A Note to My LDS Friends about the Trinity

Dear Friend,

Over the past 21 years of ministry in Utah, I have enjoyed the robust discussion we have on issues surrounding doctrine and the church. More than a few of you have made the attempt to “convert” me, and in fairness, I have not been coy about my desire to see you converted either. So what I am about to say comes out of the numerous conversations about God and the Bible we have had in my living room, in my office, or at a restaurant.

It seems to me that you believe the doctrine of the Trinity to be my Achilles’ heel. You might even believe the Trinity to be the strongest argument against orthodox Christianity. I will admit that I am relying more on anecdotal experience than hard evidence or statistics, but every time a Mormon friend – and over the years I have been blessed to make many friends here in Utah – attempts to convert me, the Trinity is always the starting point of the conversation.

Let me just say that I think I understand why you want to start there. The doctrine of the Trinity is absolutely the most difficult of all the doctrines of orthodox Christianity. You have probably noticed that even those who claim to believe in the Trinity struggle to explain exactly what they believe about the Trinity. I will not deny that the doctrine is difficult or even counterintuitive – you might think it untenable. And along with that, you probably recognize that the doctrine of the Trinity is the sine qua non of the Christian faith, the point on which all other points depend. Unless we know Who God is, we have nothing.

As a friend, I want to offer two things in this short epistle. First, I want to give you a brief sketch of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity held by the historic Christian faith. This doctrine, by the way, was held long before Nicea. The word Trinity itself is found more than 100 times in the writings of the ante-Nicean fathers who date all the way back to Continue reading “A Note to My LDS Friends about the Trinity”

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Utah’s Sex Change Bill – SB 138

The Utah Legislature is considering a bill that paves the way for the transgendered to seek a legal sex change. I have been in contact with the author of the bill, Senator Todd Weiler, since the bill was first introduced. Initially, Senator Weiler told me that the bill was simply meant to provide guidance to judges for these matters, rather than allow the judges to legislate from the bench. Believe it or not, Utah has had a law in place for 43 years that about half of our judges interpret to allow a legal sex change. The language is somewhat obscure, but it is in place.
 
As this bill has progressed now through 3 substitute bills, it has followed a normal course for a controversial bill, first tipping in favor of one side in the debate, then of the other. However, the 3rd substitute of the bill, available at https://le.utah.gov/~2018/bills/static/SB0138.html, offers 3 options – “male, female, or other,” and requires nothing more than a “sincerely held belief” of a sex change.
 
The biggest problem with this bill is the risk to conservative churches like ours. Our church would not accept a homosexual couple into membership. That would violate our deepest convictions about the nature of marriage and God’s view of sexuality. Currently, state law protects our right to take this position. Of course, if a homosexual couple came to faith in Jesus Christ, we would accept them into membership once they dissolved their marriage and the homosexual relationship.
 
But suppose we are discussing a gay couple, and one of the partners in the marriage sought and obtained a legal sex change. Would the law still consider the couple to be a gay couple? Would the law require us to treat them as a heterosexual couple?
 
By conviction, should a couple like that profess faith in Jesus Christ and apply to our church or a church like ours for membership, we would make the same stipulation as in the case of a gay couple. But would the law accommodate us in this position? I say that it is impossible to know. Certainly, the legal standing would change, and no doubt this would be tested in court. Cultural pressure is already decidedly against us. I see this as a losing situation for our church and every church that takes the same stand as ours.
 
For our LDS friends, a similar question must be considered. If an individual were to seek and obtain a legal sex change, would they then be qualified for a priesthood position in the LDS church, and would the LDS church be at risk if they denied them that position? Again, we are too early in this process to know the answer to that question. But I believe that the LDS church or perhaps a church like mine would eventually find themselves dragged into court over this issue.
 
For this reason, I am urging all Utah residents to contact their Senator and urge them to vote against this bill.

Alternative Medicine, Lyme Disease, and the 6th Commandment

Thomas Ross wrote an article a couple of years ago on the Oasis of Hope.  A friend of mine recently shared it on Facebook.  Not noticing that it was a couple of years old, I posted a comment on it, and from there have enjoyed a small debate with Thomas on some issues that matter to me.

First things first, many who know me know that my wife contracted Lyme Disease about 6 years ago.  It was a life-changing event for us.  My youngest son, who is now 11, has repeated the fact that he cannot remember when mom wasn’t sick.  We have been blessed by the friendship and encouragement of many friends who have sustained us with kind words and constant prayer for us.  This sickness has introduced us to hardships that have at times threatened to undo us.  Yet we can also say by the grace of God that we are not yet overthrown.  These things have introduced unspeakable blessings into our lives that we could not ever explain to anyone.  We have learned some valuable lessons, and we continue to learn.  As we have discussed these things, my wife and I have recognized that, prior to her sickness, we were not very compassionate people, especially towards those who are sick.  We trust that God has changed us in this regard.

In Thomas’ article, I took issue with one particular statement he made:

…by rejecting the Biblically-based scientific method for unconventional “medicine” that does not work you are violating the sixth commandment by rebelliously refusing to preserve life.

Thomas has done stellar work at exposing some of the excesses of the “alternative” side of medicine.  In many cases, he is correct in his view of these things, though I generally disagree with his one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare.  I do, however, take issue with his suggestion that the pursuit of alternative or unconventional medicine amounts to a violation of the 6th commandment.

In the course of our discussion, I posted links to a couple of articles about the controversy surrounding Lyme Disease, which led to Thomas offering an educated opinion on the controversy.  You can read our entire discussion here. For the reader’s sake, I include his entire quote here:

 Dear Bro Mallinak,

Thanks for the links. I do not have time to get into a discussion of whether chronic Lyme disease is what the medical consensus claims or whether thousands of doctors, insurance companies, colleges, researchers, etc. are all part of a conspiracy to suppress the existence of the disease. I am skeptical of the conspiracy thesis for reasons such as those discussed here:

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/chronic-lyme-disease-another-negative-study/

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/does-everybody-have-chronic-lyme-disease-does-anyone/

While I recognize that this can be a very emotionally charged issue for many, the fact that blood tests evidence that people who claim to have chronic Lyme do not have antibodies for Lyme disease (or only residual antibodies from the previous existence of the undisputed normal Lyme disease), the fact that the treatment protocol advocated by chronic Lyme partisans does not seem to work better than a placebo, and other similar factors would appear to be much more likely explanations for insurance companies not covering the alleged disease than a conspiracy between hundreds of competitors who want to drive each other out of business, as well as non-profit researchers, medical colleges, etc.

However, as I mentioned above, I do not have time to discuss this matter at the moment, although I would be interested, as I have time, in reading your responses to the questions I asked if you wish to reply to them.

I am quite satisfied, though, that if alleged chronic Lyme is the reason for my alleged “overstated bloviation” and chronic Lyme is the proof of medical conspiracy theories, that my statement is quite able to stand, and I could in good conscience repeat my overstated bloviation again, as, to my mind, the conspiracy theories appear to be what is overstated, not the scientific consensus.

I trust that neither of us will take personally or view disagreement here as an attack on one or the other’s integrity, compassion, etc.

Thanks for your comments.

I do not know whether Thomas has any kind of medical degree or medical training, but he certainly has more of an understanding of the controversy surrounding Lyme Disease than most people I talk to – so I will credit him for that.  He has a very decided opinion on the controversy as well, which is not unusual for Thomas.

After infection with the Lyme bacteria, a very small percentage of those infected will experience ongoing effects from the bacteria.  The controversy among doctors revolves around this question: Are the Lyme bacteria still living and reproducing in the body, or is it simply “residual antibodies” that are present?  Doctors are divided on that question. Those who consider them to be “residual antibodies” tend to identify most with the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA).  Those who believe the bacteria still to be alive in the body identify with the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS).  Both sides include legitimate, certified medical doctors.  Both claim research to support their viewpoint, and both offer very different approaches to dealing with the disease.

In the beginning stages of our battle with this disease, my wife and I went exclusively to IDSA doctors, first at our local hospital, then at the University of Utah, and finally at Johns Hopkins University.  With each doctor, we experienced a different level of knowledge about the disease.  Each doctor educated us a little more as to what we were dealing with, helping us to understand the disease and its effects.  Each doctor recommended basically the same solution – which was pain management through a variety of techniques, including opiates, narcotics, over the counter pain relievers, counseling, meditation, acupuncture, diet, and exercise.  Through the U of U doctor, my wife was admitted to the headache clinic at the U, and that doctor attempted to treat the constant, migraine-level headache that has been with her since she first contracted the disease.

We did not pursue the meditation or acupuncture recommended by our conventional doctors.  The drugs they prescribed were very hard on my wife.  She has never functioned well with that level of pain medication.  When she took those drugs, she wound up curled up on the bed, unable to move or function at all.  When she woke up, she couldn’t stop crying.  The doctors told us to give it a few weeks and she would be better, but she wasn’t.  She reached a level that frightened me, more than once, and we finally decided that this treatment was doing more harm than good and stopped taking that medicine.  At the headache clinic, the doctor decided to wean her off one particular non-opiate, non-narcotic pain medicine, which we were happy to do.  Unfortunately, the doctor took her off the medicine too quickly.  For 2 weeks, my wife lay flat on her back, unable to eat, only able to trickle water down her throat.  After 2 weeks, fearing for her life, I took her to a doctor to ensure that she was not dehydrated or starving to death.

After about 6 months of treatment at the headache clinic, the doctor told us that she could do nothing to help my wife’s headache. This doctor recognized that the Lyme Disease was the cause of her headache, and acknowledged that her headaches were not a “residual” effect, but were caused by the Lyme bacteria.  Conventional approaches to pain management simply were not effective with this extenuating circumstance.

By this time, we had been treating my wife for about a year and a half to two years.  We recognized that conventional medicine did not have a solution to the problem, and we decided that this was God’s will – we would simply submit to what he had brought into our lives and stop pursuing treatment. At that time, we had exhausted every remedy offered by conventional medicine.

As the months rolled by, my wife’s condition only worsened.  While on a visit to my parents, I decided to stop by and visit with my childhood family doctor.  My parents have gone to him for many, many years, and continue to see him to this day.  He plays an active role in the training and certification process at Indiana University and is a well-known and respected doctor.  He graciously cleared his lunch hour and visited with us for an hour and a half, explaining more about the disease and discussing treatment options.  We told him everything we have done to treat my wife, and he acknowledged that we had done everything that conventional medicine has to offer. He visibly cried as he told us that he honestly did not know which direction we should go in our pursuit of relief from this disease, but that the one thing we must not do is to give up.  He told us that we had to keep fighting the disease.

Because we had exhausted every option offered to us on the conventional side, we began to pursue alternative treatments, particularly antibiotic therapy.  Though these treatment options have not brought an end to her suffering, they have enabled my wife to experience some of her best days dealing with this disease.

Whether those who suffer long-term from the effects of Lyme Disease are experiencing “chronic” Lyme or “post” Lyme, whether the bacteria is alive or “residual,” it is undeniable that a certain percentage of Lyme patients experience long-term damage from the disease.  As the doctor at Johns Hopkins explained to us, the greatest damage caused by Lyme Disease is to the auto-immune system.  Because Lyme Disease is such a powerful bacteria, it has a way of jolting the auto-immune system into hyper-drive.  The doctor explained it in military terms. Suppose a foreign army invaded our country.  We would send in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Special Forces, and Coast Guard to drive them out.  That is what our auto-immune system does when we contract Lyme Disease.  But as she explained to us, with some patients, long after the foreign army has been driven out, the auto-immune system continues to respond to every threat, even one as mild as a paper-cut, with an all-out assault.  And that is the cause of the constant, unrelenting pain.

The most effective treatment of Lyme Disease today attempts to kill the bacteria through antibiotic therapy while at the same time attempting to focus the auto-immune system on fighting the disease rather than attacking the rest of the body.  My old family doctor told us that “if anyone ever tells you that they have found a way to control the auto-immune system, get up and walk out of the room immediately.”  He is right, of course.  If medicine could cure a broken auto-immune system, that would bring an end to all disease.  Yet in recent years, science has made significant advances in helping the auto-immune system to fight diseases, including cancer, in our own bodies.  Some of these advances have come from conventional medicine paying a little more attention to the unconventional approaches to sickness and disease.

Of course, some in the ILADS community will insist that the bacteria is still alive, and that is the reason the symptoms continue chronically.  I will confess that I do not have a decided opinion on which of these is correct.  I will leave that to the more educated people, like Thomas.  He calls it an “alleged” disease.  My wife and I shared a good laugh about that.  Her alleged disease is allegedly causing her a lot of pain, even at this moment.

Because Lyme Disease is not life-threatening like cancer or heart disease, and because it is not widespread, universities do not invest money into research on this disease or focus on finding a cure for it as they do with other diseases.  So while IDSA doctors debate ILADS doctors on the merits of various treatment options, the patients continue to suffer.  Unfortunately, many insurance companies have sided with IDSA rather than allow their customers to pursue treatment as a free market would dictate.  In our case, we have been blessed to belong to Samaritan Ministries, who has graciously allowed us to pursue alternative treatments.  We know plenty of Lyme patients who have traditional insurance, and who are denied coverage.

One of our IDSA doctors told us, as Thomas noted above, that “the treatment protocol advocated by chronic Lyme partisans does not seem to work better than a placebo.”  He was referring specifically to antibiotic therapy.  He explained that the antibiotics work because they contain levels of Tylenol and anti-inflammatories.  The antibiotics can be dangerous when taken long-term, but he told us that if we went on a regiment of Tylenol and ibuprofen (also dangerous in the long-term, by the way), we would experience the same relief.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.  When we stuck with his regiment of Tylenol and ibuprofen, my wife experienced no relief from her pain whatsoever.  But when we began to visit a Lyme-literate doctor who put my wife on antibiotics, she experienced the most relief she has in this long battle.  Over the past couple of years, in fact, this treatment has given us the best, most consistent relief of any treatment we have tried.

Our current doctor, who is a licensed Medical Doctor, told us that for many years, his patients would come to him and say, “but Doctor, I’m not better.”  And he would assume that it was all in their head and they needed to get over it.  But the more he treated patients, the more he recognized that many of them were not making it up.  When he realized this, he also realized that the limitations placed on him by “Best Practices,” the standards conventional doctors are held to, did not always allow him to treat his patients the way they needed to be treated.

I believe in science.  I believe in the scientific method.  I believe in conventional medicine.  If you have cancer, I would plead with you – please, don’t go for all the kooky nonsense treatments that are out there.  Use the tried and tested.

But I also believe in free markets, and modern-day conventional medicine is not necessarily friendly to this.  Doctors who treat Lyme patients in particular, when they use alternative or unconventional methods, have wound up losing their licenses.  At this point, a handful of states (I think about 13) have passed laws in order to grant doctors a little more liberty in their pursuit of treatment.  That is a good thing.

I am not a medical doctor and have no medical training.  I do not have Thomas Ross’ research abilities, and I have no doubt that he can refute much of what I say.  I only know that my wife has suffered much, and as her husband, I must attempt to help her however I can.  Antibiotics have helped her where the narcotics and opiates prescribed by conventional doctors did not.

I cannot make judgments about Thomas Ross, about his compassion, or about his motivations for writing what he does.  He certainly does his homework, and he is very passionate about medical issues.  I do not say that his arguments are without merit.  Nor do I pretend to know what he would do were he in my position.  I cannot pretend to know what he has had to deal with personally as far as health and medical treatment is concerned.  Should God allow a similar circumstance into his life, I would assume that he would do everything in his power to relieve the suffering of his loved one.

Whether he would take the route that I have taken or not would be his decision.  If he decided that the conventional route is the only route, I would not accuse him of violating the 6th commandment.  I don’t think such a sweeping condemnation is appropriate.  On my part, I sometimes believe that if I were to stop pursuing alternative treatments, that may very well be a violation of the 6th commandment.

 

Trumpmares

This week’s Trump scandal of the week is that our President allegedly referred to countries like Haiti and several African nations as, to use a little circumlocution, outhouse wells.  Whether Trump actually said that or not is unclear. With Dick Durban as the only “reliable” source, who really knows. This wouldn’t be the first time Dick Durban flat out made something up about a private meeting, as has been documented here.

But since the possibility exists – and it is a plausible story – that Trump may have said this, the media is outraged.  Again.  That makes, I think, 52 weeks in a row that the media has been in an uproar about Trump; 52 weeks in a row that we have been told that this was Trump’s worst week yet; 52 weeks in a row that we have been reminded that Trump is a racist and we are all doomed and Trump will be impeached by… who knows.  The date keeps getting pushed back.  People just can’t keep their commitments these days.

Since the media narrative has been that Trump is a racist, we are happy to believe Dick Durban.  Even Steve Bannon gets his moment in the spotlight, so long as he is bashing Trump.  And this morning, I heard the latest Trump scandal – he woke up breathing.  Which I think is the real problem.

Trump’s toilet analogy of some third-world countries has predictably unleashed a stream of hit pieces on Trump’s racism.  Reporters asked Trump to respond to those who say that he is a racist.  Trump (predictably) answered, “I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed, that I can tell you.”  Wow.  Didn’t see that coming.  His answer prompted editors at The Atlantic to interview their big room of experienced reporters and ask them “Who was the least racist person you’ve ever interviewed?”  You can read that here.  Their answers are very revealing, in case you had any illusions about reporters at The Atlantic.

My favorite answer came from James Fallows, who said

Claims that begin, “I’m no bigot, but…” “I’m no chauvinist, but…” or “I’m the least racist person you’ve ever met, but…” always mean, and are always universally understood to mean, the exact opposite.

Ah, yes.  We trapped you again, Donald.  Haven’t you learned yet?  Answering our questions is proof, as is not answering our questions.

Meanwhile, yet another “big name” celebrity is taken down by the #MeToo movement.  I suppose I will demonstrate what a rube I am, but I had never heard of Aziz Ansari before this weekend.  Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of pop entertainment.  Anyway, The Atlantic also has an interesting article on the subject.

Here is my take on the larger issue.  For decades now, Christians have been mocked and ridiculed for teaching abstinence, for holding high standards – especially when it comes to “dating” standards, for preaching that a man ought not to touch a woman and that a man and a woman should not be alone together without a chaperone.  In response, we were called prudes.  We were accused of suppressing our raging sexual desires and hiding our secret fantasies behind our high standards.  Now we learn that actually, women don’t want to be treated like a conquest.

But now men aren’t so sure how they are supposed to go about this great mating free-for-all.  The girl goes on a date with a guy, alone.  She goes to his apartment with him, again alone.  She sits up on his countertop and makes out with him.  What part of “no” doesn’t he understand?  Wham-O: sexual misconduct.

And now we are faced with a quandary.  How are we supposed to know whether the green light really means “go,” and what are we supposed to do when it skips the yellow light and changes suddenly to red.

One thing we all know: the world is not about to say, “Maybe the Christians had it right about this dating thing for all these years.”  I was reading an article a month or so ago – I can’t seem to find it now – but the author was wrestling with this thing of “consent” and how to separate the stalking creep from the flirting stud.  She had some pretty convoluted ideas about these things, but, interestingly, she wasn’t in favor of bringing an end to men hitting on women.  As she explained, her boss hit on her, and she married him.  They were still married too, which is to their credit no doubt.

I couldn’t help but think about the grace and kindness of God, Who has given us His law of holiness as a mercy to us, in order to spare us from the pain of lived out horror stories.  “Flee fornication” is not God’s way of handing you a boring life in a cardboard box.  “This do, and thou shalt live.”  At God’s right hand there are pleasures forevermore.

While the world ponders what “consent” really means, Christians should show them – it means a wedding dress, a father walking his daughter down the aisle, flowers and bridesmaids and groomsmen and rings and vows exchanged.  It means wedding cake and maybe a limousine and most of all a promise – no, a covenant: “Till death do us part.”  That is consent.  And until that consent, the consent of a father giving his daughter in marriage, there can be no other.

P.S. After writing this article, I came across an article Kent Brandenburg wrote about Trump, one I wholeheartedly agree with.  Let me encourage you to read it.  I have linked to it here.  When you finish, make sure you watch the CRTV video at the end.  Very satisfying.

Blessings!

The Problem of Replacing One Sinner with Another

A pastor is a sinner who, having been saved by the grace of God, has been called and equipped to lead the people of God, preaching the Word and equipping the saints.  How’s that for a definition?

We don’t necessarily think of a pastor as a sinner, unless we had a pastor who sinned against us or fell into some kind of scandalous sin.  Otherwise, we have this persistent notion that the pastor is above the world, untouched by the feeling of our infirmities, unvarnished by the sins that so easily beset us.

This view of the person of the pastor is false.  We know this.  A church is a body of sinners.  The pastor belongs to that body.  There may be times when we are more aware of his fallenness – like when he steps on our toes.  But we know – at least in theory – that  he is in our same condition in most ways.

But in a good relationship between pastor and church, we might forget that the pastor is a man, and a fallen one at that.  For mysterious reasons, when the pastor is ready to hand over leadership and end his ministry to our church, we tend to forget his faults and promote him to sainthood.  Woe unto the next pastor in such cases.  His every move will be scrutinized and he will be measured endlessly against his predecessor, Pastor Donowrong.  Frankly, this is unrealistic and wrongheaded.

In my introductory article on churches in transition, I pointed out that when a church changes leadership, the leadership passes from one sinner to another.  This is fundamental doctrine, and should not require a detailed defense.  The fallen nature of man is as foundational to the Christian faith as the deity of Christ or the unity of the Godhead.  Why then are we surprised when someone goes off the rails?

Here’s the problem: we expect our pastors to be “above the fray.”  Some of that expectation comes from our fascination with power, and the fact that some pastors are impressive and powerful men to begin with.  Blame it on our humanity, but we tend to think that power means perfection.  Too often, we think of the pastor as if he has a walk with God not available to the average Christian, as if he had already attained.  We are shocked to learn that he even has faults.

Some of our expectations about the pastor come from the pastor’s presentation of himself.  The pastor himself may believe that he cannot ever let anyone know about his faults.  In order to conceal the ugly truth, pastors fake it.  This can lead to disaster – be sure your sin will find you out.  But some men are better than others at concealing their faults, and so the church will not be made aware of the problems in a man’s life and ministry.  This is an unhelpful reality in too many churches.

Over years, a church grows accustomed to a pastor’s faults, which helps foster these delusions about our pastors.  Because we love our pastor, and because we try to be gracious, we get used to overlooking those faults and sometimes even excusing them.

Enter the new pastor.  He has faults, the former pastor has faults.  But his faults have become part of the woodwork, and nobody notices anymore.  The new guy on the other hand, his faults are all fresh and unfamiliar, and the church notices these.  Especially if he is replacing a well-loved, well-respected pastor, the new pastor will find himself under a microscope.

What then is a church to do?

First, Keep Things in Perspective

If we enter a leadership transition looking for Pastor Perfect, we will be sadly disappointed.  Every pastor has his own set of sins that are unique to himself.  Brace yourself.  Don’t look for his faults, but when you find them, don’t be surprised or shattered by it.

Secondly, Recognize That Temptations Change

Seasoned pastors have a unique set of temptations that are very different than those a new pastor will face.  The new pastor has temptations unique to his new position; the entrenched pastor has temptations unique to his longevity.  Older men are tempted one way, younger men another.  Martin Luther has been quoted saying that a young man is tempted by girls, a middle-aged man by gold, an older man by glory.  Sometimes we overcome our temptations, sometimes we simply outgrow them.  Our temptations may not be constant, but temptation certainly is.  We are always tempted, but not always the same way.  We can expect, in a leadership transition, that new temptations will creep in all around.

Thirdly, Be Gracious

Extend the same kind of grace to the pastor that you would want extended to you.

For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

Pastors sometimes hold a double-standard.  But the double-standard is not a pastor-only problem.  Church members also hold the occasional double-standard.  In truth, the pew is often as guilty as the pulpit.  We are commanded to “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).  This means, among other things, that we ought to judge Scripturally rather than preferentially.  we must have a true standard, which would be God’s Word.  When we find fault in our pastor, we have some Scriptural responsibilities.  The Bible is not silent in such cases. Galatians 6:1 gives a general command in any case when a brother is overtaken in a fault.  I Timothy 5:1 gives a more specific command regarding pastors who sin.

…ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; (I Timothy 5:1)

These are not options or suggestions for dealing with sin in the pastor.  These are commands.  One sin is not corrected by another; nor does one sin give us an indulgence to commit another.

Fourthly, Respect the New Pastor

Respect takes time to earn.  Recognize that.  But it shouldn’t take time for us to give respect to a new pastor, even when it has not been earned.  Respect the office, and learn to respect the man.

Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. (Hebrews 13:7)

You cannot claim to respect the office when you clearly disrespect the man.

Part of respecting the pastor involves understanding his role in your life.  God calls a pastor to live among his people, and sometimes that means we see things we did not want to see.  Recognize that his battles will help you with yours, so long as he approaches his own Scripturally.  We do not want a pastor who has no conflict with temptation or sin.  Such a pastor cannot guide us, encourage us, lead us, or help us with our own struggles.  Pastors learn how to fight against sin in the arena, not in the study.

The man in the arena is likely to have a little mud and maybe even a little blood on himself.  The guy with the clean uniform at the end of the game didn’t play.  When your pastor comes out with his hair messed up, understand that he has been in a battle.  This is good.

Finally, Pray for Your Pastor and Encourage Him

Certainly, there are times when we must sit in judgment.  But those times are thankfully very rare.  In most of our interactions with people, we should behave as those who will be judged, not as those who must judge.  In the past century, we have become much more casual towards authority, and as our culture has become more egalitarian, we have made every effort to free ourselves from our obligations towards authority.  These things ought not to be.  We must act in a Scriptural way towards the pastor, just as he must act in a Scriptural way towards us.

Leadership transitions in a church become difficult when we forget this simple truth – that taking a new pastor means taking a new set of flaws, faults, and failures.  It is no good to expect the new pastor to be what the old pastor wasn’t – which is to say, without sin.

Martin Rinkart’s Thanksgiving

Martin Rinkart knew a thing or two about thanksgiving.  He was just 31 years old when he became pastor of the Lutheran Church in his hometown of Eilenburg, Saxony.  A year later, one of Europe’s deadliest wars broke out.  During the years from 1618 to 1648, more than 8 million people died in what historians refer to as the Thirty Years’ War.  For more than a decade, Eilenburg avoided direct involvement in the war, but by 1631, the war moved to the city.  Sometime in 1636, according to historians, Martin Rinkart penned the words to the thanksgiving hymn Nun Danket Alle Gott – “Now Thank We All Our God.” The next year brought the greatest devastation of the war to the city.  Thousands fled the war, and Eilenburg became a place of refuge.  But in 1637, overcrowded conditions and the devastation of war brought famine and plague to the city.  During that one year alone, 8,000 souls were lost.

At the beginning of 1637, four pastors served the city of Eilenburg.  Soon after the plague struck, one of those pastors abandoned his post and fled to safer regions.  As the death toll mounted, Pastor Rinkart and the remaining two pastors conducted sometimes as many as 40-50 funerals in a day.  Then the two other pastors died.  Pastor Rinkart, sound in body but no doubt suffering in spirit, was left alone to deal with the dead and dying.  Over the course of that year, Martin Rinkart conducted more than 4,000 funerals.  Then, his own wife died.  By the end of the year, with no suitable burial ground remaining, the city of Eilenburg was forced to dig trenches to bury the dead.

Despite his grief, in the face of such extreme suffering and starvation, Martin Rinkart remained steadfast.  He organized efforts to feed the hungry, opened his own home to provide refuge for those in need, gave away his own wealth and all the provision not needed by his own hungry family, and faithfully served Christ and His people.

The story is told that towards the end of the Thirty Years’ War, the Swedish army surrounded Eilenburg and demanded a huge ransom in exchange for an end to the siege.  The tribute required much more money than the devastated city could ever possibly afford.  Some have said that Martin Rinkart led a delegation to the Swedish general to plead for mercy.  When the Swedes refused, Rinkart turned to the delegation and said, “Come, my children, we can find no hearing, no mercy with men; let us take refuge with God.”  Then, falling to his knees, Martin Rinkart pleaded with God for his people.  Seeing his passion, the Swedish general relented, reducing the tribute to an affordable amount.

Out of the depth of such extreme suffering came a song that continues to be a classic thanksgiving hymn nearly 4 centuries later.  “Now Thank We All our God” stands as a lasting testimony to the triumph of joy and the faith of the believer in the face of hard trials.

The Apostle Paul said of the Macedonian believers that

…in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. (2 Corinthians 8:2)

True Christian joy can only be a work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer.  There can be no other explanation for it.  We do not say that extreme sorrow or suffering is necessary for fullness of joy.  Where the Holy Spirit indwells the human heart, joy will be evidently present.  Great trials of affliction do not produce joy.  They are not necessary for joy.  But they do cause our joy to shine.  They make our joy evident.

How else can we explain the way joy lifts us up and causes us to triumph in the face of great trial and affliction?  How else can we understand the way joy overflows out of the cup of our sorrows, so that it seems the deeper the sorrow, the greater the joy.  When weeping endures for a night, joy comes in the morning.  Joy outlasts our sorrows.  When pain and sorrow weighs us down, joy outweighs our afflictions and lifts us above them.  Joy is a display of the power of God in the life of the believer to give him happiness when happiness is the last thing anyone would expect.

If we can only be thankful on warm, sunny days with favorable winds at our backs, then we need to learn the lesson of thanksgiving.

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15)

 

Now Thank We All Our God

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And guard us through all ills in this world, till the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
The Son, and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven—
The one eternal God, Whom earth and Heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

Word of Truth Conference Report, 2017

This year’s Word of Truth Conference was a tremendous week of teaching, preaching, and companionship.  Pastor Kent Brandenburg hosts the conference every year at his church.  He places a premium on God’s Word and insists that the preaching at this conference be expository.  As a result, his conference is not your standard fair of emotionally overwrought sermons sprinkled with a dusting of Scripture.  Pastor Brandenburg always challenges me to think in terms of Scripture, and to bring my own doctrine and practice in line with God’s Word.  The Conference and the fellowship at the conference were a special blessing, but three things in particular blessed me this year.

The Church

Bethel Baptist Church of El Sobrante is a wonderful, Christ-honoring church.  The church really loves God’s Word.  The people demonstrate their love for Christ and each other many times over.  The conversations center on the Word, and long after the service ends, the people gather and enjoy what they heard together.  The conversations often branch out into discussions and applications beyond the sermon itself.  It is always a refreshment and delight to be part of this conference, and the joy of the church is contagious.

Apart from the conference, my son and I dropped in at the church on a random Wednesday night, and we found the same thing to be true then.  This is a church that loves the Word, loves the Savior, and loves each other.

The Lessons

This year, Pastor James Bronsveld taught two powerful lessons on Biblical repentance.  I urge you to listen to these lessons as they go beyond the normal presentation.  In the first discussion, Pastor Bronsveld explained repentance in terms of the second Psalm, “Why do the heathen rage.”  He defined repentance as a change of mind from rage against God to sorrow for my rage against God.  In the second discussion, Pastor Bronsveld answered a claim made in this article by Dr. Rick Flanders (here) about repentance in the Old Testament.  Notice especially this claim, made by Dr. Flanders:

Most Old Testament references to men repenting speak of revival, not salvation, and cannot be used properly to illustrate salvation repentance.

Pastor Bronsveld did an excellent job explaining the difference between the old covenant and the new, and then he showed that Old Testament repentance is still repentance.  The clincher came in the book of Jonah and the repentance of Ninevah.  I won’t steal his thunder.  You really need to watch these sessions.

The second lesson on repentance in the OT is available as well.

Pastor Brandenburg also taught a great lesson on the sinner’s prayer.  Actually, he kept promising all week that he was going to “do” the sinner’s prayer.  But he never did.  I was disappointed, because I wanted to see him do it…

Joking aside, he gave an unforgettable illustration of the problem for those who reject the sinner’s prayer altogether.  He stood at the front with his back to the audience, and he said, “God wants me to turn; I need to turn,” and then he started to turn and said, “Oh, but that’s a work.” You will need to watch the video to get a full appreciation – since you weren’t there.  Unfortunately, I can’t seem to locate the video.  Hopefully it will be up soon.  You can monitor the YouTube channel here.  Faith and repentance are the gift of God, and so the “sinner’s prayer,” when it is prayed, is a part of that gift.  When we trust the Lord, we cry out to Him and we come to Him.

Pastor Dave Sutton also taught an excellent message on the Deity of Christ and the necessity of that doctrine to the Gospel.

 

The Fellowship

I am always sharpened by discussions with Pastors Brandenburg and Sutton, and this year I had the joy of meeting two other faithful preachers: James Bronsveld and Chris Teale.  Pastor Bronsveld, who I discussed earlier, pastors in Toronto, Canada.  Pastor Teale is planting a church in Carson City, Nevada, sent out from Mid-Coast Baptist Church in Brunswick, Maine, Pastor Bobby Mitchell.  Pastor Teale is an excellent and straightforward preacher, and he preached two tremendous messages on preaching the gospel.  Both his messages are available on YouTube.

You will be challenged to make the gospel the focus rather than your powers of speech or illustration.  Pastor Teale knows what he is talking about – he has gone to a place where few have gone to preach the gospel, and he is seeing slow but steady progress.  His sermons are amazingly short – I say that because he says so much in them.  I lack his gift of brevity.

Overall, we had a wonderful time together in the Word, “breaking bread” at the various meals provided by the church, and sharpening each other.  I am grateful for the opportunity to attend, and I want to encourage all who read to consider taking a few days in early November next year to be a part of this conference.