"And now Jesus is showing them that in his resurrected body his scars are still there. Why is this important? Because now that they understand the scars, the sight and memory of them will increase the glory and joy of the rest of their lives. Seeing Jesus Christ with his scars reminds them of what he did for them--that the scars they thought had ruined their lives actually saved their lives. Remembering those scars will help many of them endure their own crucifixions.
On the Day of the Lord--the day that God makes everything right, the day that everything sad comes untrue--on that day the same thing will happen to your own hurts and sadness. You will find that the worst things that have ever happened to you will in the end only enhance your eternal delight. On that day, all of it will be turned inside out and you will know joy beyond the walls of the world. The joy of your glory will be that much greater for every scar you bear.
So live in light of the resurrection and renewal of this world, and of yourself, in a glorious, never-ending, joyful dance of grace."
While examples of his temper and tantrums have been widely discussed and dissected, I think a lot of people have missed the root of it all. Jobs was a lifelong student of Eastern religion and Zen Buddhism in particular. Along the way he became convinced that he was an enlightened being, that he existed on a higher plane than most people. From this exalted position he was able to see and to judge; he had the right to. He was able to stand, if not in the place of God, at least in the place of a judge. He felt that it was his right to speak the truth—the truth as he understood it—to others. After all, he was enlightened and they were not. His arrogance knew no bounds.
A brutal man with a terrible temper and a genuine god complex, he was also a man who drove people to new heights of innovation and creativity. As much as people hated to receive a tongue-lashing from Jobs, they knew that in the end he motivated them and pushed them to do better. And this is a crucial component of the strange legacy of Steve Jobs. He will forever be known as a great innovator and a man who lived at the crossroads between the humanities and the sciences. In his own field and in his own way, he sought to make the world a better place. But he did so at the expense of so many people whom he left abandoned and brutalized. It’s like he cared for humanity but not for humans, for mankind but not for individuals.
As a pastor, that last line was very challenging/convicting and the conviction may not just rest with pastors. But as pastors, it's one thing to have a compassion for the "church", but not for the individual believers who are hurting and in need. So, may it never be said of us as pastors or as followers of Christ in general, "Its like he cared for the Church, but not for each follower of Christ, for the church, but not for each and every member/sheep in it."
But especially, what an excellent privilege is it, to live in studying and preaching Christ! to be continually searching into his mysteries, or feeding on them! to be daily employed in the consideration of the blessed nature, works, and ways of God! Others are glad of the leisure of the Lord's day, and now and then of an hour besides, when they can lay hold upon it. But we may keep a continual Sabbath. We may do almost nothing else, but study and talk of God and glory, and engage in acts of prayer and praise, and drink in his sacred, saving truths. Our employment is all high and spiritual. Whether we be alone, or in company, our business is for another world. O that our hearts were but more tuned to this work! What a blessed, joyful life should we then live! How sweet would our study be to us! How pleasant the pulpit! And what delight would our conference about spiritual and eternal things afford us! To live among such excellent helps as our libraries afford, to have so many silent wise companions whenever we please--all these, and many other similar privileges of the ministry, bespeak our unwearied diligence in the work.
Now, I can understand in one sense the comfort that this kind of thinking can bring to those who are left behind. It's indeed comforting to know that our loved ones in the Lord are no longer suffering or in pain, but rather are in a much better place, heaven. However, in making these kind of comments they reveal that maybe they don't really know what the Bible teaches concerning the state right now of those who have died in Christ.
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Paul tells the believers in 1 Thessalonians 4 that our hope and comfort in death is that one day the body (that has been in the ground) will be reunited with our spirit (which has been in heaven). As the first martyr of the church, Stephen, is being stoned to death, he says, "Lord, Jesus, receive my spirit." (Acts 7:59-60) The author of Hebrews refers to those in heaven as "the spirits of the righteous made perfect."(Heb. 12:23) Clearly, the scriptural teaching is that upon death, for the believer, the body and soul (spirit) are separated, with the body being buried and the soul (spirit) entering the presence of the Lord in heaven. As much as it may comfort us to think of our loved ones as playing board games or horseshoes with others who have gone on before them, it is not possible because they don't have bodies.
However, even if it were possible for them to be playing board games or horseshoes in heaven right now, there is an issue more important about this that makes me stay on the Soapbox a little longer. And it's an issue of much greater importance. The reason it bothers me so is that for us who are left here while our loved ones in Christ are in heaven, to find "comfort" in them playing board games or horseshoes in heaven is such an inferior comfort. To think that way is to miss out on the real, biblical comfort of the Gospel relative to those who have died in Christ. How so?
I recently read an exceptional book from Cruciform Press entitled Grieving, Hope, and Solace: When A Loved One Dies In Christ by Albert N. Martin. Upon the death of his wife, Rev. Al Martin sought to answer from the Bible, "What precisely happened to her, where was she now, and what was she experiencing?" The following is a summary of how he answered that question from the Bible:
- The moment our loved ones breath their last, their spirits, in the full consciousness of their existence, are immediately made perfect in the moral likeness of Christ. (Rom. 8:29;Heb. 12:23)
- Those who die in Christ retain the full consciousness of their existence and are immediately ushered into the very presence of Christ. (2 Cor. 5:6-8; John 17:24; Phil. 1:23-24)
- Those who die in Christ retain full consciousness of their existence and are immediately brought into the company of all the blood-washed saints of Christ. (1 Thess. 4:16-17; Heb. 12:23)
- Those who die in Christ retain the full consciousness of their existence and are immediately ushered into the promised rest of Christ. (Rev. 14:13)
Isn't that much more comforting than board games and horseshoes? Again, my purpose in writing this is not to ridicule those who have mistakenly thought this way, but rather to encourage them with a much greater hope and solid foundation of truth of what our loved ones in Christ are experiencing right now in this very moment as they wait, along with us, for that day when we will worship the Lord as sinless souls in deathless bodies.
Al Martin shares this reflection which I think points to that encouragement that we can have about our loved ones who have gone on before us in the Lord. He writes,
For several months after Marilyn's death I would awake every Lord's Day morning especially conscious of the aching loneliness of being a widower. As I would make my way to the kitchen to prepare my morning coffee, I tried to picture what that day would be for her in the presence of Christ. I pictured here looking down at me with a pitying, yet sinless look and saying, 'Oh, Al, you poor creature, still tied to the 'body of your humiliation.' There you are, trying to wake up thoroughly before you go to your study to worship and pray. I have been worshiping all through the night while you slept, and I'm not a bit tired. I will be worshiping all day today, and I know it will not be a wearisome activity. I will not lack for words to give vent to my felt joy and gratitude, nor will I struggle to find abundant substance for my praise. My spirit has been released from every sinful inhibition and distraction. With abandoned joy I will be engaged in worshiping Christ all day today. And when you go to bed tonight, weary from your labors among God's people, I will still be engaged in worship. No night, no weariness, no need to sleep--nothing but blessed rest from all the struggles of the life I lived when I was still there with you.'
I do not believe our loved ones actually view us here on earth, for I see nothing in Scripture to warrant such an assumption. Rather, I share this bit of fantasy to say that in the midst of our grief, dwelling upon what our loved one has gained will strengthen and encourage us, lightening our load and making it easier for us to exercise personal discipline, so that we may carry out our obligations before God more effectively.
This past Sunday, my Granddaddy who died a few years ago, was honored at one of the churches he had pastored--actually the church where he had pastored the longest. They had recently built a new educational building and they named it the "Eason Educational Building" in honor of my Granddaddy, Nathan Eason. I hate I couldn't be there to see that, but my Granddaddy didn't hate that he wasn't there to see it. I guess it would be comforting to think of him last Sunday of looking down from heaven and experiencing great joy at what was taking place. But the reality is that he had better things to do and experience and it wasn't board games and horseshoes, but rather all the blessings Christ had purchased for him in this in between time where he waits the reunion of his now sinless soul with his then deathless body, enjoying the presence of the Lord now as He will then.
The awakening also transformed African-American attitudes towards Christianity. New Lights, ministers who supported the revival, preached to audiences that included both whites and blacks. Many congregations accepted their first black members. Some slave owners were predictably upset. The Weekly History contained an account of a Boston slave owner who walked in on his slave preaching to himself, imitating Whitfield's dramatic style. The owner, no fan of revival, was so amused that he called together his friends for some after-dinner entertainment.Oh, that we would be surprised once again by the Holy Spirit
'Supplying his friends with pipes and glasses all around, he instructed his slave to mount a stool in the center of the room and preach as he had the day before,' historian Frank Lambert explains. 'As he began, the company laughed heartily, but when he warned against blaspheming the Holy Spirit and proclaimed the necessity of the new birth, 'the Negro spoke with such Authority that struck the Gentlemen to Heart.' To their host's dismay, the men began to listen intently, and many, as a result of that day's 'entertainment,' became 'pious sober Men.'"
The Holy Spirit enjoys such surprises.
Listen, if you preach a great series of topical sermons on marriage or finances or sex, your church plant might grow. If you are a savvy marketer and put up provocative billboards around town, your church might grow quickly. And people will think that you are great. You can wear trendy shirts, get blond tips in your hair, and wear a microphone that hooks around your ear.
But if you preach God's Word faithfully, few people will be tempted to think that you are great. If you stand up on Sunday morning and explain that when Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic in Mark 2, he was claiming to be God-in-the-flesh to take the punishment for our sins on himself on the cross, people will have one of two reactions: they will praise God, or they will think you are a complete idiot. That's the point. God has designed it to work this way. You preach and people get saved to God's glory, or their so-called 'wisdom' is confounded and you look like a moron, also to God's glory.
Michael Horton in The Gospel Commission: Recovering God's Strategy for Making Disciples helps answer the question:
"It all comes down again to distinguishing between law and gospel. When it comes to ordering our lives, neighborhoods, states, and nations, there's a lot of agreement between Christians and non-Christians. It is arrogant to assert that Christianity is unique in its wisdom for living, that Christians as a whole live better than non-Christians as a whole, that only Christians are good friends and neighbors, and that only they really care about--or at lease have the right answers for--the pressing issues and temporal needs all around them. Some non-Christians I know have better marriages and families than many Christians. When we defend Christianity as 'the only way,' we have to be careful to first point out that, properly speaking, Christ is the only way, and that he is the only way to reconciliation with God, forgiveness of sins, the new birth, and all the blessings of our inheritance in the new creation. Non-Christians can follow good advice; they can turn over a new leaf and improve their actions and even their moral character. The Nation of Islam has a fine track record of turning gang members into upstanding citizens. What these groups, programs, religions, and therapies cannot do is transform people from enemies of God into friends, from condemned criminals into redeemed heirs, and from citizens of the kingdom of death into citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Only in Christ can we be forgiven and made new, not just better.
So, there are a lot of good things for which Christianity is not the only way. However, for that which is most important in life--to be reconciled with a holy God--Christ is indeed the only way.
This past Sunday was my last opportunity to spend time with these men. When we first got there we were delayed a little bit. We were immediately hurried to an out of the way break room. One of the officers explained that they had a medical emergency on the sixth floor and were in the process of transporting the man to the hospital. We waited about fifteen minutes and then were allowed to go up to our floor. When we got up to the fourth floor, we found out that the man who had just been taken to the hospital had tried to hang himself. Thankfully, he was not successful. It was a reminder of the difficulties these men face in prison and the miracle it is that there can be any hope for anyone in a place like that.
However, as we were waiting to go upstairs, one of the other volunteers shared an interesting testimony with us. He shared with us about the church service at the prison that he had led during the previous week. To begin the service he had asked one of the gentlemen to pray before they began. The man stood up and looked visibly distracted and hesitant. He then turned around and walked back a few rows to another gentleman. He gave this man a manly hug and proceeded to ask for his forgiveness for some offense that was between the two of them. As the volunteer described it, the two reconciled and there was a tangible heaviness that left the room.
What were these two men doing? They were living out of the reality of the Gospel and its implications. They were actually living what they read in the Gospels:
"So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
"And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25)
This man could not pray with a clean conscience until he obeyed what the Lord has said by going and seeking the forgiveness and reconciliation of the one he had offended. Amazing!
Let me share one more story and then I'll make my point. Once we got up to the floor, I had the opportunity to preach. I preached from Mark's account of Jesus' life, specifically Peter's denial of the Lord. I made two points from this account in Peter's life. First, was the truth that we are more wicked than we can ever imagine. Secondly, God's grace is more amazing than we can ever comprehend. One of the applications that I made concerning the second point was to look at what was Peter's solution to his failure/sin of denying the Lord.
I made it clear what it was that Peter did not do. On the heels of his denial, he did not attempt to do more for the Lord to make up for what he had done wrong. Upon realizing his sin of denying the Lord, just as Jesus had told him he would, he did not immediately attempt to get back into the Lord's good graces by running around and telling everyone that he was a follower of the Lord. He wept bitter tears. The solution to his sin as a believer was not to go out and do more to be approved by God, but rather his solution was to rest in what the Lord was about to do for him on the cross--bearing that sin of denial in Peter's place.
Often times when we sin and disobey the Lord we make the wrong move of immediately getting up and "doing more" to "get back right with God" and in doing so completely bypass the Gospel. And so if we have sinned by not sharing the Gospel like we should, we start sharing it like crazy, thinking that our obedience is what will please the Lord and solve the problem of our disobedience. However, our immediate action should not be to go out and do more, but rather to rest in what the Lord has already done for us in his death and resurrection. The solution for our sin as a believer is the same as the solution for our sin as an unbeliever--the Gospel. It is that truth that guards us from drifting into legalism and keeps us living in the Gospel of grace and faith, the fruit of which is the good works we do.
Well, after I finished preaching, one of the younger men came up to me to let me know how much he appreciated the message and he then shared with me how the Lord used His Word to minister to the needs of his heart. This young man has a sad story at first glance. He is in prison because of the sin of revenge. A friend of his was murdered by another group of people. In a fit of anger, seeking justice, he attempted to get revenge on those who had taken the life of his good friend. In attempting to do so, he ended up getting shot and almost dying.
The Lord used this tragedy and sin in his life to bring him to the point of seeing his need for a Savior and the Lord graciously saved him through the Gospel. His life has radically changed and he is hungry for the Word. He shared with me after the preaching that he found out the week before that he was getting nine years in prison for his crime. He explained how he had been struggling with the sentencing. He was expecting a lighter sentence. The reason he was expecting a lighter sentence, in his own words, was because of how his life was so much better than it had been. He was "doing" all the things that the Lord expected him to do. And he felt like it was the doing of those good things that would please the Lord, the evidence of which would be something less than nine years in prison.
He told me that the Lord used His Word that morning to remind him that it was the Gospel that was what pleased the Lord and nothing that he did or ever would do. He could never do enough to please the Lord. It was the Gospel that he needed at his conversion and it was the Gospel that he needed now as a believer and that was the ground of his acceptance before the Lord and what made him pleasing in the eyes of the Lord.
So, what's the point of this post besides the amazing testimonies of the Gospel and its implications actually being displayed in God's people? The point is this: Why does it take going to prison to actually see followers of Christ living out of the realities of the Gospel? Why is it that the Gospel is being displayed in some cases much more profoundly by a group of men who are in prison for murder, manslaughter, theft, and a host of other sins than those of us sitting in the pews of our nice comfortable church buildings each week?
Is the answer really that when we pray at church on Sunday mornings that there is never a person praying who has some unresolved sin between himself and another brother or sister in the Lord? Is the answer really that we sit under such anemic preaching that there is nothing about the message to discuss and encourage one another with at the end of the service or throughout the week?
Or is the answer something much more embarrassing and shameful then we want to admit? The best case scenario is that we are just too busy, more concerned about getting to lunch than getting into each others lives with the Gospel. The worst case scenario is that it may be that we just don't really understand the magnitude of the Gospel, much less live lives that have actually been changed by it.
"I really do think that there are moments in our marriage when we are crying out for grace, not recognizing that we are getting it. We are not getting the grace of relief or the grace of release, because that is not the grace we really need. No, what we are getting is something we desperately need, the uncomfortable grace of personal growth and change. With the love of a Father, your Lord is prying open your hands so that you will let go of things that have come to rule your heart but will never satisfy you. With the insight of a seasoned teacher, he is driving you to question your own wisdom so that you will find your understanding and rest in his. With the skill of the world's best counselor, God is showing you the delusions of your control so that you will take comfort in his rule. With the gentleness of a faithful friend he is facing you toward the inadequacies of your own righteousness so that you find hope in his."
"There is probably never a day when we don't sin against one another in some way. So, it is vital to recognize that your spouse has to live with a person like you--still struggling with temptation and sin and still failing in some way. And you should find joy in relieving the burden of living with you by seeking your spouse's forgiveness whenever he or she has been impacted by your failure."Husbands, let's be sure to lift the burden of living with someone like us for our wives today.
Wave #4: Persuading pastors that a passion for the global glory of God is good for the saints at home.
If the light of your candle can shine ten thousand miles away, it is burning very bright at home. What kind of Christians do we want our churches to breed? Consider: Apathetic Christians, who spend most of their discretionary time in worldly entertainment, seldom pray, weep, or work for the reaching of the perishing peoples of the world. Do not coddle them. Confront them. Tell them to get a life. PG13 videos every other night leaves them spiritually powerless and empty. They need a cause big enough to live for. And die for. Wave #4 would make world missions the flashpoint for thousands of awakened Christians.
"...Call on me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me."
For the past two years we have been calling on the Lord in our "day of trouble." Now to be very honest, compared to what others in this world are going through--some of whom we know personally--our day of trouble has not been that bad and could have always been worse. But two years of unemployment is a troublesome time and two years of being a pastor without a people to shepherd has it's difficult moments to say the least.
And by God's grace we have been calling on the Lord for these past two years. And I do mean "by God's grace." We take no credit for any faithfulness on our part these past two years. We know that just like Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail and it didn't, so He has been praying for us--that our faith would not fail and by His grace it has not.
And so by God's grace we have been calling on the Lord for these past two years. And He has been faithfully delivering us. But as is always the case, He uses means. He has been faithfully delivering us through unbelievably loving and self-sacrificing parents, for which we are thankful. He has been delivering us through loving and generous family members, for which we are so appreciative. He has been delivering us through long-time friends who have seen a need and reached out to meet it, for which we are humbled. He has been delivering us through the most loving and generous church family (led by a one of a kind pastor) we could have ever asked to be a part of this past year and a half, for which we do not know how to express our gratitude and whom leaving will be more difficult than we could have ever imagined a year and a half ago.
And now He is delivering us through answering the prayers we have been praying for over two years. This past Sunday, Cross Roads Baptist Church, voted unanimously to call me as their next pastor. And so in just a few short weeks, our family will be moving to Georgia and beginning a new chapter in our life, a long awaited chapter. And we are very excited to see what the Lord has in store for us, the church family, and the wider community in which we will be serving. We can't wait to get more attached to such a loving congregation that is already being so kind to us and whom we are already growing to love and appreciate.
But as I think back over these two years, I think there was something greater still that the Lord was delivering us from and it took these past two years to "learn" it. It was through this "day of trouble" that the Lord was delivering us from ourselves or more specifically me. He has been delivering us from the idol of self, from looking to ourselves as the answer to our problems. He has been delivering us from the pride of not casting all our anxieties upon Him because He cares for us. That is exactly what anxiousness is--pride. Humility is casting all your anxieties on the Lord and trusting Him to work them out in His time and His way. Pride is being anxious, worrying about all that you are faced with and trying to figure out how to work it out in your time and your way.
But, if your idols are like mine they tend to come back to life. Those idols--especially the idol of self-sufficiency--are constant battles we must face every day until that day when we will no longer walk by faith, but by sight. And so as we move into this new chapter of our life there will be a daily temptation with the issues we face to put our confidence in ourselves and believe the lie that we can handle and solve whatever trial we face. There will be the temptation during this time of "Oh, I can breath easier now, this trial is over" phase and beyond to look at myself and see me as the reason things are "going so well." There is pride and self-sufficiency rearing its ugly head once again. I can no more maintain the relative times of ease than I could solve the relative times of difficulty. To believe otherwise is simply the fruit of a justified, in the process of being sanctified, still waiting to be glorified soul.
And so I pray, that as we have lived Psalm 50:15 over these last couple of years, repeating this pattern of crying out to the Lord and experiencing His deliverance, we have also brought Him glory in both our perseverance and in response to His deliverance. I pray that we have shown His value, worth, and weightiness. I pray that our lives and the trials He has gifted to us have been used by the Lord as His telescope, through which others could look through and see the beauty and magnificence of our God.
But, as I mentioned above, I know my own heart. And I know that over these past two years there have been more than a few times where my heart has been faithless, full of anxiety, trusting in self instead of trusting in the Lord. And I know that in the future there will be more than a few times where my heart will be faithless, full of anxiety, trusting in self instead of trusting in the Lord. And for those times in the past, now, and in the future we cry out to the Lord for forgiveness and cleansing. And there is no doubt that He has, is, and will deliver us. He will deliver us because His Son carried the sin of my anxious, prideful, self-sufficient heart to Calvary and nailed it, along with His flesh to a rugged piece of wood. There His blood has covered my sin of pride, anxiousness, self-sufficiency, and so much more.
But He did not stay dead. He walked out of that tomb of death. And in walking out of that tomb alive from the dead, He proved two things. First, He was a suitable sacrifice. He was spotless with no sin of His own. He was never anxious. He was never prideful. He was never faithless. He was perfect. He is my perfection. He is my righteousness. And secondly, because He was a perfect, sinless sacrifice, His death in our place for our sins has been accepted by the Father. We are now righteous and accepted because of His righteousness and acceptance. It is the substance of this truth, this Gospel, this Good News, that we cry out to the Lord in faith, trusting that He will deliver us because of this Good News, and the result will be that He receives the glory.
And so I pray, that as we have, so may we continue to call out to Him in the day of trouble (whether it be the trouble of our trials or the trouble of our sin) with full confidence that He will deliver us and we will glorify Him.
In one chapter, Tripp explains how our marriages are mostly made up of little moments that have lasting impact on the shape and quality of our marriages. Tripp writes,
In his wisdom, God has crafted a life for us that does not careen from huge, consequential moment to huge, consequential moment…You can probably name only two or three life-changing situations you have lived through. We are all the same; the character and quality of our life is forged in little moments. Every day we lay little bricks on the foundation of what our life will be. The bricks of words said, the bricks of actions taken, the bricks of little decisions, the bricks of little thoughts, and the bricks of small-moment desires all work together to form the functional edifice that is your marriage...”
“...We tend to fall into quasi-thoughtless routines and instinctive ways of doing things that are less self-conscious than they need to be. And we tend to back away from the significance of these little moments because they are little moments. You see, the opposite is true: little moments are significant because they are little moments. These are the moments that make up our lives…We must have a ‘day-by-day’ approach to everything in our lives, and if we do, we will choose our bricks carefully and place them strategically.”
So, let's be careful with the bricks that we will use to build our marriages today.
However, in pastoral ministry that may not be the case. Paul is very clear in 2 Timothy 4:5 about what the goal of pastoral ministry should be. And it involves doing the same thing over and over again.
C.J. Mahaney explains:
As Paul begins to summarize the pastoral call, he paints the picture this way: “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). The pastor’s biography should be a simple one:
- he was sober-minded,
- endured suffering,
- did the work of an evangelist,
- fulfilled his ministry.
He is sober-minded, not like those described in verses 3 and 4 who are vulnerable to fads and trends. He is not seduced by novelty or religious innovation.
He also endures suffering. He understands that suffering isn’t rare; it’s the norm. He is not going to avoid it. If you are a faithful pastor, it’s going to happen: you’ll be the target of criticism from within the church and slander from without. You’ll be opposed by the world when you preach the gospel. And you won’t be exempt from the personal suffering that’s part of living in a fallen world—suffering that God will use to accomplish his purposes in your life. God wants you to be confident that he is at work through your suffering, so that you can endure it with a solid, not superficial, joy.
The pastor is to do the work of an evangelist. Even though Timothy is serving in an area where evangelism and church planting are taking place, Paul wants evangelism to remain a passion in his life. This is all too easy for pastors to neglect in their preaching and personal life.
These imperatives combine to make one point: fulfill your ministry. Be faithful. Discharge the full range of your responsibilities. Persevere until the task is complete. Regardless of opposition or apathy, regardless of apparent success or lack thereof, regardless of church size, regardless of suffering—fulfill your ministry.
For the duration of our lives and ministries, we are called to relentless faithfulness. Today, be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. Tomorrow, be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. Do it today and do it all again tomorrow, and do it all again the day after tomorrow. Keep doing the same things.
In a culture where innovation is paramount, and the calls to produce something new seduce not just the world but also the church, this is wisdom from above: pastor, just keep doing the same thing. No innovation needed. This is what Paul is charging Timothy, and God is charging us, to do: be faithful. Do the same thing. Don’t be distracted by what’s new. Fulfill your charge. And do it all again tomorrow.
Hope you do as well. The post is here.
Here's a couple of excerpts that showcase the nice balance of needed humor and encouragement.
It’s all so involved. There are so many rules and expectations. Kids can’t even eat sugar anymore. My parents were a solid as rock but we still had a cupboard populated with cereal royalty like Captain Crunch and Count Chocula. In our house the pebbles were fruity and the charms were lucky. The breakfast bowl was a place for marshmallows, not dried camping fruit. Our milk was 2%. And sometimes, if we needed to take the edge off a rough morning, we’d tempt fate and chug a little Vitamin D.
I could be wrong. My kids are still young. Maybe this no-theory is a theory of its own. I just know that the longer I parent the more I want to focus on doing a few things really well, and not get too passionate about all the rest. I want to spend time with my kids, teach them the Bible, take them to church, laugh with them, cry with them, discipline them when they disobey, say sorry when I mess up, and pray like crazy. I want them to look back and think, “I’m not sure what my parents were doing or if they even knew what they’re were doing. But I always knew my parents loved me and I knew they loved Jesus.” Maybe it’s not that complicated after all.
What is the reason we give as to why we shouldn't say that? D.A. Carson provides a helpful answer in his book The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place In God's Story.
The reason we are not to say, 'Oh, God!' when we hit our thumb with a hammer or say 'Jesus!' when we are disappointed is precisely because it diminishes God. If you were to be so bold as to turn to the person who has just used Jesus' name because he has hit his thumb with a hammer and say, 'I wish you wouldn't use my Savior's name like that,' he would probably reply, 'I do not mean anything by it.' But that is the point: he doesn't mean anything by it. That is precisely why the usage is 'profane,' that is, common. Using the name of God or of Jesus when you 'mean nothing' by it is not profane because you have spoken a magic word that you are not really allowed to use, as if only priests can say the right abracadabra. The usage is profane because it is common, cheap. We are dealing with God, and we must say and do nothing that diminishes him or cheapens him. It is at best disrespectful, ungrateful, and demeaning; at worst it de-gods him and thus sinks again to the level of idolatry."
Mike Cosper writes about this today over at the Gospel Coalition. Here's his conclusion:
Blaise Pascal famously described our vain attempts to fill the infinite abyss inside us with anything but God. Perhaps the obsessive reading, watching, and waiting for Friday’s wedding comes from a similar place, an emptiness inside of us that hungers for the ultimate reign of our King Jesus.
In a few days, much of the Western world will gather around TV sets to watch the incredible spectacle that will surely unfold. There will be a grand processional, and ultimately, a bride will appear, dressed in white, to wed the heir to the throne. We can watch it with a grumpy cynicism; we can watch it with an idolatrous awe; or we can see it as a signpost, pointing to a wedding in which we’ll play a part, and whose King will never disappoint.
Piper explains why just saying "Believe" is not enough:
"First we are surrounded by unconverted people who think they do believe in Jesus. Drunks on the street say they believe. Unmarried couples sleeping together say they believe. Elderly people who haven't sought worship or fellowship for forty years say they believe. All kinds of lukewarm, world-loving church attenders say they believe. The world abounds with millions of unconverted people who say they believe in Jesus.
It does no good to tell these people to believe in the Lord Jesus. The phrase is empty. My responsibility as a preacher of the gospel and a teacher in the church is not to preserve and repeat cherished biblical sentences, but to pierce the heart with biblical truth.
"The 'old man' in each of us--to use Paul's language--continually tempts us to value or build our churches on other things, things we can see and measure. We want to rely on marketing research, personal charisma, good music, or other natural devices. Now, I'm not saying that 'natural' devices are bad, per se. But if we're relying upon them, there's no difference between us and the world. God means to challenge us right here. 'Is not my word like fire' he would say to us, 'and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces.' (Jer. 23:29)...
The power of God's Word is a faith proposition. It takes faith to believe that invisible words and the invisible Spirit could give life to a valley of dry bones. By comparison, it takes absolutely no faith to believe in the power of beauty, intelligence, strength, style, or humor. These qualities are attractive, and we can literally watch them draw a crowd. We can watch them build a 'church.'"
That last diagnostic question raises what I call the “Catch-22” of gospel-centrality.
As a pastor I am frequently faced with questions, either from curious people or from temptation from the devil, about the durability of the gospel week in and week out. It is the centerpiece of my preaching, the central theme of my ministry, the heart of my life, and the joy of my tongue and pen. Occasionally I am faced with this question: Can it not get worn out from all that use?
Here is the Catch-22 of gospel centrality: Whether one “gets it” or not, the prescription for preaching and all of life is still the gospel. The critic of the one-note Johnnyism of gospel-centrality just doesn’t get it. But the gospel is versatile enough for those who do and don’t. And there’s the awesomeness of the gospel-centered life! Those who haven’t yet experienced gospel wakefulness can only do so by hearing the gospel, and those who have experienced gospel wakefulness don’t tire of hearing it!
Either way, the gospel is the answer.
Read the relief he gives us here if you have ever felt like this:
I’m always trying to figure out how I can possibly be obedient to all that the Lord seems to want from us. At times it feels like God expects us to be 24-7 prayer warriors with a commitment to social justice and involvement in the pro-life cause and lead lengthy family devotions and mentor a young Christian and read five Christian books a month and work through Operation World and adopt a child from Africa. Have you ever thought, “Lord, I don’t have enough hours in the day to be obedient to all that you expect from me?” If you have, something is wrong with the way you use your hours or with your sense of God’s expectations.
I want to thank you for THIS day. For on this day, thirty-two years ago, in Lynchburg, Va, you brought into this world a little baby girl. That little girl immediately and joyfully changed the lives of her parents in an instant. And most amazingly, on that day, you brought life to this little girl, a daughter of Yours. For on that day You brought into this world one whose name you had written from before the foundation of the world in the Lamb's Book of Life. Oh, Lord, how amazing is it to think that You not only knew her name would be there from eternity past, but You planned her name to be there from eternity past, for indeed You wrote it there. For this was one for whom Your Son would die and give His life for her sins. And in just a few short years later, her second birth would take place and she became a new creature. Oh, Lord that is the most amazing thing for which I am thankful for on THIS day.
But, Lord, if you would allow me a moment of personal reflection about THIS day, I would be so thankful. For on THIS day, thirty-two years ago, You brought this little girl to life. And in another state, there was a three year old little boy. The two knew nothing of each other, but one day the would. For many years later, in Your kind providence, they would meet and remarkably they would marry. For there were many things that could have kept them apart. For that matter, a simple strong wind could have blown a little piece of paper off of her car windshield that would have brought their lives down different paths. But that would not happen because You meant for these two to be together. And so remarkably, they would marry. These two would become one.
And she would change his life forever. She would make him so much better because You had fashioned her to be perfectly suited for him. Oh, how much joy she has brought to him. Oh, what love she gives to him. Oh, what sacrifice she makes for him. And the most beautiful thing about all that she does for him is that ultimately it is not about him, but about You. For she loves You so much that she loves him so much.
Not only would she change his life forever, but she would change the lives of two little girls and one little boy forever. For she would become the most amazing mother to them. She would sacrifice for them and love them more than they could ever imagine.
The world did not know what kindness and grace you were showing to so many people on that day thirty-two years ago today. It went unnoticed. But, oh Lord, now today there is no way that it can go unnoticed. For she has forever changed that man and those three little one's lives. And so, Lord, on this her birthday, on the day when she receives gifts from those who love her, there is no way to not notice the great gift you have given to us in her.And so, Lord, on this day, I thank you for that little girl, who has now grown up to be the most amazing woman, wife, mother imaginable. Lord, on THIS day, I thank you for that little girl now all grown up, my wife, Holly Hinton Blinson. I love you Lord and thank you for your kindness of allowing me to love her and to be loved by her. Give her this day the desires of her heart!
He describes it as the following:
This is what I call 'the moment of the upturned face.' I noticed it each time I take my place at my pulpit--that wonderful and awful moment when the people look up at me with anticipation. It is wonderful because the people are telling me that they are ready to listen to God's message for the hour. It is awful because it makes me conscious of my enormous responsibility.
There toward the back is the face of that one who often attends but does not yet know Christ and , immediately in front of him, the face of that one who is grieving over the loss of a loved one. Over there is the face of that teenager who is trying to determine what really matters. Halfway back on my right is the face of that person who has never been to church before but has come just this one time to see what it is all about. And there in front is that faithful member who is trying to find strength to go on.
All week long these people have heard what the myriad voices of our society have to say. Now they have come to church to find out what God says. I stand there with them looking at me and I tremble as I realize that I stand between heaven and earth. I breathe a prayer for God to help me and I begin. With God's help, the sermon takes life and those faces continue to be upturned. Some begin to nod in agreement and some begin to shine. And, as I leave my pulpit, I am aware that this was God's message and His moment. I know these people have heard from heaven, and I thank God that He made me a preacher.
Thank you, Lord.
The message of the cross is going to sound like nonsense to the people around us. It's going to make us Christians sound like fools, and it most certainly is going to undermine our attempts to 'relate' to non-Christians and prove to them that we're just as cool and harmless as the next guy. Christians can always get the world to think they are cool--right up to the moment they start talking about being saved by a crucified man. And that's where coolness evaporates, no matter how carefully you've cultivated it.
Even so, Scripture makes it clear that the cross must remain at the center of the gospel. We cannot move it to the side, and we cannot replace it with any other truth as the heart, center, and fountainhead of the good news. To do so is to present the world with something that is not saving, and that is therefore not good news at all.
In addressing this concern of a "boring pastor" Brauns writes,
You cannot make it your central goal to call a pastor who will not bore you. The people in your community are drowning. They don't need someone to row out beside them and entertain them. They need the life preserver of God's Word. The people in your pews face great trials today and will in the days to come. Their most desperate need in life, even more important than whether or not they have a warm bed and food, is to hear from God. Whatever you do as a search committee, you must call a pastor who will preach the Word.
Towards the end of the book, he gives a helpful new definition to "Extraordinary."
I want to redefine extraordinary. I don't think that it's wrong for church planters and church revitalizers to long for an extraordinary ministry. After all, we serve and extraordinary God who has procured an extraordinary salvation by extraordinary means. We should expect extraordinary things to happen when we serve Him. Yet we need to come to grips with the fact that the extraordinary things that God does may not be immediately and outwardly extraordinary in the eyes of other people.
What should we count as God's extraordinary work? It's not a stadium-sized building, a multi-million dollar budget, or satellite feeds to multiple venues. That's how the world measures and achieves extraordinary. Rather, it's extraordinary when God converts our neighbors, coworkers, children, friends, and family. It's extraordinary when proud, angry, selfish people have their hearts changed by the gospel. It's extraordinary when new churches selflessly invest their time, money, and prayers to establish and multiply even newer congregations. It's extraordinary when marriages are restored and cultural prejudices give way to unity in the gospel of Christ. It's extraordinary whenever God uses 'normal' pastors and church planters, faithful men with ordinary gifts and talents, to do all this work.
There is something special about the hard, time-sensitive labor that is preparing to preach God’s Word in a few days. It feeds and nourishes our own soul in a way that moves us to preach powerfully what we have found through intense study and prayer. I recently had a young man say to me, “I love to preach, but I hate to prepare.” This could have been his way of saying the labor to prepare is hard…because it is. Yet, there is a legitimate risk in the heart of every preacher to “love to preach, but hate to prepare.”
Dear brothers and fellow pastors, yes, the labor is hard. It is intense. It must be done in less than 6 days regardless what has happened to you in the week. Yet, we must see our preparation as a gift from God. It is the time where we study with an intensity that nothing else can produce. Through that study our hearts and mind are pricked, challenged, fed, broken, instructed, shepherded, and molded by God Himself through His Word to make us who God wants us to be when we stand before our people to preach His Word.