Archives For Ordinary Pastor

The Next Story

Erik Raymond —  April 9, 2011

I think Tim Challies’ new book looks really interesting. I think it blends two of the things that I really appreciate from him: Discernment & Technology. I noticed that the book was only $5.99 on Kindle and I picked it up. Other deals are still out there.

This video kind of whets your whistle for the book. It’s worth the watch.

Tim Challies: “The Next Story” from Ligonier on Vimeo.

One of my joys in life is the time that I get to spend with our kids before their bed time. They love to read their books. They talk and discover. It’s great.

I noticed an alarming trend with our youngest little girl though. Zoe likes to skip pages. She moves ahead to her favorite part and then she starts gabbing. Often times she is talking about things that do not even relate to the story. You  know, things like, “Monkey says “AHAHAHA!” or “RED hat!” These are important facts, no doubt, but not really related to the story.

As I was sitting there, smiling and laughing, I was convicted.

I think that a lot of times we read our Bibles like Zoe reads here cardboard books. Sometimes we are all about moving the book mark ahead in the Bible reading program. We fail to sit and stare at the scenery, discover new details, and breath in the fresh gospel breeze.

Other times when we do focus on details, we focus on things that aren’t key components of the big picture. We can get really good at knowing verses and not knowing the story. Texts without a context are like matches in a kids hand. It’s just a matter of time.

Still other times we may read our Bibles with the level of intellectual engagement that rivals a 2 year old. The Bible is meant to be read, chewed upon, digested, and lived out. It is not merely a spiritual flouride that we swish around in our mouths, for a morning cleaning, and then spit out with little impact throughout the day. Instead, we are to marinate our very souls in it that we might begin to have the biblical flavor and scent sweat out in our very lives.

So, yes, become like a dependent, humble, amazed and vulnerable little child when you come to Jesus. And walk in this posture in your ongoing neediness. However, when it comes to our Bible reading, we would be better off if we wiped our chins and engaged with the Book a bit.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have quite a few jobs in my relatively young life. The experiences are truly life-shaping. However, there really is nothing like pastoral ministry. One aspect of its uniqueness is the amount of talk from within the camp of what we as pastors are to be doing. This is interesting because the job description is pretty simple: lead, feed, and protect the sheep. Pastors are to give themselves to the word and to prayer.

This is simple. This is hard.

Therefore, as a pastor, I really appreciate when quality books come my way and add to the discussion of the subject of preaching. They are oftentimes my favorite books to read. In particular, I love reading of how other preachers do what they do. I love reading how they expound the priority and practice of preaching. It is refreshing and instructive.

I have been both refreshed and instructed by Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching. The book has contributions from Mohler, Sproul, Piper, and MacArthur (among others). As you might expect, it is a very helpful reminder and instruction into the priority of preaching.

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Adonijah. The guy with a name you have to sound-out. We may not have his story up in front of us in our mind’s eye but I think some of the details of his story may help us.

Basically, he tried to take advantage of David’s impending death by setting himself up to be king. We read in 1 Kings that he said, “I will be king.” (1 Kings 1.5). As David’s son he exalted himself (v.5) to this place rather than receiving it from David. To make a long story short, David was not down with this. He wanted Solomon to be king. Therefore, he anointed him to be his successor.

This made things a bit awkward for half-brothers Solomon and Adonijah. In fact, at the end of 1 Kings 1, we read that Adonijah’s personal king party was disrupted, the guests trembled and left. Adonijah, left to himself, “feared Solomon.” (1 Kings 1.49)

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There is little doubt that the Apostle Paul is experiencing a theological adrenaline rush in the book of Ephesians. He is coming out of his sandals with excitement. This soteriological energy drink doesn’t cause him to sit back with a fat head but rather to get busy praying for other believers. Specifically he prays that the matchless and incomprehensible power of Jesus may work sanctification into the life of believers.

Power is an interesting thing. In the presence of power there is boldness an confidence. And likewise with the absence of power there is timidity and fear. Here in Ephesians 3 the Apostle Paul prays, asking God for grace, (knowing that what comes is wholly a result of divine blessing and kindness) that believers would “be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (3.16).

What does it mean to be strengthened in the inner man? Simply it is to be spiritually fortified with a genuine love for Christ and a desire to do his will. It is to be growing in maturity. This maturity is expressed in our affections and our actions (what we love and what we do). Even though this is a prayer for other believers, it is still truly God-centered prayer. The goal here is for God to be glorified through the Spirit-enflamed, Bible-Saturated, Sin-Mortifying Christian who is ever growing in Christian maturity.

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How can you be actively discerning without being angry all the time? How can you be nice and charitable without lacking biblical discernment?

These are questions that seem to keep bouncing around in my mind. I want answers. I want biblically informed, thoughtful, and applicable answers.

Let me back up and give you some background for this. A few years back I was having lunch with a friend. He mentioned that he thought if churches were a breed of dog then we would be a Pit-Bulls. As we talked more and I tried to understand I discovered that he perceived that we were the ‘shoot first ask questions later’ type of people. As a leader in this context this means that I was being perceived not only as a leader of Pit-Bulls, but one myself. And since I was visiting with him and his statements were at me, I take this to mean he was mainly talking about me. In other words, I’ll wear this label.

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I think this guy did a good job putting his finger on the issue. In particular, the way he closed it.

Robbed Hell – C.A.S.T. Pearls Presents from Canon Wired on Vimeo.

(rss readers may have to click thru to view)

ht: James White

A lot of times people flatter themselves and think that they can contain sin, pride in particular. They think that rather than sin mastering them they can master it. This type of thinking demonstrates a disaster waiting to happen.

Pride is not something to be handled. It is not for you. It opposes and destroys.

There was a disturbing story last summer here in the Omaha area. A 34 year-old man used to walk up and down his neighborhood and show off his 6’ boa constrictor to neighbors. He often would let the snake wrap around the children and slide on their trampolines. He liked to show off his snake.

On one such occasion last June the snake constricted around his neck. Within minutes he was out of breath, on the floor, and soon after, dead. His ‘pet’ became his ‘killer’ in a matter of seconds. This man had overestimated his ability to master the snake while underestimating the snake’s desire to master him.

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It is an awful fact, whether we like to allow it or not, that pride is one of the commonest sins which beset human nature. We are all born Pharisees.

We all naturally think far better of ourselves than we ought. We all naturally fancy that we deserve something better than we have. It is an old sin. It began in the garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve thought they had not got everything that their merits deserved.

It is a subtle sin. It rules and reigns in many a heart without being detected, and can even wear the garb of humility.

It is a most soul-ruining sin. It prevents repentance, keeps men back from Christ, checks brotherly love, and nips in the bud spiritual anxiety. Let us watch against it, and be on our guard. Of all garments, none is so graceful, none wears so well, and none is so rare, as true humility. –J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark, p.186

Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face, who exult in your name all the day and in your righteousness are exalted.(Psa 89.15-16)

The Psalms provide examples and commands for the people of God to not be bashful with their volume in worship (Ps. 20.5, 32.11, 35.27, etc). You may rightly say that believers are not required to use their ‘inside voices’ in worship. We are free to turn up the volume.

In this particular Psalm their is great motivation for hearty praise. Believers here walk “in the light” of God’s face. That is in the presence of God’s favor and blessing. Furthermore, the content of the happiness in God is his character and actions. The disclosure of God’s person and works motivates, dictates, and sustains this hearty worship.

In reading this Psalm of God’s faithfulness to his people I am struck myself of his kindness to me. This is a Psalm that characterizes the redeemed as the shouters of praise. But I know that apart from God’s all-sufficient, sovereign grace I would not even be whispering his praise. In fact, I would have been one of those who would have been yelling, “Crucify HIM!” Prior to conversion I would mock God and his people. I would rather lose my voice in mocking him than whisper a song of his praise. Now, by the sheer grace of God, I want to join the people of God and shout together of the mighty person and work of God?!

This is indeed good and right. It is grace.

Father, make me to soak in the grace of the gospel. Remind me afresh of the waywardness of my own heart. Show me how powerful your grace is. Turn my mind and heart again and again to your saving work in Jesus. Make my words and songs reflect a passionate commitment to you. Make me to walk in the light of your face. For Jesus sake, Amen.

Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves. (Psalm 88.7)

Psalm 88 is a lament Psalm. The writer is overwhelmed with grief and trouble. He feels as if he is on the threshold of death (v.3).

Worse yet, he sees that God is the one who is behind it. In verse 6 “You have put me in the depths of the pit”, verse 7 “Your wrath lies heavy upon me…”, verse 8 “You have caused my companions to shun me, you have made me a horror to them.”

The writer recognizes God’s involvement, even amid his suffocating circumstances.

One cannot read these words without thinking of our Lord Jesus. It was upon the cross that he was rejected, shunned, filled with sorrow, overwhelmed, and heavily laid upon by divine wrath.

In fact, that is a perfect picture of what is happening at the cross. There is the human reality of rejection. The Psalmist, as well as Jesus, felt it, they knew it well. However, Jesus felt and knew the overwhelming waves of wrath in a different way. He new them redemptively.

God’s wrath lied heavily upon Jesus on the cross. Just as the Levites would press firmly upon the heads of the goat on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16), confessing the sin of the people and charging it to the sacrifice, so to on the cross the hands of God, as it were, were laid heavy upon him as our sin was charged to him and divine wrath was laid upon him. Never was there such a Tsunami of wrath as this day when Christ was baptized into the divine displeasure over sin.

But Christ stood. He suffered, died and was buried. He drank the cup. While the overwhelming waves of wrath and the swift undercurrent of judgment would topple us, Jesus stood. He bore all of the wrath, all of the shame, all of the guilt. He is the substitute for sinners like you and me.

Father, I cannot understand the depths of this wrath, love and mercy that is compressed into the thimble that is this Psalm. It is filled with so much of the story of who you are and who I am. Therefore, make me to learn and understand better as to the value of Christ’s cross. Make me to sit and study it, that I might be overwhelmed by it and live in light of it. Because of Christ, forgive my sin; my selfishness, my pride, and my short-term memory that forgets the cross. And make me smile in light of its abiding shadow of your faithfulness and pleasure. Amen.

There is little doubt that we have all experienced the following circumstance and reaction. Someone comes to let you know about something that you have said or done that is wrong. Whether it was ignorant or blatant, the bottom line is the consequence. The other individual is offended, hurt, or aware of something that you did that needs to be addressed.

Sadly, it our reaction that really gets us in hot water. It is our sinful reaction that shows our betrayal of the gospel just as much as the first sin itself.

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The 4th Psalm is a song that arises out of the context of difficulty. The Psalmist is encountering unspecified but nonetheless, troubling circumstances. His approach to this is neither bitterness, frustration, nor isolation. Instead, it is prayer to God, words to the oppressors, and words to other believers.

What is striking about this Psalm is his quiet confidence in God while amid the blaring siren of conflict. Let’s not forget that he is singing this confidence. His heart is tuned by grace. This is so very practical.

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The store is quite amazing. A brand new building in a recently redeveloped section of Omaha. Tall glass windows invite you in as you approach walk along the sidewalk. Then as you peer in you see bright colors and very large, creamy, cupcakes on display. It is like a store a little girl would design, but only with the help of a smart businessman and quality architects.

This is why we took our little girl Alexis to Jones Bros. Cupcakes for her 7th birthday last week. It did not disappoint. Alexis looked like and felt like a princess as she had a latte and enjoyed a very rich chocolate cupcake.

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As a Christian in general, and a parent and a pastor in particular, I find myself occasionally answering the question of whether prayer should be addressed to Jesus or the Holy Spirit. I found it helpful to come across this quote from Martin Luther where he dealt with this very question:

When you call upon Jesus Christ and say: O my dear Lord, God, my Creator, and Father, Jesus Christ, Thou one eternal God, you need not worry that the Father and the Holy Spirit will be angry on this account. They know that no matter which Person you call upon, you call upon all three Persons and upon the One God at the same time. For you cannot call upon on Person without calling upon the others, because the one, undivided divine Essence exists in all and in each Person.

Conversely, you cannot deny an Person in particular without denying all three and the One God in His entirety, as 1 John 2.23 says: ‘Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father. (Quoted from Taking Hold of God: Reformed & Puritan Perspectives on Prayer), pp. 23-24

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Gospel Sirens.

Erik Raymond —  March 28, 2011

Living here in the Midwest we have some unique experiences. One of which are the seasonal sirens that interrupt our days.  These sirens alert of us bad weather, most often tornadoes. When the shrilling sirens go off we know that there is an emergency. Severe weather is afoot.

The exception to this is if the siren goes off on the first Saturday of the month or another specified testing time. Then we know that there is nothing of substance along with it. We know that county officials are drilling, they are testing their equipment and communication. We can quietly ignore it and go about our business.

However, if that alarm goes off on Tuesday afternoon at 3pm then it has our undivided attention. We grab our phones and check the weather as we look outside and assess what is happening.

The announcement of the gospel, the death of Christ is never just a drill or a rehearsal. It’s never just a formality without any corresponding emergency. The fact of the matter is, we are sinners. Every single minute of the day we are sinners. We sin in what we do and what we fail to do. We sin in what we think and what we fail to think.

Therefore, the announcement of the gospel is a siren to call us back again to the cross for safety and refuge. It beckons us unto Christ. It is a fresh opportunity to take cover in him.

We need the sin-conquering, wrath-removing, death-destroying, guilt-removing, shame-bearing death of Jesus every minute of every day. The gospel sirens are always blaring, calling us to seek refuge and safety in Jesus.

Too often we live in the posture of a drill that doesn’t effect us. The reality is, we are always in need. Therefore, as Christians we should be the ones sounding the sirens each day as we preach the wonderful sufficiency of Jesus to our own hearts. The personal need brings about the personal preaching. This in turn, brings about personal repentance, faith, and joy.

I love this quote. I will totally be picturing barrels and praying for explosions tomorrow morning.

One of my predecessors at Tenth Presbyterian Church, Donald Grey Barn-house, used to say that when he preached to an audience, he used to think of them as barrels sitting on the pews. Most of them were empty. But some of them had gunpowder inside, and his job was to produce explosions. He did it by striking the matches of the Word and throwing them into the barrels. When he hit one that had gunpowder, there would be an explosion. God put the gunpowder there. Then, as the Word was preached, there was a spiritual ignition or rebirth. This is one of the reasons we should value preaching so highly. –James Montgomery Boice, Feed my Sheep

Josh Thiessen, a friend a fellow pastor at Emmaus, wrote about an intriguing topic for pastors to consider when thinking about intentionally preaching longer, more in-depth sermons.

He was wrestling a bit with what Bryan Chapell compared in the Expository Model and the Mass Communication Model (mass communication as in providing the a short sentence or so summary of doctrine and then unpacking a lot of practical items quickly with lots of stories).

These are the four benefits he came down on for Expository Preaching. You could make them demerits of the Mass Communication Model.

1) It teaches people how to read their Bible.

2) It teaches discipline and maturity.

3) It gives you a greater opportunity to feed the sheep.

4) It endures through the ages.

Read the whole thing here. It is thought provoking and helpful.

This is one of my favorite passages from one of my favorite sermons. The sermon is The Excellency of Christ by Jonathan Edwards. It is in volume 1 of his
Works.

Let what has been said be improved to induce you to love the Lord Jesus Christ, and choose him for your friend and portion. As there is such an admirable meeting of diverse excellencies in Christ, so there is every thing in him to render him worthy of your love and choice, and to win and engage it. Whatsoever there is or can be desirable in a friend, is in Christ, and that to the highest degree that can be desired.

Would you choose for a friend a person of great dignity? It is a thing taking with men to have those for their friends who are much above them; because they look upon themselves honored by the friendship of such. Thus, how taking would it be with an inferior maid to be the object of the dear love of some great and excellent prince. But Christ is infinitely above you, and above all the princes of the earth; for he is the King of kings. So honorable a person as this offers himself to you, in the nearest and dearest friendship.

And would you choose to have a friend not only great but good? In Christ infinite greatness and infinite goodness meet together, and receive lustre and glory one from another. His greatness is rendered lovely by his goodness. The greater any one is without goodness, so much the greater evil; but when infinite goodness is joined with greatness, it renders it a glorious and adorable greatness. So, on the other hand, his infinite goodness receives lustre from his greatness. –Jonathan Edwards, The Excellency of Christ (read for free here)

Amid the continued chatter and debate about ‘hell’ and God’s ‘judgment’, I found Tim Keller’s thoughts insightful. The only variant here is that Keller is talking about how he approaches skeptics who stumble over a literal hell and a God of wrath. It’s a shame that more who say they are Christian and even teach at ‘Bible’ Churches look so very much like a skeptic. They should take Keller’s advice and ‘look to the Bible.’

Keller is right, to say that in the Bible we see that ‘The God of love is also a God of judgment who will put all things in the world to rights in the end.’ Without this judging God, Bell’s (and others’) view of restoration is Pollyanna at best. It’s a Potemkin Village of restoration; nobody is home and nobody is better.

It’s tragic to consider what that skeptics outside or guys like Rob Bell ‘inside’ do; in the name of acceptance they make such judgments upon the word of God and the God of the word.

Today many of the skeptics I talk to say, as I once did, they can’t believe in the God of the Bible, who punishes and judges people, because they “believe in a God of Love.” I now ask, what makes them think God is Love? Can they look at life in the world today and say, “This proves that the God of the world is a God of love”? Can they look at history and say, “This all shows that the God of history is a God of love”? Can they look at the religious texts of the world and conclude that God is a God of love? By no means is that the dominant, ruling attribute of God as understood in any of the major faiths. I must conclude that the source of the idea that God is Love is the Bible itself. And the Bible tells us that the God of love is also a God of judgment who will put all things in the world to rights in the end.

The belief in a God of pure love—who accepts everyone and judges no one—is a powerful act of faith. Not only is there no evidence for it in the natural order, but there is almost no historical, religious textual support for it outside of Christianity. The more one looks at it, the less justified it appears. –Tim Keller, The Reason for God