Friday, November 29, 2013

"Liberty for Captives" and Stephen A. Smith

Watch out for this guy. In a good way. Watch out for him like you would a deep discount at Macy's. Watch out for him like you would a trooper on the highway. Watch out for him like your impending cruise to Alaska. Watch out for him like an article that seals your doctoral research. His name is Stephen A. Smith. He is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.) and he writes at a blog entitled Liberty to the Captives. A  recent article of his entitled The Myth of Biblical Manhood has turned a great deal of attention his way. Rarely will you read a writer that combines world history, wit and humor, as well as a profound commitment to the truth of Scripture. Watch out for the writings of Stephen A. Smith. He has a bright future and I think his blog is a temporary way station until he gets on the book train. The sooner the better!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lord, Be Thou My Vision: A Thanksgiving Poem

The Bible says, “In everything give thanks,”
but this is hard for me if I may be frank.
In my life right now there’s so much tension,
for it to happen, “Lord, Be Thou My Vision.”

Luther once cried “this world with devils filled,”
which knowledge seems to take away the will
for me to accept my “giving thanks” mission.
So again I ask, “Lord, Be Thou My Vision.”
The darkness hides from me Your smiling face.
Pressing on for me requires amazing grace.
I cannot see good with any precision,
and this is why “Lord, Be Thou My Vision.”

Your power and love to me please show,
and grant that I will be able to know,
when I make a “thanks giving” decision
I’m experiencing “Lord, Be Thou My Vision.”

So I pause and choose to give thanks today,
and join with my family and friends to say.
“We trust in Your gracious supervision,
for You have become our Thanksgiving vision.”

Wade Burleson

Monday, November 25, 2013

Coach Gundy, There Is No Good Reason for You to Muzzle Clint Chelf

I'm in the people business. I make my living by communicating with others. For over two decades I've been a pastor in Enid, Oklahoma. Most of the church members where I work are Oklahoma State Cowboy fans. I've been a life-long Oklahoma Sooners fan, having a grandfather who played for OU back in the early 30's. But for the past four seasons I've been a very big Oklahoma State Cowboy fan because of the Chelf family; Randy and Donna Chelf, their OSU football playing sons Clint and Colton Chelf, and their OSU basketball playing daughter Courtney.

Colton and Clint Chelf, brothers from Enid, Oklahoma, have been friends of two my sons since grade school. They've played sports together, both football and basketball, and have many shared memories. Colton Chelf graduated from Enid High School with my son Kade in 2007. Clint Chelf graduated from Enid High School with my son Boe in 2009. During Clint's senior season at Enid High School, he threw a few touchdown passes to Boe Burleson. We knew Clint was a special football player before any of the coaches at Oklahoma State University did.

As for my wife and me, we knew the Chelf boys' parents better than the boys. Randy and Donna Chelf invested their lives in their kids and spent a great deal of time helping us with our kids. Randy coached my son Kade in basketball from the 3rd grade through the 8th grade. He coached my son Boe in football during the 5th and 6th grades. I can't count the number of occasions that Randy and Donna cared for our boys--transportation, meals, general watch care--when Rachelle or I could not make weekend athletic tournaments. The Chelfs are good people, northwestern Oklahoma salt-of-the-earth kind of people. Randy and Donna trained their boys, as well as their star basketball playing daughter Courtney, to give it their best at all times on the athletic field. Don't complain. Don't quit. Persevere during trials. Focus on doing everything you do with excellence. What they taught their kids bled over to my kids.

Clint Chelf listened to his dad and mom. You would be hard-pressed to find a more humble football player in the NCAA today. Last week Clint won National Player of the Week for his performance against Baylor. Not Big 12 player of the week, NATIONAL player of the week. Boe and I were at the game courtesy of some friends who gave us their season tickets because they had to be out of the country. I told Randy Chelf that I've never seen more accurate passing at any level, college or professional, than Clint's passing last Saturday night. It was a great night for Cowboy fans.

Clint Chelf played outstanding last year as well, particularly when one realizes the coaches relegated him to the third team and it was only after injuries to the two players in front of him that allowed Clint to play at all. Once a starter in 2012, Clint almost single-handedly beat Oklahoma. After Clint graduated from OSU in May of 2013, he could have transferred to any NCAA school without penalty. Clint had one more year of football eligibility. However, the OSU coaches made sure to tell Clint and the public that he was OSU's #1 quarterback going into this season. Clint chose to stay. Strangley, just TWO SERIES into the opening game of the 2013 season, Coach Gundy pulled Clint Chelf. It looked to this observer like that was a planned move. Though others were pretty upset, I just figure coaches have their reasons for player personnel decisions.

I lost some respect for Coach Mike Gundy for another reason.

Coach Gundy has silenced Clint Chelf. He's muzzled him. He has prohibited Clint from speaking to the media since he became the starter. Clint Chelf is one of the most articulate young men you will ever meet. Clint Chelf is also one of the most loyal young men you'll ever want on your team. Clint has fought through more adversity at Oklahoma State University than any other football player on the team. He has given 100% and never complained, even when others couldn't understand why he was not playing. He's given Coach Gundy absolutely no reason to muzzle him. In fact, I would say there are at least four reasons why Coach Gundy should want Clint Chelf to speak to the media.

(1). Coach Gundy won't find someone more team oriented than Clint.
(2). Coach Gundy won't find someone more humble than Clint.
(3). Coach Gundy won't find someone more articulate than Clint.
(4). Coach Gundy won't find someone more suited to represented the ideals of OSU to the public than Clint.

Clint Chelf is a 22-year old graduate of Oklahoma State University, currently enrolled in a Masters program at OSU. I usually write about theology, history or current events, but I felt compelled to write this blog post because of something I read today - Berry Tramel's article in the Daily Oklahoman entitled Coach Mike Gundy Cost's Clint Chelf a Memorable Moment." I was shocked after reading how Coach Gundy took Clint Chelf's place on the set of Gameday, particularly since the crew asked for Clint Chelf.

But it wasn't just the article that compelled me to write this post; it was also the comments by readers of the article. The majority of Oklahoma State University fans were taking Berry Tramel to task for what he wrote!

Sorry, OSU fans. Berry Tramel is spot on.

Coach Mike Gundy is missing out on the proper way to handle his 22-year-old quarterback and the leader of his team.  The coach is also missing out on gaining new fans across the state, and if he's not careful, he will find out that his tight control and muzzling of his star quarterback will have ramifications on future recruits. One can understand the discipline of a player who breaks the rules. One can't comprehend the reasons for muzzling a player who has been a role model for Oklahoma State University.

I speak for myself and nobody else. But if the coaches were smart, they would realize that I may know a thing or two about people in general and one family in specific.

I heard through some friends in Tulsa that Coach Gundy is upset with a  couple of Tulsa sports writers for a few things they wrote when the staff made the decision to change quarterbacks. It seems he barred Clint and J.W. from speaking to the media as punishment for what was written, articles that had absolutely nothing to do with Clint's or J.W.'s behavior or words.

Come on, Coach Gundy!  Don't take out your anger against sports writers on your players.   It's time to remove the muzzle on the leader of your team. 

Let Clint Chelf speak.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Mark Driscoll and Janet Mefferd: Plagiarism, Tribalism and Paganism

Mark Driscoll has done a great deal of good in advancing the Kingdom of God. He has also done some really weird stuff that is at best neutral in terms of its effect on the advance of the Kingdom, and in some cases, outright detrimental. At times I have defended some of Mark Driscoll's theological views, and at other times I have called him out for his bizarre, un-biblical views on women.  There is within me respect for Mark Driscoll's ministry as well as some concerns. I am neither on his bandwagon of supporters nor in the camp of his enemies. I've read his newest book A Call to Resurgence and agree wholeheartedly with the premise: Christians should labor for the glory of God and not merely the good of their tribe. According to Driscoll, evangelicals have broken into different tribes of thought on secondary issues and wind up fighting each other rather than evangelizing the world. I agree with him. However, I am about to show why Mark Driscoll has done damage to the Kingdom of God with his book A Call to Resurgence by lifting the original thought of a man named Dr. Peter Jones and passing off Dr. Jones' ideas as his own.

In the pastoral realm, preachers often use other preacher's illustrations and outlines in their teaching ministry without giving proper credit. However, in the scholarly realm--and particularly in the for-profit book publishing industry--taking other people's ideas and publishing them as your own is called plagiarism. Plagiarism is defined as "the wrongful appropriation and purloining for publication  of another author's language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions and representing them as one's own original work." Plagiarism is not a crime (i.e. a felony or a misdemeanor), but it is considered in the scholarly world and the publishing industry a serious ethical breach of conduct. Plagiarism gets professionals fired.

Mark Driscoll is a pastor. He is not a scholar. It could be that he made a "mistake" by not realizing the seriousness of selling a book where he appropriated the thoughts and ideas of another author as his own. It could be that Mark truly didn't know how to give proper credit to Dr. Jones in his book's footnotes, endnotes, and bibliography. Regardless, it cannot be said Mark Driscoll did not know that his book A Call to Resurgence appropriated Dr. Peter Jones "language, thoughts, ideas and expressions" as his own. Mark Driscoll knows Dr. Jones coined the language, phrases, and thoughts he used as he wrote about "neo-paganism," "one-ism and two-ism," and other key issues in fourteen pages of his new book. This past Thursday (November 21, 2013) Mark Driscoll was called out for lifting Dr. Jones work and passing it off as his own by a Christian radio host. Many fans of Mark Driscoll became upset that someone dared accused him of plagiarism. However, if Christians don't call out other Christians for such a practice, what's the alternative? Do we leave it to the 'pagan' world to confront us for our lack of ethics. When the 'pagans' begin teaching us Christians a thing or two about honesty and morality, then we really are living in an upside-down world. For this reason, any Christian who believes Mark Driscoll has plagiarized another author and has the guts to call him out should be commended, not castigated.

I first heard about the Driscoll plagiarism controversy when I read Jonathan Merritt's article about Janet Mefferd and her radio interview with Mark Driscoll. Janet asked Mark about his new book and why he did not properly credit Dr. Jones in the book's endnotes. I listened to the interview three times. On the third time, my wife joined with me in listening. I asked Rachelle her opinion on the matter. Rachelle is obtaining her doctorate from Vanderbilt University and is in the process of writing her doctoral thesis. "I would be kicked out of Vanderbilt if I used someone else's thought, words, or expressions as my own without giving the other author proper credit. Surely Mark Driscoll didn't do what Janet is saying he did?" I do not personally know Janet Mefferd. She has interviewed me a couple of times on her radio show. In my experience, Janet prepares thoroughly for her interviews and gives due diligence to her preparation. I have also found her to be fair, direct, and intelligent. I responded to my wife's question by making the following observations:

(1). Janet Mefferd would never be as bold and direct about an allegation of plagiarism unless she was quite confident plagiarism existed in Driscoll's book A Call to Resurgence.
(2). Having identified herself as a friend of Dr. Peter Jones and a participant in his California TruthXChange, Janet Mefferd must have been in contact with Dr. Jones prior to the interview.
(3). Mark Driscoll acknowledges that "I might have made a mistake" (8.30) but then he says, "there is a difference between making a mistake and committing a sin" (13:13). It seems he is saying that his mistake in not crediting Dr. Jones was not intentional. Mark seems to be unaware that careless plagiarism is as serious as careful plagiarism in the scholarly world.
(4). Mark Driscoll states "most of my information from Dr. Jones comes from around the dinner table. I should have taken notes so I could have had better footnotes."  As a pastor who has had dinner with a number of people, and an author who has interviewed dozens of people for hours at a time, I find Mark's dinner table assertion strange. Speaking from my own experience, if you talk about a specific subject with a renowned author at a dinner table, you are going to take notes. It would be interesting to know how many times Dr. Jones had dinner with Mark Driscoll and when the last time Dr. Jones spoke to Mark Driscoll. It seems far more logical that the amount of material in Driscoll's book that comes from Jones' ideas (14 pages) has been lifted from Jones' two books, One or Two and The God of Sex and not from the dinner table.
(5). One of the tell-tale signs that Janet Mefferd was very close to the truth in challenging Mark with lifting Dr. Jones' ideas, words, and thought and passing it off as his own is the manner in which Mark comes after Janet Mefferd. From the 10:30 mark of the interview until the end, Mark Driscoll makes Janet Mefferd the issue. It reminds me of the old saying, "In dysfunctional systems, the problem is never the problem, but rather the person who reveals the problem becomes the problem."

My wife wisely challenged me not to draw a judgment without doing research on my own. Of course, she was right. So I bought Dr. Jones' book One or Two and Mark Driscoll's book A Call to Resurgence. I already had Jones' The God of Sex.  I read the Jones' books and Driscoll's book and was stunned. The similarities in the wording and the concepts of "one-ism" and "two-ism" were bizarre. The wording, the thought patterns, and the concepts in Jones' book and Driscoll's book were so similar, one would think the same author wrote them. In the fourteen pages Janet points out in the interview, Mark Driscoll barely acknowledges Jones, and nowhere credits him for his original ideas. For example, Driscoll uses the phrase "sex is the pagan sacrament of one-ism" - something you will not read in your everyday preacher's journal - and Mark Driscoll never gives credit to Dr. Jones for the phrase which Dr. Jones uses in The God of Sex, based on his own original research and writing on paganism. Driscoll's use of that phrase without proper credit would be deemed plagiarism among all reputable scholars and publishers. Period.

Princeton University posts on-line examples of plagiarism in their Academic Integrity website. One neither has to be a scholar or a publisher to know that Mark Driscoll has indeed "made a mistake." I imagine three things are going to happen:

(1). At some point, Dr. Jones will be asked his opinion. Being a man of integrity and character, but also not wanting to cause controversy, Dr. Jones will express his belief that Mark Driscoll did not intentionally plagiarize, but indeed, he did feel that his thoughts and concepts were not properly credited.
(2). Tyndale will issue an apology, taking responsibility for not catching the mistake in the editing process and absolve Mark Driscoll of responsibility (and indeed, a great deal of fault should lie at the doorstep of Tyndale since they are familiar with the scholarly process). Tyndale will promise that in future editions a correction will be made.
(3). The Christian world will do exactly what Mark Driscoll writes against in his book and "take sides" by clinging to a camp that either belongs to Mark Driscoll or one that belongs to Janet Mefferd, rather than seeing the Kingdom as bigger than both camps. Ironically, the plagiarism in Mark Driscoll's newest book will wind up illustrating the theme of his book! God must have a sense of humor.

Closing Thoughts

Pastor Mark Driscoll might not be clear about the scholarly way to give credit. However, what Pastor Mark Driscoll should know how to do is to treat someone who calls him out on his error. This is where he failed and this is what is disappointing. From the 10:30 point of the interview to the end, Mark makes Janet Mefferd the issue. I realize that Mark's friends believe Janet Mefferd was wrong in pressing the plagiarism point and have picked up Mark's offense and made Janet the issue. I even read a strange tweet from Justin Taylor that calls for authors to boycott Janet Mefferd's radio program. Tribalism might be a great subject to write about, but it seems far more difficult to practice.

I would like to close with why I believe those in Mark Driscoll's camp should thank Janet Mefferd for her interview with Mark Driscoll and the way she pressed Mark about taking Dr. Jones' thoughts and passing them off as his own. Janet Mefferd has actually advanced the name of Christ and the Kingdom of God.  Beginning at the 13:13 minutes mark of the interview, Mark Driscoll says the following:

"But see, what I think you (Janet) are missing is there is a difference between making a mistake and committing a sin and if I made a mistake I want to make it right. But really, if you boil it down, you are going to take the entire interview and find what you are critical of and the nail you are going to hammer so that your audience can see you hammer Mark Driscoll today. Mark Driscoll loves Jesus. Mark Driscoll loves you. Mark Driscoll is in one of the least churched cities in America preaching Jesus for seventeen years trying to see people get saved, and I was hoping we could help others talk about how their kids are going gay, their kids are walking away from church, the church is not doing very well, things are not trending in our direction, and people are concerned about how we can help them, how can we equip them, how can we love them, how can we serve them. I would rather talk about Jesus than Mark Driscoll."

Mark, I would suggest that you wind up talking more about Jesus Christ and less about yourself when you acknowledge that you did not properly credit Dr. Peter Jones in your newest book, seek forgiveness, and correct the error.  In addition, it would be wise to apologize to Janet Mefferd for treating her in the radio interview as if she was the problem. In reality, she was just pointing out the problem. Jesus said, "By this will all know you are my disciples when you love one another" (John 13:35). You can say you love Janet in the interview, but a pagan listening to it would laugh.

Pagans would laugh at your message and remain in their paganism because they just listened to you justify your "mistake" (plagiarism) and then castigate the person who calls you on it. They would say to themselves, "That Mark Driscoll is no different from us. He points his finger at us and says we are in "sin," but when someone calls him out for doing something that even we see as wrong, he won't own up to it!"

Mark, you have an opportunity to show the pagan world that we really are different.  Jesus Christ came to save sinners, not the righteous, and the "pagan" world doesn't really care to hear about our Good News when we excuse our evangelical sins but condemn their pagan sins. We are all guilty. The Good News is that God loves the guilty, not the self-righteous. Show them how to own up to sin, receive forgiveness, and move on in life.

Only then will the pagans sit up and take notice. They will know we speak of Jesus Christ without forked tongue.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Swindoll, Southern Baptists, and Infatuation with Spiritual Authority

I recently received a comment from a person who attends the church where Chuck Swindoll serves as Teaching Pastor:
"I attend Chuck Swindoll's church in Frisco, Texas. This past Sunday he indicated that the biblical way to choose Elders is for them to be hand selected by the existing elder board (slowly, carefully, with much investigation and with God's leading). He specifically called out Southern Baptists indicating that the Bible does not sanction congregational voting for elders/deacons and specifically that women cannot be elders. What are your thoughts?"
 A few thoughts for my anonymous Internet friend:

(1). The mistake many pastors make is spiritualizing the legal and legalizing the spiritual. A 501C-3 non-profit is a legal corporation. It is not a spiritual entity.

Every state requires a 501C-3 non-profit entity (like churches) to incorporate. On the legal incorporation papers the "officers" of the non-profit are listed. These individuals-- and only these individuals--are those who have the legal authority and carry the fiduciary responsibility for that non-profit (according to the state). Is Chuck Swindoll saying he believes a woman cannot have this "legal authority?" Surely not. I'm sure he would argue his wife can have legal authority. Never in Scripture is a woman forbidden from entering into a legal contract, engaging in commercial activity or obtaining and kind of personal legal authority. Lydia sold purple dye. Phoebe sailed from Cenchrea to Rome on a commercial ship (carrying in the folds of her robe the letter to the Romans).  To say that "only men" can have legal authority (i.e. be officers of a non-profit, whether they be called elders, trustees, etc...) is illogical, impractical, and bordering on the absurd.

So what Pastor Chuck must be doing is making the mistake of spiritualizing the legal. What he must be saying is that a woman cannot have "spiritual authority." The problem with Swindoll's view is his infatuation with spiritual authority. He thinks that a woman cannot have spiritual authority "over a man." Where he gets this view is an absolute mystery to me, but he is not the only one infected with it. The problem is not his view of gender, the problem is his view that anybody but Jesus Christ can have spiritual or moral authority over another believer. The Bible teaches that men and women should be "servants of all" and nobody should seek or desire to have moral or spiritual "authority" over anyone. Evangelical men seem infatuated with obtaining this spiritual authority and preventing women from having it. The problem is their infatuation with spiritual authority.

In New Testament scriptures Jesus Christ is the Head, the sole authority over every single believer in terms of spiritual life and moral well-being. Each believer in Jesus Christ (both male and female) is a priest unto God (i.e. "the priesthood of the believer"), modeling for the world what it means to walk with God. Christians serve one another, encourage one another, and help one another, but the moment somebody tries to take a position of spiritual authority over another person he or she has crossed a line in terms of New Testament Christianity. Again, the mistake Swindoll is making is spiritualizing the legal and legalizing the spiritual. The state mandates that certain people within a 501C-3 non-profit have legal authority. The true church of Jesus Christ is not a 501C-3 non-profit. The church is not a building. The church is the woman with the Spirit of Christ living in her. The church is the man with the Spirit of Christ living in him. The church is the people who love Christ, and the only spiritual authority over those people is Christ Himself. Period. If some Christians gather together corporately and start a 501C-3 non-profit, then of course, there are people who will be handed "legal authority" but nowhere does Scripture state females cannot have authority.

(2). When a "group of men" hand select those who are to have spiritual authority over "the church," a country club of men begins to establish itself as rulers of the church--an action strictly forbidden by Christ. The difference between boys and men is the size of their toys. Boys want to boss neighborhood kids for the purpose of being seen as boss and having first choice of all the prizes. Men want to boss adults for the same reason, though the prizes are different (bigger and better). This ought not be among Christians.

Evangelical men should want to serve all and rule over none. It is my view that the #1 problem in the evangelical church does not revolve around gender issues, nor financial issues, nor doctrinal issues. The #1 problem in the evangelical church revolves around the desire of evangelical men to grab hold of spiritual authority in the church. Jesus Christ said the pagans "bestow titles and give positions of authority," but He said to His followers "it shall not be so among you!" (Mark 10:43). Anywhere there is an attempt to grab authority and positions of spiritual power, or hold on to authority and positions of power (re-electing boards of elders by elders choosing elders) then you are in a church where Ichabod may be written across threshold. Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that a Christian, because of title or position, has moral authority over another Christian.

For those who use the Hebrews 13 passages to support "moral and spiritual authority over other Christians," I would urge you to listen to a message from those texts.

(3). Now I am about to make a statement that will cause some of my evangelical friends to chaff, but here goes:
"In the same manner a homosexual family is distinctly dysfunctional by having two men serve as mother/father to their children, a parental role designed by God to include both genders, so too an evangelical church that only allows only men in "leadership positions" is as dysfunctional as a homosexual marriage because gifted women are excluded."
There is a distinct feel to a church that is infatuated with "male authority." Power, control, a lack of freedom, pride, aggression, deceit and spiritual abuse are usually present. Functioning in life in a manner that is opposite of the way God designed us is to bring all kinds of pain into the family of God. Churches that allow men to continue in the belief that they have some kind of power or "inherent authority" over women is to continue in a anti-New Covenant and anti-Christ model.

In the New Covenant, Jesus gave to His co-heirs in the Kingdom -- including all who are slave and free, those who are both rich and poor, male and female, black and white -- all the riches of His grace. We are equals when it comes to spiritual authority. Jesus Christ is the Head of His church, and the notion that the church of Jesus Christ should go back to the forms and function of Old Covenant Judaism (male priests, sanctuary rituals, etc...) is totally contrary to the teaching of the New Testament Scriptures.

So... I don't know if I told you what you wished to hear, but those are my thoughts.

Monday, November 18, 2013

5 Things Highly Focused Kingdom People Do Before 8 AM

I recently read an article in Forbes Magazine that identified 5 Things Super Successful People Do Before 8 AM. The article got me to thinking about the morning habits of highly-focused Kingdom people. I've read many biographies of Christian men and women who've lived since the Reformation (AD 1519). From my observation there are the 5 Things Highly Focused Kingdom People Do Before 8 AM.

(1). Exercise the soul. Without fail, every highly focused Kingdom person rose early to set aside some time for personal reflection and reading from Scripture. A few spent their time reading the Bible for personal encouragement and discipline in the evening, but most set aside time early in the morning. "For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come" (I Timothy 4:8).

(2). Engage in prayer. There is no formula for how it is done, but all seemed to do it. They followed the pattern set by their King who "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed" (Mark 1:35). How they converse with God differs, but their purpose is the same. Highly-focused Kingdom people listen and speak to their King for His instruction and counsel early in the morning.

(3). Energize with grace. "Grace to you all" (Hebrews 13:25) is the typical beginning and ending of every New Testament epistle. Resting and rejoicing in God's grace in Christ--which includes absolute forgiveness, unconditional promises of God's goodness and blessing, and eternal, personal love--recharges highly focused Kingdom people to begin each new day with fresh mercies from God. Those mercies are theirs because of the performance of Christ on behalf of His people and not because of their own work or activity.

(4). Envision the Kingdom - "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). Highly focused Kingdom people orient themselves toward the Kingdom of God. "It's never about me, but it's always about the Kingdom." What's the King's desires for me today? To whom is He sending me? Whom can I serve today? With whom can I share Christ's love by my actions and my words? What's the King's desire for me at work? What would He have me do?

(5). Expect great things. "For no word from God will ever fail" (Luke 1:37) is the New International Version way of saying, "For with God, nothing is impossible." Highly focused Kingdom people get their marching orders for the day from the King and they go out with great expectations that God will do more than they could ever even imagine for His glory and the good of His people.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Happy 20th Birthday to Logan Wade Burleson!

Today Coach Bob Stoops and I had the pleasure of wishing Logan Wade Burleson a Happy 20th Birthday! Logan's a broadcast journalism major at Oklahoma, a big Sooner fan, and more importantly, a young man whose made both his mom and dad proud. Though she's not in the picture, Logan introduced me today to his girlfriend, Molly, a sophomore at OU. Big day for a good guy with a heart of gold! Happy Birthday, Logan!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Copycat Church

In preparing a series on the book of Daniel, I took notice (again) as to how many Christian preachers, writers and popular speakers simply copy their theology from others. Rather than studying Scripture for themselves, they act more like Masons and are able to only repeat by rote what the initiated tell them the book means. God calls us preachers to be "workmen who rightly divide the word of truth," not copycats who pass on the creed. The Bible was not given as some secret code only understood by the initiated. When the wise men came "from the east" searching for "The King of the Jews," they were neither Jewish nor wise - they were Persians who had read the scroll of Daniel and knew the time had come for the Anointed One to appear (see Daniel 9:24-27). There's profound benefit from reading and studying the Bible for ourselves.

Unfortunately, it seems modern evangelicalism has created a climate in churches where we preachers get our theology by copycatting what others say about the Scriptures in question. I never found this more true than during my study of Daniel when I realized that the phrase "at that time Michael... will arise" (Daniel 12:1) is most naturally understood through reading the text as a prophecy of the first coming of Jesus Christ.  It was only after my personal study of Daniel that I learned that John Gill, John Calvin, John Wesley, Adam Clarke and a host of other 18th century theologians also believed that the Michael of Daniel 12 is an Old Covenant reference to the future Messiah. A couple of Christians emailed me after reading my post and expressed great consternation over what I had written about Michael. They'd been taught something different by their pastors, and what I taught "was something the Jehovah Witnesses believed." Rather than engage in a discussion with me based upon their own personal study of Scriptures, the plumb line of truth for them was what others had told them Scriptures meant.

It's a given that since the early part of the 20th century, most Christians have been taught something totally different about the Michael of Daniel 12 than what the 18th century theologians I mentioned above believed about Him. Evangelicals of today project the appearing of the archangel Michael to a future and mystical tribulation period of a yet-to-be built restored covenantal Israel. Where do most evangelical preachers get their theology? From copycatting what they hear others teach. It seems to be a novel approach today to teach something based upon your own personal study.

What I believe about Daniel runs counter to what most modern evangelicals are saying today about the book. However, I came to my understanding on my own. Were I to believe that the Michael of Daniel 12 is Jesus Christ because Gill, Calvin, Wesley or the others believed it, I would be committing the same error of my contemporaries. What strengthens my belief in the correctness of my view is that the men who agree with me are those from a generation that studied the Bible for themselves. The copycat church has lost that art.

If there's anything worse than copycat theology it is copycat methodology. At least people who spout what others say about a text are attempting to deal with Scripture. Cutting edge, contemporary speakers and preachers all cut their hair the same, wear the same brand shirts and jeans, and design worship their worship services to all look and sound the same. Very few of them seem to even attempt to teach the Bible and disciple believers. You ask a modern copycat church about Daniel and they'll think you are asking about a new jean designer. That's an observation as well as a criticism. It's true our parents' churches also copycatted methodology, but at least they were also attempting to copycat theology, something of substance.

I anticipate the day is coming when modern copycat churches will go belly up. There's something awful ugly about preachers in designer jeans and shirts, living in sprawling houses, and congregating people in glow-in-the-dark worship centers during days of dark depression and civil anarchy. The only thing that holds up during times of persecution--when church buildings are destroyed by political forces, when God's people are persecuted by pagans who care nothing for the Divine, and when the future seems as grim and dark as the midnight hour--is the Prince who reigns over an everlasting Kingdom that He inaugurated at His first coming and who will one day consummate the kingdom by His second coming when the meek shall inherit the earth.

Ask Daniel.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Spurgeon on Effective Preaching

A great deal of (poor) sermonizing may be defined as saying nothing at extreme length; verbosity is not to be admired, you must say something and be done with it. "Cut it short, old boy," is a very common admonition, and I wish the presenters of this free advice could let it be heard inside Bethel and Zoar and some other places sacred to long-winded orations. To dwell long on a point will never do. Reasoning must be brief, clear, and soon done with. The discourse must not be labored or involved, neither must the second head depend upon the first, for the audience is a changing one, and each point must be complete in itself. The chain of thought must be taken to pieces, and each link melted down and turned into bullets: you need not Saladin's sabre to cut through a muslin handkerchief as much as you need Coeur de Lion's battle-ax to break a bar of iron. Come to the point at once, and come there with all your might.

Friday, November 01, 2013

My Reply to an Odd Pastor Search Committee Letter

{Note: I've gone back and forth over the last few days debating whether or not to publish this post. I do so for others since any good derived for me was accomplished by simply writing it}.

I received a letter a few days ago addressed to "Rev. Burleson" from the chairman of the Pastor Search Committee of a large SBC church in Texas. The letter, filled with spiritual platitudes, informed me of four things:

(1). The Pastor Search Committee of  had spent 'hours in prayer together' and were confident that God had a plan for their church.
(2). The Pastor Search Committee respectfully informed me that their "pastor search will take us in a different direction at this time."
(3). The Pastor Search Committee had decided to drop me from consideration and to move forward with candidates who "more closely match the pastor profile we have developed."
(4). The Pastor Search Committee thanked me for my "prayerful consideration" regarding the 'opportunity' of being their next pastor and they informed me that they had "also prayed that God would bless me in my present position" as I "advanced His Kingdom."

I laughed when I read the letter for a couple of reasons:

(1). Though I had heard of this church and my wife Rachelle knew of it,  I knew nothing about the church or that they were even searching for a new pastor.
(2). I had never been previously contacted by anyone from the Pastor Search Committee nor had I made application or sent a resume. Rachelle and I love the ministry we've been in for the past 21 years. I was not only a 'dark horse' candidate for this church, I was an "in the dark" candidate. The Pastor Search Committee, however, was able to determine that I didn't meet "the pastor profile they had developed" even though there'd been no contact or communication with me.

I thought the whole thing humorous.

But after some reflection, I began to think the letter was not quite so funny. This blog post is written with the small possibility (hope?) that members of this Pastor Search Committee, as well as other PSC Committees who search the Internet, might understand the problems with a letter like the one I received.


Dear Pastor Search Committee,

I received a letter from you dated October 4, 2013. At first, I thought the letter had been sent to me by mistake. I knew nothing about your church and had never applied to be your Senior Pastor, and as far as I know, had not been recommended by anyone. I looked again at the name and address on the letter, and indeed, it was addressed to "Rev. Burleson" and had my home address. But then it dawned on me this was a "form letter" sent to everyone you decided not to pursue as a prospective pastor. I thought about writing you personally, but since we don't know each other, I thought this open letter might be also be helpful to other Pastor Search Committees who resolve to communicate with the men they no longer deem to be a prospective pastor.

(1). If you are going to send a 'form letter' to pastors like the one you sent to me,  at least take out all the spiritual lingo. There's nothing more plastic and artificial than saying "we pray that God will bless you... in your current ministry" when you have not specifically prayed for me or my ministry. Those words come across very hollow to people whose daily challenge is to be involved in real, relational ministry. I know you may be in the habit of saying you've prayed for people when you really haven't, but pretension is a poison that saps the power out of any real or imaginary prayers.

I also realize that down the line you might actually spend time with a potential pastoral candidate, visiting with him in phone or in person, and  then once you have built a relationship with that man, you might decide to move another direction in your search. If so, don't send a form letter! Be relational. Be personal. Only then can you truly be prayerful.

(2). After reading your letter, I went and read the "Pastor Profile" that your Committee posted online. You have the same problem with the profile that you have with the letter. Both 'sound spiritual' but they lack substance. It's great that you advocate transparency from your next pastor in the profile, but the rest of it mitigates against transparency. For  example, it says the pastor must have "an unquestioned personal and pastoral character." Then, in the next phrase it says, "he is to be led by the Spirit of God to speak and act on the courage of his convictions." It may not have dawned on you yet, but it will eventually, that any pastor who stands on the courage of his convictions will always have questions about his personal and pastoral character. We live in a world and church culture that punishes people of conviction with attacks on personal character and ministry.

Unquestioned character is never a biblical qualification for a pastor.  Character is.  However, it is impossible to know if a man possesses character until you actually get to know him or those who know him well. Jesus was called "a winebibber, a friend to sinners, and an insurrectionist." His character was questioned by many religious leaders. Jesus would be disqualified from being your pastor according to the profile. I could go on with other examples, but I think you get the idea. One of the reasons preachers in Southern Baptist churches tend to be superficial is because they go to churches full of people who want their pastors to look like Brad Pitt and act like Jesus Christ. Ironically, this world never questions Brad Pitt's character, but they crucified the One with impeccable character. It would be helpful to learn the difference between appearances and reality and focus on substance and not the superficial.

(3). It is quite possible that the seven of you on the Pastor Search Committee (your names are on the letterhead) are actually too busy to collate and communicate in a professional manner, but the truth is, you are representing a fairly large church that ought to pursue excellence in everything she does. I'm sure somebody told you to communicate with all the pastors who've been recommended to you, but take it from one with whom you have communicated and had no idea he'd been recommended - "It's far better that you not communicate than that you communicate superficially." The problem with the Christian people today is that we pride ourselves in being super professional in the business world but we have no problem becoming stupidly spiritual in the church world. We act as if slapping a few spiritual sounding phrases on a church letter makes it sound impressive. It doesn't. The fact you sent me a form letter saying the Pastor Search Committee "prayed for you that God might bless you in you present position" may not bother other pastors who receive the form letter, but it bugs the fire out of me.  By the way, I'm being transparent.

(4). Finally, I do hope your committee is successful in finding a new pastor. However, as you continue to communicate with pastors, realize that transparency cuts both ways.

Get real. Be real. It's your only hope of finding a pastor who is real.

Wade Burleson