John Piper putting ministry aside to help his marriage

I first learned from TC, and now also here (Peter, Joel, Daniel, and  others) have also blogged about John Piper’s leave from ministry.  That got my attention.  My hat goes off to him because he is doing whatever it takes to strengthen his marriage.  John Piper says that there’s no infidelity and that his marriage is “rock solid”, but he does confess that there is something in his relationship with his wife and children needs to be healed.  Perhaps the feeling of love has gone?  I suspect that there might be feelings of neglect toward his family in the past.  He states:

But on the other hand, I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me. How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody? I’ll say it now, and no doubt will say it again, I’m sorry. Since I don’t have just one deed to point to, I simply ask for a spirit of forgiveness; and I give you as much assurance as I can that I am not making peace, but war, with my own sins….

The other way that our marriage is not an island is that its strengths and defects have consequences for others. No one in the orbit of our family and friends remains unaffected by our flaws. My prayer is that this leave will prove to be healing from the inside of my soul, through Noël’s heart, and out to our children and their families, and beyond to anyone who may have been hurt by my failures. Full article here…

Now he’s working on building up his credit with his family. He needs these eight months to heal the hurts in his marriage and in his family.  Piper has learned an important lesson about marriage: overwork can harm his marriage and family.  Benny Hinn is learning it the hard way right now. Other ministers out there need to learn this too.

I like what John Piper is doing.  He values his marriage more than his ministry. He doesn’t equate God with ministry.  Putting his ministry aside does not mean he is putting God aside.  The work of ministry is just like another job; it is not higher than other vocations.  All forms of work are equal vocations in the eyes of God.

Experiences in ministry, part 1

I am now about one year into my ministry as a pastor. I’d like to share with my readers my some reflections of experience in ministry. This will be my first post on this topic and I hope it will inform, bless and enlighten some readers.  Some of you have been reading this blog since I was still in seminary and have found that I’ve been posting less frequently now.  Time is more precious now.  For those who think that pastors only show up in the pulpit on Sunday mornings and get paid a regular salary for one day’s work, I’ll have to enlighten you.

So far, pastoral ministry has been very enjoyable—enjoyable in the sense that it doesn’t really seem like work in the negative sense.  However, I have to say that it is still hard work (i.e., time, sweat, and tears, that is). I got into ministry because I loved speaking about the good news of Jesus Christ to bring encouragement to people.  Now that I am in ministry, the time I have to do ministry is limited.

Pastoral ministry requires spending time studying and reading for sermon preparation and then actually preparing and crafting the sermons; visitation with parishioners and getting to know them; teaching young people the basics about the Christian faith (confirmation); and counseling people who are preparing for baptism and other Christian rituals.

Just before completing my degree, I had completed a one-year paid internship.  A one-year internship may seem long in comparison to some seminaries but it’s valuable.  When I got my first full-time call, I felt like I was up and running.  Upon completing my Master of Divinity degree in seminary, I served in a part-time temporary as Pastoral Assistant at my home congregation of Zion Ev. Lutheran Church for about 6 months (of which I am very grateful for because there was no lag time in waiting for my first call (or charge)).  Then I received my first permanent full-time call  in the “Ministry of Word and Sacrament” (or fancy terminology for “ordained pastor”), which is where I am now.

If anyone reading this is still in seminary and is wondering if you feel you know enough after earning your degree from seminary?  After I started full-time pastoral ministry, I still felt like I didn’t know enough. Seminary only gets you started in the learning process of doing ministry.  One must continue learning, and often for the less experienced, it’s on the fly. There’s a saying I learned when I was just getting started from my superiors in the business world: “Fake it till you make it.”  That’s also true in the work of pastoral ministry (and I say that with much embarrassment because pastors are supposed to be real and genuine in what we do…and we do).  As pastors, we shouldn’t be fake; but we do need to be honest and real to our parishioners.  Real ministry requires of us to be genuine.

There are many pastors who don’t get to read much about theology, biblical theology, and pastoral ministry after getting bogged down in the daily nitty-gritty of pastoral ministry.  I’m glad I keep reading on my own time, and blogging here at New Epistles (though less often now).  I know how hard it is to find time to do this.  One has to make time to read and learn…so I try my best.

To be continued in future posts…

Read: Experiences in ministry, part 2

D.A. Carson on the New Perspective on Paul

I’ve just started learning about the New Perspectives on Paul and some of N.T. Wright’s views,  but haven’t read any books on this topic as of yet; I’ve only read papers and listened to audio lectures.  I have finished listening to a 3-hour presentation on this by D.A. Carson, and from what little I’ve learned and heard from D.A. Carson and others so far,  to my surprise, and perhaps also to my demise, I find myself agreeing to a limited extent with this New Perspective’s definition of a “Christian”.  Perhaps some of this is due to my Lutheran theology (e.g., emphasis on the external Covenant; sacraments; strong church authority; a global ecclesiology)?  I don’t know.  I do have some reservations to this theology though, especially to that of Federal Vision‘s.  “Federal Vision”-types who prescribe to this New Perspective subscribe to a broader definition of what a “Christian” is.  A Christian is defined as one who is baptized into Christ and becomes a member of the visible church.  Although, this doesn’t mean that all “Christians” go to heaven because there are faithful Christians and faithless Christians.  I am surprised that I almost find this definition of “Christian” acceptable because it’s partially true.  Scary.  What is missing is the element of faith in the believer.  Due to my evangelical piety, I am not satisfied with having “Christians” remain as spiritual babes; I will pray and disciple “Christians” that they may grow in their faith in Jesus Christ.

Is this New Perspective on Paul convincing enough for me to buy into it?  I’m only in the learning stage so I’ve yet to find out.  What is your opinion on the New Perspective?

The New Perspectives on Paul (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), by D.A. Carson (on the Ligonier.org website)

Holy Spirit is making disciples of all nations

The Holy Spirit is on the move today.  World missions once flowed out from western nations, but today, world missions is flowing out from southern nations into other southern nations.  Our image of Christianity as a western thing is changing.  The old image of missions and evangelism is also dead.  Our idea of the western world being the place where Christianity goes out from into the rest of the world is now long gone no longer true.  An average Christian is no longer a rich Caucasian person from Europe or North America.  The normal average Christian today can be described as a poor woman or man living in, e.g., West Africa, China or Brazil.

In 2004, there were more Roman Catholic baptisms in the Philippines than in Frances, Spain, Italy and Poland combined.  This is the latest thing that the Vatican obsessed with.  South Korea is already the number one missionary nation in the world.  Korean evangelical-pentecostal missionaries are going forth into all the world preaching and teaching the gospel and are willing to be martyrs for Christ. Western Christianity is dying but global southern Christianity is growing at an astounding rate.  It is like an unstoppable freight train that is roaring through the global southern hemisphere of the world.

Today, the Great Commission is happening in the South where healings and miracles are an integral part of the gospel.   The teachings of Christ cannot be separated from the miraculous acts of Christ. For global south Christians, to minimize the gospel to mere philosophical teaching would be a dishonest and unsound.  “Global south Christianity is a healing movement….global south churches are a healing movement,” says Philip Jenkins.*

Demonic possession in liberal Christianity is minimized to a level of merely psychosomatic illness—but not so for global south Christians.  The Luke 8:26-39 is read as a real historical story because these exorcisms and healings are happening every day in global south churches. This is not only a normal thing happening in pentecostal churches, but this is also a normal in traditional mainline churches, including Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. Countless healings also happening in Roman Catholic masses during the Blessed Sacrament.

Decades ago in the west, no one would have thought that Charismatic type of Christianity would become so dominant. Today, Charismatic-pentecostal Christianity, which recognizes the move of the Holy Spirit’s gifting as a present-day reality, is the 20th century’s number one religious phenomenon.  This is definitely not a passing fad; it is a long-lasting movement that will make an indelible mark on the universal Christian church forever.  The Holy Spirit is on the move today.

* I was inspired to write this post after listening to Dr. Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religion at Pennsylvania State University, and author of the book Next Christendom (2002). He spoke at 2005 National Vineyard Conference (where there are also sessions by Dr. Gordon Fee of Regent College) (Hat Tip: Justin K).

Do we need a simple spirituality?

I’ve just finished reading Simple Spirituality: Learning to See God in a Broken World (IVP, 2008), written by Christopher L. Heuertz.  I heard Heuertz speak last month at the MissionsFest 2010 Conference in Edmonton, Canada.  After listening to him speak, I was impressed by his spirituality and found myself wanting to learn more from him so I bought the book to learn about what Heuertz calls Lifestyle Celebrations.

I was very much challenged by Heuertz in the area of humbling myself before God so that I may see the poor and care for them, living more simply, and submitting to respond to my neighbor’s needs, and being a broken person inside so that I can be used by God to bring healing and redemption to a broken world. To get to this place, I need to practice a disciplined and self-conscious spiritual formation. What’s this? One thing that I have found absent in our North American church is that we don’t practice spiritual discipline.  Our excuse is that it is too hard, or that it is too oriented around law. Our theological has held us captive to our own sense of what is right and good. The protestant church needs a change of heart.

The stories of Heuertz’s experience from India are extremely gut-wrenching.  Heuertz draws from the his experience of working in South India with Mother Theresa. They are very vivid and if you are emotionally weak-kneed or faint of heart, you will melt. If you are unemotional, you will crack.  Either way, a reader will be moved one way or another.  The pain and suffering that happens amongst the Missionaries of Charity can be extreme-to-the-max.

A stronger sense of community is something that we also need take more seriously. Most protestants, and evangelicals especially, do not have a strong sense of community.  Heuertz states:

The faith of the North American church has become very exclusive.  If someone does not fit the social and economic mold of our churches, they may have a tough time being accepted by the Christians there.  How many of us wouldn’t stare if someone who prostitutes walked into the sanctuary on Sunday morning—would not wonder why he or she was there, would not judge and criticize him or her in our hearts and minds?  Those who prostituted in first century Palestine felt as if they could spend time with Jesus—why can’t they feel the same way with his followers?

That’s a good point.  We may preach about Jesus drawing the line in the sand and saving the adulteress from stoning, but we would also demand that she repent quickly–the minute she walks into the church (or if she would actually walk into a church, that is).  In our self-righteous piety, we sure don’t make sinners feel very welcome in our churches.  Maybe something does need to change–starting with us, otherwise, how will they hear the gospel and make a change in their life?  Heuertz makes a good point.  He says:

If we don’t embrace a meaningful humility, community, simplicity, submission and brokenness as part of faith, such wounds may simply become more and more infected. We can’t simply proclaim God’s love and sing about it.  We need to simply live it.

Pastors and ministers are not immune to divorce

These days, divorce is high, especially in the western world, and conservative evangelicals and charismatics are not immune to it.  Pastors are not immune to divorce either.  Televangelist Pastor Benny Hinn is being divorced by his wife Suzanne Hinn.  This is truly sad.  Here is the letter (PDF) he sent to supporters concerning his divorce situation. Is there anyone to blame?  Perhaps there is no one is to blame?  If you take a look at Benny Hinn’s ministry schedule (which is public) you’ll see that it is pretty tight.  It leads me to wonder if he spent enough time with his wife?  It seems that Pastor Benny is married to his work-ministry. Suzanne Hinn is not a nun.  She is a regular woman, wife and mother who needs her husband’s attention and love.

If I may be facetious for a minute, the only clergy immune to divorce are Roman Catholic priests. Perhaps this explains why the Roman Catholic Church chose to prohibit priests from getting married.

For clergy families, finding quality family time together is a big challenge.  It should not surprise anyone who is, or who has been, in ministry that it is not easy for us to separate our work life from family life.  It is too easy to be married to ministry. It will be wise to understand that the work of ministry is a never-ending drain of  family time so we must divide our two worlds.  Family is family.  Church  ministry is work.  We ministers will have to learn to say “no” to some demands of ministry. If the two worlds are melded together without any clear boundaries of separation, the minister’s family will inevitably be hurt due to our neglect of spouse and children.  I have personally faced this problem before.

I am learning and still learning how to practice what I preach.  I’m trying to learn to balance family and work and separate my ministry from my family life.  You may have noticed that I have been blogging less than before.  It’s been a real time drainer in the past.  Therefore, I have decided to spend more time with our daughter in the evenings while my wife works in the evenings.  Yes, she also works to help pay the bills.

To my fellow bibliobloggers and ministers… and there are many out there…  I hope and pray that God may give you wisdom and inner strength to do what is right for your family by putting them first.

Is there hope for Christian unity?

This cartoon reflects the current condition of the Church. I hope things can change in the future.

When there’s a lack of communication because of theological-intellectual-spiritual pride or lack of humility, a huge divide becomes even deeper.  We need to suck in our pride and talk to one another as equals and try to become friends with one another.

Cartoon is by my favorite cartoonist, Jon Birch, at asbo jesus.

Blogging on the Olympics is over

I loved blogging about the Olympics. My hiatus from blogging about the bible and theological issues has been sort of a holiday. I felt that I needed to step away from blogging about what I like.  Hopefully, I can return to my former blogging habit, but I may still be tempted to write one more post-olympic post.

I have to note that my top post ever, by far, is an Olympic-related post.  It had over 2,600 hits which was totally unexpected:  South Korean women’s team disqualification in 3,000-meters short-track speed skating relay will be controversial

WJK’s New Testament Library: Philippians and Philemon by Charles B. Cousar

Philippians and Philemon: A Commentary.  The New Testament Library.
Author: Charles B. Cousar
Publisher:  Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780664221225

First, I would like to thank for fine people at Presbyterian Publishing Corp for sending me this commentary to review.

When I first saw this commentary, the first thing I noticed was how brief the book was: 112 pages in length.  It is a compact introduction of Philippians covers the basic points of this epistle.  Well, given that fact that Philippians is not a long letter, I am amazed that some commentators can write 800 pages on this epistle.  However, given the nature of the NTL/OTL series of commentaries, it provides the necessary basics and does not aim to go too much into depth.  It is ideal for pastors and students who want a basic understanding of this epistle without too much detailed reading.  This is even shorter than the Pillar commentary.

For a detailed study, I would suggest the Anchor Bible (AB) by John Reumann, NICNT by Gordon Fee, or NIGTC by Peter O’Brien.  For an intermediate study, try Word (WBC) by Gerald Hawthrone, or Baker (BECNT) by Moises Silva.  If you have time to read and sift through all the details, then that’s fine.

Charles B. Cousar, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, provides readers with the traditional components expected of a commentary’s introduction—location, authorship and integrity, place and date of writing, character and structure of the writing, an outline, the opponents, its main message and theme.

The author starts off his introduction revealing the theme of Philippians as being joy.  This gives me a good impression about Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.  It tells the reader that the writer of this epistle was a person who will hope-filled rather than one who was burdened down with suffering.  Suffering in the midst of hope and joy is what the suffering church needs to hear—even today.

Cousar is not so much concerned about the literary structure of Philippians.  He seems more concerned about the theology and context of Philippians.  He believes the authorship is Pauline, which is the majority view.  The probable places of writing are Rome, Caesarea, and Ephesus; he leans toward Ephesus.

Cousar states: “Paul uses an inordinately high number of exhortations to encourage the Philippians in their task to remain faithful and steadfast” (p. 13).  This observation needs to be felt rather than seen.  It is a subjective opinion but I would agree with Cousar.  The epistle does have an exhortative feel to it.

The author also sites Robert Jewett’s proposal “that these preachers who compete with Paul were itinerants, who believe that valid apostles should exhibit extraordinary phenomena such as having ecstatic visions and working miracles” (p. 15).  This is only one of four traditional criteria of a genuine apostle.   Cousar lays out the basic characteristics of Paul’s opponents; however, he doesn’t go into the popular identities and philosophical details about them.  For this commentary series, it is enough.

I like the point that Cousar makes concerning the message of the Christ hymn.  He states:

The text does not ask that an extraordinary virtue, such as humility, be abstracted from the story and made a virtue to be emulated.  Rather the whole story, including the eschatological worship of Jesus as Lord, takes on a mind-shaping role.  To be sure, the Christ hymn serves a serves a parenetic function to exhort the readers to look not to their own interests but to the interests of others (p. 18, 19).

This is a good point.  It is easy to center on Paul’s obvious traits and point to them as if they were meant to be exemplary for us.  On the other hand, if humility is not held to be an exemplary model, it might, however, be one of many points for Christians to model after.  Paul’s point of being a model to imitate (3:17) may also refer to many other things, including his reliance on God’s grace.  However, I am tempted to include the trait of humility into the list to imitate anyway.

Regarding the subjective genitive phrase “through the faith of Christ,” as opposed to, the objective genitive “through faith in Christ” in 3:9, Cousar takes a safe neutral opinion and concludes that it is inconclusive.  For Christians of the Reformation, the tendency is to lean toward a reading of “through faith in Christ.”  Personally, this is my theological tendency.  However, after reading commentaries on Romans and Galatians regarding this same issue, I, too, remain inconclusive…maybe even more confused or uncertain, which can be a good thing sometimes.

The author briefly brings up the possibility of 3:20-21being a pre-Pauline hymn or creedal fragment.  Keeping this point brief is sufficient. Personally, I can’t see this being a hymn and would not even entertain this possibility.  Other commentaries cast doubt on 3:20-21 as being a hymn.

I have enjoyed using this compact commentary on Philippians because I get the important issues quickly without doing too much reading.  As a pastor with less time to spare than before, this commentary from the NTL series is perfect for pastors who want to save time.

Why I believe in Canada

Here is a part of John Furlong’s Closing Ceremony Speech:

And to perhaps compare for a moment the Canada that was with the Canada that now is. I believe we Canadians tonight are stronger, more united, more in love with our country and more connected with each other than ever before. These Olympic Games have lifted us up.

If the Canada that came together on Opening night was a little mysterious to some it no longer is. Now you know us, eh! If we were once the few we are surely now the many.  That quiet, humble national pride we were sometimes reluctant to acknowledge seemed to take to the streets as the most beautiful kind of patriotism broke out all across our country. So many new and dazzling applications for the Maple Leaf – so many reasons to smile and be joyful.

I believe these games have united and lifted up Canada like never before. As a Canadian, I feel more passionate about being Canadian because our athletes’ accomplishments. Canada has won a record number of gold medals – more than any other country, in any other Winter Olympic Games.  However, I can only make this claim as a Canadian. The images on television captured by our CTV network have been predominantly Canadian. This has undoubtedly been a powerful medium for us.

Our Olympics theme song, “I believe” (version 1), really helped to foster an emotional side of believing in myself as a Canadian (or Olympic torch relay , ver. 2).  When I hear that song along with the image of Canada winning gold, it does something wonderful inside of me. I feel a sense of patriotism and tears of joy and national pride wells up inside of me. I believe that other Canadians have felt this way too.

Canadian patriotism and nationalism is at an all-time high in this country because I have never ever seen so much excitement and flag waving happening before. I don’t think the world, let alone even Canadians, have seen this kind of excitement from within before. I hope we can capture this in our hearts and minds because when we look back on these Olympic games in Vancouver, we can say with all honesty that these have been defining moments in our national psyche. Go Canada Go! I believe in Canada.