This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Monday, August 10, 2015

What does a text mean?

These days, when one asks the question, “What does a text mean?” one is generally trying to figure out some cryptic phone text message.  Indeed, google this question, and all sorts of websites pop up offering help at deciphering text message abbreviations.  However, that is not what I intend by the question.  I am asking, “When one encounters any written text, how does one go about trying to figure out what that text means?”

There is more here than meets the eye.  At first glance, it would seem that a simple reading of the text, understanding the vocabulary and syntax, would unveil the meaning.  However, lots of things get in the way of this simple approach.  Consider, for example, if your mother sent you this note:
“Meet me after school at the trunk.”

Does she mean to meet her at the trunk of a well-known tree?  At the trunk line of the commuter rail station? At a local restaurant named, “The Trunk”? At an oversized suitcase which for some reason is prominent in the school yard?  At the rear of her car? (and this is ignoring the obviously bizarre ideas of an elephant’s trunk or the central portion of a human body)

In fact, the context, the history, the vocabulary, the geography, the grammar, and the structure would all inform us about the meaning.  Knowing English, the semantic range of the word, “trunk,” and the basic grammar of imperative sentences go some distance in helping us.  However, knowing the author, the local context and history, the geography of the area would all be critically important in solidifying and narrowing that meaning so that one actually meets mother at the place intended.
BUT here is something important—note that we did not for one second in this exercise consider that the meaning would be defined by the recipient.  We did not say to ourselves, “It does not matter what mother intended by this sentence.  What I myself intend by it is most important.”  Instead, we instinctively understood that the meaning is defined by the author.  In other words, our text means only what its author intended it to mean, nothing more and nothing less.  The precise meaning of a text is always what the author intends, not what the recipient wishes it to mean.

Hmm, perhaps interpreters of texts like the Constitution and the Bible would do well to employ similar instinct.

(This article first appeared in "The Pantagraph" newspaper on August 1, 2015)

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Brave New World of Equality

It should not be news that the outcomes of success for children do in fact depend a lot on the family.  However, one sociologist that has been studying this has come to some startling conclusions.  Adam Swift, who has taught at such prestigious institutions as Harvard, MIT, and Wisconsin-Madison, has studied this issue of success of children who have parents who care for them in such ways as reading bedtime stories, providing private school education, and having functioning family interactions.  As he has compared the success of children with these advantages to the failures of children who do not, he has come to an interesting conclusion:  We should not give these advantages to any child lest we unfairly tilt the playing board of success in that child’s favor.  To do so would be discriminating against a child who does not have such a family.
Keep in mind that Adam Swift is not a fringe guy; he is well respected in the academic community.  Swift only grudgingly accepts parents reading bedtime stories to their children, while acknowledging that that act puts those children at a distinct and unfair advantage.  Here is how he puts it: “I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally.”[1]  He actually believes that by being kind to one’s own children, we are “unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children”!

This conclusion is the result of thinking that children are not the stewardship of parents, but of the state.  So what does one do with the fact that different families provide different opportunities to different children?  Here again is Swift:   One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.”[2]

What an insane way to deal with inequity!  What we need to do to for all children because some children are deprived of healthy families is to make all families deprived.  If all are miserable, that is equitable.  More misery is better than some thriving.  Such is the new definition of equality.
In Swift’s grandiose utopia, he and his colleagues decide what features of healthy family life need to be eliminated in order to create a more level playing field.  Here is how he says that, “What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children.”[3]

 According to Swift, private education should be outlawed as inherently discriminatory.  Private schooling cannot be justified by appeal to these familial relationship goods. It’s just not the case that in order for a family to realise these intimate, loving, authoritative, affectionate, love-based relationships you need to be able to send your child to an elite private school.”  “Equality” is now defined as such a societal good that we must, by force of law, prohibit even good and loving actions because there are some children who do not receive those actions and that means unfairness.

In the debate over same sex marriage, many traditional marriage advocates have said that once marriage is no longer defined as being between one man and one woman, there is nothing substantial that prohibits marriage from being further redefined as involving more than two people.  If marriage is not confined by gender, why should it be confined by number?  Swift’s view of multiple parents reveals once again that the slippery slope that traditional marriage advocates fear is in fact quite real.   Nothing in our theory assumes two parents: there might be two, there might be three, and there might be four,” says Swift[4]. In a stunning leap of logic however, he does limit his understanding of the number of parents . . . to ten!!  “We do want to defend the family against complete fragmentation and dissolution,” he says. “If you start to think about a child having 10 parents, then that’s looking like a committee rearing a child; there aren’t any parents there at all.” It seems of little comfort that Swift wants to defend the family against complete fragmentation and dissolution when in fact that is precisely what he advocates . . . at least to the point of 10 parents.

How is it even possible to propose this nonsense??  It comes once we loose the moorings of society from moral absolutes and in particular in Western civilization from Biblical moral absolutes.  Without absolutes, we become captive to the tyranny of “fairness,” “equality,” and “level playing fields.”  But those terms no longer mean what they used to mean.  Now, they mean that we must provide exactly the same opportunities for all children or we withhold those opportunities from all children.  Beyond the impossibility of accomplishing this utopian nightmare, consider that the parents which provide the most nurturing environments for their children will, under this crazy scheme, be considered most discriminatory and evil.

God’s answer, of course, to the problem of family heartache and dysfunction is quite different.  Swift’s “gospel” or good news seems to be, “Let’s make certain that everyone is equally miserable.”  God’s Gospel promises that repentance and faith in Christ can redeem us from under the curse of sin because Jesus Christ took the curse for us (Galatians 3:13).  God’s Gospel promises that restoration is possible (Joel 2:25).  God’s Gospel promises that even those aspects of life where there are lifelong consequences for sin and neglect can be redeemed for His glory (Genesis 50:20).  God’s Gospel says that anyone, no matter how deprived or advantaged by one’s family, can be a child and servant of the Living God (2 Corinthians 5:17).  God’s Gospel provides the framework where generations of sin can be halted and a new paradigm of family living can take root (Ephesians 6:1-4).  And this Gospel saves completely, not just for thriving in this life but for all eternity (John 3:16).

The world is becoming a scary place, but praise God, the Gospel shines even more radiantly as the darkness deepens.

May the Lord bless our families for His glory with a deepening love for Christ and the Gospel,

Scott Boerckel

[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Thank You for Our Sabbatical

My sabbatical begins April 20…and I’m pretty excited. 

And nervous.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about our sabbatical and I thought I’d use this last pre-sabbatical blog post to share a couple of thoughts.

First, I want to say “thank  you” for letting me and my family take this time. Someone approached me last week and said he was happy I was taking a sabbatical. He believed I needed it and it would be beneficial for both me and the church. At the same time, he wished he could take a sabbatical as well. He believed it would benefit him and his life as well.

I agree.

It is a very gracious thing the church allows me to do. I wish everyone had the opportunity to step away from their daily routine and think “big picture” about their job(s) for several weeks.

Often when talking about the sabbatical, I've tried to justify taking this time away from the church. I try to talk about what I’ll be doing and how the church will benefit from my time away. I think those things are true, but there's still no way I "deserve" this time. I think the best thing to do is to simply say, “I don’t deserve this. It’s a gift. Thank you.”

So… thank you.

Second, I want to ask you to pray for me and our church during the eight weeks I'll be gone. Pray I would use the time wisely. Pray things at church would go smoothly during this time. Pray for the elders and other leaders who will have to shoulder extra responsibilities. Pray for my family's joy as we spend time together. Pray I would grow in my understanding of God and passion for Him

Third, I wanted to share with you what I plan on doing. I don’t want to get too specific because I know I won’t be able to get everything done. Eight weeks is a long time, but it’s not an eternity!

Here are some broad brush strokes of what I hope to be doing during this time…

Time with Family

There are several goals I have for my family. I want to spend time with each of them, listening to them and thinking through ways I can care for them in the next phase of their life. My kids are at fun ages (14, 12, 9, and 8). This is perhaps the only sabbatical we’ll have with everyone living under the same roof. 

We hope to finish reading through the Bible together as a family, a journey we began in 2008. We also plan on reading through the book Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo. We’re looking at some fun books to read together as a family.

We’re taking a vacation week as a part of the sabbatical and will be visiting Universal Studios and, of course, Lego Land in Orlando, Florida. We're also going to spend time swimming in pools, playing games, and goofing around on the beach.

Biblical Languages

In terms of personal development, one goal is to spend some time studying the Biblical languages. There are some DVD’s I plan on watching to help refresh aspects of my Greek and a workbook to help me relearn/learn some elements of Hebrew. I purchased some new Bible software that I want to learn how to use in my studies. I’d like to do at least a little translation work in the mornings.

Bethany Community Church and the Next Seven Years

I hope to spend a lot of time just thinking through the next seven years of ministry at Bethany Community Church. I don't want to presume upon His grace, but if the Lord doesn't return and I am granted good health there are things I want to accomplish for His glory over the next few years of ministry. 

Some areas I’ll think through are development of lay leaders and strengthening our development of future pastors. I plan on visiting other church that are a little “ahead” of us in some areas and seeing if there are things we can learn from them.

I’d also like to interview other senior pastors to find out how they do their jobs. I hope to learn how I can improve my ministry. There are lots of questions I'd like to ask them about how they spend their time and prioritize the different ministries in which they engage. I also want to look at how other churches have engaged in church planting, a ministry for which I believe God is preparing our church. 

Personal and Ministerial Development

There is a long list of books I want to read. Sadly, I know I won’t get a fraction of them read. Some are books that I think will help me think through ministry at Bethany Community Church, such as The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, by Jonathan Leeman. Others are for personal development, like Systematic Theology, by  John Frame. Some are just books for fun, like Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., by Ron Chernow.

I'm Going to Miss You

Thanks again for this opportunity. I’m excited about what God is going to teach me while I’m gone. I’m excited about the people who are going to be ministering in the pulpit while I’m gone. I've asked them to preach good…but not too good. 

Actually, my prayer would be that the Lord Jesus Christ is highly exalted and lifted up! I plan on watching the sermons on YouTube...there are some wonderful men filling the pulpit in my absence.

Looking forward to growing in grace with you!

Pastor Daniel

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Worship, not pity

For quite some time now, I have resisted calls to preach "medical messages" about the cross, that is, to preach about the fairly well documented details of what a body experiences while being crucified.  My resistance is not because such information is wrong to pursue or because we should avoid gruesome facts.  Rather, my resistance is because the New Testament writers are also sparse in their details of Jesus' crucifixion.  I fear that if we dwell on the physical aspects of crucifixion, we might end up pitying Jesus rather than worshiping Him.

My father told me something when I was a boy that I have not forgotten.  He said that it is well likely that other human beings have suffered physically as much as or more than our Savior, but none suffered as sin bearer.  The sparse testimony of the New Testament on the details of crucifixion and its long record of detail on the nature of Jesus Christ's atonement incline me to believe that my father was right.  So, you won't hear much from me about blood loss, subcutaneous tissue, hematidrosis,  respiration, hypovolemic shock, exhaustion asphyxia, etc.  But you will hear things like this, "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed."(Isa. 53:5) and "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." (1 Peter 2:24) and "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Here is the sparse way in which each Gospel writer describes the crucifixion:

Matt. 27:32 When they had crucified him,
Mark 15:34 And they crucified him.
Luke 23:33 they crucified him there
John 19:18 There they crucified him

Worshiping our Savior,