Archives For Ordinary Pastor

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

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

As a Christian I struggle to keep the gospel playing on repeat on my mental play-list.  I default to Law and idolatry.  God then sends trials to providentially dissuade us of our value and fasten our eyes upon Jesus, who alone is valuable.

Having this daily struggle as a Christian I find it to be my struggle and burden for believers in the Lord’s church where I am privileged and blessed to pastor.  Therefore, I was richly blessed to read again of this dialog between Christian & Prudence in John Bunyan’s classic allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress.  The context is a dinnertime conversation between believers about the primacy and power of Christ’s work.

Read this and be blessed and encouraged by the priority of returning to the cross, Christ’s righteousness, the Scriptures, and the return of Christ!

PRUDENCE: Do you not still carry some of the baggage from the place you escaped?

CHRISTIAN: Yes, but against my will.  I still have within me some of the carnal thoughts that all my countrymen, as well as myself, were delighted with.  Now all those things cause me to grieve.  If I could master my own heart, I would choose never to think of those things again, but when I try only to think about those things that are best, those things that are the worst creep back into my mind and behavior.

PRUDENCE: Do you not still carry with you in your mind some recollection of the things that you were formerly involved with?

CHRISTIAN: Yes, but greatly against my will, and especially those inward and carnal reasonings which all of my countrymen, as well as myself, were delighted to revel in. But now all those things only grieve me; and should I be able to choose only what I think, I would choose never to think of those carnal things anymore. But when I would be doing that which is best, still that which is worse remains with me.

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Last week people were filling out their NCAA Tournament Brackets. There was so much optimism and excitement. And of course there were experts. You know the people I’m talking about. These are the guys that always know (allegedly) about the upsets before they happen. The go on the radio, TV, blogs and Twitter with all of their predictions.

Then Moorehead State, Richmond or Virginia Commonwealth happens, and everyone’s bracket is busted.

Christianity has its own version of bracket experts. They are called the prophecy nuts. You know the guys I am talking about. They write books, rent billboards, and have TV commercials that tell us that they know for sure when the end of the world is coming.

Like the bracket experts these prophetical experts have studied the data and made their predictions. They are ‘certain’ about the outcomes (ie the dates and times).

The NCAA tournament is entertaining. But it is also a reminder of the fact that we lack certain divine perfections, namely, omniscience and omnipotence. We do not have the ability to control the outcomes and we certainly do not (no matter how many sports’ blogs we read) have the ability to predict these games.

In a similar manner the future snoopers have got to come to grips with the fact that they may be spending a little bit too much time with their charts and newspapers–while neglecting the real world of the Bible. Just like ‘bracket-guy’ the ‘prophecy guy’ may be spending so much time with his research that he actually convinces himself that his plan is going to happen. The problem is, he is neither sovereign nor all-knowing. The fact of the matter is, no one knows the day or the time when Christ will return (Matt. 24.36). To venture beyond what is written is neither scholarly nor pious, it is arrogant.

I really enjoy watching the games and enjoying the thrilling experience of the unexpected upsets. It’s also refreshing to remember the amount of what we really don’t know. I really wish prophecy guy would stop renting billboards and writing books and get this same memo.

I wonder if bracket guy and prophecy guy put down their respective paperwork for a few minutes, if they would get along well?

One of the joys of this blog is the opportunity to wring out passages into my own devotional bucket and then scoop out some thoughts and sentences on this site. Therefore, I’ll be posting some short devotional posts on the 4th Psalm in the next couple of weeks as I continue to chew on it.

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.

Here are some practical principles in light of verses 1-3

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I really like Fred Sanders The Deep Things of God. It is a very theological and devotional look at the Trinity. He does this from the sideline of contemporary evangelicalism. This makes it particularly fresh and engaging.

This sum and substance of this quote has been rattling around in my mind for a couple of weeks. Helpful stuff.

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It is a fact of life along with taxes, mismatched socks, traffic when you are in a hurry, that in this world we are going to have trouble.

In fact Jesus, who himself encountered more trouble in this world then all of us combined, said, “…in this world you will have tribulation…” (John 16.33). Furthermore, for believers who have been saved by divine grace, given a new nature, yet still imperfect and given to sin, we seem to encounter varied forms of ‘trouble’ even in the body of Christ.

Even more for those of us in pastoral ministry, we seem to partake in espresso strength doses of trouble. I remember a particular ‘green’ moment in my first year of full time ministry when I asked the guys during a staff meeting (this was about 4 months in), “Is it always like this?” To which they lovingly responded, “It is Mach IV with your hair on fire. Buckle up. Heaven will be great.” This was during a particularly tumultuous time, but it has nevertheless characterized ministry. Those of you who are in ministry know what I am talking about.

So how do we respond? Well, the temptations abound, and the natural responses are, well, natural. We can become bitter, self-consumed, tired, discouraged, or even depressed. All of these things will naturally happen when we find ourselves inwardly focused and dressed with thin skin. But is this God-honoring? Is this biblically right?

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I have been quite refreshed by the recently published volume Feed My Sheep. 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. I am reading it on my Kindle and keep going back to these quotes for encouragement in ministry.

This particular quote is from Sinclair Ferguson in his chapter preaching to the heart. The whole chapter is very helpful, but this was particularly appropriate:

There is a center to the Bible and its message of grace. It is found in Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected. Grace, therefore, must be preached in a way that is centered and focused on Jesus Christ Himself. We must never offer the benefits of the gospel without the Benefactor Himself. For many preachers, however, it is much easier to deal with the pragmatic things, to answer “how to” questions, and even to expose and denounce sin than it is to give an adequate explanation of the source of the forgiveness, acceptance, and power we need.

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There are many things about the Christian life that are a mystery to me. One of the things that is a mystery and that chaffs my spirit is when a Christian begins to get something and then goes militant against his former ilk. You know what I mean; they begin to understand something theologically profound and impacting and then they are ready to shred anyone of their former friends because they do not get it.  Often times the refrain, “I can’t believe they don’t get this. Are they blind?!”

A friend of mine has likened this to the ex-chain smoker who now can’t stand people who smoke. The guy used to suck down cigs like slurpies but now he is free from that vice and everyone else is suddenly an idiot.

This happens a lot with Calvinists. We begin to understand (notice–begin) the doctrines of grace and we have little patience for those foolish Arminians. Why is it that we can hold to a system that emphasizes the soveriegnty and grace of God at such a premium, but at the same time we are ready to mow down anybody who does not sign off their email with Soli Deo Gloria (which I do by the way–because I mean it and want to be safe). After all, isn’t the understanding we experience as Christians a result of God’s grace? Or does this just come as a result of our superior smarts?

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One of the big keys to living the Christian life is to stop pretending.

If you need a lesson on pretending go and watch some little kids. They are very good at it. They dress up, role play, and live on in a fantasy world. It is one of my favorite parental past times to watch my kids rescue princesses, heal the sick, run a store, defeat the bad guys, and pretend to be mommies.

Too often we as Christians are comfortable pretending. We pretend that we have it all together, are full of faith, rock solid, and without sin or other issues. To the untrained eye it might even appear like we don’t need a Savior.

This is one reason why I love the guy in Mark 9.14-29. This father of a sick and demon possessed man admits that he doesn’t have it all together. He declares: “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mk. 9.24)

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A helpful, big picture reminder for preachers:

What does a pastoral heart of wisdom do when it discovers that death is sure, that life is short, and that suffering is inevitable and necessary?

The answer is given two verses later in Psalm 90. It is a prayer: “Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (vv. 13b-14, ESV).

In the face of toil, trouble, suffering, and death, the wise preacher cries out with the psalmist, “Satisfy us in the morning with Your steadfast love.” He prays this both for himself and for his people: “0 God, grant that we would be satisfied with Your steadfast love always, and need nothing else”-and then he preaches to that end.

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Most books on prayer are convicting. The authors don’t have to work too hard to give us the Bible verses, make some helpful observations, and point us to simple application. On the other hand, I have found it somewhat rare to find books on prayer that also provide clear, practical instruction. Perhaps this is due to people being afraid of imposing standards or practices that are not mandated in the Scriptures. At any rate, I am very excited when I can find a book that does both: provide conviction and instruction.

The Hidden Life of Prayer by David McIntyre is one of those books. It is not a long book. It weighs in as a paperback at about 120 pages. However, whatever is lacked in volume it brings in substance. Think of it as a cup of espresso for the discipline of prayer.

McIntyre (1859-1938) was a minister in Scotland. His daily faithfulness precedes this volume. It is helpful to remember that this book was an outflow of a life that was bathed in prayer and the ministry of the word.

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After this post on Kids and Bible Reading, I have had several people ask about how to use the Heidelberg Catechism as a family, and in particular with the training of children. I figured it was worthy of a quick post.

I have broken the answer down into things to remember and then suggestions for implementation.

1. Remember that this is a catechism. It is a teaching. It is written by men and is not on the same level as Scripture.

Suggestion: Explain this to your children. Tell them that God has given us many gifted teachers (Eph. 4.11) throughout Church history that help us to better understand the Bible. This is an example of helpful teaching. But make sure to explain the difference between the catechism and the Bible. To invert these two will undermine everything you are trying to accomplish.

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