Perspective In Trials

From Milton Vincent's A Gospel Primer for Christians:

More than anything else I could ever do, the gospel enables me to embrace my tribulations and thereby position myself to gain full benefit from them. For the gospel is the one great permanent circumstance in which I live and move; and every hardship in my life is allowed by God only because it serves His gospel purposes in me. When I view my circumstances in this light, I realize that the gospel is not just one piece of good news that fits into my life somewhere among all the bad. I realize that the gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials. The good news about my trials is that God is forcing them to bow to His gospel purposes and do good unto me by improving my character and making me more conformed to the image of Christ.

Preaching the gospel to myself each day provides a lens through which I can view my trials in this way and see the true cause for rejoicing that exists in them. I can then embrace trials as friends and allow them to do God's good work in me.


The Welcomed Sound of a Baby's Cry

Our little boy, Asher, is growing up way too fast. He has recently moved from the Bed Babies room of the church nursery to the Crawlers room even though, thankfully he is not crawling yet. Typically on a Sunday morning I will take our girls to Children's Church at the end of the Worship time through music in the main sanctuary. Recently, inevitably, I will pass Asher in the hall either on my way to or from dropping the girls off at their rooms. Nine times out of ten he is doing just fine, perfectly content in whosever arms he is in that week.

That is, until he sees me or hears my voice. Then the grunting and squealing starts, followed by crying. I know not to take him from the nursery worker because that will only make it worse when I have to give him back and return to the sanctuary. So, I just keep walking and hearing him cry. Now, I don't ever really like to hear my children crying. But I must say that there is something welcomed in Asher's cry for his Daddy. That cry is an instinctive reaction of his that expresses that he wants his Daddy. It is his way of communicating that he desires to be with his Daddy in that moment. It is a cry of affection and dependency. And that is welcomed as his father. I want him to love me enough to cry to express his affection for me and desire to have me hold him. It is welcomed that he is dependent on me and that in some sense he sees great value in me.

In thinking about that scene of Asher crying for his Daddy, my mind and heart could not but help to think about the relationship we have with our Heavenly Father in and because of Christ. I am certain that in some sense it pains the heart of God to hear His children crying because of pain and suffering or just the regular struggles of life as imperfect sinners living in an imperfect world. However, there must also be something that is very welcomed in our cries to the Father. In our cries to the Father are we not, likewise, expressing our desire to be with Him? In our cries to the Father are we not, likewise, expressing our affection for him and dependency on Him? And in those cries are we not clearly showing that He is very valuable, even priceless? Does He not welcome our tearful cries?

And then I am reminded of the reality that I have no right to be called His son and to relate to Him as my Father. It is only through Christ's death and resurrection that I am made a son of God, a join heir with Christ Himself. It is only because of Christ that I can cry out the cry that He welcomes, "Abba, Father!"

Decline in Popularity of Gospel=Decline in Popularity of Hymns

From Jared Wilson:

The argument goes like this: The hymns are outdated. Nobody talks like that any more, nobody knows what these archaic words refer to, nobody sings melodies like that any more; therefore, the solution is to ditch the hymns and sing only contemporary songs.

But I don't think the reason hymns fell out of favor is because they became old. I think it's because our preaching got new.

The great hymn writers could tell the gospel story with gospel words in very solid ways. But preaching over time became moralistic stories with pop psychology words in wispy ways. We stopped giving the hymns context. We would sing "Oh how marvelous, Oh how wonderful is my Savior's love for me!" but our preacher had long stopped marveling and wondering about the cross, so the song didn't make emotional sense. And then it stopped resonating with us on a Spiritual level.

All good hymns declare the gospel and assume gospel context. I suspect the main reason hymns don't resonate with people much any more is because we don't preach the gospel.


Real Heroes

I loved this paragraph from Kevin DeYoung's post In Praise of Ordinary Pastors,

My definition of a hero is someone who does the right thing in the right way for a long time whether people notice or not. Thousands of unheralded, unknown pastors personify this definition. They marry and bury, preach and teach, hold hands and pat backs, attend open houses and attend meetings, pray like they believe it and sing like they mean it. Even if the coffee is bad, the pay low, and the church music so-so, these brothers keep loving and keep on proclaiming the same gospel. Some say insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. But that goes out the window when what you’re doing is the very thing God has called you do.

Faithful, humble, diligent, reliable, gentle, courageous, compassionate, teachable, imperfect ordinary pastors—of them the world is not worthy.

Got a good pastor? Then tell him you think so.


Praising God for the Pastorate

Justin Buzzard has a great post today on the fact that pastoral pressure either makes you a better or a worse man. Here's his conclusion:

Eventually, such a pastor discovers that he’s become a better man because of his work as a pastor. The pressure of the job has made him a man who more deeply believes and experiences the biblical truths he’s constantly talking about. He realizes that his own sanctification might be one of the main reasons God called him to be a pastor. He realizes that he would’ve turned out a worse man had he chosen a different career path. The unique pressure of the pastorate has made him a far better man than he would’ve been otherwise.

Pastors, join me in seeing our vocation as God’s perfectly pressured path for making us better men.


Pastors: "What Is the End of What You Are Doing?"

That's the question William Still asks in his excellent little book The Work of the Pastor :

To save the sheep from wild beasts and all other dangers is not to feed them; and if they are not fed, what matters whether they are safe or not? What is the good of being saved to starve? We must be saved in health and strength, unto maturity and power to reign with Christ in His Kingdom. And for that we must be fed. Every temptation to be sidetracked from the task of eternity which is the task of the hour--your hour--must be seen in relation to the finished product. What is the end of what you are doing? The God-appointed end?


'Ordinary' Pastors (Like Myself), Be Encouraged

Matt B. Redmond offers this encouragement to 'ordinary' pastors:

Be encouraged. Be encouraged in the midst of ministerial duties that are mind-numbingly mundane. Be encouraged in a world drunk on the sweet nectar of the spectacular. Be encouraged when you preach the gospel clearly. Be encouraged after years of faithfulness, even if you don’t have numbers that impress conference organizers. Be encouraged in the tedium. Be encouraged when you see the same faces week-in and week-out. Be encouraged as you marry and bury, counsel and speak at the local lodge’s spring pancake breakfast. Be encouraged.

Be encouraged when dreams of thousands have careened against the retaining wall of reality with hundreds. Or dozens, even. Be encouraged when no one has heard of you, your church, or your town. Be encouraged in the midst of decline. Be encouraged when you must stop preparing your sermon to clean the bathrooms. Be encouraged, because you stand before God redeemed and loved because of Christ’s righteousness credited to you. Be encouraged, for this right standing before God is not based on the success of your ministry, loved no less because it is ordinary. Be encouraged, ordinary pastor.

Be encouraged when growth is slow and measured by generations. Be encouraged when guilt, fear, and the specter of failure form an unholy alliance against you. Be encouraged when young men grown fat on the feast of podcasts question your every move. Be encouraged when no one knows your name; it is written in blood in the book of life. Ordinary pastor, be encouraged: Your faithful labor in the darkened forest of obscurity is heroic...

Really, the phrase “ordinary pastor” is a misnomer. For all who pastor by the power of the gospel do extraordinary work: preaching the Word, comforting the hurting, baptizing, and administering the Lord’s Supper. It is all extraordinary. After all, “we have this treasure in jars of clay.” This way, “the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7). No wonder, then, the extraordinary is in the ordinary.


The Choice We Face Everyday

From Elyse Fitzpatrick's latest post, Is Faith Enough Today?

I know that you’re familiar with this story and that you know that its ultimate fulfillment is in the promised Messiah. But this morning this story spoke to my heart in this way: I could look at the weakness and barrenness of my life. Those were, indeed, true realities. In response, I could get out my list, my sticky-notes, and devise ways of feeling better about myself. To switch back to our patriarch’s story, I could go visit Hagar. Or I could give glory to God knowing that even though I am still so very weak, so very barren of true love for my neighbor, God had already promised me that I would be fruitful and that my life would somehow count. How? Only through faith in the righteousness of another. It was in this process of rehearsing God’s promises to me, of giving him glory for his wonderful mercy, grace, and kindness, that my heart was changed and I walked out into faith again.

Every morning . . . every moment of every day . . . I have a choice to make. I can trust in my heart’s default position: Work it out, work harder, prove I’m better, show that I do love my neighbor, engage with Hagar and my sticky-notes. Or, I can rest in his promise that even though I look at myself and realize that for me it’s been nearly 40 years since I first believed the promise, the One who is able to speak into existence things that don’t exist, has declared that I am righteous now and that this faith is enough now. It must be enough or I can’t breathe. That was the choice for me today and it’s the choice we all face every day.


Pastors: Feed the Sheep, Don't Entertain Goats

I just started reading William Still's The Work of the Pastor. Chapter 1 was arguably the best and most encouraging chapter I've read on pastoral ministry. I imagine I will be sharing more gems from this great little book. But here's a great quote on the focus of feeding the sheep as the primary work of the pastor, not entertaining goats.

It is to feed sheep on such truth that men are called to churches and congregations, whatever they may think they are called to do. If you think that you are called to keep a largely worldly organisation, miscalled a church, going, with infinitesimal doses of innocuous sub-Christian drugs or stimulants, then the only help I can give you is to advise you to give up the hope of the ministry and go and be a street scavenger; a far healthier and more godly job, keeping the streets tidy, than cluttering the church with a lot of worldly claptrap in the delusion that you are doing a job for God. The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it out in goatland. You will certainly not turn goats into sheep by pandering to their goatishness. Do we really believe that the Word of God, by His Spirit, changes, as well as maddens men? If we do, to be evangelists and pastors, feeders of sheep, we must be men of the Word of God.


The Gospel Breaks Down Barriers, Even Musical Prefernces

Which more clearly communicates the Gospel? A church that has two services--one contemporary and one traditional--or one that has one blended service?

Tullian Tchividjian gives a good answer. The entire post is here.

You see, when we separate people according to something as trivial as musical preferences, we evidence a fundamental failure to comprehend the heart of the gospel. We’re not only feeding toxic tribalism; we’re also saying the gospel can’t successfully bring these two different groups together. It’s a declaration of doubt about the unifying power of God’s gospel. Generational appeal in worship is an admission that the gospel is powerless to join together what man has separated.

In Paul’s day the world was rigidly divided between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. Those walls of separation were thick, and the groups on each side were hostile. But that didn’t stop Paul from boldly proclaiming God’s intention to establish a new community—the church—that not only included all these but also allowed them to enjoy deeply interdependent relationships. As Paul argued for the Gentiles’ place in God’s redemptive plan, he said, “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon him” (Romans 10:12). As Paul decried certain Jewish leaders for teaching that the sign of circumcision was a condition for justification, he wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). And when he addressed class distinctions threatening to divide the church, he asserted our newness in Christ, in which “there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). If he were writing to the 21st Century church you could almost hear him say, “There is neither ‘traditional’ nor ‘contemporary’ worship; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The primary reason, though, that stylistic segregation in worship shrinks our souls is because it prevents us from knowing God deeply. The only way to know him deeply is to have many different types of Christian people in your life, since each person will help to reveal a part of God that you can’t see by yourself. This means the great tragedy of segregation isn’t so much that we see less of each other but that in separating from each other we see less of God. All of us need other lights than our own to see more of his myriad facets.

So, we miss out on some great things God intends for us to enjoy when we separate in worship according to musical tastes. The idea to do this comes, not from the Bible, but from American consumerism and we adopt this practice to our own peril.

As my friend Steven Phillips rightly says, we ought to use the best music, prayers, and traditions of our Christian past, so that our worship is guided and enriched by our fathers in the faith. In doing this we demonstrate that our Christian faith reaches back thousands of years. And we ought also to use the best new songs and styles – to “sing a new song to the Lord” as the Psalms say – so that we can demonstrate that the grace of God is ever new. God’s saving power is available now, in the present day, to all who call on Him in faith.

By musically blending things in this way we exercise love toward those who resonate with different musical tastes than us. We recognize that our worship service is a shared time and a shared space, so that if a particular song or style doesn’t inspire us, we can still look across the sanctuary and give thanks from our hearts for the diversity of people who are here. The gospel of Jesus Christ invites us to look across the aisle and say, “Though this song or style may not appeal to me, I see that God is using it to move you. I love you in Christ and I’m glad you’re here.”

Pastors, Beware of Getting Too Big

Carl Trueman gives an excellent warning to the dangers of becoming so big as a pastor that you may not be able to truly be called a pastor anymore.

Before and above all else, pastors are shepherds to real sheep. Lord, keep me from ever being too big.

Read the whole post here. (No, really read it)

First, I am immensely grateful that I have only ever held membership in churches of a size where the pastor has always been accessible and available. Indeed, my pastors have always even known my name, my wife's name, my kids' names, and even what sports they play (this latter may seem trivial but it has been peculiarly important to me: my kids may not always enjoy going to church; but they have never doubted that the pastor actually cares for them; and that is something for which I am more grateful than I can articulate). Indeed, each of my pastors has cared about his people, not as a concept or a good idea or as an indeterminate mass, but as real, particular people with names and histories and strengths and weaknesses; and this surely reflects the character and love of God who, after, calls his sheep by name and cares for us all as individuals. If I gave you the names of said pastors, few reading this post would ever have heard of them: they have written no books; they have never pulled in huge crowds; and they have never spoken at megaconferences. But they have always been there when even the humblest church member has called out for advice, counsel or even help with bailing out a flooded basement.


What Is The Bible About?

Tim Keller answers very eloquently and biblically,


Relevance vs. Trendiness

Churches should pursue the former and abstain from the latter.

Brandon J. O'Brien explains the difference in The Strategically Small Church :

True relevance is being sensitive to the culture or subculture in which you are ministering and incarnating your ministry in your specific location. It is vital that a church be relevant by that definition...

Trendiness, by contrast, is applying a strategy that is foreign to your personality and mission for no other reason than to draw a crowd. The worst thing a small church can do is try to reach people by pretending to be like them. A church should welcome everyone; however, they shouldn't become everyone. A young person will be open to hearing the gospel from a fifty year-old pastor who speaks and dresses in a way befitting a fifty year-old man, if--and this is a big "if"--that pastor and his church show genuine concern for that young person. But this same visitor will smell phoniness from down the street if the middle-aged pastor speaks and dresses like a twenty year-old in an effort to appear "relevant."

Pastors, let's be careful what we smell like.


A Pastor's Invaluable Gift

Brian Croft asks the question, "What is a healthy way for a pastor's wife to relate to her husband?"

His answer, "Supportive, but Unimpressed." Read his explanation to see just how much of an invaluable gift this is to a pastor.

Supportive: A pastor’s greatest asset isn’t a loyal elder or faithful deacon. It is a wife that knows him better than anyone, knows his struggles, knows his faults, knows his inadequacies, and knows the sins that most easily entangle him, yet has this unshakable support, love, affirmation and care for him. It is a wife with an unwavering faith in God and support of her husband, that sustains them both through the most painful conflicts, the greatest betrayals, and allows the hardest church situations to be manageable

But unimpressed: Though the unwavering support of a wife is of great value to a pastor and is essential in surviving the struggles of ministry, one of the worst roles for a pastor’s wife to play for her husband is to view him and his ministry with rose-colored glasses. The blind spots in a pastor’s life and ministry are most clearly and carefully observed by his intuitive ”supportive, but unimpressed” wife. A pastor’s wife that is impressed with her husband will not help him see the areas of pride and self-deceit in his heart that show up in conversations at home. A pastor’s wife impressed with her husband’s preaching will not objectively listen to him preach for the purpose to help him grow as a preacher. A pastor’s wife impressed with her husband’s gifts for ministry will be tempted to overlook those consistent criticisms that come from credible people in the church.

The reason I know what an invaluable gift it is to have a wife serve a pastor in this way is because I have a precious wife who is tremendously supportive and incredibly unimpressed with me. Because she has found this balance well she knows when to comfort me when I am legitimately discouraged and push back when I sulk. She affirms my faithfulness to preach God’s Word, but doesn’t think I am the greatest preacher in the history of the world (probably not even top 10!). When my first book was published and people asked with a bubbly excitement, “You must be excited, but I can’t imagine how your wife feels. What does she say?” I found the most accurate response being, “She is very supportive, but unimpressed.”

Thankful for Holly's support in the most difficult of times, but also for the fact that she loves the Lord enough to be unimpressed with me as well.


Praying To Never Preach "Much-Ado-About-Nothing"

A good word from Mr. Charles Spurgeon:

“Leave Christ out of the preaching and you shall do nothing. Only advertise it all over London, Mr. Baker, that you are making bread without flour; put it in every paper, ‘Bread without flour’ and you may soon shut up your shop, for your customers will hurry off to other tradesmen. … A sermon without Christ as its beginning, middle, and end is a mistake in conception and a crime in execution. However grand the language it will be merely much-ado-about-nothing if Christ be not there. And I mean by Christ not merely his example and the ethical precepts of his teaching, but his atoning blood, his wondrous satisfaction made for human sin, and the grand doctrine of ‘believe and live.’”


Insufficient Reasons For Leaving a Church

Jason Helopoulos has another great post today on Kevin DeYoung's blog. It deals with good reasons to move on from one church to another. Be sure to read the good reasons to move on, but I thought I would share the insufficient reasons he gives for leaving one church for another.

Here they are:

1. Children’s Ministry—The Children’s ministry at another church is better. This cannot be a reason for changing churches. It is rather an opportunity for you to get involved in the children’s ministry of your church.

2. Buzz—Many people will flow to whatever church in town has the current “buzz.” The argument will be that the Spirit is at work there and we want to be part of it. But buzzes come and go. And so do the people that follow them.

3. Youth Group—The unhappiness of our teenage children in the current Youth Group, because of activities, other youth, etc. is not a reason for leaving the church we have covenanted with. I know this one will be controversial. Believe me, I have empathy as a parent and a former Youth Pastor. But our children are not the spiritual directors of our home. They should not be choosing the church we attend based upon their social status and network.

4. Church has changed—Churches always change. Unless the changes are unbiblical than we don’t have a reason to move on. We don’t move on when our wife or husband changes! We are we so quick to do so with the church we have covenanted with.

5. New Pastor—A new pastor is not a sufficient reason to change churches. It doesn’t matter how stiff, impersonal, unfunny, etc. he is. The list is endless. It doesn’t even matter if he is not the most interesting preacher. He is the man God called to this church for this time. And this is your church. Again, unless he is unbiblical why move on? You haven’t covenanted with a man, but with this body.

6. I’m Not Being Ministered to—I tell every one of our new member classes, “If we all walked into church each week and had a list of people we were going to try and ‘touch,’ encourage, or minister to, do you know how dynamic this church would be? Just on Sunday mornings, let alone if we did it during the week. If we each were concerned about the other person and walked in each Sunday with that in the forefront of our mind instead of, “Why didn’t he talk to me?,” “Why doesn’t anyone care about me?,” “Why isn’t anyone ministering to me?” Start ministering to others and you will find that you are being ministered to.

7. Music—Not a reason—whether it is slow, fast, traditional, contemporary, Psalms, hymns, or gospel choruses. Stop using it as an excuse!

8. There are others…we haven’t even mentioned the service is too early, the coffee is terrible, the pastor doesn’t know how to shuck corn (Yep…those are all true ones I have heard).


Pastors: Are We Listening?

As pastors, sometimes we are not the best listeners. It's not a lack of care and concern. It's more a product of how we are wired as pastors I guess. We are used to speaking to others as opposed to listening to others. Our minds are usually going a mile a minute and we are tempted to think about the next thing on our "to do" list. And sometimes instead of listening, we jump right to "fixing," which is also a defect we have as husbands! Jason Helopoulos gives some great recommendations to help us be better listeners.

Here's to listening better so that we can better shepherd the flock the Lord gives us.

  • Sermons are for the pulpit—Leave sermons in the pulpit and enter into dialogue with your people. Dialogue requires talking and listening. Taking breaths in conversation is a good thing. It allows the other person to talk!
  • Remember that the person before you is the person you are to be ministering to—seize this moment instead of thinking about talking to the person “over there.”
  • Be teachable—we may be called to teach, but that does not mean that we can’t be taught ourselves.
  • Show honor to all—the five year old or the mentally disabled person begging for your attention and conversation after the worship service is just as important as the District Attorney and his wife who are walking by.
  • Silence is golden—Silence in conversation is fine. The tension is not a bad thing. It often helps bring the true issue to the surface. Don’t fill the space.
  • Maintain eye contact—most pastors are multitaskers and are busy looking around. Stop!
  • Ask questions—avoid jumping to conclusions and giving your stock answer. Ask clarifying question after clarifying question.
  • Don’t always feel the need to lead—Many pastors are busy leading all the time and so every conversation they enter into is dominated by them. Allow others to lead the conversation. You will surprised at what others want to talk about.
  • Don’t be “super-spiritual”—Every conversation does not have to end with a discourse on the atonement. Nor does every conversation need to be a demonstration forum of your Bible knowledge.
  • Think through questions—On your way to a meeting with someone, make a mental list of questions to ask them. And then ask the questions and listen.
  • Care tenderly—Always remember that these are Christ’s sheep. They are his and we are to lead them with a loving-tender care. And surely that must mean listening to them.


My Identity Is Defined By the Gospel

Excerpt from Dave Harvey's Rescuing Ambition:

The gospel answers my questions of identity. It tells me I am God's bondservant, His child, a worshiper, and a functioning member of His Church. My identity as a pastor was always a secondary identity. I have not lost my main identity.

The gospel answers my questions about purpose. The gospel opened my eyes to the glory of God in Christ. I responded to the call to ministry in order to glorify God. Being pastor was never, rightly, my chief end. I do not presently have opportunity to serve as a pastor, but I do have daily opportunities to fulfill my main purpose in life. Asking the question, "How do I glorify God now?" wonderfully liberates me.

The gospel always points the way to my ongoing happiness. My main joy is in God and and in the salvation Jesus wrought for me on the cross. Above all else, I'm grateful to be a Christian--to be saved--to know the joy of sins forgiven and conscience cleansed. The joy of ministry could never legitimatey be the foundation of my happiness. It is secondary, derivative joy.

So, God has taught me to...
  • think of myself in terms of my main identity
  • busy myself with my main purpose
  • delight myself in my main joy.

By God's grace, lesson learned...hopefully.


Tasmanian Devil Christianity or Plodding Visionaries

Kevin DeYoung explains:

It is easy to blast the church for all her failures. It is harder to live in the church day after day, year after year, with all of the ho hum, hum drum, and to slowly and consistently make a difference.

What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. We need to ask the right questions, we need to have the right expectations, and we need to establish the right vision...

Here is my burden for our generation: along with all the necessary pleas we have to be earnest and intense and radical and sold out. With all of that, I just also want to wave the banner from Zechariah 4:10, "Do not despise the days of small things." That is what I mean by being plodding visionaries.

If you are a visionary, you don't have your head in the sand. You are going somewhere. You are looking out. You are moving in a direction. But you are a plodder. One foot in front of the other.

Many of us are attracted to a Tasmanian Devil kind of Christianity...splattering, spinning around. You get fired up--praise God for that--and you spin out like the Tasmanian Devil ready to conquer the world for Christ and you blow up into a tree somewhere.

We need plodding visionaries.

When I wrote the book on the church I read nine books that called for a revolution. Every other day it seems like a read of a new manifesto. We may need to just simplify a little:

Get on the right road and keep going. Our generation in particular is prone to radicalism without follow-through. We want to change the world and we have never changed a diaper. You want to make a difference for Christ? Here is where you can start: this Sunday, volunteer for the nursery. Say, "Here I am, pastor. What can I do to serve?"

We need more of the latter and less of the former.

How To Be A Difference Maker In Your Local Church

Here's Kevin DeYoung's answer to that question from his message "The Church" at the NEXT2010 conference this past may:

  • Find a good local church.
  • Get involved.
  • Become a member.
  • Stay there as long as you can.
  • Put away thoughts of a revolution for a while.
  • Join the plodding visionaries.
  • Go to church this Sunday and worship in Spirit and in truth.
  • Be patient with your leaders.
  • Rejoice when the Gospel is faithfully proclaimed.
  • Bear with those who hurt you.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt.
  • Say "hi" to the teenager that no one notices.
  • Welcome the old ladies with the blue hair and the young man with the tatoos.
  • Volunteer for the nursery.
  • Attend the congregational meeting.
  • Bring your fried chicken to the potluck like everybody else.
  • Invite a friend.
  • Take a new couple out for coffee.
  • Give to the Christmas offering.
  • Sing like you mean it.
  • Be thankful someone vacuumed the carpet for you.
  • Enjoy the Sundays that "click."
  • Pray extra hard for the Sundays that don't.
  • And in all of this, do not despise the days and weeks and years of small things. (Zechariah 4:8-10)


Your Church & the Gospel: More Like Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks?

I love Dunkin' Donuts' coffee. You can't spend two years of your life in New England and not love Dunkin' Donuts coffee. I love the Gospel even more. Therefore this made for a great post. It's from Ed Stetzer's blog in which Michael Kelley asks the question, "What Can the Church Learn From Dunkin' Donuts?"

Here's a snippet of the answer, but be sure to read the whole thing here.

I would propose that the church has something to learn from Dunkin' Donuts.

The reason we have something to learn is that we have tried to be Starbucks. We've tried to be slick, trendy, and hip. We've tried to be a place that is non-threatening and easy to come to. And when you walk in, you see beautiful people in holey jeans and black glasses, all looking very intellectual and hair-frosty. Additionally, we have tried to make church a low-demand environment, much in the same way Starbucks is. It's low demand in that even though the basic premise of the store is selling coffee, some people don't even go there for coffee at all. And nobody's going to pressure them about the coffee. That sounds familiar, too...

And you know what else? The thing that we have? It actually tastes good. Maybe the problem is that we don't really believe the gospel tastes good. We don't believe it tastes good, so we feel the need to pile a lot of stuff on top of it to make it more palpable. Maybe if we really believed it tasted good, we would have the courage to let it speak for itself, like Dunkin' Donuts did, rather than trying to help out the product so much.

Enjoy a good cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee, but enjoy the Gospel even more.

Pastors: Are You Preaching the Gospel?

From a recent interview with David Nicholas, Ed Stetzer asked the question, "Tell us what you see in regards to how pastors preach the gospel?"

Nicholas' answer is true and piercing:

I have discovered that there are various categories of preachers and their approach to "preaching the Gospel." There are those who think they are preaching the Gospel because they preach from the Bible. But the two are not the same. Some assume they are preaching the Gospel, but in reality, they preach in a language I call "the Christianese language," a language understood only by believers, but unbelievers don't have a clue. Many pastors preach an incomplete Gospel and others preach a Gospel that is garbled and disjointed. Then there are those preachers who think they are preaching the Gospel because they encourage their people to get involved in service projects and social justice. Again, the two are not the same. Then there are pastors who give an invitation at every service for people to come forward to "receive Jesus into their hearts," but they never explain who Jesus is, why people need him, or what he did for them. And this one is epidemic in some circles. Then there are those pastors who never think about preaching the Gospel. Some don't believe it. Others view the Gospel as the "basics" and know their people are way beyond that. Then others can't imagine having any unbelievers in their services.


A Challenge For Us Husbands & Fathers This Father's Day

Who Are We Worshiping On Sundays?

I just began reading Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream by David Platt. Needless to say it is extremely good and as Russell Moore said in his endorsement of the book it is definitely a book that you want to put down because it is so convicting.

Here's an especially challenging excerpt from Chapter One:

And this is where we need to pause. Because we are starting to redefine Christianity. We are giving in to the dangerous temptation to take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into a version of Jesus we are more comfortable with.

A nice, middle-class, American Jesus. A Jesus who doesn't mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have. A Jesus who would not expect us to forsake our closest relationships so that he receives all our affection. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts, because, after all, he loves us just the way we are. A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who, for that matter, wants us to avoid danger altogether. A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American dream.

But do you and I realize what we are doing at this point? We are molding Jesus into our image. He is beginning to look a lot like us because, after all, that is whom we are most comfortable with. And the danger now is that when we gather in our church buildings to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead we may be worshiping ourselves.


The Work of the Pastor

Looking forward to reading this one day when I can afford to buy books again: Work of the Pastor by William Still.

Thabiti Anyabwile shared these quotes from the book, which peeked my interest:

It is to feed the sheep on [biblical] truth that men are called to churches and congregations, whatever they may think they are called to do. If you think that you are called to keep a largely worldly organisation, miscalled a church, going, with infinitesimal doses of innocuous sub-Christian drugs or stimulants, then the only help I can give you is to advise you to give up the hope of the ministry and go and be a street scavenger; a far healthier and more godly job, keeping the streets tidy, than cluttering the church with a lot of worldly claptrap in the delusion that you are doing a job for God. The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it out in goatland. You will certainly not turn goats into sheep by pandering to their goatishness. Do we really believe that the Word of God, by His Spirit, changes, as well as maddens men? If we do, to be evangelists and pastors, feeders of sheep, we must be men of the Word of God...

God has caused you to become pastor to some souls here who are as valuable to Him as any in the world–your quiet persistence will be a sign that you believe God has a purpose of grace for this people, and that this purpose of grace will be promoted, not by gimmicks, or stunts, or newe ideas, but by the Word of God released in preaching by prayer.

What Skills Must a Pastor Possess?

In Kevin DeYoung's latest post Requisite Tools he lists five tools that a pastor must possess.

They include:

  1. A Pastor Must Be Able to Teach
  2. A Pastor Must Be Able to Relate to People
  3. A Pastor Must Be Able to Lead
  4. A Pastor Must Stay Relatively Organized or Surround Himself With Those Who Can Do This For Him.
  5. A Pastor Must Pray

On number five, DeYoung writes,

If this tool gets rusty, no one will know. At least not at first. It is impossible to survive as a pastor without the other four skills. But, sadly, it is easy to survive, even thrive, without this one. But the pastor that can thrive without prayer is not the pastor I want, nor the pastor I want to be. We can accomplish a lot on our own, but the stuff that really matters requires prayer because it requires God. A man who does not pray should not preach.


Off-Balance, But Ok

Very appropriate for us over this past year and still something we are trying to learn by God's grace.

From Josh Harris:

What Are You Leaning On?

God's word says in Proverbs 3:5, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding."

Trusting God wholeheartedly involves actively not trusting in yourself--not trusting in your own comprehension, your own experience, your own perspective. The point is don't lean on your own limited and flawed understanding, lean on the perfect Lord.

The leaning described here isn't the shifting-your-weight-to-one-foot variety. It's talking about the kind of leaning in which you place all your weight on something or someone so that they are holding you up, supporting you.

Here's a simple test: you're truly leaning on something if you'd fall over if it wasn't there.

That's a picture of the kind of trust God wants us to have in him. Trusting in the Lord with all your heart involves leaning on him in such a way that you're completely dependent on him.

When we're leaning on God we're going to feel off-balance. Too often we want to trust God but still be independent. We want to trust while feeling in-control. We want to lean while standing on our own two feet. But that's not real trust is it?

Proverbs 3:5 teaches us that trusting God is living in the reality of not being in control. It's feeling dependent. It's feeling off-balance. It's feeling weak. These are all feelings that in our pride, we're prone to run from. And yet there's no better, no safer place to be than leaning on the everlasting arms of our loving Savior.

Next time a non-Christian friend accuses you of making God a crutch say, "Well, yes, I am leaning on the Lord completely. What are you leaning on?"

We're all leaning on something. If it's our own understanding, we're fools.


Daily Discipleship: Long Obedience In the Same Direction

I encourage you to read Kevin DeYoung's recent article in Tabletalk magazine.

Here's a great excerpt on our need as followers of Christ not to look for the spectacular, but to continue in the ordinary daily disciplines of our faith and to be content with the spectacular nature of the Gospel.

Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church. In the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus (Rom. 16:8) or Phlegon (v. 14) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd. We haven’t learned to be ordinary. Our jobs are often mundane. Our devotional times often seem like a waste. Church services are often forgettable. That’s life. We drive to the same places, go through the same routines with the kids, buy the same groceries at the store, and share a bed with the same person every night. Church is often the same too — same doctrines, same basic order of worship, same preacher, same people. But in all the smallness and sameness, God works — like the smallest seed in the garden growing to unbelievable heights, like beloved Tychicus, that faithful minister, delivering the mail and apostolic greetings (Eph. 6:21). Life is usually pretty ordinary, just like following Jesus most days. Daily discipleship is not a new revolution each morning or an agent of global transformation every evening; it’s a long obedience in the same direction.

It’s possible the church needs to change. Certainly in some areas it does. But it’s also possible we’ve changed — and not for the better. It’s possible we no longer find joy in so great a salvation. It’s possible that our boredom has less to do with the church, its doctrines, or its poor leadership and more to do with our unwillingness to tolerate imperfection in others and our own coldness to the same old message about Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s possible we talk a lot about authentic community but we aren’t willing to live in it.

Satan's Strategy for Delaying Matthew 24:14?

Matthew 24:14 says, "The gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a witness among all nations, and then the end will come."

Jerry Rankin'g recent post addresses what Satan's possible strategy may be to delay this promise:

Satan is doing everything in his power to keep that contingency from being fulfilled—to keep the gospel from being proclaimed as a witness among all peoples. He has worked through puppet governments to keep countries closed to a Christian witness. He has obscured the nature of the Great Commission task in terms of ethnic-linguistic people groups instead of just reaching geo-political countries on our map. He has persecuted the church and believers, thinking it would inhibit the advance of God’s kingdom. But none of these strategies are working.

The strategy that is working, however, is to convince Christians that missions is optional, to get churches to become self-centered, engrossed in its own programs and work to the neglect of taking the gospel to the lost. He is distorting the concept of a call to the task as applying to an elite few who go as missionaries rather than to the church as the people of God. He has eroded the spiritual vitality of God’s people and the faith that would enable them to carry out God’s mission.


Christian Ministry: Starting What You Cannot Finish

Excerpts from Al Mohler's Commencement address at Southern Seminary:

The call to the Christian ministry is a profoundly counter-cultural reality. The conventional wisdom just does not fit. As children, we are taught the adage that we are not to start what we cannot finish. But these ministers of the Gospel will never really finish anything, and they are not very qualified to start anything. As the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” [1 Corinthians 3:10-11]

They will take their places in a long line of faithful ministers. They will build upon the foundation laid by the apostles, and that foundation is Jesus Christ. They will toil and serve and witness and teach and preach and lead and build, but they will die with more undone than done. Some will serve long, some may serve only a short time in this earthly life, but they will serve a cause they cannot complete; they will tell a story they cannot conclude...

...Behind us is a line of faithful Christians who toiled and served and preached and planted and tended and witnessed and died. The graduates we see before us today get in that line, are indeed already in that line, and they will never get to finish what they start — and we can live with that...

...Why? Only because Christ will finish what He has started. Only because we are absolutely confident that this is not about us, but about Christ — all about Christ...

...Let’s consider what this means. The Father’s purpose is to glorify himself in the Son, the Lamb, through whom sinners are ransomed by his blood — men and women from every tribe and language and people and nation. In these blood-bought saints the curse is reversed, sins are forgiven, and Babel is turned into a thunderous and endless chorus of common praise...

...This vision transforms the Christian ministry from a profession into a calling that makes no sense according to the wisdom of the world. The vast majority of Christian ministers and pastors have served without the slightest attention of the world, completely lacking in its accolades and attention. They preached the Word, in season and out of season, evangelized, baptized, taught, tended, wept, and cared — and they were laid in humble boxes and lowered into to the waiting earth. And all is well...

Be armed with the vision of the Lamb before the throne, and of the reigning saints from every tribe and nation and people and language. Take the Gospel to the ends of the earth and let the nations rejoice in Christ. Serve the Lord with gladness and tend the flock of God with love and care. Preach the Word, in season and out of season. Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. Be those of which the world is not worthy...

...Serve, preach, teach, and tell the world about Jesus until they put you in a box or until Jesus comes. And all will be well. Start what you cannot finish, and trust that Christ will finish what He has started. Serve so long as you live and live so long as your serve, and we will one day meet together again — when we smell sulfur and see a Lamb.


The Weightiness of Local Church Membership

That's the title of a section in Chapter Four, "The Charter of Love," of Jonathan Leeman's The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline.

In the section, Leeman writes,

"Today, we don't believe that authority belongs to the church; it belongs to the consumer who asserts his rule through his presence and pocketbook. Instead of calling consumers to submit to the lordship of Christ, the church does all it can to cater to the consumer. The preacher pulls up a stool and plays the comedian. The minister of music closes his eyes, leans back, and lays into a guitar riff. The church 'audience' is delighted--for a while.

One of the chief tragedies of evangelicalism todays is that it has lost sight of the wonderful, life-giving force of authority. We've been carried away by culture. More than we realize, we view ourselves as independent agents charged with determining how best to grow, serve, and love in the faith. Yes, we may listen to others, defer to others, and accept guidance from others, but in the final analysis we view ourselves as our own coaches, portfolio managers, guides, judges, and the captains of our own ships in a manner that is more cultural than biblical. In short, an underdeveloped theology conspires with out antiauthority and individualistic instincts to deceive us into claiming that we love all Christians everywhere equally while excusing ourselves from loving any of those Christians specifically, especially submissively. Unsurprisingly, churches are shallow, Christians are weak, and God's people look like the world."

What's the solution?

"But what if local churches were to recover the understanding that each stands as a proxy for Christ? Each church is his representative on earth. Consider, then, the weightiness of accepting members. Consider the weightiness of saying goodbye to those who move to another city; much more the weightiness of excluding them. If churches were to undertake such considerations, receiving members would be treated more like an adoption. 'Are the child's papers in order? Have all the necessary questions been asked by both sides of the adoption? How can we best serve and protect this child?' Saying goodbye to members as they depart for another city would feel like saying goodbye to a precious son as he leaves home. 'Let us know when you arrive safely. Let us know if you need money. Find good friends. Remain steady in what we've taught you. We love you.'"

Stop Feeling So Guilty

In his latest post, Kevin DeYoung asks the question, "Are Christians Meant To Feel Guilty All the Time?" Kevin writes, "Here's the tricky part: we should feel guilty sometimes, because we are guilty of sin. Moreover, complacency as Christians is a real danger, especially in America. But yet, I don't believe God redeemed us through the blood of His Son that we might feel like constant failures.

So, why are we so prone to feelings of guilt? Kevin offers four possibilities:

  1. We don't fully embrace the good news of the Gospel.
  2. Christians tend to motivate each other by guilt rather than grace.
  3. Most of our low-level guilt falls under the ambiguous category of "not doing enough."
  4. When we are truly guilty of sin it is imperative that we repent and receive God's mercy.

Be sure to read the entire post here. It's well worth your time.

Two Competing Paths in the SBC

B21 has an exceptional post by Jon Akin on the choice before Southern Baptists at the annual convention on June 15th. I encourage you to read the entire article to get a feel for what the debate is about and what is at stake.

Here's a few good summarizing excerpts:

One path is the “Great Commission Resurgence” (GCR) vision set forth by the GCRTF and their recommendations. The other path has been coined as the “Cooperative Program Resurgence” (CPR). These two competing paths are not about who is “for” or “against” the Great Commission. One can be against the GCR and still for the Great Commission (and vice versa). The question is not who is “for” and “against” the Great Commission. The real question is two-fold for Southern Baptists: 1) How do we define the Great Commission? 2) How do we most effectively accomplish it? That is what we are voting on in Orlando this June.

  • GCR- This vision is to restructure certain items within the SBC to enable greater effectiveness and cooperation in the Great Commission. The hope is that this vision will lead to greater missions giving because people will give to a vision that is compelling and mobilizes more resources (people and money) to the areas of greatest need (need = least access to the Gospel).
  • CPR- This vision is to do more/better at what we are already doing. The SBC structure is right but the giving is not, so we need a resurgence in CP giving and that will lead to a greater fulfillment of the Great Commission. The division of the CP pie is not a problem; the size of the pie is.

  • In terms of the bottom line, here is how the two views play out in terms of mission impact:

    1. GCR- Allocate resources (people and money) to the places of greatest need in our country and the world, and as a result missions giving will increase.
    2. CPR- Give more money so that resources (people and money) will continue to fund what we are currently doing in the south and more will trickle out to the places of greatest need in our country and the world.
    3. As the Word Grows, So Grows the Church

      B21 has a great post on the New Testament method of church growth: the growth of the Word of God.

      Here's a few noteworthy pieces:

      Every speaker, every “church growth guru” suggests a different way to “grow the church.” “What you need is better marketing.” “What you need is more contemporary music.” “What you need is a big outreach event.” “What you need is another staff member.” “What you need is a shorter, more ‘relevant’ message.” “What you need is more video in worship.” “What you need is casual dress on the platform.” “What you need is candles, curtains, or ancient-looking d├ęcor.” Each guru believes his solution is the missing element that, if put in place, can help take your church “to the next level.”

      When the word grows, the church grows! In short, the message of Acts concerning church growth is quite simple—believe the word, preach the word, and live out the word. God gave us a promise about the power of His word back in Isaiah 55 when He declared, “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” And what is the purpose for which God has sent forth His word if not reaching the lost with the message of salvation and discipling the saved (Matt 28:18-20)? Yet despite this promise, and despite the word-based pattern of growth in the book of Acts, many church leaders today are seemingly unsure of the power of the word alone to change lives and “grow their church.” Though we are called to “believe the word,” there are portions many church leaders do not wish to believe and therefore do not wish to obey. Though we are called to “preach the word,” many church leaders are shortening their sermons, adding in more stories and video clips until all that is left of the “preached word” is a little kernel. Is this because we believe a kernel is all that our culture will find palatable? Is this because we believe the power to change lives lies in our ability to communicate rather than in the word itself? And though we are called to “live the word,” believers are not living it, because to a great extent our church leaders are not teaching it or modeling it.

      We need to bear in mind that increased attendance at our churches does not necessarily equate to the “growth of the word.” The church can grow and the word can shrink. There are many churches in our country where this is in fact taking place; drawing a crowd is not the same as “making disciples.” The inverse can occur as well; one can faithfully preach the word in a church where there are many false disciples and actually drive some church attenders away. In this case, the word grows but the church shrinks. (Remember, Jesus, the Living Word, drove some ‘disciples’ away too (John 6:66)).


      Turning Point

      A Great Commission Resurgence to reach the nations with the Gospel of Jesus Christ has already begun. On June 15th, the Southern Baptist Convention will make a decision that will result in either us riding the wave of what the Lord is already doing in and around the world to reach the nations or choose to stay on the shore, doing what we've always done and be left with our collective heads in the sand, refusing to see what the Lord is doing around us.

      A Great Commission Resurgence from GCR on Vimeo.


      Has The SBC Succumbed To A Laodicean Worldview?

      This is the question that Douglas Baker asks in his blog post dealing with the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, the SBC, the Cooperative Program, and the local church's responsibility in the Great Commission. We'll find out the answer on June 15-16.

      Here's a piece of the post. Be sure to read it in its entirety.

      Certainly, the missional understanding of what money given by the church is to accomplish is ultimately the prerogative of each local congregation. Nevertheless, few Christians across the modern evangelical spectrum ever even think about leaving the comforts of home to relocate to a dangerous field of service. If the statistics are accurate, it takes nine Southern Baptist congregations to produce one International Mission Board missionary. This amounts to little more than financing a fantasy and naming it missions.

      Every person born again by the Spirit of God is a missionary. The only remaining question is whether one will go or send. Those who send, however, are not to be simply occupied with their own interests—totally disconnected from the mission of God. The center of God’s will for every Christian is that they live radically dangerous lives for Jesus Christ. When the vine of the church is healthy and growing, immediate concerns and pressures give way to long-term investment; mere management recedes and ministry takes the lead—not administry, but ministry with real people outside the Baptist bubble.

      The Great Commission Resurgence was originally conceived as a church-based call for reform—a way to refocus the Cooperative Program and strengthen it for decades to come. It has descended into the depths of political partisanship and childlike bickering to such a degree that ministry partnerships across the SBC are obviously viewed more like political structures with special interests vying for their share of control. Unless a new vision like the trellis and the vine takes over the denominational infrastructure, the Southern Baptist Convention could eventually cease to exist —cannibalizing itself through hubris.

      Perhaps that is the will of God. Christian martyr Jim Elliott once said, “American believers have sold their lives to the service of Mammon, and God has His rightful way of dealing with those who succumb to the spirit of Laodicea.” Has the Laodicean worldview finally overtaken the SBC? June 15-16 will reveal the answer.