My new book “Iceberg Ahead!” – an excerpt

I have been working on and off for the past few years on a new book. It is a real departure for me, working through how to face ministry disappointments, whether minor or major.

What happens when God’s servants face apathy, ingratitude, racism, psychological issues, physical ailments, lies, and other problems? Our solution is not to ignore our pain, but to “re-tell” our stories through the biblical lens, to ourselves, to others, to God.

We use the experiences of the apostle Paul on his missionary journey to Macedonia as the framework for understanding our own trials.

Enjoy! And I hope to see this in print before too long.

The disappointments in Christian ministry might feel like colliding with an iceberg!

TITLE:
Iceberg Ahead!
When God’s servants
crash into cold, hard reality

Excerpt from the INTRODUCTION

Collision, the North Atlantic, 1912

Two massive objects took intersecting paths. And they nearly missed each other – this word ‘nearly’ is key, since it was a glancing blow alone that turned fatal for 1500 people.

RMS Titanic was the dream of Bruce Ismay of the White Star Line, which planned to astonish the world with the biggest ocean liner ever built. It was ready with only hours to spare: the boarding passengers remarked on the smell of fresh paint. From concept to maiden voyage took four long years, and finally it sailed forth under the command of Captain Edward Smith.

Meanwhile, traveling from the north: The berg was ages older than this or any human ship, calved from a Greenland glacier that had taken thousands of years to form out of layered ice and snow. The massive piece of ice had broken off the previous summer, and it took a year to drift in the direction of Nova Scotia, ambling toward its date with history. On April 14, 11:40pm, it would have been moving at less than half a mile per hour. Later reports noted that it was the only large berg in the vicinity, that is, in theory it could easily have been missed.

And traveling from the east: the Titanic plowed ahead with geometrical accuracy, as if it had planned its deadly rendezvous with the help of satellite positioning. If only the great ship had been traveling one knot faster or slower; if it had steamed from port a few minutes earlier or later; if it had turned a fraction of a degree further south when the iceberg warnings came in. If only we could factor in one of these minute changes, the Titanic would have sailed on to New York and the berg would have floated by in the darkness, unseen and unremarked. The name Titanic would be as historically obscure as the names of its two sister ships, the Britannic (sunk in World War I) and the Olympic (after many years of service, sold for scrap). There are no movies about the Olympic; no Celine Dion songs about the Britannic!

A hundred vain ‘what-ifs’ – and we have had a century to wonder why this disaster came to this ship on that night.

Collision, Paul on his first Macedonian Tour

It was at roughly the midpoint of his ministry years when the apostle Paul launched a new operation, with what seemed like specific direction from God: Go to Macedonia, announce the good news of Jesus.

As it turned out, Paul ran into massive opposition there. To extend the Titanic image even further, Paul rammed into one iceberg, but did not sink; he then limped along and smashed into a second one; and again, and again, for a total of, by our count, eleven distinct collisions, any one of which could have finished him off. (more…)

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Book Review: Lisa J. Radcliff, Hidden with Christ – Breaking Free from the Grip of your Past

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Ideally, a young girl should grow up surrounded by love; the adults in her life should be dependable; they should respect boundaries; they should alleviate fear rather than stir it up. We instinctively feel that all of these shoulds ought to be a given. But the sad reality is that a large percentage of girls, and boys, are sexually abused.

It has been repeated so often that it has achieved the status of a mantra: Most molesters are people known to the child, be they relatives, family friends, teachers, community leaders, and even religious leaders.

And to multiply the evil, many in society and church have chosen the path of least resistance, going on the presumption that adults are more believable than children; that men are more believable than women; that abuse is caused more by the victims’ behavior or dress than the choices of the perpetrators.

Lisa Radcliff has lived this whole narrative (more…)

John Wesley’s “Rules for Band-Societies”

Gary’s Introduction: this concept of Band-Societies was a small group dynamic, in which believers would volunteer to be accountable to one another. It has inspired similar meetings for almost three centuries. By the way, this was not simply a “lowest-common-denominator” group to share your feelings and that was that! These same men also gathered for two hours, four evenings a week, for rigorous study of the Greek New Testament and prayer.

Wesley’s Rules for Band-Societies, Drawn up December 25, 1738.

The design of our meeting is, to obey that command of God, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.”

To this end, we intend.

  1. To meet once a week, at the least.
  2. To come punctually at the hour appointed, without some extraordinary reason.
  3. To begin (those of us who are present) exactly at the hour, with singing or prayer.
  4. To speak each of us in order, freely and plainly, the true state of our souls, with the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt, since our last meeting.
  5. To end every meeting with prayer, suited to the state of each person present.
  6. To desire some person among us to speak his own state first, and then to ask the rest, in order, as many and as searching questions as may be, concerning their state, sins, and temptations.

Some of the questions proposed to every one before he is admitted among us may he to this effect.

  1. Have you the forgiveness of your sins.
  2. Have you peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. Have you the witness of God’s Spirit with your spirit, that you are a child of God.
  4. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart.
  5. Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you.
  6. Do you desire to be told of your faults.
  7. Do you desire to be told of all your faults, and that plain and home.
  8. Do you desire that every one of us should tell you, from time to time, whatsoever is in his heart concerning you.
  9. Consider! Do you desire we should tell you whatsoever we think, whatsoever we fear, whatsoever we hear, concerning you.
  10. Do you desire that, in doing this, we should come as close as possible, that we should cut to the quick, and search your heart to the bottom.
  11. Is it your desire and design to be on this, and all other occasions, entirely open, so as to speak everything that is in your heart without exception, without disguise, and without reserve.

Any of the preceding questions may be asked as often as occasion others; the four following at every meeting.

  1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting.
  2. What temptations have you met with.
  3. How were you delivered.
  4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not.

‘John Wesley’s “Rules for Band-Societies,”‘ by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

 

Your Body, God’s Temple

The devil has a Weapon of Mass Destruction, and it is called online pornography. Of help is the following article is by Jason DeRouchie of Bethlehem Bible College and Seminary. It is one of the best explorations of the topics of masturbation and sexual fantasy that I have read, and I repost it, knowing I could not write one this good.

Blessings!

“If Your Right Hand Causes You to Sin,” by Jason DeRouchie

Will it Kill your Pastor if he Visits You? A Response to Thom S. Rainer

Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources and has a very popular blog on church life. Having read with approval a number of his other articles, I was surprised to find one that I roundly disagreed with.

It is titled “FIFTEEN REASONS WHY YOUR PASTOR SHOULD NOT VISIT MUCH”

And he is serious. He is really not happy with churches which expect to see their pastor in their home any time soon. Unless it’s an emergency. A big one.

So with all due respect, I responded to him on his blog, and will offer much the same thoughts here. (Here is another, very useful, response, by Andrew Roy Croft, who offers a positive argument for pastoral visitation).

To begin with, I thought this was one of those stealth articles that start off, “10 Reasons to Vote the Socialist Ticket,” but turn out to be pro-Republican. But no, I read it through a number of times, and it’s not ironic.

His point is that pastoral visitation a newfangled idea, that there’s altogether too much visitation going on, and it should be slimmed down and (perhaps) limited only to extreme situations. Otherwise pastor visitation is the Zika virus that will kill your church, leave your pastor burned (out) beyond recognition, and make him/her leave! Oh yes he will!!

Don't answer the door! It might be the pastor, and it will lead to him burning out, quitting, and destruction for your church!

Don’t answer the door! It might be the pastor, and it will lead to him burning out, quitting, and apocalyptic destruction for your church!

Pastor Rainer has 15 objections to pastoral visitation, many of which are, upon closer examination, the same reason stated differently. To quote:

  1. It’s unbiblical. 2. It deprives members of their roles and opportunities. 3. It fosters a country club mentality. 4. It turns a church inwardly. 5. It takes away from sermon preparation. 6. It takes away from the pastor’s outward focus (the same as #4, right?) 7. It takes away vital leadership from the pastor. 8. It fosters unhealthy comparisons among the members. 9. It is never enough. 10. It leads to pastoral burnout (see #9). 11. It leads to high pastoral turnover (see #9, 10). 12. It puts a lid on Great Commission growth of the church (see #4, 6). 13. It leads pastors to get their affirmation from the wrong source. 14. It causes biblical church members to leave. 15. It is a sign that the church is dying (see #14). And then later: It’s a key sign of [church] sickness. It’s a clear step toward [congregational] death.

So, it is no exaggeration that his message is that pastoral visitation may even now be killing your church!

Let’s define “pastoral visitation” as, where one or more of the leaders of the church go to where their people are, traditionally but not necessarily in the home, hospital, or long-term care facility, in order to spend time with them and to conduct pastoral ministry (exhortation, encouragement, correction).

Here is part of the response that I wrote on his website, that there were three weaknesses to the argument; I address the author as “you.”

First, the historical. You write that “‘Visitation of the members’ became a common job description of pastors about a century ago.” You imply that it is a recent innovation.

While it may have become more conventional these days to write the thing out in a job description, visitation of the members has been part of the pastoral task since the beginning. In fact, it was a vital aspect (more…)

“Oh, before I conclude let me just say…” 1 Thess 5:12-28 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 15]

These are notes of a sermon outline, not a full message.

This is an exciting epistle, full of joy and energy. Despite all the persecution they have experienced, the Thessalonian church is thriving and growing and reaching out with the gospel. Sure, Paul has to remind them about the resurrection of the dead when Jesus returns; and he also wants to remind them to work hard, to keep pure, to be alert for Jesus’s coming, but in general things are fine.

So as he concludes, it’s upbeat and encouraging.

This is common with Paul and other letter-writers of his day, to conclude a letter with a brief list of commands or exhortations. “Time is running out, just a little more space on the page, Do this, don’t do that, don’t forget this! (more…)

Published in: on September 30, 2015 at 1:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Sex and the Christian Life” 1 Thess 4:1-8 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 10]

 

Note: These are sermon outlines, not full messages.

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

When I was taught the epistles of the New Testament, they told us – okay, these chapters are the “theology” ones, and then come the “practical” ones. So Romans 1-11 is doctrine, and then 12 to 16 is application. Ephesians 1-3, doctrine, 4-6, practical. Although there is some truth to that, we have to keep this in mind: sound doctrine must lead to holy living; if not, there is a breakdown somewhere.

And today it is popular to preach “here are practical tips for successful living” – but they avoid the underlying truths, the doctrine. (more…)

Published in: on August 26, 2015 at 2:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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Why didn’t I drop out of church?

Post after post announces that young people are leaving the church. I’ve read some good insights on the problems and the solutions.

It makes me ponder: Why didn’t I drop out?

Full disclosure: I first went to church because that’s what the family did; later I came to believe that it was part of my new life and necessary for my growth; then a place where I could minister – the church became my calling and from age 22 and onward I have been in part or full-time ministry. [1]

All to say that, my church didn’t have to try very hard to get my interest. And while in college, church attendance was mandatory anyway.

But why not put all that to one side, because beyond these points, there were “centripetal” forces that pulled me into the church. And I’m going to add in some insights from Facebook friends, who helped me work through this topic.

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I was challenged to have a first-hand faith. This factor is frequently mentioned these days (more…)

FREE BOOK FOR CHRISTMAS!

As a Christmas gift this year, I have bundled together some of my blog posts that have to deal with “How to Life the Christian Life: throw out the old rules and play by the New Covenant.” Over a hundred of you have downloaded it already – enjoy!

Simply click here: How to live the Christian Life_Shogren

I ask only that you consider signing up for my blog on the right-hand column. Either way, the gift is without obligation, and I will not use your email or name in any way.

Gary Shogren, Christmas 2014

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How do God’s servants handle unforeseen questions?

I was as fresh in ministry as could be, still a bit amazed that grown-ups had actually voted me to be their full-time pastor. And it was my first Sunday, my first sermon, with us still fuzzy from memorizing all the names of all the members even as we unpacked our boxes: “Who is the man with the mustache? His job? His wife’s name? How many kids?”

As a pastor I was rolling right off the factory floor: I had just mailed my doctoral thesis back to Scotland and was waiting for the oral exam. So I was primed and filled with data about Pauline eschatology. I’m ready, folks, ask me anything!

The first question I fielded was not about Greek, theology, church history, anything that I had ever read about.

It was: “So Gary, tell me….Ford or Chevy?”

Pardon?

“Ford or Chevy?”

For you non-Americans, Ford trucks versus Chevrolet is one of our long-lived debates (think of “Apple or Microsoft?”). It runs deeper than politics. Google it if you don’t believe me.

I was opinion-free on the Ford/Chevy debate; I had no dog in that fight. And I didn’t want to spend my first Sunday afternoon of my ministry, alienating someone because I chose the wrong darn pickup.

However the thought occurred to me (Is that you, Spirit of God?) that I plickneeded to respond differently than I normally would. Not deceitfully, but along a different tack. So: I had once owned a Ford, a 1971 Maverick. A real dog, too; many of the miles I put on it were driving to the mechanic and back. But definitely a Ford.

The Spirit works quickly. Within a second or two after hearing the question, I snorted and said, “FORD!! Of course!” (In New England, one pronounces Ford and course deeply in the throat, and I said them with the proper intonation).

“Good answer,” my new friend nodded sagely. “Good answer.”

You see, the only really wrong answer I could have given was indifference: I don’t care. I don’t know. They’re both okay. Does it really matter? Why are we bothering about this while all the starving children, etc.? I don’t even remember if he thought Ford was better than Chevy. But he did think it mattered, and he was pleased that I understood that.

Jesus didn’t tell people their questions were frivolous. He answered them, but he then turned the discussion around to deeper things. John 4 is a fine example, with the Samaritan woman’s implied question: “So, Jesus – Samaritan Temple or Jerusalem?” “Jerusalem, of course,” said Jesus, because it was true to a point, and because it really mattered to her. But his interest in the question was limited. It was already too late in history to be debating such matters – the Father was really interested in people worshiping him in the Spirit and in truth, that is, each believer is a temple (John 4:21-24).

When people ask us questions, they might be looking for information, or an opinion. Or they might just be wanting to hear that they matter, both to us and to God. And we who follow the way of love will understand that and act accordingly.