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, 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,


Monday, March 16, 2015

Spring Cleaning

As I do a little spring cleaning this afternoon, I thought I’d pass on a few links I’d found interesting. These are things I thought I might someday do a blog post on, but at this point…the odds aren't looking too promising. 

So here are some links to three things not interesting (or important) enough to stand on their own but not uninteresting enough for me to just delete.

First, here’s an article on contextualization entitled, “Don’t Throw Out Your Nice Suit Just Yet.” It argues that just because you’re reaching one “demographic slice of the current generation” with trendy (fill-in-the-blank) church trappings, it doesn't mean you’re reaching an entire generation—much less those of other generations.

In an increasingly diverse culture, each decision we make seems to “target” one demographic and “alienate” another. There are important ramifications for gospel ministry as we try to help one strive for a unity that not only goes beyond our shared preferences but demands we die to our insistence church be done our way.

Second, here is a crazy website many of you have probably seen before. If you like graphs, you’ll love this site.

Some of them are not only colorful but enlightening....

Some of them are...well, some of them are about facial hair....

Finally, Song Lyrics in Chart Form also uses graphs, but in a slightly less useful but pretty funny way. 

Here are some examples:

Hope you found that enlightening. Have a great week!


Thursday, February 19, 2015

You Can’t Not Be There

The elders and deacons at East White Oak Bible Church had a great time of fellowship and planning at our retreat last month.  We discussed how best to organize our ministry, how to evaluate our church health, how to best utilize and enhance our facilities for greater effectiveness.  But there was a key theme that emerged in the midst of the conversation.  That theme was more important than any of those items, important as they are.

Here is that key theme:  We long to be men who are so filled with God’s Spirit that we greet each opportunity to meet together as a church with joyous expectation that God will meet us.  We believe that our spiritual preparedness will lead our congregation to the precious joy that is ours in meeting the Lord together in weekly worship.  We want to lead our church in a heart of corporate worship that says, “You can’t not be there!”

This has nothing to do with trying to generate a phony enthusiasm.  It has nothing to do with gimmicks to get people emotional.  It has nothing to do with guilt trips.  It has everything to do with our heart’s preparation for the unique privilege of worship together.

Here is a question that might test the temperature of our souls.  When church is cancelled due to weather, how does your heart respond?  There are, of course, reasons for a feeling of relief, perhaps from responsibilities or from the hazards of travel.  However, if your heart experiences something like joy over not having to go to church, may I suggest that you keep reading?  I believe that I need to cultivate in myself a sense of wonder and joy about the unique privilege of worship together.  I want to pass that sense of wonder to you too.

This week, I spent time reading through the Psalms.  One key principle for interpreting the Psalms is to ask, “How was this Psalm used in the corporate worship of the people of Israel at the temple?”  This principle is important because the Psalms were the worship book of Israel in temple worship.  So, it is not surprising that lots of words are used in Psalms which convey the power and privilege of corporate worship of the true God.  Words like “sanctuary,” “temple,” “courts,” “congregation,” and “throng” are employed to describe the utter marvel of the privilege of worship with God’s people.
In much of the Psalms, the attitude about going to the temple to worship is, “You can’t not be there.”  Or, perhaps more clearly, “you can’t help yourself—you just have to be at the temple.”  This attitude infected every Israelite at least at some points in Israel’s history.  There were times when worship at the temple was an all-consuming passion.  Those were times of revival.

So, here we are, centuries removed from temple worship, yet longing for that same delight in the worship of the Lord.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us had such a joy, a longing, a passion to be together to worship the Lord that we couldn’t not want to be there?  We would be so delighted that we couldn’t help tell others to join us.  We would change family plans and activities to avoid missing.  We would express our shock to one another that we just can’t believe that God lets us do this.

To capture a bit of this reveling in worship together in the Psalms, consider the Psalms which describe the privilege of joyous praise together:

Psalm 22:22 I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

Psalm 22:25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him.

Psalm 34:3 Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!

Psalm 35:18 I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you.

Psalm 42:4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.

Psalm 68:24-26 Your procession is seen, O God, the procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary—25 the singers in front, the musicians last, between them virgins playing tambourines:26 “Bless God in the great congregation, the Lord, O you who are of Israel's fountain!”

Psalm 100:4-5 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! 5 For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Note in all of these passages above that there is both a personal AND a corporate dimension to worship. The “I’s” and “my’s” are directly related to praise in “the great congregation” in the “mighty throng” in the courts and gates of the Lord. For the Israelite worshiper, there was something very compelling about worship together that brought great thanksgiving and joy.

Now, let’s look at some Psalms which show the contemplation that happens in corporate worship. Not everything is high volume, high energy. Some of what brings the worshiper to worship is contemplation of God’s nature.

Psalm 40:10 I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.

Psalm 48:9 We have thought on your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple.

Psalm 111:1-2 Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.2 Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. 

In these texts above, we see a dimension of “thought,” of something happening “within my heart” in corporate worship. That dimension focuses on God’s attributes, most particularly God’s faithfulness and steadfast love. The Israelite worshiper loved to ponder God’s faithfulness and steadfast love with other worshipers.

Next, there is one verse in Psalm 73 which shows the value of worship together as an apologetic for the truthfulness of our faith.

Psalm 73:17 until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.

In Psalm 73, the writer Asaph had been lamenting how it seemed that the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer. It was only after the experience of corporate worship that he could see clearly the reality, the truth of his faith. I have seen many people deny the faith that they had once believed. However, I have never seen a person do that who was devoted in body (they showed up), in mind (they engaged their thinking), and in heart (they loved worshiping the Lord with God’s people). The mindset of “you can’t not be there” is so powerful in fending off the attacks of doubt and demons.

In Israel, this idea of “you can’t not be there” was so strong that it even overcame selfishness. Selfishness is very hard to overcome, by the way, because we find it very hard to get away from ourselves. The only place where we truly get away from ourselves is in corporate worship. Even in individual worship, we cannot get away from ourselves because the relationship between ourselves and the Lord is so binary. But in corporate worship, we can indeed get lost in wonder, love, and praise because we join with others. Consider these words from Psalm 84:

Psalm 84:1-2 How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! 2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Psalm 84:10-11 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. 11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

The writer of Psalm 84 says that his passion for corporate worship is so strong that he’d rather be there as a nobody than be a big shot anywhere else. In his worship, he concludes that God is so very good that there is nothing good that God would withhold from him. In a jaundiced, skeptical world like ours, even believers can become jaundiced and skeptical. A heart that says, “you can’t not be there” cannot be skeptical because the goodness of God washes over that heart like a flood.

Have you ever wished that you could do something to extend your life? Or that you could extend your joy in life into old age? Psalm 92 offers the principle that a “you can’t not be there” heart of corporate worship causes a person to flourish into old age. In fact, such a heart of worship keeps one young and vibrant.

Psalm 92:12-15 The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.13 They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.14 They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green,15 to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

I love that phrase, “they are ever full of sap and green.” Corporate worship keeps our lives active at what is most important in life. If you are concerned about fending off the ravages of aging, a heart for corporate worship is far more important than diet, exercise, or cosmetic surgery. I believe that God especially blesses a heart of corporate worship.

Finally, we ought to consider how Israel felt when the privilege of corporate worship was stripped from them. There came a time (586 B.C.) when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and corporate worship of the true God was forever changed. Sadly, it was only after that opportunity was gone that the people of God recognized what they had had. At that moment, the realized how they had squandered years, even generations, of privilege. It was all gone. Psalm 137 described their sadness.

Psalm 137 By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres. 3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! 6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!

Dear brothers and sisters, let us not repeat the sins of Israel. Instead, let’s treat each Lord’s Day as a special opportunity to meet the Lord together, to sing His praise, to offer prayers and petitions to Him, to study His Word and His works, to engage fully in the thing that God has created for us to do forever—declare His glory.

You can’t not be there.

Psalm 122:1 I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”