“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

It is Well

Our church is going through a difficult time right now. It is not that we are having problems, but one of our people is very, very ill. At a church of our size, that seems to hit harder. But, I just wanted to post the lyrics to Horatio Spafford's hymn, 'It is Well'.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed his own blood for my soul.

It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.


Text: Horatio G. Spafford
Music: Philip P. Bliss

We love you Peggy!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Example II


In the last post I spoke of being an example to the congregation in our dealing with the things relating to others. In this post I would like to think about what type of example we are as it relates to God.

There has been much argument, discussion, and posturing on the topics of dress, language and attitude behind the pulpit. And I have posted several times to state my disagreement with pastors who feel that gutter language, sloppy dress and casual attitudes somehow make them 'relevant'.

I am not a prude, believing that somehow we return to the glorious 'yesteryear' of society, having preachers in full suits, and everyone putting on a front at church. At our church, I don't wear a suit to preach, and I don't speak King James English. But, I try to be an example to the people who attend as regards God.

I wear clothes that are not:

(1) Distracting - For example, T-shirts with all sorts of stupid phrases non them.

(2) Sloppy/torn/dirty

(3) Age/Position Inappropriate - I am not eighteen, why would I dress that way?

Now - you may be saying, "That's fine for you, but you don't understand the make-up of our congregation". Well, you do not know the make-up of ours. We have bikers, semi-homeless, poor, handicapped, 'regular-joes', older people (the oldest is 75), younger people, and everything in between. We meet in a strip mall, between a country and western bar, and a Mexican restaurant.

Now, this is not about clothing -- that is the mistake made when discussing this subject. No, this is about attitude, and example. I find it interesting that when a 'pastor' goes out for a job interview, (this may not be universally true, but in my experience I have seen it), he will wear a suit, but the minute he gets into the pulpit, after having secured the job, he is dressed in cutoffs and a stupid T-shirt.

What statement does that make? Well, that he will wear a suit in order to impress the men who hold the keys to a position in the church, but when it comes to standing before God, whatever he pulls out is fine. Again, this is not about clothing. We could make this observation about clothing, language, actions etc.

What example we are setting when we act like a fool behind the pulpit? Are we not denigrating the Holiness and Transcendence of God? Are we not treating Him like just another person? Why is it that a pastor will act appropriately when interviewing, or being honored at an event, but then he will turn around and act foolishly when standing before God?

Pastors need to reread Isaiah 6, or Revelation 1. These men, when confronted by a Holy, Transcendent God were on their faces before Him. This is about something far greater than language or clothing, it is about (as Aretha says) R-E-S-P-E-C-T! When we disrespect God in our actions, we teach our people to be cavalier in their relationship with God. There is nothing special about teaching people to be casual in their approach to God -- the entire world does that, there is something that sets Christians apart as pertains to their approach to God! It is done with respect, and a holy awe that recognizes God's holiness.

Some would say " I am the way I am all the time, I have sown God into my life", and hence they say that they are more 'real' than the 'phony' pastors (who, by the way, are any pastors that disagree with them). I would say, rather than sowing God into our life, we are called to sow our lives into God. This will cause a change, we will approach the pulpit in an altogether different way. We will revere the Word of God, and actually use it for more than a jumping off point. We will honor the sacred desk, not dressing to be distracting or cool, but to be unnoticed as we read the word. We will keep in mind that we are to refrain from filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking [Ephesians 5], and keep our discussion to God and His Word.

When we do anything different, we are being examples to the congregation -- sadly, we are being bad ones! Let us, as pastors, return to the role that we have been called, if in fact you have been called, and leave behind the entertainment, cult-personality driven attitudes that have so enfeebled many a pulpit.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Example



Let's look at 1st Timothy 4:12 again ... set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity..

We, as pastors are called to be examples; this requires that we are diligent in controlling our words and actions!

Many pastors (and I am not exempt from this), intentionally or unintentionally, create a congregation that is bound together, not by their love of Christ and the brethren, but by their common hatred. The attitudes and preferences of the pastor are often appropriated by their congregation - especially by those who are newer believers. And, being fallen men, we pastors often perpetuate our own biases amongst those that we are called to care for.

We are called to proclaim the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, practice church discipline in a Biblical manner, and be pastors over God's flock that He has entrusted to us. We are NOT called to force people to vote for the correct political party, protest the world's events in a manner unworthy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, hate the brethren, or the myriad other things that the modern Western church has become mired in.

Should we teach our people what the Bible has to say about the things of this world? Absolutely -- we are called to teach God's Word; but we are not called to inflame the passions of our people in order to get them to rally around 'our' cause; unless, of course, it is Christ's cause!

I have seen many well-meaning and naive people carrying signs full of invectives against people who disagree with them. Sadly they will often quote Scripture -- Scripture that they themselves do not adhere to! And so many times, at the head of the pack is the pastor -- rallying his troops, shouting in a megaphone, and spewing hatred everywhere.This man creates a following; not of Jesus Christ, but of his own hatred and fear!

Are there things we can, and even should protest? Sure, there are, and we have a right to do so -- we should desire to change our society to be more reflective of Christ. But there is a way to do that, and it is not through hatred and violence.

O, that we were governed by the Biblical convictions that we want to force others live by! We should be praying that when the lost witness our example and hear the gospel clearly proclaimed, that they will be drawn to Jesus Christ, not that our side will 'win'.

Let us be firm in the truths of Jesus' deity, the inerrancy of the Bible, the truth claims of salvation by faith alone, through grace alone to the glory of God alone, but let us not do drive-by ad hominem attacks on others within the faith who believe differently on the spiritual gifts, baptism, eschatology, or any of the other usual suspects. This type of leadership teaches our people to be suspicious of others who are in the faith. We should clearly articulate what we believe to be true, but it should never be done in a way that demeans other Christians.

Also, let us be clear about the situation with the world. They are lost; we are called to be in the world, but not of it, holding up Jesus Christ and His gospel in such a manner that some will be drawn to Jesus. There will always be those who are repelled by the gospel, but let us not repel everyone by hateful invective.

I realize that some of my posts do not follow this advice, and I must admit that I have work to do in this area. I do not want to create hateful people within my congregation. While I do not apologize for pointing out inconsistencies within the Body of Christ, nor do I mind exposing false teaching, I must be careful not to participate in character assassination, or ad hominem attacks that are poorly thought-out.

Let us, as Pastors, ensure that our words and deeds are reflective of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Care?



I am always amazed when I read of pastors from days past, and how they cared for their people. They truly gave themselves for their congregation -- for instance, Adolphe Monod the famous Swiss/French protestant, preached from his sick bed for nine months before succumbing to liver cancer. These months are considered by many to be the most fruitful of his ministry.

And what of the many pastors in persecuted lands that lay it all on the line every week to open the Word of God to their congregants. They face imprisonment, exile, or death, and yet they continue week in, week out.

That makes this all the more odious. Yes, I did listen to the rest of the sermon, and I understand that this is but a small part of it. But I also know that what this man understands about the role of a pastor is badly mistaken. The number of times he says "I don't care" as regards the feelings of his congregation is ridiculous.

While this person may be the most wonderful orator in the world, he is not a pastor; a true pastor would NEVER say these things about their congregation. It is an HONOR to not only open God's Word and speak to people that the Father has entrusted to you, but care for their needs.

And it is not only this person, but there are many others that I could mention, this just happens to be one of the latest. Sadly, pastors today seem to be much more concerned with their image than their people. I would pray that this person has rethought his comments, and has been convicted about these statements. However, from his site, and the comments there, it seems that he has blithely moved on.

I do not want to make this about one person, and a few minutes of a sermon, this just illustrates something that is pandemic across the USA: the lack of concern or care for the people that are under our care.

What does the Bible say about a pastor -- Well, how about this? 1st Timothy 4:12 -- ... set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

This is something we can all can improve on! I am in no way saying that the man linked above is the only one that needs to do that, but he, like the rest of us, needs to put this in the forefront of his mind. We must be EXAMPLES to our congregations. And saying that we have no time for them is not a good example! Our entire lives are our ministry, not just Sunday mornings and evenings!

And if we are to be examples, then are we not to put others before ourselves ? I understand that ministry is difficult, and a time-consuming beast, but if we have been truly CALLED to ministry, then the Lord will provide us with strength. And yes, there are times when it wears us to a nub, and we simply need a break. I know a wonderful man of God who had to take six months or so off, he just worked himself to a breaking point (he also has a 'mega-church'), but this is the exception, and not the rule (unlike the comments of the man in the video, not all pastors burn out in two years. I know MANY pastors, and most of them have been serving their congregations for 5+ years with no thoughts about leaving).

And, just so that we all understand -- while you will not get to heaven by knowing the pastor, there are places in the Scriptures where it is said that we (pastors) are to give it all up so that people will come to know Christ -- 2nd Timothy 2:10 -- Therefore I [Paul] endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

Giving it all up may mean that we actually have to (gasp) MINGLE with our congregation, and yes, even eat food that we do not like! I know that this may seem like a lot to sacrifice for the people, but I guess I will struggle through it!

Just read the opening chapter of Colossians, and tell me -- what is the heart of a pastor supposed to fixed on? Paul suffered so much for the church, and yet, he considered it a minor thing -- we (and I am guilty as well as anyone else) consider it 'suffering' if we have to take time with our congregation? BTW, lunch with the congregation is the very time when I am able to minister one-on-one with some of the people within the community of believers at our church -- I have been able to work through some fairly thorny issues whilst sitting at lunch with a confused, or concerned member.

And lest you think that I am just throwing these thoughts out without understanding the situation -- I will tell you that I am a bi-vocational pastor, working 40+ hours/week at a secular job and functioning as pastor at my local congregation. I understand what it is like to harried and busy -- but we should never let this interfere with the needs that are placed before us.

Pastoring is much more than preaching -- it involves the love, care, concern and guidance of the flock that God has placed under your care. If you are unable, or unwilling to do that, then please do not call yourself a pastor; regardless of your abilities as an orator, you are not a pastor -- do not insult the people by telling them that they are stupid if they think you are going to make time for their needs -- as you are too busy tending to your own!

I have nothing personal against the person that I used as an example today -- I probably fail in many of the same areas, but I would pray that we, as pastors, would get back to the business of pastoring, and let the other things that seem to consume us simply slide off into the trash where they belong. The people of God need, and deserve, a caring concerned shepherd. Let us all be that person in the lives of our congregations!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Feed?

dead sheep - squeletton

The first post in this series will concern itself with the feed that is provided by the shepherd. Feed is important to all living things; and in this case, the better the feed, the healthier, and more capable of survival the sheep. And yet... When we look at what passes for feed in this modern day we see a shocking dearth of decent feed.

The flock today is being fed with junk food which does nothing but put on spiritual fat and make them lazy. Junk food satisfies the immediate craving, but contains few nutrients, and a steady diet leads one to disease and obesity.

In a world where everything is being questioned, from the authority of the Scriptures to the deity of Christ, do people REALLY need 'sermons' (I hesitate to even honor these talks with that title), on sex? Do they really need more information on the import of marriage partners to be sexually intimate with one another? I think not.

But, this certainly brings in some free publicity and will pack the church with people. Heck, if you play your cards right, you will even be invited to the Colbert Show.

But is this what the people of God need? Is this the proper subject for a Sunday Morning Sermon Series; the time when God's people come together to worship Him, the time which should be devoted to God and Him alone?

And, I am not simply singling out this series -- the list of sermon series that have been taught in the church lately are abysmal. I won't do them honor by posting them on this blog. But, the same pastor I mentioned above had a recent sermon series introduced by Hulk Hogan!! And then you have the amazing plagiarism which takes poor, unscriptural sermons and spreads them out amongst all the churches who slavishly follow the 'big guys'.

What people need today is solid, Biblical exposition -- sadly, most people in the church today are Biblically illiterate, but culturally 'relevant' (whatever that may mean to them). Cultural relevance, the way it is displayed in some churches, is meaningless when one gets the big diagnosis, or loses their family or job, or both.

Frankly, 'cultural relevance' is a trojan horse used to hide the lazy, unbiblical self-absorbed rantings of many who want the title of pastor. This form of 'relevance' is foisted upon the church today; yet there is nothing actually culturally relevant about using gutter talk behind the pulpit, or dressing like a fourteen-year-old, or telling people off from behind the pulpit. Rather, these are all symptoms of an increasing narcissism that is infecting the so-called pastors of many churches. Their brand of cultural relevance is nothing more than grass that will wither and dry up. In a few years they will be passe.

Matthew 24:35 -- Heaven and earth will pass away, but my [Jesus']words will not pass away.

Isaiah 40:8 -- The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

The promises of God have carried the people of God through several millenia of persecution, pain and death. That is cultural relevance! The culturally relevant silliness of today cannot even carry one through the week. Let us get back to preaching and teaching the Word of God -- and let us throw out the false shepherds who are doing nothing but fleecing the flock, being so greedy as to even break open their hooves and eat the flesh found within!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

What is a Pastor?

Is it me, or is there a disturbing trend oozing from within the ranks of those calling themselves pastors?

This trend runs the gamut from the well-known and popular pastor who tells his congregation that he does not have time to care for, and watch over them (he is too busy running the church, and visiting with his family), to the usual lunacy of people such as Benny Hinn and those of his ilk.

It would seem that, in the modern age, anyone can take on the title of 'Pastor' without really taking on the role.

The role of pastor is something that is misunderstood, or worse, ignored by many within Christendom today.

However, before I start this series of posts, I wanted to repost an old entry that will set the bar for my own abilities as a pastor.

I am aware that I am sub-par in many areas of pastoring, and I would appreciate your prayers, helping my growth in these areas. However, I feel that I have a basic grasp of the role, and therefore, I feel that a short series on the role of the pastor may be of service to someone (quite possibly, me!)

So, with that brief introduction, let me repost this entry:

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Pastor?

For Pastor Appreciation Month, my wife and I were given a gift certificate for a local B&B. I will soon take her to the B&B and we will enjoy our twentieth wedding anniversary. Thank you to my wonderful congregation!

That is not why I am posting today, but wanted to set the stage a bit. When I receive recognition during Pastor Appreciation Month, I truly wonder, did/do I really deserve recognition? I look into the faces of my congregation and ask myself,

a) "Have I done EVERYTHING I could do to ensure that my teaching is solid?"

b) "Have I paid proper attention to those hurting, or in need of counsel?"

c) "Have I recognized those unsung workers, who week in and week out, are there, teaching Sunday School, and giving of their time and finances?"

And I find often that the honest answer is less than stellar. I wish I had more time to devote to study (don't we all), and I wish that I was able to spend more time visiting, but truth is, I have a limited number of cycles, and the laws of physics works against me.

In Jewish circles, during the month of Elul (which this year took place around Pastor Appreciation Month), a time is spent in reviewing the past year, and making things right with others. Now there are many things in the concept of Elul which I disagree with, however one of the things that I appreciate about Elul (also called Teshuvah) is that it forces me to look over the past year and see how I have done.

Truth be told, I owe my congregation many apologies for sermons that should not have been preached, or preached with more clarity. I am not sure who Alistair Begg was quoting, but I have heard him say, "We should keep our old sermons to weep over". I heartily agree and have done so on many occasions.

When a pastor preaches a bad/poor sermon and it is recorded for posterity and broadcast on the radio, I try to be understanding; I shudder to think what my life would be like if all of my sermons were broadcast on the radio! Now, there are always exceptions, where a sermon is simply inexcusable, badly researched, or NOT the gospel. However, there are many sermons in which a faux pas is seized upon and blown into a major debate/critique, judging a pastor by one slip that he made.

I have heard sermons by men that I respect greatly, such as John MacArthur and Mark Dever, where I thought that they lacked a bit of grace, or maybe the sermon contained an agenda which I felt was not fully exegeted out of the Scripture. I do not fault these men for that, they are, after all, simply men. They have fed their flocks faithfully for many, many years, and an occasional sermon that misses a bit is going to happen (And besides, that is my opinion, after all).

Sorry, went off on a tangent for a minute -- Back to our discussion: Yes, we all preach sermons that we would like to take back.

Also, I sometimes struggle with counseling; our church is a bit unique in that we are truly an outreach church, working with people who have had some very tough lives, some RIGHT off the street. Sometimes the questions these folks ask fall outside of the counseling techniques and guidance that I learned. I always pray before, during and after counseling sessions, desiring for the Word of the Lord to reign supreme in the session. I must admit that I sometimes miss on this. As emotions raise and discussions get more heated, or emotional (on the side of the counselee, usually), I find myself, at times, desiring to comfort when confronting is what is called for, or vice-versa.

And how do you thank people who are so giving of their time? We are a completely volunteer church, not having any paid staff, and I am always amazed at the work that the people in this congregation will do for ministries. We hold a Passover Seder every year to explain and illustrate the Messiah in the Feast, and the people in the church work for weeks preparing; we will have more people attend the Seder than we have in the church (usually by about double!)

These are examples of what I think about as they recognize me during Pastor Appreciation Month. I know that the Scriptures say that elders are worthy of double honor, but Paul puts a qualifier in the passage that says, "Let elders who RULE WELL be considered worthy of double honor..." And I always wonder: Am I ruling well?

While many, many pastors know, and quote, the 1st Timothy Scripture above, we need to go back and look over what qualifies as 'ruling well'.

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Jeremiah 23:1, 2 - "Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!" declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: "You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD..."

Am I attending to my flock?

Ezekiel 34 - The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. "Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. "For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. "As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet? "Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken. "I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord GOD. And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord GOD."

Have I fed the flock with proper food? (Thanks be to God that we have a perfect Shepherd, and are simply the under-shepherds!)

2nd Timothy 2:15 - Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Have I done my homework? Am I rightly handing the Word of God?

James 3:1 - Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.


Let ME keep that in mind as I labor for the Lord this year!

I pray that this year I will be a more effective, and learned pastor than I was last year! I pray that my prayer life will improve and my handling of the Word will align with the proper handling Paul stresses to Timothy.

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