Category Archives: Pastoral

Strength in Weakness

From Seth Godin’s blog, entitled “Demonstrating Strength“:

Apologize

Defer to others

Avoid shortcuts

Tell the truth

Offer kindness

Seek alliances

Volunteer to take the short straw

Choose the long-term, sacrificing the short

Demonstrate respect to all, not just the obviously strong

Share credit and be public in your gratitude

Risking the appearance of weakness takes strength. And the market knows it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Living, Pastoral

Lashed to the Mast

A friend of mine posted a lengthy quotation from Eugene Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor. The following two paragraphs are a good reminder that we are weak and can, like Odysseus, be lured away by the sirens of people pleasing. We need God’s grace in seeing that we, yes even you, can fall as fast and hard as the latest tabloid headline. You are one stupid second away from utter ruin. We also need to resolve of brothers and sisters to hold us to the commitment we made when we first set out on the stormy sea. When your men are about to mutiny and the waves are about to consume you, will you be fixed on your Star of direction?

We are going to ordain you to this ministry, and we want your vow that you will stick with to it.  This is not a temporary job assignment but a way of life that we need lived out in our community.  We know you are launched on the same difficult belief venture in the same dangerous world as we are.  We know your emotions are as fickle as ours, and your mind is as tricky as ours.  That is why we are going to ordain you and why we are going to exact a vow from you.  We know there will be days and months, maybe even years, when we won’t feel like believing anything and won’t want to hear it from you.  And we know there will be days and weeks and maybe even years when you won’t feel like saying it.  It doesn’t matter.  Do it. You are ordained to this ministry, vowed to it.

“There may be times when we come to you as a committee or delegation and demand that you tell us something else than what we are telling you now.  Promise right now that you won’t give in to what we demand of you.  You are not the minister of our changing desires, or our time-conditioned understanding of our needs, or our secularized hopes for something better.  With these vows of ordination we are lashing you fast to the mast of Word and sacrament so you will be unable to respond to the siren voices.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books & Media, Christian Living, Pastoral, Quotations

An End Not a Means

I am reading an anthology of Andrew Bonar’s journal entries composed by his daughter entitled Heavenly Springs. In speaking about about his struggles in preparation for preaching he writes,

I see plainly that fellowship with God is not means to an end, but is to be the end itself. I am not to use it as preparation for study or for Sabbath labour, but as my chiefest end, the likest thing to heaven. {July 21, 1843_

How many times do we as preachers and teachers scour our family and daily interactions for illustrations for a message? If we do this with our family and friends, more than likely we also do this with God. Instead of enjoying coffee with a friend, we mentally file away some sin or issue we discussed so that we can use it in a sermon later.

How many times have you gone to read your Bible just to find something new to teach on or some pithy illustration? While this is good to have a lens through which to view the world so that you may help God’s people follow more closely to him, it seems as though we have sacrificed our own nearness to Christ by using those times of fellowship as illustrations rather than canvasses we have lived life on.

Perhaps it would be a good practice to ask yourself why you are getting ready to meet with God.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Living, Pastoral, Quotations, Sanctification

Specialization in the Church Will Stunt Her Growth

Reading Peter Brown’s formative biography on Augustine (rev. 2000 edition). In it he makes this profound connection between the halt of evangelism and elitism in the Church:

There was one other split in the moral ideas of his hearers which Augustine could do nothing to heal: for it was a split within Christian ethics itself. The Christian communities had come increasingly to accept a dangerous degree of ‘moral specialization’: one life was left for the ‘perfect’, another for the average Christian. And it was just this widening gulf between an ascetic elite and a passive rank and file which brought the Christianization of the Roman world to a halt. (Peter Brown; Augustine of Hippo: A Biography; University of California, 2000; p. 245).

Could it be that many clergy are making such a dichotomy in their congregations when they fail to show their people how to read their Bible, how to obey rightly, how to die sacrificially as any other priest would?

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Living, Church, Evangelism, Pastoral

Preaching and Power

I just finished listening to Piper’s biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones at the 1991 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors. In a section of the biography, Piper elucidates Lloyd-Jones’ view of continuation of the spiritual gifts for the post-apostolic church.

I am a member of a relatively small group of Reformed people who believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a distinct work of God from the incorporation by the Spirit at the moment of faith and repentance. In other words, I believe that God unusually blesses people with an enflaming passion and boldness for his glory at peculiar times. It is true, we are baptized into Christ at the moment of conversion (Rom 6:3; 1Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27).

Yet Jesus tells his disciples to tarry in Jerusalem until the Spirit comes upon them in power for witnessing. There are two arguments against affirming a special unction by the Spirit. First, people argue that to say power encounters accompany preaching detracts from the power inherent in faithful Gospel preaching (Rom 1:16). Lloyd-Jones commented that if the pre-eminent preachers of the Church (Peter, Paul, and Stephen) were endued with power in their preaching (in a way explicated in the Scriptures), then why should we not expect such power to come for present-day “average” preachers of the Gospel

Second, people have argued with me that there was a special authentication given to the Apostles to solidify their preaching in the beginning of the Church. This seems precarious because it raises the question as to how such primitive Gospel preaching is different than today’s situation within the context of a pluralistic society? Or even reaching back a few centuries, how was the authentication by Spirit-wrought power not necessary during Columba or St. Patrick’s ministry among the blood-saturated culture of the Celts? Is it not a problem to say that such pentecostal blessing was only necessary during the inception of the Church? Is that inception not still going on in Papa New Guinea or the Amazon or China?

I found that my bristling at such mention of the Spirit was rooted in my ignorance. I was far too worried about what people thought about Christians rather than longing for such blessing to be showered down from heaven. What magnificent things would happen if God brought revival to our world! Is your inclination to fear what people would think rather than seeing conversions?

Let me explain. Christians have so sought to be accepted by the world around them by planning financial seminars and community clean-ups – which are important to loving our neighbors – that it seems that to stick out like a sore thumb is a curse and not a blessing, Among those that have over-reacted to fundamentalism have we forgotten the strategic blessing of standing out? Have we married grass roots evangelism to the detriment of power encounters with the Holy One? It appears so.

Leave a comment

Filed under Church, Interpretation, Pastoral, Pneumatology, Theology

The Evaluated Life

I have been teaching on Matthew 7.21-23 for the past two weeks in Sunday School. One of the issues we spent a lot of time on is the fact that both those who enter the Kingdom of Heaven and those that are surprised when they say “Lord, Lord did we not…”, both these groups of people do something. It apperars with the list of things the surprised group lists shuld be classified as doing the will of the Father – since these are the very things done by the Apostles. However, there is an aspect of their acitons that is missing to make them disqualified in doing the will of the Father.

Those that are surprised are essentially not in Christ. My question of the text probed a little deeper than this statement of fact. How do we know whether we are “in Christ.” One of the ways we know is by evaluating our motivations for why we do what we do. In a world that is constantly moving and changing we do not take the time that is necessary to think through why we do what we do. If we get to the answer of this question, then, I believe, we will get at the larger question of whether we are “in Christ” or not.

Here is a list of questions I posed to the Sunday School to help in this exercise:

Self-Evaluation
1. What do I get excited about when I come to church?
2. Do my conversations include testimonies of God’s grace in my life?
3. In what ways does God’s grace seem sweeter to me now than a year ago?
4. When I pray, speak in front of others, serve others, would I be content if no one applauded or noticed that I was serving?
5. If you were to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and God were the only one there, would you still want to enter? That is, you aren’t primarily excited about heaven because you will be reunited with loved ones.
6. Do your conversations allow others to see your flaws or do you feel the need to micro-manage how others will perceive you?
7. Do I understand that all of my obedience will be tainted with sin? If so, is it easy to accept as fact?
8. What have I done in the past three months out of love for Jesus?
9. What have I stopped doing in the past three months out of love for Jesus?

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Living, Ethics, Pastoral, Sanctification

Why I Love My Church [9]

I have been posting on this topic as various reasons have come to mind. While I have thought of many things, I just haven’t posted on it in a while (before this recent burst of posts I hadn’t posted on anything for that matter).

One of the things I love about Third Avenue is that it is predominantly filled with seminary students, but the pastor does not have a MDiv. Why would this be a characteristic that I love about my church? The tendency among seminarians (and the average congregant) is that the pastor needs to have the biggest title (or at least something equivalent to the majority of the congregation). 

By the pastor not having an MDiv, it reminds all of us that a title does not anoint a man to preach. It does not even mean that the bearer of the degree loves Jesus. It reminds us that God has called men to preach. 

Getting a degree is a very good thing (I firmly believe in getting a solid education). What I fear is that too many equate competency with formal education. Knowledge can puff up, but love builds up. The first question we should ask an ordination candidate is, “Do you love Jesus? Do you love people?” Not, “Where did you go to school?” The latter should be on the list of questions, no doubt. Good doctrine is critical to appropriate worship. But do not think that PhD means that you are qualified. Christ Jesus has made us competent, not the diploma.

It is striking that the list of qualifications for elders is about character. Doctrine undergirds it all, but in many congregations it appears that learning alone has replaced the shepherd aspect of the pastor.

Leave a comment

Filed under Church, Pastoral

Religious Lethargy #4

I case you didn’t catch it in my last post, the reason I used the adjective “lethargy” has to do with the relationship between knowledge and emotion. Religious experience that is founded upon the affections without content not only will result in lethargy, but it begins with lethargy. 

There is a fear of many that learning kills any kind of emotion. Jesus said that he delighted to do the will of the Father. His delight was contingent upon his knowing the will of the Father. How could he delight in something he did not know? We mustn’t be lax in our search for truth. We must dig deep as for a treasure. We mustn’t become naive ascetics who long for the spiritual slop of fervor. Rather we are to long for the pure spiritual milk of the word of God (= information about and from God). 

Such fervor leads to lethargy in that the congregation will merely wait for the next innovator to come to their conference or meeting to stir them up. Getting up in the morning and having their mind conformed will seem dry if the only kind of Christianity they experience is an experience.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books & Media, Christian Living, Culture, Ethics, Pastoral, Sanctification

Religious Lethargy #3

We want to make Christianity relevant to our culture. We cannot continue to speak in the King’s English and expect people to understand and exegete their culture when no one speaks it. For example, if I told you to watch out for the poodle-klumps, you would look at me cross. But if I told you to watch out for the rebellious, you would understand. We need to contextualize our message in words people will understand. 

There are a few things wrong with this video (which is a symptom of a greater problem in modern Christianity):

1) We cannot merely tack the name of Jesus onto a popular concept and believe that we have sanctified it. We must also re-define what it means to “spin me right round.”

2) Mere emotionalism saves no one. Jonathan Edwards wrote an excellent work Religious Affections that I commend to all of you – especially this section

3) We implicitly teach folk that fervor is the goal of the conference. Emotional response is definitely necessary when the sinner is confronted with the truth of sin and grace. This emotional response is part and parcel of the content that is shared. Music can work people to tears and trembling, but it is the one who trembles at God’s word whom he will countenance.

4) When the folk return from the conference and the youth leader does not work them up in a similar frenzy, they will grow bored with the group and with Christ. 

5) Similar to #3 above, Christianity is starkly different than other religions in that it seeks to fill the person with transforming knowledge. Not mere knowledge, which is the heresy of gnosticism. It is knowledge that necessarily transforms. It is knowledge, nonetheless. We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices through the non-conformation of our minds to this world’s worldview. Granted, I have not heard the speakers at the conference, and am not aware of the content of the messages. I venture to say that they revolved around confessing sin and encountering God in a powerful way. 

This is good. But when it comes to the music and what is communicated by vain repetition and the stirring up of frenzy is that the mind should not be engaged. This fellow is talented, no doubt about this. But what will this kind of fervor do in the longview? Perhaps you were present at this conference. Please comment and shed light on what else was done there. These posts are limited to this video that stirred so many emotions and reactions in me. 

Let’s continue to make Christianity relevant and fun and…real. So many youth at this conference will be contemplating suicide in the next year I am sure. I was there and almost did it. What we must give our people is teaching that is solid and will keep these kids from tottering in the sands of relativity in our culture.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books & Media, Christian Living, Culture, Ethics, Music, Pastoral, Theology

Multi-Faceted Blessings

Godliness, while not guaranteed to change the original situation, often had an effect for good on the world. . . . The possibilities for the many-sided blessings of God are endless. Instead of my day being ruined, God has extricated me from sin and misery, and this is perhaps one of the most significant days in my life from the standpoint of growing into the image of Christ. I’ve learned how life works in God’s world. I’ve learned how the gospel works. I’ve learned profound lessons in a very tiny corner of life.

– David Powlison, Anger, 25.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Living, Counseling, Ethics, Pastoral, Quotations, Sanctification

Question #8 Answer

What are the consequences of faith and obedience? We’ve already mentioned some of the subjective benefits. More objectively, maybe a dented fender or even a killing was prevented. Somebody else was kept from stumbling into sinful anger or murder on my account. And in the half dozen cars around me, maybe my courtesy and relaxed response prove catching.

-David Powlison, Anger: Escaping the Maze, 25.

This point Powlison hit me hard because I too often merely consider my sanctification as indicative of my relationship with God. Here we see that our exercise of self-control entails others in our wake. If I am able to put to death the deeds of the flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit, then, perhaps, someone else may be enticed to pursue such holy living. Perhaps, my willingness to intentionally walk by the Spirit will keep someone else to go down the road to perdition.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Living, Counseling, Ethics, Pastoral, Quotations, Sanctification

Question #7 Answer

How should I respond in this situation to glorify God? Do it. Repentance and faith lead to concrete changes in behavior, emotion, thoughts. Righteousness is just as specific as the sins described in question #2. At the simplest level, I may simply take a deep breath and relax, trusting that God is indeed in control. But God has other fruits in mind, too. I become a charitable, courteous driver. What does it matter if I’m two more car lengths behind? I’ll let a couple of cars in. God has set me free of both the hostile and competitive aspects of sinful anger. The traffic jam is no longer a dog-eat-dog battle. I offer thanks to God. I plan what I will say to the person I’ve stood up: not anxious excuse-making or blustering irritation, but the simple facts, an apology, and a concern for his welfare.

– David Powlison, Anger: Escaping the Maze (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000) 24

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Living, Counseling, Pastoral, Quotations, Sanctification

Question #6 Answer

As I mentioned earlier, I just finished reading the “Anger” booklet through CCEF. I am going to post a few excerpts that I found especially helpful.

How can I turn to God for help? Do it. Question #5 laid out the worldview in which problems now make sense. Mere analysis, however, won’t change me. Question #6 gets me moving. God wants me to seek him, to interact with him. I need to apply the truths of question #5, for example, by distinguishing between righteous and sinful anger. It’s not hard to tell that my anger fails the test of righteous anger: this traffic jam is not a moral evil! My anger has arisen because I served the false gods identified in question #3.

– David Powlison, Anger: Escaping the Maze (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000) 23.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Living, Counseling, Ethics, Pastoral, Quotations, Sanctification, Theology

Training Pastors…and Laying on of Hands

As I wrote in my May 14 post, many classes in the seminary need to be re-located. Classes that are by nature reliant upon practice need to be moved. You CANNOT teach preaching in a classroom. It comes by doing it. One of my mentors told me this when I was at Bethlehem. I agree entirely. My preaching has improved as I have given Sunday night devotions at Third Avenue.

You CANNOT teach evangelism. You can teach the content and varied methods of proclaiming the evangel. But this is not sufficient in “teaching” evangelism. That takes place when someone welcomes visitors at church, gets visitor cards from the elders, and calls folk up and meets them for coffee to talk about spiritual matters.

You CANNOT teach leadership. It is learned by following closely behind a leader and then leading yourself. Sure, you can teach methods and theory. This is what the seminary can do.

The problem enters when a congregation believes Sam Seminarian is equipped to lead their church merely because he has a degree. The congregation should be concerned whether Sam is well-trained (able to rightly divide the word of truth). However, they should be even more concerned as to whether the elders at the last church he was a member of have laid their hands on him and blessed him to go.

Leave a comment

Filed under Church, Pastoral

Anger

I am reading one of CCEF’s booklets on anger by David Powlison. This is an area that I have struggled in for the last four years and am trying to tackle head-on. For any that know me, they know that I am a pretty forceful personality that presses forward. Anger comes in when I fail to remember God’s control and sanctifying work in my life through everyday situations. That is, when obstacles come in my way and keep me from accomplishing my goal, I boil. 

I want to post a few excerpts from Powlison’s book that have been helpful for me – and I pray they are helpful to you.

Questions to Alleviate and Kill Anger:

  1. What is my situation?
  2. How do I react?
  3. What are my motives?
  4. What are the consequences?
  5. What is true?
  6. How can I turn to God for help?
  7. How should I respond in this situation?
  8. What are the consequences of faith and obedience?

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Living, Counseling, Ethics, Pastoral, Sanctification