Shepherding the flock, part 3 - Steve

What do you see as the central mission of the church? How does this relate to the principle in Reformed Theology of scripture applying to every area of life?

The Church is to worship her Lord, disciple the nations to do the same, and prepare herself to wed Him when He returns for her. Ezekiel 16, Ephesians 5 and Titus 3 all speak of the church being washed by God, to be presented to Him without spot or wrinkle, and we are washed (in Eph and Titus) by the Word. God is using the Word inspired by His Spirit to conform us to the image of His Son, our Bridegroom. Every part of our bodies must be washed – no spot left. Every part of our lives needs change, just as every part of our lives is tainted with sin (Genesis 6:5, and the 3rd canon of Dordt, Articles 1 and 3).

Shepherding the flock, part 2 - Steve

What is the elder's role in shepherding? How does the job description of a minister differ from that of a ruling elder?

All elders rule, and as ruling elders, they are all called to shepherd the flock. All elders shepherd. The teaching elder, or pastor, shepherds the flock with the ruling elders. In addition the pastor preaches and teaches the Word. (1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Tim. 3:14-4:2). It is his special task to communicate the Word to God’s people. In this sense, the pastor is a spokesman for the rest of the elders.

Legalized homosexual marriage in Canada - Steve

Context: the RCA has approved a 3.5 year period of dialogue regarding homosexuality, instead of approving several classis overtures to write into our polity our present position papers, which define homosexual practice as a sin.

As a Canadian RCA minister responded to Canada's recent legalization of homosexual marriage, he said he wasn't going to do state marriages in Canada anymore. I responded:

Why can we say, "No more" to the state, but we cannot say it to ourselves as God's holy church called out of an impure world? We are called first to say "No more" to impurity within the church, not the world, a la 1 Cor 5:12. To say, "3 more years" to ourselves and then "No more" to the state reverses 1 Cor 5:12's priorities. Judgment begins with the house of God.

I'm not saying we shouldn't separate from being agents of the state in this matter, I'm saying we should be consistent, and much more conscientious in our associations with believers than with the world (1 Cor 5:9-11).

I'm not sure that as a corporate body right now we RCA members have any business being so adamant in our indignation against a corrupt state as long as we cannot remove the yeast from our own body. It smacks of hypocrisy. Like the president not paying taxes. On an individual level, I do agree with Jim's honorable and principled stand.

I'm not saying we can never point out sin because we aren't perfect; I'm not one who thinks that way. But our priorities should begin with God's people. Only when we speak, act and live as a unified community will we be salt and light that is potent enough to make a difference in the world. Only after we let God sift and purify us as He did Gideon's army will we be fit for battle.

Esther - Steve

I'm beginning to study Esther, to preach through at our evening services this late summer. Maybe I'll keep you updated on how a newbie pastor handles the book of the Bible that never mentions God, Jerusalem, or the temple (shortly after the return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple took place!), and that contains no prayers, visions, or miracles.

One thing I know. It's best to read the whole 10 chapters at one sitting. Sara and I did this recently in our devotions, me reading out loud - what a delight!


Laundry Basket Boats


There are so many fun moments in our home - like when these two decided to cram themselves into a laundry basket together and wildly shake it back and forth to the point of tipping over. Of course I knew they were being Peter and Andrew in their fishing boat during one of Gallilee's fierce storms. But here, the storm is over and they are just Grace and Owen again, brother and sister enjoying each other's company and fellowship.

It's amazing how the sibling relationship in a family is a small picture of Christ's Kingdom. These two will fight and wrestle and argue and pull hair and everything else your average sin-filled child will do. Yet they are learning to seek forgiveness from each other, little models of grace in everyday life. After the "I"m sorry, I was wrong" and "I forgive and still love you's" are given, they go right back to their play together. No grudges, short accounts. What a great reminder for me to do likewise with my brothers and sisters in God's family.

Shepherding the flock - Steve

What does it mean to shepherd the flock and how does that happen from day to day?

Shepherding the flock is about meeting the needs of the sheep, as defined by the Word of God. It involves oversight and feeding. Shepherds need to watch over their sheep in order to know their specific needs, and to know what they need to hear from the Word. This defines the pastor’s daily activity. To oversimplify, I spend my time getting to know the flock, and knowing the Word well enough to feed the flock what they need.


Divorce, remarriage and homosexuality - Steve

Once again, this post is part of a larger conversation going on among RCA members, in the aftermath of our General Synod's decisions on homosexuality.

To the conservative objection, "Hold on here; what about the Bible?" a counter-objection was offered. One I think is disingenuous and tongue in cheek, a reductio ad absurdam to refute the "sexual policing" in which "conservatives" like to engage. It goes like this: if remarriage after an illegitimate divorce is a sin, then doesn't that mean that the original couple, each now married to someone else, can morally engage in intercourse, since in God's eyes they are still married?

Here was my response:
It is not right to commit a present sin to redress a past sin. You don't divorce illegitimately to put a previous illegitimate divorce back together. 1 Corinthians 7:17 is most applicable here: stay as you were when converted [or in this case, when you came to an awareness of your sin]. If there has been no marriage since the illegit divorce, then Joe's point holds that they may not remarry - they are still considered married in God's eyes, and ought to seek reconciliation, if possible, and if the separation was truly unwarranted. If they remarry - out of ignorance or high rebellion, it doesn't matter - they have a new set of obligations. God calls them to repent of the same past sin, but restitution and restoration will look different because of the new covenant vows made. It is not essentially different from any other unrepentant sin. Unrepentant, you could say they are living in a continuous state of adultery. Repentant, Jesus does not condemn us, even in our mess, but tells us to go and stop sinning anymore.

The important thing is to be asking these questions seriously and earnestly,striving to apply God's Word for holiness and purity to specific and messy life situations.

The important thing, when we understand what Scripture means, is to as, how we can live this out together as a community, not to generate objections in the reductio ad absurdam line: "That can't be right because if we did that, x would be true, and that's absurd!"

Honestly, my engagement in this sort of debate is coming down to Proverbs 26:4-5. Do we answer foolishness and try to persuade, or is it folly to try?


Homosexuality and the Church - Steve

I am a pastor in the Reformed Church in America. Our General Synod convened for the last 7 days or so, and had the hot issue of homosexuality to deal with. Maybe another time on what they actually did, and analysis. But for now, Here is a response to another RCA member's thoughts on homosexuality. The other members thoughts are quoted, mine are normal script.

"Fundamentally novel questions are being asked of us as theologians and pastors [regarding homosexuality]."

I disagree. Homosexuality has been with us since Bible times. It is not a new socio-cultural question. The only change is that society wants to endorse it officially. True, more people need the demonstration of its sinfulness and harmfulness than ever before, but the church may not reconsider the moral legitimacy of homosexuality.

"Our situation is almost precisely identical to theirs [pre-Nicene church]"

To extend your analogy, but with a different take, I would say we are about 370AD, with lots of Arians running around yet, tolerated by the church, who haven't been disciplined along Nicene lines. What more do we need besides all these position papers in the way of discernment in the RCA? We've DONE that work, and it was done well. Synod has simply proven once again that we are unable to live out our beliefs in the face of opposition from within. What do we do when entire classes defy these beliefs? Synod just punted that question. The question is not exegetical, but polity/discipline-based.

These are not "hard questions." They are interesting and provocative, but not hard:

"Does the one-flesh union of single sex partners damage the manner in which traditional marriage functions as an icon of the Trinity or the of Christ-Church relationship?"

Yes, so we must stand opposed to such unions, as Scripture does, not merely think abstractly about the Trinity.

"Is gender a biological reality or a socio-cultural reality or a combination of both?"
"How does Dordt's reflections on radical depravity inform our conception of sexuality?"

God made them male and female, so it's biological. Isn't this obvious? Cultural conditioning may occur, but it's based on the biological. How does this relate to the issue at hand? Even if homosexuals are born that way, we are ALL born in sin and called to resist it, not endorse it.

"Would it really matter whether someone discovered a biological cause for homosexuality?"

No. It is a non-issue. I was born a heterosexual adulterer-in-heart. I need to resist it every day. It is a heavy cross to bear sometimes. Isn't the weight of it too much for me? Why not just say, "OK, if you really have to, you can have a mistress, but only one." Where does this stop?

"Love for our homosexual brothers and sisters, bound to us in baptism, requires
that we attentively consider their experience of being in the world
and in the church."

Love for homosexuals in the church requires that we show them the Scriptural way, and sorrowfully discipline them if they consciously reject it. Are we more concerned about not offending an unrepentant sinner or about staying true to our only rule of faith and life?

"If we really believe that humans were created good and in the image of God, we should very much welcome the unique ways that this goodness and image bearing are manifest. Here, I suspect that we have forgotten how to "love the sinner" in our white-hot "hatred for the sin."

This sounds to me like endorsing the sin, in an effort to love the sinner. We are NOT created good. Homosexuality is NOT a unique way in which God's image is manifested to us. This is blatantly unscriptural. I don't know for sure if you meant to say that - it's what I heard - please clarify if not.

"We are too neck-deep in church growth handbooks to bother with Augustine,
Calvin, and Aquinas."

Amen to that, brother! (Check out Calvin's commentary on Romans 1:26 some time...)
I do appreciate your thoughtfulness, even if the current situation has made me a bit short in tone.

Following Messiah Jesus,
Pastor Steve Hemmeke
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever
Soli Deo Gloria - glory to God alone


Quixotic - Steve

Cervantes' classic Don Quixote is fascinating.

Disclaimer up front: I've only read the first 150 pages, and have not read any secondary material on this work (usually the best way to go, I figure. Read the classics, not about the classics).

Cervantes obviously has a beef with romantic illusion. Where Quixote hears 2 armies facing each other in battle, his trusty squire Sancho sees 2 flocks of sheep. When the hidalgo Quixote chooses sides and charges, killing several sheep, he gets whacked around by some shepherds' slingstones. Hmm. Wake up, Don. If you read reality wrong it'll bite you in the end. It's a realist's take on the world, mocking those who make more of mundane events than is actually there. The romantic who creates these illusions often does so in order to selfishly feed his own ego, or naively to fit two things together (books and sheep) where there just isn't any connection.

I love my books, just like the man of La Mancha did. I think Cervantes is wrong if he takes his critique of romanticism too far, asserting that there is no connection between books and the world outside your house. Ideas do have consequences. Ask Marie Antoinnette about that. Words change people, who change things. This frightens some people, so that they avoid all the words they can. Others use words as a tool to gain or keep power. God calls us to use words to glorify Him, to point to His Son Jesus as the Savior from the wrath of God against our sin (Acts 4:8-20), to edify others, and to meditate on the true, good and beautiful (Philippians 4:8).

So, while there is always a danger of being led astray by deceptive philosophies and words found in books, I'll keep reading my books, distinguishing romantic illusion from truth that has yet to be lived out in the world, and needs to be. When books change me, all of a sudden I look Quixotic to people, jousting with windmills. But sometimes books describe reality better than our mundane assumptions do.


The moral confusion of Star Wars - Steve

So we went to see Episode III the other night. I enjoyed the plot's struggle between good and evil, light versus dark, the self-devouring nature of evil (Anakin choking Padme toward the end), the self-deception of evil (I want power to protect YOU, Anakin says early on), as well as the politics between the Jedi and Emperor. The latter's seduction of Anakin through offering power, sowing seeds of envy and pride against the other Jedi was also good. There were some interesting visual cues to the struggle: as the movie went on the contrast intensified in different scenes getting progressively brighter and darker. Obe Won wearing white and Anakin black during their duel was an obvious one.

But, oh, that duel. Right in the middle of it, in response to a forgotten line by Anakin, Obe Won says, "Only a Sith deals in absolutes." (Sith is the darkside equivalent to a Jedi.) I laughed out loud. Right at the climactic fighting scene, I was incredulous at the moral stupidity of these people. So, only a bad guy believes in moral absolutes? Only a bad guy believes in good and bad? Huh? This was the lie that the emperor told Anakin, to turn him against the Jedi: they're not really "good," you know, just out for power like every one else. Oh really?

I was amused in that shake the head and smirk sort of way, but I still enjoyed the movie, because the whole premise is based on the goodness of freedom, democracy, accountability, etc. and the badness of selfish ambition, pride, envy and death. Apparently, this "Only a Sith deals in absolutes" line was a bone the writers threw to the philosophical relativists in the crowd. Talk about inconsistent.

There are other things going on I don't like about Star Wars - the whole balance of the Force, where the presence of evil (the dark side) seems morally neutral and needed for "balance;" and the impersonal nature of the Force, analogous to the Holy Spirit. But if you can navigate the bad and glean the good, there is some edifying material here. Redeem the culture, I say; no need to trash it. Though with movie tickets these days, it's getting a little pricy to redeem this part of the culture...

The non-stop action got annoying, and almost seemed intentional to make up for such a shallow plot. It seems so much more could have been done in connecting other episode details, or adding new ones. Oh, well.

Not sure why, but I also made some Bush-critical connections. Isn't he the emperor who uses a war to increase his own power? Right. Or is he a Jedi, seeking to keep dictators accountable? Search your feelings, Anakin, and you will know...


3 Stooges Posted by Hello

Reading after vacation - Steve

Came across several (free!) booklets from Banner of Truth on vacation. 15-30 pages each, about 12 of them. Notable titles I've read:

The Bleeding of the Evangelical Church by David Wells. Great critique of our loss of the sense of God, His truth and holiness - substituting it with marketing, being nice and not offending unbelievers.

The Cross: The Vindication of God, by DM Lloyd-Jones. Great stuff on Romans 3:25-26. The cross not only provides us with forgiveness, but provides an explanation for how God could tolerate our sin for so long (since the Garden of Eden) without punishment.

And others. Go Banner of Truth! Check 'em out: www.banneroftruth.org.


Road Trip - Sara

I thought our recent road trip out west (Michigan to Washington) would provide me with ample time to finish the pair of socks I have been working on since the start of May. Who'd have thunk that 4000 miles in a van with a 3 yr old, 2 yr old and 1 yr old would'nt allow me to knit much? :) When I wasn't feeding or playing with the kiddos, I often found myself driving, relieving my stalwart husband from his job as family chaufer. It was an enjoyable trip, but I found that most of my knitting was done while hiding under the coat rack in our hotel room, waiting for the kids to fall asleep at nap time.

Needless to say, my 2nd sock is 3/4 finished, and now I've lost one of my dpns!! Aaargh. Perhaps it's a sign to start another project?

The kiri shawl was finished in one month flat, and I love it. It's a beautiful salmon-orange color, and if I ever decide to go hunting, I will be safe and fashion savvy. Sitting in the woods in the fall and knitting doesn't sound bad at all. Perhaps a girls-only camping trip should be in the future...

My husband is ready to hide my yarn stash until I finish hand-quilting my king size patchwork quilt. I'd love to finish it soon too, but honestly, who wants to sit under a quilt for hours when it's 80 degrees outside?

What does my knitting future hold? Well, I would like to knit sweaters for my boys (gray/paprika for Isaiah and dk green/paprika for Owen) and then another Kiri shawl in a finer fuzzy black mohair blend. Zoe Mellor's Lacy Sweater is tempting for Grace, but I also have dreams of knitting or crocheting a cute bolero type jacket and sewing a sweet dress to match. That's pretty ambitious.

First I need to find my missing needle to finish these socks - I'm am falling in love with how soft and comfy they are! I have large feet (sz 10 USA) and so most store bought socks are small even before they go through the dryer! I doubt I can knit fast enough to outfit my feet with handknit socks solely (no pun intended).