Well, to the point of this post. With a new year comes the usual end of year preparation for a pastor. I've hammered out most of my preaching schedule for the upcoming year. But also, one of the end of year New Year preparations for most pastors is brainstorming as to what the church can do "different" this year to serve the community and engage more lost people with the Gospel.
Now, before I make this point please do not interpret this to mean that I think we shouldn't work to adapt to the changing times in regards to finding new and appropriate ways to communicate the Gospel. But with that being said, I have wondered recently that if in the midst of all the "What if we..." thoughts that run through pastors heads as we approach a new year, if God doesn't look at our brainstorming with the response, "What's wrong with My plan?"
I mean is there really anything better than "By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, that you love one another?" Is there really anything more effective than the Church simply being the Church in its community. I just tend to believe that if a church in any community would get serious about being the Church in that community, reaching people with the Gospel will be a natural outflow of that. What can be more of a witness in a community of lost people who are dead in their sins and trespasses before God and who continually supress the truth they clearly see about God than a group of people in their same community who are distinctly different than them. What an impact a Church could have on a community if it simply treasured Christ above all things and let that treasuring of Christ affect every aspect of their life: how they raise their children, how they love their spouse, how they spend their money, how they spend their time, how they serve their community, what they talk about to each other and to their lost neighbors, how they have a yearning for a people half-way around the world to know Christ and they are sacrificing immensely to see that take place.
Do you know what will happen as a church like that lives a radically agressive and distinct life as the Body of Christ in their community? Well, not only will they naturally be talking to people about the Gospel "as they are going," but those around them (family, neighbors, co-workers) will begin to ask "for the reason for the hope that lies within them." And as the Church begins to answer that question, the Gospel finds a natural path to travel down and hearts will begin to be changed by that Gospel and communities will begin to be changed by that Gospel.
You see, it's not that God's plan of the Church being the Church in its community has failed at reaching that community with the Gospel and changing it, but rather that God's plan of the Church being the Church in it's community just simply has not been attempted.
So, "what if we" just started being the Church this New Year!
Oh, the Bible.
I'm sure it maybe could have been handled better at some places along the way, but at least the elders of this church are attempting to handle it biblically.
Yay for biblical faithfulness!
The crowds were astonished when they heard Jesus, "for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes." Congregations are starving for the astonishment of hearing the preacher teach and preach on the authority of the Word of God. If there is a crisis in preaching, it is a crisis of confidence in the Word. If there is a road to recovery, it will be mapped by a return to biblical preaching.
Our hope and prayer is that you will go forth from here to fulfill a ministry of astonishment. To preach and teach and minister so that commas as turned back to periods, and question marks into exclamation points. Congregations long to have the thunderbolts brought down from the attic and loosed in their midst. They are starving for a word from God.
Go and astonish a church. Go and astonish the nations. Go and astonish sinners and saints alike. Go and astonish your generation. Go and astonish those who no longer even believe that they can be astonished.
Go and preach as one who has authority. Just remember always that the only true authority for ministry is biblical authority. May we always be mindful that the only authority that matters is God's authority, and that God's thunderbolts are what we must fear . . . and what we must seek.
If you go out and preach as one who has authority, you will be constantly amazed by what God does through the preaching of his Word. You will see those who hear you astonished -- and no one will be more astonished than yourself.
But the need for newness is not the primary need of the hour. The problem is not that most people need a new way of hearing the Gospel, but that most people have never heard it all. My goal each week is not to give what the people in front of me will perceive as a "new approach" to the Gospel, but simply to explain the really old Gospel in as clear a way as possible to them.
The desire to be new can also keep you from the one task God has given the church... not the discovery of something new, but the revelation of something old. Sticking to clear explication of the old will make you relevant. As G. K. Chesterton said, "If you marry the times, you'll soon become a widower." Or, H. D. Thoreau, "Read not the times, read the eternities."
"Obey your leaders adn submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning. For that would be of no advantage to you."
In that admonition, the writer of Hebrews lays out to emotional environments in which a pastor continually finds himself in--joy and grief. The life of pastoral ministry is always to be a ministry of joy even in the midst of grief because our joy is always to be in Christ and his worthiness of being enjoyed is never diminished or changes. And so even in the midst of grief in pastoral ministry, there should always be an abiding joy in Christ.
However, there are undoubtedly experiences within the life of a pastor that illicit great joy and great grief. There is nothing like the joy that a pastor experiences when he sees evidences of God's grace in the life of God's people, a biblical understanding of the Gospel which naturally produces a biblical living out that understanding of the Gospel.
On the other side of the spectrum though, there are times of great grief. There is grief that is do to the death of church members or the loved ones of church members, sickness, and other tragedies that come our way in a fallen world. However, the grief that the writer of Hebrews has in mind is, like the joy mentioned above, directly connected to the church members' response (obedience/submission) to those who have been given charge to care for their souls. It is indeed a time of great grief for a pastor when he sees division or rebellion or outright disobedience to the Scripture in the Body of Christ.
There is something very important implied by the reality of this joy and grief in the pastor's life. And it is a reality that should humble the pastor before God in the face of God's amazing grace to him. That reality is that the presence of joy and grief in the pastor's life over what is happening in the church and among the people of God is evidence that the pastor takes his calling from God seriously. He is serious about equipping the saints for the work of ministry until we all attain to a unity of the faith and a knowledge of the Son of God. He is serious in his calling to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict. He is serious about his calling to keep watch over the souls of these sheep that have been entrusted to his care.
Why should this reality produce humility in the pastor and awe before God? Because it is evidence of God's amazing grace that has been lavished upon him. The pastor knows better than anyone his own sinfulness and the change that Christ has made in his life, bringing him from darkness to light, exchanging his heart of stone for a heart of flesh, and creating this new creature in Christ. And with that knowledge of who he once was, who Christ has made him, and the ongoing struggle to become in practice what he already is in position, the pastor is reminded that a seriousness and a caring that produces joy and grief over the spiritual state of those within the church is only a reality in his life because of God's grace to him in Christ that has produced such a change and that continually is changing him more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
And so welcome not only the joy in pastoral ministry, but also see the evidence of God's grace to you even in the grief of pastoral ministry because it indicates that by God's grace, and only by God's grace, do you take your calling from God as a pastor with life and death seriousness.
Thank you Jesus.
“There are not even words to talk about what this night means,” Oprah said of Obama's inauguration. “Everybody keeps using the word historic — there’s never been a night like this on the planet earth… Nothing can compare to this.”
I'm thinking the day God said, "Light, be" and light was was a little more historic.
I'm thinking the day that God formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into him was a little more historic.
I'm thinking the day that God took a rib from Adam and fashioned it into a woman was a little more historic.
I'm thinking the day that all the first born in Egypt were killed by the Angel of the Lord was a little more historic.
I'm thinking the day that God parted the Red Sea was a little more historic.
I'm thinking the virgin birth of the Son of God, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world was a little more historic.
I'm thinking the day that the Son of God, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ was crucified on a cross for sin He had not committed on behalf of those who did committ it was a little more historic.
I'm thinking that three days later when the Son of God, Jesus Christ, rose from the dead for thejustification of sinners was a little more historic.
I'm thinking that forty days later when the Son of God ascended back to Heaven was a little more historic.
I'm thinking that the day He returns in clouds of glory and every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father will be a little more historic.
Maybe Oprah should be a little more careful with her history.