Josh Harris and “The Handling of the Nate Morales Issue”

Yesterday Josh Harris of Covenant Life Church spoke publicly about the Nate Morales trial. Honestly, I want to see nothing but sincerity in his words. I have always liked Josh Harris. Even when I didn’t agree with him, I liked what I saw in him.

Brent Detwiler and others, including myself, said that Josh had made an admission of knowing about Nate Morales and the issue of his abuse.
Soon thereafter people were saying they heard no such admission. Joe Carter, of The Gospel Coalition called it a fabrication. Some said we were spreading rumors. Lies even.

Why did we think he admitted he knew about Nate Morales and his sexual abuse of children? The following is what he said around the seven minute mark:

“The three other men who had any connection to handling the Nate Morales issue are ready to do the same thing (take a leave of absence). This is me, Kenneth, Corby and Robin.”

This statement means one of two things. Either all four had to handle the issue of Nate Morales or just the “three other men” did. And since you cannot handle an issue you do not know about, either Josh and the “three other men” knew or Josh did not know and he is throwing them under the bus. And the latter seems unlikely. I just see Josh doing that unless they gave him permission. And in that case, I would expect him to make that point clear. But none of that really jives with everything else he said. The only meaning that makes sense to me is that they all four were “handling the Nate Morlaes issue” and therefore knew.

I’m willing to entertain other opinions as to what this statement could mean.

Being Plagiarized and Reverend Ames

Last week I stumbled upon evidence that some of my writing had been plagiarized. And my first reaction was a strange anger. Anger mixed with flattery. Maybe that’s what it was. Pride too.

Plagiarism requires repentance. Just like theft. In the pulpit, more so. It was disheartening listening and reading men doing what I want to do, using my writing without giving me credit. I was mad. And then just got more mad.

And then I read the following from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead:

“I fell to thinking about the passage in the Institutes where it says the image of the Lord in anyone is much more than reason enough to love him, and that the Lord stands waiting to take our enemies’ sins upon Himself. So it is a rejection of the reality of grace to hold our enemy at fault. Those things can only be true. It seems to me people tend to forget that we are to love our enemies, not to satisfy some standard of righteousness, but because God their Father loves them. I have probably preached on that a hundred times.”

So I’ve decided to pray for them as pastors to fight my own anger and pride. I’m still mad. Give me a week.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts



1) My youngest child has begun doing some serious stuttering in the last few months. I’ve never looked into whether this is something handed down from parent to child but my own struggles and difficulties with stuttering make me hurt for him. Those who ridicule stuttering cannot know what they are doing. It is a painful thing to live with. Daily pain. It affects you socially in ways you cannot even know until you are an adult. I go through seasons where I stutter very little. But the fear is always there that I will be talking with someone and the words will not come out. And there are the seasons where you have to forgo saying certain things because you know words that start with ‘h’ will never pass across your lips without the repetition that makes people uncomfortable or induces ridicule. Do you know how many greetings start with words beginning with ‘h’?

2) I’ve been doing really well at work but it’s been hard to enjoy. A guy I work with is not doing well and he is getting very discouraged. It’s painful to watch because I’ve been there. You’re just waiting to get called into the boss’ office while you watch someone else succeed. The business world can be a dark place.

3) Watching someone struggle with belief can be attractive. It seems to be the thing to celebrate nowadays. But we need to understand that clarity of conviction is also attractive. At least it should be. In a world of shallow and soft thinking, clarity of what you are convinced of, should be prized while being patient with those who are sincerely struggling to get there.

4) Prediction: Kids in little league will soon have agents.

5) I’ve been reading Calvin’s Institutes for a couple of weeks and so of course I’m thinking about what is typically considered Calvinism. And I’ve been thinking about objections people have to the “5 points.” I sympathize with the objections since I was once an objector. But there are two things that I want these people to see outside of the goodness of “Calvinism.” People often complain that it doesn’t make sense and logically cannot be true. I usually respond with a question, “Do you hold any other beliefs that are hard to understand?” And then I ask if they believe Jesus is both God and Man and if they believe in one God that is three persons. The second thing I want them to see is specific to those who like to describe faith and belief and the Christian life as “messy.” These are people who revel in the contradictions. I like these people. In many ways these are my people. But one seeming contradiction that is just too messy for them is predestination/election. They often ask “how could a loving God do…” and they do not want a messy answer. They want squeaky clean answers. Bleached. I like these people but I fear they use “messiness” as a soft place for their unbelief to land.

6) I long to be a pastor again. Sometimes it’s painful. But I’m content to be where I am and do what I can where I am.

7) I think we are coming to a point in the history of our country where the most evangelistic endeavor we participate in will be faithfulness to our creed and love for those who despise it. Both will be very difficult.

8) There are a number of things I do not like about myself. But the thing I despise the most is when I laugh at other people’s expense. Making fun of people. Ridiculing them. It’s a short-term solution for my insecurities. Couple that with my own inability to laugh at myself sometimes…

9) Some: Theology is divisive.
Me: (shrugs shoulder) OK.

10) My wife’s birthday was yesterday. She is a joy to hold and a joy to behold.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1) Really, outside of hitting, pitching and fielding the Cardinals are having a great April.

2) It is no Alarmism to assume pastors may soon risk much when preaching the Scriptures.

3) I walked into my daughter’s room and she was singing along to U2, so I’m winning, right?

4) In the new heavens and earth the way we think about ourselves will be a perfect reflection of how we really are. We will not overestimate our abilities nor undervalue what we can offer to others. We will, without irony or arrogance, see ourselves as we really are, reflecting the glory of the Holy King.

5) Vegetable hungry is harder than potato chip hungry.

6) If the purpose of Heaven Is for Real is to help people believe just that. My question is why did they not believe it before? The Scriptures are clear on its existence and goodness. What other fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith is not then believed in the Scripture that needs a multimedia campaign to be believed?

7) Read everything by Rod Dreher, especially this.

8) I know the “Five Points of Calvinism” are out of fashion, but I’m still thankful for them. Starting with our Total Depravity is a good practice in all our endeavors. It keeps us humble and reminds us the problem lies within us and not merely outside us.

9) Sometimes the kindest thing I can do for my kids is to not let them do what they want to do. Every parent knows this, if only instinctively. Why would we not expect the same kindness from God, our

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1) My hearts tendency to legalism is manifested most clearly when I look in the Bible for what to do, as if Holy Writ was given to me as a self help book. What needs to happen is for me to go to the scriptures and listen for what God is saying about himself and myself and my neighbor.

2) One of the more staggering stats of the young baseball season is Andrelton Simmons having 49 plate appearances with no strikeouts. Back in 1929 Joe Sewell went 115 games without a strikeout. I’m not sure how many plate appearances that was but it was 437 at bats. He only struck out 4 times that season. And averaged only 1 K every 62.6 at bats over his hall of fame career making him the hardest batter to strikeout in MLB history.

3) While April is a little colder than I’d prefer, springtime in Birmingham is really glorious with all the azaleas and lilies and irises blooming and the trees are a blinding green. It’s hard to sit at a desk, you feel like your body is about burst with the need to sit outside and laugh with friends.
Spring is great everywhere but hometown Spring is singular.

4) Obscurity with my wife in a quiet room with a book is preferable over out with the movers and shakers.

5) I got a note this week from a pastor who has been taking his small group through my book. That group has among its members a banker and a plumber. So my week has been made. If those two were encouraged at all it’s worth it. The royalty checks are nice. And necessary. But hearing that? It’s a particular kind of wealth that cannot be earned or bought.

6) Went to a ball game downtown last night. Had a hot dog and an orange drink. We have some serious award inning restaurants in town but I’d chose a ball game, a dog and an orange drink over them every single time.

7) Over the past week I’ve helped a 75 yr old lady with $2 to her name and another elderly lady in tears, who lost a daughter in law to the long battle of cancer. I’ve sat between two broken marriages. And I’ve spent 2 hours talking with a woman whose drug-addicted son has been stealing from her and she has to bolt her bedroom door from the inside when she sleeps at night, when she can sleep. I would not have chosen this preparation for the pastorate, but it is the wisdom of God.

8) The Psalms are full of the Blues and sometimes you can hear Mississippi John Hurt and Son House and Big Bill Broonzy in them.

9) I long for a vacation the way a fat kid longs for cake.

10) It sounds like some tired cliche but work is far more tolerable when I am praying for my fellow employees and my bosses. Sometimes those prayers are more like the groans of creation waiting for redemption, but still.

11) The songs sung by the characters in the The Lord of the Rings are very different than the songs sung after the adventure begins.

Eugene Peterson and “the Faulty Job Description” of the Pastor

I’ve been slowly reading Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles again. If and when a church calls me as a pastor, I want a paradigm I can go to when the pressures come. My assumption, based on my experience in vocational ministry is that what I’m supposed to do will constantly be questioned and challenged. I need to be able to say to myself and others (with gentleness) what my calling is and is not. The following quote is helpful to that end. It’s not helpful simply because of what I want to do. It’s a good reminder of what’s in my own heart. I am subject to the temptation of feeling a passage or sermon is not useful if it was not what I wanted.

The faulty job description has been written by customers in a consumer society. Historically, a unique thing has taken place in our society. The causes are multiple but the effect is single: everyone is a customer. We have been trained to think of ourselves and then to behave as consumers. We are known by what we buy. We measure the health of our nation and the success of our lives in terms of per capita income and gross national product. If people save what they earn instead of spend it, the nation gets sick. If we devote too much time to creating something enduring and beautiful without calculating its cost-efficiency, we damage the economy. If we look too long without buying, we retard progress. If we give away too much without counting the cost, we interfere with the market. If a politician running for office asks the question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” everyone interprets that “better off” in terms of what money they have on hand to spend. I am worth what I spend.

No pastor is exempt from this conditioning. Our educators train us superbly in the acquisition of goods. Marshall McLuhan often remarked with dismay that the advertising budget of our nation exceeded by several times the school budget, and that the people who ran the advertising agencies were, with a few exceptions, far more able than those who ran the schools: “The classroom cannot compete with the glitter and the billion dollar success and prestige of this commercial education…disguised as entertainment and which by-passes the intelligence while operating on the will and the desires.”

If I receive my primary social identity as a consumer, it follows that my primary expectation of the people I meet is that I get something from them for which I am prepared to pay a price. I buy merchandise from the department store, health from the physician, legal power from the lawyer. Does it not follow that in this kind of society my parishioner will have commercialized expectations of me? None of the honored professions has escaped commercialization, why should the pastorate? This has produced in our time the opprobrious practice of pastors manipulating their so-called flocks on the same principles that managers run supermarkets.

The question operates subliminally, shaping my behavior: what do people want from me, their pastor? Something surely along the order of a better life: encouragement, insight, consolation, formulas that enable them to get along better in a difficult world, uplift them (a friend calls this “brassiere theology”). We, of course, are conditioned to comply. Why should we not please the people who pay our salaries if we can do it with good conscience? And why should not our consciences be good, ratified as they are by the vote of congregation after congregation? This consumerism shapes us without our knowing it. There is nothing in our lives that it does not touch in one way or another.

This acquisitive mode is so culturally expected and congregationally rewarding that it cannot fail to affect our approach to the Scriptures. When we sit down to read the Scriptures we already have an end product in view: we want to find something useful for people’s lives, to meet their expectations of us as pastors who deliver the goods. If someone says to me, “I don’t get anything out of reading Scripture” my knee-jerk response is, “I will show you how to read it so that you can get something out of it.” The operative word is “get.” I will help you be a better consumer. By this time the process is so far advanced that it is nearly irreversible. We have agreed, my parishioners and I, to treat the Bible as something useful for what they can use out of it. I, a pastor shaped by their expectations, help them to do it. At some point I cross over the line and am doing it myself—looking for an arresting text for a sermon, looking for the psychologically right reading in a hospital room, looking for evidence of the truth of the Trinity. The verb looking has taken over. I am no longer listening to a voice, not listening to the God to whom I will give a response in obedience and faith, becoming the person he is calling into existence. I am looking for something that I can use to do a better job for which people will give me a raise if I do it conspicuously well enough.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

The proof of self-righteousness within a particular tribe of Christianity is it’s unceasing criticism leveled against everyone else but itself.

I like everything with my Sriracha sauce.

I have not seen the Noah movie. But I do think it is reasonable for people to be upset about it if only for one reason. From what I’ve read Noah is not portrayed as a righteous man in the movie. But he is described as one in Genesis 6:9. You can debate all day about whether that’s a problem or not but it’s certainly reasonable for people to expect Noah to be portrayed as righteous in the movie and then be upset when he is not. I would be very upset about a version of Pride and Prejudice portraying Lizzie and Jane as whores. As would all who love those characters as I do.

I cannot remember the last time I had a good night’s sleep. Or bacon.

Rachel Held Evans is a General in the culture wars.

Last night I taught a small group of pre-teens and it reminded me of why I went into and loved youth ministry.

On Monday my sons had tee ball and baseball practice. Coaches never let me hit though.

The force with which we, evangelicals, typically talk about evangelism and missions is far afield of the way the Apostles did. Way far afield. I don’t understand why this is ok with so many people. You can not find one place in the NT where the person in the pew is made to feel guilty about the unreached. Go ahead. Go look. I’ll wait. Why do we think this is laudable? And it’s done usually by people who do not know the people they are preaching to. They fly in and thunder guilt for which they have no biblical precedent.

I now prefer my wife’s cooking over all other foods. Especially if I’m eating it with her.

My next book may have to be a study for young communicants because the one my daughter goeth through is not makingeth it.

Music made by Christians should not sound like Clay Aiken singing for a knitting circle. It should sound like the creation of all things, the thundering weight of the fall, empty tombs, horseman of the apocalypse tramping through visions of the exiled, breaking hearts, dreams shattered, redemption birthed through suffering, the blood, sweat and tears of this beautiful and terrible world. Our music should sound like the return of the King of Kings and the making of all things new. It should at least sound like this -

On Pastoral Job Descriptions, Part 2: Our Guilt and An Idea

Hearing from others in response to my first post on this subject got me thinking. Dangerous, I know.

First, I’ve thought about how none of us are innocent in the problem. Most job descriptions for pastors are focused on satisfying the consumer-driven tendencies of our culture because we are driven by the same. We all have some blood on our hands. I know I do. One of the reasons we are like this is all the wealth and freedom we have. Our wealth makes it near impossible for us to be content with what God has provided, and that includes what he has provided ecclesiastically. So we pine for me. The best we can afford. And our freedom gives us many churches and pastors to hear from. You put those two together in the pastoral search and it can get and does get awful. many of them sound like PR campaigns done by HR departments. And we haven’t even talked about the lure of salary and benefits.

But I think there is a better way of doing things.

Someone asked me how I do it. And my answer came rather easily. Instead of churches and search committees making public their job description, they should not make it public. Ask those interested and those they are interested in to send them some thoughts on a job description and then see how well those fit with what the church wants in a pastor. Why not come up with one that is very bare bones and amendable? None will fit perfectly and that is probably right and good. A pastor is likely to know more about what a pastor should be than a committee of lay-persons. Just as an computer programmer will know more about programming than an hiring manager will. Certainly any pastor worth hiring would be worthy of learning from in the process. How could expect to be led by him after he is hired but not at all before? So any job description should be amendable.

The great problem with the process as we have it now, is that it’s too much like the dating i did in High School in college. Everyone is on their best behavior and trying to impress each other in the very beginning. All weakness is hid. All failures are swept under the carpet. Both parties try to show off a little by dressing up. I’ve written about this here and here.

If churches would just keep their job descriptions to themselves and ask candidates to provide them with one to see if they just might match up, then you would cut much of the consumerism off at the knees. There is never a guarantee a process will work out perfectly. But if the goal of the process is to model the very gospel by which we have have all been saved, I think the process can be more healthy.


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