Don’t Give In , part 2

Don’t Give In , part 2

Might as well give people what they want.


Most people are bored in most churches.

But if they are going to a traditional, predictable church then at least they know they can depend on the pastor to show up at their house routinely and any time they want to just talk and talk, they can always set up an appointment and he has to listen with a concerned face.

And if they don’t want that kind of church, they can always go find a rock show with a little message at the end that passes for a worship service in some of the newer churches. They can move through life anonymously without any genuine spiritual growth but still tell people that they got a lot out of the worship service.

Who wants someone to challenge them at every turn? And think of all the time you will have on my hands if you don’t have to do all that studying the Scriptures and working in ancient languages?

In fact, you can get plenty of ready-made sermons online. After all, if it is good enough to be preached by some pastor somewhere else, it should be effective in my congregation as well, right?

So, find out what people want from you and just give it to them. It will make everyone a whole lot happier. And in the end, isn’t that what ministry is all about?

[This post, and all in this series, are satirical hyperbole. That means I am making a point by exaggerating the opposite point.]

Don’t Give In, part 1

Don’t Give In, part 1

For years, I have tried to challenge the status quo and call people to do the difficult work of truly living according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But I have decided there is really no point to it. I have faced too many challenges and resistance, so I have decided to just put my pastoring gig into autopilot. Why?

Well, it works on airplanes, doesn’t it? 

I mean once the pilot gets the plane in the air, he slaps on autopilot and just hangs out with his copilot, right? I have heard that on most flights over about four or five hours, the pilot is generally sleeping anyway. On an average day, air traffic controllers handle over 28,000 flights every day. How many of them crash? That’s right – NONE. Since 2001, there have been five crashes involving commercial planes. FIVE. See, autopilot works great.

Why shouldn’t it work with pastoring? Leading a church isn’t nearly as complicated as flying a commercial plane, right? And the average commercial airliner has more people on it than will hear the average sermon.

So if an autopilot can handle an airliner, why can’t we put the church in autopilot as well?

[This post, and all in this series, are satirical hyperbole. That means I am making a point by exaggerating the opposite point.]

Our Trip to Israel in January

Biblical Imagination Trip to Israel

The video will open a new page on Vimeo

We were privileged to spend a couple of weeks in Israel with the Biblical Imagination team. Our church family and a number of friends we have met over the years helped us get there – a blessing to our entire family. After we got back, we tried to show people the pictures but we had hundreds ourselves and then hundreds from our new friends. In the end, any slideshow presentation did not do the trip justice.

Jeff Jones, our videographer, just sent us the video journal of our trip. You can watch it and see us among our “congregation on the move” during the trip. The video is set to music and narration from Michael Card as well as some of the instruction from our tour guide, David Miller.

My Advice to Future Pastors

My Advice to Future Pastors

I am in my tenth year as a solo pastor. In that time, I have led our congregation through a lot of changes. Our first Sunday together, I candidated for a down and out congregation that had just moved into a newly renovated space. They had already offered the pastorate to someone else, who had decided God wanted him on the mission field instead. I was their second choice. That was August, 2004. In November of that year, the congregation called me to be their pastor.

Five years later, with our lease expiring and our funds dwindling, God led us to another congregation and I was privileged to help lead the two congregations in a merger that resulted in Bedford Road Baptist Church. That process took over 18 months from beginning to end.

Now, after nearly ten years, I finally feel like I have something to give to the next generation of pastors – in the form of a single piece of advice.

If you can live without doing this job, do something else.

I say this in all seriousness and without the slightest reservation.

If you can do something else, do it. The pastorate is not something you do because you think it will be neat or a challenge. It is something you do because there is a fire burning deep inside your gut and God won’t let you do anything else.

Look, I am a pastor’s kid. I know just how much being married to a pastor or having a pastor as a dad sucks.

As a pastor, you will put your family through more garbage than you would ever wish on anyone else. You will have bouts of depression and frustration. You will have days of complete exhaustion. Sometimes, you will cry for no reason other than the disparity between the way you thought your life would go and the way it has.

Make no mistake about it.

You have to be called into this gig.

If you can do anything else, do it. If you can be anywhere else, be there. If there is someone else, then let them do it.

Being a pastor is the hardest thing I have ever done. It is tiring. It is frustrating. It is painful. It is trying. It is brutal. It is emotional.

And I can’t imagine myself doing anything else because God dragged me kicking and screaming into this gig – so I know it is His work, not mine.

Casual pastor-wannabe? Get out while you can, before this thing consumes you. It isn’t for those who aren’t called, because it isn’t about you.

Praying in God’s Theater

What roles do the Scriptures play in your prayer life?

This is a question that I am not sure many Christians, especially those of the evangelical traditions, consider very carefully. We read our Bibles. We pray. But do these things intersect?

Most prayer that I encountered as a pastor’s kid was what I call laundry list prayer. We would get a nice long list of people’s booboos and then present the list to God, usually accompanied with a lot of “Oh God” and “Please, Lord”. Sometimes there was event fervent mumbling and occasionally tears. These times of prayer would go on for quite awhile.

Since I am not much of an emotional person and I cannot keep my eyes closed for more than about five minutes without falling asleep, my mind would wander and my imagination would kick in. Before we got caught, a friend of mine and I used to play a game of keeping track of the sanctified stutters – those things people say when they are trying to think of the next thing to say.

During my adult experience of the Christian faith, I have gravitated toward a more careful form of prayer than I was used to hearing from people. It was not that the folks I grew up around were insincere or that they were somehow unspiritual. But at the same time, there was something that I felt like I should be doing that I wasn’t.

For the past decade or so, my pattern of prayer has shifted more and more to a conformity with Scriptural prayers and Scripture as prayer. In our congregation, we often do corporate Scripture reading as prayer – with the pronouns changed to reflect a personal cry to the Lord. In my personal discipline of prayer, I prefer to recite the Scriptures as petitions to the Lord.

So, the opportunity to review Joel L. Watts new book Praying in God’s Theater was too good to pass up. The book is written as a series of prayers and meditations drawn from the Book of Revelation. And if there is one book of the Scriptures that is neglected in the worship of the western church, Revelation is it.

I will be reading the book in the coming weeks, and I will post the review once I am done.

The Church of the Resurrection – Links

We have filled the last three weeks looking at the Church of the Resurrection (also known as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher). Hopefully, the story of this revered but often neglected site gives us a little bit of perspective on the difficulties faced by the Church in all its various manifestations.

  1. Constantine and the Ancient Building (330-614)
  2. The Persian Wars and the Rise of Islam (614-692)
  3. Sidebar on the Dome of the Rock (685-692)
  4. The Mad Caliph Destroys the Church (1019-1042)
  5. The Crusader Church (1042-1187)
  6. Turkish Control and the Status Quo (1187-1856)
  7. The Earthquakes and Conflicts (1853-1965)
  8. Barluzzi, Italy, World War II (1933-1947)
  9. Restoration at Last (1965-1997)

We haven’t exhausted this subject, and I might return to it at a later date.

The Church of the Resurrection, part 9

The Church of the Resurrection, part 9

The fetters of the status quo account for the state of dirt and dilapidation which is characteristic of many parts of the building. (Archer Cust, The Status Quo in the Holy places, 1925)

When the British conquered Jerusalem in 1917, the Turkish governor fled – taking with him over 400 years of documents concerning the Status Quo of Christian holy sites. He also took the Greek patriarch, Damianos.

Damianos did not care for the British, and he absolutely insisted that the Status Quo be maintained. At every turn, efforts to repair the damage from the 1927 earthquake and the cumulative effects of centuries of patching were blocked. Over the next twenty years, Damianos and his successor Timotheos resisted any efforts to care for the Church of the Resurrection on the grounds that they would grant privileges to the Latins.

The problem lay in Ottoman law, which unlike British common law, did not allow for the possession of a religious site. The site was instead subject to waqf, a kind of endowment that provided for the use of a site by a religious group but specifically prohibits ownership. In a complicated, and not completely understood, arrangement, many of the Christian holy sites throughout Israel had been placed under a kind of waqf law, which was what necessitated the Status Quo and all the firmans on who could do what and when.

The British had difficulty interpreting the waqf, partially because all of the official Ottoman documents were missing and partially because they simply did not understand Ottoman law. On top of these issues, both the French and the Vatican took issue with the British control of the Holy Land, since Great Britain was a Protestant nation. Distrust and bureaucratic stalling delayed any attempt to repair the Church. The difficult task of governing the troubled region actually contributed to their surrender of their League of Nations mandate in 1948.

While confusion reigned, architects and clerics bickered, and the British were paralyzed. With their mandate expiring, the rule of the city and all of its holy sites passed to King Abdullah bin al-Hussein of Jordan.

Abdullah had been an ally of the British during World War I and had been appointed the Emir of Transjordan under the British Mandate. An educated and world-wise moderate, Abdullah attempted to control the excesses of all of his constituent groups, including the Christians.

His father Hussein had been the Sharif of Mecca and briefly declared himself the king after rebelling against the Ottomans in 1916. The Saudis put this to an end in 1924, and Hussein was forced to leave the Saudi kingdom. He joined his son Abdullah in Transjordan, and he was buried in Jerusalem.

Abdullah saw himself as the Sharif of Jerusalem, just as his father had been the guardian of the sacred sites of Mecca and Medina. So, when the Mandate ended in 1948, Abdullah wished to protect the city from extremists. He ordered troops into the city, and they fought both the Jews and the Arab extremists who were led by Mufti Mohammad Amin al-Husayni.

If the Mufti was allowed to establish a Muslim Palestinian state, the region would descend in to chaos. Equally, Abdullah did not want such a volatile group under control of what was going to emerge as the Jewish state of Israel. Originally, he had hoped to be able to create an autonomous Jewish canton within his kingdom, but the Jews refused to accept anything short of full independence.

Abdullah walked a delicate balance, fighting the Israelis and absorbing the Palestinians into his kingdom. In the end, Abdullah wound up with possession of the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem. This possession included the administration of the decaying Church of the Resurrection.

One of Abdullah’s most significant contributions to the protection of the Church came in 1949. During the evening of November 23, a fire broke out in Anastastis rotunda. Thanks to the concrete coverings put in place during an earlier attempt at restoration, the fire was restricted to the dome itself and did not spread to the rest of the Church.

The day after the fire started, Abdullah was on site. He called a meeting of the leaders of all the communities. It was the first time that a sovereign had invited the leaders of the faith communities to actually meet and discuss the care of the Church of the Resurrection. Although the meeting accomplished nothing and the communities continued to bicker, at least they were bickering across a table.

(It is mind-boggling that no one thought of this until 1949! As amazing as it sounds, when William Harvey was surveying the building in the 1930’s, the other communities never thought of having their experts meet with him. They sent his reports all over the world without considering that a face-to-face meeting might lead to a quick resolution.)

Sadly, Abdullah was shot dead by a Palestinian extremist in 1951 while attending afternoon prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. His son Talal served as king for a year, but he was forced to abdicate and Talal’s son Hussein became king. Hussein would rule Jordan for the next forty-seven years and make it one of the most stable and moderate states in the Middle East.

With Hussein on the Jordanian throne, the Church of the Resurrection was still decaying. What was needed was a moderate Orthodox patriarch who would work with his Arab king, the European-dominated Franciscans and the other Eastern communities in the Church. Timotheos died in 1955, and the patriarchal throne remained vacant for two years.

Ultimately, the moderate Vasileos Papadopoulos was affirmed as Patriarch Benedict I, and he immediately set to work finding a compromise that would be amenable to all parties. For nearly thirty years (1961-1980), Benedict took the lead in massive restorations of the Church.

Benedict had served as what might be considered the Chief Financial Officer of the patriarchate. He had important financial connections to the national government of Greece, who had been on the side of the victors in both world wars and with the demise of the Ottomans, was now more prosperous than any time in its history. He won a narrow election against Demianos’ nephew and was the first patriarch not from the island of Samos in over a century. Clearly, things were going to be different under his rule.

Living in the shadow of the 1956 Suez War, which had heightened opposition to European involvement in the region (which included the Israeli state), Benedict met with Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople and both encouraged the other Orthodox communities to find common ground and unity with each other and the Roman Catholics.

The Greek government began budgeting to match the contributions of the Greek Church. The Jordanians likewise got behind the project, which they saw as the continuation of the work of King Abdullah but also as a way to block Soviet power (the geopolitics of the Church are always confusing).

Benedict fought through obstacle after obstacle for nearly a decade. In the wake of their enormous losses in the second World War, the Latins were willing to guarantee the status quo. All the major parties signed an agreement for the work in 1958, over thirty years after the earthquake.

Eventually, a Dominican friar named Charles Coüasnon was chosen to lead a restoration team that included representatives of all the faith communities. Work finally got underway in 1959 although it did not begin in earnest until the 1960’s.

The continued work required a strong hand. Benedict was constantly seeking out funding for the work and resolving conflicts. His contribution was so significant that when he died in 1980, the parties immediately fell to squabbling again and it took another seventeen years before they could agree how to remove the scaffolding around the Anastasis rotunda.

It is hard to believe that a project that was begun when my father was still in elementary school (in 1959, he was 7) was still lingering when I traveled to Israel as a college student (in 1997, when I was 20). But that is the story of the Church of the Resurrection almost since it passed into the hands of the Crusaders in 1099.

There is so much more that could be written about the Church. I haven’t even touched on so much of significance, but after three weeks of posts exclusively on this topic, let’s put it aside for a while.