“The Journey” – A Poem Written To My Wife

journey

“The Journey”

Days come and go, yet I long to see your face and simply touch your hand,

God has joined us for this journey; you are my partner as we journey this foreign land.

Storms rage and the tides rise all around us as we walk step by step.

We wonder and we question, “Will the promises God has made us be kept?”

His love is true and his faithfulness endures even when we are blinded by despair,

There is no one else I would want to travel this road with – this I will forever declare!

So we run, walk and at times crawl along the dusty and bumpy path,

One day we will hear from our Lord, “Well done good and faithful ones at last.

Let us enjoy the mountaintops and rejoice in the valleys as we encounter each,

And be ready and willing to receive everything our Savior desires to teach.

What I Learned Visiting LifeWay

Lifeway

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of spending 2 days at LifeWay. I was invited, along with 20 other pastors, to attend the Pastor’s Alpha; a conference on transformation discipleship within the local church. We were assigned three books to read in preparation of the conference – Building Below The Waterline (Gordon MacDonald), Transformational Discipleship (Eric Geiger, Michael Kelly, and Philip Nation), and Creature Of The Word (Matt Chandler, Eric Geiger, and Josh Patterson). We heard from some of LifeWay’s heavy hitters including Claude King, Ed Stetzer, Todd Atkins, Micah Fries and Eric Geiger (there were many more great speakers but you may have heard of these guys before). The experience was phenomenal and I am grateful to have had this opportunity.

After having some time to process through the material, post conference, I thought I would share 10 takeaways:

1. As Southern Baptists, we have some of the greatest minds in the evangelical world on our team. I was blown away by Claude King (co-author of Experiencing God), Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger. These men, along with many others in the SBC life, are absolutely brilliant and I’m glad they are on our side. We should thank the Lord that the SBC publishing arm is in capable hands.

2. Spending time with other pastors is refreshing and challenging. I had a blast meeting with other pastors and talking about making disciples. Too often pastors isolate themselves and lack meaningful relationships with other pastors. There are a number of reasons why this is the case (fear, rivalry, ego, etc.) but I have found that meeting with other godly pastors is a great benefit to my ministry.

3. Pastors must “build below the waterline.” The phrase “build below the waterline came from George MacDonald’s book and emphasizes the need for pastors to spend time and attention on what others do not see in their lives (their personal practice of the spiritual disciplines, sinful patterns, time management, etc.). What is in our heart will eventually come to the surface in our lives. As pastors, we must consistently cultivate our hearts with the gospel of Jesus Christ – we need to build below the waterline.

4. Churches need a clear discipleship process and it must be communicated consistently. This was probably the most impactful idea I took away from this conference – our church needs a clear discipleship process and it must be communicated clearly and consistently. I will be spending some time with our elders over the next number of weeks to hone in on what this process is and how we can center everything we do, every ministry, on this discipleship process. Many of our church members have no idea how to be disciples because we have muddied the waters through programs and bible studies galore!

5. LifeWay has some great discipleship material. I have never been a huge fan of the “discipleship” material put out by most publishing houses. Rarely does it have an overall goal or purpose and often it is hastily produced, stamped by a “big-name” Christian author or pastor and put on the shelves. While at LifeWay, we were introduced to the available curriculum as well as the purpose for which it was produced. I would venture to say that the vast majority of material LifeWay produces for small group discipleship is top-notch stuff! They are less concerned with producing quick sells and more interested in quality material that fits within an overarching vision. We left the conference with a ton of resources and I have no doubt we will use many of them at our church in the near future.

6. Pastors need to get away and assess where the church is and what needs to change. I have always heard, “You can’t see the forest for the trees,” and my trip to LifeWay made this phrase even more real in my life and ministry. Serving in the trenches of ministry can blind you to what is truly going on in your ministry. Things may be going really well or really poorly but it is difficult to get an accurate picture until you get away and reflect. This time away was refreshing and also challenging. I was able to take a look at the big picture as I was guided by many of the godly men who spoke. This was needed and I know it will be needed again.

7. All churches have difficulties. There are no perfect churches. I repeat, THERE ARE NO PERFECT CHURCHES! And the reason why is simple – there are no perfect people and people (believers) make up the church. I think this is one of the biggest struggles for people involved in the local church, including pastors. We all want to see God do something and yet we deal with issues of sin in the body of Christ. Every church has difficulties and struggles. The issue is not whether we will have difficulties but how we respond to the difficulties as they arise.

8. Pastors need to continue to learn. During my time at LifeWay, I was introduced to new books, ideas, and information. This was great for me as a pastor. I need to continue to learn and grow personally and as a pastor. I struggled in 2013 to get into a groove of learning. I did not read like I wanted to and I did not attend any conferences. Both of these failures are my fault but nonetheless, I need to make certain that I am learning and growing. Spending several days at LifeWay helped to reinforce this great need in my life and ministry.

9. We need to develop other leaders in our churches. As we worked through our church discipleship plans and the Transformational Discipleship material, one thing kept coming up – we need to develop more leaders in our churches. Often, pastors have the idea that they must do everything in the church. This usually means that the most important things do not get done. Each pastor in our group expressed the desire to train more leaders, whether for pastoral care (hospital visits), small groups, or other ministries in the church. We need to reproduce ourselves if we expect to make maximum impact in our churches.

10. Always carry a tire plug kit and air compressor. Nope, this has nothing to do with the conference or making disciples (at least that I know of). After leaving the conference, I stopped for gas right outside of Nashville. While filling up, I noticed that one of my tires looked low. Sure enough, I had a nail in my tire. Praise the Lord – I had a tire plug kit in my toolbox and an air compressor. 15 minutes later I was back on the road heading home. That sure beats having to spend an hour or two at the tire shop!

I am tremendously grateful for Dan Darling, Beth Watson, and the entire LifeWay team that made an investment in me!

Book Review: “Life Is Mostly Edges” (Calvin Miller)

edgesCalvin Miller graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University with a Bachelor of Science degree and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with both Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees. He pastored for over 30 years and spent his last years as a professor at both Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Beeson Divinity School. He was an accomplished poet, author (over 40 books including The Singer Trilogy) and artist. Dr. Miller went to his forever home with Jesus on August 19, 2012 leaving behind a wife and two children.

Purpose of the Book

“At the age of seventy-two, I have grown honest about the best years of my life. I have lived those years – all of them – past threescore and ten, knowing all along that this life was never mine. It has belonged all the way through to another.” So begins Calvin Miller’s memoir of his life and ministry – an account of his love for his Savior and the journey of following Him through the years.

Organization and Content

The book is divided into three parts: Part 1: The Early Years (1936-1955), Part 2: Staying Human While Being A Pastor (1956-1991) and Part 3: The Professor Who Liked Teaching But Loved Learning (1991-2007).

Part 1 focused on Miller’s growing up years and the difficulties he experienced. His father had little to do with the family and it is evident that Calvin’s mother (Ethel) was a wonderful lady. She worked hard to provide for the family and he spends many pages lauding her love for Jesus and her family. Miller was exposed to the gospel early in his life through various churches in Enid, OK.

My favorite part of the book was in the second section, which focused on Miller’s years as a pastor. He pastored one church for 4 years until he left to plant another church where he remained for 25 years. Westside Church grew from 10 members to over 2,500 in that period of time. There were numerous ups and downs during these years as a pastor and I enjoyed hearing the stories of triumph and disappointment.

Part 3 was interesting as Miller discussed his departure from the pastorate and journey to the seminary. He recounted the two struggles right before leaving his church and the interesting dynamic of seminary life. Southwestern was embroiled in the Conservative Resurgence when Miller came on faculty and it is evident he failed to see many positives in this struggle. I did get the feeling that Miller appreciated his time at Beeson, especially due to the interdenominational nature of the school and faculty.

Personal Evaluation

I honestly felt like I was sitting down with Calvin Miller over a cup of coffee as I read this book. His transparency was refreshing and his honesty was heartfelt. For me, his transparency and honesty was a bit scary as well. As a pastor, I took much of what he said about the church and pastors to heart. Pastoring is hard work. It is lonely work. It is very easy to forsake your family and even your personal walk with Jesus in the ministry. This is scary and yet I can identify times in my own ministry and life when this has been true.

I also sensed a bit of freedom after reading this memoir. Calvin Miller was not your “typical” pastor (whatever that means!) in that he was more artsy and introverted than you might think a pastor should be. However, it was clear he loved people, his Savior and the local church. He was who he was and God used him in a mighty way. This was a great encouragement to me to just simply be me!

I would definitely encourage pastors to pick up this book and read it!

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Never have any special group in your church who knows the critical ins and outs of your dreams, while the bulk of the people are in the dark. The janitor should know everything the chairman of the board knows, right?”

“Keep every plan out in the open, and you’ll never get in trouble. Keep the church finances that way too. Let everybody know freely everything you know, and don’t have any special people you try to placate by giving them information first. When everybody owns the church and its dreams, the church is healthy. When there are little secret pockets of informants, decay is in the wind.”

“Most who have fallen in love with Christ didn’t choose to be fervent. They have just seen the Son, high and lifted up, and have no choice but to fly in his direction. Such remarkable passion is a kind of gift. I have known many Christians across my span of years. In fact, most everyone I have worked with has called themselves Christian. But among all the Christians, I have known only a few of them who seemed to have that natural— or supernatural—inclination of clinging to their God.”

“Some of the ‘big’ pastors I know seem to enjoy being ‘big.’ They own a sense of success and fame that satisfies most of them. And they are revered generally for being deeply spiritual men, even loving men. But the best of pastors realize that good sermons are not just flashy rhetoric. Sermons are only noble when they are so ‘see-through’ that the pastor’s need for God is clearly visible through his words.”

“What I specifically learned was that people can forgive a leader whose vision may be errant, but they will never forgive a leader who isn’t visionary.”

“I had quit busying myself with the things of God and busied myself with God himself. I didn’t mean to quit thinking about the things of God; it just happened that my focus on God had replaced the good stuff of my life with the best stuff.”

“When I dropped my guard and focused on Christ, what I had tried to make happen, happened automatically. The church began to grow. And the growth made me ponder again the promise of relinquishment. Letting go of any drive releases the soul, and those who can’t quit struggling in an attempt to realize their dreams will be the last to realize them. I had done nothing very remarkable. I had learned the lesson from a fellow struggler, a blind pilgrim, who taught me that the secret of success is not ‘busianity,’ it is ‘Christianity.’”

“Herein lies my greatest fears for the Emergent Church: in its attempt to start where the culture is, it rarely stops and asks, ‘Is this where the culture should be?’”

Book Review: “Famine In The Land” (Stephen Lawson)

lawson_famine_in_the_land__53510__69691_zoomDr. Stephen J. Lawson serves as the Senior Pastor at Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama. He has pastored churches in the states of Arkansas and Alabama for over 29 years. Lawson has received degrees from Texas Tech University (B.B.A.), Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.), and Reformed Theological Seminary (D.Min.). He is the author of 15 books including The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, Faith Under Fire, and Made In Our Image. Dr. Lawson is married to Anne and they have three sons, Andrew, James, and John, and a daughter, Grace Anne.

Purpose of the Book

Lawson wrote, “Famine in the Land directly addresses what, I believe, is the crying need of the hour, specifically that the modern-day pulpit be restored to her former glory of generations past, days when God’s truth was fearlessly proclaimed – days when doctrinal clarity, theological precision, and heart-searching application once poured forth from pulpits.” His desire is to encourage pastors to recover expository preaching so that their congregations can be fed the Word of God.

Organization and Content

This book is divided into four primary chapters that address (1) the priority of biblical preaching, (2) the power of biblical preaching, (3) the pattern of biblical preaching, (4) and the passion of biblical preaching. Lawson weaves in a tremendous amount of exposition as he works through each of these topics.

In the first chapter, Lawson examines the priority of biblical preaching that is found in the early church. He wrote, “With many ministries forsaking a steady diet of biblical exposition, where is an effective model to be found in which preaching and teaching God’s Word is the main entrée? What does it look like when a church is being served the meat of God’s Word? One need look no further that to the first church in Jerusalem, born on the Day of Pentecost and firmly planted in the soil of newly converted hearts.” The early church witnessed leaders who viewed dividing the Word of God as a solemn and great responsibility. This resulted in an explosion of growth in the early church and a people who were devoted to the Word of God. Lawson stated that the church must recover this vision for biblical preaching if it desires to make an impact in the world today.

In the second chapter, Lawson focuses on the need for biblical preaching that is courageous and compelling. He stated, “The crying need of the hour is for divine power to be restored to evangelical pulpits.” Lawson emphasized that this will only happen when God-called men boldly proclaim the Scriptures through the power of the Holy Spirit. He highlighted the preaching ministry of Jonah in this chapter and focused on Jonah’s courageous, compelling, confrontational, and compassionate preaching. This is a model for preaching in the contemporary church and needs to be recovered.

In the third chapter, Lawson emphasized the need for preachers to expound the Word of God. The Bible must be the central focus of the sermon regardless of the latest fad in contemporary preaching. He used Ezra as the biblical example and wrote, “All biblical preachers and teachers would do well to follow this pattern of Ezra’s ministry, which involved knowing (“study”), being (“practice”), and doing (“proclaiming”).” Ezra was a devoted student of Scripture, obedient to what the Scriptures taught, and diligent to preach it’s truth to others. These characteristics should also be true of contemporary preachers.

In the final chapter, Lawson discussed the need for passionate preaching in the church today. He wrote, “Passionate, biblical preaching from God-dominated men must be restored to the pulpit.” Lawson emphasized this point by looking at the charge Paul gave to Timothy in 1 and 2 Timothy. Paul exhorted Timothy to be passionate about the preaching ministry because if he was faithful to proclaim the Scriptures, people’s lives would be changed. Lawson closed by encouraging preachers to emulate the life of George Whitefield. He wrote, “May the holy flame of each God-called preacher burn brightly in this dark hour, faithful to the end.” This is a tireless call but one that preachers must pursue with every ounce of their being until the end of their lives.

 Personal Evaluation

One of the greatest accomplishments of this book is that Lawson is able to communicate a great amount of truth in such a short book. He also uses a tremendous amount of Scripture to support each and every claim he makes throughout the book. This is beneficial because it demonstrates to his reader exactly what he is writing about. It is clear that Lawson has a passion for God’s Word and for preachers to faithfully proclaim it to their people.

The greatest weakness of this book is that it is more descriptive rather than prescriptive in nature. While Lawson calls for a return of expository preaching in the contemporary church, he never really shows how to accomplish this. It would have been extremely helpful if he could have walked through some of the steps that must be taken for this to happen. I believe this would have allowed him to address the great need for expository preaching in the church and then provide a solution to restore its practice.

This book, overall, is a great work for expositors. Those who desire to preach expositional sermons will find it to be a great source of encouragement. Lawson pushes all the right buttons to cause preachers to take serious inventory of their life and ministry. His passion is contagious and reflects his love of God’s Word and God’s glory.