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“It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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“…the psalms teach us to pray as a fellowship. The Body of Christ is praying, and as an individual one acknowledges that his prayer is only a minute fragment of the whole prayer of the Church. He learns to pray the prayer of the Body of Christ. and that lifts him above his personal concerns and allows him to pray selflessly.”  

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together48-49.

“The community of the saints is not an ‘ideal’ community consisting of perfect and sinless men and women, where there is no need of further repentance. No, it is a community which proves that it is worthy of the gospel of forgiveness by constantly and sincerely proclaiming God’s forgiveness. ”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters & Papers from Prison

“’Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity’–this is the Scripture’s praise of life together under the Word. But now we can rightly interpret the words ‘in unity’ and say, ‘for brethren together through Christ.’ For Jesus Christ alone is our unity. ‘He is our peace.’ Through him alone do we have access to one another, joy in one another, and fellowship with one another.

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together39.


Clergy, including (from left) the Rev. Carl Jackson, Rabbi Charles Feinberg, the Rev. Cari Jackson and the Rev. Barbara Gerlach, bless an abortion clinic in Bethesda on Monday. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

When clergy gather at an abortion clinic, it’s usually in protest, outside the building.

Rarely are they huddled inside the clinic, not to condemn but to bless the procedures that happen there.

Yet that was the Rev. Carlton Veazey’s task as he led a prayer in Bethesda on Monday. “God of grace and God of glory, in whom we move and live,” he said, as he opened a prayer for the well-being of the doctor and nurses who facilitate abortions at a clinic here and for their patients. “Keep them safe and keep them strong. And may they always know that all that they do is for Thy glory.”

Veazey was one of four Christian pastors and one rabbi who gathered to bless this Bethesda abortion clinic in an unusual interfaith ceremony. (A Hindu priest who was supposed to attend from a local temple, who has blessed an abortion clinic before, didn’t make it.)

Opinions on the morality of abortion differ drastically by faith. Catholicism and some Protestant denominations teach that life begins from the  moment of conception and abortion at any stage is akin to murder. Other Protestants and teachings from several other faiths disagree with that definition of life and emphasize instead the sanctity of the health and the free will of women.

“Jewish rabbinic authorities, starting with the Middle Ages, say that a fetus is not a person,” said Rabbi Charles Feinberg, who is retired from Adas Israel synagogue, after participating in the ceremony. “Judaism has always said abortion is never murder. It may not be permitted, depending on the circumstances — how far along the pregnancy is, how seriously ill the mother-to-be is — but it is never murder. It only becomes that once the baby is born.”

Yet everyday conversation about abortion tends to cast it as a question of faith on one side — the antiabortion side — versus secular liberalism on the other.

For the rest of the post…

“If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.” 

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together29.

By Joe McKeever

When The Church Bully Happens To Be The Pastor

Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion but voluntarily, according to the will of God; not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:2-3).

We have written extensively on this website about church members who take the reins of the church and call the shots, who bully parishioners and pastors alike. But a friend wrote, “What are we to do when the bully is the pastor?”

“What does your pastor do?” I asked him.

His bullying pastor demands his way in everything, tolerates no dissent and ousts anyone not obeying him. He intimidates church members and dominates the other ministers. His opinion is the only one that counts.

We could wish it were a rare phenomenon. It isn’t.

The definitive bully found in Scripture is Diotrephes. In III John, we read, “I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves the preeminence (“loves to be first among them” (NASB), does not accept what we say….unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and he forbids those who desire to do so, and puts them out of the church.”

That’s the bully: loving preeminence, rejecting outside interference, bringing accusation against the opposition, and putting people out of the church when they oppose him.

 We’re thankful the New Testament churches had these problems

There’s a certain degree of comfort from knowing that the problems churches experience today are not new, not signs the church is going to the devil or evidence we’re being swamped by the world. The problems of division and strife (see I Corinthians), heresies (see Galatians) and petty egotism (III John) have been with us from the beginning.

This forever prevents us from piously withdrawing from today’s churches experiencing the same internal strife while claiming that they no longer do God’s will. There are more churches at this moment in time doing great work for the Savior than at any time in history. And likewise, more experiencing the cancers of worldliness, division, jealousies and egotis

There is nothing new about this.

It’s not even new or unheard of that pastors would be the bullies. After all, there must have been a reason why Peter wrote what he did in I Peter 5. For him to have cautioned pastors not to lead in such a way indicates he had seen it happen.

In a similar fashion, we have seen husbands lord it over their wives. “God made me the head of the home,” the bully says, “so that means you are to take orders from me.” It means no such thing, of course. In fact, Scripture says the husband is to love the wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Ephesians 5). So, there’s a dichotomy here: The husband is the head, but he is to sacrifice himself for his wife and family. A faithful husband does just that.

Wrong ways to lead the Lord’s church

The great apostle spoke to “the elders among you as your fellow elder” (I Peter 5:1). These are pastors. Peter considers himself a pastor/shepherd also.

As “a witness of the sufferings of Christ and a partaker of the glory that is to be revealed,” Peter’s credentials are impeccable. He was with the Lord when He walked on earth and is in line to share His heavenly glories in the future.

Elders/pastors are to exercise oversight of the Lord’s church (5:2). The word episcopos (root of episcopountes, the word used here) refers to the overseeing assignment of the pastors (see Acts 20:28). A shepherd watches over the sheep, leads them to green pastures, is ever alert for dangers and threats, and has the welfare of the flock uppermost in mind at all times.

Do not lead the flock in the wrong way or for impure motives, Peter advises…

Not under compulsion but voluntarily. The KJV says “by constraint,” meaning the pastor is doing this “because he must.” There’s no joy but total drudgery, no inspiration but a harshness. Instead, the faithful overseer is glad to be preaching the word and tending the flock. He loves the people, loves the Lord and loves his calling.

Not for sordid gain, but with eagerness. He doesn’t do this for the pay. This is not just a job, not a vocation, and not a work he entered because it paid well. He is serving the Lord Jesus Christ and is thrilled at the privilege. Asked what he missed most about the pastoral ministry, a man said, “I miss the trumpets in the morning.” Ask any God-called and Heaven-anointed pastor. He knows what that means.

Not lording it over the flock, but being an example. And here we have the key passage for our subject today. The pastor is not to “lord it over” the flock. Jesus is the Lord and he isn’t.

Pastors are not allowed to lord it over the Lord’s church. 

Jesus said, “I will build MY church” (Matthew 16:18). It’s His church, His body, His bride. No pastor in his right mind (with his heart right!) would dare to insert himself between the Lord and His bride!

It is true that Hebrews 13:17 calls on God’s people to “obey your leaders and submit to them.” But that same passage says pastors “keep watch over” (overseeing!) “your souls” and will “give account.” Pastors will stand before the Lord and account for their stewardship and care for each sheep. A scary thought if there ever was one.

A pastor lords it over the church when he…

–makes decisions unilaterally for the church. He considers no one else’s counsel, believes God speaks only through him, and rules like a potentate.

–micromanages his co-workers and colleagues. He alone knows what is best and allows them no room for individual expression.

–feels threatened when someone disagrees with him. Usually reacts angrily and with harshness.

–forces those taking contrary positions out of office. “My way or the highway” is his mantra.

You get the picture.

Final question: What if you are a member of the bully’s staff (as a worship leader, student minister, etc.)? What are you to do?

I’m tempted to ask how this happened, how you ended up on a church staff with someone so difficult to work with. But I’m aware the answer is often: “I was here first.” The bully pastor came later, and might even be new. The church leadership—knowingly or cluelessly—brought in a pastor who would rule over the church with a heavy hand. And you are left to deal with it.

So, what should you do?

–Pray, pray, pray. Ask the Father all the questions bugging you. How to respond to the pastor today, what to do when the pastor asks you to do something you cannot or would rather not do, how to make your thoughts known to the preacher, and so forth.

–Get two or three or four friends in other areas to pray for you constantly. These could be members of previous churches or classmates from school. They should be able to keep a confidence.

–Don’t get territorial—as in “I was here first, and God called me to be minister of music and this is my job.” That attitude will get you a quick exit and a bad recommendation for the next church. Keep your eyes on the Lord and look to Him.

–Ask the Father about making this situation known to a key church leader, someone of great integrity and trust. If you do this in the flesh or if it’s handled wrongly, it could be interpreted by the pastor as you making an end-run around him and be considered disloyalty. A pastor who is a bully would see this as grounds for dismissal.

–If things are really bad—to the point that you are considering leaving, but would rather not—then try something bold. Go in to the pastor’s office and tell him kindly, gently, forcibly, assertively what he is doing and how it feels to you, and why it is wrong. You do this only when you have come to the point that “if worse comes to worse, all he can do is fire me.” I’d rehearse again and again, with my wife but mostly with the Lord, what I wanted to say to him. Then, go for it.

–If nothing changes and the bully continues to tyrannize the staff, get your resume up to date and share with your most trusted friends. Ask the Father who called you into this work in the first place to open up the next assignment for you.

For the rest of the post…

“It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together17.

Houston, along with its connected neighborhoods, communities, and suburbs, is being pummeled by historic rain and unprecedented flooding. It’s a disaster here.

My neighbors—all 6.5 million—are feeling the effects of Hurricane Harvey’s 500-year flooding event.

So far 370 billion gallons of rain have hit our greater Houston area—and it has just started. The pictures are nothing short of stunning. Nearly every bayou and creek in the Bayou City has gone over its banks. Meteorologists expect the storm to linger, dragging its rain across our city throughout the coming week. First-responders are working nonstop, risking their lives to rescue others. More than 2,000 rescues have been performed, and with days of rain to come, countless more are in store.

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) anticipates years of relief work, the church of the risen Lord Jesus is ready for her work, too.

Christlike in Crisis

As Hurricane Harvey continues to dump rain in the billions of gallons, I see Christlike instincts cresting and rising in our city.

Civilians are assembling their kayaks and big ol’ Texas-style trucks to save their neighbors. Sacrifice in a time of severe weather.

Church buildings—like that of Houston Northwest Church led by my friend, pastor Steve Bezner—are becoming staging-areas for relief. The body of Christ is opening her arms to help her neighbors.

Southern Baptists are uniting together, along with other organizations, to wash the feet of those hit by Harvey:

SBTC Disaster Relief has joined Texas emergency response teams including the Texas Baptist Men, the North American Mission Board (NAMB)’s Disaster Relief teams, the American Red Cross, state police and fire departments, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) teams and more. Southern Baptists in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mississippi are readying volunteers and equipment as well.

We’ve assembled a Redeemer Church response team, brothers and sisters eager to help. They have their boats, trucks, chainsaws, trailers, cookies, muscles, time, and prayers ready for those hit hard by Harvey.

Like many churches across the city, our members are checking in with each other, opening their homes, offering to help however they can. They are serving each other, sacrificing for each other; they are ready to love their neighbors. These are the kinds of instincts you hope to see. Apathy and disinterest are demonic in a time of disaster.

My friends and family—my Aunt Pilar and Uncle Jeff in West Houston—have water sliding up their driveways, heading toward their doors. I’m constantly—and nervously—texting church members for updates. Many are trapped in their neighborhoods and won’t be able to leave for days. One family at our church had to evacuate early because the wife may go into labor any minute.

Christians, we should be at our best when affliction does its worst.

Disaster has the potential to knit our hearts together in love. When the apostle Paul tells us to weep with those weeping, and to rejoice with those rejoicing, he doesn’t mean these are the only two emotions we should share. We should grieve with the grieving, and ache with the affected.

When I hear more rain on my back patio, my heart aches. Our city is sinking. I shake my head in disbelief as rain and sirens blare around us. As I tell my kids to wear their helmets during a tornado warning, I must look to heaven, past Harvey, for help.

Join the Relief

So what can you do? God has a ministry for you: “He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

How can you comfort those in this affliction? Here are three ways.

1. Pray

I can’t tell you how many tweets and texts I’ve received from brothers and sisters around the world today. Missionaries from Thailand told us they are praying for our church and our city.

In times like this, “I’m praying!” can feel like a Christianized “I’m thinking of you.” But the best way to avoid that hypocrisy is to actually pray. Take a few moments and specifically pray for our area, espeically any people or churches you know here.

Let the pictures you see online serve as kindling for your prayers. The Father is listening. The Son is mediating. The Spirit is helping. When you see a picture, stop and cry out to heaven. Father, help them. You said faith can move mountains, so, Father, move this storm.

Pray for the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner. Pray for the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott. Pray for first-responders and all involved in rescue efforts. Pray for the afflicted. Pray for the churches and our efforts to be Good Samaritans and good witnesses.

We desperately need the prayers of the saints (2 Cor. 1:11).

2. Give

A few churches in the area have set up flood relief funds. I trust these churches to do what’s right and godly with the funds.

You can also give to the North American Mission Board’s relief fund here.

Finally, Apple and the Red Cross have made it possible for you to give to a relief fund through iTunes.

3. Serve

As I said earlier, FEMA anticipates years of relief work.

For the rest of the post…

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