelve make it known to the congregation that, above all other ministerial responsibilities and worthy pursuits, they will devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Ac 6:4).

The Greek word translated “ministry” in that passage is diakonía. It comes from the verb diakonéō, the normal New Testament verb that is translated, “to minister.” While it eventually takes on the more technical connotation of what we think of as “Christian ministry,” its most basic meaning is to serve. In fact, it’s used this way in the very same passage. In Acts 6:1 we’re told of the problem that prompted the Apostles’ response: the widows of the Hellenistic Jews “were being overlooked in the daily serving (diakonía) of food.”

And the word is used in this most basic sense frequently throughout the gospels.

  • Peter’s mother-in-law began ministering (diakonéō) to Jesus after He healed her. What was her ministry? The NASB says, “…she got up and waited on Him” (Mt 8:15, NASB).
  • Similarly, the alert slave waiting for his master’s coming is said to wait on (diakonéō) his master and his guests (Lk 12:37, NASB).
  • In Luke 17:8, the “unprofitable servant,” who is not thanked for doing his duty, is said to serve (diakonéō) his master while he eats and drinks.
  • Finally, Martha complains to Jesus about Mary leaving her “to do all the serving (diakonéō) alone” (Lk 10:40), which of course included the practical preparations for Jesus’ visit to their house (see also John 12:2). Here again, ministry takes on this connotation of waiter- or waitress-like service.

If we seek to follow in the Apostles’ footsteps in devoting ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word of God, we must adopt the attitude of a diákonos in the various contexts of the Christian ministry. The biblical shepherd is to be a servant—a waiter who supplies the food of the Word of God appropriately according to the various hunger pangs of the flock that Christ has entrusted to him.

As I reflect on the implications of this illustration of the minister as waiter, I find that there are some really insightful parallels between the pastor and the waiter. Here are five of those.

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