New Podcast on iTunes

We will begin posting new sermons and migrating old sermons onto our new sermon site. You are also able to subscribe to the podcasts via iTunes by clicking here. May you be helped by these talks.

New Sermon Podcast site

I’m hoping to migrate the audio for my sermons and lessons onto this website. Please see the new site at http://sermons.karenoch.com. I’m waiting for iTunes to accept my new podcast submission. If that happens, then people can simply subscribe to the podcast via this site as well as listen on the site.

If this works then I will move my entire resource site over to karenoch.com, including lessons, handouts, sermons, writings, etc. We’ll see.

Towards a Biblical Priority of Justice

The commandment states that we should have no other gods before the one true God. Anything that has greater value than God is an idol. What of the idolatry of justice?

This may seem odd, as much of the OT idolatry led to a lack of justice and oppression of the poor. But since anything that is takes higher value in one’s life can be an idol, then it follows that even a passion for justice can be idolatry. (Indeed all these also become idols when valued more than God: ministry, evangelism, worship of God, etc.)

So, perhaps it would be wise to learn to evaluate oneself before the Lord. Do I pursue justice more or less passionately than I pursue God? Do I pursue God because the Christian view of God firstly fits my passion for justice? Or, does my passion for justice flow from and inform my view of God– the God of justice?

Again, the same goes for other enterprises. One could ask a worship leader, “What do you love more: Worshiping God or God Himself?”

I do not want to split hairs. I agree that it’s not so simple as saying “I love God therefore I cultivate His love for justice.” As N.T. Wright argues in his book Simply Christian, the hunger for justice in the world is an echo that we were meant for a different world, one under the loving rule of a just God. But at the same time, Christians must be clear about the priority of justice.

Justice implies the proper administration of the law, rewards, and punishments. Justice means all sinners should be punished, including this writer. Let us be humble as we cry out for justice and denounce the injustice we see around us. Let us first humbly absorb the notion that we justly deserve punishment.

But beyond that, God is a god of justice and mercy. Those two ideals are not at odds or in competition in the mind of God. God is not agonizing over which of those two are more important. In God justice and mercy are in perfect harmony. No tension. I readily admit I cannot understand that. But God has given finite minds an embodiment of justice and mercy in Jesus and the cross…..

Practically, I would ask this of myself: do I love doing justice more than I love God? If so, then let me not diminish my passion for justice. Rather, let my pursuit of justice be ever more tempered, informed, and humbled by my pursuit of God.

Leadership Lesson

At this point in my life, my leadership responsibilities include leading those who lead other leaders. Or, to lead people who will lead people who will lead people; great-grandchildren-leaders. That means the people I directly lead are more likely very capable leaders themselves. They make good decisions with sophisticated thought processes and values. But at times I still disagree with their choices. And since the responsibility of those decisions ultimately fall to me, I have asked some of my leaders who I oversee to do things my way.

But if the only time I disagree with my subordinate leaders are the times I feel strongly and assert my authority, then I begin to send a wrong message. The wrong message I begin to send is this: I don’t trust you. If you and I don’t see eye to eye, I’m going to ask you to do things my way.

I’m learning that it’s encouraging and empowering to tell the leaders I oversee things like, “I want you to know that I disagreed with your decision, and I still do. But I want to work through you, respect your leadership in this area, and give you opportunities to make choices that may even be mistakes. So even thoguh I disagree with you, I can still support you as you proceed down this path.

I hope it’s clear that these disagreements are not over moral, ethical, or fundamentally core issues. Those are worth asserting. But I’m learning it encourages my leaders to know that I did let them follow paths I would not recommend. It shows then that I am willing to trust them, to give them the chance to do something different, to take acceptable risks, and believe that I do not always have the right answer. (Far from it!)

So, I told one of the leaders under me today: That’s not the play I’d call, but I leave the decision to you. It’s your call and within these ethical and theological parameters, I’ll support your plan.

You might call this encouragement by disagreement.

Spiritual Gift of Teaching

God has confronted me with Romans 12:7 on the spiritual gift of teaching. Specifically, if a person is gifted (as well as called and trained) to teach and preach, let him preach. The Apostle Paul also says if a person is gifted to serve, let him serve, and so forth with other gifts. By implication, it means if someone is not endowed with the grace to preach, then let him exercise his appropriate spiritual gifting accordingly and stop preaching.

Every aspiring preacher I know has struggled. Aspiring preachers become discouraged, rejected, or ruined by pride. Most people preach poorly in their first few (hundred!) sermons. But eventually, with training, encouragement, and prayer, they become competent. So my role as an equipper has been to encourage, train, and pray for newer preachers (including myself).

But now I have entered into a new season of life and ministry. I realize that part of my equipper role includes telling someone who wants to preach that I do not think they are gifted to preach. I don’t know why I have never thought of that implication before. Maybe I just wanted to encourage people in a difficult ministry. Maybe I realize that if no one encouraged me in my preaching, I would probably not be preaching today. Maybe I accepted the fact that while many people are gifted to preach, only a few will be considered “good” by listeners. But I think that last reason is flawed. Perhaps the reason why many preachers struggle to keep the attention of their hearers is because they are not gifted nor called to preach. Maybe there so few “good” preachers because most of the “not good” ones should not be preaching! If after training, opportunity, and encouragement a man does not become competent in preaching, he should consider exploring other gifts and ministries. But if I encourage such a person to continue to preach, I do a disservice to both the person and his hearers.

Martin Luther’s comments on this passage struck me, perhaps because they are out of another time and culture. Luther is not concerned with contemporary politeness or convention. Luther is frank and reasonable. He sounds harsh at times, but says the hard truth that some people just should not preach. Luther is concerned for the preaching of God’s Word in the Church. God has used his counsel to convict me.

“Against this there offend first of all those ambitious persons, who, because they despise their own office, desire to teach, though they lack not only the (necessary) indoctrination, a thing that might yet be borne, but also the gift of teaching. For it is not sufficient for men to be learned and intelligent, but they must also have God’s gracious gift (of teaching) to make them truly called by God for teaching… Therefore they should be satisfied with their office who do not know how to preach, or who are not even called, even if they should have the ability.

“It is strange how much (harm) the good intention does which makes persons believe that by preaching they produce ever so much more fruit, even if they are without the necessary special training, without the call, and without the gracious gift. When God calls (persons to preach), He calls either those who have this gift, or with the call He grants the gift. Without such grace men either beat the air (1 Cor. 9:26), or the fruit of which they boast exists only in their foolish imagination. I will not mention the stupid and altogether incompetent persons who here and there are put into the pulpit by bishops and abbots…

“Many have the gift of teaching though they do not possess great learning. Others have both, and these are the best teachers… Whoever does not use such gifts, but concerns himself with other matters, sins against that which the Apostle, indeed, which God commands.”

Luther than summarizes the importance and implications of knowing if one is called and gifted to preach or not to preach. “The Apostle here speaks above all of those who are (divinely) called. In the same way he, in all his letters, always emphasizes his call, because without the divine call neither the office nor the preaching can prospel. Thus it happens through the working of Satan that as some (who are not called) presume to preach, conversely teachers flee from teaching so that the Word of God is hindered in both ways. (Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, translated by J. Theodore Mueller, Kregel Publishing, 1976, pp.170-1)

In the coming days I suspect I will have some difficult conversations. But in the days after, hopefully those persons will joyfully begin to employ their greater gifts for the greater benefit of God’s people.

Strength to Know I’m Weak

This is part of a song I wrote today. I love irony, especially when it makes me want to cry and worship God at the same time.

Strength to Know I’m Weak

(Verse 1)

While in this life I grow weary

My load too great to bear

You place Your yoke to set me free

My burden Yours to share

(Verse 2)

My foolish pride had me deceived

Then pain sought to remind:

A man from what he sows shall reap

Again in You I find

(chorus)

The strength to know I’m weak

The strength to know I need

Your power to rest on me

The strength to let me see

How You’ve set me free

Give me strength to know I’m weak

(Verse 3)

You choose the weak and low to shame

The strong, the proud, the wise

So none can boast nor lay a claim

And all should seek in Christ

biblical priorities for love

A friend recently asked me a question. In the New Testament book of James chapter 2, God commands us to not show favoritism. But what about our blood relatives? Should we not put them above others in our lives? It’s a great question, not only because it’s so practical. It’s a great question also because we should care enough to follow the teachings of Christ that we ask questions if they seem contrary to common sense.

 

I wrote the following reply. 

 

That’s a good question! This is one of those times when the answer may be found in bringing together different Scriptures. All theology has to harmonize various Bible texts. On this topic of favoritism, I think these are some of the relevant texts.

Galatians 6:10 teaches us to love and care for all people, but especially Christians first

Ephesians 6:9 tells slave masters to treat their slaves well because God does not show partiality based upon human classes or status.

1 Timothy 5 talks about family responsibilities. Verse 8 explicitly teaches that we have a higher responsibility to care for family (like blood relatives).

And Ephesians 5 teaches that a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. That is the highest calling for human love. I think that means a spouse should be the highest priority even above your parents and children. After all, you left your parents to become one with your spouse. And your children will leave you for their spouses. In fact, a husband who loves others before his wife would be a bad husband.

So, while we are called to love everybody, God also gives us priorities in who first to show love towards. (We should be thankful for that guidance!) Does God love everybody? Yes, and we should too. But even Jesus did not provide equal attention to all people.

Jesus had his large group of disciples, perhaps up to 70. Out of that he focused on the 12 disciples. The 12 were divided into 3 groups of four. If you look at each of the lists of apostles in the gospels you’ll see that they are always listed in 3 groups of four. And among the 3 groups, the group most intimate with Jesus was Peter, James, John, and Andrew. And often it was only Peter, James and John. And even among those three, Peter is listed as the “first” disciple. 

How does this work with James 2? I think it means there’s a carnal and wrong way to prioritize attention. That’s favoritism. In fact, the kind of attention a rich man receives in James 2 is not love, not for the rich man anyway. When we give preference to a rich person, it’s not because we love them but because we love ourselves. We hope that the rich person will be kind back to us. That’s the opposite of love, which is selfishness. And that’s what James is teaching against. Don’t favor people because of what they can give you. Favor them because of the responsibilities God has given us. It’s not favoritism if I love my kid more than other kids. It’s good parenting. Do I love other people’s kids? Yes. Do I love them a lot? Absolutely. In fact, I often pray that I will love the youth at church as much as I love my kids. But I know my responsibility to my own kids comes first. 

And that’s why the Bible gives special place for the widows and orphans (like in James 1). The widows and orphans are those who have no family to take responsibility for them. That’s why the church needs to favor them above others. 

Hope this helps. I am no scholar, so take this for whatever it’s worth. If you haven’t done so, I’d also suggest asking your leaders and pastor what they think about it too. I’m sure they’d have good things to say

How’d you find me?

How’d you find this site? I haven’t told many people. Leave me a comment and tell me how you came by this site if I didn’t tell you personally. And if I didn’t tell you personally, please don’t take it personally. I’m just using this as a forum for pre-writing.

I think I know what to do

I admit, I desire the greatest impact. Yes, I relate to the sentiment that “I just want to be faithful to what God has called me to…” which has a ring of humility to it. It’s a humility that seeks not great things for oneself. Instead, it’s the heart’s cry of a true servant who is eager and pleased to serve the master in whatever way He sees fit.

But as I wrestle with my own aspirations, I desire more. Not more for myself, though I am sure I am plagued by common temptations of pride and vainglory. But more in the sense that I also eagerly desire to make the greatest impact possible with the time, opportunities, talents, and resources God has availed to me.

I also believe that I can be zealous for the Lord’s name in such a way as to take the time, opportunities, talents, and resources and multiply them to generate greater opportunities, all by His grace.

As I am now 32, I am slowly solidifying what I’ve suspected for almost 15 years. The greatest impact is defined by a how qualitatively deep and how quantitatively numerous I can influence people’s lives for the better.

And by better, I mean with to herald the fullness of the gospel of God to as many people in as clear, compelling, and faithful as possible.

At this point, it seems to me two major areas of work. The first area is that of directly impacting people personally. That seems the way of Jesus as he invested in his followers. But as he did that, he ensured by the facility of the Holy Spirit both a written message and a living movement. Thus, while we have no record that he physically wrote things down, God orchestrated the inspiration and transmission of Scripture that would impact people forever. And while he did not create an organization while he lived, the church was born through the Spirit and an institution was birthed in the Church.

I am not Christ. But it has seemed to me for many years that would be the greatest means to make an impact. Writing songs are good for being remembered, but I desire direct change. Great preachers are popular for a generation or two, perhaps with records made of their great sermons. But the way to the church is through her pastors, and that comes through theology professors, seminaries, and powerful written works (mostly scholarly but not necessarily so). And that is passed down through the under-shepherds and the churches they serve.

Thus, the combination of a movement of people with a body of work to which they commend the future leaders and members of any movement.

So, I aspire and desire to make the greatest impact in my generation and in centuries to come through writings on the most enduring themes: God and His Word. Indeed, the books that I know of from centuries ago are mostly commentaries because students of the Word search anew. The other books I am familiar with are stories. Those works seem to have the best chance of enduring past the 100 year mark. C. S. Lewis, MacDonald and the likes may not be as well remembered outside our context in 100 years. But Jonathan Edwards may still be remembered for his theological writings and preaching, if only by those who are in the similar movement of God’s plan.

If I truly do wish to write works of this sort, I had better start doing just that with the preparation and focus of someone who is set to accomplish that which God has set for him.

I have the interpersonal, speaking, and pastoral abilities to preach and lead a church of biblical greatness. Again, if any of that is true, it is true by the grace of God. I claim nothing on my own. And by biblical greatness, I do not mean a church that has enormous buildings, that is nationally known, or that has thousands of attendees. But a church that serves the Lord and His purposes with their very lives.

I also have the intellectual opportunities, resources, and drive to study and write and study and write and study some more and rewrite yet again. Do I really need a doctoral degree to accomplish this? Well, it depends what I want to write. If I desire to write fiction, then probably not. If I desire to write more learned works, then again, probably not if I study well on my own. But if I am not able to do so, if I find myself limited either in reception or in production by not possessing certain earthly credentials, then I would endeavor to work towards achieving those for the glory of God. But I would not know if I truly needed those– if it is worth the resources– until I try my hand at the craft and task first and found myself in want.

And so, I will write.

But what to write? Since I am no scholar yet, and I wish to write about the Bible, perhaps I would write to help people understand the bible better? I would write for these:

  • Pastors and teachers, fathers and spiritual leaders, missionaries and disciplers, mothers and those who nurture.
  • Let me write to help others understand the Bible with an aim to understanding it, praying it, living it, and teaching it.
  • Let me write something that could be used “devotionally” as a daily reading for God’s children, but not encumbered by the styles and whims of today’s tastes.

Of course, I would also like to write about relevant issues of the day, engaging in the thoughtful discourse as I am best able to engage. This is all that systematic theology does: it answers people’s questions about God, the Bible, and life. Thus, it must deal with questions people are asking. This may seem staid and dated, but the deep questions of life seem to be timeless: love & friendship, beauty and hope, truth and meaning, justice and righteousness, fun and humor (my own addition!).

Most germane, I would like to write to strengthen both believer and non-believer with the truthfulness, practicality, and beauty of the God and the Christian life. Call this a type of apologetic.

I would also like to radically live out what I learn, but first I must become that much greater a student of the Word.

So, I will endeavor to write a work somewhere between a devotional, Bible study, and accessible commentary on certain texts.

Let this genre– if it has a name yet– be organized by Bible book, but cross referenced by topic and even suggested thematic Scriptures for study or preaching.

But more on this… I would like to create a work that is useful for both Bible student and teacher, for Bible study and personal devotion, biblical and systematic theology, for group study and preacher. Perhaps I am on to something with a new genre. And this distinctiveness would have to be a genre, not just a format with a column for the preacher and another call-out box for the devotion.

Why is Jim Wallis a professed evangelical Christian?

It’s statements like this that make me wonder how Jim Wallis understands the grace and power of God: “Even in the loving arms of a God who also grieves such terrible human losses [such as the Oklahoma City bombing], the pain never really does go away.” (God’s Politics, p.302) Is this deep sympathy that the pain is tremendous, perhaps that that God even in his goodness allows someone to keep their pain? Or is it a legitimate and real limitation of God’s power to comfort? His answer could be quite profound, or banal.

Or take a statement like, “Her prayer comes right out of the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, which was the passage that brought me back to Christian faith,” (God’s Politics, p.217). I believe that God can and does use such a motivation to come (back) to faith in Christ. And that such a faith grows in maturity, insight and nuance over time. Indeed, coming to Christ should be just as much out of adoration for the God who loves the poor as it is for the God who forgives sin through Christ’s work on the cross. Moreover, it is our sin which has broken the world and made us poor both in body and in spirit. To seek God for one motivation ultimately converges, I suspect, with the other.

But why is Jim Wallis a professing Christian today? We all have deficiencies in our views of God, in our theology. That must be admitted in light of the infinitude of God’s manifold beauty and attributes. Thus, we must learn from each other. And as one educator recently wrote in a Chronicle of Higher Education, “For a student to be educated, she has to face brilliant antagonists,” (Mark Edmondsun, Dwelling in Possibilities, the 3/14/2008 issue).
I ask this because while the soundness of his theology is not necessarily dependent upon his motives, they are related. And he is not followed merely for his views, but for his personhood, character, and what he stands for. I also ask this because as I read an author, I’m most interested in the mindset and journey of that thinker more than his current views. I learn more by how someone came to her views rather than person’s position (which can change) at a particular time.

Well, I don’t know if Jim Wallis is brilliant (nor do I consider him an antagonist), but I have plenty to learn from him, both his correctness and his mistakes. God help me know the truth, as best it’s known by someone like me.