Thursday, September 14, 2017

Guaranteed to Destroy Happiness

I know from personal experience and pastoral ministry that the quickest way to kill happiness is by living in sin. This seems especially true with sinful anger. 

Jonathan Edwards preached a series of sermons on 1 Cor 13. Here is what he said about anger and its joy-killing capacity, 

How such undue anger destroys the comfort of him who indulges in it. It troubles the soul in which it is, as a storm troubles the ocean. Such anger is inconsistent with a man’s enjoying himself, or having true peace or self-respect in his own spirit. Men of an angry and wrathful temper, whose minds are always in a fret, are the most miserable sort of men, and live a most miserable life; so that a regard to our own happiness should lead us to shun all undue sinful anger. 

—Charity Contrary to an Angry Spirit

Want to be miserable and not enjoy life? Then stay angry. Want to live in happiness, have self-respect, and true peace? Then work hard at shunning all undue sinful anger. It may really be that simple. 

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” 
(Jas 1:19-20 ESV). 

*photo taken from 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Nashville Statement and Faithfulness

Social media was abuzz the past few days with a document called the Nashville Statement. It’s an evangelical statement affirming and denying what the church historically has believed the Bible teaches regarding sexuality, gender, and marriage. 

I signed the document since it reflects what the Scriptures teach about God’s design and his will for his creation. 

I had a few other thoughts about the issue and this pivotal moment in history. These are things I think that we Christians who agree with the Nashville Statement need to keep our eyes on in the days (decades) ahead. 

Keep an eye out for prodigals. Christians need to remember that at the core of the Christian message is that the gospel saves sinners—that includes sinners who have left for a distant country with their sexuality. I have zero confidence that our culture will get any better anytime soon; I actually fear more churches will be open and affirming to sin, hence the need for a clarifying piece like the Nashville Statement. However, I do have confidence that the gospel will save prodigals, especially homosexual and transgender people (1 Cor 6:9-10). We need to keep in front of us that Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Lk 19:10). Jesus has not changed (Heb 13:8). He is still on the mission of seeking and saving the lost. 

Keep an eye out for pride. There is a danger out there for those who hold the line on faithfulness. It’s the danger of conceit and pride when we believe that we hold the moral high ground. The angry elder brother becomes the one alienated from the Father's love (Lk 15:28). The self-righteous Pharisee always stands condemned (Lk 18:14). 

Keep an eye out for persecution. D.A. Carson in The Intolerance of Tolerance nails it: those who value tolerance only do so when you agree with them. Reading the reactions on Twitter from some to the Nashville Statement would make you think that Christians who hold to the authority of the Bible and believe in the reality of actual sin are the moral equivalent of an Adolf Hitler or worse. This should not be surprising, and there is no indication of it slowing down. Jesus said that his faithful followers, who stand for righteousness, will need to welcome persecution (Matt 5:11). 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Discerning God's Will and Guidance

Most people will have to go through a handful of big decisions in life that require discerning God’s will. I recently finished a book by J.I. Packer, God’s Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions. Overall the book was helpful, but it was long and I don’t expect most have the time to devote to it. 

One helpful takeaway was a list that was given under a heading “A Biblical Approach to Guidance” that I thought would be helpful to share. 

  1. Live with the question: “What is the best I can do for God?”
  2. Note instructions of Scripture—the call to love God and others.
  3. Follow the examples of godliness in Scripture, most importantly the love and humility of Jesus. 
  4. Seek wisdom, don’t be a spiritual lone-ranger. Draw on the wisdom of others. 
  5. Take note of nudges from God—special ministry concerns for service and restlessness of heart. 
  6. Cherish divine peace which guards those who are in God’s will. 
  7. Observe limits set by circumstances and accept them by God. 
  8. Be prepared for God’s guidance not to appear immediately; expect him to guide one step at a time, for that is how he usually does it. 
  9. Be prepared for God directing into something you would not like, then teaching you to like it! 
  10. Never forget that if you make a bad decision, it is not the end: God forgives and restores. 

Probably the most important thing to remember in discerning God’s will is drawn from Psalm 23. The Lord is our shepherd. We are sheep in need. No matter what path we are on, his compassion, care, and covenantal love is never far from us. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Saturate Yourself in the Bible

Former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll once said, “If you want to win, do the ordinary things better than anyone else day in and day out.”  He viewed success as somehow tied to habits and personal discipline. 

D.A. Carson said basically the same thing about spiritual growth, “Christians at best have saturated themselves in the Bible.”

One of the surest ways to saturate ourselves in the Bible is by following a reading plan for the year.  If I did not personally follow a plan, there is no way I would grow in the Word. 

The plan that I like best and have followed for well over a decade is the M’Cheyne plan. It was put together by a young Scottish pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne (pictured above); he simply wanted the people of his church to love God’s Word by reading it.  The plan can be used either personally or as part of family devotions/discipleship—he intended both when it was put together.  A helpful commentary for the daily readings by Don Carson can be found here

M’Cheyne said that each day the first voice we need to hear is God’s.  He was suggesting that early morning is the best time to devote to the Word.  That may not be the best time for everyone obviously.  But we will make time somewhere in our schedule for what we find most important to us.  In other words, if God’s Word is a priority, we will set time to saturate ourselves in the Bible. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

5 Lessons in 5 Years of Ministry

This month marks my fifth year in pastoral ministry. I understand this is not long compared to the decades of my preaching heroes—Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John MacArthur, Alistair Begg—but it has been long enough to learn some lessons along the way. Here are five lessons I’ve learned as I reflect on the past five years. 

Prayer is just as important as preaching. I put some decent sweat, sacrifice, and many a sleepless night to get through seminary, in order to be equipped as a preacher. My assumption was that in pastoral ministry the most important thing is preaching. I was half-right. In Acts 6:4, the early church leads by example, being devoted to both prayer and the ministry of the word. I initially underestimated the power of prayer in ministry when I first started. I’ve come to realize just how important my own prayer life is, and how effective ministry can only be built on the prayer life of the entire church. 

Pursue godliness over greatness. I think every pastor begins ministry hoping that God will use his ministry to do some great things. I still hope for that. Yet I’ve come to learn that should not be the priority for me. The sobering reality is that at least five younger, very gifted and talented pastors have been removed from their ministry recently by character disqualification and moral failure. There is a good reason that a wise professor in seminary had us memorize the following verse, “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things” (1 Tim 4:16 HCSB). 

Always remember that God’s Word is enough. There are a lot of trends to chase out there in ministry. Attend any leadership conference and you will find conversational buzz about the latest strategy that will help grow your church. In this digital age, I sense a subtle but growing pressure for pastors and churches to be innovative if they want to have a productive ministry. There is a place for all of this, but it does not replace the power and sufficiency of God’s Word. Paul gave Timothy a simple directive for productive ministry: preach the word (2 Tim 4:2). The Word of God is enough for our evangelism and discipleship. 

Even a smaller church can have a global vision. I came to realize that my name does not have to be David Platt and I don’t have to lead a megachurch to have a strong missions focus. Every church—even smaller ones in rural areas like mine—can have what I call a GGV (Global Gospel Vision). I’m thankful that our church has gone along with giving sacrificially for the advance of the gospel among the nations. I’m happy that our congregation has been able to help support and send people overseas to places like China, Kenya, Amsterdam, Philippines, Taiwan, and North Africa.

Betrayal and indifference cause the deepest wounds. On a more personal note, I learned that the early years in the ministry of a newly minted pastor is spent learning self-awareness. A pastor fresh out of seminary needs to learn his strengths and weaknesses, his rhythms of work and rest, and how he works most efficiently. He will need to learn how to properly handle stress and the ebbs and flows of church life. He will also learn quickly that every leader faces critics. I’ve learned that criticism for me is like a bee sting. It initially hurts really bad, but the pain does not last too long. 

But what cuts me deeply is when I have been betrayed, or when people respond indifferently to the Word of God. I still have scars from the few times I’ve experienced betrayal in ministry. Similarly, when I sense that people show little concern for the ministry of the church, or have a low-level commitment to Christ and his Word, or when commitments are not made or kept because it requires too much personal sacrifice—these things can cut me deeply.

I’ve learned that in these moments of betrayal and indifference, I need to remind myself of how my Savior spent his final hours on this earth. He was betrayed, and the world stood by indifferently as he hung on the cross out of the greatest act of divine love ever to touch this earth. I’ve learned that ministry, at some level, will always involve a death to self. 

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known” (Col 1:24-25 ESV). 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Discipleship Lessons

This year I took our congregation through the New Testament letter of James. To make application easy to remember, I summarized each message with one main discipleship lesson. James is all about practical discipleship. His letter encourages disciples to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ in all of life. So most of these lessons are very action-oriented. Some also call for self-examination. Together, these lessons help us mature in Christlikeness, as we aim to be doers of the Word (1:22).

  1. Be joyful because God is using our trials for spiritual transformation (1:1-4). 
  2. Pray confidently with a stable, God-centered faith (1:5-8).
  3. Reverse your thinking in how you view yourself and others (1:9-11).
  4. God is completely sovereign and yet we are fully responsible (1:12-18).
  5. The evidence of our discipleship is found in our godly speech (1:19-21).
  6. The evidence of our discipleship is also found in our obedience to Jesus (1:21-27). 
  7. The glory of Christ should grab our gaze, not gold and garments (2:1-9). 
  8. The only cure for our sin is obedience to Christ that rests on his mercy (2:10-13).
  9. No one can separate genuine faith from active works (2:14-26). 
  10. Your tongue is evidence of who controls your life (3:1-12). 
  11. Jealously and selfish ambition will destroy your discipleship (3:13-18). 
  12. Sinful pleasure and pride will also destroy your discipleship (4:1-6a). 
  13. Pursuing humility is the way to repair our discipleship (4:7-10). 
  14. Disciples are cautious when talking about people and future plans (4:11-17).
  15. Living in luxury and self-indulgence carries eternal consequences (5:1-7).
  16. There is a great reward when you persevere in your discipleship (5:7-11).
  17. Prayer is the lifeline of our discipleship (5:13-18).
  18. Discipleship must be carefully grounded and guarded in the truth (5:12,19-20).

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

5 Lifeline Lessons on Prayer

At the end of James, an entire section is devoted to the importance of prayer (5:13-18). Prayer is encouraged in all occasions, must be fervent, and persistent. Followers of Jesus Christ know that sustained prayer can be difficult at times. That is why there are so many admonitions in the Bible about prayer. But for faithful discipleship, ongoing prayer is vital. It is the disciple’s lifeline. Here are five lifeline prayer lessons to encourage a stronger prayer life. They only work if you put them into practice, as a doer of the word (Jas 1:22). 

1) Pray Scripture constantly.  The best way to stay connected in prayer is to connect it to your daily Bible reading. Take a verse or a theme from what you read and turn it into prayer. The Psalms work well this way. Also, a helpful book that encourages this is Praying the Bible by Don Whitney. 

2) Have a widening circle of prayer.  One of the easiest ways to get stuck in a prayer rut is to pray with a short daily routine that only includes trivial needs. Christians should aim at a widening circle of prayer concerns and prayer groups. Practically, get outside of yourself in prayer; pray about, with, and for others. Pray for what God is doing in the world through global missions. Get past the sick list. Pray for spiritual growth for yourself and others. Join in prayer groups if you can. This is the nature of basic discipleship.

3) Keep a prayer journal.  This is not for everybody, but it can be useful for many. My wife has kept something of a prayer journal for years, and it is encouraging to look back and see what God did through prayer a decade ago. The prayer journal can be used to record prayer requests, answered prayer, Scripture, encouragement, and trials of faith. A prayer journal may be the added accountability for personal discipline that some need. 

4) Remember that sin is the stumbling block to a vital prayer life.  I don't need to go into much detail on this one. One example of this is found in 1 Pet 3:7. If husbands don’t treat their wives well, God will not hear their prayers. Simple enough. You cannot have an amazing prayer life if you are not submitted to Christ in obedience (Jn 15:7). 

5) Don’t ever stop praying (Lk 18:1).  Jesus told his disciples a parable “to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” This seems to be the point of another parable Jesus told in Luke 11:5-13 (ESV): 

 “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”

Prayer is so vital to discipleship. For it to mature and work, perseverance and persistence are needed. So keep on praying. Don’t let go of your lifeline.