Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Let's Not Let the Tragedy Be Multiplied

Mark Galli, at Christianity Today, often does a good job of looking at a news item from several sides. He usually succeeds in not only reporting the news in Evangelicalism but in bringing the story back to the all-important question, "So What?" What should I do about this? What can I learn from this? Do I in some way, I hadn't thought of before, have a part in this?  I imagine that all of you are at least acquainted with recent reports of inappropriate behavior on the part of Bill Hybels, former pastor of the mega-influential Willow Creek Community Church. I've heard Hybels speak. I was challenged and helped by a lecture/sermon he gave a long time ago at a pastors' conference on "unchurched Harry and Mary." The lecture came at a time when most of us still had not met this pair. Like many others, I have been helped by his books. On at least three occasions I have I have been involved in classes based on the "Contagious Christian" series. Hybels didn't write or produce the series but were it not for him, the very useful material would never have seen daylight.  I fancied that I had some things in common with Pastor Hybels. We are about the same age. We both pastored one church for our entire career. Though Hybels was a mover and shaker in the Evangelical world, he came across with a sort of "Aw Shucks" plainness that I admired. While we disagreed on a number of issues, I like the man from a distance. More, I appreciated his contribution. For these reasons, among others, when the "me too" movement came to South Barrington, IL, my response was, "Oh, no. I hope not. I'm going to wait for more to come out." In the past couple of weeks, more did come out, and it isn't good. In his article, Galli doesn't go into detail about all the past news. One can easily find more than he wants to know about the story. Christianity Today, the magazine Galli leads, has been out front with coverage. Instead Galli focuses on, what do we do now?
"In light of the resignation of [Willow Creek's] pastoral staff and elder board, it’s time to rally around Willow Creek Community Church with support and prayers. With those resignations, and the repentance they suggest, Willow has an opportunity to enter into a new fruitful season of ministry." You probably ought to stop here and read Galli's article (if you can't open the link below, you might find it on another site).

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/august-web-only/willow-creek-bill-hybels-pray-for-healing.html

So, what should we do in the light of what appears to be a major failure on the part of a big-time pastor, and the corollary failure of those around him? For one thing, we can learn. I hear my late Father quietly saying, "Now, Son, let that be a lesson to you." Here are some lessons Galli suggests with one of my own added.

  • "We tend to think that loyalty means always taking the side of the leader to whom we want to be faithful. Loyalty instead means doing everything in your power to make the leader not only a better one but a more faithful disciple of Jesus Christ."
    Wisely, and rightly, Galli points out that loyalty does not only run in the direction of fellow-staff, with whom we serve but to the constituents we do serve. Supremely, we must be loyal to God.
  • Frequently, when commenting on incidents like what has taken place at Willow Creek, I find myself making statements that begin with, "They should just . . ." as if what needs to happen now is easy. It isn't. As Galli points out, "Repentance is a hard and fearsome thing." Doing right is often hard. Cleaning up a mess like the one at Willow Creek--whoever is telling the truth--is off-the-scale hard.
  • The possibilities of redemption are greater than we tend to think. Ponder these words from Galli: After confirming that care and help must provided to the victims of abuse, he goes on to say, "[T]he gospel calls some of us to rally around the accused and guilty, as well. What loyalty and love looks like in each situation is different, but in the end it should be a combination of honesty and grace, tough love and tender mercy, that leads one and all into a deeper relationship with God." Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul, and John Mark, are all reminders of the reality that God may not be finished with someone just because we are. I'm in no way endorsing the express lane to restoration that has too often marked big-time Evangelicalism. I am saying that God's mercy is bigger than I know.
    For most of us, what this means is that we should pray.
  • Here is mine: While I did see some parallels between my ministry and Pastor Hybels's there is one glaring difference, scale. I once attended a midweek service at Willow Creek. I was like a wide-eyed farm boy visiting the city for the first time, only more so. For those of us labor in relative obscurity, there is a powerful temptation to jealousy and envy. And, then when things go wrong in the mega-ministry, there is a powerful urge to say something like, "See, I told you." That temptation yaps in my heart like an aggravating little dog. So far I've succeeded in telling the annoying beast to "shut-up." I'm praying that it will go out for a walk and not come back. I pray that my ministry colleagues, those who serve faithfully in ministries big or small, will be delivered as well. At this point, I can hear Screwtape's infernal printer grinding out a memo to all junior demons tasked with the ruination of those who serve in leadership for "the enemy" (for those of you not familiar with the Screwtape Letters, that would be our Lord Jesus Christ).
 ". . . encourage their envy. Your goal is to make them self-righteous about the fact that they are faithful in a small hard place. From there it should be an easy step to temp them to pride. Those who serve the enemy are sad that we have won a victory concerning one of their esteemed leaders. For a moment contrast that sadness of the enemy with the shrieks of joy--if such is possible in the underworld--if we can leverage this small victory into the far greater advance that will come if we can get many of them to become proud. The silly vermin are going about spouting the phrase, 'Me too.' It should not be hard, even for incompentent tempters like you, to start a 'not me,' movement. Make sure to plant the thought that these silly pastors and such can resist the temptation on their own. At all costs keep them from the patently obvious observation that they are fundamentally no different than others who have fallen. The possibilities cause me to sink lower and lower with delight. . . .
With Ravenous Affection,Screwtape. 



Friday, July 20, 2018

Plagiarism in the Pulpit

An evangelist and excellent preacher, Glenn Mathews, told me on numerous occasions after I had heard him preach, "Clean that up and use it." I did on several occasions, though it is doubtful that my "cleaning" improved anything. When I did I always mentioned that it had originated with him.
I remember attending a quite large and successful church. The Pastor had a national audience, had been part of huge rallies, and had written a book that I found quite helpful. I was disappointed a year, or more, later when I found that he had been removed from his position as pastor because he had been preaching the sermons of others as if they were his own.
One of the changes that I observed in my forty+ years of pastoral ministry is the raising of standards for preachers to cite their sources. Now that I am in an academic setting, my sensitivity to the issue is greater. For what it is worth, I see several reasons for the trend of greater expectation for the words "Dr. So and So wrote." or "In a book published last year . . ."


  • The internet makes it easy for others to catch you when you are plagiarizing someone else. It used to be that preachers would jokingly say, "During the first year of my ministry I preached some of the greatest sermons ever preached. They were written by Spurgeon, Moody, and (fill in the name)." Now if there is the least bit of suspicion, someone will Google it and you'll be caught before the benediction. In addition to the ease with which one can get caught, the same ease applies to one's ability to copy. On Saturday night it is a temptation that would make the serpent blush and slink out of the Garden.
  • The well-known violators, like the one I mentioned, have caused this to be a hot topic. Maybe it is just because I am old and forgetful, but I don't think so. Whatever the reason I don't remember this being an issue when I started in ministry. Pulpit committees and church leadership teams, now, have to deal with, "We don't want that to happen to us."
  • It used to be that sermons were one time events. Now, even tiny churches record and make available their pastor's sermons. 
Whatever the reasons behind the new level of expectation, make no mistake it is real.I haven't read the book, at least not yet, but I found a review of  Scott Gibson's book, Should We Use Someone Else's Sermon? to be quite helpful and thought-provoking. If you are a preacher, you should read the blog post. I'll let you know if I get around to reading the book. (In case you missed it, here is the link, again, https://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/ron-forseth-3-tests-of-pulpit-plagiarism-do-you-pass-them-1230?ref=)

Rather than quote from the article, I'll let you read it. I encourage you to click on the link to the "Preacher's Pledge." I signed up. The article helped crystalize some thoughts that have been rattling around in my head for a while.


  •  Preaching is not the same as writing an academic paper. How do you footnote something in a sermon? If you give out a note sheet with your sermon, you can put a footnote there, but not everyone will read it. Especially if your sermon is broadcast in some way, almost no one will see it. I frequently do put sources in my handouts. When I do I always try to give a very brief mention verbally, "MacArthur says," or in the introduction, "I am indebted to my friend Glenn Mathews for a number of the thoughts in this message."
  • The article points out that the preacher is dealing with more than honesty in regard to the author of the source. We also must be concerned with maintaining the trust of the congregation. That means, among other things, that our concern is not only with copyright material. It seems to me that satisfying the need to maintain trust varies from situation to situation. Some preachers are able to make clear by body language and voice that they are speaking another's words. I would suspect that a preacher ministering to a group of academics would need to meet higher expectations than one dealing with a blue-collar crowd. Maybe I was wrong, but I found that saying "Keil and Deilitzch says . . ." was more apt to communicate pride--"I read high-end books that you don't"--than honesty. Often, unless I am referring to a source that might truly be helpful to the people I'm preaching to, I'll just say, "A commentator said. . . ." 
  • Along that line, the article points out that we have to let our conscience guide us, not someone else's conscience. Just one of many reasons to keep our consciences away from hot irons. (Since this is a post on plagiarism I need to point out that this allusion comes from 1 Timothy 4:2, though the Apostle Paul has never given me a hard time about quoting him.)
I'm not sure Spurgeon said, " All originality and no plagiarism makes for dull preaching." or not. If he did say it, he uttered those words in a different era and, I suspect, tongue in cheek. The words do provide some balance to the discussion. While it may not be good enough anymore--at least not all together--I think there is still some truth in the words of Solomon. I have applied them to sermonizing many times. "There is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Or, as one young preacher is reported to have cried out, "The ancients have stolen my ideas." If I come up with something truly original it is probably truly wrong. Maybe someone will come up with a list of iron-clad (that refers to two battleships in the American Civil War) rules for when to cite and when not to--I sincerely doubt that will happen--we have to do the best we can. Our goal is to effectively communicate God's truth. We can't let extra-Biblical rules interfere with that. Yet, we must be people of integrity. If we aren't, we forfeit any opportunity to speak for God. It's harder than it looks. Maybe we can help each other. Let's start a conversation. Let us know how you handle this issue in the comments section, below.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Two Good Articles on the Church's Role in the 21st Century Sexual Mess.

Last Thursday I was involved in the nth session of an important and difficult dialogue. How does the church, how do those of us who have leadership in the church, respond to the questions of sexual ethics in the Twenty-first Century? My partners in dialogue were a half dozen clergy, involved in a variety of ministries, and from a smattering of Theological backgrounds--a retired" missionary/pastor, still very active; four pastors of churches here on Guam, but from at least three different subcultures; a military chaplain; and me, an old pastor and somewhat reformed Fundamentalist, now serving as president of a small Christian college. Theologically, the guys are from Baptist, Pentecostal, Reformed, and Evangelical churches and backgrounds. All are conservative--they take a high view of scripture--well-read, and articulate.
Basically, the topic of the conversation was the same as it had been in scores of other conversations I have been involved in with different partners, "How should the church respond to the unBiblical, in some cases antiBiblical, sexual mores of our day, and how do we minister to those who choose a way of life that the Bible labels as sinful?" My current ministry places me in the midst of young adults, many of whom have been abused by sinful, dare I say "perverted," versions of sexuality that are winked at, if not culturally sanctioned in the communities they come from. The "winking and sanctioning" includes some church leaders. On top of that these "kids" (I have a grandson older than some of them) now live in a world where they have 24/7 exposure to the sexual muck of the world I used to live in, on the other side of the pond, plus all the stuff that comes from the other direction as well. It's like they are trying to put their lives together in the aftermath of one typhoon while enduring the fury of another one bearing down with full-force. It is a privilege for Kathy and I to model what a wholesome marriage looks like, and to, whenever possible, engage in productive conversation on the subject.
This morning two articles came my way that profitably continued the conversation.
Joe Rigney posted an article at Mere Orthodoxy, "Today’s World Would Not Be Strange to Paul: On Church Discipline." His article is mainly a critique of a post by Wesley Hill, a name that came up in my conversation last Thursday (though I mistakenly called him "Wesley White), "FIVE THESES ON CHURCH DISCIPLINE." I encourage you to read Hill's article first and then read Rigney's reaction to it.*
Knowing, though that many of you won't read the articles, I share a few comments below. My hope is that they will encourage you to read the articles.

Here are Hill's Five Theses:
  1. There is no singular biblical model of church discipline, and our obedience to what the New Testament teaches in this regard must be an imaginative, metaphor-making obedience.
  2. Church leaders must face the fact of their own complicity in the moral failings of those under their care.
  3. The complexity of our post-Sexual Revolution cultural moment should lead us to expect that many “conversions” to a scriptural view of sex and marriage will be gradual and halting.
  4. Church discipline in Anglicanism should be treated as a largely forgotten practice in need of rediscovery, rather than a possession being intentionally neglected.
  5. In our slow recovery of the practice of church discipline, we must remember the aim of discipline: the forgiveness of sins.
#1 is primarily a matter of exegesis. I'll leave it for another day. Rigney has some thoughtful comments on this aspect of the discussion.
I was most interested in #s 2 & 3. 
#2 is true beyond any doubt. Some church leaders, being so desperate for a place at the cultural table, have become exegetical contortionists, excusing, and even embracing what scripture condemns. Others by their proverbial ostrich stance, teach and act like a traffic cop at a wreck, "Move along, there's nothing to look at, here." Still others by their lack of compassion, and failure to accurately reflect what Scripture really says, are like straight men for those who proclaim a new version of sexuality. A good straight man makes it easier for the other guy to deliver his lines effectively.
In particular, Hill points to the lack of clear winsome teaching on sexuality.
One of the details in 1 Corinthians 5 that has struck me with more and more force in recent years is how Paul not only counsels the Corinthian Christians to hand over the sexually immoral man in their midst to Satan (i.e., excommunicate him, in the hopes of his eventual restoration) but also stresses their collective failure in handling the situation in a godly way. Immediately after naming the presenting problem, Paul rounds on the church as a whole: “[Y]ou are arrogant! … Your boasting is not a good thing” (5:2, 6). In context, Paul is accusing the Corinthians of hypocritical pride in their spiritual status when they can’t even muster the moral will to confront the flagrant immorality of one of their congregants. But his point seems to me to have a wider significance. It highlights the fact that no individual sin is truly individual. We are all implicated in one another — or, to use Paul’s organic metaphor, we are members of the same body (Rom. 12:5) — and one person’s disobedience can affect the community, just as the community’s disobedience can affect an individual.
This strikes me as incontrovertibly true.

#s 3 & 5 mark the overall tone of Hill's article, as well as his book*. We on the conservative end of Christianity need this counterbalance.
Concerning #4, I'll let my Anglican friends sort their own laundry. I would say in general, though, concerning this one, that it has to be put next to #2. When we adopt the ostrich stance we are not innocent.

I think last Thursday I gave my version of one of Rigney's points. "If you bought the Apostle Paul a suit of 21st Century clothes, gave him a Star Trek universal translator, and dropped him in San Francisco, as soon as he figured out how to ride the trolley, he'd feel pretty well at home. While I don't think Hill is guilty of this, he does lean more in this direction more than I'm comfortable with. One of the tendencies in our day is for exegetes to adopt a stance toward the Biblical text that sees it as so culturally embedded that it loses any relevance to any cultural situation beyond the one immediately addressed in the text. Good Biblical hermeneutics demands that we respect the cultural setting. Yet, it appears to me that when we consider that Holy Spirit is the coauthor of scripture, and that He oversaw (sees) the preservation of Scripture (canonicity), that we can conclude that there are timeless, transcultural truths and ethical standards contained in the Bible. I maintain that a Biblical view of marriage and sexuality is one of those universals. Hill agrees with that, but he gives a greater level of sympathy to those who take the other side, than I or, it would appear, Rigney.**

____________

*Several years ago, when I and a fellow pastor were working on a series on how the Bible defines marriage, I read  Hill's book, Washed and Waiting. It did a great deal to help me understand the questions, not only intellectually, but empathetically, something that is hard for we "straight" oriented types. I hadn't heard from Hill recently. Though I am somewhat disappointed that he is no longer a Baptist, I am pleased that his orientation toward how to handle homosexuality is still the same. I encourage anyone who is studying deeply on 21st Century sexuality to read his book. Here is a review that will give you an idea of what Hill has to say, http://www.bloggingtheologically.com/2010/11/09/book-review-washed-and-waiting-by-wesley-hill/.
I'm not familiar with Joe Rigney. I do appreciate the way he interacts with his friend in this article.

** This article by Robertson McQuilkin and Bradford Mullen speaks to this issue, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/40/40-1/40-1-pp069-082_JETS.pdf.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Some thoughts at the death of a great evangelist and evangelical, from an, at least somewhat, reformed Fundamentalist:

I just heard the News that Billy Graham died. I am sad that a man of his stature has departed, but then, in reality he has not been the force in Christendom, that he once was, for some time, now. From all I heard over the last few years, he has been but a fragile shell of the man he once was. His dear wife, Ruth, died some years ago. A long time ago I read a book Dr. Graham wrote about heaven. I rejoice at his transition; now he can check things out to see how much of his book is right.
As far as my spiritual upbringing, I grew up a Fundamentalist. I am thankful for my heritage. Men like my pastor in my formative years, Rev. Eugene Marsceau, who later became my father-in-law, the President of Appalachian Bible Institute, Dr. Lester Pipkin, my Theology prof. Dr. Joseph Pinter, and my pastor during the last two years of my college career, Rev. Victor Decker were/are all Fundamentalists. All of them were gentlemen. Though Lester Pipkin was one of the strongest, most effective preachers I ever heard, and all of these men were men of strong conviction, none of them had the fire-breathing, eat-nails-for-breakfast-and-spit-out-tacks-at-lunch persona for which Fundamentalists are famous. All of them were but one generation removed, though, from the Fundamentalist battles of the early and mid-20th Century. For them, to be called an “Evangelical” was not a good thing. To be called a “Neo-Evangelical” was even worse. Graham was both. At the famous (in my circles) Madison Square Garden Crusade, he sold out his more conservative comrades. At least that was the view in my camp. They wanted to maintain a higher degree of doctrinal purity. Graham, and his core associates, wanted to be as inclusive as possible to gain a broader hearing for the Gospel. (You can do your internet search to read the history.) Fundamentalism never forgave Graham. Graham not only continued on to become the most prominent, widely-heard evangelist in the history of the church, he also became the visible representative of the Evangelical movement.
I remember early in my pastoral ministry, The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was holding a Crusade in a city not far from my home. A delegation from Bob Jones University, at the time a bastion of militant Fundamentalism and a school where Graham was once a student, set up a picket line outside the auditorium where the crusade was being held. I was impressed with Billy Graham’s humanity when I heard that he quoted Dr. Bob, Bob Jones I, “If a hound dog is howling for Jesus, I’m on the hound dog’s side.” I suppose that became my statement about the matter. I didn’t and still don’t agree with all the decisions the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has made over the years. There were times when Evangelist Graham reached too far in his attempt to be inclusive. Still Graham preached the John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 15, Romans-Road Gospel. I knew people who had clearly come to know the Lord through his ministry. I might not be able to offer wholehearted support for everything, but I sure didn’t want to oppose what God was doing through Billy Graham. I wasn’t alone in my discomfort about “Fundamental” opposition to Graham.
I’m guessing it was about 30-35 years ago. Another Billy, a good pastor friend of mine, and I attended a pastor’s meeting with an old Fundamentalist warhorse evangelist, who was holding meetings at my friend’s church. After the meeting, we sat for maybe two hours in my van and talked. That two-hour conversation was the equivalent of a semester of 20th Century Evangelical/Fundamentalist church history. Our older companion was close enough to Graham that they still exchanged Christmas cards. Rev. John was well aware of the Madison Square Split that had taken place between Graham and those who objected to his inclusiveness.  Rev. John remained firmly on the side of those who felt the famous evangelist had gone too far. Yet, Rev. John was convinced that Billy Graham was a man that God had greatly used, and was using. He told a story about being on the platform in a meeting where Graham was preaching. He was not impressed. He leaned over and whispered a comment to the person sitting next to him, “This isn’t going anywhere.” Almost as soon as the comment was made, Rev. John said a change took over the meeting which he could only explain as the power of the Holy Spirit. I thought it was a statement of rare transparency. Here was a man of God who concluded that Graham was wrong, yet was convinced that the hand of God was on him. When those who differ with you praise you, that is powerful praise.
 That lesson, about being on the side of the canine who howls for the Lord is but one of the lessons I learned from Billy Graham’s long an effective career. He helped me see that one is contaminated not only by what one approves but also by what he opposes.
·         One cannot look at the evangelist from a farm family in North Carolina and not believe that God can accomplish great things through a life given to Him. Several years ago I read Graham’s autobiography, Just As I Am. Not only did it help me make sense of Rev. John’s history lesson, it bore eloquent witness to the old adage that “the chief ability is availability.”
·         Billy Graham was the gold-standard in ministry purity. He lived through the era when many notable pastors, evangelists, and leaders in Christian ministry brought shame to the cause of Christ. He was like Job, “Have you considered my servant Billy?”
·         As one who is at the far end of his ministry, I think Graham, by and large, set a good example for aging and stepping out graciously. There were a few times when in later years he said some things that caused some of us to wonder, mostly, though, he was content to let others be out front, while he stayed in the background where the ravages of aging had compelled him to sit.

I didn’t know the famous evangelist, but seeing him from afar has not only caused me to rejoice in what he did, but to be thankful for the impact his ministry had on me. I’m confident that he was greeted in heaven with a “Well done.”

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Culture We Need to Resist Is Not Just on the Outside

I was privileged to speak in chapel at Pacific Islands University this past week. Perhaps the message will be posted online. We are working on doing that. I'll let you know when we succeed. To get back to my point, I spoke on A Plan For Counter-cultural Living. I was only able to scratch the surface. I'm hoping to flesh out my thoughts and post them on this blog.
For now, let me just say that our Christian sub-culture is as great a, if not a greater culture than the secular cultures in which we find ourselves. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus was primarily confronting the religious culture of First-Century Israel, a culture that grew out of the truth that came from God's words delivered to Moses on Sinai. Here is a brief video by Michael Hizer that highlights the need for Biblical Christians to not just resist the cultural pressures from outside the church, but those from within, as well.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A paradigm for thinking Theologically and with Biblical practicality:

Jake Meador writes an interesting and thought provoking article over at Mere Orthodoxy. He is entering into a debate raised by John Piper about whether women should teach at seminaries. I haven't looked into the debate beyond Meador's comments so I won't go there, other than to say, while I am a complementarian and believe the Bible teaches that the leadership within the church should be male, I don't have a problem with women teaching in seminary.
What I particularly like about Meador's article is that he endorses a plan for "doing Theology and, since all good Theology should be practical, making decisions about life and ministry. The following paragraph captures this concept. 
When Paul is explaining his understanding of men and women in his epistles, he always appeals to creation, toward a natural order that exists in the world and reflects the truths he is presenting. He notes that man was made before woman in 1 Timothy 2 and in 1 Cor. 11 he argues that man is the glory of God and woman the glory of man, which suggests something about natures and which will apply in more directions than just a narrow list of clear biblical commands about a few particular arenas. This emphasis echoes the creation account in Genesis, of course, which goes to great lengths to emphasize the differences between men and women. Thus these differences are not a thing that can be safely confined to a small range of issues. They are, rather, hardwired into creation and thus must be acknowledged as having universal import.
At this point, I'm not arguing for the specific point that Piper (and perhaps Meador) is making. What I am advocating is that this is a good paradigm to follow when we are seeking to go to scripture and come out with answers for questions in our world.
I'm not anti-prooftext. If used honestly they have a clear place. John 3:16 is a marvelous prooftext concerning the love of God. It is not inappropriate to use it as such because it is an expression of a concept that oozes out of the Bible. There is a clear principle behind it, an undeniable direction in which God's word points us. God's love is clearly stamped into the DNA of the Word.
When we find those kinds of themes in scripture we find a foundation on which we can build good Theology, and upon which we can base sound practice. It is the kind of orthodoxy that leads to orthopraxy. Why don't we see more if it? For one thing, it is hard. Even more, this recognition of and competency to handle the broad themes of  Scripture is only available to those whose exposure to Holy Writ is deep and wide. Too often our Theological musings are less "Thus saith the Lord," and more "This is what half-a-dozen bright thinkers had to say." If we followed the paradigm that Meador is promoting perhaps we might approach the impact our Lord had.

   “When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matthew 7:28–29, NASB95)  

Saturday, December 30, 2017

My Nomination for 2017 Word of the Year:

It's the last day of 2017. I'm ready for church, but have a few minutes before we need to go, so  I figured I'd do what seems to be the in-thing to do at the end of the year--declare a word as the word of the year.  Most of the "Words of the Year" seem to be assigned that status because so many people have looked the word up in some database, or done a search for it on the internet. My word of the year received that distinction because it is one that has been central in what I've been doing since January a year ago, and because it has been at the heart of the work of Pacific Islands University, the ministry within which I serve.

It's been a remarkable year for Kathy and me, and Pacific Islands University. I wasn't supposed to be here on Guam. Kathy and I had already purchased tickets to return to Palau, to serve in the extension PIU used to maintain there, and to work with the Palauan Evangelical Church. PIU's President, Dr. Dave Owen found out he was sick when he landed in California, for what was supposed to be a couple of weeks long visit to the US Mainland. He, and his wife, Joyce, have yet to return. It turns out that his ailment was a potentially deadly form of cancer, T-cell Lymphoma. The last year for Dave and Joyce was filled with chemo-therapy, scans, kidney failure, a bone marrow transplant, and thankfully what appears to be a complete recovery.

About the same time that we at PIU were dealing with Dave's diagnosis, we also had to deal with the departure of a much-loved Academinc VP and the announcement that Spring 2017 was the last semester that our VP for Student Development, and her husband, our Maintenance Director, would be with us. Then a wonderfully sweet volunteer teacher--between her and her husband, they taught a full-time load each spring--had jaundice. The diagnosis went from hepatitis, to gall-bladder, to pancreatic cancer. She never got out of the hospital. Another husband-wife team has been serving under a far less than ideal situation. Because of an aged father who needs care, and the utter incompetence of US immigration, this couple is separated by thousands of miles. He here, and she in Europe.

It was only partly in jest that I referred to our campus at the "Village of Job" (For you non-Bible types, that's Job, sounds like "Joe," with a "B" on the end. Read the first two chapters of the Bible book by his  name and you will understand why.) Those calamitous problems were stacked on an institution that was already thin on staff, short on money, and working hard to adapt to rapidly changing needs in this part of the world. My status went from "the guy who sits in the president's chair," to Interim President, to President. For an old preacher who found it humorous that he was a member of the Board of Trustees for PIU, that is a steep learning curve.  Kathy? What was anticipated as a four-month absence from home, has now become a year-long establishing of a second home. Like me, her status has changed over the past twelve months. She has grown from sweet, to sweeter, to the sweetest person I know.



So, perhaps you can understand why I am declaring FAITH as the word of this year that is coming to an end.

Faith means a lot of different things. In making my declaration I embrace some of them, and reject one outright. Let me deal with what I don't mean, first:

There is the Oprah, Hallmark, for you old-timers, the Norman Vincent Peale idea of faith. It is an act of the will, an almost magical (or according to some you can remove the "almost") power that we humans have to make things better. Some have called it "faith in faith." You just have to believe. Not only does this kind of faith, so-called, not deliver, it can often make things worse. Well-intentioned, wrong plans executed with the utmost faith are still wrong, sometimes destructively so. Actually, 2017 has been very been instructive in confirming the lesson that really, I have no control. I can't trust in myself and my abilities, especially in my pseudo-ability to conjure up good things by thinking and feeling good thoughts. Cross that one off the list. It's not what I mean.

Biblically faith often refers to a set of truths. This use of the word has been brought into our world, by the admonition, much more common in my youth than now, "Keep the faith." That great servant-leader, the Apostle Paul, was able to say, just before his death, "I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7). Jude found it necessary to counsel Christians living in a time of moral decline (sound familiar?) to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints" (Jude 3). There is a body of truth that one ignores at his own peril, and often the peril of others. Down through the centuries, the followers of Christ have faced evil forces, which compelled them to forsake the faith--reject this body of truth.

They didn't. 

Another way to put it is to say, "We should believe in the truth that God has given us. If that is to take place, we have to know what that truth is. We need to be like Ezra, who had decided to "set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach" it (Ezra 7:10).  It takes work, Paul told his protoge', Timothy. to study, do his best, make every effort at mastering this faith (2 Timothy 2:15). I suppose, if God had chosen to do so, He could have given us an infusion of all the truth we would ever need. Instead, He gave us the Bible. He gave those who are gifted as teachers, and ordained that those who become Christ-followers should be a part of the church so we would have the benefit of her knowledge not only in the present but that accumulated store of faith-knowledge that goes all the way back to the time when the "Faith was once for all handed down to the saints." I have been privileged to grow up in a place and time that abounds with witness to, teaching
of, and encouragement in that Faith. Over the past year, it has been my privilege to be involved, in a more intensive way than ever before, in helping those who grew up in a less Faith-saturated environment to gain a better grasp of the Faith.

The lessons I have learned about faith in 2017 have been mostly about a properly focused version of the kind of belief that I rejected as deficient.
Years ago, I was privileged to speak at the baccalaureate service for my son's high school class. In preparation for the assembly, I took a piece of climbing rope and cut it into pieces, about six inches long. I'm far from being a mountaneer, but during my message to the graduates, I was able to tell them about an experience I had had rappelling down a rock face. I explained all the safety precautions that my guides had taken before allowing me to go over the edge. Basically, no matter how clutzy I was--and trust me, I'm good at clutzy--I would arrive safely at the bottom, as long as my rope was sound. On the other hand, the most skillful climber is doomed to disaster if his rope is rotten.  At the end of the baccalaureate, I handed each graduate a piece of rope, to remind them that in life, even more than in climbing, you better check your rope.
Faith in a lie is deadly. Faith in God's truth is utterly dependable.

While my task has been to be an administrator/teacher/encourager/fundraiser/public-relater in a Christian University, my experience has caused me to be a student in the school of faith. I'm learning that:
  • Those things that really matter are beyond my control. I've had to breathe deep, lean back into the rope, and trust.
  • The things that I can do may seem unimportant and small, but they aren't. The Lord trusts big things to those who are faithful in small things. 
  • Just because I do the small things doesn't mean that God will come through with the big things I have in mind. I'm not playing "let's make a deal" with the Lord of the universe. The fact is, I'm learning . . .
  • The big things I want often aren't God's plan. If I could make a deal with God, it would be a bad deal. Not because God is mean, actually it is the opposite. God is too good to allow the likes of me to draw-up the plan for the what is going to happen. He is too kind to allow me
    to plan the future. When it comes to what will happen after this moment in time that I'm experiencing right now, I'm completely clueless. 
  • Likewise the Big, really good things that God has in mind, are often things that I've never thought of.
  • The best I can do is to do what I'm supposed to do, as best as I can figure that out, and then leave the ultimate outcome to God. As if He needs my permission.
So, others can go with youthquake, complicit, or Feminism. For me the 2017 word of the year is FAITH.