Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Pastoral ministry

These are questions given me by someone interviewing me for a class.

Why are you a pastor? What led you to your sense of being "called" into pastoral ministry?

Because I have been a Jesus freak for a long time, some folks assumed that I would try to be a pastor. I always told them that I couldn't be a pastor because I was too rude and forthright in speech to be a good pastor. No one would want to come to my church! I actually trained to be a missionary.
In 1997, God spoke to me to quit my job and to work full time in ministry among the homeless some of us had already begun. Diane and I started Anawim ministry full time in Peace Mennonite Church, which was a ministry to the homeless community in Gresham. We did some counseling, a bit of teaching and food ministry, as well as referrals. After about a year or so, Peace, as a church, determined that they didn't want to participate with Anawim any more. So we had a choice, we could either stop what God had called us to do, or we could begin our own congregation. So instead of Anawim being an outreach of Peace, it became it's own congregation and we worked as a church plant. At that point I became the de-facto pastor-- Diane didn't want it.
So, in a sense, I never had a call to be a pastor. I had a call to do ministry, to teach, to assist the homeless and the mentally ill. I also have a call to write and to pray. But I would be doing this whether I was a pastor or not. I am not sure if I am a good pastor. I certainly still am of the opinion that I am not a good pastor for those of middle class culture. But I am doing what God wants me to do.

What are some of your personal and professional values in pastoral ministry? What is important to you?

I actually have a long list. These are the people God is looking for:

 Those who trust in the Lord to provide their needs, even if their needs are not met for a time.

-Those who will give up on the American dream, but be content with what God has given them.

 Those who do mercy to others, not just to the repentant, but to those who have the possibility of repenting.

 Those who are directed by the word of Jesus and the Spirit.

 Those who create a community which encourages discipleship.

 Those who remain gentle when provoked—i.e. those who create trust in crisis.

 Those who reveal the Lord in a tri-unity of action, attitude and word.

 Those who confess and repent their own faults, especially reconciling with those whom they have done wrong.

 Those who do not judge by appearances, but listen to find the hidden core of another.

 Those who know that their wisdom does not rest in themselves, but they are dependant on the Lord for what little wisdom they have.

 Those who know that if they fail to depend on the Lord, their leadership fails.

 Those who are humble before those to whom one is giving hospitality or service.

 Those who do not seek the world or worldly means to meet their goals in the Lord, but they are patient for the Lord’s timing.

 Those who regularly wait in the presence of the Lord, listening to the Spirit.

 Those willing and ready to do the lowest tasks joyfully, knowing that humility is the means of our exaltation.

 Those not seeking titles or positions or authorities, but accepting responsibility when it is necessary and offered.

 Those who will consistently pray for others in need, so guiding the Lord’s grace to them.

 Those ready to use all resources at their disposal for the outcast, the needy and the seekers of God, so that they are known as generous.

 Those who will do whatever whenever however, using whatever resources in order to draw other closer to the Lord.

 Those who do not demand a salary, but will accept whatever the Lord offers—even if it is nothing—just in order to do the Lord’s work.

 Those who will not give up on one who is soft toward the Lord for the sake of another, but will draw all toward unity in Christ.

 Those who do not force the truth of God on anyone, but grant all the option of refusing to hear it.

 Those who will create space for, opportunity for, and desire in others to listen to the Spirit.

 Those who have experience of hard labor on earth and of hard rest in the Lord.

 Those who will sacrifice their comfort, their well-being, their relationships, their possessions, their future in this world for the sake of God’s kingdom.

While this isn't the normal definition of a "pastor", I believe that the Lord is calling people with these commitments to be in ministry, no matter what their profession.

What is one of the more difficult specific pastoral situations you have faced?

In broad terms, what do you most enjoy about being a pastor? What do you find most difficult?
(Just to let you know, all of the following is my personal experience)
It is hard to stand up to someone who is threatening to beat you, fists in your face, and not give in to anger, or give up on protecting others.
It is hard to see people give up on the Lord for their own gods that have destroyed their lives up until that point.
It is hard to tell people what you know they don't want to hear, and then be blamed because they didn't like the message.
It is hard to study for a week, a month or a year on a subject, and then be told that you don't know what you're talking about.
It is hard to be called a heretic for standing with what Jesus says.
It is hard to rarely have a moment of quiet for yourself.
It is hard to hardly have time to talk to your wife, to be mentally exhausted all the time, to go to bed each night, with your body feeling like you have been beaten.

It is great when you see people making decisions for God based on one of your teachings.
It is great to get the opportunity to baptize someone.
It is great to see dozens of people show up just because they wanted to hear you teach God's word.
It is great to have someone who you think is ignorant-- because they are mentally ill, for instance-- teach you something that you never would have thought of yourself.
It is great to have the opportunity to "set appointments" to pray and to study God's word, and no one will tell you that you aren't doing anything important.
It is great to share God's love with people all the time, every day, through both action and word.
It is great to have the opportunity to do just what God wants you to do, when He tells you to do it.

But probably my most favorite part of being in this ministry is seeing the Spirit work through me, because I am too ignorant, too weak, too tired, too impatient to do it right. So when it happens just right, I know that it's God working through me! That's the best!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Scripture and Jesus' Deity

My response to a discussion along conservative/liberal lines on Genesis 1, the Jesus Seminar and Jesus' deity.

My point of view is that the Bible is true, in everything that is significant to the Bible. However, the Bible does contradict itself in places. This shouldn't be a surprise, or a problem. We, as Mennonites, deal with this issue all the time. Jesus said "love your enemies". The OT says "hate and destroy your enemies" in certain places. This is a contradiction. Because we are followers of Jesus, we accept what He says, and assume that He knows better. All evangelicals have to deal with the same issue. After all, Paul speaks against Mosaic understanding of circumcision and sabbath. Jesus orders the priority of ethics in a different way than Moses did. We have to work with this.

My point is not to neglect any of the Scripture. However, we need to prioritize what we hold to and what we do not. I make priorities through the whole teaching of Jesus.

Sometimes, however, Scripture makes it's own priorities. Such is the case of the creation accounts of Genesis. What we need to remember is that Scripture does not have one creation account, but really four: Genesis 1, Genesis 2, Psalm 104 and Psalm 74:12-17 (although the last isn't meant to be a complete account). There are other references to creation, but these are the main narrative accounts. Much in these accounts are similar-- God creating the world through his word, and the items which are created. However, there are some things that a traditional view of creation doesn't see. First of all, the earth isn't created in these accounts. Gen 1:1 implies it, but when we get to the specifics, we find out in Gen 1:2 that the earth and the sea already existed before day 1. We also find out in Ps 74 that God battled Leviathan before day 1, which probably explains the chaos before day 1. But in looking at all the creation accounts carefully, we also discover that the order and timing of the creation isn't the same. Gen 2 has vegetation created in a completely different order than Gen 1.

What does this mean to me? That the order and time of creation isn't important to the final editor that placed both stories of Gen 1 and 2 together. What was important is that God created it from his word.

What I want you to note, however, is that I didn't get this from science, nor do I care to confirm what science said. I just don't care. But I do care about the significance of Scripture-- and it doesn't seem to me that the writers of the four accounts of creations actually cared about the time frame. The writer of Gen 1 did care a bit about the time frame, but only to make his point about the Sabbath, it seems.

My point of view of the Jesus Seminar is based on the same principle. That Scripture is important, and how it presents things are important. The Jesus Seminar comes from the point of view that somehow we can achieve the "real" (i.e. "historical") Jesus by a democratic process of determining the reliability of each paricope. I'm sorry, but this is not scientific, nor reasonable. Even Bruce Chilton, who was a part of this process, withdrew himself from it because they were more concerned with publicity than truth. Ben Witherington has written a good critique of the Jesus Seminar.

Yes, we need to look at the gospels to understand what they said, and recognize that we have different points of view. But to begin with a bias of "let's see how much in the gospels don't fit our presuppositions of what Jesus ought to be like" is ridiculous. John Meier's books A Marginal Jew is a much more historical approach. But what is better is Raymond Brown's approach of accepting the cannon as what we have and trying to understand the writers approach. We can't get past the apostles. The apostle's Jesus is the only Jesus we have. If the apostle's Jesus isn't adequate for someone, then they need to look somewhere else.

Okay, now let's look at Jesus' divinity. There are very few Scriptures that actually speak about Jesus' divinity, the most straight forward of this are the two passages in John: "The Word was with God and the Word was God" and Thomas' statement: "My Lord and my God." The most important thing is to note what the possibilities are when understanding these statements from a first century Jewish point of view. To call a man god seems blasphemous on the surface. But there are three Jewish possibilities:

a. Jesus is a powerful Lord under the Father. This is a strong possibility, because there was a sect in Judaism that accepted Moses as a "god" after he died. This would mean a powerful angelic being. (These texts can be read about in Dale Allison's book "The New Moses"). To hold that Jesus became this kind of being is basically the Uniterians point of view.

b. Jesus is the Father himself, who became human. This is the orthodox point of view, although is could be a modalist's point of view as well. This is what "in essence" means in the orthodox creeds.

c. Jesus was a powerful angelic being already, a "son of god" (as mentioned in Job 1), who assisted the Father in creation and then became human, and then was risen up above other "gods" in heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father, the god Most High. This is the Arian point of view.

All of these views have good Scriptural basis, and all of them can represent the whole of the New Testament (although I think the Uniterians have to make some leaps in exegesis defending their point that Jesus didn't pre-exist). But my point is this: The New Testament doesn't distinctly choose between these three points of view. Any of them could be true. And if we say that one is true, above the other, we are saying that something not found in Scripture is the truth. I can't do that. So I refuse to choose, and allow the NT to hold this as an enigma.

I guess what I'm saying is that we shouldn't look to orthodox theology or science or anything else to find the truth in Scripture. We just need to be careful readers of the Scripture. And then we will know what God wants us to know. But if we continually read into Scripture or take out of Scripture what God put in there, then we might as well chuck the whole thing and start with something else. At least then we'll be honest before God what we really believe in.