The Pastor Who Preached in Boxer Shorts

A parable for all those missional types

Once upon a timeUntitled1 there was a pastor of a church somewhere just above smallish. Living and preaching outside the city of Coolumbus for over a decade had given him plenty of time to adjust to life and culture in this growing metropolitan area. Restaurants sported fair-trade ingredients and interior design patterns without straight lines. In a century where “new” was the greatest virtue, Coolumbus society around him was desperately scrabbling for the latest of everything—fashions, music, and sensibilities. And if they weren’t winning the race, they were certainly holding a steady pace somewhere near the front.

Scott Keruso really wanted to make a difference. His sermons could be downloaded as well as live-streamed; the praise band was fresh and well-practiced, and only mildly edgy; the church talked a lot about social justice; the youth group took an annual mission trip to drill a well for some needy village in a third-world setting. What more could they do to reach out to their community? How could they break out of this 150-200 attendance barrier? How could the church people experience God in a fresher, deeper way?

These questions returned so often to the fervent pastor that his closest friends knew he was both sincere and focused. But sincerity wasn’t enough. Was he really gifted? If we could have seen into his heart, we would have seen that he thought he was—at least on most days. And even though he could hold his own in a discussion about God’s sovereignty, he also knew the lines about man’s efforts. Church growth commonly requires a pastor to do something. Haven’t thoughtful, clever men always found ways to—in the metaphor of one popular author—surf the latest wave that the Holy Spirit brought along?

But his generation was relational. They wanted conversations around a table, not superiors lecturing inferiors. He had heard more than once that since the Bible says we are all sinners, then doesn’t that include the pastor? And the spate of pastors who had fallen morally confirmed that, at heart, we are all weak, frail sinners.

In deference to these concerns, Pastor Keruso (or should we just say, Scott?) had tried to adjust some of the church services to have a more friendly, family feel while still maintaining high standards for professionalism.

From the beginning of his ministry, Scott’s sport coat only worked one day a week, and the people followed suit. Or, possibly, he followed them. Either way, he eventually reduced his Wednesday night uniform because as he reminded his wife, “Where does the Bible say that we have to wear silk sashes around our necks?”

Most of his people brought devices to the services. Technology accented the services, and the church’s Facebook pages were active throughout the week. More than once, a picture surfaced and was reposted of the pastor in shorts on vacation or his day off. He wasn’t bothered for the same reasons that you or I wouldn’t be bothered. He was just a man living with his wife and kids. In fact, he liked the rapport that his online banter and presence built between him and his people.

In time, they were coming to view him as a real person, a friend.

He wasn’t a two-book-per-week man, but he tried to read. And in reading, he frequently ran across the word “missional.” Before long, that term began to fit in his repertoire like an old tool. Christ was missional when he wore Jewish and Hellenistic clothing. Paul was missional when he went to a new city. And now God had called Scott to Coolumbus in 2014. It was his mission. He had to relate to these people, know these people, and be like these people.

Of course, he would never break a Biblical command to be missional, but to be like the people was to obey Biblical commands like loving your neighbor.

So it was, that the mix-up happened. The small group meeting was supposed to be on Tuesday night at the Chandler’s house. Or so Scott thought. But somehow he had missed the recent buzz on FB that moved the Bible study to the pastor’s home. He had been planning to attend another small group that met on Thursday, and so he and his wife Ashlyn, were enjoying a movie that evening at 6:45 when the bell rang.

Having just showered after dinner, he wore a white undershirt and a pair of sleeping pants. When the door opened to reveal the first four participants for the cell group, he had a fast decision to make: How can I get changed before they see me? “Wait,” his inner voice spoke. “This is who you are. This is what you do. You worked all day like they did, and now you are relaxing. You know the Bible cares more about the heart than the externals, right?”

Scott’s inner debate didn’t matter because two of the church members had already seen and greeted him from the door. “Oh, well.” He thought as he made space for an unexpected Bible study in his living room.

Everything went smoothly that evening, and Scott felt like they could really relate to him. New sensations of being raw and open came to him. This was Pastor Unedited.

“Ashlyn, we need more people to open up,” Scott said later that night. “Our people—Christians in general—need to stop hiding behind fake masks, and let people see them for who they really are.”

Ashlyn who had some bad experiences with hypocrisy growing up agreed as Scott thought she would, “I have thought that for a long time. But everything about us, like, how we are at church just closes that kind of spirit of openness.”

“Well, we need more of it.” And they both agreed again. “What do you think about this idea?” Scott asked. “When am I most relaxed, open, and unguarded?”

Ashlyn didn’t need long to reply, “In the evenings with the family, on your day off, or maybe on vacation.”

“And aren’t those good dynamics to have in a church? Wouldn’t you like to be in a meeting of Christians like that?”

“Sure,” she said.

“Then,” Scott prepared as he thought out his conclusion, “at our next evening church service, I am going to lead the people by example. Whatever I wear the week before on my day off at that time, I am going to wear to church that evening.”

A little pushback followed, but eventually the pastor, overcome by missional desire, committed to this new exercise.

The following Sunday night as he prepared for the evening service, he realized that last week on his day off, he and his boy had gone biking. Owing to the mud, that evening he was dressed in boxer shorts and a sweatshirt. How could he keep his commitment? An internal debate followed 45 minutes before he had to leave for church.

“I’ll just wear jeans a sweatshirt to church. People will still see that I am trying to relate to them.” Thus said the first voice.

But another voice was there, “Scott, what are you trying to hide? You really are trapped.”

“Trapped?” shot back the first voice.

“Isn’t it obvious? You made a commitment to do a good thing: be real to your people. And now that it comes time to pay, you are afraid that they will laugh. This is just the fear of man. And on top of that you made a promise to God. Isn’t there a verse in Ecclesiastes about that?” The second voice spoke with authority and Bible.

“But it’s not right to go to church—to preach—in boxer shorts!” the first voice rejoined.

“You really are a case, aren’t you? Saved by faith, justified freely, and now bound to the law. Afraid to let people see that you really are just a mere man. Now you are adding pride to your lack of courage. How many sins can this simple matter unearth in your heart? There really is no discussion: You vowed before God. There is no verse in the Bible that says you cannot preach in boxer shorts, and yet you feel guilty about it. Bound, bound, bound by the law.”

The debate went on, but, as our story goes, the hero decided to bear the shame and bare his legs in the pulpit that evening. Pastor Keruso even went further, and preached about the spiritual victory that he had gained that day over his own pride. After all, the Bible doesn’t forbid preaching in boxer shorts.

An elderly man in the service, a Mr. Rich Baxter, wrote a letter to the pastor expressing his shock at seeing someone in his underwear speak purportedly as the mouthpiece of God, but this was laughed off in the church staff meeting as someone who needs to focus on the gospel. “The older generation doesn’t understand much about grace.” The senior pastor said shaking his head.

The next week, Scott got a tattoo, arranged a rapper for Sunday worship, and showed Noah the Movie to the church on Sunday night because there’s no verse for these either.

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The 20th Century Artistic Famine

I have a rule that I will never buy paintings that I could have painted better myself. That rules out virtually all modern art. The last great painter in my view was John Singer Sargent, who died in 1925. After that, the 20th century was a dismal century in the history of art. When future generations look back on it, they’ll think we were all mad.

Paul Johnson

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The Average Church in Southern Africa

Even though the speaker is using Venda, you can figure out the gist of the message pretty easily. This happened at a village in our district. On the ground at everyone’s feet are South African Rands. The pastrix (Thanks Ken Silva for that term) tells us about how we need money (listen at :17) and by 1:12 she has the people start naming the amounts of money that they are decreeing will appear in their bank accounts. You can hear them start with meager numbers like R3,000 ($300) and at 1:23 a bold woman wants R11,000 for which she is cheered. At 2:33 a man calls out for R200,000 ($20,000) and they cheer for him.

They are told that they must phone their banks in the morning to see the money.

Gathered supposedly in the name of Jesus Christ, they cheer, dance, sing, and warm their hearts by the fire of money. In the past, they had spirits to whom they bowed hoping to get health and blessing. But now they have a Great Spirit who will give them what they really love. One of the commenters writes, “Money for freeeeeeee!!!!!!”

When scholarly books and lecturers talk about the growing Christianity of Africa, let them see this. And anyone who has lived in the rural areas of Africa, who can speak their language, and who has visited their churches, will know that this is the vast majority of the churches here. The “Christianity” of Africa is largely prosperity gospel wickedness. They have a god and his name is money.

And before anyone objects that “Its like that in America too,” remember, I’ve lived in America and in Africa. I wouldn’t be posting this if I could have seen this in the US. Developed have their share of sins, but this particular form of ecclesiastical carnival is far more common in Africa.

The content itself should move a believer to anger, but the prevalence of this kind of voodoo-Christianity materialistic mix causes us to look doubtfully on nearly everyone who calls themselves a Christian or a pastor.

Thus, the fruit of charismaticism in Africa.

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Is Fiction Necessary?

Many parents, however, have little taste for fiction, though they allow it for the “little kids.” Some parents disdain fiction because they are bony pragmatists, not having the time, but others even claim that it is unspiritual (“I just want Scripture”). Though I couldn’t prove it in an ecclesiastical court, I’m beginning to suspect that parents who don’t enjoy fiction must have some serious spiritual problem lurking about, either in a very distorted view of spirituality or in a rejection of beauty. They are like the person who ungratefully refuses to delight in God’s handiwork in nature. Time will tell in the lives of their children.

Doug Jones, Angels in the Architecture

And for years I entertained such views. Thankfully, no longer.

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Six Evidences that Fundamentalists Are Sinfully Dismissive of Theology

Recently a friend passed on to me a little cluster of four sermons on “Theology Matters” by fundamentalism’s Lloyd-Jones’, Mark Minnick. His first message summarized the following list, except that he included an “if” at the beginning of each one so as not to indict the entire group.

1. A dislike for reading.

2. Suspicious of careful theologians.

3. Consistently handle theology inaccurately. (Knowing the definitions of terms, the position of their opponents, and historical arguments)

4. Unwilling or unable to face and defeat doctrinal aberrations within the movement.

5. Emphasis on counseling, management, and music instead of a Bible teaching ministry.

6. A man-centered preaching focus.

While not every fundamentalist fits this list, neither is every woman a bad boxer; but in general these traits are far too common. How shall we repent if we cannot even admit the problem? At the time he preached these (2003) I think I would have been a good bad example of most of the list. Why didn’t anyone have the guts to tell me?

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Who Are the Enemies?

Yet as an evangelical academic myself, I find it interesting to note the way in which, with some writers, the perceived faults of more conservative authors are denounced with bombastic rhetoric, while the blasphemies and heresies of those on the left are dismissed with a casual wave of the academic hand. …

In addition, what does such behavior say about who such evangelical academics perceive as true enemies of the faith?

Carl Trueman, The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

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Multiculturalism Emasculates

Since liberalism became a kind of offical party line, we have been enjoined against saying things about races, religions, or national groups, for, after all, there is no categorical statement without its implication of value, and values begin divisions among men. We must not define, subsume, or judge; we must rather rest on the periphery and display “sensibility toward the cultural expression of all lands and peoples.” This is a process of emasculation.

Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences

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How to Unite a Divided Church

Surprises lurk in the most unexpected places in Scripture. Sometimes in familiar passages. Last week I preached from 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 and discovered an unexpected tool to unify Christians. If you’re in a rush, at least skip to the end to see the conclusion; you can return for the argumentation if you don’t say, “Yes, yes, yes!”

In the previous paragraph (1:17-25), Paul introduced the subject of worldview using the biblical term, “wisdom.” He argues that a divided church needs to reject the world’s way of viewing all of life’s categories choosing rather a Christian perspective. That is one way of looking at the cause and cure of divisions within the church.

Consider Your Calling
But beginning in 1:26, he commands the Corinthians to “consider your calling.” The KJV and NKJV translate this imperative verb as an indicative (“ye see your calling…”), which merely obscures Paul’s force in the statement while not changing its meaning in the context. The apostle commands them to carefully ponder the nature of God’s calling to these Christians.

What is the calling here? Paul has already used that term three times in this epistle. He greets the believers as those who were called (1:2). He prays form them as ones whom God called (1:9). He contrasts the ones who are called with all the unbelievers (1:24). Then, here again in 1:26, he says, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;”

When the NT talks about calling—which it does often—it almost always means God calling a sinner from the grave of his sin to life. It is a call which makes something happen like Jesus calling Lazarus from the tomb on the fourth day. Paul likes to use the phrase “calling,” but Jesus and John use the metaphor “born again” to refer to the same thing: the beginning of spiritual life in a sinner’s heart. So, when you see calling in Paul’s epistles, you can usually think “being born again.” (Rom. 8:28; Gal. 1:15; 1 Thess. 2:12)

After using the word “calling” four times in the first chapter, he switches to “choosing” in 1:27. The people who were called were also the ones he chose.

1:27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,

The wise, powerful, and noble were not called or chosen for the most part. A few from these upper levels of society, but not many. Politicians, influential businessmen, and those born into privilege do not commonly receive the blessing of God’s calling or choosing.

Rather, when He began building a new group who would learn to sing the great song of Moses and the Lamb, the usual pool from which He selected were the poor, weak, and helpless of the world. There may be some with PhD’s, there may be some kings and presidents, there may be some rich business owners, but most of the believers are just normal people.

However, if you believe in Jesus, you are wiser than a man who has sold 5 million books but does not believe in God because you are able to see the most important things in life. These verses clearly present God’s calling as something He does according to His will; not because of any factor in the sinner’s heart. The calling and the choosing find their A and Z in God.

Three Reasons Calling Matters
After explaining what God did, Paul will answer why in the next three verses. What was important in the mind of God when He chose? Three times the Greek conjunctions are translated with “so that” (NASB) showing the result of God’s activity.

He chose people so that the wisdom (worldview) of the world would be destroyed (1:28). He chose people so that pride would be absolutely and utterly destroyed (1:29). He chose people so that God alone would be glorified (1:31). If your understanding of election does not bring these results, then you don’t understand election.

One more observation needs to be mentioned from verse 30.

1:30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,

With typical Pauline simplicity he inserts two Greek words which clearly assume and assert unconditional election. I am “in Christ Jesus” because of “His doing” alone. God elects and then calls people for salvation to establish their humility. He wants a humble people.

Surprised by Context
I had reached the last verse of the passage in my preparation, and I was rejoicing in God’s grace. But a niggling problem wouldn’t go away: how does this discussion of monergism fit with the rest of the letter? Was Paul just eager to talk about election? No, it fits perfectly with what he is telling the Corinthians.

Starting from 1:10 (just a few paragraphs earlier), Paul is rebuking them for their divisions. The church was not working together; they were not unified; they were preparing for an ugly church split that has characterized too many assemblies.

And to this assembly he commands them to consider their election. If we know that each person in our church was specially loved and chosen by God to be in the Great Choir in Revelation 5:9, that would help us to be unified. The people of God already are unified because God chose them all together as a group before the world was formed (Eph. 1:4). So, if we meditate on that, if we bathe our wounds in that solution, if we mix that cement into all of our bricks, it will cure are petty frustrations and splits.

Sometimes people think election is controversial, but Paul thinks it will bring great unity to the church. The preacher who was given to the church as a pattern for all believers (4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17) talks about God’s sovereignty in salvation in the opening of many of his letters. He uses it as a cure for divisions in the church—he doesn’t think we should tiptoe around what is sometimes called Calvinism. Do you have a fractured church? You need to think more about unconditional, sovereign election.

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Evangelistic Questions

Choose one of these questions to try this week. I commonly use this list in evangelism. Yes, you may notice the influence of D. James Kennedy, John Van Gelderen, and Ray Comfort.

Getting to the Gospel
1.    If you were to die right now or in 5 years, are you 100% sure that all your sins are forgiven and that you have a home in Heaven?
2.    If you stood in front of God and He asked you, “Why should I let YOU into my Heaven?” what answer could you give Him?
3.    What do you think a person must do to have eternal life?
4.    When did you become a Christian?
5.    May I tell you how I became a Christian?

Giving the Gospel
6.    Do you think you are a good person?
7.    Can I ask you some questions to see if you are?
8.    Have you ever lied? Stolen? Gotten angry? Looked with lust? Used God’s name in a flippant way?
9.    Would God be a righteous God if he overlooked your crimes against the Bible’s laws?
10.    Now that you understand what the Bible says about sin and Hell, according to the Bible, if you died right now, where would you go?
11.    Are you concerned about that?
12.    Why did Jesus die on the cross? Is there anything left that we can pay for by good works?
13.    If we call on the name of the Lord what does He promise to save us from?

Calling for a Decision
14.    Are you ready to follow Jesus now, or do you need some time to think about it?
15.    Is there anything that is holding you back from repenting of your sin right now?
16.    Did you, just now, repent of your sins and believe in Jesus Christ to save you from your sins?
17.    If you had died last month before settling your heart to follow Jesus, where would you have gone?
18.    If you die while trusting in Christ, where will you go?

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There’s More to Worship Music Than Propositions

Saved in my digital library are a collection of about 10 songs that I formed into a playlist for running in the background as I am working at my desk. Now, I think the whole idea of running songs in the background needs to be examined (especially playing Christian songs since I do not want to break the third commandment). But this is not the night for that work of meditation.

The last song on that list is a contemporary worship song whose propositions are great. If that were all that a work of art could communicate then this would be a very different and much shorter post. And if that were all that a work of art could communicate the human race would be lamentably poorer.

The song begins mildly—don’t they all?—and builds until the last verse when we have reached the climax of the piece. The song nicely summarizes the doctrines of grace with a few memorable metaphors, and the melody is refreshing. Carrying the potential to communicate truth and beauty, I expect this song to serve our assembly in the near future when we publish a new booklet of songs for our church.

But this particular recording includes some features that I think are common to many songs—a whole genre even. So, let me describe it a little. First, it is intended to be a worship song, and the recording was made at a gathering of Christians. Following the last verse are two minutes (about 33% of the total track length) where the worship team repeats the two-line chorus. Somewhere around the half way mark, the lead singer shouts out one of the lines before it is about to be sung. This is not his only venture into the arena of shout; he’ll do it again in the chorus, but certainly not the whole way through the song as if he were trying to feed the audience the lyrics. (And who doesn’t use a screen anyway?) Once while speaking over the singers, he adds in some words to the text. Right at 3:56, he erupts with a spoken statement of the line about to be sung, and the effect is certainly attention getting. In one verse the ladies voices are especially clear, and their singing fits hand in glove with the rest of the picture.

Trying to determine where the drums and electric guitars started is difficult since they grew into the song like a thermostat being slowly increased in a cold house. And as we might have guessed, they certainly affected the temperature until they were driving the atmosphere on the last few runs of the chorus.

Overall some of the paint colors used on this canvas created an image that everyone is familiar with. The use of repetition, leader talking or shouting, female vocal techniques, and drums most definitely communicated. Whether you liked this song or not, or whether you liked this style or not, no one would act as if those gears did not fit in that machine. They fit like clockwork. Everything worked together in that recording to send a unified message.

And wouldn’t it be nice to get a group of evangelicals who could talk about what that message is? It is wearying and juvenile to act as if that set of ingredients did not have its own flavor. What should be discussed is what kinds of loves are being endorsed. What emotions are being raised? What sensibilities are being formed? What habits are being crowded out until they are forgotten altogether?

Just today I was with one of the young men in our church while we were building on our church stand. In Tsonga, I asked him if we could use the lyrics of “How Deep the Father’s Love” (which we have translated) and play it with house music in order to attract more people to our church. He laughed awkwardly and said, “No, they will not think about the words. They just want the music.” I asked him why they liked that music, and he said it makes them feel good and they want to dance. I don’t think anyone would deny his conclusion, but really, was that so hard?

There is something in all of us akin to our olfactory nerve which tells us immediately the mood of a piece of music. Certainly, there are complexities in interpreting the message of music, but let’s at least drop the notion that music doesn’t communicate. Or, its inverse, that if all the propositions are true, then the whole song honors God. Can’t we all admit—what should really be as basic as ABC’s—that music itself apart from lyrics speaks?

Musical styles send messages that are often louder and clearer than the propositions, but I commonly hear evangelicals talk about lyrics alone as if the only issue with the style is how to get the few remaining musical conservatives to shut up about it.

Could we do this in every aesthetic area? Try building a large corrugated iron shack with dirt floors and no lights for worship in America, and tell everyone that the only thing that matters is whether we hear true propositions when we’re packed in.

“That’s an easy one, Seth.” Replies the guy across the way from me, “We’re supposed to give our very best to God because all of life is worship. So I give the very best rap [as just one example] to God. You should read a little Abe Kuyper.”

To that anticipated objection, I would ask two questions. First, will you give the very best death metal to God? Will you build the very best mosh pits for Sunday worship? If you say, “yes,” then the gap is probably so wide, that further discussion would be a waste of time. If you say, “no,” then I’d like to see your criteria for cutting out death metal as a valid cultural pursuit for a Christian. Maybe those same standards would keep on cutting right past that particular style.

Second, before we can determine what the very best rap music is, we have to determine what the very best music is. What is the best music? And now we are right back where we should be, we have to ask aesthetic questions about the nature of communication within the arts. It may be that if we answer what is the best music we might find that some music is actually less than the best. Is it possible that somewhere in this post-modern world of ours some music might even be classified as bad?

One thing is for sure, we hear a lot more when we listen to worship music than just the propositions.

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