Half the Distance

Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.
~ Psalm 119:136

A modern fable and the interpretation thereof

Theoretical physicist, Grayson Eccles, BS, MS, PhD, solely occupied a table for two at his favorite restaurant. At the late hour he preferred, the dining room was quiet and sparsely populated. He cut a portion from his filet mignon and winced at the clatter of plates and knives and forks, which interrupted his reverie. The diner opposite Eccles had a white-knuckle grip on the circular table in front of him with both hands. Eccles was mentally noting the diner’s pallor when commotion set to.

“We need a doctor!” Lots of people were rushing about and talking at once, but that cry at least was clear. If Eccles had not understood it, it was repeated sufficiently so he could make it out. “Hey!” Eccles turned his head as his waiter nearly perched on his left shoulder. “Aren’t you a doctor?” Eccles sighed. “I am not that kind of doctor.” The waiter moved closer, though Eccles didn’t think that was possible and concluded the waiter must be attempting to resolve the dichotomy paradox.

“I think this guy’s choking! Don’t you know the Heimlich?” Eccles thought about reaching for the glass of wine on his table, but rather drummed his fingers. “Sir, I am in the unbroken line of intellectual investigators traced back to the Copernican Revolution. If you wish to know about Descartes, Newton, Lagrange, or Einstein, I will happily oblige. If you’re trying to work out an understanding of thermodynamics, general or special relativity, or quantum mechanics, you could not apply to a better man for assistance. While Dr. Henry Heimlich was a commendable researcher and accomplished thoracic surgeon, I am not studied in his maneuver.”

A deathly still descended on the room. The waiter looked up at the victim, no longer struggling. EMTs poured through the doors and knew they were too late. They set about their solemn work. Eccles looked at the remains of his steak with pursed lips. He finished off his wine and sat the glass down. He glanced at his bill, mentally calculated 18%, laid down his cash, and left to go home. The waiter, as he later recounted the events of the evening, said Eccles went through door, putting on his hat, and muttering something about “half the distance.”

What meaneth this?

It is natural to be disgusted or angry with the Eccles character. How could he sit nearby, eating and drinking, while a man choked to death? How could he return home in his own cloud of abstract thought without being affected by what had just happened? It’s unthinkable, but do we well to be angry? In Eccles’ defense, he was a brilliant physicist. He was a man engaged daily in the great work of life. He had no medical training—not even a simple class in CPR. Staying consistent with the story, had he stood up and rushed over to the man, he would not have been able to save his life.

You recognize I have a point here. We can hardly fault the man for not saving someone’s life when it was not possible for him to do so. But…But, though he was not able to save the man had he tried, his indifference to the man’s suffering and death are inexcusable. Aside from the interruption from the waiter, his evening went on much the same it would have if the man had not choked. This is reprehensible. How could he simply not care?

Thou art the man

How can so many Christians be coldly indifferent to the condition of their lost family, friends, and neighbors? How can they go on about life while the lost are dying around them? Many Christians are scrupulous concerning abstract points of theology and distinctive doctrinal formulations, but are unmoved by the lost around them. We have all heard the excuses for indifference.

“I can’t save anybody. God does the saving.”
“No use pleading with sinners to come to Christ.”
“God’s going to save his elect regardless of what I do or don’t do.”
“Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid or mine.”
“You will be eaten by cannibals!”

It is absolutely true that we cannot save anyone else. We cannot even save ourselves. However, to disobey the commands to evangelize and to be without compassion for the lost is to not follow or be like Jesus. Jesus was moved with compassion for the lost and wept over the lost (Mark 1:41; 6:34; Luke 7:12-13; 19:41-42). Paul was similarly moved concerning his lost kinsman (Romans 9:1-3; 10:1). Paul plead with sinners to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). Even in the Old Testament we find a compassionate call to the lost (Isaiah 55:1-7; 65:2; Jeremiah 31:18-20). God has revealed himself as a God of wrath but also of mercy. Because he is so great in mercy, sinners are bid to come to him (Psalm 51:1; 130:7; 1 Timothy 1:15-16).

Do not blame doctrine for indifference. We could not produce a sounder theologian than Paul, or even Jesus himself, yet they both were moved with compassion toward the lost. Brother pastors and preachers, have we misplaced the emphases in our preaching such that we have lost Gospel-centeredness, and Christ-centeredness, producing a people with calloused indifference toward the lost and dying world? If so, we are actually leading people away from following Jesus and becoming more like Christ. Brothers, we must repent of such disobedience and misleading of God’s sheep and return to knowing nothing but Christ crucified and the preaching that manifests Christ in the sight of all (1 Corinthians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6).

May God break our hearts and loose our tears over those who go on in unbelief. Let us never sit coolly by, eating and drinking, while thinking abstractly with people dying around us. And as far as our moral fable is concerned, we have only covered half the distance.

Swipe Right for a Pastor

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
~ 1 Timothy 3:1

What a pastor must be.

I don’t understand this newfangled world we live in. I feel a dinosaur at times. I’m crusty and curmudgeonly. I get that, but I’m not wholly averse to technology and its advances. I’m decidedly no sympatico with Luddites. Take online dating, for instance. I’m barely aware of online dating, though that’s what the kids these days are doing. The mechanics of it seems easy enough. An interested person fills out some forms and makes their profile. This information is surreptitiously fed into an over-mechanized piece of equipment, which is in the dank innards of an empty factory in a post-industrialized city somewhere in the midwest. The machine commences to whirring and churning while puffing and coughing and emitting all sorts of steampunk noises. The carefully crafted algorithms do their work and out comes the suggested matches for the criteria you have specified.

Of course, the convenience lies in the “online” part of the whole scheme. You have no need to besmudge your shoes with unidentifiable mixtures of oil and grease from the abandoned factory. No, no, the information is wirelessly, and might I add, magically, transmitted to your handheld device and appears on your screen. You are presented with a few digital photos and brief statements about the person in said photos. You then swipe right to approve this person as a potential date, or you swipe left to expunge them from your account because you do not approve of their few photos and statements about themselves. It’s not at all clear to me what happens to the unfortunate lot swiped left. Are they then surreptitiously fed to the whirring and puffing mechanical beast? I suppose America will never know.

Some who are better apprised than I will entertain the possibility my outline of the process may not be entirely accurate. I readily admit the possibility. I’m not ashamed of it. In the interest of artistic integrity though, I had to fill in the blank spaces left in the procedure of it all after the fifteen seconds of Google searching I engaged in. I do take my place in the industry seriously.

The gist of using the dating app is as follows: a person makes a quick decision based on thin criteria and thin knowledge that the alleged does or does not meet said criteria. Though honesty is barely a part of the process, if we are being honest, people primarily swipe right or left based on the looks of the person in the photos. That’s about as superficial as the apology of a politician.

What are you looking for in a pastor?

One would hope a church looking for a pastor would not be anything like dating app users in their search for a match. A guy can hope like Teddy Roosevelt said, “When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.” I hope that my hope is not misplaced, but I have heard some things that greases the grip.

If it were not so sad and serious, it would be funny what people are sometimes looking for in a pastor. Some do not want a pastor too old, or too young if it comes to it. Some insist upon gray hair, and others would rather not. Some are deemed too short, too fat, too bald, or just plain too ugly. After all, they reason, I’m going to spend a lot of time looking at him up front. Some require certain degrees of formal education and some have very settled ideas about his dress and mannerisms. His manner of speaking must be pleasing, and, to some, he absolutely must not have the offense of hair upon his face. His sermons must not be too long, and I don’t know if anything would be considered too short these days. This is not to even mention all his wife must measure up to, if he could possibly be an acceptable pastor to a church.

Some will suspect hyperbole in the previous paragraph, but there is not as much as you might think. I have sometimes heard people talk about what they are looking for in a pastor, and if I were tasked by editorial to write the copy for their advertisement, I would conclude it with, “Peter, Paul, John, et al, need not apply.” If your pastoral search criteria means that neither Jesus nor any of his apostles could be the pastor of your church, then just go ahead and swipe right on every pearly tooth grinner whose name sounds like Hinny Ben, or Lowell Joesteen.

What he must be

A pastor may be many things. He may be tall, short, thick, or thin. He may be formally educated, or not. He may be polished, or young, or old, or any number of things. He might stutter or mispronounce certain words. He might fill an armchair as though everyone were wearing armchairs tight about the hips this season. His grammar might be impeccable, or he may not know a diphthong from a dangling participle. He might be all kinds of things, but there are a few things he must be. Whether he has gray hair, dark wavy hair, or no hair is not important at all. Choosing a pastor should be nothing like a beauty pageant, or using a dating app, if I want to maintain the purity of the metaphor. Whether he meets the requirements of God’s breathed out word is utmost important and vital to the spiritual health of the Lord’s church. So, what must he be?

First and Second Timothy and the letter to Titus are commonly referred to as the pastoral epistles. The qualifications and disqualifications of a man for pastor are clearly spelled out in them. Reading through the letters, we pick up at least five must-haves for a pastor.

  1. He must be enabled and put into the ministry by God (1 Timothy 1:12).
    He must be called and gifted by God for the ministry. The local church plays a role in confirming a man has been gifted by God for the work of the ministry, meaning he possesses the necessary abilities to fulfill the office as outlined by Scripture. The church must also confirm he meets the qualifications for the office, which is not a list they produce in a brainstorming session. Those qualifications are spelled out in Scripture. The man must give evidence of this call of God on his life and the church must confirm it.
  2. He must be a godly man (1 Timothy 3:1-7; 6:11-14; 2 Timothy 2:21-22; Titus 1:6-8; 2:7-8).
    The qualification lists are dominated by aspects of character. This does not mean his orthodoxy is unimportant, but his statement of faith does not trump the character of his life. He must be of good reputation and a man who pursues holiness in life. He must be self-controlled and abstaining from sinful temptations. He must be just in his dealings and not a hot head.
  3. He must be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:2, 14-16; 4:1-2; Titus 2:1).
    He has to have the ability and willingness to teach God’s word. He must be able to make the word of God understandable to his people and applicable to their lives. These are gifts that must be given by God, and if a man has them, he can and should be improving them. If a man does not have them, no amount of sincerity or seminary will put it into him. He must be able to instruct those who are in error and to refute the error.
  4. He must know the Bible (2 Timothy 1:13; 2:23-26; 3:14-17; Titus 1:9-11; 2:15; 3:9).
    He doesn’t have to possess all knowledge and perfectly understand all mysteries and prophecies, but he has to know the Bible and should be growing in his knowledge of the Bible. He should not be a man who boasts of his ignorance, but rather he should acknowledge it and labor to erase it as much as possible. Having the ability to speak does not mean anything if he doesn’t know his subject. How is a man going to mature and equip saints in the word if he doesn’t know that word himself? How is a man going to identify and refute error if he does not have a thorough knowledge of the truth?
  5. He must be wholly given to the work of pastoring (1 Timothy 4:15; 5:17).
    He must not be a disinterested or lazy man. He must be a diligent laborer who works at his preaching and teaching. He must not be a man given to trimming and finding shortcuts to his work. He must be a man who puts his hand to the plow and does not look back.

Again, a pastor may be many other things that make him more or less useful in the work of pastoring, but these are things he must be. These are the qualities a church must be looking for when searching for a pastor. I’m not recommending a church have low standards in what they are looking for. I am saying a church should have God’s standards in what they are looking for in a pastor. Ultimately, a church should be looking for a pastor after God’s heart and not after the image they’ve come up with from throwing their gold in the fire.

A New Year’s Prayer

Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.
– 3 John 2

Pray the Scripture.

New Year’s Day is just another day. A lot of people are off from work and maybe spend the day with family, but it’s not really so much different from the day before it or after it. It’s not just another day, since it marks the beginning of a new year. I realize that’s just convention, but there’s something to it for us.

New Year’s provides a natural time for us to review the previous year and different aspects of our life in general. We also naturally look ahead and even if we don’t have written goals, we probably have unwritten ones. We have areas of our life in mind that we would like to improve, continue, or maybe stop. Goals involving personal health and finances are on most people’s minds. If you’re a Christian, you probably have in mind some sort of spiritual goals. Maybe you want to read the Bible in a year for the first time, or pray more, or pray better.

So let’s think together on a portion of Scripture that will perhaps help us with three common goals or thoughts at the beginning of a new year: devotions, money, and prayer. Paul wrote to Timothy:

    Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
    – 1 Timothy 6:17-19

Meditate on the Scripture

What does this passage mean? Paul mentions riches in this passage and it is the third mention material possessions at the close of this letter. The first is a warning about greedy, false teachers (1 Timothy 6:3-5). The second flows from the first and is a word concerning contentment and a sober warning to those who desire to be rich (1 Timothy 6:6-10). Paul then tells Timothy to flee all these things that he be above reproach and then gives Timothy this charge for the rich.

The word Paul uses for rich in this passage means wealth, or abundance of possessions. Most of us dismiss this charge as belonging to a category of people we do not belong to. Not so fast. The earlier warning was to those who want to be rich and this word is to those who “are rich in this world.” If we think in general and basic terms, riches refers to having abundant possessions, or having more than mere necessity. While we can discuss a range of having more, we must admit that most everyone reading this has more than simply mere necessity. The fact there are people with far greater abundance than us does not change the fact that we have more than just what we need. So this charge is for you and for me.

The charge consists of two things not to do and five things to do that will result in “laying up in store … for the time to come,” and laying “hold of eternal life.” First, we are not to be highminded. The word means haughty and Paul is telling us not to derive our self-worth from our possessions where we esteem ourselves more highly than those who have less than us. Second, we are not to trust in uncertain riches. Whatever abundance we have, we are not to have confidence and hope in those things, which are so uncertain. Everything you and I have today could be gone tomorrow.

Having wealth in whatever measure, we are first charged to trust in God, who is the source of our abundance and the terminus for our enjoyment, praise, and thanksgiving. Second, we are to do good. Doing good means doing good for others, or doing things for the benefit of others. Third, we are to have an abundance of good works. The word for good here means beautiful in the sense of noble, or virtuous. Fourth, we are to be ready to give. Fifth, we are to be ready to share.

Paul, nor other Scripture, condemns the having of abundance. We are warned not to trust in it, nor to pursue it as our primary goal. We are charged to be open-handed and generous in giving to others. We are to be thankful for what we have, recognizing from Whom we have received it. And, we are to use it for enjoyment and service in bringing glory to God. By this, we lay up treasure in Heaven.

Pray the Scripture

Maybe you have heard someone talking about praying Scripture, but aren’t sure what they mean. First, let’s admit we all struggle in prayer. We fall into routine, redundant prayers we don’t even need to be fully awake to pray. We set out to spend a longer time in prayer but run out of gas after only a few minutes. Praying Scripture can help us, but what is it and how does it work?

Let’s use our passage to see how we might pray this passage. First, we read the passage and meditate, or think, on what it means and how it applies to us. We did this in the previous section. You may to spend some time thinking how each of those charges apply to you personally. Second, we pray the passage.

We often must begin with confession to put ourselves in the right place in the passage. Here we begin by acknowledging we are rich. We have more than bare necessities in life. Don’t worry about who may have more, or less. You have more than you deserve and more than you truly need. So acknowledge this before God.

Next we focus on what we are not to do. If we have been highminded and trusting in possessions, confess it and repent of it. This will take time for reflection and examination to search out our own hearts and shine the light of Scripture in the dark corners. After confession, we seek God for his help and deliverance from these temptations and failings.

Then we pray through what we are charged to do. We can follow the pattern–examine our hearts and lives, confess and repent our failures, and seek God for deliverance and preservation to glorify him in faithful obedience.

A New Year’s Prayer

This particular praying of Scripture is an excellent way to start the new year. Perhaps this practice will help you pray more and better in the new year. Maybe this prayer will help us with the abundance we have. I pray this will help us glorify him this year, whether by life or by death.

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