Monday, February 26, 2007 Abomination!

All in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales, all that move in the water or any living thing which is in the water, they are an abomination to you. (Leviticus 11:10-11a).

It can be hard work getting through the Book of Leviticus. Part of the reading for today included some of the dietary laws which God gave to Israel. Much to the chagrin of God's people everywhere, Catfish did not make the edible list. They are, unfortunately, an abomination.

Catfish are not the only ones that did not make the cut. Shrimp do not qualify either. They are scavengers, I believe, and they are finless. And crawfish? They suffer the same fate as shrimp. No catfish fries, no shrimp scampi, and no crawfish boils.

Why would I make mention of something so seemingly insignificant? Especially since today's reading also contained the story of God's judgment against Nadab and Abihu? Two reasons: one is because I am thankful today for the little things, and secondly, it's Monday. I prefer mercy over judgment on Mondays.

As a good Southern boy and a South Louisiana import, I love fried catfish, shrimp, and crawfish boils. And while it may seem insignificant to some, I know that I may enjoy may fried delights because of the mercy of God. He has, for no other reason than that He is good, declared all foods kosher for me through Christ my Lord.

Food does not have to taste. God could have created the world in such a way that we would take our nourishment from nibbling sponges. But it does taste, and it tastes especially good here in Cajun country. My taste buds bulge with delight on a regular basis as I enjoy the local cuisine, and I am thankful that the Lord allows me such trivial pleasures because He is good.

Soon, it will be time for crawfish boils again. Each time I pop one of those tasty critters in my mouth, I will remember that the Lord allows me this pleasure that He never allowed Solomon, or David, or even His own Son. I will remember that they endured the taskmaster of the law, and that I, unworthy Son that I am, live in a time when grace abounds to the worst of sinners...down to the most seemingly trivial detail. And more than Shrimp scampi, I get to live in an age that looks back on the cross and the work that the Messiah accomplished there, when all of the promises of God became "yes and amen" in Jesus. The prophets longed to see and know the things that we see and know, and we have freedoms in grace that they never enjoyed. We are blessed, down to the clothes that we wear and the food that we eat.

So, dear reader, the next time you put a piece of fried catfish in your mouth, remember it as an opportunity for worship, even in the most trivial of things.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Adjusting to the Pastoral Ministry

I am in a slump lately, and I think its because my brain is tired. I'm not sure how all of this works because this is only my third year as a pastor and I'm still adjusting to the pastoral routine...whatever that is. Let me tell you my background so that perhaps you may understand.

I come from a long line of farmers. Up until my grandfather's generation, that's basically all my family did. After that, we moved to plant work. We're blue collar folks, for the most part. My dad has worked plant work his whole life. I think its bred in my blood. My favorite job ever was the landscaping job I had at the golf course, or the time I spent laboring as a National Guardsmen. I like to sweat when I work.

I don't sweat much as a pastor. I sit and stare alot. I stare at printed pages and out the window. When I'm staring out the window, I'm thinking of things I've read on printed pages. I also write. Alot. Currently, I'm writing Sunday School material and Discipleship Training material. I'm also writing for my Seminary classes, and sometimes I write for this blog. On Sundays, I teach Sunday School, preach Sunday Morning, teach Sunday Evening, and preach Sunday evening. We were also doing a Men's Bible Study on Thurs. which I also taught.

I'm not complaining, those things are my joys in life. But they don't make you sweat and you don't get dirty doing them. You can sit and look at paper all day, and the only thing that will get tired physically are your back and eyes. But neither is sore the next day, for the most part. My voice gets tired sometimes, but it works pretty good. (I also lead the singing on Sundays.)

Instead of being sore, this sort of work tends to put me into a sort of sleepy, zombie state. I've been in that state for the past few days. I want to sleep, not get up at 5am and drive to New Orleans. The rub is that my blue collar blood wonders why I'm tired. I feel like I haven't done anything. Thinking isn't work, is it? I'm learning that it is, and I'm learning that it is much harder to gauge mental fatigue than muscular.

I'm also learning that mental fatigue is not as satisfying as muscular. When I work until my muscles are worn out, say by laying sod, I sleep like a baby and feel good about it. When I read all day, I get cranky and zombie like. I stay dazed. And it isn't conducive to a good night's sleep.

Another thing about the pastoral ministry is the schedule...or general lack thereof. When is a pastor "at work"? When is he not? At my blue collar job, I'm at work when I'm at work. I'm done when I'm done. My time is my time, the rest belongs to the man. I can't really figure out when I'm off in this job. When I'm off...I read about and think about Christ and the Church. When I'm "on," I read about and think about Christ and the Church. Jogging has helped with this. In moments of intense agony when I can only think of putting one foot in front of the other, it helps shake off the zombie fog. I also sweat profusely, which is nice.

Finally, if you like to see production, ministry can be very trying. At the landscaping job, I could, after several hours of work, see that I had satisfactorily moved a pile of dirt across the golf course to make a pile of dirt on the other end. In ministry, I teach and think and preach and pray and exhort and rebuke and at the end of the day, I'm not certain if much changed. After a day of ministry, I often look back and think, "Well...what did I do today? I talked with some people; I read a book; I did my quiet time, and I wrote a section of commentary on Daniel. Oh yeah, I also spent time wondering if ton was an accusative singular definite article or if it could be a neuter nominative singular. The noun wasn't helping me because it is a 3rd declension and I've forgotten my endings again." Oh the days of, "Two pallets of sod. They go over there. Lay it green side up."

So why am I telling you all of this? Because Frank Turk loves where am I now posts, and because I just force fed myself Leviticus 5-8. (I know, I shouldn't say that, but I read it, was blessed by it, and was reminded of how serious God is about sin. But it was still a tough read.) And, I thought it might be funny for you to see through the window into my world a bit. For now, I'm going to take a nap. Enjoy.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Would They Perish or Not?

Acts 27:22-25, 30-31, "Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, 'Do not be afraid Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.' Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told...But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship and had let down the ship's boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, 'Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.'"

We have a very interesting scenario presented to us in this text of Scripture. On the one hand, we have God's guarantee to Paul that every life on board the doomed ship will be saved. God, in his mercy, had granted them their lives on Paul's behalf. Yet, a mere six verses later, we see that some of these men are indeed in danger of perishing. How can this be? God has already guaranteed that everyone will survive, yet Paul warns that if they leave the ship, then they will certainly perish.

Some see this passage as a good analogy for the perseverance of the saints. That is, all the men on board will be saved if, and only if, they stay on board the ship. And we know that they will certainly stay on board because God has clearly stated to Paul that all these men will be saved. However, certain men genuinely and sincerely want to leave the ship, not knowing that the only condition by which they can be delivered is if they remain on board. Paul, sensing that they are heading for disaster, warns them of their impending doom if they proceed with their plan to abandon ship. They rightly fear his words, and they remain on board and are saved...just as God said they would be.

This seems to be a good analogy of how perseverance works in the life of the elect, and it helps make sense of certain warning passages against apostacy in the Scripture. That is, there are elect people who are dabbling with things that would disqualify them as saints. Perhaps their faith is waning, or they are tempted to deny Christ through some nefarious sin, through which they would "crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame" (Heb. 6:6). Such men, the Bible says, cannot be renewed to repentance.

So then, the impulse to abandon ship are sometimes real, and it takes the stern warnings of Scripture to keep us safe in Christ. In other words, the warnings themselves serve as the heavenly means by which we are kept by faith in Christ. For example, we know that certain people (the elect) will praise and worship the Lamb of God forever in the throne room of heaven. We know this because John has already seen them there and told us about them. Yet, we also know that none of them will come to be there unless they hear the gospel. Paul makes this clear in Romans 10:14-15. So the gospel is the means by which these saints are drawn to faith, and the warnings of Scripture are also an indispensable means of keeping them there, as are encouragements!

This is why it is so very, very important that we fellowship with one another in the gathering of the local church. If you abandon this practice, you may be utterly lost without hope. But...I thought if you were the elect then you would be saved no matter what! Yes, you will, and if you are elect then you will fear God's Word and obey it, and you will get your slack self back into the local church and stop dodging it through carnal excuses. Repent, therefore, and stop trying to jump ship through lame whinings about busyness and bad preaching and hypocrites in the church and etc.

I hope that this example helps for you to understand how I conceive of perseverance. I know that this may raise some questions, and hopefully a helpful discussion may ensue.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Statement of Call and Commitment

In order to be accepted into the Ph.D program, I have to respond to some questions on a document called: Statement of Call and Commitment. I thought I'd post my responses to these questions here for your edification, and so you might get to know me better. Here you go.

Statement of Call and Commitment

1. Explain your conversion experience. Include your age, the circumstances, etc.

I became a Christian my junior year of college at 21 years of age. I came to college with an agnostic view of the world, and admitted the probability that there was a God, but I did not believe that He was either personal or knowable with any certainty. College life served to further this agnosticism through my various encounters with people of other faiths, and the tendency towards postmodern relativism in the department of my major certainly did not help make matters clearer.

It was the logical end of radical relativism that proved to be one of the motivating factors behind my renewed interest in religious clarity. Through my philosophy classes and personal struggle with finding meaning in life, I came to the bleak conclusion that if there were no God, then life seemed devoid of any real purpose. Being agnostic was no longer a happy place for me, and it led me into a time of spiritual misery which lasted for more than a year. During this time, I began to investigate religious truth claims in earnest, hoping that I might find a truth to latch onto.

It was during this struggle that I came to Jesus Christ. In a completely unanticipated event, I came to realize that Jesus Christ was truly the Son of God, and that He had truly died for my sins, and that I was completely sinful. This awakening happened one evening while I was in my apartment talking to a couple of friends about nothing particularly profound. One moment I was chatting, the next I was in tremendous fear for my soul. All the Scriptures that I had read as a sixteen year old were instantly confirmed to me in my heart through a work of the Holy Spirit. It was simultaneously terrifying and liberating. It was terrifying because I knew, for the first time without doubt, that I had offended a holy God, and I knew that my condemnation was just. After asking one of my friends who was present to come and pray with me, I went to the bedroom and begged for the Lord’s forgiveness. For the first time, I knew without doubt that there was a God, that Jesus Christ was the Savior of the world, and that I had peace through the death and resurrection of Christ.

2. Describe your family background.

(Too personal for the internet, sorry.)

3. Share elements and facts that have influenced your spiritual development. Tell about your call to ministry.

After my conversion in college, I spent a period of time wandering from church to church. For the most part, my Christian instruction came through colleges ministries such as Campus Crusade for Christ and Reformed University Fellowship. The leader of the RUF ministries on campus, Billy Joseph, helped me tremendously by discipling me and encouraging me to read good Christian books.

Perhaps nothing affected my growth more than my call to ministry. Approximately six months after my conversion, I realized while doing devotional reading in the book of James that my ministry was to teach. Specifically, I was reading James 3:1 which states, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” The Lord used that verse to convince me that I was both a teacher and that I had a strict judgment to look forward to. Apart from conversion, this was the most life changing moment of my life. Upon graduation from college, I began to seek a suitable seminary in which to study. The fear of God that James 3:1 put into my heart drove me to learn as much as I could so that I would be able to stand in the day of my judgment with as little shame as possible.

By God’s grace, I wound up studying at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary for my Master’s Degree in Divinity. The four years I spent there were by far the most beneficial and influential years in my Christian life. Through the seminary’s dedication to teaching the Scriptures and through the modeling of godliness by its faculty, I grew in wisdom and humility. Upon graduation, I was called to serve as pastor at First Baptist Church of Plaquemine where I currently serve.

4. To what area of service has God called you? What are your ministry goals?

In general, God has called me to equip the saints through the teaching of God’s Word. Specifically, the Lord has called my to discharge that duty at the church that I now pastor. My only ministry goal is to be found faithful in the day of the Lord’s return in all that He has given me to do. To this end, I have dedicated myself to a lifetime of studying God’s Word, to seek opportunities to place myself under the tutelage of godly men, and to pray continually that God will never allow me to trust to myself to fulfill the ministry that He has given me.

5. Give your educational goals. What is your reason for pursuing this degree?

My personal educational goal is to pursue wisdom throughout my life. I hope to become wise by the study of God’s Word and through the tutelage of godly people. As much as the Lord blesses me in this pursuit, I hope to share all that I have learned with others who have this same desire.

I am pursuing a Ph.D with a concentration in Church History for several reasons. First, I enjoy the environment of learning. It challenges me in ways that push me beyond what I might learn as a pastor of a local church. One of my fears is that I would grow stagnate in the pastorate, and so seminary is helpful to keep me learning and accountable.
Secondly, I have chosen church history to prevent me from becoming too reactionary. Many times we waste brainpower and energy reinventing the wheel. Most doctrinal challenges have already arisen in the history of the church, and it is likely that the questions being asked have been thoroughly answered by one or more of our Christian forefathers. The genius and piety of those who have gone before serves to both encourage and comfort me as I deal with the controversies of my own time.

Since it is one of my life goals to be under the tutelage of the godly, I find the writings of our forefathers immensely helpful. Being dead is no deterrent to instruction, and so by studying Church history godly men speak to me from the grave. I am often awed by their godliness, stirred by their conviction, and instructed by their doctrine. I owe more to the dead than I do the living in my spiritual formation, and they have never surprised me by suddenly losing their faith or plunging into scandalous sin.

Finally, I have a strong desire to teach the church of her heritage. I believe that the testimonies we have been handed throughout the history of the church are treasures for discipleship and encouragement. By studying church history, I will be personally enriched by the wonderful history of Christianity, and I will be equipped to pass on her legacy to others. Hopefully, my studies will result in more people embracing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and that others will be encouraged to walk in faith by the examples of those gone before.