Last April, I had my 60th birthday. It’s taken me 3 months to process this fact (you move a little slower with age) and I think that I’m about ready to actually begin my seventh decade for real.
These tenth anniversary birthdays become more significant as you get older. When I turn 50, I was feeling pretty healthy and vigorous. Then one day my dentist recommended that I see my doctor to check on my blood pressure. They’d checked it during a routine dental appointment and felt that it was too high.
Long story short, I DID go to the doctor and, about 30 days later, I was taking medications for Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol, even though I’d never had a high cholesterol reading in my life, including that time. I was generally asymptomatic of all these issues (there were some symptoms, but they weren’t severe and I didn’t know what they meant; YOU should have regular checkups and not wait until your 50th birthday; that’s what they call a disclaimer) and didn’t feel any better or worse after I started taking the meds, but for the rest of my life, I’ll be saddled with those diseases.
So, now I’m 60 and Miss Margie is lining up a new set of diseases. Her front runner is sleep apnea, which she has already diagnosed on my behalf, and she is setting up some form of Alzheimer’s Disease for me for my 70th birthday. Right now, the last thing I want to do is go to a doctor’s office.
Of course, my physical health is not the only thing that is changing with my age. I’m also beginning to look at the remainder of my life, however long that is, and starting to measure out how much I’d like to get done in the years I have remaining. This isn’t some Bucket List exercise for me. I’m seriously considering the impact I’ll be able to make in the time I have left.
Part of that, of course, is in the congregations that I lead, but a significant part of it, at least for me, is in the influence I might have in terms of sharing the details of what I believe, or my personal theology.
I’m not trying to say that my personal theology is any more important that anyone else’s. But, I do believe that God has been leading me on a lifelong journey to understand my relationship with Him and, as part of my call to ministry, has intended for me to share what I’ve learned.
As a pastor, of course, I have an opportunity to share my theology on a regular basis when I preach and, increasingly these days, when I lead Bible studies. I have to admit, though, that when I exercise my gifts as a pastor or teacher within a church, even the variety of bodies I have the privilege to lead these days, I do so with a few limiting factors.
I have to remember that not everyone comes into a public worship service or Bible study with the same background of experiences and influences as me. As a result, I’m careful to share the truths of Scripture as I’ve learned them in a way that will allow everyone present to process those truths without being repelled by a personal interpretation of my own that might distract them from larger truths.
Here’s the thing. Some spiritual truths are non-negotiable, they’re just true. There may not be as many of those as some of us have been led to believe, but they exist.
Beyond that, however, there are a lot of things that Christians believe that do not reach the level of being non-negotiable. That doesn’t mean that they’re wrong, it just means that there may be more than one interpretation of certain things and different Believers see them differently. As a pastor, you have to be careful about making your view of some of those things beyond debate, because if you do, then you might begin to cause some listeners to question whether anything you say is true.
I always make it a point to precede any public speaking on behalf of God with a clear prayer that HE would be the One who divides truth for us, not just me.
Another possible limiting factor is that I’m an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene. As such, I’ve agreed to teach doctrine agreed to by those people who also call themselves Nazarenes. That’s not a huge limiting factor since most of my personal theology just happens to be totally in line with the Articles of Faith of my denomination. At the same time, however, there are a LOT of things within that doctrinal teaching about which even Nazarenes disagree. So, I try to remain as non-controversial as possible about those issues in my public ministry.
Having said ALL that, I do have my own view of theology in which I have determined through my reading, study and experience which interpretations of the negotiable areas of doctrine represent my personal best thinking. They certainly color the way I preach and teach, but I refrain from making them sound like “take-it-or-leave-it” versions of truth.
But, I really do believe them and there are times when I’d like to just break free and spell them out clearly in a forum where the listener has the right to agree or disagree without it causing them to reject the rest of my faith. That kind of forum is difficult to find in this life MOST of the time.
There are a few people who are aware of my personal theology. Miss Margie has had to listen to a LOT of it, especially at times when I’m working my way through it to determine exactly what I believe. I’m an external thinker, and external thinkers need to say things out loud so that they can hear them clearly or, as I prefer to say, so that we can “taste” and see if it’s what we really mean. I do that a lot around Margie, who is a prototypical internal thinker, so this can cause her a lot of anxiety, at times.
My sons were raised within the sound of my personal theology, though it has gone through much development over the years, so they’ve also heard the “process” version of it.
My middle son, Robbie, who is also Pastor Robbie and ministers with me these days, is probably the one person who has the clearest picture of my theology. We’ve discussed it at length and parts of it have influenced him, and he has influenced parts of it.
But, now I’m 60 years old. I really don’t have any unachieved professional or career goals, other than continuing to develop the church cluster paradigm of ministry in which we’re involved. I’m not interested in going to another church anywhere. I’m not trying to impress anyone. I figure I have another 10 years of active pastoral ministry in me and I plan to stay the course and finish strong in that.
And I think I want to start leaving a record of what I believe for people who might be interested to read it. I started this blog some years ago as a place to share what God was teaching me with people who might be interested in looking over my shoulder at my journey.
I have some sermon tapes and MP3s floating around, but they don’t actually tell the whole story of my personal theology. I think I’m at a place where I want to lay aside the limitations and tell my full story.
So, I think that’s where this blog is about to go. Here are a few words of warning to anyone who is contemplating following this particular journey.
1) You don’t have to agree with everything I say here. In fact, it’s probably healthier if you don’t agree with everything. There may be positions I take here that I’ll change as I move forward; I’m old, but not dead, so I’m still learning.
2) While a lot of this will be drawn directly from God’s written Word, it is NOT His Word on any subject. You need to be willing to consider prayerfully everything you read here. If it connects with your spirit and is confirmed by His Spirit within you, then it has value to you.
3) If you are a current congregant in anyplace I preach, you’re going to see OPINIONS here that are stronger than what I say in my sermons and Bible studies. If these opinions distract you from what you’re hearing in church (which will never be in opposition to the words you read here, but may seem milder than this), maybe you should stop reading here. I’d never want you to stop listening there.
4) Finally, if you read this blog, always read the WHOLE blog each time. Sometimes, if you only read part, you come away thinking I’m saying something I’m not intending for you to hear. Remember that I’m old and sometimes it takes me a while to get to the point. If you’re older than me and you leave early, it’s your own dang fault; you should have developed better listening/reading skills.
I’m not going to try to follow all this explanation with some in depth thinking; that’s enough for now. But, I do want to leave you with something to think about. There’s a sharp conversation going on now about the role of men and women within the Body of Christ, and there’s been a pretty sharp exchange over it in just the last couple of days. I’m going to provide you with a link here to a blog post by Rachel Held Evans that will bring you into the flow of the controversy. FYI, my personal view on this is pretty close to Rachel’s; you can form your own opinion. I’ll probably weigh in on this sometime I the near future. And, my point of view here falls into the egalitarian group, which you’ll see in the blog.
So, that’s enough for now, and I hope that you’ll continue to journey in this with me. By the way, when I turn 70, the next step will be that I’ll start posting my political views. THAT’s when the real fireworks will get started.
Always praying for you,
Your Older Brother,