The Presidential Campaign: God Have Mercy upon Us!

If the following post seems familiar, it is because I am reblogging a post written 3 months ago. I think that much of the content is relevant to the upcoming election and that is why I changed only the title.

This past July 4th, I was re-reading the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution written eleven years later; amazing documents. While many consider them to be “inspired,” they are not inerrant; the 28 amendments to the Constitution are witness to that. Also the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments in particular prove that the Constitution has blind spots and must supported by something more if it going to provide the foundation for continuing freedom.

Os Guiness has written in A Free Peoples Suicide that there are many people in America today who scorn religious fundamentalism but are hard at work creating “a constitutional fundamentalism. It is being done through lawyers and judges rather than rabbis, priests, and pastors. Constitutional and unconstitutional have replaced orthodox and heretical.”  First amendment rights are being argued as the basis for opposing agendas and the interpretation of the Constitution itself is at the whim of political bias. Thus this incredible document alone cannot form the foundation for sustainable freedom. It needs to be supported by something else.

Guinness offers; “What the framers believed should complement and reinforce the Constitution and its separation of powers is the distinctive moral ecology that is at the heart of liberty.” Tocqueville called this moral ecology the “habits of the heart.” Guinness calls it “the golden triangle of freedom…freedom requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom.”

What resonates with me, mostly because we have been assaulted by months of political campaigning and debates, is the diminishing importance of virtue (character) that we see in our nation. We stress a written Constitution over the moral constitution of our nation’s citizenry and leadership. Unfortunately, examples of this are not hard to find.

Look at the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 when he was the sitting president. He was not convicted by the Senate of “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”(Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution), and the overall consensus to the whole “affair” was that the character of the president was irrelevant as a public issue. What really matters to our society is competence– not character.  Look at the unrestrained greed and unfettered capitalism  of the Wall Street crisis and the recession of 2008. Look at the present political scenario and the upcoming election that will boil down to which untrustworthy candidate America trusts more. Our nation has sown the wind by making faith and virtue a private matter; it is now reaping the whirlwind of having two presidential candidates with serious personality flaws.

George Reedy, special assistant to Lyndon Johnson looked back on his experience in the halls of power and said, “in the White House, character and personality are extremely important because there are no other limitations…. Restraint must come from within the presidential soul and prudence from the presidential mind. The adversary forces which temper the action of others do not come into play until it is too late to change course.”(The Twilight of the Presidency, 1970, p. 20)

In spite of their importance, experience and competence are not the most important ingredients to what we should look for in a leader. We need a person of character who has demonstrated trustworthiness in his/her private world as well as in the public square. It is not the rhetoric or the promises for the future, but it is what they have done about keeping their promises in the past, both privately and publicly.

I think Os Guinness borders on the profound when he says, “Externally character is the bridge that provides the point of trust that links leaders with their followers. Internally, character is the part-gyroscope, part-brake that provides a leader’s deepest source of bearings and strongest source of restraint when the dizzy heights of leadership mean there are no other limitations.”

Our Constitution is a magnificent document and we can be thankful for it. But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that our nation can be sustained by a document alone without the virtue of its leaders and citizenry. “A good government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual and slavery will ensue.” (John Witherspoon, the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence.)

Vote your conscience and may God have mercy on America!

The Dangers of Being a Pastor (4)

This final blog on the danger of being a pastor will focus on

THE DANGER OF LOSING the JOY of MINISTRY…

Paul David Tripp writes to pastors,  “This is where it inevitably leads. You’ve lost sight of the gospel in your personal life; you feel a growing disconnect between your private life and your public ministry persona; your ministry is no longer fueled by your own worship; your feel misunderstood by the people around you… and you are increasingly spiritually empty because you are looking for spiritual life where it cannot be found. The impact of all these things taken together is that you find your ministry less and less a privilege and a joy and more and more a burden and a duty.” (Dangerous Calling, p. 37)

Pastoral ministry is tough and tiring and sometimes you just need a break from the constant feeling that you are like a snack machine into which people put their money, push the button, and get whatever they want. In addition, you are always on; the late night calls, the hospital visits, the death bed vigils, the marital interventions, going with a husband to identify his wife’s body and then going home with him while he tells his 5 little children mom is not coming home. I could go on and on with situations that have had happened in my ministry, but one humorous illustration reflects the fact that a pastor is always on the job. One evening I had to show up a little late from an elders meeting to one of my son’s basketball games. I came somewhere in the 2nd quarter when his team was playing a very important game against an arch rival. My wife had saved me a seat, right in back of another couple from our church. I greeted them and then got down to watching my son play, and I mean watch – my wife will tell you that I focus on the game and do not like conversation. After about ten minutes, the very sincere brother from my church turned to me and said, “Hey Dave, since I have you here, can you explain the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism?” (By the way, I told him we’d talk later.)

All of this is to say, pastoral ministry is often wearying and difficult. But don’t feel sorry for us because this is to what we have been called. I wouldn’t want to do what some of you do. Give us some vacation and study leave, and we will rest, recoup, and will be good as new. I always come back from vacations excited to get going in ministry again. However, there are some pastors who do not want to come back at all. They have come to see that ministry is a burden. They have lost the joy of serving their congregation and the vision of seeing what they will become in Christ. They no longer resonate with what Paul tells Timothy; “For this end we toil and strive because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Tim 4:10)

Pray that your pastor would never lose his/her joy in serving you or their vision and hope for what you can become in Christ.  Pray also that they would never lose sight of the gospel in their private life, that his/her ministry would always be fueled by worship, that they would keep their family as a priority so that their spouse or kids would never become jealous of the church, and that your pastor would take time off for rest and refreshment.

I am sorry to say that I preached a similar message for a pastor many years ago at his installation. In fact, I carry with me the bulletin for this service and my message was “The Dangers of Being a Pastor.” Within just a few years, this man had an affair, left his church and the ministry. The seeds of destruction were already in this man’s ministry, hidden and secreted away from public view. It is an ever-present reminder to me of how serious is the business of pastoral ministry.

I am not suggesting that your pastor has secrets that will do them in, but I am strongly suggesting that there are some serious dangers in the ministry that every pastor faces. We are in desperate need of the grace of God and the prayers of our people, lest we are left to ourselves and bring it all to destruction.

If I can be of any help to a pastor who is struggling in ministry, it would be my privilege. If you are that person or know of someone, I would be happy to talk to you/them. You can begin by emailing me at dave.mcdowell@wheaton.edu and we can go from there. It may not be much that I offer, but at least you’ll know that you are not alone. Blessings.

The Dangers of Being a Pastor (3)

In my last blog I mentioned the danger of feeding others at the expense of nourishing one’s own soul. In this blog I want to mention a third danger of being a pastor,

THE DANGER OF THE PASTOR NOT RECEIVING PASTORAL CARE…

The pastor is in a unique position of inherited authority and is automatically placed upon a kind of pedestal in the minds of many in his congregation. He is used to being quoted and usually what he says is the final word on most theological and life issues in the church. Sometimes the larger the church, the bigger the pastor’s influence and the bigger his ego grows. Everyone knows he is not perfect, but few view him with flaws mainly because they don’t want to see their pastor in that way. Who wants an imperfect pastor anyway? This constant pedestal of deference and respect coupled with the functional anonymity of the pulpit, the fact that few people really know the pastor and can speak into his life, create a situation where self-deception can breed. And this is especially dangerous because it seems that the pastor is often the only person in the church who does not benefit from the pastoral care he works so hard to give everyone else. Who pastors the pastor? Who continues to mentor him? Who speaks into his life?

The writer of Hebrews warns all believers (pastors included), “Take care brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil and unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” (Heb 3:12)  Thus the Body of Christ has been designed to protect, encourage, warn, and restore us on our spiritual journey so that we do not become self-deceived and hardened by indwelling sin. And if every pastor is on the same journey in his discipleship, then there is something terribly wrong when a church allows its pastor to live a basically anonymous and independent life, WITH NO ONE TO SPEAK INTO IT.

Every pastor must daily admit to himself that he/she is basically broken and in constant need of God’s forgiveness and transforming grace. They must carry about in them the spirit of Martin Luther’s Sacristy prayer, “Use me as an instrument in Thy service, only do not Thou forsake me for if I am left to myself I will bring it all to destruction.” Every pastor must also be constantly preaching the gospel to him/herself and must fundamentally believe that what they need the most is found only in Jesus Christ, who loves them, died for them and forgave their sin completely. As C.S.Lewis has said “He who has God and everything else, has nothing more than God alone.”

The pastor does not need to find his/her identity in their own importance, performance, the size of their congregation, or how much they are sought after as a conference speaker; only in Jesus Christ. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame (merit or accomplishment of my own) but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”

So pray for your pastor, that this would be the cry of his/her heart and that they would build and maintain a system of spiritual care for themselves made up of accountability and mentoring by people who love them unconditionally and have permission to speak into their life. Pray that he/she will be driven by the Holy Spirit to seek every means available for their own growth and development (not just yours) to make sure they hold firm to their confession all the way to the end of the race.

Next week’s blog: The Danger of Losing the Joy of Ministry