Don’t Worry… Yeah Right!

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 4:4-7 ESV)

No_worries_spare

Over the past several weeks, I have been meditating on Philippians 4:4-7. Several things have been landing on my plate and I have struggled with worry and anxiety. My mom has always said that I have an “old soul.” By this she means that I struggled to live in the moment and enjoy the day before me. Paul’s words in Philippians have been balm for my soul over the last few weeks. What I want to do is walk through this passage phrase by phrase and offer a few personalized thoughts that might be helpful if you struggle with worry and anxiety:

“Rejoice in the Lord always”

Be happy in the Lord…ALWAYS. Even when things are crashing in around me I need to rejoice. There are so many difficulties in life yet, I can rejoice. I can rejoice at who God is in my difficulties. I can rejoice that he walks with me daily. I rejoice because he sustains me and works in me through various trials and troubles. He never changes even though my circumstances change – that is why I can rejoice in Him always.

“Again I will say rejoice”

Just in case you did not get it the first time, Mr. Hardhead, REJOICE. Be joyful; give thanks for who God is and his goodness in your life. If you woke up this morning and took a breath, you should rejoice – His mercies are new every morning!

“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand”

It is easy to get along with others when I am rejoicing…always. This takes on even more intensity when I consider that Jesus could return at any moment. Would I want him to find me fussing and fighting with others or rejoicing?

“Do not be anxious about anything”

Anything? Yes – any single thing. Don’t fret. Don’t worry. Yeah right! There are so many things I need to worry about. What do I do with all the things that land on my plate – things I have to take care of right now? If I can’t worry what am I suppose to do?

“But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”

I need to lay every single thing I am anxious about before the Lord. I need to do this with thanksgiving. Why? He can handle all of my requests. He can deal with those things that seem insurmountable. He is God! After all, his burden is easy and his yoke is light.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”

God’s peace (the complete opposite of anxiety) is given to me when I lay my cares and concerns at his feet. This is not just any old peace but peace that is unexplainable and uncontainable. Peace that permeates every aspect of my being. It guards my heart, the seat of my emotions. It guards my mind, the seat of my thoughts. It overflows from within.


Pastors… We Must Pray!

The discipline of prayer is a much overlooked and underdeveloped discipline in the Christian life.  This is cause for serious concern especially in light of Jesus’ words, “When you pray.”[1]  He spoke as if prayer is something that should be characteristic of every believer’s life.  Well, what impact does this have for the pastor?  Surely if every believer is expected to pray, the prayer life of the pastor should be exceptional.  Spurgeon said, “Of course the preacher is above all others distinguished as a man of prayer.  He prays as an ordinary Christian, else he were a hypocrite.  He prays more than ordinary Christians, else he were disqualified for the office he has undertaken.”[2]  While this may be the expectation, many pastors rarely find the time to pray.  With the demands of the pastoral office, prayer has taken a backseat to other “more important” matters. This is not a new development; it was experienced by the early church.  When the pastoral duties grew as the church grew, the apostles realized they were unable to attend to every matter.  They declared, “Brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”[3]  They understood that the proclamation of the Word of God was dependent on prayer and they must devote themselves wholeheartedly to this task.

Pastors are expected to juggle many activities today.  These can range from preaching, teaching, visitation, counseling, budgeting, and even administrative duties.  However, the early church realized that in order to effectively feed the sheep, pastors must be primarily concerned with prayer and ministering the word.  E.M. Bounds states,

“Oh, the need there is for present-day preachers to have their lips touched with a live coal from the altar of God!  This fire is brought to the mouths of those prophets who are of a prayerful spirit, and who wait in the secret place for the appointed angel to bring the living flame. Preachers of the same temper of Isaiah received visits from the angel who brings live coals to touch their lips.  Prayer always brings the living flame to unloose tongues, to open doors of utterance, and to open great and effectual doors of doing good.  This above all else, is the great need of the prophets of God.”[4]

The recovery of prayer in the pulpit ministry will bring great power from the Holy Spirit.  In his book What’s Wrong With Preaching, A.N. Martin states, “Preaching has fallen upon bad times, not only because of the failure of the minister in the personal application of the Word of God to his own heart, but also in the matter of secret prayer.”[5]  He goes on to declare that this secret prayer is essential in bringing power to ones preaching.  This power comes in the form of the Holy Spirit.  Piper writes, “The goal of preaching is utterly dependent upon the mercy of God for its fulfillment.  Therefore, the preacher must labor to put his preaching under divine influence by prayer.”[6]  The goal of every preacher is to have the Holy Spirit manifest himself during the time of preaching and this is impossible unless prayer serves as the foundation upon which the sermon is prepared.

While this is the end goal, the presence of the Holy Spirit is needed during every step of the process of preaching.  Heisler states, “We cannot wait until we are in a jam to pray as preachers.  We cannot see prayer as an add-on accessory to preaching that we do if we happen to have time.  Preaching by definition means we listen to God before we speak to men.”[7]  In order to hear from God, we must be in constant communication with him and allow the Holy Spirit to illumine the text, apply the text to our hearts, and prick the hearts of the hearers.  This can only be accomplished by a preacher who constantly prays.  This is most clearly seen in Begg’s statement, “There is no chance of fire in the pews if there is an iceberg in the pulpit; and without personal prayer and communion with God during the preparation stages, the pulpit will be cold.”[8]  Preaching does not begin in the pulpit; it begins in the closet of prayer where the preacher submits himself to the God of the Word.

Prayer is not the spare tire of the preaching ministry; it must be the steering wheel.  The pastor who is constantly on his knees will carry out his mission in the direction God would have him go.  In analyzing the prayer of most preachers Spurgeon states,

“I am afraid that, more or less, most of us need self-examination as to this matter.  If any man here should venture to say that he prays as much as he ought, as a student, I should gravely question his statement; and if there be a minister, deacon, or elder present who can say that he believes he is occupied with God in prayer to the full extent to which he might be, I should be pleased to know him.  I can only say, that if he can claim this excellence, he leaves me far behind, for I can make no such claim: I wish I could; and I make the confession with no small degree of shame-facedness and confusion, but I am obliged to make it.”[9]

Spurgeon goes on to relate a story of a man who rose every morning before four to pray.  This man stated that he was shamed if he ever heard a craftsman at work before he began praying because his Master deserved more than theirs.  We, as ministers of the gospel, should be able to make this same claim.  Our Master deserves the best and our fervency in prayer gives evidence to whether or not we believe this statement.  Prayer must be our business and when we fail to pray we fail in the task God has called us to accomplish.


            [1] Matthew 6:5

            [2] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), 42.

            [3] Acts 6:3-4

            [4] E.M. Bounds, The Weapon of Prayer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975), 91.

            [5] Albert N. Martin, What’s Wrong With Preaching Today? (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1997), 11.

            [6] John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 98.

            [7] Greg Heisler, Spirit-Led Preaching (Nashville: Broadman &Holman, 2007), 145.

            [8] Alistair Begg, Preaching For God’s Glory (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1999), 43.

            [9] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), 48.


We Need Praying Pastors

praying

I mentioned yesterday that I was reading Eugene Peterson’s book The Contemplative Pastor. To say he is rocking my world would be an understatement. Here is some more gold from this book specifically focusing on pastors and prayer…

“But prayer is not a work that pastors are often asked to do except in ceremonial ways. Most pastoral work actually erodes prayer. The reason is obvious: people are not comfortable with God in their lives. They prefer something less awesome and more informal. Something, in fact, like the pastor. Reassuring, accessible, easygoing. People would rather talk to the pastor than to God. And so it happens that without anyone actually intending it, prayer is pushed to the sidelines.

And so pastors, instead of practicing prayer, which brings people into the presence of God, enter into the practice of messiah: we will do the work of God for God, fix people up, tell them what to do, conspire in finding the shortcuts by which the long journey to the Cross can be bypassed since we all have such crowded schedules right now People love us when we do this. It is flattering to be put in the place of God. It feels wonderful to be treated in this godlike way. And it is work that we are generally quite good at.”

Brothers – may we never settle for being our people’s messiah!


The Problem Of Busy Pastors

busy

This morning I spent some time with a fellow pastor in our community. We have a great friendship and meet periodically to discuss our lives and ministries. As we were finishing our conversation this morning, our discussion touched on our schedules. We lamented how “busy” we were and whether or not this reflected well on our primary calling – to minister the Word of God and pray (Acts 6:4).

Interestingly enough, I picked up Euguene Peterson’s book The Contemplative Pastor this morning and began reading his chapter on “The Unbusy Pastor.” If you are a pastor or know a pastor send them this blog post and encourage them to pick up Peterson’s book!

Peterson writes…

“The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.”

He continues…

“I (and most pastors, I believe) become busy for two reasons; both are ignoble.

1. I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself – and to all who will notice – that I am important.

2. I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. I let people who do not understand the work of the pastor write the agenda for my day’s work because I am too slipshod to write it myself. The pastor is a shadow figure in these people’s minds, a marginal person vaguely connected with matters of God and good will. Anything remotely religious or somehow well-intentioned can be properly assigned to the pastor.

He concludes…

But if I vainly crowd my day with conspicuous activity or let others fill my day with imperious demands, I don’t have time to do my proper work, the work to which I have been called. How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place?

If I am not busy making my mark in the world or doing what everyone expects me to do, what do I do? What is my proper work? What does it mean to be a pastor? If no one asked me to do anything, what would I do?

Three things.

1. I can be a pastor who prays.

2. I can be a pastor who preaches.

3. I can be a pastor who listens.

This is good stuff and I’m only 3 pages into the first chapter!


Theology Matters In Ministry

Theology is of great importance in ministry and it is imperative to approach theological studies with this truth in mind. Many church members are content with being theologically ignorant. However, theology is practical and important in the life of ministry. There are three main reasons why theology matters in ministry:

1. Theology matters because the Bible contains certain themes that must be compiled and clearly stated.

2. Theology matters because ministry must be concerned with the pursuit of knowing God.

3. Theology matters for ministry because it is not only concerned with knowledge of God but also right living in light of this knowledge.

When the Bible is revered and accepted as God’s perfect revelation of Himself, those in ministry (every believer is a minister) must be able to claim the truths that are stated in Scripture. This means those truths must be compiled and accessible. While these truths may be available, that does not mean that the task is easy. The theological task is one that takes a great deal of effort and is continual. One never arrives at complete theological knowledge but, in the pursuit, it is of great necessity for the discoveries to be defined and explained, insofar as one is able to do so. Ministry is dependent upon being able to lay hold of the truths contained in Scripture and theology allows one to do this. The ability to produce these truths in a cohesive whole allows others to more fully understand the truths of the entire Bible. It also allows those truths to be evaluated throughout history and serves as a guide for future generations.

The second reason theology matters in ministry is that ministry is completely dependent on knowing who God is. God is the reason that ministry exists in the first place and to effectively minister one must know the creator of ministry. When one realizes that the God of the universe has revealed himself in human language, the task of ministry must be practiced in light of this knowledge. Ministers of the gospel must seek to tell others about God, His will, and His ways. To effectively do this, the minister must know God and be able to tell others about Him in a complete and systematic way. The task of the church is to make disciples and this can only be completed when the theological task is rightly practiced. God desperately desires to be known and theology allows this knowledge to be attained.

The third reason theology matters in ministry is that in the pursuit of combing the Scriptures to know God, man realizes how he must respond to God. When theology lacks the aspect of application the theological task is not complete. Theology matters for ministry because theology is living rightly before God in light of who He is. It is imperative to discover who God is through the Scriptures but this cannot be the end of the theological pursuit. Ministry must be concerned with taking this knowledge and leading others to respond to God rightly (worship). This was the reason God placed Adam and Eve in the garden and told them to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). He desired that they fill the earth with people that rightly worship Him. His desire remains the same and ministry must be concerned with showing people who God is, as found in the Scriptures, and how they should rightly respond to Him.

Ministry and theology must be wed. The theological task should be forefront in ministry and the purpose of theology must be to seek to understand God and determine how to rightly respond to Him. When this takes place God’s purpose for ministry will be accomplished. In light of this, the church must realize the importance and necessity theology.


Stop Going To Church (Confessions Of A Local Church Pastor)

Recently, Donald Miller lit a firestorm in the blogosphere when he said he has stopped going to church. Many people were outraged and others were relieved. Those who were outraged expressed concern that this is not biblical (I agree) not to mention the fact that, at least partially, the target audience of Miller’s books is churchgoers. Those who expressed relief at Miller’s confession pointed to their own negative experiences in the local church and the liberation they felt now that a “Christian leader” has said it was ok not to attend church.

As a local church pastor, let me openly and loudly declare that there are problems with the local church. I am saddened at the “Disneyfication” of the church. I am disgusted that the church looks very much like the world when we should be “salt and light.” I am troubled that false gospels run rampant throughout our “churches” and especially on “Christian” TV.

With all the problems with the church I can understand, for a brief moment, how someone could stop going. But, it is only for a brief moment because I am reminded quickly that Jesus loved the church. He loved the church so deeply that he gave his life for the church. The Bible knows nothing of a follower of Jesus Christ disconnected from the local church.

The early church was not perfect…far from it! Paul wrote scathing letters to the churches in Corinth and Galatia. If anyone could have thrown his hands up and walked away from the church it would have been Paul. But he did not walk away. He stayed. He prayed. He encouraged. He loved.

I think the language of “going to church” has caused a disconnect from what it means to BE the church. We go to restaurants. We go to concerts. We go shopping. And all of these places tell us that they are there to meet our needs and serve us. But, as followers of Jesus Christ, we ARE the church. So here is my encouragement to you, my faithful reader – stop “going” to church and BE the church.

1. “Going to church” makes you a consumer. Many people who attend church expect Burger King’s slogan, “Have it your way,” to apply in the church. They want their preferences met and when they are not, they head down the road to the next church to get what they want. This is what Donald Miller is saying – no local church in his community offers him what he wants. The problem with this mindset is that we are never encouraged to be involved in the church for what we can get out of it. We are to be involved in the local church to serve others and use our gifts to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4). Will we receive benefits? Yes, but that should never be our end goal!

**Being the church makes you an owner instead of a consumer.

2. “Going to church” makes you a critic. When you do nothing more than “go” to church, it is easy to criticize what you don’t like. You may say things like: “The sermon was too long, “The song was too loud,” “I don’t like the color of the carpet,” “The coffee is burnt.” When you have bought in to the vision of the church as an owner you have a different perspective. You will pray for your pastor recognizing the immense responsibility that comes with proclaiming God’s Word each week. You will rejoice that people who were once far from God now worship Him. You will recognize that a businessman whose life was radically transformed by Jesus donated the carpet to the church. You will praise God that someone is willing to wake up early enough to make sure hot coffee is available on Sunday mornings. You will struggle to have the perspective of an encourager when all you do is “go” to church.

**Being the church makes you an encourager instead of a critic.

3. “Going to church” makes you complacent. Here is what ends up happening when all you do is “go” to church: You sit, you soak, and you sour. In the book of Acts, the early believers were far from complacent churchgoers. They served, they loved, they gave, they sang, they praised, they prayed and they suffered. They did not have air conditioned sanctuaries and building funds. They had torturers and prison chains. Following Christ was not popular; in fact it was extremely costly. Being actively involved in the local church should pushes us away from complacency and into costly discipleship.

**Being the church stretches you instead of allowing you to become complacent. 

Still not convinced? Consider Paul’s words comparing the relationship between husbands and wives with Jesus’ relationship with the church. Think about how his church is described. Contemplate how precious the church must be if Jesus laid down his life for it:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33, ESV)


Book Review: “Power In The Pulpit” (Vines & Shaddix)

powerinthepulpit1

Authors

Dr. Jerry Vines served as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida from 1982 until his retirement in 2006. He was educated at Mercer University, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and Luther Rice Seminary. Vines also served as the President of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1988-1989. Dr. Jim Shaddix is the pastor for teaching and training at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of The Passion Driven Sermon.

Purpose of the Book

Vines and Shaddix stated that this book’s specific purpose “is to give practical help specifically to the man who is faced with the responsibility of preaching weekly.” They emphasized that pastors who preach on a weekly basis, as opposed to itinerant preachers, have a difficult job before them on a consistent basis. In fact, they stated, “Much of the preaching of our day is dry, irrelevant, and deadening.” Vines and Shaddix both agree that effective expository preaching needs to be emphasized and that is exactly what they seek to do in this book.

Organization and Content

This book contains steps and instructions on preparing and delivering expository sermons.  Vines and Shaddix explained in detail the preparation for exposition, the process of exposition, and the presentation of the exposition.  All three are vital to the work of an expositor.  A main concern of this book is to define the task of expository preaching and the qualifications of one who takes on this task.  Vines and Shaddix stated that this person must be called of God and participate in activities that help build a healthy heart, mind, and body.

Vines and Shaddix also offered a five-step approach to develop expository sermons.  Each step is progressive and the final product is an expository sermon that communicates a central truth, which is applied to a contemporary audience. A major concern for Vines and Shaddix is that many people view expository sermons as lectures, which are often boring.  They stated, however, that the text has a message for a contemporary audience and this must be communicated effectively. A sermon is not complete unless the text is applied to the contemporary audience and Vines and Shaddix emphasized the need for application in expositional preaching.

One of the major aspects of the expository method is the systematic preaching through books of the Bible.  Vines stated, “more profit will be realized by a systematic, book-by-book approach” than any other approach to preaching. They encouraged expositors to approach preaching from a canonical perspective.  Not only did they insist that it is beneficial to preach the whole counsel of God, they also made mention that one should study and preach with an understanding of all Scripture.  They wrote, “You must determine how your passage fits in with the overall context of the book in which it is found, as well as with the total revelation and message of the Bible.” This method, if used, will allow the expositor to preach canonically, draw one central truth from the text, and apply it to the contemporary audience.

Personal Evaluation

One of the greatest accomplishments of this book is that Vines and Shaddix offer an expository approach that pastors can implement on a weekly basis. Too often pastors stray away from the disciplined study of the text because of the time it takes to faithfully exposit the Scriptures.  However, the method in Power in the Pulpit allows the expositor to follow a step-by-step outline for accomplishing this task.  Scripture states the disciples gave themselves “continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Expositors must decide that to fulfill their responsibility, in feeding the sheep, they must be as committed as the apostles and this method offered by Vines and Shaddix gives a great weekly plan to follow.

The greatest weakness of this book is the lack of emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in the expositional process.  While there is a great deal of information concerning the specifics of doing exposition, there is little mention that the expositor must rely on the Holy Spirit.  The expositor can only experience true power in the pulpit when the Spirit is upon him.  It would have been extremely beneficial had Vines and Shaddix explored and emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit more in the expositional process.

This book, overall, is a great work for expositors. Those who desire to preach expositional sermons will find it to be a great resource and step-by-step plan to follow. Vines and Shaddix offer encouragement and instruction in a way that the average pastor will appreciate.


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