Friday, December 22, 2006
As Christmas approaches, I'm reminded of the distance in both time and space traveled over the past year. And I'm growing more reflective, which is mostly good.
Preparing to preach Genesis 1 and 2 this Sunday, Lord willing, I was prompted to take a peek at Mark Dever's The Message of the Old Testament. As I leafed through its pages, flashes of memory came and went. I could remember hearing this sermon or that point. But most of all, gratitude to God for allowing me the privilege of being a part (as hearer) of so momentous a work and such a wonderful fellowship filled my heart. When I was there, these were just a collection of great Sunday morning sermons, the fare to which we were treated and spoiled each Sunday morning, whether it was Mark or Michael or a guest preacher. With time and space, I recognize in these sermons a much greater treasure for the Church and I'm thankful to God for what He has done in and with them.
Time and space and reflection have made me more appreciative of my family and friends back in the states. Separated by an ocean and a plane ride (which really aren't that great a barrier in our day), I'm reminded that seeing them isn't as easy as jumping in the car. In phone calls, where I'm asked from time to time for counsel or prayer, I'm more deeply affected with the knowledge that their well-being totally depends on God who sustains all things. There are hurts I don't see, laughter I can't share, hopes realized and dashed that escape my notice. And in it all, I'm made more grateful to God for the family and friends he's given me. Five months time and a couple thousand miles of distance have me missing these great blessings of family and friends. And, I'm thankful for them all... old and new.
This is the first moment I've had to stop and contemplate what the Lord has done in bringing the family to Grand Cayman and the FBC family. I've thought a lot, but the pace of things hasn't allowed for deeper reflection. There's reflection ahead of me, I'm sure, as we enter the week of vacation beginning Monday. But, I'm deeply grateful--deeply grateful--for the people here. Such open love and care. Several women in the congregation have absolutely adopted my family as their own, investing vast amounts of time and interest in my daughters particularly. The way people have cared for us in the birth of Titus and in a 1,000 other ways is embarrassing in its tenderness and generosity. And I'm moved to tears even now with gratefulness to God. It's an incomparable joy and privilege to labor here as their pastor and to live together with them as a brother in Christ.
My mother is here visiting with us. Kristie's mother was here a few weeks back. As with each of our children, they've come to help out with the newborn routine. I simply wouldn't know where to begin in describing my love for my mother and mother-in-law, or in describing how thankful I am for the Lord's good providence in placing me in both these families. There isn't time and space enough for me to finish reflecting on the love, grace, tenderness, compassion, wisdom, joy, patience, steadfastness, beauty, faith and courage of these women. I am grateful to God for them.
My wife is a chip off the ol' block. Tender and courageous. Patient and bold. Witty and wise. Gorgeous and gracious. Full of life and laughter and light. Her children will rise up and call her blessed. And if there is any praise in the gates for this stubborn, cantankerous ol' dog, it's in no small part because of Kristie. Gratefulness is too shallow a word to describe how I feel toward God for Kristie. Babe, I love you with an everlasting love.
Afiya, Eden, and Titus. And then there were three! These are three extraordinary children. Courteous and kind. Full of giggles; even Titus is smiling quite a bit in these last couple of days. I am thankful for the humbling the Lord produces in me through them. I am thankful for the motions of grace I see in Afiya and Eden in particular. I am thankful for their contribution to our family and am excited to see what the Lord will make them to be. I am grateful. My reflection on who they are produces a certain urgency and yearning to see them walk with the Savior. I want them to be godly, Christ-following, pure ladies... exhibiting womanly grace, modesty, knowledge of Christ, maturity, faith, hope and love. Reflection becomes dreaming... and the prayer of faith becomes so urgently necessary.
Life is good. Eternal life is best. This morning, my longing for heaven is strong. It's not always so. But right now, I want to be with my Savior, to see Him face-to-face, to know Him as I am known, to rejoice with the company of heaven at the glories of our God and King! I want all the persons I know to be there with me... but I'm ready for eternity. Christ has purchased and our omnipotent God has vouchsafed a life without end for all who repent and believe on Him, a life wihtere there is joy and pleasure forevermore, where there is no more sun or moon because God himself lights that place, where God is the Temple, where "when we shall have been there 10,000 years" we will only have just begun to sing God's praises. In the quiet of space and time... today, and I pray it would be every day all the time, I want to see my Savior.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
I had no idea what I was buying, but I've not been the same since purchasing and reading these works. It was a tremendous expression of God's grace to lead me to these men and their work, to start my Christian life in this way. I am thankful, so thankful.
Having known what it is in my own life to believe a lie and to base my life on it, I'm something of a "heresy hunter." Now, by that term, I don't mean I'm the type that searches under every rock for any error however so small to slam the person and the idea with all my might. Neither am I angry and vengeful when it comes to error. But I am seriously concerned with it.
So, there's a certain amount of resonance that's set off in me any time I come across a passage in the Bible warning of false teachers... and there are a lot of such passages. But today I'm taken with Paul's warning not of false teachers "out there" but of the creeping effect of falsehood and laxity "inside" my own thinking and teaching. 1 Timothy 4:16 -- "Keep close watch... on the teaching."
In verses 1-5 Paul warned of such corruption in others who would fall for the deceiving doctrines of demons. There, he warned the young minister that some would turn away from the truth. In verse 16, he warns the young pastor of his own corruption in doctrine. "Keep close watch... on the teaching," on your own doctrine. It's a good charge to all who would be good pastors. How are we to watch our doctrine closely?
Some preliminary suggestions....
1. Make the Scripture central. A good pastor is a man of one book. He knows no higher science than theology, and no richer art than the study of Scripture. The holy Word of God occupies center stage in his thinking. He seeks to drink deeply from the Scripture, and hears Paul's admonition to "learn not to go beyond what is written" (1 Cor. 4:6).
2. Read and re-read good, old books. The old books are still the best books. I don't think that's temporal snobbery (at least I don't mean it to be), or a blanket slight of recent books. But the old books typically offer greater rigor, insight, and depth than most of what's published in our mass-market-oriented publishing industry.
3. Read bad books once in a while. Not regularly or exclusively, but on occasion, a good pastor reads a bad book. He may do this because many of his people are taken with interest in the book, or because the book is creating a stir in the larger church world. He may read such a book to know what the issues are, what's at stake, to better shepherd his people, or to sharpen his own apologetics ministry.
4. Read church history and historical theology. Most of the errors we'll ever see have already been made by someone before us. There's nothing new under the sun... including bad theology. A good pastor helps to innoculate himself from such errors by reading church history and hihstorical theology where these issues are chronicled, debated and resolved by godly men who have gone before us. Reading church history and historical theology is likely a regular part of a good pastor's reading diet.
5. Avoid novelty and fads. It seems that this is where most error starts, with a desire to say something new or innovative. The last place we want to be innovative is in doctrine. When a good pastor comes across something altogether new in his study and reading, he will be pressed with three questions at least: (1) Specifically how does this depart with accepted, established truths of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints? (2) What impact does this idea or doctrine have on other important doctrinal issues? (3) How does this impact the lives of people? Is this impact really worth the dangers or problems associated with the novel interpretation? Paul tells Timothy in verse 7 to avoid irreverent, silly myths; the good pastor will avoid these things as well.
6. Keep learning from solid teachers. What good pastor will ever stop learning? And who can master all there is to know from a Tom Schreiner, Al Mohler, R.C. Sproul, and all your other favorite teachers? A good pastor commits himself to continuing to strengthen his knowledge of the Savior and the faith, and he will make a specific plan for such learning. He may take a seminary course (on campus or online), listen by radio or online, attend good conferences, or join a study group, but he'll keep learning.
7. Be the first to sign the church's statement of faith. Give yourself to upholding and defending it as an accurate summary of the Bible's main teaching. And the moment you waiver in your commitment to an article in the statement, confess it to your fellow elders and leaders for accountability, correction, and discipline if necessary. Cheerfully accept the discipline of the church for serious error in teaching.
8. Develop an instinct for identifying doctrinal softness and drift. In most cases, a good pastor is going to be the "chief theological officer" in the body. Consequently, he'll need to be fairly astute at monitoring his own thoughts and being intellectually rigorous with himself. So a nose for identifying when he's being lazy or sloppy or indifferent theologically is critical. He has to fight against that tendency toward compromise. He must realize that he will not serve his people well if his tendency is to constantly surrender "small plots of theological ground" whenever the fear of man surfaces. He must discern whether people-pleasing tendencies are the habit of his heart and whether that weakens doctrinal resolve. He must know whether he tends to avoid conflict and whether that erodes his fidelity to the truth. He must know when and how pragmatism assumes control of his thinking such that he's tempted to leave off sound doctrine and choose a thing "because it works." He needs a honed instinct for spotting drift and softness in himself and a specific plan for overcoming it.
Here's a stark reality: Nearly every heresy or widespread doctrinal corruption in the church came while some pastor was on the job. He either introduced it or he allowed it into the body. And a significant number of such errors were developed by men who sought what was right in their own eyes and disregarded the great truths of Scripture and the godly wisdom of those gone before us.
Paul's exhortation is the most practical and critically important possible. The good pastor's close watch of his life and doctrine affects the spiritual well-being of his people. By keepig close watch of his life and doctrine, the good pastor "will save both himself and his hearers." May the Lord give us grace to be good and faithful ministers to His people.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
This is the text the Lord used to stir me at T4G. C.J.'s sermon was a wonderful exhortation to watch our lives as pastor and deserves repeated listening. In fact, you should probably stop reading this post and go ahead to the link and listen (or here to read).
C.J. makes the point that, especially among Reformed types, we're better at watching our doctrine than our lives. I think that's probably correct. But a good pastor wears bi-focals--he sees both his life and his doctrine.
And the two are connected. Right living will not impress Jesus if it's accompany by wrong doctrine, especially on the crucial matters. Right doctrine should lead to right living. It doesn't always do so, but that is evidence that we need our eyes on both. If I could make a sweeping generalization (very sweeping), this might be one shorthand way of distinguishing the primary concerns of historically African-American and White views of Christianity. My white brothers have been rightly concerned with right teaching while at times wholely inadequate in their concern for right living. My kinsmen according to the flesh have been rightly concerned with right living, especially with regard to social ethics and justice, while inadequate in their concern for right doctrine. We need both. And this is partly why I think these two streams of Christian tradition and thought need to be in more intimate conversation. But I digress....
A good pastor watches life and doctrine. He sees the connection and gets it. Some thoughts... nothing new. Just basic reminders.
1. A good pastor surrounds himself with A-quality men who help him in watching his life. Accountability is essential. And not just passive, reactionary "accountability," but searching, probing, initiative-taking accountability. We need people to ask us that tough question that we're avoiding in conversation, to pursue us rather than merely listen to us. We need others with an agenda for our holiness that is at times more zealous than our own agenda for holiness. This accountability should be one place where the following are also carried out.
2. A good pastor maintains a healthy interest, participation in, and love for his family. Not everyone will agree with my application of that principle. It seems to me that the priority in life is God first, family second, and ministry third. I can't make idols of either family or ministry such that they rival my affection for God. And if my affection for the Savior and my obedience to Him are strong, I should display high affection for my family. And I take 1 Timothy 3:4-5 to be prerequisites for ministry, and therefore to establish family as a priority over ministry. So, a good pastor will watch his life by watching the ordering of his priorities when it comes to his family. He will develop the ability and habit of saying "no" to that worthy ministry aim in order to say "yes" to that worthy set of relationships called family.
3. A good pastor keeps close watch on his thought life. He fights against anger, jealousy, censoriousness, lust, and the like. And he works to think about those things that are lovely, true, of good report, etc. Too often we listen to ourselves rather than speak to ourselves. And if we're not careful, what we listen to will be worldly, fleshly, poorly thought out, foolish ideas that lead to wrong conclusions and worldly, fleshly actions. A good pastor watches his life by fighting at the level of thoughts and desires, planting godly seeds and plucking out thorns and weeds before they choke his life.
4. A good pastor protects himself, his family, and his church from sexual immorality and the appearance of evil. A good pastor knows not to make any provision for his flesh or to leave his life open in such a way that invites unwanted attention, advances, or confusion. He doesn't meet or travel alone with women. He is not a shoulder to cry on for vulnerable women. His office is open or within view, avoiding the cloak of secrecy. At least his administrative asistant, and probably his admin. asst. and his wife, are aware of when he is meeting with women and what is generally the nature of the meeting. Speaking of his wife, he actively and joyfully gives himself to his wife in intimacy. He gouges out his eyes, cuts off his arms, and whatever else is necessary to protect himself, his family and his church from immoral acts. And again, he humbly and eagerly involves others in this protection and accountability.
5. A good pastor watches his life for rest and recreation. There should be adequate rest in the calendar and appropriate recreation. And a good pastor invites feedback on both, especially where there are questions about the appropriateness of some recreational pursuit. Eventually, pastors will lose the battle and the war if they don't rest. If Jesus doesn't return soon, and I pray that He would, a life of pastoral ministry will be a long haul and we'd better take care of our physical selves.
Next time, Lord willing, watching our doctrine.
And who do we have to thank for this extension of mediocrity? Corporate sponsors. I just skimmed this author's list of best bowl games from 1 to 32. Top 5 or so are the usual suspects. but later the list gets interesting. Here are some of the bowls that really make you go, "Aw com' on now!"
For those who eat too much: The Chick-fil-A Bowl and the Outback Bowl. I love the chicken sandwiches and lemonade, as well as the steaks, but seriously now.
For those who think conferences for insurance salesmen are a lot of fun: The Pacific Life Holiday Bowl.
For those who just aren't sure what a bowl game is anyway: The Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas Bowl. What? If you attend this, do you receive a racoon hat, free drug store glasses, or gambling chips with your ticket?
For those who need two hours worth of reminders to fix that muffler: the Meineke Care Care Bowl. What star linebacker really wants to boast, "We won the 'Car Care' bowl?" Which only sounds a little worse than "We won the AutoZone Liberty Bowl?"
Because they really can't accept they're a part of the United States: The Texas Bowl.
Because they wish they were as large and proud as Texas: The New Mexico Bowl.
Because their map of the globe really only includes the United States: The International Bowl, featuring teams from Kalamazoo, MI and Cincinnati, OH.
For those who are really trying hard to believe their team made it to a legitimate bowl game: The Champs Sports Bowl. Which features the Maryland Terrapins, whose fans characteristically overestimate their teams championship potential (sorry, C.J., the truth shall make you free, brother).
For all the New Agers who really want to get into college football: The Insight Bowl.
This just defies description: The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.
This is just ridiculous. Bring on the tournament system. Crown a real champion! And do it quick before a group of Christians are offended or feel left out and create the "Gospel Bowl" featuring teams with the most celebrity Christian coaches, players and alumni... but very little gospel.
Monday, December 18, 2006
I've been "struck" by the rather strong words the apostle uses in this section of the letter in his instruction and encouragement to Timothy. "Devotion" appears several times throughout the chapter, whether it's the devotion that some will show to "deceitful spirits" or the contrasting devotion that Timothy is to have to public Scripture reading, exhortation and teaching. Also, Timothy is to "train" himself in godliness, to toil and strive. The image of sweaty exertion is strong. The ministry is labor. It's work. If we approach it thinking of ease and self-centered convenience, we will be run over and flattened by the rushing traffic of responsibility, hardship, difficulty, sin, disappointment, apparent failure (ours and others), death, disease, and all the other things that accompany fallen human life. Ministry is labor.
And like any labor, it requires routine, trial and improvement. Paul says to Timothy "practice these things." By these things I take him to mean the things that he mentioned in the previous verses:
- Warning the people of false teachers;
- Avoiding false doctrine and myths;
- Training himself in godliness;
- Hoping on the living God;
- Commanding and teaching;
- "Keeping his head up" as a young pastor;
- Setting an example in life;
- Public reading of Scripture, exhorting and teaching again; and
- Using his gifts.
One way to maintain a proper focus is to realize that ministry takes practice. It takes concentration, meditation, action, and evaluation. And good practice requires strong devotion. Anyone with a child who begged to play a musical instrument knows what I'm talking about. My high school basketball coach always chimed, "You will play the way you practice." It goes without saying that our practices were rigorous affairs. And we probably watched as much film of our practice as we did our games. We were to be focused, prepared, on task, and this is critical... willing to be coached or evaluated. All of that comes under the header of "practice." If we take Allen Iverson's attitude toward practice (sorry non-sports fans), our ministries will stall, lag, falter and decay and we will not win the prize, because we lack the necessary preparation, focus and evaluation.
Some thoughts about "practice" in ministry.
1. Approach the study as though it were the game.
The study is not optional. We will pastor the way we practice. In the study, we're to be running the routines and plays that make our "game time" performance smooth, efficient and effective. When my study if off, so is the rest of my game eventually. My counseling isn't as sharp or rigorously biblical as it should be. I find myself at a loss for how to respond to things I know I know. When my study is off, my discipling of other men tends to be shallower. When my study is off, my preaching is more self-reliant and wrongly emotional. I can preach to some effect, deliver more-or-less wise counsel, and come alongside men when my study is off. But if I do, it will sooner or later show up in the "game" of their real lives; I may be eloquent but I will not be useful. A good pastor needs to approach the study as though it were game time because "game speed" in ministry requires someone that is focused, prepared, and well coached.
2. Find yourself a good coach.
This is essential. There is no deserted island like that of pastoral ministry. For many of us, being on the island alone is lonely; some of us are just find with our own company. But for all of us, the deserted island creates a most tragic condition: little or no evaluation of our work. We're left to the cruel clutches of self-evaluation, which is notoriously one-sided. Few of us offer balanced appraisals of ourselves. We're prone to fall off one side or the other--either everything is great and everyone else needs to get on board, or everything is terrible and the sky is falling. Neither is accurate. And neither is good evaluation. A good coach, a godly older man in the ministry, a godly and discerning peer in the ministry, who will give us unvarnished but loving feedback on our habits of thinking, our preaching, our counseling, our services is essential. To practice, as Paul says here, we need to "watch film" with someone who knows the plays and can point out strengths and weaknesses. A good pastor seeks that kind of feedback. He meets up with other pastors for this purpose.
3. Cultivate humility.
Since I'm working on this myself, let me just make one observation and one recommendation. My observation of my own heart and mind teaches me that this is harder than it sounds. Pride is a hydra-headed monster that asserts and inserts itself in so many diverse ways and at so many varied times. At times it can feel a little like trying to nail Jell-o to a wall. Warring against it, for me, will be life-long. I have some imperfect knowledge of my own heart... and from what I can see, pride has deep roots there. Given my observation of my own heart, one suggestion. I would urge every pastor to get to know the Sovereign Grace pastors in their area. Spend time with them. See how they build accountability into the very fabric of their churches. Watch how they model warring against pride and cultivating humility. C.J.'s book, Humility: True Greatness, is a must-read, but walking with some of these men is even better. If you don't live near any Sovereign Grace churches... move! Just kidding :-) Look around the area very intentionally and carefully for men who are evidently and universally regarded as humble. They're probably not leading the new, hip, fast growing church in the area. They're probably laboring quietly in relatively anonymity... which is probably partially why they're on speaking terms with humbleness of heart. Cultivate humility by watching these men, following them as they follow Christ, and confessing/exposing your pride to the light of Christ's face. The practice and the coaching will not be the aid it's meant to be, if we're not teachable and able to receive godly feedback... in other words, if we're not humble.
Well, a good pastor does all of this, we're told, "so that all may see [his] progress." A couple observations to conclude.
1. If all are seeing the good pastor's progress, it suggests that his people already knew some of his imperfections and flaws. A good pastor must delight in that! It's liberating to know that others know you are not "da man." You can go on with the project of being a fallen creature redeemed by grace. Don't cover your faults, wisely, with godly edification in view, confess them. Let the people know you had a life before Christ, and that since coming to Christ, you've discovered how much you need to grow in grace and holiness. They know that. Remind them of it, and in most cases you will find added liberty and grace, especially if we extend the same to our people.
2. A good pastor is to be progressing. That's obvious, I know, but it's helpful to state it. Growth is normal in the Christian life, and that's no less true for the good pastor. We should be growing. If we're not, we should be exploring potential reasons with our coaches and trusted saints. We should pray fervently for a reversal of course and pick up good books like Don Whitney's Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Life or Octavius Winslow's Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul. A good pastor is to grow and to aim himself at personal growth. On that point, a good pastor would work to make sure that the church's budget reflects this desire for growth by supporting participation in a couple of great conferences a year (check out Challies for an excellent list) and by offering a good "book budget" to fill out the library and reading diet.
3. A good pastor's growth is to be seen. "All" are to see his progress. I think this is part of what it means to set a good example. A good pastor wants his people to grow and so he should grow himself. This is the purpose statement for why a good pastor practices and is devoted, "so all may see his progress." Perhaps this suggests that one thing we should hear at the doors after service or in conversation with people is that they can see how we've grown over time with them. Now, of course, this means good pastors need to stay in one place so that people will have time to see the progress. But having stayed, folks should be able to see his growth in godliness, grace, preaching, spiritual strength, love, faith, and the other things Paul calls to attention in this passage.
Let us be devoted and practice the essentials of the ministy so that we might grow and set a good example for our people.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Skimming the web tonight, I came across this rather interesting project: a new dramatized reading of the Bible featuring 250 African-American actors, entertainers, and religious personalities, including: Angela Bassett as Angel of the Lord (okay... that's interesting), Cuba Gooding Jr. as Judas Iscariot, Samuel L. Jackson as God (anybody remeber Samuel as the Scripture quoting hitman in that Tarrentino film?), Bishop T.D. Jakes as Abraham, Blair Underwood as Jesus, Forest Whitaker as Moses, Star Jone Reynolds as Jude, and Eriq La Salle as Pharisee. The Bible Experience looks like it could be worth the purchase price. The clips at the website are engaging, which was the producer's aim... to deliver an audio version of the Bible that rivets. The Charlotte Observer featured an article on the project that gives a good overview. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Not Worth It.
In other news, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Henry J. Lyons, the once-discredited and imprisoned former president of the National Baptist Convention USA, is in the news again. Some of you may recall the situation leading to his arrest and conviction:
Lyons is now two years into a new pastorate and a new marriage and seeking the presidency of the Florida state convention of the NBC. The most disheartening thing about the article is not Lyons' bid for the presidency; it's the response coming from some quarters of the convention stressing a shallow, sub-biblical notion of forgiveness. A sad example from an employee of the state convention: "If people know the Bible, they know that most of the people the Lord used were all tainted, but the Lord turned them around. What the devil means for bad, the Lord can turn around and make anything good. That may just be the case with Dr. Lyons."
Lyons was known as a charismatic preacher who was fond of an opulent lifestyle. His world began to unravel in 1997 when his then-wife, Deborah, set fire to a $700,000 Tierra Verde home the minister owned with another woman. Investigations by authorities uncovered a series of financial improprieties surrounding Lyons and Bernice Edwards, his alleged mistress with whom he owned the Pinellas County house. At the time, Lyons was head of the NBC and pastor of Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church in St. Petersburg.
In 1999, Lyons was convicted on grand theft and racketeering charges and found guilty of bilking the religious organization, its corporate partners and donor charities of millions. He also pleaded guilty to federal charges and was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in state prison.
Maybe. But then again, maybe not. "If people know the Bible," a surer test would be to compare the man to the list of qualifications for leadership in 1 Tim. 3. Let's assume that if he doesn't meet those qualifications, the Lord is not calling him to either the pastorate or convention leadership. To assume otherwise is folly.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Ray Van Neste over at Oversight of Souls has three quotes well worth the consideration. One on Goodwin, one from Spurgeon, one from a student, and a particularly convicting one for me from Calvin.
Reformissionary includes an interesting Tim Keller quote on small churches and decision-making. I'm still thinking about whether or not I agree, or to what extent, but it's a provocative statement.
If you haven't been reading Mark's series on Censorious Thouhts, you owe it to yourself and everyone you know! Too much good stuff to quote. Check out the posts!
"I wish that being a racist church leader was a sexual sin." (Anthony Bradley on the problem of "closeted" racism and silence)
Peggy Noonan has an op-ed on Barack Obama (HT: Denny Burk). Her punch-line is we don't really know what the Sen. believes so we should not get so excited; he could be another "knee jerk" selection for president. A slight quibble: I think we do know what the senator believes; we just don't like it. A fantasy ticket: How about the doomed presidential ticket of Barack Obama and Harold Ford, Jr? Whatever your politics, it would be the most photogenic presidential ticket in history... and two African-Americans to boot! A slightly more entertaining race would feature the feminine strength and intelligence of Condi Rice and Hillary Clinton. I'd have a bucket of popcorn for all the debates in either race!
Friday, December 15, 2006
This is the second negative statement Paul makes to Timothy. The first was do not let anyone despise you for your youth. Now, the apostle cautions Timothy against despising his own gifts through neglect. By revelation (prophecy) Timothy was made aware of his gift (what an advantage and heightening of responsibility for his specific stewardship!) and by collective agreement his giftedness was confirmed by the elders. He was prepared and called for the exercise of his gift, and he was not to neglect that gift.
Calvin: "To neglect a gift is carelessly to keep it unemployed through slothfulness, so that, having contracted rust, it is worn away without yielding any profit. Let each of us, therefore, consider what gift he possesses, that he may diligently apply it to use."
A good pastor will not bury his talents. He will not pour the grace of God into a hole in his backyard and bury it away from his people. A good pastor will look to maximize and optimally employ all that the Lord has given him for the glory of the Lord and the blessing of his people.
There may be several causes for neglect. Charles Bridges' work The Christian Ministry, subtitled with an Inquiry into the Causes of Its Inefficiency, is a wonderful resource for thinking about neglect of our gifts in the ministry. Here are a few things that Bridges regards as contributing to ministerial ineffectiveness that may also indicate a neglect of the gifts God gives His servants:
1. Failing to seek divine influence. Any active and effective use of our gifts comes only when God owns our ministry, when He blesses our labors with omnipotent aid. We can do nothing apart from Him. We neglect our gifts when we neglect God, when we fail to beseech Him for strength in the task, when we neglect asking for His favor in the gift's use.
"Can a well-composed oration setting out all the advantages of life and health, raise a dead man, or cure a diseased body? You may well exhort a blind man to behold the sun, and prevail as much. No man ever yet imagined, that the strewing a dead body with flowers would raise it to life; no more can the urging of a man spiritually dead with eloquent motivs ever make him to open his eyes, and to stand upon his feet. 'The working of mighty power' is a title too high for the capacity of mere moral exhortations. A mer suasion does not confer a strength, but supposes it in a man; for he is only persuaded to use the power which he hath already" (Bridges, quoting Charnock, p. 80).
We neglect the gift, and the Giver of the gift, if we enter into our labors under our own strength and depending on the disastrously weak implements of our own mind and strength. Charnock again: "We may as well attempt to batter strong walls with the breath of our mouths, as to do good upon men's souls wihtout the Spirit of God." Amen!
2. Enmity of the natural heart. "Enmity is the concentrated essence of man's depravity" (pp. 83-84). That enmity wars against the things of God, including the use of the minister's giftedness. And that enmity is in both the minister and the congregation such that when they combine they most naturally tend toward an abandonment of the gift and its use.
3. Resistance in the congregation or local area. How often is the minister tempted to "throw in the towel" or resign himself to something beneath his calling and gifting because of resistance encountered in the ministry? Resistance will come from those outside the church. But most discouraging of all is resistance from within the camp! Perhaps there is a clique or faction that follows Apollos while another follows Peter, and no one seems to follow the pastor, who is all the while hiding the things of God in his inside coat pocket for fear or discouragement at the resistance. In such cases, don't neglect the gift, Paul says. Evidently there were some who opposed Timothy because of his youth. So, that pastor that feels this way is in good company, and Paul's instruction is precisely for him. Display, improve upon, refine, wield the gift of God given to you. You can only be the man God has made you to be. You can only use the gifts and tools He has in His sovereign wisdom chosen to give you. And He has made no mistake in thus gifting you. It may be that use of the gift in the face of opposition is used of God to win people you think are hardest in their hearts against you. Or, it may be that the gift God gives you hardens them further in the face of God's judgment. It's a terrible prospect. But we may be sure of this: if we fail to stir up the gifts the Lord has given us, resistance and ungodliness will carry the day. And we would be hirelings and unloving to stand idly, with gifts in hand, as the enemy runs through the camp.
4. "Missed" Calling. It may be that gifts go neglected because we have entered into the wrong field of labor. Our gifts do not match the assignment we have received. "If we run unsent, our labours must prove unblest." Nothing twists a man into a pretzel like the nagging question, "Am I in God's will, or did I misunderstand the call?" Mind-numbing second-guessing will paralyze a man who is engrossed with this question. Believing in the sovereign designs and purposes of God, which He accomplishes according to His own will, perhaps it's better to refine the question. Rather than centering on the "will of God," perhaps we are better off asking, "Is there a proper fit between my giftedness and the demands of this or that calling? Am I fit for the office? Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take up this office? Do the godly elders and leaders around me confirm or question my fitness and giftedness for the office?" Involve godly peers and mentors in evaluating this question. "That which no man ought to do, almost every man does, in making himself the sovereign judge of his own calling" (Bridges, p. 93). Don't trust your feelings in the moment or the apparent lack of success or fruit. Think critically, carefully, and prayerfully about your gifts and calling. We may neglect them through pursuing the wrong field.
5. Deficiencies in our personal character. Our gifts may be neglected because our personal character is wanting. We may lack the kind of devotedness and diligence that Paul exhorts in verses 8, 10, and 13. Slothfulness will dull the mind and the heart and weaken the gift's use. We may be worldly. We may have too little of heaven in our hearts and our view, and too much of this life's vain and decaying pleasures, safety, and pursuits. We will neglect our gifts if we do. We may fear man more than God. Rather than roar boldly from the pulpit, we may cower before what we think are unapproving eyes and tight faces. We may desire our people's approval more than God's approval and thus neglect the gift God places in us. We may gratify our flesh too much. Exercising the gifts of God requires sacrifice and self-denial. We may wish to lay our cross down beside a pleasant brook rather than carrying it up a rocky hill. And so we neglect our gifts in favor of comfort, ease, security and the like. We may neglect our gifts because we are not resting properly. I forgot who said it, but "fatigue makes cowards of us all." My high school basketball coach drilled that into our heads... usually after the 100th sprint! The point: if you're tired, you will be tempted to quit and run. Suck it up! And one way for us to suck it up is to make sure we rest. Rest before you get tired. That rest will sharpen the use of our gifts. We may lack faith. Why don't we preach the gospel? It may be because we don't believe it's the power of God unto salvation. Why don't we lead our people to exercising church discipline? It may be we don't believe that loving corrective discipline is the best cure for sin-sick soul? If we lack faith, we will not exercise our gifts.
I suppose there are a thousand ways to neglect our gifts. But if we would be good ministers of the gospel, we must exercise our gifts and give ourselves to improving their use.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
A case could be made for "set the believers an example" in all of life. Jesus tells His disciples that He has set them an example that they should follow what he has done (John 13:15). Elsewhere, the apostle Paul makes that famous statement in 1 Corinthians 11:1 -- "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." He tells the Philippians the same thing (Phil. 3:17). And in verse 12 of 1 Timothy 4, Paul says to Timothy be an example in speech and conduct. Perhaps being an example is one way of describing a good pastor. What does a good pastor do? He lives as an example.
Another way of bottom-lining what a good pastor is to do, though, is to consider what function the example plays. In being an example, at the root, a good pastor is teaching. A good pastor is to teach. "Command and teach these things" (v. 11). And that's what Paul comes to again in 1 Tim. 4:13 - "Until I come, devote yourself to the pubic reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching."
A good pastor is devoted to teaching. And here, Paul identifies three ways of teaching.
1. Public reading of Scripture.
In far too many places this is a dead art or practice. Most churches I've ever attended seem to show an impatience with hearing God's Word read publicly. Now some folks have been poor readers, but more generally, I suspect that people have grown accustomed to not hearing God's Word read publicly except in the briefest of snippets. So, the appetites for hearing God's Word read in the public setting is really quite small. Some find it boring. Others think it's in the way of the "real worship," the singing. Some don't understand it or have difficulty following along. I've heard these and a lot of other "reasons" for the neglect of public reading of Scripture, but I don't think the Father or Jesus will be impressed with any of them. The Father reveals himself in and through His Word, the Word points to Jesus, and the Spirit moved men to write it... so given all this Trinitarian effort, what good reason could we have for neglecting it?
Paul tells Timothy to be devoted to public reading of Scripture. And with good reason... the Word brings life. Every revival I can think of in Scripture came with the recovery of the public reading of God's Word . Moses read the Book of the Covenants with the people in Exodus 24:7. Joshua read the entire Law at the renewal of the covenant following the fiasco at Ai in Joshua 8. The great scene in Nehemiah 8 featured the reading of the Word and expounding upon it all day long (see chapters 9 and 13 as well). Repentance was Jeremiah's hope when he urged Baruch to go and read the Word before the people (Jer. 36). And how many times in the gospels does the Lord begin some great statement with, "Haven't you read...?" A good pastor devotes himself to making sure the Word of God is central in the public gathering of the people, in part, through the public reading of God's word.This reading shapes God's people and is both an act of teaching and the basis for other teaching or exposition.
A good pastor also exhorts from God's Word. He challenges his people to not only hear the word but heed the word, to put it into effect in their lives. He exhorts by encouraging, rebuking, correcting, warning, and comforting. He moves his people to feel and to act based upon God's word. Mere reading is not enough. There must be application to the several cases of spiritual needs or conditions gathered in the assembly. Some need nursing, others a rod, still others a precision cut. A good pastor endeavors to do that with the Word, or rather... to let the Word do that by not neglecting its free and unfettered reading and application.
The reading and the exhorting are both teaching. But there is also the systematic instruction that I think is in view here. Timothy is to devote himself to doctrine. Paul will have none of that high-sounding sophistry about "doctrine divides" or "it's about a relationship not doctrine." There can be no relationship with knowing Who it is you're relating to, and doctrine is supposed to divide, to discern, to distinguish. Timothy's habit must be to build doctrine, teaching, by amassing the truths of Scripture into a whole for his people. He is to teach. And apart from teaching, he cannot be a good pastor.
So what's a good pastor to do? He is to devote himself to these three pursuits: public reading of Scripture, exhortation and teaching. The word translated "devote" implies private preparation before hand. The public ministry of a good pastor is fueled by the private candle-burning of personal study. And this study must be sanctified as well.
The tree of knowledge may thrive, while the tree of life is languishing. Every enlargement of intellectual knowledge has a natural tendency to self-exaltation. The habit of study must be guarded, lest it should become an unsanctified indulgence; craving to be fed at the expense of conscience or propriety; employed in speculative enquiries, rather than in holy and practical knowledge; preoccupying the time that belongs to immediate duties; or interfering with other avocations of equal or greater moment. A sound judgment ans a spiritual mind must be exercised, in directing these studies to the main end of the Ministry. Let none of them intrench upon those hours, that should be devoted to our study of the Bible, or our preparation for the pulpit. (Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry, p. 49).
Practically, several things come to mind:
1. I must guard the hours I need for reading and study so I might teach effectively.
2. I should read widely on some level, but deeply when it comes to Scripture and theology.
3. I should regularly read systematic, biblical, and historical theolgy so I might know the Bible's whole teaching on a subject, understand the themes and narrative of Scripture, and know how other faithful saints have dealt with these issues... avoiding the pride that refuses to learn from others.
4. Personally, I need the discipline of writing manuscripts. Bridges recommends a young preacher spend the firs ten years preaching from a manuscript to give attention to precision and ordering of thought. I may be a better preacher extemporaneously, but I currently am convicted that I need to prepare manuscripts.
5. I need to gather around me people who give honest, constructive feedback on the sermons. That could be meeting with other pastors, listening to one another's sermons, or that could be staff meetings where each week co-laborers encourage, correct, etc.
6. I need to think through the range of teaching options in the church. A good pastor, I suspect, has an overall approach to what he does in the pulpit and how that fits together with mid-week Bible study, Sunday school, small groups, etc. Everything can't be done from the pulpit so we need to think strategically about the various teaching opportunities.
7. I don't need to do all the teaching. hallelujah! I love teaching. Can't think of anything I'd rather do. Live for it on some level. But... I need help and should actively enlisted gifted men in the congregation and the leadership to help carry the load.
Let us sanctify our study and preparation that we may fully and skillfully feed God's sheep from the manna of His Word. It's God's Word that gives life. A good pastor believes this, trusts this, and centers his ministry on this fact. He teaches God's Word because it gives life to God's people. What's a good pastor to do? In a word... teach. Whether by example or by public ministry, he is to teach.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
A good pastor is an example to the believers. This is a simple yet incredibly important statement. It's so important God set it down in the eternal truths of the Scripture.
Sometimes, it feels as if this idea of being an example gets lumped with the now romantic and quaint notion of "role models." Perhaps I'm a part of the last generation that had role models (clean ones, at least) that we were encouraged to look up to and emulate. Are people stirred to follow role models anymore... since Charles Barkley in his foul and off-color way trashed the idea a decade or more ago?
At any rate, Paul's instruction to Timothy is juxtaposed to his encouraging Timothy not to let anyone despise his youth. The principle way he is to avoid having his youth held against him is to be an example to all the believers. He is to live a life as a pastor that is worthy of emulating, of copying, of observing and following. Now, I don't know about you, but this sentence pushes the bar waaaayyyyyy up for me. Honestly, this is a daunting task.
Paul is in effect saying that the pastor is supposed to be in the fishbowl with eyes gazing in upon his swim pattern and eating habits. He is supposed to live, not behind a curtain or "blinds," but behind (if you can call it that) a see-through glass that has its very purpose to make him visible. Yep. The bar goes way up for me on this one because my natural tendency is toward privacy, the comfort and anonymity of home, and a kind of interiorness that prefers the world of ideas and thoughts. But this part of the verse calls me out of all that and onto the stage of pastoral example.
A few thoughts:
1. A good pastor's example is set for the believers.
Now this is obvious but important. Of all people, pastors are thought of as examples for everyone to follow. Paul doesn't say that here. and believing that will contort every pastor into a salty pretzel! What the unbelieving world desires to see in or hear from a pastor will inevitably conflict with what Christ requires of him and the model the saints need to see. So, in being examples, we must be clear about who our audience is to be. And I don't think that in the first place it's "believers" abstractly or generally or universally. I think this instruction is grounded in the gritty, real-world context of a relationship between a particular pastor and a particular congregation of people. I don't think the particular context contradicts the idea of being an example to all generally. But, I do think we can think to abstractly about "Christians" and not ask ourselves what example is pressing where we live and pastor. In D.C., perhaps I needed to be an example of right priorites (God, family, work) given that the entire city seemed to have it precisely the other way (work, family, God). In N.C., perhaps I needed to be an example of discernment and clarity, doctrinal fidelity, and speaking the truth in love in a context where nominal Christianity is so strong. The audience matters, I think. The pastor is to keep that in mind as he sets an example.
2. A good pastor's example makes him accessible.
By this I don't mean he shows little control over his calendar or places no appropriate walls around his family. Such control is quite necessary, after all, it's the pastor that is called to be an example not his entire family. But this command to Timothy does suggest that he is around the people, with the people, tangible to the people. He is to be observed, and that can't be done if he is not in some sense "public" or before the people. He will be public in the pulpit. But as is seen by the specific ways Paul calls Timothy to be an example, he will likely need to be seen in other arenas as well: at fellowship events, at lunch or dinner, at home, in others' homes, and so forth. What's the right amount of accessibility? I suppose each man considering his circumstances must answer that question. But in principle, a good pastor must be accessible enough to effectively set an example.
3. There are particular areas in which a good pastor must set an example.
I'm glad for Paul's list of actions and virtues here. Not because I think this is a list I'm chill on, but because it keeps me from being overwhelmed, unsure of where to start. He lists five things: speech, conduct, love, faith and purity. It's a weighty list, but it's clear about where the example is to be set.
(A) What we say is to be exemplary. Ephesians 4:25, 29 and James 3 spring to mind. I'm working on this: listen longer (to and beyond the point of feeling I'll burst if I don't say something, because actually I'm too quick with my tongue some times); speak truthfully and disclose fully (not to be confused with exhaustively; don't lie through omission); be direct but=and loving (open rebuke is better than secret love); speak what is necessary and what edifies (edifies in the sense of building up, not in the misguided sense of pleasing others; sometimes words that first deconstrust are the surest way to build); administer grace to my hearers. That's my strategy; pray for me.
(B) We we do is to be an example. Our conduct will be seen by all. It will either confirm, question, or deny the authority and power of the gospel in our lives and in the life of the church. We are to live in a manner worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1) and to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1). And this is the startling reality for pastoral ministry: our lives and manner of being will inevitably and steadily impress themselves on the character of our congregations. Our congregations will generally take on our manner. And our impress will not easily be smoothed out by even the next two or three pastors that follow. They will either be jostled and tossed over the bumpy, hardened-mud tracks that we left plowed into the people, or they will find the path smooth and the way straight because of our example in speech and conduct.
(C) Our love is to be exemplary. And here is a place where our example set before the saints does testify to the unbelievers around us as well (John 13:34-35). For our love to be exemplary, we must follow the example of the Jesus whose love is supreme. He gave himself for His people. He was born that He might die. He voluntarily took upon himself the afflictions of His people. He bore the scorn, ridicule, mocking and beating that we deserved, and on top of all that faced the omnipotent and infinite wrath of the Father in our place. He entered into our suffering and countenanced our temptations. He identified with us in every way as a suitable High Priest. Now, we are to do likewise! A good pastor is to follow the Chief Shepherd, who was no hireling but gave His life for the flock. For the joy that was set before Him He endured the agony of the cross. What joy lies before the good pastor? What joy eclipses and neutralizes the certain prospect of being mistreated, misunderstood, maligned, and suffering? The joy of being found faithful. The joy of handing over to the Father and the Son the people who are entrusted to our care as stewards. The joy of hearing those words that will eternally ring in our sould producing unending and unimaginable delight time without end: "Well done, my good and faithful servant." Oh, to hear the Savior say "well done, my good and faithful servant" because we have been good ministers of Christ! Oh to know the divine approval for a labor you do only for Him and increasingly for Him! To delight Jesus... we set our people an example in love.
(D) The good pastor is to set an example in faith. I don't know if it's a genuine tragedy, sadness, or comedic farce for men in the pastorate to lack faith. I suppose it's all three. But in any case, it ought not be so. A good pastor must take care for how he trusts in God. He is to be an example of one who, as verse 9 puts it, has his "hope set on the living God." That must grip him--hope fixed on the God who can not die, who has life in himself, who can not lie, who is the God of truth. His word is forever settled in heaven. A good pastor must have a good understanding of the truths of the faith, not be a novice or recent convert (1 Tim. 3:6), and must hold to those truths with great confidence in the living God. The congregation should be able to see that faith in the range of situations that every pastor faces: elation, tragedy, conversion, apostasy, support, opposition, abundance, lack, fruit and barrenness. Up and down, a good pastor is an example in faith, shaping his life and decisions on the certainty of Jesus' love, lordship, sovereignty, and goodness.
(E) A good pastor is to be an example in purity. Amen and amen. Purity in the pulpit must stir and point the way for purity in the pew. How easy it is for a pastor to hide filth. He can, if he wishes, isolate himself, fabricate an identity for the public, and live a double life. He may, if he chooses, speak much about purity and holiness and deny the power thereof. A good pastor is to labor and toil and strive (v. 10) for godliness knowing that "godliness is of great value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come" (v. 9). In other words, a good pastor must be gripped with the beauty of purity and holiness, so much so that he disdains all alternatives. He must know that Christ is altogether lovely and that that loveliness flows from His purity. He has tasted and seen that God is good. And he desires constantly to enter into that loveliness of Jesus, that purity. It pleases him to do so, and he is troubled when his desire grow cold. Purity enflames his affection for God. He is an example in purity because he knows the blessing of purity and desires to be like Jesus. That's his motivation; not legalistic self-righteousness and moralism which are small plastic imitations of true purity. He knows what true beauty is and he lives it before the people... in his entertainment choices, his music preferences, his modesty, his devotion, his confession, his regard for younger women (1 Tim. 5:2), his study of art and literature, his adoption and critique of "style," and so on.
My good pastors, "set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" by God's grace and depending on His omnipotent aid. We garner reverence for the pasorate and for the Lord by living such imitation-worthy lives.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Now there is a sentence worth repeating: "Let no one despise you for your youth."
Is youth despised in our culture today? I think so. From the demonic assaults aimed at young people to the indifference of elders toward them, I think youth is despised.
Is youth despised in our churches today? I think so. Indifference is shown toward young people in quite a few churches, leaving folks with the impression that "church is for old folks." There's the pastor search committee that won't consider a man younger than 40 years old (which probably would have written off young Timothy, not to mention Jesus). There are the congregants who disregard a pastor's instruction because "he's so young and inexperienced." That used to be said of doctors. But it's also said of pastors.
In a million ways youth can be despised. What young pastor doesn't know the frustration of trying to lead older members who resist his leadership not because they recognize errors or inadequacies in the pastor's understanding of the Scripture, the church or pastoral ministry, but because they very broadly and generally regard themselves as "older and wiser"? Now, Paul doesn't call Timothy to neglect the wisdom that comes from lived experience, from older members and leaders. Timothy would be wise to take full advantage of that. But he does tell Timothy not to capitulate wrongly to such views. Other people's estimation of him because of his youth is not to be a barrier to his leading the church and being a good pastor. Young age is not necessarily an impediment to godliness, maturity, and leadership ability in the pastor.
The sentence is written to Timothy, but it has application to young and old.
1. Older pastors should be willing to give space and take risks when it comes to younger pastors. They should not hold something that can not be changed (age) against their younger peers, especially since God doesn't hold it against them. Rather, they should encourage, instruct, support and train such young men as Paul did with Timothy. And this will inevitably mean giving the young pastor room to act and lead, again, as Paul did so often with young Timothy.
2. Young pastors are not to be brash and unteachable. We don't respond to those who "despise our youth" by in turn despising their agedness or becoming sulking, raving, cantankerous brats. That would certainly confirm their biases and make the task of leading all the more difficult.
3. And young pastors should not adopt an attitude of defeat in the face of people who despise their youth. Such pastors should not hang their heads, murmur or complain. They should square their shoulders, lock their eyes on Christ, and bid all to follow them as they follow Christ. One thing I saw Mark do often amidst things that might be regarded as "despising his youth" or some other conflict was to point the way forward, disdain distration, and push toward the mark. That could be frustrating for some people around him, but I'm learning how useful that quality can be in a pastor. At the end of the day, we have to keep following Jesus--whether we're the old ones despising the young or the young ones refusing to be "benched" because of the attitudes of others.
Perhaps you're a young pastor facing this kind of difficulty. Beloved, you must not quit. You must not shrink. You must not whine and pout. You must "command and teach." It's interesting that Paul's instruction in verse 12 follows the rather strong word to "command" in verse 11. Likely he knew about the fear of man and the tendency to cave that resides in young ministers.
There seems to be at times a 1:1 correspondence between youth and hesitancy to lead with authority, the younger you are the less likely you are to lead with an authority commensurate with the authority of God's Word and the office. So, in an interesting sort of way, this instruction calls Timothy to "man up," to "grow up," to lead in such a way that his age is no predictor at all of his ability, godly confidence, and dependability as a pastor. It's what a good young pastor is to do. So it's a good word to young pastors, and a good challenge to older members and pastors.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Here's strong language used to address young, perhaps timid Timothy. If he would be a good servant of Christ, he must command and teach.
The word "command" here is striking to modern ears. Ours is a culture that recoils at authority, especially authority coupled with certainty and strength. We would rather a "leader" who is a "facilitator," a "consensus builder" or a "motivator." And all these things have their place in the armament of leadership; there will be times when a soft approach is best, when nurturing one-mindedness is not only palatable but essential to the task of moving a group to a desired end.
But that's not the tone the apostle strikes for Timothy here. He says "command... these things." There is to be a note of authority in Timothy's interaction with his congregation.
To be sure, Paul is not here violating the teaching of our Lord when He says that we are not to "lord it over" one another (Luke 22:25-26). He isn't encouraging Timothy to establish a little dictatorship inside the church wherein he governs with an iron glove. The saints of God will one day rule with Christ who wields an iron sceptre (Rev. 2:26-27), but until then military-like conquest and bullying are not the paradigms.
But a good leader does exercise authority. He will command certain things. Christ Jesus taught as one who had authority, not like the scribes, and so are faithful pastors to "command" things, to teach with authority, not like hair-splitting scaredy-cats afraid to land on one side of the fence or the other. A good pastor is to trumpet a clear and certain sound.
The lion's boldness is required in the pastor who would please His Lord. One expression of that boldness is willingness (nay a certain kind of godly delight) in commanding what is right--especially when the things in view (1) are from the Lord and (2) are of great importance. Here, the good pastor must learn that in commanding things, he himself is not the Commander. He is but a messenger and an example, but the commands are not his to develop and distribute at whim. The commands are to be clearly from the Lord. And, the good pastor will major on those things of great importance. The "these things" of verse 11 have to do with the spiritual warfare in which the Christian is engaged and the freedom provided in Christ. "These things" refer to godliness, sound doctrine, and a firm trust in the living God, the Savior of the believers. On these things Timothy and the good pastor is to major.
John Calvin puts it this way:
The doctrine is of such a kind, that men outght not to be weary of it, though they heard it every day. There are, no doubt, other things to be taught; but there is emphasis in the demonstrative these; for it meands that they are not things of small importance, of which it is enough to take a passing and brief notice; but, on the contrary, that they deserve to be repeated every day, because they cannot be too much inculcated. A prudent pastor ought, therefore, to consider what things are chiefly necessary, that he may dwell on them. Nor is there reason to dread that it shall become wearisome; for whosoever is of God will gladly hear frequently those things which need to be so often uttered. (italics added)
Calvin insightfully raises one challenge to our being good pastors in this way: it's that fear of man that whispers to us "your people have already heard this; they grow tired of your always insisting on these things." That's the whisperer's tale. But if you've been an elder or pastor for any length of time, you know that repetition is essential to teaching. Yes they've heard it, but they've not remembered or adopted the teaching in more instances than we care to recount. More often than we like, we all are like that man who looks at his face in the mirror but when he turns away forgets the image he saw.
So, it's not burdensome for us to repeat and to reteach; and, we don't shrink at the faces of men who give outward or spoken disapproval. We "command" these things... because the commands of the Lord are good and not burdensom (1 John 5:3), for the health of the people in our care, and in order to faithfully discharge our duty as good servants of Christ.
Friday, December 08, 2006
There is much a pastor is to do if he would be a good and faithful servant. He is to watch over the flock, to prepare diligently in the teaching of God’s word, to pray, to handle some administrative details, and to be an example. There is much to do… and more than any one person can do.
But in all the doing, the good pastor is one who avoids the trap of trusting in his own efforts. There is the pervasive temptation to do pastoral ministry in our own strength and wisdom. We are invited on so many occasions to be the men of strength and spiritual courage that we may begin to believe that such strength and courage is merely a matter of self exertion. Muster enough will power and we will power our way to any objective.
Such is not the attitude of the good pastor. It seems from Paul’s writing to Timothy that the good pastor is animated and strengthened not by hope in himself but by hope in the living God. There is where his hope lies and there is where his strength comes from. The good pastor has made the Lord his portion, refuge, banner, strong tower and shield, and it’s to the living God that he daily, moment by moment runs.
This brief phrase from Paul’s letter confronts me this morning. Where have I put my hope?
My temptation is to place hope in my study and preparation. My temptation is to place my hope in the books I’ve read and the convincing arguments they sometimes mount. My temptation is to place hope in my relationships, the affection I share with others in the body. My temptation is to place my hope in articulate expression, clever argument. And I’m tempted to have hope when things around me are going well, when people seem pleased with “my performance.”
Deadly temptations all!
The only sure and abiding bedrock for hope is the living God, “the Savior of all men, and especially those who believe.” Where else can lasting hope be found in life and in ministry?
So, a good pastor mustn’t let his study and preparation occlude a clear vision of the Savior. He mustn’t study to impress others, but to see Jesus in all of His grandeur and splendor. He must open the Word in faith, believing that God is and that He is a Rewarder of those who seek Him. He must open the Scriptures to listen, not to dead words, but to a living God who ever speaks through His Word. Our study is for the tuning of our ears to the Master’s voice. Before we prepare to preach, we must recognize that we are but one of the sheep who are to hear His voice and to follow Him. Is our study and preparation in the best sense of the word “devotional”? Does it evidence our personal hope in the living God?
And surely this phrase means that hope is found in a relationship, just not relationships with the congregation or any set of persons. It’s found in a relationship with the living God, the Savior. So, it’s that relationship that the good pastor must above all nurture. A good pastor should be nurturing that relationship in fellowship with his people, that is the path to growth (Eph. 4:16). But we can grow close to Bob and Jane in a thousand superficial ways and never be strengthened in the hope of Jesus, the living God. Are our relationships in the church relationships that foster deeper hope in God or draw us in dependence upon man? Are we agents of encouragement that direct others to the living God, on whom they are to rest their hopes? Does our preaching remind others that they have put their hope in the living God who shall never leave them nor forsake them? Or does our preaching encourage people to hope in man-made devices, techniques and therapies? In our lives together, we’re to be pointing out where our hope rests. They rest on Jesus.
And what freedom this should give us! I’m free from the temptation that my clever phraseology will finally push the skeptic or the doubter to faith. I’m free from the savior complex that assumes every problem must be fixed by my wisdom or effort. I’m free from the drudgery of trying to please everyone. I’m free from the bondage of the “success” or “performance” syndrome. For freedom Christ has set us free, and that freedom rests solely and securely on the foundation of hope in Christ. It is Christ that has saved me, and it is Christ that must save others. It is Christ that gives me true hope, and it is Christ that must give true hope to my people. To be a good pastor, we must remind our people of this simple yet profound truth: “we have put our hope in the living God.”
This phrase is deserving of a better treatment than I’ve had time to give it here. It deserves a full exposition… and exposition in and through the actual lives of those who have so trusted the Savior. A good pastor’s life should be such an exposition. He should live as one who has (past tense) settled his hope in the Author of life, the One who has life in Himself, the giver of eternal life, the living God, Christ Jesus our Lord.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
The apostle sets down a straight-forward contrast. He instructs young Timothy to completely avoid “irreverent, silly myths” on the one hand, and the “train himself for godliness” on the other.
The word translated “myths” in the ESV is rendered “old wives’ fables” in older versions like the KJV. Early use of the word centered on tales or fables used for teaching or instruction. The word doesn’t necessarily include falsehood, but it does include things fabricated by the mind which are set against reality and true truth (to borrow Schaeffer).
However, the NT always uses the word to indicate lying fables, falsehoods, and pretenses… dangerous and erroneous ideas with harmful impacts on people. These myths and fables are sophistry used for deception.
Timothy, and the good pastor, is to have nothing to do with these myths. He is to decline or refuse the myth’s begging to be heard. He is not to permit it entrance or effect in his thinking.
I take this to mean that the pastor’s mind and mouth is to be diligently guarded.
1. Pastors live a great deal of their lives inside their minds. So, we must make sure we have truthful conversation partners there. We should be sure that we’re not merely listening to ourselves, repeatedly rewinding and playing the tape of our thoughts (our own myths and fables) without assessing and changing them. A good pastor needs a steady diet of truth, not fable. The surest way to achieve this is dedicated and focused study of the Scripture, where eternal truth is preserved and revealed. But also a pastor should dedicate himself to the active reading of solid, time-tested classic works of godly saints… always holding those up to the light of Scripture as well.
2. Good pastors must excuse themselves from quidnunc and yenta spreading their popular contemporary forms of myth and fable—lying, gossip, half-truths, innuendo, exaggeration, embellishment, dirt, hearsay, tale-bearing, and slander. In my experience, Christian circles are sometimes as bad as non-Christian circles when it comes to these things. Given how often he spoke against it, I take it that it was Paul’s experience too (Eph. 4:25, 31; 5:4; I Tim. 3:11). His instruction to Timothy is to deny, avoid, excuse himself from such company and ideas. Our consecration includes our separation from the water cooler chatter. The ears of the pastor should be the final resting place of myths and fables given life by chatterers.
3. A good pastor must not break the confidences of his people. He should be trustworthy with the truth. He should use a lot of discretion in deciding when, what, how much, and with whom to share information about the ministry and about the congregation. This isn’t to say that a pastor leads a life of secrecy and swearing “confidentiality” as if he is a clinical psychologist or something. It means he is to be discerning, recognizing that souls are in his care, that reputations are in his hands, and that even if he speaks factually and accurately, the transmission of what he said to others may certainly be corrupted. A good pastor doesn’t promise confidentiality where sin and illegal activity are concerned. But nor should he be a tale-bearer contributing to the rumor mill and strife that flows from it. And as someone whose job it is to speak and talk primarily, we pastors must realize what a great temptation this will be. Perhaps we should regularly ask our fellow elders if we’ve betrayed any confidences, spoken any myths or fables, or shared too much accurate information. We need accountability in this area.
4. A good pastor traces error back to its roots in our thinking. This was Jonathan Edwards’ 24th resolution: “Resolved, Whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back until I come to the original cause; and then, both carefully to endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.” When examining the errors of our lives, we should ask, “Does the error spring from a fable or myth, or from a truth wrongly applied?” And we should direct our energies at renewing our minds in these things so that our thinking is inhabited increasingly with purity.
Instead of giving way to fables, Paul instructs Timothy to exercise himself to or train himself for godliness. Now there’s a word that needs recovery in Christian circles: godliness. It’s true devotion or piety toward God. It’s true biblical religion, a pious and morally good life animated by deep affection for the Savior. Godliness is holy living, and we need it in the pastorate.
Paul says godliness is to be the aim of Timothy’s exertions. And it is to be the aim of every Christian’s exertions, especially the pastor who is to be an example to the people. In his letters to Timothy, the apostle uses the word four times, including this charge. These instances are a helpful way to think about exercising ourselves to godliness.
1. Pray for civil authorities and leaders (1 Tim. 2:2). The apostle understands that our prayers should not only include those in authority over us, but that such intercessions are linked to our ability to live godly lives. So, exercising ourselves to godliness includes praying effectively for government stability, peace and authority. Godliness is associated with stability and society, not anarchy or radical independence.
2. We are to combine godliness with contentment (1 Tim. 6:6). Godliness is one-half of the formula for “great gain.” As we develop godliness we must also cultivate contentment. It’s hard to imagine lasting godliness apart from genuine contentment. Otherwise, dissatisfaction, murmuring, and complaining will eventually erode the gains of godliness. As pastors, we must guard against such erosion by coupling true piety and affection for God with contentment in the providence of God.
3. We may train ourselves in godliness by anticipating persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). All who would live godly in Christ Jesus shall see persecution. It’s a fact of life. Godliness so marks you out from the world that pressure and persecution inside and outside the church will be the result. We may train ourselves in godliness by not wilting in the face of persecution. As pastors, we must remember that we don’t deserve treatment any better than what the Savior received. If He was mocked, beaten, and cursed, why should we think our lot is to be any better for following Him? Where it is, it’s either because of His super-abundant grace… or perhaps we’re not living in as godly a manner as we think. Asking which is the likely cause is a good exercise. And though we anticipate persecution, we don’t do so with a morbid doubt or fear. We’re to remember that the Lord knows how to deliver the godly men from trials (2 Peter 2:9). So, exercising ourselves toward godliness includes preparing for persecution in the full confidence that no one can pluck us from the Father’s hand, realizing that we don’t fear those who can destroy the body but He who can destroy both body and soul. We “do not love our lives so much as to shrink back from death” (Rev. 12:11).
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
The title of this post says it all: A Brief Meditation on the Christ-Centeredness of Everything. Selah.
If you've not been following Nathan Finn's series on the SBC, now is the time to tune in. He's finishing the series with a two-parter on what he considers the biggest problem of all in SBC churches. Read it here. Here's a preview:
I have already alluded to this several times, but it bears repeating: I want to leave the SBC when I visit church after church after church and never hear the gospel. I hear "pray this prayer." I hear "Jesus died for you." I hear "you should repent." I hear "walk this aisle." I hear "believe in Jesus." But the significance of these things is not explained. Even worse, MILLIONS of Southern Baptists think that affirming one of these formulas has saved them, even though they have no clue as to what God has done on our behalf through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Our biggest problem in the SBC is not alcohol, or Calvinism, or bloggers, or our lack of church discipline, or even our declining baptism numbers. Our biggest problem is that thousands of our churches do not preach the gospel, many of them very large. And the sad thing is, as long as people keep going under the water, we are content to preach shadows of the gospel instead of the substance.
Over at Books and Culture, John Wilson offers his lift of the top 10 books of 2006.
On the one hand, the basic tasks and issues are the same ones faced as an assistant or a lay elder. There’s preaching, teaching, counseling, prayer, hospitality, modeling, rebuking, etc. All of that is essentially the same… just more of it. But on the other hand, the leadership demands are slightly different. A significantly greater number of issues stop at my desk for decision, input, direction, etc. Whether they should or not, quite a few more people regard me as the “last say so.” In the midst of this, I’m reminded constantly that I’m not the Savior and that I need to both lead but also be aware of my limitations… limitations that are now more visible and that leave a deeper impress on the congregation than before.
All that to say I’ve been thinking a bit about what a “good pastor” is to do. I’m thinking not so much about the qualifications of a pastor, but the activity and habits of the shepherd. So, I’m spending the next few posts “thinking out loud” about this and would welcome any and all input. Primarily I’m thinking through 1 Timothy 4. I know there are other relevant passages, but two of the sermons the Lord has used most profoundly in my life over the last year have come from 1 Timothy 4. It’s probably good that I spend more time listening to the Father there. So, here goes….
Paul opens the chapter with these words:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. (1 Tim. 4:1-3, 6).
After giving the list of qualifications for church officers in chapter 3, and indicating that these things were written so that Timothy would “know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth,” Paul first addresses the matter of false teachers.
Timothy, and all pastors, if they are to be good ministers, must instruct or put before the brothers these matters: deceitful spirits, teaching of demons, and the insincerity of liars. The seriousness of these matters is seen in the effect: “some will depart from the faith” and devote themselves to evil spirits and their deceptions. The lies they believe will ravage their souls. The enemy will invade the camp and lure defectors to certain torture and death.
Concern regarding false teaching is primarily pastoral not academic. We’re not engaged merely in a debate about suppositions, propositions, and relatively equal positions. Ideas have consequences. And this passage tells us that it’s our people – those who have for some period of time lived among us as professors of faith – who pay these consequences when they devote themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons. This is terrifying. Some we love and have assumed to be sisters and brothers in the faith will fall prey to spiritual forces of darkness in these later times. We're not to be surprised by this sad turn of events, but we are to mourn deeply when it happens. Nothing could be more pastoral than that we should protect our people from such life and soul-threatening deception and error.
What is a good pastor to do? He is to instruct the people about falsehood. I take this to mean several things regarding my role as a pastor and the people in my charge:
1. I must know who and what my people are listening to and the extent to which they are devoted to it.
Deceiving spirits operate through human means, who very often masquerade as ministers of light (2 Cor. 11:13-15). So questions of authenticity and soundness are paramount. Which authors are most read by the congregation and what are their theological commitments? What radio and television ministries command their attention and why? Do these teachers give evidence of genuine godliness and gospel priorities in their preaching and in their lifestyles? Are we able to discern the answer to such questions because these teachers are not only public but transparent and accountable? Regarding our people’s devotedness to particular teaching… how much time do they spend consuming the ideas? What life decisions are they making based upon them? Does the teaching of these potentially false teachers rival that of the local congregation’s elders and the authority entrusted to them by God through the congregation? Are any of our people showing evidence of rejecting the faith because of the influence of such teachers? Have I lovingly and solemnly made them aware of the error and the consequences that follow from false and unsound belief?
2. I must not shy away from identifying falsehood and calling my people to avoid it.
Christians are sometimes too polite. And generally, we’re polite about the wrong things. We tend to think that great charity and liberty are important in doctrinal matters, but narrowness and resoluteness are demanded in debatable social and public policy issues. We’re pleased to “call names” when it comes to politicians, but generally very shy about doing so when it comes to a minister or preacher publicly teaching error. Deny the Trinity and it’s a matter of academic liberty or personal interpretation. Cross the picket line on taxes and prepare to be tarred and feathered. But how else can we “note” and “avoid” those who cause divisions with damnable heresies (Rom. 16:17-18; Gal. 1:6-8; Eph. 4:14; Titus 3:10-11) if we don’t identify the falsehoods and those spreading them?
3. I must not weaken the seriousness of the apostle’s teaching by “muting” the plainly identified demonic source of false teachers and teaching.
We do this by opting for “polite” language or squirming in the face of the so-called “pre-scientific” nature of this teaching. Too often we’re embarrassed to speak of the devil and evil spirits. We hear the devotees of scientism telling us that we’re backwards and not enlightened. But the light of God’s Word shines squarely on the accuser of the brethren, satan, as the source of this evil. And we would serve no one by pretending that he does not exist. He does. And he wreaks havoc on those blinded to his devices, which includes convincing the world that he doesn’t exist.
4. I must help my people train their consciences by the Word of God.
The characteristic of false teachers identified here is a seared conscience… a conscience cut off from godliness and goodness. Our people must not only avoid a seared conscience in themselves but also be able to discern and recognize one in the teachers to whom they listen. The book of Jude offers a pretty good expose of such teachers, calling them: lewd, rejecters of authority, sexually immoral, carnally minded, self-corrupting, money-hungry, lustful, flatterers, mockers, divisive, and ungodly. Our people must understand and recognize these attributes if they are to be safe from grievous wolves (Acts 20:27-28). And the fact that so many can not or will not acknowledge many of these characteristics as plainly evident in the teachings of your average TBN guest is beyond sad… it’s horrifying. But this is precisely why the Lord gives gifted men to the church to teach, correct, train, etc. As sheep, we constantly need to be fed and steered into green pastures and away from rocky cliffs.
Now, there is the danger of being so concerned with error that you fail to preach the truth. Our sermons are not to become rants against the latest or our favorite theological hobby horses. But neither are we to preach as if the Gospel is the only alternative in the theological market place. We must draw careful distinctions, keeping in mind both gross and subtle error. We must set the Gospel of Christ over and against non-Christian ideas, on the one hand, and raise nuances that clarify the Gospel against imitations of the good news on the other. Nearly every book of the New Testament contains some warning against falsehood and false teachers, making it plain that such teachers and teaching are a part of the ongoing warfare between God’s people and the enemy of God. We would be good pastors if we set these things before our people and fought for their devotion to Christ instead of deceiving spirits and teachings of demons.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Summarizing Edwards' comment, George Marsden writes:
Preaching, in other words, should be designed primarily to awaken, to shake people out of their blind slumbers in the addictive comforts of their sins. Though only God can give them new eyes to see, preaching should be designed to jolt the unconverted or the converted who doze back into their sins (as all do) into recognizing their true estate (in Richard A. Bailey and Gregory A Wills (eds.), The Salvation of Souls: Nine Previously Unpublished Sermons on the Call of Minstiry and the Gospel by Jonathan Edwards, pp. 11-12).
These are good statements of the effect of the conference on me: impressions made on the mind, awakened, shaken out of my slumber, jolted. I think that's probably what every conference (especially those for pastors) should do for us.
So, leaving the conference, here are some things, mostly one-liners delivered in the power of the moment, that have impressed, jolted, shaken, and awakened me from some spiritual slumbers.
From Kevin Smith's exposition of 1 Timothy 4, "The Christ-Centered Life of the Preacher."
"Even good men fall... because we're in wrong pursuits."
"Godliness does not come naturally; you can't "let go and let God."
Godliness is the spiritual condition that allows us to start strong and finish well."
From Sinclair Ferguson's exposition of Phil. 2:5-11, "Preaching Christ in our Contemporary Situation"
I need to be repentant for obscuring the face of Jesus Christ in my preaching.
"We ive in a church culture (Evangelicalism) where people are mystified by the fact that people can be so passionate (as the church fathers were) about describing accurately the Person of Jesus."
"We have produced a culture that rides on the emotion of the preacher rather than on the truth of Scripture."
Much of our preaching is "taking the bread out of the mouths of God's people."
"We have returned to medievalism... where the preacher distributes the blessings of the Gospel rather than proclaim the Benefactor of the Gospel... where we have established 'mega-churches' rather than vital centers of preaching and prayer."
"We produce evangelical stars rather than faithful pastors. And in our worship we produce spectators rather than worshippers."
"We seek the theology of glory rather than the theology of the cross."
In view of all of this, "The church's 9-11 is just around the corner."
Quoting E.M. Bounds, The Power of Prayer: "Men are looking for better methods, but God is looking for better men, because men are God's method."
Rickey Armstrong's exposition of Psalm 2, "Preaching Christ from the Psalms"
Quoting J.C. Ryle, "It is no light matter to speak to any assembly about the things of God."
"Christ is altogether lovely." Yes He is!
1. Christ-centered preaching helps us to grasp the most hideous things about sin--we are all rebels with the same need for redemption.
2. We must help our people to see that the object of our hatred in sin is God.
3. The Gospel of the kingdom does not beg men to make Christ Lord; He is proclaimed as King.
From Sinclair Ferguson's exposition of Hebrews, "The Apostolic Exposition"
Commenting on Heb. 3:1 -- "We're told to 'fix your eyes on Jesus' as if to say, 'Have you really considered how much there really is to gaze upon? Do we really want to starve our people of the glories of Christ b y failing to call them to gaze upon Jesus?'"
"Our humanity was not something that Christ borrowed for a season... he didn't leave it behind when He ascended. He would not be qualified to be my Savior without having taken on my humanity. Only one who has really and permanently took my flesh could really and eternally be my Savior."
The incarnation is glorious! (Awaken Thabiti)
In my preaching, set forth Jesus Christ:
1. In His two natures united in His one divine Person
2. In the two states of the incarnation -- Humbled and exalted
3. In His three offices in our salvation -- Prophet, Priest and King
4. In His three-fold work bringing us to complete redemption -- Propitiation (Root, Heb. 2:17), Help for the tempted (Fruit, Heb. 2:18), and Destruction of the Devil (Brute, Heb. 2:14)
"We mask with the mortician's art... the fear of death.
From Sinclair Ferguson's exposition of Acts 8, "Preaching Christ from the Prophets"
He bore the curse of God for me!
God smites the Shepherd who cares for the sheep. He is pleased to smite me for His people and my blessing. Can I drink of the cup that Jesus drinks of?
Considering Is. 54:4, "The messenger will be silent as He bears the accusation of God against my sins." "The Lord was executed for blashpemy and treason because we are guilty of blasphemy and treason. And so, He suffered silently."
"We cannot preach a crucified and risen Savior without ourselves participating in His sufferings, death and resurrection."
Perhaps more reflections, quips and quotes when I find my other set of notes....