Jeff Iorg Blog
Test First, Lessons Later
Nov 11 2014
Pusey Losch is a bi-vocational pastor who recently concluded his service as president of the Pennsylvania/South Jersey Baptist Convention. I was on their program last week as their Bible teacher and heard Rev. Losch deliver the President’s message. In his message, he made a cogent observation: “Life gives the test first; the lessons come later.”
That’s a brilliant summary of the spiritual growth process God uses to shape and change us. Most learning plans work the opposite way. First, we learn the lessons to prepare for the exam – then we take the test. That’s the way seminary – and every other school – works. Students even go so far as to ask, “What’s on the test?” so they can focus on learning the right lessons. Life works more like President Losch described. Test first; then we learn the lessons.
Life isn’t a dress rehearsal. As one country singer twangs, “Life’s a dance you learn as you go.” God allow us to experience life – including its hardships and trials, usually with little preparation or forewarning. We are moving along and then, wham! - cancer hits, a fiancé leaves, your company closes, or your child rebels. Suddenly, without much warning, you are being tested. You find yourself scrambling for answers and trying to figure out what to do next. God may seem far away.
But as someone who has lived through this process a time or two, let me encourage you. God is close. He is deepening your relationship with him and broadening your understanding of yourself. You will look back on the test and realize the lessons learned are so precious you are actually glad (ultimately, but not in the moment) for what happened to you. For example, one man told me, “My heart attack was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
That sounds weird – unless you’ve been there or through something similar. And if you have, it would not surprise me if your conclusions were about the same. So, expect God to allow some tests in your life. Then, pay attention. The lessons learned from them will enrich, deepen, and satisfy in ways more positive experiences can never come close to matching.
Players and Pastors
Nov 03 2014
As many of you know, for several years I have been working with Baseball Chapel to provide chaplaincy services to the San Francisco Giants. Being around the players and their families during three World Series wins has been an incredible privilege.
During the playoff season in professional baseball, I am also on the road attending state convention meetings for Southern Baptists. This year, I am preaching in several of them – from California to New Jersey. Being around many pastors, other leaders, and their families is also a special privilege – and one that gives me a unique contrast in perspectives.
Professional athletes are revered in our culture. They are followed on social media and emulated by people who wear their jerseys. They sell products, start fads, and occasionally speak out on the politically correct side of cultural issues. Because they are famous, they are perceived to be significant.
Pastors, on the other hand, are generally only well-known to their parishioners. They don’t have a hashtag with their name behind it. No one copies their dress code! They don’t sell anything or start any fads. When they speak out on cultural issues, it’s usually an unpopular word of warning or correction. So, it might be conversely concluded, since they are not famous, they are not significant.
Wrong. Pastors, when they maximize their role, are incredibly significant community leaders. When they work together, they are a formidable national network of spiritual influence. They call us to really follow someone – Jesus. They remind us what we wear, buy, or copy is not as important as what we believe and practice. They speak the truth about moral and ethical issues – even when it’s unpopular and creates conflict.
Influencing prominent people is a privilege. Being influenced by truly significant people, like my pastor, is vastly more significant. May God give us the wisdom to recognize who really matters in our lives and in society as a whole, and then honor them accordingly.
Why We Are Writing a Book
Oct 27 2014
Last year, about this time, Golden Gate hosted a conference called “Ministry in the New Marriage Culture.” It was a very successful and helpful event. One of our vice-presidents suggested our faculty write a book, expanding the conference contents and providing a ministry primer to guide churches as they address current marriage issues. We are hard at work on it and the book will come out in 2015. Two recent events remind me how helpful this book will be.
A few days ago, a pastor called and asked for advice on this scenario. A girl grew up in the youth group of his church. Ten years later, she has re-engaged the church – only this time as a man who has undergone a sex change operation. Her specific reason for re-connecting was to ask the pastor to officiate a wedding with his female partner.
Last Sunday, a last minute scheduling change had me sitting in the balcony at my home church rather than preaching anywhere else. I sat near a man who had feminine features and was dressed as a woman. We spoke briefly and pleasantly after the service. Turns out, he was a guest looking to connect with a good church.
Since we live near San Francisco, where the first same-sex marriage was ten years ago, these are fairly common occurrences. Maybe not so much where you live – but it’s on the way. So what should you do to get ready for ministry in the new marriage culture?
First, forget the easy answers. There aren’t any. Get ready to grapple with thorny problems. And, be ready to be criticized by Christians who “have all the answers.”
Second, share the gospel. Jesus died for everyone and you don’t get to pick and choose who you will tell about him. Conversion and sanctification are still the ultimate solution for everyone.
Third, train church members – particularly those who teach or work with youth and children. Many Christians don’t know how to respond to transgender people, same-sex couples, open homosexuals, or their children. Teach them.
Fourth, tighten up your church membership policies. A robust ecclesiology is essential for accountability and consistency in complex situations involving church members.
Finally, toughen up. If you haven’t already, you will be criticized for standing for biblical morality and marriage.
We are living in difficult times when our culture is embracing aberrant behavior in unprecedented ways. Sounds like a good time for the gospel to flourish!
You may have heard about the recent brouhaha in Houston concerning the subpoenas issued for four pastors and another ministry leader to produce their sermons in opposition to the LGBT-promoting law called the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). Baptists have united with other groups to strenuously oppose this infringement on pastoral communication. While First Amendment issues demand this strong response, here are some additional thoughts on what they mean.
First, thank God that there are at least five Christian leaders in Houston who are standing strong and speaking out against destructive redefinitions of gender, sexuality, and marriage! They must be perceived as really dangerous if political leaders are attacking them in this way. Good job, men. Keep it up. May God increase your tribe!
Second, the power of preaching is underscored by these subpoenas. Politicians know pastors have a weekly opportunity to declare Truth, motivate their followers, and catalyze social movements. Sadly, some pastors have forgotten this. They are wasting time on “five steps to a happy life” rather than seriously communicating timeless Truth and calling people to act on it. People outside the church seem to value preaching (and its fearful impact) more than many inside the church. These subpoenas remind us politicians should be intimidated by the preacher with a legitimate message from God.
Third, these subpoenas motivate those of us who preach to weigh our words carefully and be ready to stand behind them. We are moving toward a new era in American history when preachers will be vilified for preaching historic Christian positions on gender, sexuality, and marriage. My perspective is this will improve preaching, and separate the proverbial men from the boys. Preacher, there won’t be any middle ground on these issues. You will either preach the Bible’s message on these issues, or you won’t. For the sake of your hearers, make the right choice!
The politicians will run for cover and make hollow apologies for these subpoenas – this time. While the subpoenas will likely be withdrawn, their reasons for being issued aren’t going away soon.