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A Well Plowed Field

I finished Al Mohler’s book on leadership, The Conviction to Lead today.  Overall a good book, nothing earth-shattering but helpful in that he has a way of stating things bluntly and clearly.  If you want to lead then you need to accept certain realities that will be yours.  My take away was this, lead or don’t lead, just don’t do it half way.

As I was finishing the book today I came across a great illustration on page 192 relating a time he, as a young minister, was able to attend First Baptist Church in Dallas where Dr. W. A. Criswell pastored.  At this point in time Criswell was eighty years old and still the senior pastor of the church.  Mohler then writes:

Criswell had become pastor at First Baptist Church in 1944, following the death of the legendary George W. Truett.  When I sat in the sanctuary on that day, Criswell had already been pastor there for over forty years.  At the conclusion of the service, Dr. Criswell stood before the congregation and welcomed new members who had recently been baptized.  One of them was a boy who was about twelve or thirteen years old.  Criswell warmly embraced him and then faced the congregation and asked the boy’s parents and paternal grandparents to come forward and stand with the boy.  The Criswell said something amazing.  He introduced the boy’s father, saying, “I baptized him many years ago.”  Then he introduced the grandfather and said, “And I baptized him even years before that.”

Mohler went on to observe that almost everyone at that church had only known one pastor.  That is something very unique in most churches and it is something that I would love to see change.  I had the privilege of sitting under the teaching and care of John MacArthur for ten years.  He is still at his church and in his forty-fourth year.  I too can testify to the value of having a man who stays in a pulpit for his life and plows the Word of God deep into the hearts and generations of God’s people.

I am into my sixteenth year as the pastor of my church and if the Lord is pleased it is where I will live out my days.  Already I have had the joy of marrying people who were young children when I first came and now I watch them raise their own children.  It is with great anticipation that I will have the pleasure of baptizing, teaching and ministering to those little ones as they continue with the church and they come to a saving trust in Jesus.

My closing thought is simply that pastors, and churches, need to give careful thought as to the value of having a qualified and committed man in the pulpit.  To take a long view that spans generations.  To remember that it is not “their” church; rather, it is God’s, for He purchased them with His own blood.

You Follow Me!

In the final chapter of the Gospel of John Jesus says to Peter that he is going to die in a very specific way.  Here is how it is written: “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.’ Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.” (John 21:18-19b NAS)

Peter, being Peter looks over at John and asks what is going to happen to him?  Jesus basically says, “if I want him to live forever what do you care?”  Then He says very forcefully, “You follow Me!” Jesus was not going to give into the idle curiosities of Peter nor should He.

This is a good passage to chew on for young men and women who seek the discipleship of older men and women in the church.  If you are discipled by a person who has others he is discipling there becomes a great temptation to wonder what is going on in their lives and interactions.  But frankly, it is not any of your business unless the one discipling you chooses to tell you.

This was a lesson I had to learn when I was younger and it is a lesson many others need to learn as well.  There is something in our nature to cause us to consistently croon our necks around trying to see if what the other guy is getting is the same as what we are getting.  How much time, what kind of conversations, books being read, opportunities offered, etc.  But behind all of this is envy and the fear of being left out.

If you desire to be discipled you need to be ready to follow, that is the essence of discipleship.  It means you stop worrying about what anyone else is doing and just be busy with what you are to be doing, reading, practicing, and hearing.

Deciding Debt Was Not An Option

The rich rules over the poor,
And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.
Proverbs 22:7

I am only recently becoming aware of how prevalent the use of school loans for college are in our country.  I meet more and more young people with tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt that simply drags them down and hinders their ability to flourish in life.  As a Christian I see it as another way our enemy seeks to put fetters upon the people of God, limiting their ability to be generous toward the Kingdom of God.  I find that money is the primary issue alongside pornography that requires counsel and it is also what receives the most push back when biblical options are considered.

Strangely enough debt can be resolved relatively easily if the person is willing to attack it like any other problem–with no mercy.  If the person believes that God wants them to still have a newer car, a nice apartment, internet and a smartphone then there is little that will be done.  But once one makes the critical turn in thinking and relieves himself of these hindrances then much can be accomplished.

Take Ken Ilgunas as an example.  Finished his undergraduate degree with no job options and a 32,000 debt.  What to do?  Go into more debt and get an advanced degree?  Go camp out at some 99% protest group and claim victimhood?  Just default and assume that his debt would be lost in the shuffle of all the others who walk away from their responsibilities?  Nope, he made an adult’s decision and carried it out.

First he got a job up in Alaska where the good money is.  His job paid 9.00 an hour and by living carefully paid off over 18,000 of the debt.  Then he got a better job and paid off the rest of the debt in another 2 1/2 years.  When he decided to return for an advanced degree he refused to go back into debt and that is where the story gets very interesting.  I won’t ruin it here, just read the whole thing for yourself, it is worth it.

I saw a man who made a mistake and learned from it.  I saw a man who was willing to make sacrifices for the purpose of a greater goal.  And I saw a man who achieved that goal with no regrets (except maybe identifying the school so that they now make what he did against the rules).

At my old church when someone came into for debt counseling the first thing the counselor would do after sizing up the problem was make them cut their credit cards up and write letters to all the companies canceling their account.  Often he recommended they sell their newer cars and buy older ones.  If they owned a home and they were in bad debt then they should sell the home and downsize.  No more eating out, no more vacations, no more cable TV and no more internet until the debt was paid.  Those who bought into it were helped by the church short term and they all were shocked at how quickly they caught things up.  Those who gave push back ended up losing most of those things anyhow but with a reputation now of being unfaithful in word and deed.

What about you?  Would you give up most of the comforts you enjoy for the purpose of removing debt off of your back?  Would you refuse to enter college without having saved the first year’s tuition?  Are you willing to work full time if necessary so as to pay for school as you go?  Just stuff to think about.

Faithful Living vs Faithful Moment in Parenting

Actually, what I will write here applies to just about anything, but parenting is the topic on my mind so parenting is what you get.

The challenge of a parent is to have faith.  What you have when you get a baby is just that, a baby.  Not fully formed, not mature, and not wise.  And your task, if you are a Christian parent, is to raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  In other words, raise them in the awareness of who they are before their Creator, who they are before the Savior, and who they are in relation to the world.

But you must teach, discipline, and tickle with faith for you do not see yet what your child shall be.  You keep before you the promises of God and you trust His ways are wise and right.  And then you wake up each day and faithfully move forward.  Forward through each little crisis and each big one.  Forward through the highs and the lows that accompany every parent.  And when you do this you are cultivating faithfulness.

Here are two mistakes I often see with younger parents:  The first is they beat themselves up over a moment of unfaithfulness with regard to parenting, though their overall direction is faithfulness in their duties as parents.  The second is worse, it is triumphing and focusing on a moment of faithfulness and ignoring the pattern of unfaithfulness in their duties as parents.

Moments of unfaithfulness will not destroy the deep furrows of faithful parenting.  Instead they just remind you that you are a sinner saved by grace and you need to remember to show that grace to your less experienced sinner (the child).

However, it is easy for parents to fool themselves into thinking that because they were proper and faithful once this last week that somehow that undoes the month of consistent unfaithfulness that has also been present in the home.  This is folly.

A Brief Word about Parenting

My church is putting on a parenting class for the many young families that attend.  In that class a broad foundation of instruction and wisdom is to be laid for each of the families, helping them chart a way forward in a world filled with opinions, mostly idiotic. Good stuff, sound material, excellent teachers all should provide much help and encouragement for all who come.

However, and yes, there always seems to be a ‘however’, none of it will do any good if one simple attitude does not take hold in the minds of the parents to the point of action.  It is the attitude of faithfulness.  Taking this class will do nothing for the family if there is not a commitment to faithfully applying what is learned.

Obvious statement I know, but I am no dummy.  I have well over a decade of watching as pastor, and well over two decades watching as a father, family after family start well and end horridly.  They wring their hands with sorrow, wondering what happened, when the answer is simply that they took their eyes off of the prize and wandered far from faithfulness.

One of the first aspects of faithfulness will be consistency.  Let’s pretend you do not believe in spanking, so you decide “time-outs” are the best course of action.  Fine.  But will you be consistent?  Every time?  Always.  With every child?  Even is she is looking really pitiful and sorry?  Or will you instruct your child that if Mommy is tired then the child can get away with 20% more mischief.  And if Mommy and Daddy are arguing then there is a 50% increase in mischief as the child manipulates guilt.

I listen a lot to parents.  And I hear them often say, “That is a great idea!  I have to try that!”  And I raise my eyebrows slightly and I think to myself, “Like the last fifteen things you said you had to try?  None of which you are doing now?”  Then I watch the boring parents.  They don’t have clever devices like “friendship bracelets” which are essentially handcuffs to force the kids to make up and get along.  Instead they are simply consistent.  The how of the discipline is less important that the faithfulness behind it.  Fair, clear boundaries are set and the children learn to flourish within those boundaries.  And if they choose to violate those boundaries (e.g. be disrespectful to a parent, not obey a proper command, act in a hurtful manner toward a sibling, etc.) the consequences are consistently and quickly brought to bear.

As a pastor and Christian, there are many biblical principles that must be taught.  But if the parents learning have no real intention of getting their butts off of the couch when a child needs training then none of it matters.  So my free, cheap advice to parents is stop making excuses as to why you will not train your children or stop having babies.  For the Christian there is the reality that we are to give an account for our children, so let’s act like we do live under the Lordship of Jesus.  And finally, never use the gospel, or grace, as an excuse to sin as an unfaithful parent, Romans 6 won’t let you.
**Updated, fixed a few errors in the text.

Thoughts for This Sunday

I have been recuperating for the last few days after a stay in the hospital.  The specifics are not important, those who know, know and those who don’t know, don’t need to know.  But today is Sunday, it is almost 9 am and I am preparing to dress and leave for my church.

Not “mine” in the sense that I own it or created it of course, but in the sense that it is the local manifestation of Christ’s body which I have oversight.  No blood of mine redeemed her.  Even if I were to shed the fulness of the blood within, it would change nothing.  But it is still mine as an under shepherd knows that the sheep of his master are his to care and to protect.

So what is this bit of rambling about?  Who knows.  I have many emotions flowing around going to church.  I am actually nervous, and I don’t get nervous.  I have a desire to draw away and use the excuse of the hospital to not go.  The basis for this thinking is nothing more than the sound of crickets.  It is just emotion and not my affections.

Affections are deeper.  They are borne out of conviction and covenant; where a person has made certain decisions and has also decided that he shall be firm in those decisions.  Affections are beautiful and glorious because they remind us of Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross.  Who came never to do his will but the will of his Father.  See, those are affections driving him forward and upward to the calling of his Father.  Emotions exist, but they are then left behind in the garden among the sweat and agony.

My affections drive me to church.  They drive me to go and smile to those I love and have given my heart to.  They prompt me to hug a couple of the older ladies and to kiss them on their forehead. My calling is to follow my Lord.  Not really a hard thing in many ways.  I ask, “What am I to be doing?” The Word supplies my answer and then it is merely an issue of faithfulness and obedience.

I am called to bring and to preach the Word, but today it will be preached to me.  So I will submit myself to it and the teacher.  I am called to shepherd the flock, but I suspect that mostly I will just be shepherded by the sheep.  And I will submit to it.  I am call to be an example to follow and that I can still do.  I can show all the love for the Body.  I can show how to come with a heart to serve and and desire to bless.  I can still pray with my brothers and sisters, and fully intend to.  I can still sing my heart out to my Triune God and hear my friends around me sing as well.  And that is what my affections, not my emotions, drive me to do.

So if you will excuse me, I have to figure out what clothes I am going to wear and do a bit of shaving.  I am going to church in a bit.

What I Try To Do Every Week

I came across a blog post by a pastor who does a wonderful job of succinctly describing what I try to do each week when I preach.  I believe in expositional preaching but sadly that term is seen as a pox by many in the church.  This is due to pastors who don’t really understand what expositional preaching is, they are not really gifted as preachers, or they confuse exegesis, which is very dry, with exposition, which brings out the meaning and purpose of the Word to the people.

Here is part of his post:

We are called to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). To do so, we must take the text seriously in our preaching.

What do I mean?

  • Do not try to preach a text without doing your homework.
  • Do not call a text and then ignore it.
  • Do not spend all your time in the introduction and then rush through the text.
  • Do not use the text as a springboard for your own ideas.
  • Do not rip the text from its context to make it say what your want it to say.
  • Do not play with Greek and Hebrew words to say something novel.
  • Do not neglect the authorial intent of the text.
  • Do not major on what the text makes minor, or visa versa.
  • Do not impose meaning on the text that the author did not intend.
  • Do not treat your creative ideas as if they are more important than the dominating theme of the text.
  • Do not play on words or phrases in the text as a disconnected hook.
  • Do not use the text to manipulate emotions.
  • Do not rob the text of its punch to ensure you can whoop at the end.

Paul’s preaching instructions to Timothy are clear, simple, and applicable to those of us who have the sacred duty to preach and teach:

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. – 1 Timothy 4:13

I am convinced t that good, proper exposition of God’s Word is the best way over time to build up a body of believers into maturity. The reason is simple, expositional preaching is going word by word, verse by verse, and chapter by chapter through a book of the bible.  What this does is force the pastor and the church to address difficult subjects.  It gives opportunity for the church to see the many subtle aspects that any given doctrine  possesses.  It covers all of the doctrines of the faith over time.  And it prevents the pastor from preaching only on what he likes.

I have three young men preparing for the ministry in one way or another.  Currently two of them and one of my elders are in a preaching class in a nearby seminary.  The pleasure I have as I watch them prepare their very first expositional preaching outline is hard to describe.  My desire is great to see them open the Word, preach it with a clear conscience and then trust that the Spirit will accomplish His will upon the hearts of the people.

Some Thoughts on 2 Timothy 1:3-5

I have just started into this little book, one I had much anticipation from which to preach.  I leave for a trip to Ireland with my wife due to a gracious gift from our church of fifteen years so this Sunday I will not be in the pulpit.  However, when I arrive back I will have little time to prepare a sermon so I am doing the hard work of exegesis now.

I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day,longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy.For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. (2 Timothy 1:3-5)

Like so many passages by Paul this is deceptively full and rather complex.  It is all one sentence in the Greek and the structure is rather complex.  Essentially Paul’s primary statement is, “I thank God because I remember your sincere faith.”  Everything else though helps paint a picture that introduces the entire book and serves as a way to prepare Timothy to remember who he is in Jesus Christ and what he is called to be.  The following is a few of my preparatory notes trying to sum up the exegesis:

This section is one of those places where the Apostle lays the ground work for much of what follows in the letter.  It is serious yet gentle.  It show loves and yet no compromising with the faith once delivered to God’s people.  It shows honest transparency and need that is refreshing.  And it shows a foundation of deep, God-centered theology from which it is written.  A dying man to the next man in line to live and to die for Jesus Christ. How can you not have tears and conviction?

A Prayer of Intercession

My Father,
     hear my prayer.
 
My Father,
     I come through Jesus,
          my Redeemer,
          my Priest,
          my Righteousness,
          my Elder Brother,
          my Shepherd,
          and my Savior.
 
My Father,
     hear my prayer.
          I watch a friend walk on the edge of
               unbelief,
               hopelessness,
               bitterness,
               despair,
               and faithlessness.
 
My Father,
     he does not see Jesus rightly,
     he has lost his way
     and as a result he is wandering away
          from the faith once delivered to the Church;
          from those who love him and seek his good;
          from those who yearn to see him rest in the Gospel.
 
My Father,
     I know that people must walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
     I know that people must be threshed at times by Satan.
     I know that people must fall into diverse trials and troubles.
          But
     I also know that you are faithful to save.
     And that is what I am asking you to do.
 
My Father,
     Send your Spirit to this man,
          to revive a heart that is flagging,
          to lift up the countenance that has fallen,
          and to strengthen that which has weakened;
               That
     he might see that the sins that condemn him are on Jesus
 
My Father,
     I don’t really even know how to pray this
          so this will have to do.

Amen.

When An Ordinary Pastor Dies

I finished reading Memoirs of An Ordinary Pastor a week ago and decided to give one more post to it.  In our celebrity pastor-crazed church society this is the kind of little book that comes as a wonderful glass of cold water on a hot, summer’s day. Well, Tom Carson went the way of every man, he died and he did it alone, sort of.  Here is how Dr. Carson relates his final thoughts on his father’s passing:

When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation.  In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside.  There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.

But on the other side all the trumpets sounded.  Dad won entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man–he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor–but because he was a forgiven man.  And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, “We done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.”

There is the ever present threat to think more highly of myself than I ought, those two paragraphs help ground me yet again in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ alone.

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