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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Filed under Church, Pastoral