What Do You Want For Christmas?

The aged saint Simeon, one of the few faithful at the time of Christ’s first advent, was clear about what he wanted. He was looking forward to the “Consolation [comfort] of Israel” (Luke 2:25). He knew the prophecies of Isaiah in which God had promised that His people would find comfort in One He would send to shepherd them (Isaiah 40:1;10, 11). And now, after so many years, at last at this Christmas He had come! The Comforter was here, and he would hold Him in his arms. What a gift that was.

What do you want for Christmas? True, unlike Simeon, you cannot rock the baby in your arms. But even though he grew up, in a far better way, He can be yours. He offers Himself as the greatest gift of all—the gift Who can give you eternal life. Have you ever before received this gift? Have you ever thought about it? If not this is the Christmas to become serious about the question.

The baby grew up. He lived a perfect life, was crucified for sinners, and rose from the dead. He ascended to the throne of God in heaven, and all who, like Simeon, desire His consolation, may find it through faith in Him as Savior. Are you looking for the comfort that assures you of treasures in heaven? Do you want a gift that will last for all time and eternity? Then, you may receive it by trusting in Him. His comfort brings peace of heart and mind. It brings certainty and rest.

What do you want for Christmas? Why not place His Name at the top of your wish list, forget the rest, and have the most wonderful Christmas ever?

Do you have a question for Dr. Adams?

I never thought that many people think these blogs of lasting value until, just yesterday, someone showed me three of them that he had copied off! Which brings me to a point that I’d like to make: if there is some topic or verse that you would like me to consider writing about, please tell me so by contacting us at questions@nouthetic.org and stating your question or theme concisely (one or two sentences preferably).

Fifty Failure Factors

Counselor, are you stuck with a difficult counseling situation that just does not seem to be moving forward? Is it possible that YOU have failed in your handling this situation? Here is a list of questions you should ask yourself:

  1. Is the counselee truly a Christian?
  2. Has there been genuine repentance?
  3. Is there a vital commitment to the Biblical change?
  4. Are our agendas in harmony?
  5. Do you have all the necessary data?
  6. Are you trying to achieve change in the abstract or concretely?
  7. Have you been intellectualizing?
  8. Would a medical examination be in order?
  9. Are you sure you know the problem(s)? Is more data gathering necessary?
  10. Are there other problems that must be settled first?
  11. Have you been trying to deal with the issue while ignoring the relationship?
  12. Did you give adequate scriptural help?
  13. Did you minimize?
  14. Have you accepted speculative data as true?
  15. Are you regularly assigning concrete homework in written form?
  16. Would using a D. P. P. form help?
  17. If this is a life-dominating problem, are you counseling for total restructuring?
  18. Are you empathizing with self-pity?
  19. Are you talking about problems only or also about God’s solutions?
  20. Have you carefully analyzed the counselee’s attitudes expressed in his language?
  21. Have you allowed counselees to talk negatively about others behind their backs?
  22. Has a new problem entered the picture, or has the situation changed since counseling sessions began?
  23. Have you been focusing on the wrong problem?
  24. Is the problem not so complex after all, but simply a case of open rebellion?
  25. Have you failed to move forward rapidly enough in the giving of homework assignments?
  26. Have you as a counselor fallen into some of the same problems as the counselee?
  27. Does doctrinal error lie at the base of the problem?
  28. Do drugs (tranquilizers, etc.) or sleep loss present a complicating problem?
  29. Have you stressed the put-off to the exclusion of the put-on?
  30. Have you prayed about the problem?
  31. Have you personally turned off the counselee in some way?
  32. Is he willing to settle for something less than the scriptural solution?
  33. Have you been less aggressive and demanding than the Scriptures?
  34. Have you failed to give hope by calling sin “sin”?
  35. Is the counselee convinced that personality change is impossible?
  36. Has your counseling been feeling-oriented rather than commandment-oriented?
  37. Have you failed to use the full resources of Christ (e.g., the help of the Christian community)? Are others from without bringing a negative influence on him?
  38. Is church discipline in order?
  39. Have you set poor patterns in previous sessions (e.g., accepting partially fulfilled homework assignments)?
  40. Do you really know the Biblical solution(s) to his problems? (Can you write it out in thematic form?)
  41. Do you really believe there is hope?
  42. Has the counselee been praying, reading the Scriptures, fellowshipping with God’s people, and witnessing regularly?
  43. Should you call another Christian counselor for help (with the counselee’s knowledge, of course)?
  44. Would a full rereading of your Weekly Counseling Records disclose any patterns? Trends? Unexplored areas?
  45. Have you questioned only intensively? Extensively?
  46. Have you been assuming (wrongfully) that this case is similar to a previous case?
  47. Has the counselee been concealing or twisting data?
  48. Would someone else involved in the problem (husband, wife, parent, child) be able to supply needed data?
  49. Are you simply incompetent to handle this sort of problem?
  50. Are you reasonably sure that there is no organic base to the problem?

“But . . . It Helped!”

Occasionally, I hear as the pragmatic objection to my position that counseling must be biblical, and only biblical, “but so and so went to a non-Christian counselor who certainly didn’t do biblical counseling, and yet it helped.” How does one properly respond to that protest? Well, by saying that there is help and then there is help.

What I mean by that is that not all help is of the same order, and, in the final analysis, what now may appear to be help—and may actually provide help of a sort—in the long run may turn out to have been more detrimental than good. Smoking will keep one’s weight level down—at a terrible cost: cancer. Was it a help or not? Smoking helped keep the weight in check, it is true, but in the long run it did not help—it caused greater and more serious problems. The help it gave was a trade-off. It did not help to enhance the smoker’s general welfare. The help carried with it a price that was too high and not necessary for him to pay. Similarly, every instance of ‘help’ afforded by the acceptance and performance of non-Christian principles and practices, in the long run, if not sooner, will reap side effects inimical to Christian living and welfare.

The words ‘side effects’ point immediately to the supposed help of drugs. Insulin, and drugs like it that are used to supplement bodily output when it is failing to do its job, do help. But, any drug that is used, instead of the biblical solution, to mask a problem or eliminate the pains of a person’s guilty conscience in the long run will be found to exact more than double the price he expected to pay:

  1. The user probably will become dependent on, if not addicted to, the drug.
  2. Over a period of time, the drug will more than likely cause physical injury to the body.
  3. The drug may cause troublesome symptoms.
  4. The problem will not vanish, but will grow.
  5. The person using the drug for such a purpose will not grow stronger for having confronted and solved the problem biblically, but will, in fact, turn out weaker for having avoided doing so.
  6. God’s solution to the problem will have been ignored and God’s blessing withheld.

Has the drug used helped?

All sorts of non-Christian counsel may be given (“Take your anger out on the golf ball”; not learn God’s way to control and use anger) that may provide immediate ‘help’ (or, perhaps, in such situations, the word ‘relief’ might better suit the case), but, again, because it isn’t God’s way to deal with the problem the final results in terms of one’s relationship to God, in terms of his personal growth and in terms of what the unbiblical counsel, at length, does to his human relationships, are not worth the price.

So, the answer to the question is “Yes,” a help of sorts may be given, but since non-Christian help is not God’s help but rather a substitute for it, in the long run (if not sooner) that ‘help’ always will prove to be a detriment.

In contrast, God’s help benefits, and does nothing but benefit. Every time a Christian properly avails himself of God’s help, not only does he find the help that he seeks, but along with it come side effects that he had not anticipated. This time, however, the side effects are good. Following biblical counsel about anger, for instance, in time will change one’s disposition so that he will become a more likable person and easier to live with.

Now what will you say to the next objector? Won’t you tell him, “There is a help that hurts, that destroys and ruins, and there is a help that truly helps—God’s help?” Won’t you say, “My help is from the Lord” and tell him that God is a “very present help” in “time of trouble?” You can have the former—I’ll take the latter every time; thank you very much.

 

Always Alliterate Accurately

If you must alliterate (and this seems now to have become a perpetual pastoral problem dating back at least as far as the ministry of Morgan), then for Heaven’s sake (literally) be careful about one thing: accuracy.

Apart from the ‘cutesy’ qualities of carelessly crafted clauses, curiously cultivated by conceited curates, there seems to be no earthly reason for passionately pursuing ponderous pairs of preaching points partially proclaiming previously plain propositions.

We are told, however, that this confusing custom is calculated carefully to cause congregations more readily to collect, consider, and contemplate correctly cogent concepts of conscientious clergy than common colloquialisms. In my opinion, however, the practice, perennially pursued by prattling preachers, potentially promotes parishioner passivity and pastoral pride.

One of the greatest dangers of dangling dazzling declarations before dazed disciples desiring decisive definitions of duties is to draw distinctions dimly, distort duties decidedly, and dismiss differences deftly. At the same time alliteration allows alteration, abuse, or absolute abolition of truth by adverting attention from arguments, answers, and admonishments to astonishing articulations and artificial adornments, alternately amazing or amusing, aggravating, or alarming audiences, but rarely accurately attesting to apostolic articles. The fact is, acceptable accounts, accurately aligned with and according to actualities, arouse to action; but announcements appealing to arrant attitudes lead astray, are of no advantage, create antipathy and avail only to put people asleep.

So, in conclusion let me call on you to:

  1. Correct your Custom
  2. Consider the Consequences
  3. Convert to Colloquialism

Then, rather than disobeying due to disgusting, deceiving drivel that defeats, deprives, denies, and distorts dependable doctrine, you and your congregation will delight in doing desirable deeds!

Some Neglected Subjects

The efforts that I have exerted in trying to get pastors of Bible believing churches to become practical in their use of the Scriptures, and in attempting to get them to speak about subjects that in a previous period were neglected, may have had some influence in turning the preaching of the pulpit around. It is incumbent on me, therefore, to do whatever I can to stop what I perceive to be an unwarranted retreat from the doctrinal teaching that is also a necessary part of the Christian’s weekly pulpit diet.

It has been a long time, for instance, since I have heard sermons on the Bible’s teaching about hell, judgment, wrath, and other such themes. “You travel in the wrong circles,” you may reply. Well, perhaps. But my circles are rather wide, and I hear a lot of preaching. I did not say that it was extinct, but I do think that preaching on these topics is being neglected. The dark side of things is taking a back seat to many of the brighter truths of Scripture. While it is wrong to neglect the latter as a previous generation did, it is also wrong to neglect the former. The biblical balance between the two must always be maintained.

The problem in the church historically has been a problem of balance. The problem is not in the Scriptures—there you will find a perfect balance in every area that is treated by its divinely inspired authors. No, the problem isn’t in the Bible; it is in the church. The history of the church could almost be written in terms of swings from one unbiblical extreme to the other. In one era love is emphasized over truth to the extent that truth is lost and love becomes nothing more than sticky sentimental nonsense. In another era, the opposite problem appears—usually as a reaction to the overemphasis of the former age: truth becomes the great concern, so great that love is stamped out in the pursuit of error. In the attempt to flush out every vestige of error hiding in the bushes, theological bloodhounds usurp the authority of the judgment angels whose appointed task is to separate the wheat from the tares. Certainly error must be dealt with—but in biblical ways; we do not have any right to invent novel ways of doing so.

The problem today seems to be a turning from the sterner teachings of the Scriptures to the more encouraging and happier ones. This is proceeding apace; preachers like to preach positively; people like to hear it. While teaching the latter, it is essential to maintain the former as well. Mount Gerazim, with its blessings, was paired in balance with Mount Ebal and its cursings; the tree of life was set over against the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God is the God of perfect balance; we must seek to approximate Him in this in all our preaching.

Along with extremes comes another problem. When a generation plummets headlong in one direction, heedless of the balancing truths in the other direction, all sorts of false ideas, imported from the outside, seemingly (but not really) saying the same thing are bought and sold as if they were the genuine biblical article. It is easy to do this because the correctives inherent in the neglected balancing truths are missing. That is why the increased concern for teaching about the image of God in man (to the exclusion of preaching about man’s sinful nature and propensities) by so many has been wedded to many false concepts gleaned from psychologists like Maslow and others concerning self-image and self-worth. In discussions of the area, the doctrine of sanctification has been eclipsed by the doctrine of justification.

“Surely I’m not guilty of an overemphasis on the happy side of the faith to the near exclusion of the grim side,” you may reply. Don’t be too sure. Check out your preaching for the past three years; you may be surprised at what you find. You may discover that the emphasis of the era in which you are living has had a greater impact on your ministry than you realize. At any rate, even if you are one of those rare, balanced persons who preaches away year after year, unaffected by the changing extremes all around him, it will not hurt you to do the examination anyway, since it will give you a greater perspective on the sort of emphases that you need to make over the next year or two. It is a good policy to plan broad sweeps of preaching anyway, so that you may stay in balance. And, even you, balanced as you may be, are a sinner who—if you are honest—must admit that you tend to ride your own hobbies to the neglect of biblical truths that balance. I dare you to try doing a three-year study without finding some!

How to Obtain a Living Wage in the Pastorate

Pastors, on the whole, are doing as well financially as they ever have. That—of course—isn’t true of all. Nor does it mean that they are doing well—the average salary is still far below par. And in many cases it is the prime source of hindering their effectiveness in the ministry. Can anything be done about it? More specifically, what can the pastor himself do about it—or should he do anything? Yes! and Yes, again!

First, you must recognize that God expects you to earn a living wage. In part, pastors themselves (by their failure to teach this, failure to speak with their elders and deacons, and failure to take action) have perpetuated the popular laymen’s myth that ministers are atypical creatures who propagate children in some other way than engaging in sexual relations and—in line with this—can feed them on transcendental pudding, fluff-duff, and air! It is time to demythologize this widespread—but heretical—article of faith!

Next, consider this: “The worker is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim. 5:18). If you aren’t working, then this article doesn’t apply. In that verse, Paul alludes to Christ’s words (Matt. 10:10; Luke 10:17). Some people in your congregation may subscribe to the unscriptural philosophy, “Keep a preacher hungry and you’ll keep him humble.” More likely, as you know, that’s the way to keep him ineffective. This contra-scriptural viewpoint is usually offered as a rationalization for stinginess.

The ox passage is quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:9–14 also. But verse 14 in that chapter is especially apropos: “The Lord gave orders that those who announce the good news should live by announcing the good news.”

If you—as their official expounder of the Word—(1) allow your people to rationalize their way out of a proper understanding and application of Scripture, (2) cater to selfishness in the congregation, and (3) thereby fail not only to explain and insist upon the Lord Christ’s orders,1 but fail to heed them yourself, you are unfaithful both to Christ and to His church.

“But Paul often made tents,” you say. Yes, but (1) Paul was a missionary (not a pastor), (2) clearly claimed a salary as a “right” that he didn’t use (vss. 6, 12, 15), and (3) was a single man.2 Paul allowed churches to support him (cf. Phil. 4:15; but especially 2 Cor. 11:8, where he seems to have sought funds from other churches to carry on the work in Corinth).

It is true that when funds were not forthcoming, he would work hard with his hands (cf. 2 Thess. 3:8, “night and day”) to raise funds so he could carry on his work. If your congregation can’t (won’t?) support you—you too have the same right (Paul didn’t starve! You can’t neglect your family—1 Tim. 5:8). But if you do, it will mean curtailing your ministry somewhat as Paul’s tent-making must have done. Your congregation must recognize and accept this.

Thirdly, note that the Scriptures teach that you may earn a living wage—i.e., a good wage; one that enables you to live without great care or concern over finances. “Where?” you ask. Paul says that he often prospered greatly; his word for this is that he “abounded” in money (Phil. 4:11–13). So it is clearly not wrong for a pastor to “abound.” Paul was able to rent a house for two years in Rome while not working (Acts 28:30). This gives additional evidence of the possession of substantial funds.

The only biblical warning about money is against trying to become rich in the ministry as a lover of money (1 Tim. 3:3; 6:5–10). These verses probably refer to unscrupulous practices associated with such desire. Most ministers, with the writer of Proverbs 30:8, 9, will settle for a living wage.

“Well, what should my salary be? Suppose I muster the courage to sit down with my elders and deacons to talk over the salary problem—what should I ask for? There isn’t a scriptural guideline, is there?” Yes, there is—and you’d better be aware of it. “Well, tell me quickly; what is it?”

Your salary should be on a par with those to whom you minister. Galatians 6:6 commands your congregation, “Let him who is instructed in the Word share everything good that he has with the one who instructs him.” Pastor, you should live on the level of the community (at least the Christian community to which you minister—not far below it, as so often is the case). An average of congregational salaries should set the base (minimum) level for your salary.3

You should not be ashamed, therefore, to ask for this figure since (1) God requires it; (2) it is so easy for the congregation to give (10 families, giving a tenth, can support an eleventh family on the average level of their salaries); (3) your people need to learn the biblical teaching about this and receive God’s blessing for following it.

This base salary is a minimum, I said. The Scriptures speak of giving a substantial bonus to those pastors who do an especially good job.

The elders who manage well should be considered worthy of double pay; especially those who labor at preaching and teaching.      1 Timothy 5:17

Finally, you ask, “How do I go about obtaining a salary like this? Where do I begin?” Let me simply list some suggestions; you may flesh them out:

  1. Pray about it: Ask and you will receive.
  2. Lend this article to your elders and deacons to read.
  3. Talk to your elders and deacons about it and present a plan for moving them from where your church now is to the adoption of a scriptural salary scale.
  4. Don’t grow bitter.
  5. When candidating, discuss salary scripturally.
  6. Make it clear that salary must not be based on (a) tradition, (b) needs, etc., but (3) on the standard set in Galatians 6:6: The pastor should share and share alike.
  7. Teach your elders, your congregation, and your wealthy members. (1 Tim. 6:17–19 encourages you to teach them how to give.)

This article is not written simply to make pastors and their wives happy. It is designed to help pastors become more effective servants of Christ, not continually hampered by financial needs. There is plenty of money in the church for this sort of salary; pastor, it is your job to earn it and get it!

 

1 Christ’s orders are not only (in fact not even primarily) to the congregation; rather, they are orders to a pastor about how he is to earn his living. The verse reads (lit.), “… ordered those who announce the good news to live by announcing the good news.”

2 The other apostles, who took a salary, were married (cf. 1 Cor. 9:5).

3 We shall see later that these are times for far more salary, when we discuss 1 Timothy 5:17.

Where’s Your Edge?

Lasso any ten seminary students and ask them, “What do you plan to do when you graduate?” Chances are at least four or five will say something like this:

“Oh, I’m not quite sure. Maybe I’ll take a graduate course. Perhaps I’ll work as an assistant pastor for a while. Possibly I’ll do some youth work. I really don’t know.”

Whatever the answer, it likely is to be spoken quite casually. Many students today have very much of a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward the Gospel ministry. For them it seems the ministry of the Word has become merely another profession like business, dentistry, law, etc. There is no compelling passion motivating them.

That isn’t how it used to be. Most of my fellow seminarians and I were ‘chomping at the bit’ to get out and get into the pastorate; we couldn’t wait to preach. We didn’t even consider the idea of an assistantship after graduation; most of us had already been working in that capacity while going to seminary.

“Adams is getting old and has started to reminisce,” you say. Perhaps. But even that isn’t always bad. Continuity with the past can help today’s young men gain a little perspective. And frankly, there has been a definite, discernable change in attitude that is easily detected by any observer who has lived through the last five decades. It began in the 50’s and grew throughout the 60’s, probably reaching its nadir during the Vietnam war. At that time, one suspects, there were numbers who went to seminary to escape the draft; that was when the big shift in attitude occurred. While there has been some improvement since, we have never recovered fully from the effects of that period.

The strong modern emphasis on grades rather than on competence as the goal of studying, fostered not only by public education but also by Christian schools with their near-fanatical emphasis on “academic excellence,” also has had an impact. Far too many Christian college students as well cannot tell you what they plan to do upon graduation. Many students no longer prepare for some specific life-work but simply “go to college.” Thus persists this spirit of getting good grades to get into the college or seminary of one’s choice. Then comes graduation, when one holds in his clammy little hand a transcript more-or-less filled with high grades but has no purpose in his life!

This change in attitude has had its effect on the church. Ministers, reared in such an easy-going milieu, have carried this casual approach over to their tasks in the local congregation. While zeal can be overdone so that it supercedes solid study for reasoned ministry, the problem today is not that scholarship has overtaken practical work but that there seems to be less passioned devotion to theology and exegesis. Many ministers today are too laid back about ministry, seemingly unacquainted with the drive that compelled Paul to write:

Woe is me if I preach not the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)

No wonder so many who do enter the pastorate quit when the going gets mildly difficult—certainly before it gets tough! Years of learning and instruction are wasted on men who leave the ministry to sell insurance. If the apostle Paul had acted like that, he probably would have given up in Damascus when he found himself in humiliation, escaping from the city in a smelly fish basket! But he didn’t. What made the difference? What motivated Paul so that he was able and willing to go on in spite of the trials enumerated in 2 Corinthians 6 and 11? He tells us:

Therefore, since we have this ministry to perform as the result of mercy, we don’t give up. (2 Corinthians 4:1)

Ministers who must minister the Word in preaching and counseling are motivated like Paul by gratitude. They remember God’s mercy and see their calling as a gracious privilege that overwhelms them. Even the plight of the lost does not motivate men to ministry as powerfully as the amazing, unbelievable goodness of God in choosing them for this task.

Pastor, what motivates you? When Mrs. Jones objects to your prophetic viewpoint, when Mr. Smith wants to know why you won’t remarry his improperly divorced son, and when the Greens are sitting there week after week with pencil in hand, waiting to catch you in some misstatement, what keeps you faithful to the ministry of the Word? When half the congregation doesn’t seem to care about much else and yet expects you to visit every other day in each of their homes, what drives you on? Nothing will—nothing less than a sense of debt and gratitude similar to Paul’s. It was that, and that alone, that carried him from one triumphant tragedy to the next!

If you have lost your sense of mission (or never really had one) take the time to ask why. Do you really belong in the ministry? Doubtless there are many who don’t, and it is no disgrace to leave if that is the case. If, however, you know that God has called you, then spend time properly set aside for the purpose to kindle the fire you once had (or should have had). How? Reflect on God’s mercy and goodness in you and His putting you into the ministry, beginning perhaps with a consideration of 1 Timothy 1:16. When you get hold of the reality of mercy and grace that has been lavished on you, it will make the difference; it will give you an edge!

Why Not?

“Why not?”

Because.

“Because of what?”

Because I can’t.

“Can’t? You’re a Christian, you say?”

I certainly am.

“Then what do you think Paul meant in I Corinthians 10:13?

What did he say there?

“Simply this: ‘There is no trial that has overtaken you but such as is common to man. And God is faithful who will not allow you to be tested beyond what you are able to bear.'”

But you don’t understand . . .

“Do you think God does?”

Sure, but . . .

“Why the but?”

My case is different, you see.

“Thought it was ‘common’ and that you would have to bear nothing beyond the ability you have to bear it.”

Well . . .

“Moreover, in that verse he says that God will make a way out of it so that you will be able to bear it. It won’t go on forever.”

Oh! I guess you”re right. Tell me how.

“Thought you’d never ask . . .”

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