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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Much Of What I Know About Minisry I Learned From My Mom

Lillian, my mother, was born on October 31. She won't be celebrating her birthday because she passed away almost two years ago at the age of 54. The picture above was from our daughter Lia's 1st birthday party. It was the last day that I saw my mom alive; she died 8 days later. As the day of her birth draws near I want to honor and remember her with some reflections.

I was not brought up in a Christian home but there are many things that I learned from my mom about Christian ministry. Here are some of those lessons from my mom that have shaped or are shaping me as a person and as a pastor.

*Mom Prioritized People: No matter what task my mother was engaged in, she would stop whatever she was doing to answer the phone, respond to a knock at the door, and spend time with me, my sister, my father and anyone else who wanted to be with her. She was always available. Unfortunately, I can be pretty task-driven at times and see people as obstacles in my path to efficiency. Mom's life reminds me that tasks are merely to serve people not to ignore or hide from people.

*Mom Was Missional: If my mom decided something needed to be done, she would stop at nothing to get it done. Other words for missional might include persistent, determined, and, to be honest, stubbornly committed. Mom could not be deterred from her mission, whatever she decided it was. So many Christian leaders get a vision that we are excited about and start moving in that missional direction. But then, adversity comes and keeps coming. The temptation is to cowardly gravitate to the safest place, which is usually status quo. My mom challenges me to pursue the mission God gives me at all costs with unswerving commitment.

*Mom Preached Persuasively: I'm not sure how you feel about women preachers, but my mom was one! She didn't preach in a church and, frankly, she didn't overtly preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ but she did preach. Mom knew the art of repetition as she would, for example, often nag at my dad until he did the household chore she was persuading him to do. Like Jesus, she also used shocking and sobering words that would get peoples' attention, though I probably shouldn't repeat them here. But, more than that, mom had a way of communicating that she cared for you. She would ask questions and genuinely want to know the answers. When I preach to others I hope that my mom's ethos of love for people, as well as her persuasive skills, would come through me

*Mom Was In Awe of Christ: My mom came to Christ later in life and, like many of us, often struggled in her faith. Her biggest struggle was believing that Christ could graciously and lovingly accept a sinner like her. She often felt this was too good to be true. Mom found God's extravagant grace overwhelmingly uncomparable to anything else she had known. In other words, God's grace was foreign to anything this life did or could offer. How I wish that I and everyone else in the Church would be as shocked by God's "amazing grace" as my mom was. Somehow, we have this tendency to become too big for our britches and forget that "wonderful matchless grace of Jesus sweeter still than all my sin and shame" as the old hymn says. As I grow older in life and ministry, I hope to maintain my mom's sense of wonder and shock at the grace of Christ toward her.

This one's for you , mom.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Preaching Lost and Found

Last week the Beeson Pastors enjoyed a week long experience with Dr. Joel Green, one of the most notable and prolific biblical theologians of the last 10-15 years. He wrote the book pictured above called Seized By Truth. His main area of expertise is the Gospel of Luke and Acts. Much of what Joel taught us was deep and somewhat technical at times. I'll try my best to briefly summarize what he taught us and draw out the implications for preaching today.

Joel highlighted how the Modern, Post-Enlightenment era of the past two to three hundred years has had a heavy influence upon biblical interpreters. Modernity stressed scientism which held up the notion that everything can be simplified, quantified and proven objectively. Biblical theologians of the past several hundred years bought into this and tried to interpret Scripture more through scientific detachment than artful intimacy with the biblical story. In other words, many biblical interpreters have been told that in order to rightly interpret a Bible text they must go about it without letting their faith commitments get in the way. They asserted, "you must remain objective" which in many cases translated into "you must view the text with suspicion." They were taught to master the biblical text instead of being mastered by it.

Joel Green argues against this view. While the methods of historical-criticism that the Modern period gave us should not be dismissed, those methods should not take the lead in the dance of biblical interpretation. Joel suggests that Christians, if we are going to interpret Scripture for the Church, must view Scripture not with suspicion but as the Word of God. This does not mean one ignores biblical scholarship, but that one views Scripture as the Word of God intended to transform our lives.

Another major thrust of the class, and one that has huge implications for preaching, is the narrative reading of Scripture. Because the Modern period provided methods that picked apart biblical texts and scrutinized the history behind the text, the narrative story of the Bible was largely ignored. The outcome of Modern Hermeneutics was a bunch of ahistorical principles that were, in essence, pulled out of the biblical story told from Genesis to Revelation. Texts were interpreted in isolation from the larger Scripture story and resulted in sermons like "5 Principles For Being A Good Person" or "7 Ways to Spend Your Money" or...well you get the idea.

Sermons became a bunch of propositional points totally disconnected from and independent of the story of God's creation, salvation, and redemption of the world that culminates in the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of His son Jesus Christ. I have been guilty of preaching these propositional principles while neglecting the meta-narrative, the grand story that Scripture tells. A sermon that extracts principles and points that have nothing to do with the story of God through Scripture is neither relevant nor engaging, in my estimation, but merely pragmatic. And ultimately the thing that shapes the me and you into the people of God is not a bunch of pragmatic and moralistic pieces of advice that may make us a good person but the telling of a hopeful, redemptive story that is so wondrous and grand and transcendant that we are actually drawn in to it so that we are transformed by it. The Premodern Church realized this, the Modern Church nearly lost it, and the Postmodern Church is beginning, I hope, to rediscover this preaching paradise lost and found.

Okay, I have sermonized enough for now. I welcome your thoughts, especially as I myself continue to work out the implications of reading and interpreting Scripture as one big meta-narrative and not a pragmatic handbook of propositional principles that may make us nicer but not necessarily God-formed people.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Church is bigger than America

The picture above is of our 2 year old daughter, Lia, and our friend David Dasig from the Philippines. He is one of the 10 International Beeson Pastors who are with us here at Asbury Theological Seminary for the next six weeks. David and the other international Christian leaders from all over the world leave their country, family and ministry 6 weeks each year for four years to pursue refinement of heart and mind through the doctor of ministry program. We have adopted David into the Luchetti family while he is here. David is President of the Shekinah Alliance Bible College and he teaches Bible, Theology and Ministry courses at the college for pastors in training. He has a wife and two teenage kids. As we talk about the joys and challenges of life and ministry I've discovered that David and I have more similarities than differences. It is a joy to be a part of the global "body of Christ."

One of the things I have learned during my time in the Beeson Program is that the Church is bigger than America. Of course, I knew this already but I'm seeing it in a different way. While the Church in the global north (America, Canada and Europe) is in decline, the Church in the global south (Asia, Africa and Latin America) is growing rapidly. There was a time when American and European missionaries went to foreign and often third world countries to bring the Gospel, but now many of those same countries are sending Christian missionaries to us. The health of the American Church, in the opinion of many including my own, is dependent on our willingness to not only serve but to be served by what the global church has to offer us. In other words, we have lots we can learn about Christian theology and practice from brothers and sisters throughout the world.

Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from our Christian family overseas concerns commitment, or "the cost of discipleship." Many Christians in third world countries are threatened with torture, exile and death because of their commitment to Christ. Many pastors serve their churches faithfully for hardly any compensation at all. As I think about American Christianity in general "commitment" is not the word that comes immediately to mind. Some other "C" words surface like "convenience," "comfort," and "consumerism," to name a few. In other countries, commitment to Christ necessarily entails a counter-cultural life. In America, the church is often guilty of leading people to believe that they can have Christ and the "C" words mentioned above without the cost of having to live a counter-cultural, Christ-like life. It's easier to make God into our image than to accept and embrace that He made us to live into His image, according to Genesis.

Forgive me for my tirade, I'm just thinking out loud. And I realize that, since I have been a pastor for the past 12 years, I too am indicted by my comments above. Like many Christians in America, there have been too many times when I too have sought to squeeze Christ conveniently into my preferential box instead of allowing Him to shape and refine me to live into His realm, the realm of the Kingdom of God. Many in our global Christian family realize this immediately since for them to commit to Christ they must be willing to die.
Dietrich Bohoeffer: "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."