Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Keys to the Kingdom

When I was younger I saw everything as pure black and white with very little gray. As I’ve matured in my spiritual walk I have come to realize that yes there are doctrinal issues that we must take a firm and unshakable stand on, but there are other things that are more culturally driven or even spiritually unclear questions. These questions are what I want to address in this paper: things like contemporary or traditional music, liturgical or non-liturgical style services, the proper role of women in the church, gifts of the spirit and many more that I could mentioned.

How do we address these issues? How do we resolve them to the general satisfaction of the individual independent local church or denominational group?

I believe that before the Lord’s death he gave us the tools to deal with these issues. Further I believe that the book of Acts gives us a prime example of how to deal with these divisive issues. I call it the Keys of the Kingdom.

In Matthew 16 Simon Peter has declared that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God. The passage continues with Jesus blessing Peter and made reference to Peter being “a stone” but the truth that Peter has proclaimed is “a boulder” upon which Jesus will build his church. Then I believe Jesus said one of the most puzzling yet profound things he ever said to the twelve (and not just to Peter):

19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
Matthew 16:19 (NIV)
To understand this verse we must remember a number of things. Matthew who records this saying is writing to Jewish believers. As such he is showing that Jesus is not only the greatest Rabbi to ever have lived but also Jesus is the promised Messiah and the very Son of God.

 Rabbis had a way of teaching and they often spoke in “Rabbiese” much like many Christians today speak “Christianese” If you lived in the culture of the time you will understand what Jesus is saying. But being almost 2000 years removed and living in a western culture vs. a Hebraic eastern culture we miss the significance of the message. 

When a student (disciple) was ready to graduate from his training under his teacher (rabbi or master) he would be granted permission to carry on his teacher’s work. If he encountered a situation that the teacher had not specifically covered he was given permission to make decisions based upon his understanding of training for the teacher and his followers. He was given the “keys to the kingdom.”

Now this played out in the early church with what is known as the first Jerusalem council in the 15th chapter of the book of Acts (the history book of the early church). Paul and his fellow missionaries had shared the good news with Jews and gentiles alike. This influx of gentile believers of Jesus Christ into the church had caused concern for the more traditional Jewish believers. Did these non-Jewish believers need to convert to Judaism (with all of it’s rituals and rules) or not.

Both sides presented their concerns and positions to the leadership of the church that included not only the apostles that were in Jerusalem but also the church leaders (specifically James) of the mother church. Following the discussion and after seeking God’s direction through prayer James made his judgment. Gentile did not have to become Jews to be considered full followers of Christ. The leadership of the church had practiced Matthew 16:19 and the Lord blessed their decision with a great influx of gentile believers in the years to come.

So how does all of this apply to some of the more the cultural questions you have asked me to address? My answer is that some answers need to be made based on carefully seeking God’s will for our local church. Not every church will come to the same conclusion and that is fine in not essential doctrines. Each church (and leader for that matter) will stand before God to give an account for what they decided. There will be occasions when these decisions will be right for one group but not another. And that is okay. Paul and Barnabas agreed to disagree regarding taking John Mark on a missionary journey and they separated ways. The net result was that the gospel reached more people because they multiplied their efforts. Neither was right or wrong. Furthermore what might be right at one point in our journey might change with the passing of time. Later in life Paul commented on how helpful John Mark had become to him in the ministry after previously rejecting him for that second mission.

In conclusion while I have opinions and preferences on cultural issues I am more desirous to partner with the spiritual leadership of the church to seek God’s leading and do His will regarding these and other non-essential issues. Our concern should always be what does the Lord want and not what do we want. After all we have all been taught to say “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!”

Now if I can just find those keys…

Pastor Val

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I’m Willing

I just came back from attending the 2011 Global Leadership Summit. It was two days of nonstop learning this year. Often there is a session or two that are less than stellar but this year it seemed like I came away with handfuls from every session.

One specific session dealt with leading under difficult situations. We heard the stories of two modern leaders who lead under remarkably difficult conditions. Their unique stories were more reminiscent to the martyrs of bygone eras not experiences of the 21st century.

The final message of this session was taken from Jeremiah, a book out of the Old Testament section of the Bible. It really was an overview of the ministry life of this ancient prophet who was chosen by God to speak to the nation of Judah of coming judgment if they failed to return to God.

On a scale of one to ten with one being the lowest possible results of a lifetime of ministry Jeremiah’s would have to be pegged at a minus 3 at the best. But through it all and even after a chapter or two of complaints Jeremiah comes to the conclusion that in spite of the difficulties and dangers serving God is better then any alternative.

During one point in the message a large piece of pottery was shattered on stage to remind us of the brokenness of all of us and yet God can still use us in our brokenness. At the beginning of the day each of us was given a broken piece of pottery. After the session we were asked to consider writing a message on it indicating our willingness to serve regardless of what our called to do and then to date it.

My message read “I’m willing! 8-12-11”

Now I have to say that I have said this to God for the past year to year and a half but God’s answer has been wait…not yet. Apparently I had (more likely still have) lessons to learn before I’m properly prepared for what God has next for me.

BTW waiting is not one of my strong suits but the thing about learning patience is that it takes time. It’s kind of like on the job training!

I have to be honest when I came home I put the piece of pottery on the counter and never bothered to tell my wife or anyone else about it. I had some errands to take care of this morning and didn’t get back home until mid afternoon when I finally checked my email prior to doing some finishing work on my message for tomorrow.

Sitting in my inbox was an email from a church I had sent my resume to eleven months ago. Five months ago I had received a communication from them inquiring if I was still available and interested in this church. A month ago I had sent them an email checking with them to see where they were in their process and had heard from them that I was still being considered.

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of hunting for a job or ministry lately I have to tell you that you can usually tell by thickness of the letter or whether an email has an attachment if you are still being considered. Thin letters or emails without attachments usually mean that you are no longer being considered for the job/ministry. But thick letters or emails with attachments usually mean that you are still being considered and td you have a questionnaire to fill out.

I’m sure that you are wondering about the email I received this afternoon… It contained an attachment and I’ve been asked to fill out a questionnaire.

Now I’m not saying that my wait is over or the church that contacted me is the one that God has for me but it is kind of exciting to realize that God heard my prayer and wanted to encourage me during my patience experience.

Just clay in the Potter’s hand

Pastor Val