Friday, December 12, 2014

Why I don't drink

With New Year’s Celebrations looming and alcohol consumption rising I thought I would share with you six reasons why I don’t drink alcohol.

We can all agree that the Bible speaks against getting drunk (Ephesians 5:18) but I believe abstaining from consuming alcohol is a matter of wisdom. Here are my six reasons:

1.      It doesn’t take much alcohol to become intoxicated.

For many people all it takes is a very small amount and they are intoxicated. That’s why trying to define what “getting drunk” really is can be very difficult. Just a small amount can dramatically impair physical and mental abilities of certain individuals. That can also be easily manipulated by how much/little an individual has had to eat. So I just don't drink.

2.      There are plenty of other choices.

Some justify drinking by saying, “Well Jesus and the disciples drank wine. And Jesus turned water into wine.” This view needs to consider that the choices for drink in the first century were very limited. Sometimes the choice was only between rancid water or wine. In our day there are numerous viable, less-dangerous choices at our discretion.

3.      Alcoholic beverages are not necessary for medicinal purposes anymore.

In the first century and earlier alcoholic beverages were used to help individuals for many ailments. But in our time there are many available medicines that can help with precision any ailment. So the idea that I must drink alcohol to help me medicinally is just not that strong of an argument.

4.      Alcoholic beverages are addictive.

Many studies have shown the addictive nature of alcoholic beverages. I know my own personal propensity toward addiction and I most certainly don't need to tempt this arena in my life.

5.      I don’t want to set a bad example.

What I choose to do in moderation my children or others might do in excess. Even though this is a danger with any behavior, given the destructive nature of alcohol consumption I choose to not partake.

6.      It hinders your witness.

As I already stated in setting a bad example, I must be cognizant of the witness I am portraying to others. In all honesty, if people in the community or the church that I served saw me and my wife sitting at a bar drinking, it would have a very bad effect on the lives of others.

Not drinking alcohol is a wise choice. I am not saying that one should never drink alcohol…but I am dictating why my wife and I choose not to drink. We do not want our mental faculties to be impaired at any level. We always want the freedom to make sober judgment.

As an anecdote, almost every horrible ministry situation I have been involved with where there were broken relationships or a fractured family…without exception, alcohol was involved in the process somewhere along the way.

The apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:12, “Everything is permissible for me"-but not everything is beneficial.” Can a Christian drink? Sure. Is it beneficial to do so? My conclusion is that it is not. Paul also tells us, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Maybe this New Year ahead might be a great time for you to choose the wise path and to not drink alcohol anymore.

Monday, April 7, 2014

What's going on with our Bible Colleges?

I’m not a mega-church pastor. So take what I say with a grain of salt. I don’t speak to tens of thousands each weekend. I speak to a faithful flock of under 200. I have stood in the same pulpit for over 800 Sundays. In that time frame I have come to some conclusions that I know are echoed by some of my other colleagues in ministry as well. 

It seems that our Bible Colleges have lost touch with churches like mine. You see our basic problem is we are a church of under 200. That’s it in a nutshell. We don’t have much to offer apparently. 

We don’t have a phone book full of ministry options for people. We don’t have staff that equal the size of our church. We don’t have a worship band that cranks out CD’s that we sell in our in-house bookstore.

You see, we are who we are. And the dirty little secret is, we like it that way. But as far as our Bible Colleges go, it would seem, we are definitely the type of church to avoid. In fact, as horrible as this sounds, we have become very comfortable in our own skin. You see, we don’t want to be a church led by Rick Warren or Craig Groeschel. We just want to be who we are…warts and all.

Now every Bible College President would probably put his hand on my shoulder and let me know how off-base I am. He would assure me that my assessment is not an accurate reflection of what is happening in our colleges in relationship to the church. But I can’t shake what I am seeing and hearing.

It would seem that many of our colleges are more concerned with being in step with the progressive tendencies of our culture that they have little time to properly focus on the fact that the majority of our churches in America are just like mine…under 200 in attendance. It is almost as if you would think the message being received by students in our colleges these days is if a church is under 200 the only thing it is good for is to help you get to a bigger and better church.

Which is another issue I have noticed over the years, there is an entitlement mentality amongst our Bible College graduates that runs counter to the servant spirit required to do practical ministry. Many of the young people entering ministry are more focused on what the church can do for them than what they can do for the church.

There are so many young people graduating with a fractured focus of ministry (youth, small group coordinator, children’s, worship, etc…) that they have adopted a “that’s not my job” mentality and heart. Sometimes a clogged toilet just needs to be unclogged. It could care less about your degree focus.

I have a friend who served an area church in Iowa that decided for budgetary concerns and a growing need with their young families that their current youth minister would need to focus on children’s ministry as well as youth ministry. Which translated practically into him overseeing the Jr. Church program and making sure that children’s Sunday School classes were properly facilitated and had good curriculum. This young man quit his job in protest rather than help pick up slack in a needed area of ministry.

I have had similar experiences as well. We have had young men serve as youth minister with this very same “what’s in it for me?” mentality. And the church is no better off.

Increasingly this is the product that is being turned out of our Bible Colleges. I understand much of what I have said is anecdotal but my experience keeps being echoed in my ears from so many of my colleagues. There is a problem. And there is a disconnect in what is needed in our churches and what our Bible Colleges are producing in leadership for the church.

Many of our Bible College graduates do not ask of a church: Here are my gifts, can you use them? But they ask: Here are my needs, can you meet them?

As I said, I am not a mega-church pastor, so I certainly am not hip, but I have learned this in my time in ministry: If you’re too big to clean a toilet then you’re too little to do anything else.

Some of us need to repent of thinking too highly of ourselves. If you’re too big to do something small then you are too small to do something big. In fact, the smaller you are, the more room you leave for God. But I don’t know if that can be found in any of our Bible Colleges’ current text books.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

It’s over…don’t try to contact me again…

I just can’t take it anymore. The way you tell me over and over the things I want to hear. You try to sweet talk me with all your talk about God and family…but I know the truth. You don’t care about God! You use Him! Just like you use me. You only seem to care about me when you’re interested in the one thing you always seem to be interested in. I am not something just to be lied to so you can get what you want out of me. I cannot take the abuse anymore. I have reached my breaking point. So I am letting you know once and for all that it’s over between me and you. I’m leaving you forever Republican Party! 

I can’t believe the freedom I feel in saying that, honestly! I have convinced myself for so long that you really do care about God and truth and life and marriage. But it was all a lie. You don’t care about any of that! We have had no significant change in things except you have aided in the death of more babies and now marriage is crumbling all across America. 

All the Republican Party has ever wanted from me is my vote. They want me to just shut up about God and life and marriage and just cast my vote for team “R” but I can’t do it anymore. In fact, the last time I voted for team “R” I felt like I needed to take a shower afterwards because I felt dirty for doing it. I just can’t do it anymore.

I am finally taking control. I am no longer listening to the lies. I am empowering myself to walk away from the Republican Party. I am only going to be concerned with doing what is right before God…and the only time I will ever vote for another Republican will be when that person can unequivocally prove that they are going to be a servant of the Most High first and a true statesmen second.

By the way, I tried. I tried for a long time to make things work. But your disdain for all that I care about made our relationship impossible to maintain. How can two people stay together who are headed in different directions? The Republican Party I first fell in love with used to care about all the things I continue to care about (life and marriage and religious liberty) but now all that the Republican Party cares about is making sure that they are not much different from the Democrat Party. And they have done a wonderful job at that!

Now it really is hard to tell the difference between a Republican and a Democrat anymore. Most of the “electable” Republicans love the murder of babies and destroying marriage as much as the most ardent Democrats.

You’ve been telling me for a long time now that I have to change if we want our relationship to progress. But I’ve told you for so long that these are things in me that will never change. You want an “open” relationship…where we are inviting anyone and everyone in. I don’t. I want your exclusive allegiance. I want to know that you care about the things that really matter.

But I don’t know who you are anymore. You have become everything that I hate. And I will not tolerate it anymore. So it is over. So go find someone else to climb into bed with Republican Party…it’s what you seem to be very good at these days. With your lack of standards you’ll find someone else, I’m sure.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Fifteen Years...

In three weeks I will have been the minister of Fort Des Moines Church of Christ for fifteen years. That’s one and a half decades for those of us that went to public school. This very morning I went to the hospital early to pray with an older gentlemen that was one of the very first men in the church to “show me the ropes” after I arrived here.

For the first week I was here, he would come pick me up and drive me around so that I got familiar with the city. He went calling with me. He just made sure I felt comfortable in my new role as the preacher of the church.

I did. At least, I put on airs that I did. I was still young and dumb. I was arrogant and too proud to realize how risky some of the decisions I made were. I believe, overall, that I have had a successful ministry. If you are measuring success by the size of the church…to be honest, it hasn’t changed a ton.

Well, that’s not entirely true. The first Sunday I preached at The Fort there were 45 people in attendance. Since then we have grown. But we’re no mega-church. We are who we are. A small church with imperfect people and an even more imperfect preacher.

I do have some regrets, mind you. There have been times I have said things I wish I could have taken back. But like toothpaste squeezed out of a tube, once you say it, it is pretty hard to put it back where it came from. In anger I have intimidated people, I have pushed and manipulated for things that I wanted to happen at the church…sometimes at the expense of other’s feelings.

When I encountered relational struggles in my ministry, I was all-too-quick to point out their “issues” but very, very slow to see any of my own. At times, honestly, I really blew it. I genuinely wasn’t there when people needed me to be there.

There have been people that I just didn’t care for and I wouldn’t go see them. Not that I didn’t know I should…but I didn’t want to. So I didn’t. And I am no better for it.

There have been people that I liked too much, and I might have smothered them with my insatiable desire to have more and more affirmation that I am a good preacher.

There were times when, preparing for a sermon, I just got lazy and I copied someone’s idea or I just didn’t really put any effort into the preparation at all. And it showed.

But in spite of all of that…in spite of me…God has been good. He has helped people to move to places they did not know they could spiritually and I was allowed to be a small part of that process. He has brought people from darkness to light, from addiction to freedom, from desperation to hope…and I got to witness it up front and close.

Fifteen years is a long time. I am definitely not a perfect person…but by God’s grace He still chooses to use me. What a God!? Who could think that someone as messed up and imperfect like me could be used by God in such a way?!

I can’t promise I won’t blow it again. I can’t promise I won’t be a little person at times scheming to get my own prideful way. I can’t promise that every sermon is going to be something I put together with my whole heart. But I can promise that I will be available for whatever is next and however God chooses to use me.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What about tongues?

So you’ve made a new Christian friend. The two of you sit down for coffee. He asks you, “What do you believe about speaking in tongues?” Have you ever given that question any thought? What do you believe the Bible says about this topic?
Other than acknowledging that we all use our physical tongues to communicate while we speak verbally, you may not have given much thought to this topic. But understand that Christians have debated this issue for a long time. Even back in Paul’s day, the topic of Christians speaking in tongues was a contentious one (1 Corinthians 14).
We haven’t gotten any better in our day. There is still a lot of disagreement on this topic. Let me begin by saying that as I address this issue I am not professing to be the foremost scholar on this topic. I also don’t believe I understand everything there is to understand on this issue. I am simply a student of the Word in a perpetual state of learning and growing.
The first time we see an occurrence of people speaking in tongues is early in the second chapter of Acts. The 120 who were gathered at the end of Acts 1 were all in one place and the Spirit of God came into that meeting with both physical and spiritual phenomena (Acts 2:2-3).  It says in Acts 2:4, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (NIV)
That word translated “tongues” in this verse is the Greek word “glossa” (pronounced glow-sah). Variants of this term occur over 50 times in our New Testament. It is translated to refer to the tongue in a literal sense; as a bodily organ (Revelation 16:10) or to any particular language or people group that speak a language (1 Corinthians 13:1) or to the spiritual gift of communicating in another language at the direction of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:2).
The correct translation for Acts 2:4 is the spiritual gift of communicating in another language at the direction of the Spirit. This is confirmed because of the context (Acts 2:6). The miraculous nature of this gift was that it was more than ecstatic utterances or babbling or gibberish…it was ordinary individuals speaking a known language that they had never studied or been trained to speak.
What is practiced today in many modern church buildings across this country is in no way an example of the gift of tongues that we see in Acts 2. And yet, there are those in Christendom who would declare that you are not actually a Christian if you do not practice “tongues” all the while never actually having done so (in a biblical sense) in their own life. For most “tongue-speaking” churches in America are merely practicing ecstatic utterances or babbling or gibberish.
This is to say nothing of the fact that even the Apostle Paul acknowledged that tongues is an inferior spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 14:5). Paul even emphatically states that not every Christian was given the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:28-31). So for any man or institution to claim that every believer in Christ must utilize this gift are teaching the direct opposite of what God’s Word states.
There are also many who conclude that tongues has ceased to be used by God in the modern age. They base this off of what Paul said toward the end of 1 Corinthians 13. In that passage Paul says:
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:8-12, NIV)
So Paul says that when “perfection” comes tongues will be stilled. What is the “perfection” Paul is speaking of in this passage? The Greek word translated perfect is the word “teleios” (pronounced te-lay-ahs). Variants of this word occur 20 times in the New Testament.
Some would say that the “teleios” in 1 Corinthians 13 is referring to the completed canon of Scripture. Once that came together the church no longer needed these other minor gifts like tongues and spiritual healing. Some would say that it is linked back to the apostles and the “laying on of hands” to impart these kinds of spiritual gifts like tongues. Once the apostles died, there was no one left to impart the gifts, so they just naturally died out.
This, in my opinion, does a great disservice to the context of 1 Corinthians. For starters, no where in the New Testament does “teleios” ever refer to a document or an inanimate object like the canon of Scripture. It is more than just a stretch to make that word apply in such a way, it is poor scholarism. Second, to apply “teleios” to the laying on of the apostles hands again makes no sense contextually.
Of the 20 uses, “teleios” is used to describe a matured spiritual state. Jesus used it this way (Matthew 5:48; 19:21). Paul used the term elsewhere this way (Philippians 3:12; Colossians 1:28). It is used by the author of Hebrews to refer to Jesus (Hebrews 2:10; 5:9; 7:28).
I believe this definition of “teleios” best fits the context of 1 Corinthians 13 as well. When you examine how Paul addresses the issue of tongues with the church in Corinth in his first letter, it is very clear that it was a problem in that church. The way the gift was being used (or abused) was creating controversy and Paul goes out of his way to point out that tongues is a lesser gift.
When we mature in Christ we do not need that kind of a spiritual pacifier. We mature when we begin to love like Christ loved.
I do not want to say unequivocally that tongues do not exist. I know that what is claimed as tongues in many American churches is not a biblical practice. But I can see how God can still utilize such a gift on the mission field. Tongues was a contentious issue in Paul’s day and it still is in ours. Let’s simply abide in what we know…God’s Word and not anything else.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Divorce and Remarriage

I have been contacted recently by a couple different individuals regarding a teaching about divorce and remarriage. The individuals were attempting to get me to agree with their position that any person who divorces his or her spouse and then remarries another person is in fact committing adultery.

This is based on a faulty understanding of the original language and how the word "divorce" is translated. The main passage applied on this is from Matthew 19:4-9. In this passage Jesus affirms first, and foremost, that marriage is between a male and a female. Even though this does need to be clarified in our current day, those who think it is hatred to preach such a message (that marriage is solely between a male and a female) hate Jesus because he is the one who preached this first.

Jesus continued with stressing that once a couple become one flesh then no one should separate that union because God is the One who has joined them together (vs. 6). The disciples then challenge this with the question, "Then why did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" (vs. 7)

That word translated "divorce" in verse 7 is the Greek word "APOSTASION". It is the word that refers to the legal process (where a written certificate is issued) of divorce. But it also refers to "sending her away." That is the Greek word "APOLUO". This is merely a physical separation. One mate leaves the other's presence for a period of time (or maybe for good).

As Jesus responds to this question by the disciples he does not use the word "APOSTASION" (the legal process of divorce where a certificate is issued) he refers to physical separation.

Look closely at verse 8. Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce (APOLUO) your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning."

The word is translated "divorce" in the English text (except the KJV does a very good job translating this "put away"). Remember, this is a physical separation.

Jesus is saying that because of man's hard heartedness, because of our sin, Moses permitted for couples to separate when issues arose that they believed were irreconcilable. But Jesus takes this permission to a new level.

This wasn't uncommon for Jesus. He defined adultery as more than simply having sex with someone other than your spouse. If a man looks at a woman lustfully then he has committed adultery with her in his heart.

Here Jesus gives a very high view of marriage, in my opinion. There is no problem, no issue, no circumstance that couples cannot work through with God's help. So look at what Jesus says in verse 9...

"I tell you that anyone who divorces (APOLUO) his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Look at the word employed. He uses the word that refers to physical separation. Which makes perfect sense. If my wife separated from me and then she married another man, she would be committing adultery because she would still be legally married to me!

The goal of "APOLUO" is reconciliation. And the fact that Jesus says that the only reason a couple should separate is for marital unfaithfulness (the word is porneia in Greek which is adultery) means that Jesus believes in the permanency of the marriage covenant.

What could very well have happened in Jesus' day was that a legalistic Pharisee could "APOLUO" his wife but not necessarily go through the whole process of "APOSTASION". And then that same Pharisee could travel to another town and "marry" a prostitute and sleep with her. Then in the morning he would "APOLUO" the prostitute and go back to his home and take back his first wife. And he would feel proud that he never broke the law.

That is clearly wrong. Jesus made it abundantly clear that marriage is a permanent covenant between a man and a woman.

But we have preachers and teachers today who wrongly interpret this passage from Matthew 19 to state that the only way a person who has been divorced and remarried can right themselves with God is to leave their current spouse (and potential children) and go back to their first marriage.

It is a damnable doctrine in my opinion that only brings hurt and pain to those who have already been through the pain of divorce.

Let me state a couple of things VERY clearly. Divorce is not God's will. It is not His design. As Jesus teaches in Matthew 19, marriage is something that is to be permanent. It is something though, that God permitted under Moses due to man's sinfulness.

That hasn't changed. Divorces still occur. And in many churches, divorced Christians are treated like second-class Christians. This should not be. Divorce hurts people in a very real way. And the church needs to help people understand a Biblical view of marriage and the power of Yahweh Rapha (the God of healing).

There is so much more that can be said and written on this topic by men greater and smarter than myself. But I am convinced that we need to understand our Bibles better than we do. Because it is lack of understanding Scripture that only bring hurt into peoples lives.

I want to pay a note of respect and gratitude to my Uncle Scott Sheridan for his study on this topic.


Friday, October 19, 2012

My Hero

This is Mabel Harper. This picture was taken in 1940 for her graduation. Mabel was the youngest of three children born to Frank and Missouri Harper. The Harpers were not Christians.  

Mabel married a handsome young man and they started their life together. But Mabel and her new husband weren’t Christians. Mabel decided she needed to find a church because she was pregnant and she wanted her kids to go to church even if she never went when she was a kid.

Mabel tried a church in their town in Ohio but it was a Pentecostal church and it was a bit too crazy for her. So then she thought she’d try the little Church of Christ in town.

After the first Sunday the preacher met with her and showed her a simple illustration with a pencil that had been all chewed up and he took a napkin and covered the pencil. He told her that is exactly what Christ does to our sin. He covers our sin.

That clicked with her. The very next Sunday she went forward and was baptized. She never looked back. A few weeks later her husband was baptized as well.

This is Mabel from just a couple years ago. Mabel Irene Sheridan. My grandmother, my hero. She is a beautiful person both inside and out. And listen, Sunday after Sunday, month after month she took her kids to church. Year after year, decade after decade my grandma went to church with her family and she did the very best that she could. She is the reason I stand up to preach every week.

My grandma is one of the most beautiful women I have ever known and she is the reason I will be in heaven one day. Her health is now failing. I feel helpless but not hopeless. I have no doubts about my grandmother’s eternal destiny.

I am grateful for my grandmother’s ceaseless prayers for me and all of her grandchildren. Her deepest desire is that her children and grandchildren will be in heaven. She won’t see all of them, but she will see this one again someday.

My prayer is that her children and grandchildren will desire to see her again someday as well. They can but they have to enter through the same door that she did. It is only through faith in Christ Jesus that anyone can go to heaven. The same faith that I hold on to in a sincere manner…the faith that was first in my grandmother. (2 Timothy 1:5)