Pastor Tom

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17 6 22 The Meaning of Marriage Book Review

Book Review: The Meaning of Marriage

By Tim and Kathy Keller (Riverhead Books: New York 2011) 325pp

 

If you had a congregation full of young adult single professionals in Manhattan would you preach a series of sermons on marriage? Best-selling author and Pastor Tim Keller did. The series turned out to be wildly popular in the 6000 member Redeemer Presbyterian church. Seventy five percent of this congregation are single—making it one of a kind in American church life. Keller and his wife Kathy then adapted the sermons into a book, The Meaning of Marriage.

Keller writes, “My main rationale was that single people today need a brutally realistic yet glorious vision of what marriage is and can be…my primary goal is to give both married and single people a vision for what marriage is according to the Bible.” Keller and his wife Kathy have been married 37 years. He founded Redeemer Presbyterian church in New York City beginning in 1989.

While keeping singles in his mind, Keller writes, “This book is for those spouses who have discovered how challenging day-to-day marriage is and who are searching for practical resources to survive the sometimes overwhelming ‘fiery trials’ of matrimony and to grow through them.” Whereas the Kellers do draw upon personal experience and social science data, they declare in the introduction that “this is a book about the Bible.” Other modern marriage manuals become dated resources with the passing years. In the Bible you have teaching that has been tested by millions of people over the centuries in multiple cultures. There is no other enduring resource for marriage like it.

The book is laid out to explore Paul’s words on marriage in Ephesians 5:18-33. The chapter titles detail the journey the reader takes: “The Secret of Marriage”, “The Power for Marriage”, “The Essence of Marriage”, “The Mission of Marriage”, “Loving the Stranger”, “Embracing the Other”, “Singleness and Marriage”, and “Sex and Marriage’. Along the way passages from Genesis, the Gospels and the letters of Paul illuminate matrimony. Many Christians are unaware of the unified voice of the scriptures on Christian marriage and this book will give readers a firm foundation for understanding the uniquely Christian view of this sacred covenant.

Some parts of the Biblical teaching covered by the Kellers are hotly debated—most notably gender roles within marriage. The Kellers state their positions clearly. Though I found myself wanting to quibble some points here, I can say that everyone can profit from reading this section of the book. Taken as a whole this is a book to give to your single adult children, to newlyweds and to those mature Christian couples who never really thought about the grandeur of the enterprise of Christian marriage they entered into years ago.

In Hope and Confidence,

Pastor Tom

17 6 14 The Mission of the Lord's Prayer

The Mission of the Lord’s Prayer
 

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

Jesus Christ gave us our mission when he said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:18). Our mission field includes the ten mile radius around Highland United Methodist Church, home to approximately 62,000 people. Eighty percent of these are unchurched. I have met some of them. Recently at a funeral in Milford, a little girl spotted my Bible and said, “What is that?” “It’s a Bible,” I responded. She came back, “What is a Bible?”

The unchurched of our neighborhood don’t know what a cross is—except as an item of jewelry, or a Bible, or a church. They do not know God or Jesus. If I am to win this little girl to faith in Christ, I’m going to have to start with basic information in words she can understand.

Which brings me to the Lord’s Prayer. We’ve adopted a new version of it for worship on Sundays. We did this for mission. It’s important that our prayers be understood by the people we are trying to reach. It’s crucial that we speak in the language commonly used by the people in our neighborhood. The Lord’s Prayer is essential to teach new believers and a fundamental of Biblical worship.

The Prayer was originally spoken by Jesus in Aramaic—the language of Palestine in his day. Matthew and Luke rendered the prayer into Greek. All English translations are based on the New Testament Greek. For centuries two major English versions of the prayer were used, one from the King James Bible dating from 1611 and the other from the Book of Common Prayer published in 1668. The 1668 Book of Common Prayer version is the one most church people are familiar with. The version we are introducing was produced in 1985 by an international consultation of scholars representing all the major denominations: Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox. Their goal was simple: produce a contemporary version that would honor the traditional form, eliminate misunderstandings and provide a prayer that all churches could pray together.

Language changes. No one uses “thee” anymore and this can be confusing to a non-believer. It is a simple thing to render this with a contemporary “you”. The word “hallowed” was kept because it is still in use today as in “hallowed ground” or “hallowed memory” and there is no other available synonym. “Trespasses” is replaced by “sin.” “Sin” is the word that Luke used in his gospel. (Lk 11:4) “Sin” is also unmistakable and requires no explanation unlike “debt” or “trespass”.

The phrase “Lead us not into temptation” causes confusion and misunderstanding. The Greek word here is peirasmos and two errors are to be avoided when translating it. One is to believe that God would entice people to sin. (See James 1:13) The second is to limit its meaning to situations of being lured into sin. Peirasmos refers broadly to circumstances of extreme suffering and persecution that might cause one to renounce his faith. “Trial” is a more accurate word capturing the original meaning and being far more accessible to the unchurched. In 1668 “temptation” had this broader meaning but in 2017 it means exclusively the enticement to sin. The phrase “Save us from the time of trial” requires no explanation and restores Jesus’ original meaning lost to modern ears unaware of language shifts since 1668.

Change is hard. I am not here to serve me. I am here to serve my King and bring his Gospel to the 80% of my neighbors who don’t know him. I have got to teach myself to speak their language.

In Hope and Confidence,

Pastor Tom

17 5 30 Let’s Make a Plan

Let’s Make a Plan

On Saturday, June 24 we will gather as a church family for a day of Strategic planning. The purpose of planning is action. Action is not about pressing people to spend more time at church. It is about helping people invest their God-given gifts and talents in the world. Artist William Holman Hunt painted the famous scene of Jesus standing at the door knocking a century ago. His piece proved to be enduringly popular, often been reproduced and re-painted by others. A common interpretation of the image is that Jesus is waiting at the door of our hearts to enter our lives. But there is another way to understand the picture: let’s say the door is to the church and Jesus is knocking and calling to the members to come out and meet him in the mission field. Jesus is calling to us to share our faith and address the hurts and the hopes with the world.

By nature we all drift towards an inward focus—a preoccupation with our own immediate cares and concerns. Strategic planning is an intentional effort to re-focus ourselves on outward mission.

Where are we headed? Yogi Berra said it, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll wind up someplace else.” The church that looks to the future sees God. God goes before our church, inviting us to the future that he has promised and prepared for us. Asking this question of ourselves is the first step in taking up God’s invitation.

What kind of future are we building? Effective planning is concerned with the destiny of our families, our friends and the many people who will be helped by our church in years to come. There is a direct correlation between the strength of a church and the quality of life in the surrounding community. We should approach planning with a theology of service, not survival. Our concern should not be maintenance but advancing the cause of Christ in the world.

What are our strengths and gifts as a congregation? Planning is not about naming your problems and lamenting your insufficiencies. That leads only to depression and conflict. Planning is about naming and claiming your strengths, your spiritual gifts and your competencies. In this way we affirm what God has done and is doing among us. The art of strategic planning is to do better what we do best. Only in this way do we begin with God.

What is God calling us to accomplish in mission? The key word is “accomplish.” A good plan doesn’t aim at producing activity and busyness but accomplishment and achievement for God. Winston Churchill said, “A good plan is necessary but you should occasionally look at the results.” The day of mission is at hand in Oakland County. The data is clear that some 80 percent of our population is un-churched. Of the people we meet and interact with every day it is safe to assume most don’t attend church and neither did their parents or grandparents. It is crucial to our planning to rediscover that we are living in the mission field. Only then can we begin to adopt the habits and practices of a missionary church. Jesus is knocking at our door and he is calling to us to come and join him on the mission field!

 

In hope and confidence,

Pastor Tom

17 5 3 Understanding Proverbs 27:12

Understanding Proverbs 27:12

Just off the airplane in Florida, I was handed a case of the flu. After four days of fever and Tylenol, I arose from the dead. Yet as I was ascending to a normal life, my brother-in-law began his descent into the fever-swamp. Our dreams of taking a fishing charter headed out to sea, leaving us behind. Not to be denied the use of my first-ever Florida Fishing License, I invited Karen on a paddling expedition down the Blackwater River.

The river is remote—flowing from the Alabama border down to the Pensacola bay. It is the life-stream of the Black Water River State Forest—the largest tract of wilderness in Florida. The land is dominated by the long-leaf pine and wire grass—a kind of open-parkland stretching for miles. Pine needles give the river water a distinctive root beer tint—hence the name “black” water. The forest is home to bear, white tails, wild boar, panthers, coyotes and from what I could see a pretty active crew of turkey vultures. We found the river to be a delight—fast current, clear water and a sand bottom perfect for wading. Numerous beaches and sand bars along the way make the river friendly to camping and swimming and I was told it makes for some crowded days when school is out.

The next day Karen and her sister had plans and my brother-in-law lay on the couch in a flu-induced coma. I grabbed my gear and drove to the river. Here’s a recipe for happiness: a sunny April afternoon, a fly rod and 72 degree water. The fish were not plentiful and stacked themselves into the nooks and crannies along the banks. It took this pasty white Yankee slathered up in sun block the better part of an afternoon to discover how to coax them out to play. Landing one nice bucket-mouth bass redeemed the entire trip. I returned to the river for two more days hunting for ever larger prey.

On day three, I happened upon a large deep hole in a wide bend of the river. Here I thought I’d found the promise of some really good sized fish. An hour of fruitless casting left me stumped. I noted fish rising on the far side of the pool and decided to wade across to the sand bank running along the opposite side. I found shallow water suitable for me to cross without breaching that sensitive line created by the waistband of my swim trunks. Safe on the far side, I began to make my way up the bank to where the fish were when I met up with a large cottonmouth snake (also known as the water moccasin) slithering down the shoreline straight at me. The only poisonous aquatic viper in the world.

He held his head high and tested the air with frequent pokes of his forked tongue. I was in his fishing hole and he was not about to give me any ground. The cottonmouth will use his own tail to lure unsuspecting fish to their demise. The difference for me was that God had armed the cottonmouth with venom while I had only a pocket full of feathered hooks. Proverbs 27:12 gave me my next move: “The prudent sees danger and hides himself but the simple go on and suffer for it.” To be sure, life is full of trouble, temptation and adversity but it is the wisdom of God to avoid it when you can see it coming!

I walked 50 feet to the side so the snake could slither by. He didn’t. Too spooked to leave the sand and walk into the tall grass on the bank, I headed up the sand to the far end beyond the snake. He lay still keeping his head high in the air watching me. I took a few casts while nervously scanning the area. The snake resumed his slither and disappeared into a pile of logs in the water at the opposite end.

I left that pool to return to the safety of the swift current moving over the sand downstream. But before my exit I heard a good splash beneath the logs. The snake had caught one and showed me up. Ordinarily most fisherman will call out, “what are you using for bait?” But in this case, I didn’t want to see. I’m a Proverbs 27:12 man.

In hope and confidence,

Pastor Tom

Twelve Keys to an Effective Church

 

     Save the date for an all-member strategic planning day on Saturday, June 24 at the church. Lunch will be served and more information and sign up opportunities are to come. It’s my dream to see 50 or 60 of us gather together to pray, seek God’s vision and make some important commitments to the future of our ministry here in Highland.
     Where are we headed? What kind of future are we building? What are our strengths, gifts, and competencies? What is God calling us to accomplish in mission? These questions are an invitation to us all as we enter into a process of prayer and long-range planning for our congregation. God says, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
     Our mission statement gives us a clear purpose: to make disciples of Jesus Christ through ministries that Connect, Grow and Serve.
     Twelve Keys to an Effective Church is a one day 4-stage planning process for local congregations.
The twelve keys we will be using in stage 3 are these:

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1. Specific, concrete missional objectives                         7. Several competent programs and activities
2. Pastoral/lay visitation in the community                         8. Open accessibility
3. Corporate, dynamic worship                                          9. High visibility
4. Significant relational groups                                         10. Adequate parking, land, landscaping
5. Strong leadership resources                                         11. Adequate space and facilities
6. Solid, participatory decision making                             12. Solid financial resources

     The first six keys are the relational keys and are often the biggest leverage points for growth in any church. The second six keys functional characteristics of a church. Our Administrative Council is aiming to guide an all-congregation planning process using these four stages. You may wish to secure and read a copy of Ken Callahan’s book, Twelve Keys to an Effective Church. The focus will not be on our weaknesses but on identifying our strengths and how we can expand them. I invite your prayers and your participation as the process unfolds in the months ahead. The excitement is building!
In hope and confidence,
Pastor Tom Anderson
 

17 03 21 What is Ordination? Does it matter?

What is Ordination? Does it matter?

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Google says there are 11.6 million websites offering online ordination. Sadly, ordination is a self-appointed, and church-less event in the lives of some Christians. I was approached by a member years ago who said he was going to marry and baptize some members of his family at an upcoming gathering. He wanted my advice and some certificates from the church. I couldn’t help him. Ordination belongs to the church and if you’ve ordained yourself then you are your own church.

Ordination is an act of the church—the body of Christ. One is personally called to ministry by Christ and it is always Christ’s church that ordains. Ordination is not to be treated as if it was no more significant than getting a dog license. Ordination expresses a community of faith—real people bound together in common mission.

Paul’s experience provides an excellent illustration. Paul had an intensely personal encounter with Christ in Acts 9. God entrusted the church to certify Paul’s calling. God recruited Ananias to represent the church, baptize and lay hands upon Paul. God said, “Paul is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles…” (Acts 9:15) Later the church at Antioch ordained Paul to authorize his mission journey (Acts 13:3). Clearly ordination is about real people coming together to solemnly authorize leadership and ministry in Christs’ name. This can’t be translated into a bloodless digital transaction.

United Methodist clergy make these vows:

  • Do you believe that God has called you to the life of ordained ministry?

  • Do you believe in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

  • Are you persuaded that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and are the unique and authoritative standard for the church’s faith and life?

  • Will you be faithful in prayer, in the study of the Holy Scriptures, and with the help of the Holy Spirit continually rekindle the gift of God that is in you?

  • Will you pattern your life in accordance with the teachings of Christ?

  • Will you lead people to faith in Jesus Christ, to participate in the life of the community, and to seek peace, justice, and freedom for all people?

  • Will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church, accepting and upholding its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word, committing yourself to be accountable with those serving with you, and to the bishop and those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?

Ordination takes place with these words:

Pour out your Holy Spirit upon __________. Send him/her now to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to announce the kingdom of God, and to equip the church for ministry, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (And all assembled say, “Amen.”)

Their job description is summarized in Ep. 4:11, “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” The key word is equippers.

Is God calling you to ordination? You won’t find the answer with a keyboard. Pray with your friends. Talk with me. A call to ordination is a journey we take together. You could be the answer to someone’s prayer!

In Hope and Confidence,

Pastor Tom Anderson

17 02 10 New Sermon Series

New Sermon Series

40 Days of Prayer

Our goal in this series is to teach, to inspire and to persuade us all to become prayer-devoted church. Prayer is the conversation part of the most important love relationship in your life—your relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We’ll explore together the Biblical teaching on the meaning and the practice of prayer.

 

February 26 How the Spirit Helps Us Pray Romans 8:26-27

March 1 (Ash Wed.) Repentant Prayer 2 Chronicles 7:13-16

March 5 Getting what you ask 1 John 5:14-15

March 12 A Friend in the Middle Luke 11:5-9

March 19 Prayer a way of life Ephesians 6:18

March 26 8 ways to pray for family Colossians 1:9-12

April 2 The Lord's Prayer Matthew 6:9-13

April 9 Prayer made a difference 1 Timothy 2:1-4

 

The book “Love to Pray” will be on sale. This will teach and guide you through exercises to grow your prayer life. Cost is $10. Every member is encouraged to get a copy and read it prayerfully.

Small group studies have been formed which will use a special teaching DVD as well as the devotional book. Sign-up sheets are in the lobby of the church. If you don’t find one at a convenient time, would you consider hosting one yourself? See Pastor Tom. Our goal is to have 100 people engaged with one another and this prayer initiative.

T-shirts will be made available to everyone in the congregation. These are free, thanks to a very generous donor. If one is not available in your size, let us know and we will get one to fit you! Wear it with joy and anticipation on Sundays!

 

I invite you to use the following prayers daily to ignite a “prayer revival” at Highland United Methodist:

 

  • Lord, help us by your Holy Spirit to learn to pray on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests and, knowing that forces of darkness are constantly coming against us, always to pray for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:18)

  • Holy Spirit, come upon us with your enabling power so that, though we do not know how to pray as we ought, as you pray for us, we will always be able to intercede in accord with the Father’s will. (Romans 8:26-27)

  • Lord Jesus Christ, now on the throne of the universe, you have promised to do whatever we ask in your name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. Teach us to pray so that great things will happen in our congregation through 40 Days of Prayer—things that you will do for the Father’s glory. (John 14:12-14)

 

In Hope and Confidence,

Pastor Tom Anderson

 

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