“We need help in keeping our beliefs sharp and accurate and intact. We don’t trust ourselves; our emotions seduce us into infidelities. We know we are launched on a difficult and dangerous act of faith, and there are strong influences intent on diluting or destroying it. We want you to give us help. Be our pastor, a minister of Word and sacrament in the middle of this world’s life. Minister with Word and sacrament in all the different parts and stages of our lives – in our work and play, with our children and our parents, at birth and death, in our celebrations and sorrows, on those days when morning breaks over us in a wash of sunshine, and those other days that are all drizzle. This isn’t the only task in the life of faith, but it is your task. We will find someone else to do the other important and essential tasks. This is yours: Word and
One more thing: We are going to ordain you to this ministry, and we want your vow that you will stick to it. This is not a temporary job assignment but a way of life that we need lived out in our community. We know you are launched on the same difficult belief venture in the same dangerous world as we re. We know your emotions are as fickle as ours, and your mind is as tricky as ours. That is why we are going to ordain you and why we are going to exact a vow from you. We know there will be days and months, maybe even years, when we won’t feel like believing anything and won’t want to hear it from you. And we know there will be days and weeks and maybe even years when you won’t feel like saying it. It doesn’t matter. Do it. You are ordained to this ministry, vowed to it.
There may be times when we come to you as a committee or delegation and demand that you tell us something else than what we are telling you now. Promise right now that you won’t give in to what we demand of you. You are not the minister of our changing desires, or our time-conditioned understanding of our needs, or our secularized hopes for something better. With these vows of ordination we are lashing you fast to the mast of Word and sacrament so you will be unable to respond to the siren voices.
There are many other things to be done in this wrecked world, and we are going to be doing at least some of them, but if we don’t know the foundational realities with
which we are dealing – God, kingdom, gospel – we are going to end up living
futile, fantasy lives. Your task is to keep telling the basic story, representing the presence of the Spirit, insisting on the priority of God, speaking the biblical words of command and promise and invitation.” (138-139)
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
“Sometimes in the half-secular world of mainline denomonational life as it is today, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem reappear. They take the form of bureaucrats who see any version of Christianity that challenges the status quo as subversive: unnecessary, unwise, and destructive rather than constructive in its thrust. In local churches and parachurch bodies, any leader who values order above ardour and routine above revival, and who pours cold water on visionaries as soon as they propose that something be done, risks becoming a new Sanballat or Tobiah. The loyalty of such people, whereby they think they serve God, is given to Christian institutions rather than to biblical truth, and they have no idea that in this they become Satan’s tools for the snuffing out of spiritual life; nor do they ever understand why Christians who have learned their fatih and calling from the Bible find it necessary to fight them. The pride reflected in their confidence that wisdom is with them, and that they have a Christian duty to uphold the status quo against Bible-based reformers, makes the Sanballats and Tobiahs of our time into figures who are pathetic and tragic at the same time. But that does not in any way reduce our obligation to stand against them when they oppose obedience to God’s truth. Nehemiah is our model here, a very relevant model for our time.”
J. I. Packer, A Passion For Faithfulness: Wisdom from the Book of Nehemiah, 98.
- Nehemiah is not expressing personal vindictiveness against Sanballat and Tobiah so much as zeal for God to vindicate himself against them because they have opposed him. . . .
Difficulty is felt today with biblical prayers that God will take vengeance, partly because of their oriental exuberance of expression . . . but mainly because the pure zeal for God’s glory that those prayers express is foreign to our spiritually sluggish hearts. …
What we are being shown here is that when Christians get to heaven, with their sanctification complete and their minds as fully conformed to the mind of Christ as the angels’ minds are, they will forever rejoice not only in the mercies by which God has glorified himself in their own lives, but also in the judgments by which he vindicates himself against those who defy him. (p. 101-102)
- Any embarrassment we might feel at Nehemiah’s forthrightness could be a sign of our own spiritual and moral limitations rather than his. Was it a weakness that in Nehemiah’s code of conduct the modern shibboleth, ‘thou shalt be nice’ seems to have had no place, while ‘thou shalt be faithful to God and zealous for God’ was evidently basic to it? . . . . The assumption, so common today, that niceness is of the essence of goodness needs to be exploded. Nehemiah should not be criticized for thinking that there are more important things in life than being nice. …And if Nehemiah upsets us by seeming to be a judgmental egoist, we should remember that he believed in the absolutes of divine revelation and the reality of God’s judgments with a robustness that few nowadays match. Belief in absolutes is out of fashion in the West; relativism and pluralism have become ‘politically correct’ pollutions of the cultural air we breathe, and any affirmation of what purports to be universal truth is thought of as bad manners, if not worse. (p.182-183)
A Passion for Faithfulness: Wisdom from the Book of Nehemiah
I have just finished reading J. I Packer’s A Passion for Faithfulness: Wisdom from the Book of Nehemiah . The book wanders a bit, but as would be expected there is much wisdom here. Packer properly points out that the book is about not simply ‘leadership lessons’ but about the renewing of the people of God- in our terminology renewing and reforming the church. I’ll take a few posts to distill some of the points he makes.
Packer points out how Nehemiah begins with a heart broken for the state of the people of God and repentant not simply for the sins of others but recognizing his part in the failure of the people. It is all to easy to point out what others are doing wrong rather than taking our place among the ruins of God’s people and acknowledging our part in the current situation. Of course, before any rebuilding can be done, we must be among the people.
- We have all had a greater share in the church’s shortcomings and unfaithfulnesses than we know, and we may not therefore treat such sense as we have of its failures as excusing us from the need to confess that we shared in the process of its failing. Nor is it for us to turn our back on the church in impatience...but to pray and work for its renewal, keeping that as the prime focus of our concern at all times. (p. 48)
Do we in fact start where he started, with the same passion for God’s glory and the same burden of concern and distress when we contemplate the broken-down state of God’s church?
‘How few the strong men in these days who can weep at the evils and abominations of the times! How rare those who, seeing the desolations of Zion, are sufficiently interested and concerned for the welfare of the church to mourn! Mourning and weeping over the decay of religion, the decline of revival power, and the fearful inroads of worldliness in the church are almost an unknown quantity. . . . Nehemiah was a mourner in Zion. [E.M. Bounds, Prayer and Praying Men (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, n.d.), p. 73ff.]
. . . Are we willing to learn to pray for the struggling communities of God’s people as Nehemiah prayed for the Jews, and to accept with Nehemiah any changes of circumstances and any risk that may be involved in rendering the needed service? (p. 67)
Also, Nehemiah’s concern for God’s glory which causes him to be bothered about the status quo, does not allow him to merely carp from the sidelines but compels him into the fray to do something about it. Packer writes:
- [Nehemiah was] one of those ‘who delight in revering your name’…. Such zeal, though matched by Jesus and the psalmists and Paul (to look no further), is rarer today than it should be; most of us are more like the lukewarm Laodiceans, drifting along very cheerfully in becalmed churches, feeling confident that everything is all right, and thereby disgusting our Lord Jesus, who sees that, spiritually speaking, nothing is right (see Rev. 3:14-22). (p. 33)
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Occasionally I hear people almost apologetic about reading this blog since they are not pastors. I have mentioned this in some comments, but I want to put it here just for clarity, my focus in writing is on pastoral ministry, but I hope that pastors as well as non-pastors read the blog. I am convinced that pastors need to think more carefully, critically and biblically about pastoral ministry. I also think the people in the pews also need to do the same thinking so they will now what to look for and what to encourage in their pastors. As pastors seek to function more biblically they will need more people in their congregations to support such ministry- esp. since it is often different from many have seen. So, welcome all!
Friday, January 20, 2006
For those taking the class, I will require the same books, except I will not require the Bridges book. Instead I will have you choose another book from the bibliography at the end.
For readers not taking this class (most of you by far!), I thought some of the basic ideas in the syllabus might be helpful and that the reading list might be of interest.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
If Only the Church Promised Men This World!
If Christ had the sort of kingdom and Gospel in which money were plentifully given and temporal, visible help were dispensed, men would promptly believe in His heaven. In fact, in that event another heaven would be required; for everybody would believe, and the present heaven would be entirely too small. With a sermon that promised plentifully to distribute gold and silver among the people, I would pledge the “conversion” of all the people in the world to Christianity. Since, however, the kingdom and Gospel of Christ give life eternal and teach at the same time that one must be willing to let oneself be dishonored, hated, caught, beaten, plagued, killed, no one wants to accept it, and our good God has room enough in heaven.
Outward Prosperity Paralyzes Spiritual Progress
Now that we have made the matters of the church attractive and famous and have drawn the spirit into the flesh, wealth, a tyrannical administration, impunity, outward peace, and a more than worldly pomp are called a good state of the church. For the devil saw and finally understood our spiritual prosperity; so he kept himself in check and attacked us from a different direction and is now triumphing to our terrible misfortune. And he who was defeated in war now rules in peace – in both instances certainly by God’s marvelous decree. Therefore St. Hilary has aptly and very truly said that it is the nature of the church to wax by adversities and inevitably to wane in prosperous times.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
The value of this community came to mind again today when I was home for lunch. Somehow in our lunch table conversation (with my wife and four boys) something was mentioned about sisters. My three year old, Benjamin, said “My sister [is] named Anna Beth.” Anna Beth is a young girl in our church, one of his friends, but as my wife pointed out to him, not technically his sister. My wife, who is pregnant, went on to say, “This baby might be a sister for you and we could name her …” and she mentioned an option. Benjamin responded, “I want to name our baby Michael Tankersley!” Michael is the son of one of my fellow elders and is one of Benjamin’s close friends. I guess he thought, “Let’s just have another Michael here!”
It was all funny and quite cute. On my way back to the office, though, it hit me. While he knows the distinction between our immediate family and his church family, the distinction is not sharp. Those at church are to him family. They are in his mind, brothers and sisters. This made my heart well up in a huge, “Yes!” He is from his early days learning to see the community of faith not as something ‘out there’ but as part of our intimate circle. One of my prayers for my boys is that close-knit church community be a basic assumption from their earliest days.
As we labor in the ministry let us labor for the community of the saints, that the watching world might know by our real and active love for one another that we are indeed followers of Christ.
Monday, January 16, 2006
I have often used this (in oral presentation) with churches in interim periods or other times of self-evaluation.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
This news has, of course, been good for me. The most dangerous thing in the world is the sin of self-reliance and the stupor of worldliness. The news of cancer has a wonderfully blasting effect on both. I thank God for that. The times with Christ in these days have been unusually sweet.
When I first read the letter, I was lost at first for the referent to ‘this news.’ I wondered if it was referring to the immediately preceding paragraph about recovery time, etc. Then as I read on I understood he meant that the news of having cancer was good for him! To say that in such sincerity is a powerful example of grace at work and maturity lived out. This letter is a good example of pastoral leadership in the midst of difficulty and suffering. Here is a model for us to learn from.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
1. Prayer. For this reason you should despair of your wisdom and reason; for with these you will acquire nothing, but by your arrogance cast yourself and others into the pit of hell as did Lucifer. Kneel down in your chamber and ask God in true humility and seriousness to grant you true wisdom.
2. Meditation. In the second place, you should meditate, and not only in your heart, but also outwardly, the oral Word and the expressed words that are written in the Book, which you must always consider and reconsider, and read and read over with diligent attention and reflection to see what the Holy Spirit means thereby. And take care that you do not become weary of it, thinking that you have read it sufficiently if you have read, heard, or said it once or twice and understand it perfectly. For in this way no great theologian is made, but they (who do not study) are like immature fruit, which falls down before it is half ripe. For this reason you see in this Psalm 119 that David is always boasting that he would speak, meditate, declare, sing, hear, read, day and night forever nothing else than the Word of God alone and the commandments of God. For God does not purpose to give you His Spirit without the external Word. Be guided by that. For He did not command in vain to write, preach, read, hear, sing, and declare His external Word.
3. Temptation. In the third place, there is tentatio, that is, trial. That is the true touchstone which teaches you not only to know and understand, but also to experience how true, sincere, sweet, lovely, powerful, comforting the Word of God is, so that it is the wisdom above all wisdom. Thus you see how David in the Psalm just mentioned complains about all manner of enemies, wicked princes and tyrants, false prophets and factions, which he must endure because he always meditates, that is, deals with God's Word in every possible way, as stated. For as soon as the Word of God bears fruit through you, the devil will trouble you, make you a real teacher, and teach you through tribulation to seek and to love the Word of God. For I myself - if I am permitted to voice my humble opinion - must thank my papists very much for so buffeting, distressing, and terrifying me by the devil's fury that they made me a fairly good theologian, which otherwise I should never have become.
4. Humility. Then (namely, if you follow the rule of David exhibited in Psalm 119) you will find how shallow and unworthy will appear to you the writings of the Fathers, and you will condemn not only the books of the opponents, but also be ever less pleased with your own writing and preaching. If you have arrived at this stage, you may surely hope that you have just begun to be a real theologian, one who is able to teach not only the young and unlearned, but also the advanced and well-instructed Christians. For Christ's Church includes all manner of Christians - young, old, weak, sick, healthy, strong, aggressive, indolent, simple, wise, etc. But if you consider yourself learned and imagine that you have attained the goal and feel proud of your booklets, teaching and writing, as though you had done marvelously and preached wondrously, and if you are much pleased because people praise you before others and you must be praised or otherwise you are disappointed and feel like giving up - if you are minded like that, my friend, just grab yourself by the ears, and if you grab rightly, you will find a fine pair of big, long, rough, donkey ears. Then go to a little more expense and adorn yourself with golden bells, so that wherever you go people can hear you, admiringly point at you with their fingers and say, "Lo and behold, there is that wonderful man who can write such excellent books and preach so remarkably!" Then certainly you will be blessed, yes more than blessed, in the kingdom of heaven; indeed, in that kingdom in which the fire of hell has been prepared for the devil and his angels! . . In this Book, God's glory alone is set forth, and it says: Deus superbis resistit, humilibus autem dat gratium. Cui est gloria in secula seculerum [God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. To Whom be glory forever and ever]. Amen.
Monday, January 09, 2006
Here is a quote from the article which cites Barna:
Unlike the Great Awakenings, which brought people into the church, this new movement "entails drawing people away from reliance upon a local church into a deeper connection with and reliance upon God."
Who needs a church when you have God? Especially when the church can be so common, day-to-day, and unexciting. To quote the article again:
Barna illustrates with two fictional characters who "eliminated church life from their busy schedules." Why? They did not find a ministry "that was sufficiently stimulating" and "their church, although better than average, still seems flat."
The article also interacts a bit with Barna’s argument that the New Testament does not call for active involvement in a local church.
I confess that this has me a bit wired up. I can’t believe he has finally said it so baldly, but this is the spirit of the age. This properly pictures for us what many out there are thinking. I am proud of CT for critiquing it. Barna has been allowed to be a guru for years all the while showing that he has little theological or biblical basis. In fact this approach to church which he reports and encourages is simply the logical end of the consumerism he has been promoting for some time.
But, my main point is to say this simply underscores the need for clear teaching in order to properly shepherd the people entrusted to our care. This neglect of the local church is not good for us, and in spite of some common misconceptions it is not the heritage of Protestantism through the Reformation. When Protestants today are so negligent and apathetic towards the church they are in fact abandoning their heritage. The Reformers were strong in their ecclesiology. In fact Calvin wrote, “If we do not prefer the church to all other objects of our interests we are unworthy of being counted among her members” (Institutes, 4.1.1). You can pursue this further with a really good book from Soli Deo Gloria entitled, Onward Christian Soldiers: Protestants Affirm the Church. It is a collection of addresses on the church by people like John MacArthur, Do Whitney and R. C. Sproul.
Since my first post on this topic began with a story about my children I’ll close this one with another story. I came in recently to find my third son, Jonathan, playing with a tape measure. As I walked up to him, I saw him pull out the tape measure a certain length, look at it studiously, and then he said matter-of-factly, “Yep, it’s 32 degrees outside.” Things like this Barna book are much like my son here. Measuring with the wrong instrument, and therefore coming up with really flawed results. At least my son will eventually learn better and his error concerns trivial things rather than controverting Scripture to the detriment of the Bride of Christ.
Friday, January 06, 2006
Thursday, January 05, 2006
“Wut is a rhombus in e way?”
We couldn’t help laughing at his candor.
I am convinced, however, that many professing Christians in the West today, when pressed about the importance of the church (whether concerning membership, devotion to, labor for, etc.) would respond with a blank stare saying, “What is the church anyway?” Bonhoeffer once stated the word “church” to Protestants “has the sound of something infinitely commonplace, more or less indifferent and superfluous, that does not make their hear beat faster; something with which a sense of boredom is so often associated.”
If we are going to understand the gravity of oversight and the role of pastoring, we must have a proper understanding of what the church is. However, we are often deficient in this area because for so long there has been so little attention given to the church. Many church leaders (often the ones who we hear from the most) basically suggest all of theology is clear and settled and the only thing we need to think about now is strategy and marketing. How sadly untrue this is becomes clear in seeing how radically off course we are from New Testament descriptions of the Church. Paul highlighted the connection between the identity of the church and the role of the pastor when he urged the Ephesian elders to “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
One important Pauline statement on the identity and mission of the church is found in 1 Timothy 3:14-15: “I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”
Here is a link to one attempt to preach on the identity and importance of the church from the incredibly compact statement of Paul in 1 Timothy 3:15.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
This is a desperately deficient view of God. It is true that He deeply loves His creation, but he is not in need of us. We are in need of Him. The gospel proclamation is not that God needs us to sign up but that He graciously calls us to repent in spite of ourselves- and that if we do not we will be judged. In speaking the gospel we are not to emotionally manipulate people from the concern of hurting God’s feeling! Rather we are to proclaim to them that we all, in ourselves, stand under the holy wrath of God deserving nothing but judgment. The love of God is seen not in Him being a jilted lover waiting for us to give Him a chance, but in Him not destroying us straight away. His love is shown in Him providing a way, at much cost to Himself, for our sins to be dealt with that we might be reconciled to Him. Gospel preaching then calls on people to repent lest they fall under the judgment of God!
John Angell James, an 18th century pastor spoke to this issue as well. He wrote :“It is as if he had said, ‘wherever we go, we find men in unprovoked hostility, inveterate enmity, and mad rebellion, against God’s holy nature, law, and government: we carry with us, as his ambassadors, the proclamation of mercy through the mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ: we tell them that we are appointed by God whom they have offended, and who could overwhelm them with the terrors of his justice, to call upon them to lay down their arms and accept the offer of eternal pardon and peace: but we find them every where so bent upon their sins, and the enjoyment of their worldly occupations and possessions, that we are compelled to use the language of the most vehement entreaty, and to beseech and implore them in God’s name, and in Christ’s stead, to come into a state of reconciliation” (An Earnest Ministry).
I think Psalm 2, properly understood, teaches us much about this. Here is a link to my attempt to expound Psalm 2.
Sunday, January 01, 2006
In the sermon on 2 Samuel 9-12, one might say that preaching the Bathsheba episode is easy enough (there is much to apply there). However, Lee pointed out appropriately pointed out that the passage not only provides us with a good warning about lust, hiding our sins, etc. but also serves to say that as great as David is there must be another yet to come. The faults of David force us to look further for the ultimate king. Furthermore, I especially appreciated his handling of chapters 9 and 10. Chapter 9 shows us David’s gracious treatment of Mephibosheth. Although Mephibosheth was by birth an enemy of David (being of the house of Saul), and of no use to David’s kingdom (being lame), David showed him grace and mercy in amazing abundance because of a covenant he had made with another (Jonathan). The parallels to Christ’s treatment of believers in the gospel are obvious. Chapter 10 then foreshadows Christ’s response to those who reject Him. David offers expressions of kindness to those who are outsiders, but they reject it and set themselves up as his enemies. In response David destroys them. So also says the Scripture is the fate of those who reject and despise Christ. Christ calls but will destroy those who continue to rebel (Psalm 2). I can only briefly summarize here, but the presentation of these two chapters in the sermon is well done and very helpful in sharing the gospel with others.