Monday, December 10, 2012

Essentials of a Christ-centered ministry

In a church culture where there are many ministry models, the Apostle Paul stands out to me as an extremely Christ-centered man who serves as a great example to follow.  He provides what I believe are some essentials of a Christ-centered ministry in his address to the Ephesian Elders in Acts 20:17-30.  I trust we can take away the following principles of what marks an essential Christ-centered ministry.  Here are five I came up with from the text to encourage pastors and church leaders:

1. Serve the Lord with humility and in trials (v19):  Humility is a mark of a true servant of Christ since Christ our example was marked by a life of humility (Phil 2:1-11).  Anyone who is in ministry and desires to be Christ-centered must be humble. Often God sharpens his leaders with certain trials that come their way to accomplish this work of humility.  

2. Proclaim the necessity of faith and repentance/genuine conversion (vv20-21): Paul was a man of great gospel content.  His message was nothing less than preaching faith and repentance, the marks of true conversion.  In a day when preaching can be watered down to practical principles to live by, we need a reminder of what true gospel preaching is.

3. Sacrifice and endure for the sake of the gospel (v24): Again, Christ is the example of this as he sacrificed his life and endured the cross joyfully (Heb 12:2).  Similarly, those who are devoted to gospel ministry are willing to make sacrifices and endure in order to see the work carry on. Paul’s goal was not to be comfortable or self-serving. 

4. Be faithful to teach the whole counsel of God (v27): Paul did not ride a hobby horse in his teaching. Instead, he faithfully taught the whole counsel of God to show how God’s plans throughout the Scriptures unfold in Christ (see how Acts ends in 28:31).  A main essential of a Christ-centered ministry of teaching is that Christ is taught in all of Scripture (Lk. 24:27).

5. Encourage faithful shepherding in the church (vv28-29): Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10).  He died for the flock of God.  As a Christ-centered minister, Paul had an intense love for Christ’s sheep.  In light of this he encouraged faithful shepherding, knowing that there is an Enemy who is bent on destroying the flock.  At the heart of a true Christ-centered ministry is a love for the flock, desiring what is best for them and keeping them from harm.

Much more can be added as to what constitutes a Christ-centered ministry, but I do think that these are some of the essentials of what it looks like from Paul’s own example of his life (Acts 20:18).  It was Paul in his own words who said: "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Cor 11:1). 

Monday, November 5, 2012

How Long Should a Pastor Stay at a Church?

Recently Harvard Business Review published an article on "Ten Reasons to Stay in a Job for 10 Years."  It was an interesting read and they included reasons like leadership opportunities, stability, self-improvement, flexibility, perseverance and a say in the company’s future. These are all good reasons to have a longer stay at a job.

I thought through this and believe that they are right on in their advice.   There were other reasons that were financially motivated such as home-ownership, increased benefits and seniority.  But outside of these I thought many of the reasons to stay at a job for a long time are also true of a pastor’s tenure at his church. Though I am far from an expert on the subject, having only gotten a little past my first full year at my church (which is my first call), I have wondered how long should a pastor stay even at his first call.  Or taking it from another angle: should a pastor stay longer rather than shorter in most cases unless there are rare exceptions?  Harvard Business Review would say yes.  But I also want to look at some passages from the word of God to see if there is any advice.  There are three principles that I see apply:

The sovereignty of God is the first determining factor in how long a pastor stays at a church.   James 4:13-16 warns us about making plans without considering God’s sovereign control over our lives. James calls it arrogance when we say definitively that we are going to do this or that. So the first principle would exclude going to a church and saying "I’m staying___ number of years just to get experience."  With that said I think there is room for some general planning/ ideas but we need to remember that God is sovereign.  He keeps people and moves people. I have found it true that when I begin to presume on God’s will, that he ends up doing something rather unlikely in my life (like moving me to small town Iowa!!)

Staying longer may be healthier for the church.  I find it interesting that in two of the pastoral letters, the apostle Paul gives advice to stay.  In 1 Tim 1:3 Paul tells Timothy to remain in Macedonia. Likewise he reminds Titus that he left him in Crete (i.e. he had to remain somewhere longer) for the health of the church.  I know that I’m dispensable and that if I died in a car wreck today the church I serve would carry on.  But I have a hunch that if I jumped from church to church every few years it would cause more damage than good for the health of the churches.  People are relational by design and the more frequent the turnover of the shepherds the more difficult it may be to solidify unity among the sheep.

The church is to grow with the pastor. This may the single factor that would keep me in one place for a long time. Paul reminds Timothy of some things and tells him: “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all might see your progress. (1 Tim 4:15).  Paul trusted that the church was to see evident growth in the life of Timothy their spiritual leader.  I've grown a ton going into this second year at my church.  I hope that others have been able to see it in my life.  I've made many bad calls and decisions this past year, and will still continue to do so.  Through this God has humbled me and continued to show me my need for the gospel.  I trust that by his grace I will have slow, progressive, gospel growth as a shepherd. But this progress/ growth can only be measured over a decent period of time by my church.

Finally, of the pastors I look up to, both local pastors and men like John Piper and Tim Keller, all have stayed in one place for a decent amount of time. Not all are called to die in the place of their first call, but I wonder what many churches would look like if their pastors stayed a little longer. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The overlooked sin of impatience

This year I have been preaching through the Gospel of Mark and really enjoyed it.  Constantly being in the text of Mark has given me a whole new picture of Christ that is even more amazing than I anticipated.  Recently, I took out from the local library King’s Cross by Timothy Keller which reads like a commentary on Mark’s Gospel.  It is well written and filled with great application.

I came across a quote about patience that I wanted to share:
“Patience is love for the long haul; it is bearing up under difficult circumstances, without giving up or giving in to bitterness. Patience means working when gratification is delayed.  It means taking what life offers—even if it means suffering—without lashing out.  And when you’re in a situation that you’re troubled over or when there’s a delay or pressure on you or something’s not happening that you want to happen, there’s always a temptation to come to the end of your patience. You may well have lost your patience before you’re even aware of it.” (King’s Cross pg. 59)

Patience is one thing that has stood out about Jesus.  He was extremely patient with people, especially with the Twelve who would eventually abandon him at the Cross.  Small wonder that the first description of love is that of patience in Paul’s famous Love Chapter (1 Cor 13:4).  As I look at myself compared to Christ I see how far short I fall.  Sadly I have lacked patience with people on numerous occasions.  And the people I lack patience with most frequently are those I am called to love most regularly. The roles of husband, father and pastor have all revealed how impatient I can be. 

My only hope then is to look to him who has been so patient with me and trust his grace to work his patience in me.
“Grant that we may follow the example of Jesus’s patience”—from The Book of Common Prayer

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rural Ministry: God loves the middle of nowhere

I never expected that ministry would lead me to living in the middle of nowhere. I grew up within 20 minutes of a major city (Pittsburgh) and in college and seminary we lived in sizable cities.  So for 31 years of my life I lived in cities and it was the norm. Several of my first ministry trips were in large cities (New York and New Orleans) and I loved them.  So I assumed that I was wired to be in ministry in a city setting, even if it were a smaller city of say 100,000. I was wrong (that is often what happens when we presume on God’s will!)

God led me to the middle of nowhere.  I say that because of two things that happened this week that reminded me I’m sort of in the middle of nowhere. I was having dinner with a denominational leader and our pastoral intern. The denominational leader was getting an important phone call on his cell and it kept dropping.  In his frustration he told the person on the other end, “I can’t hear you, I’m in the middle of nowhere!”  I understood his frustration because I dealt with this on several occasions. But we were having dinner discussing how we can bring the message of the gospel to these towns located in the middle of nowhere.

The second thing that happened is that I heard my own preaching.  I don’t particularly like to listen to myself preach and I agree with what Martyn Lloyd Jones said that I would not cross the street to listen to myself preach.  But I was going through my filing cabinet and found a DVD of a sermon I did in seminary.  I wanted to listen to see if I could notice some improvement in my sermon delivery since then.  I heard myself say in the sermon these words (maybe prophetically to myself): “Are you willing to go and take that church in middle of nowhere and be that unnamed disciple who never gets any glory but God gets it all?”

So here God has me to the middle of nowhere. We are trying to buy a house in the middle of nowhere. My kids are going to school and making friends in the middle of nowhere. We are trying to put down roots in the middle of nowhere. Last night I got to pray with a handful of people who live in the middle of nowhere and love Jesus. I get to serve Jesus and His church in the middle of nowhere. 

God loves the middle of nowhere.  He created the middle of nowhere.  Jesus gave His life for churches gathered in the middle of nowhere.  God calls some of His servants to serve Him joyfully in the middle of nowhere. So for those of you who serve in the middle of nowhere be encouraged: God loves the place and the people in the middle of nowhere. 

*(For those of you who don’t know where I serve it is an extremely nice small town of 6,000.  Orange City Iowa is a Dutch enclave with a rich heritage of the Reformed faith. There is a college here which gives it a younger feel most of the year. It would probably make it on the top ten list of the cleanest towns in the world.  I say all this because I am aware that there are those who serve Christ much more in the middle of nowhere than I do.)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

What I've learned this first year of ministry

July marks the first year I have been full time in ministry serving at Cornerstone Baptist in Orange City Iowa.  As I look back at the year and reflect on what I have learned, there would be one piece of advice I have come away with for young pastors: Beware of giving much advice in the ministry right now, instead, seek out seasoned pastors and learn from them.

There is a temptation in seminary to formulate opinions about everything and think of how you will lead a church and do it better than most guys out there.  I confess that was my thinking at times and it probably came out in my conversation. I also find this true with the atmosphere of blogging among younger pastors, and have probably contributed to it at some point.  We young guys have it figured out.  If only people would listen then the church would have a lot more health right?  Probably wrong. 

Just think, who was it that wrote the pastoral letters in the New Testament: Timothy, Titus or Paul?  God used Paul, a man seasoned in ministry to do the talking.  Or how about the disciples in the Gospels?  Usually when they are speaking it is not all that good and they need corrected by Jesus (I’m preaching on this tomorrow).  So the biblical example seems to be that young and inexperienced men should keep their mouths shut for some time when it comes to ministry advice.

So again, my advice is: young pastors need to beware of giving much advice in ministry right now, instead, seek out seasoned pastors and learn from them.  Just to clarify, I do not mean that young pastors should not give advice at all.  Many in the congregation may come for counsel and it is a pastor’s job to counsel from the Word. But what I have often seen in myself and other young men in the ministry is having too many opinions with too little experience.

So how does this practically look? (Yes, please forbear with me while I break my own rule and give some advice) I would say try to find a local pastor who has about 20 years of ministry experience, and meet for lunch one a month where you can ask him many questions.  Do be careful in choosing this—be sure he is not a pastor who is cynical and bitter in the ministry.  Sadly I have met a few of them and your time will not be an encouragement at all.  You may even find yourself questioning you call.

God has been kind to place a pastor in my town who has been this seasoned man.  He has listened to my ups and downs, encouraged me those days I wanted to quit, gave hope when others said there was none, and centered it all on the firm foundation of God’s Word. I know that he was able to do this because he has weathered these same storms of ministry in his life over the past 20 years. If you can find a man like that you have found a treasure.  Thank God and him.

I also think that having a seasoned pastor with a larger ministry platform who you don’t know personally but can learn from is also helpful.  My “larger platform” pastor is Tim Keller.  I love what he has to say and love his writings. The nice thing is that I can access him anytime through his books (remember this is how Paul mentored Timothy and Titus at times) But I come to him as a learner—my goal is not to try to model my ministry after his, but simply to learn some pastoral gems along the way.  

And that is how I see it: young pastors are to collect as many gems as they can now, store them up for some time.  There will be the day when you and I will be sitting on the other side of the booth at the Chinese restaurant, encouraging that young pastor not to give up just yet and giving him the seasoned counsel he needs in Christ.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

What Do I Want For Father's Day?

As Father’s Day approaches, this question will typically get asked of me.  The reply is usually, “Oh, nothing really except maybe a new set of golf clubs, or a full-size Chevy pickup with an extended cab.”  Dad’s usually want big-ticket items when they get something and I’m no exception—so I usually settle for going out to get pizza or a burger or maybe a new shirt if I’m lucky.

Actually, Father’s Day can be counterproductive for most men.  Most dads (I’m top of the list) really don’t need a day set aside to be more self-indulgent, spend more money or treat themselves to something.  So what do I want, or should I say, what do I need for Father’s Day?  Probably to be reminded of my calling and responsibility as a father.  Paul had to remind dads of this in the early church:
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

As I look at this command, I realize how far short I fall  when left to myself.  This is why I desperately need to be filled with the Spirit.  The promise of what this looks like is seen in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”   

I would say that patience tops my list.  So often I sense a lack of patience toward my children.  They are slow, procrastinate and for some reason don’t listen the first time. I find myself usually responding in an impatient way.   

Joy comes next.  My kids are kids, and kids have one main objective each day (at least mine do): to have as much fun as possible.  But I often find myself correcting them for every little infraction, warning them of how much stuff they can break (or how many bones my son can break).  Deep down though, it often reflects a lack of joy.  God has blessed me with three precious kids and I need more joy as a dad.

How about gentleness? Gentleness is tied to the meekness that describes Christ (Matt 11:29).  Do my kids see me in this way—approachable and gentle towards them?  It is interesting how often they go to my wife and ask her when they want something.  Do I lack the gentleness that they can confide in and rest in?

So what I want this Father’s Day is what I need—for the Spirit to work in my heart and produce more fruit so that I can honor Christ more as a dad.  The golf clubs eventually rust; the pickup depreciates and eventually breaks down, but the Spirit’s work has an eternal impact on my family. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

When is the right time to enter the ministry?

I wrestled with this question for years: when is the right time to enter the ministry?  A little background might help.  The Lord Jesus saved me at sixteen and I experienced a pretty radical transformation.  I knew I desired to serve Him with my life somehow.  So you could say that my call to ministry came soon after my conversion as a teenager.  But I knew that I lacked training, so I went to Bible college and seminary.  That took approximately 10 years of my life—I also gained a cute wife and three precious kids during that time.  But over those years I wrestled with when I would be “ready” to begin full-time ministry.  Even between college and seminary I wrestled with the decision to either find a ministry position or further my education.  I think it is right to say that for many years I did not believe that I was ready.  A quote that I stumbled across today during my sermon prep may have helped me in those days and may be a help to someone else in the future:

“No matter how much exegesis, theology, and counseling one has studied, one is never ‘prepared for the ministry.’  A genuine call to ministry always calls us to that which we are not adequately prepared.  It is only in awareness of such that the Christian experiences the presence and promise of Jesus Christ, and learns to depend not on human capabilities but on the one who calls and in the power of the proclamation to authenticate itself.” (James Edwards The Gospel of Mark, p. 183) 

Now I fully trust in the sovereignty of God and His timing for me to enter ministry.  Furthermore, I think there is wisdom in waiting a little longer to enter ministry rather than taking a pastorate early in life.  Life experience is a huge help in ministry and I know very few men in their early twenties who have the maturity to shepherd.   But for myself, there may have been more of a tendency to trust in developing my own capabilities rather than depending on Christ and His strength.  With that said, when is the right time to enter ministry?  My answer: when you are keenly aware that your own human capabilities are nothing and the presence and promise of Christ are everything!  

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Reason I Will Only Blog Occasionally

My goal for blogging after seminary was to continue in the discipline of writing. I enjoyed setting up a blog and tried at one point to post something once a week.  It has been fun and for the handful of people who actually took the time to read my stuff I am humbled and say thank you.

I initially posted reasons for starting a blog and mentioned that if it interfered with family time then I would stop posting. While I do not feel it has threatened my family time, I wrestle with the decision if it is the best use of time for my spiritual family—my church.    I desire to be the hardest-working pastor by the grace of God that I can be.  The words of Peter are a continual reminder to me of my responsibility:

“shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you…And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:2,4).

If I knew that the majority of the folks in my church read what I posted and it edified them in some way, they I would more eagerly post on a weekly basis.  But I have a hunch that very few people in my congregation are reading what I post and it is mostly friends from seminary and other pastors who read my stuff.  I am not a pastor to pastors (John Piper and John MacArthur are these men) so I need to focus my energy on Cornerstone Baptist Church in Orange City Iowa for now.   If you read this, I would appreciate a brief prayer for me and my church.  I love the local church, because Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25).  There are many Christian leaders who have great platforms and should blog regularly.  I am not one of them and this is why I choose to be an occasional blogger for now.  My ministry energy is completely focused as the full-time pastor in a small Baptist church.

When I do post occasionally, it will probably be geared toward biblical manhood and masculinity or something family related.  Again, thanks to those of you who take the time to read my stuff. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What Are Your Prayer Plans?

At the beginning of each year I usually set out to begin a Bible reading plan.  It is at this point in the Spring that I can often let it slide a little.  Thankfully, this year our church is going through the Read The Bible for Life plan and we use this as the base of our mid-week Bible Study.  So I have accountability from others in the church to keep up with the plan.  I also have accountability that I stay in the Word because I have to preach and put together Sunday School lessons weekly.  This is good and I find great joy in doing it.

This is not true with prayer.  There is nothing, or should I say no one who holds me accountable to pray.  Outside of the public prayer times, I’m not held accountable to anyone to pray.  Obviously the Lord Jesus expect me to pray (Matt 6:5-13; 9:38, Luke 6:28, 11:1) and I’m accountable to Him if I fail to pray.  But I know the temptation to not pray often happens when there is no plan to pray. 

The way I prioritize my work day goes like this:
1.    Do the thing I need the most first: seek the Lord and pray to Him.
2.    Do the thing I hate the most next: usually administrative related stuff or making a hard phone-call.
3.    Do the thing I enjoy the most last: reading & study (still a seminary geek at heart!)

All this is to say that all Christians, especially those in leadership need a plan to pray.  We need to have a set time, place, and goal (prayer list) in order to pray effectively.  The advice of D.A. Carson is well worth consideration:

“Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray.  We do not drift into spiritual life; we do not drift into disciplined prayer. We will not grow in prayer unless we plan to pray.  That means we must self-consciously set aside time to do nothing but pray.”  (D.A. Carson A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p.19)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Calvinists Who Love Evangelism

The picture may look like an oxymoron to some.  It is a gospel tract (used for personal evangelism) with a picture of Charles Spurgeon (a Calvinist-Baptist preacher).  Some Christians, especially in my denomination (Southern Baptist) stereotype those who hold to Calvinism as non-evangelistic. They think that those who have a high view of God’s sovereignty in election and predestination are not eager in evangelism. This may be the case for some, but not true consistently.

I was a member of a Baptist church in college that held Calvinistic theology.  More missionaries went out from that church than my non-denominational church I was in as a teenager that taught a more free-will theology.  The seminary I went to is considered the Calvinistic one in my denomination.  Many of my friends I graduated with are either on the mission field or planting churches and working hard in evangelism.  My heroes, William Carey and Adoniram Judson both held to a high view of God’s sovereignty in election, yet gave up all their comforts in life to share the gospel with pagan people. So the stereotype does not hold true consistently.

As I write this, I’m preparing to go to an evangelism conference this weekend led by a man who holds to more of a free-will theology. I may not agree with some of what he says, but I always desire to grow and become a better evangelist and that’s why I’ll go. I confess that I don’t always seek opportunities when I should.  At the same time, some of my most joyful moments in ministry have been sharing the gospel with unbelievers and I try to consistently present the gospel to unbelievers in many of my sermons.  When I fill a pulpit where I don’t know the congregation, it is usually an evangelistic message.

I dislike the label Calvinist.  First, I’m not sure how Calvin feels about us attaching his name to it in light of 1 Cor 1:12-13.  Second, the TULIP acronym comes not from Calvin but from the Canons of Dort, so more accurately it ought to be labeled Dortism.  Either way, I hold to all five points of TULIP because I think they are all biblical and logical.  But I also see that it is biblical to be earnest in evangelism. Paul tells Timothy:  “…do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim 4:5).  This is why there are Calvinists who love evangelism: because they love God and His Word and want to obey it....just like Mr. Spurgeon. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sermon on Living by Faith

Here is a link to the most recent sermon I preached.  I'm always thankful for suggestions/critiques as a preacher who is seeking to grow. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Why This Baptist Preacher Loves Reading John Calvin

I am currently making my way through Calvin's Institutes ever so slowly. This morning I came across a quote that reminded me why I love reading him,

 "...almost every man has his own God...there is scarcely an individual to be found without some idol or phantom as a substitute for Deity..."(Book First,Chapter 5:12).

I find this extremely valuable in my preaching. I need to get to the false gods people have created in their hearts. People need to see the glory of Christ in the preacher's sermons so they turn from the substitute they have made and worship Christ who is the only One who can satify their hearts. Thank you John Calvin for reminding this Baptist Preacher of this!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

From Disengaged Dad to Sacrificial Shepherd (Part 1)

The most popular post I’ve written has been A Disengaged Dad Confesses.  Maybe dads felt they fit into the “Disengaged Dad” category.  Or maybe people enjoyed seeing me write about my failures.  Either way, the response led me to think more about this.

The problem with confession is that even though it is freeing and can be seen as a form of humility, it can often lead to little or no change.  The response after a sermon has been many times, “Oh, that was really convicting!” This is good, however, God has called us not to merely confess, but to seek change as we are being transformed more into Christ-likeness by the Spirit (Rom 8:29, 2 Cor 3:18).  So the next several posts are going to be thoughts about how to go from Disengaged Dad to Sacrificial Shepherd.

The title Sacrificial Shepherd is fitting for what men are called to do in the family context.  Men are to be the spiritual leaders of the family in both the home and church (1 Tim 3:4-5).  The only way a man is qualified to lead in the church is if he has proven faithfulness in the home.  Men are also called to imitate Christ and be sacrificial (Phil 2:1-11, Eph 5:25) in the home.  Thus Sacrificial Shepherd is what every Disengaged Dad strives toward by the grace of Christ.

Since Psalm 23 provides the picture of what an exemplary shepherd looks like, I will use Psalm 23 as the text to form my meditation of what a Sacrificial Shepherd looks like.
The first characteristic seen is the Sacrificial Shepherd is that he feeds the Father Hunger of his family.

I learned this phrase from Doug Wilson at Desiring God’s God, Ministry and Manhood conference.   Each child has a Father Hunger.  Dad’s, you know what this looks like.  Your children want to please you and make you happy.  They probably express a desire to be around you.  Either way, they have been created with a Father Hunger.   Now to be faithful Sacrificial Shepherds, the first thing we must do is point them to the Lord.  We never want to create ourselves at the perfect Father; we never want to turn ourselves into idols.  We need to disappoint our children at some level as they see our sins and failures.  Surely we model as best as we can the love of God the Father, but we always need to point to Him as the One who they go to with everything.  We want our children to be able to say with confidence “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” 

I’m excited there seems to be a renewed interest in parenting.  I’m enthused that many dads want to learn how to be better dads. But the worst thing we can do for our children is form our identity as near perfect parents and create an atmosphere where they seek us and not the Lord.  Surely we want our children to have a confidence in us and find unconditional love in us—but that can never replace the love they find in God.

The most humbling thing for me to think about as a father in this life is this: I will not be Elijah, Leah and Abbey’s dad for eternity.  If they trust in Christ, then we will all be equal worshipers before the Lord, enjoying the love of our perfect Heavenly Father for eternity.   

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Going to Church Today Needs to Be Your Priority

With today being daylight savings time, there is a temptation for many to make up for that hour of sleep that is lost and skip church.  Before going to worship this morning, I want to offer a few reasons why going to church always needs to be the priority for Christians. 

1. It is the time once a week where you are surrounded by Christians.  Assuming that the people in your church are joyful loving Christians and not cranky joyless ones, you should look forward to seeing them and their encouragement. Most of your week is probably spent among non-believers at work and that can be discouraging.  Corporate worship is a time of joy and encouragement with other believers.

2. It is the time where you can have an hour of undivided attention on the Lord.  Maybe this is a bit optimistic, many have young kids who hardly help with this or many have a mind like mine that has trouble focusing at times.  But the Sunday worship context provides the time to meet with the Lord, sing to Him, pray to Him and hear from Him.

3. It is the time once a week where you can hear an extended Word from the Lord. Assuming your preacher preaches the Bible, God is speaking to you for 45minutes through His Word.  This is a unique time to soak up and be exhorted, rebuked or encouraged.  You won't get this by sleeping in!

4. Your pastor(s) have been praying for you. Hopefully this is true.  I pray for my people that they will encounter the Lord and be transformed by Him and love Him more.  There is an expectancy that should come on Sunday, and this is tied to prayer.  So with that, I must go and pray for my people this Lord's Day! 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dear Rookie Pastor

Not too long ago, I forgot to unlock a door at church.   When one of our faithful men tried to get inside and found that it was locked, he replied, “You are still a rookie yet.”   So that is my identity as of now: rookie pastor.
I recently read some advice that Mike Milton (Reformed Theological Seminary) gave to “rookie pastors” after reflecting on his years in ministry.  It was helpful to me during this season in life.  I have rearranged it in three categories.

Relationship to God:  “pray more…recognize that, in work, in ministry, you cannot serve out of an empty reservoir.  Spend more time in prayer.
“…love God. Love people.  Love prayer and approach the sacraments with a simple faith that will recalibrate you as a minister and believer back to the cross.”
“…begin each day with a prayer, ‘Lord, keep me broken at the foot of the cross.”

Relationship to Family: “thank God even more for a faithful wife who was made by God to help me.”
“…enjoy the present stages in your little one’s lives; soon they will pass…play more board games with my family…sing more old hymns at night before going to bed.”
“pray over and bless your wife and children by name.  The voice of a father speaking a child’s name before the Lord in prayer will make an indelible mark on the soul of a child.” 
“never leave home at odds with your wife or children.

Relationship to the Ministry: “build more margin into my life, remembering that ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.”
“follow Jonathan Edwards…to study their wisdom and then, like them, write a personal resolution or covenant with the Lord.”
“be less concerned about spilled milk and more concerned about wasted time.”
“in work, anticipate your appointments.  Be fully present with others.   Then reflect on what God is saying to you through that appointment or ministry event or person.”
“consider difficulty as part of the minister’s job description.”
“never do ministry alone.  Always invest in others and always multiply ministry.”
“Let the Lord be your vindicator.  A defensive minister always comes across as, well, defensive.  Let your silence and your prayers be an example to others in conflict…say, ‘I’m sorry’ and mean it, quickly.  Keep, as they say, short accounts with others.”

I have read and reread Milton’s wisdom over the past several months and it has been immeasurably helpful.  Basically, the advice this rookie pastor has been given is:  be prayerfully humble and broken before the Lord, fully love and engage you family, and don’t allow the urgency of ministry to overtake you, but sincerely love your people for the long-haul.

Funny, Milton did not include: check Facebook and Twitter more, stress more, and be more of a people-pleaser…the very things this rookie pastor has spent too much time doing!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Joy of Being A Small Church Pastor

In Letters to a Young Pastor, Calvin Miller gives sobering counsel to young and restless pastors like myself: 
"Most of you will be taking churches of 100 members or less.  Twenty years from now, 80 percent of you will no longer be a pastor...The 20 percent of you who have continued preaching will still be in churches of 100 members or less."
Counsel like this has caused me to be content with what God gives me and has for me 30 years from now.  
I was reminded of the joy in serving a small church last night at our prayer meeting.  There were only several of us who showed up.  As we took prayer requests, I came to find out that one family is preparing for a trip to Israel next week.  They were able to share about the trip and we were able to pray at length for them and their time.  It has been a joy to be able to pray for all of the families in our church on a weekly basis and know what is going on in the lives of most of the people in our church.  This would be more difficult if our attendance was in the 100's or 1000's. This is in no way a slam against big churches or bitter resentment against men who have large ministries.  God uses both small and large churches for His glory. 
Of course, there are problems that come with a small church: small budget, small numbers show up to events, and when there is friction between two families it can really be felt in the total congregation.  All that said, it is a joy to shepherd each small flock that Christ has purchased at the cost of His own blood (Acts 20:28).

Monday, February 27, 2012

What I need most

It has been a privilege to pray with other pastors in the community on Monday morning.  Several of us gather together at our local coffee shop, DeKoffiehoek, and pray for about 30 minutes.  It usually consists of general prayers for strength and joy in the ministry and blessings on the local churches.  One reason I go is because I enjoy the fellowship of other pastors. 
The main reason I hope I go is because of how much these leaders need prayer.  I hope that the people in their churches pray regularly for them.  I hope that people pray regularly for me as well.  Thom Rainer has recently written about some of the priorities that people should pray for when praying for or with their leaders.  I found it very helpful:

“Allow me to share with you where I most need prayer as a leader. The list is not exhaustive, but it does highlight my need to be totally dependent on Him.
·         I pray first for wisdom, God’s wisdom.
·         I pray that I will always do what is right, not what is easiest and most expedient. I pray, in that regard, that my motives as a leader will always be pure.
·         I pray that I will be a leader in my family first. If I am not leading my family well, I cannot expect to lead well in any other facets of my life.
·         I pray that I will deal with criticisms well and in a godly manner. I pray that I will learn and change as a result of some criticisms, that I will discard those that have no merit, and that my leadership will not be paralyzed by any of them.
·         I pray that I will always be honest and transparent.
·         I pray that I will be accountable as a leader, that I will accept godly course corrections, and that I will always see accountability as a blessing and not a burden.”

If someone were to come up and ask what I needed most as a pastor, I would reply that a golf membership would be really nice, but prayer is much more necessary.  Just pray for me, it is what I need most. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why Have a Statement of Purpose?

There was a helpful article that I came across from John Piper (written in 1983) on having a clear vision statement for the church: Why Have a Statement of Purpose? I am praying and planning to introduce and preach the vision I have for Cornerstone in Orange City this upcoming Sunday: "To glorify God by making disciples of Christ who will impact the world with His Gospel." I always appreciate any prayers for our church and I am continually humbled to serve Christ.

Monday, February 13, 2012

You Might Be A Pharisee If.....

The following is application from Mark 3:5 when Christ was angered at the hardness of the Pharisees hearts.  It is good for some self examination and personal reflection since most of us at some point have acted like the Pharisees.  

You might be a hard-hearted Pharisee if:

1.     You think that you are always right and everyone else is wrong.  You might even use the category (biblical)—“I’m just being biblical.”  The Pharisees were very “biblical” but had hard hearts.  They were more concerned about being right that having the right heart. 

2.     You use the Word of God in an external way rather than an internal way.  What I mean is that you show off how much you know in front of others, you can quote Scripture but it never penetrates your heart.  You are never convicted by the Word, instead you use it to state your convictions but it never hits your heart.

3.     You don’t love lost people, instead you quickly judge them.  When you see a person in sin you are quick to comment about how bad they are, but you never pray for them or think of sharing the gospel with them or inviting them to church.  You are more concerned about judging sin than seeing someone restored. 

4.     You don’t find joy in what God is doing if it is not within your circle.  The Pharisees hung around with Pharisees; they failed to see and embrace what God was doing with the tax-collectors. If you are critical of everything that happens outside your circles, you may be like a Pharisee. 

5.     You don’t understand the nature of grace. The Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 is not as much directed at the younger son, but the older brother who represents the Pharisees listening to Jesus.  If you don’t understand that God by His nature is overflowing in grace and mercy toward sinners and is drawing them to Himself and you think that by your church membership and Bible knowledge that you have a special standing with the Father, they you are probably a Pharisee.

Hope for the Pharisee: If you identify with any of these five points of Phariseeism, there is still hope for you.  The Lord Jesus stopped a Pharisee on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians and changed his life forever…his became the apostle Paul. 
But he had to be knocked off his horse, he had to be humbled.  This is the challenge of the Pharisee—humility.  Pharisees are full of pride, which is why their hearts are hard.  The promise of the New Covenant is that God gives you a new heart (Ezek 36:26)--one that is not hard. 
If you believe that you are a Pharisee, then you need to seek Christ in humility, asking Him to give you a new heart.  Your hard heart angers and grieves Christ….but there is hope, you can be a new creation.  Recall, it was a former Pharisee that wrote those words in 2 Cor 5:17.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation"  

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Super Bowl, A Son and Sex

One day I look forward to every year is Super Bowl Sunday.  I confess my addiction to the NFL and particularly my allegiance to the Pittsburgh Steelers. I admit I watched the game half-heartedly yesterday because Pittsburgh was not it in this year.  But I have faithfully watched the Super Bowl for years, even when the teams don’t excite me that much.  My son, Elijah, is following in my footsteps. He went to school this morning with a NY Giant’s helmet painted on his cheek.  He pulled for the Giants and I reluctantly pulled for New England to support some die hard Pats fans who go to our church.  We had a great Super Bowl party last night with our congregation.  Good times!
What concerns me though is not that my son will be addicted to the NFL like his dad but that he will be addicted to looking at the half-naked women who are exposed throughout the four hours of television watching. We watched the game on the biggest TV I have even watched a game on, which made the lustful images all that more appealing and enticing. At commercial time I had to get up and refill on wings and pop each time just to avoid sitting in front of the projected soft-core porn.  Thankfully my son was playing most of the time with some other young boys and watched little of the game.  But this will likely change as he gets older. He will probably be more attracted to the game….but also to the women.  It is not going to be easy to raise a young man in our sexually saturated culture, which gets worse each year.  Possibly by the time Elijah is my age, there will be full nudity shown on TV.  I have no easy answers as to how to raise a son in a culture that is becoming increasing sexualized, but I’m thankful that God’s word is sufficient in all things and I hope and pray that my son has a heart that is filled with the wisdom from God’s Word:
“For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.” (Proverbs 5:3-4)
May the next generation of young men, like my son, see how destructive the “forbidden woman” is and how much a blessing a wife from the Lord is.  

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hey Barnabas, Don’t Compromise!

For whatever it is worth, I took a spiritual gifts test in college and it determined that I was most like Barnabas.  This means that I am more of an encourager and peacemaker type.  This is pretty accurate according to my limited self-awareness. 

As I was preparing my Bible Study in Acts 11 for Sunday School this week, I came across this quote about Barnabas. I found it to be stunning as it revealed to me how even our good qualities can overreach at times and often show us how flawed we are as human beings.

“People like Barnabas are always needed in the church.  They are peacemakers, the go-betweens who seek no glory for themselves but only seek to bring out the best in others.  But “would-be” Barnabases of today need to hear a further lesson from this outstanding biblical figure.  Barnabases want everyone to be happy, but sometimes it simply is not possible to please everyone without serious compromise of one’s basic convictions.  Barnabas found that out later at Antioch when, in order to placate the conservative Jewish Christians “from James” (Jerusalem), he withdrew from table fellowship with those very Gentile-Christian converts we see him witnessing to so enthusiastically (Gal 2:11-13)”—John Polhil Acts in NAC Commentary, p 272. Italics mine.

I admit it: In my perfect world I desire everyone to be happy and to get along.  At times, I get disgusted with how often Christians can quibble over things that I feel are irrelevant—but it is here where I need my warning as a would-be Barnabas: don’t compromise.  Have your convictions and stick to them, while at the same time still being as much of a peacemaker and encourager as you can possibly be, yet without compromise. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Disengaged Dad Confesses

Sometimes, I hate how I am.  Literally, I can look at myself and see my own shortcomings and failures that others don’t even have to point out to me.  Often this has been the case in my parenting.  Whether it is impatience, being too harsh with my children, or just not showing them the attention that I should, I know my failures as a father.  But one thing I continue to notice in myself is that I am not fully engaged with my children.  Sometimes when they talk, I simply don’t hear them.  Or worse, when they do talk, I can appear to be listening to them as I am thinking about something else, or worse, checking my email. 
As I thought through how I can improve on this, I came up with the following short list for now (yes I work best with lists)

1.    Know that I am a forgiven dad by Jesus Christ:  There was only one perfect human being, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  I know that I will sin daily as a man, husband, father and pastor.  All of this though is no need for me to despair, rather it serves to remind me of the gospel and reinforces my need for Christ.  So even my failures as a father humbles me before Christ.  Even if I were the best father I could be, I still desperately need Christ.  This does not mean that I do not try harder to be a better dad; It just reminds me that past sins are forgiven because of Jesus.   

2.    When I am home, be fully home:  This means that I need to shut off the phone, be done with checking email (there has not been one email that was a life or death matter for me to respond to yet) and social media.  It also means that I only respond to church calls in the evening that are genuine emergencies.  It means that I guard my days off.  I did not check Facebook for a week between Christmas and New Years and the world continued on somehow!  A lot of the time can be wasted in front of the TV or looking at the smartphone. I don’t think I’ll look back on my life and wish I’d spent more time in front of the TV or using my smartphone or doing “ministry” in the evenings or my day off.

3.    Play with my kids one hour a day at minimum: This means getting on the floor and playing cars with Elijah, or having tea with Leah, or chasing Abbey and making her laugh.  I believe that these memories will stick with my kids. It is amazing: I can easily spend three hours watching an NFL game and think nothing of it. I should be able to spend an hour a day playing with my kids and think nothing of it.

4.    Pray specifically and at length for my children: I pray for my children, but often it is for their salvation or just a general blessing.  I want to engage my children and be involved in their lives and one way I can do this is by praying for them more specifically.  This is especially true as they get older into the teenage years. But why not start the habit now while they are 2, 3 and 5 years old.

Again, I confess my shortcomings as a father but thankful for God’s grace and hoping to be less of a disengaged dad in the years ahead.   

Monday, January 2, 2012

3 Favorite books of 2011 and reading for 2012

The three books that were most edifying and enjoyable to read in 2011 were (in order of priority):

1. Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller.  A Keller article I read about his first pastorate in a rural town is one thing that inclined me to look for a smaller, established church to pastor instead of trying to start a new church plant.  All that to say is Keller has a way of getting at the heart and motives--his writings are pastoral in nature.  This is exactly what he does in Counterfeit Gods--he exposes the idols of our hearts and points to the only cure: Christ!  This is the one book that I would recommend Christians read.

2. New Covenant Theology by Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel.  This book introduced me to NCT and clarified the priority of Christ and the New Covenant in approaching the Scripture.

3. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  This was a very interesting read that made me think more about the factors of successful people and why a "you can be anything you want to be if you set your mind to it" type of mentality can be misleading.  I'm not sure if Gladwell is a Christian, but the book is very interesting if you read it with an understanding of Providence. 

I have to admit, it is nice to read books that I got to pick instead of a seminary Prof. (though most of the book required at SBTS were enjoyable, the sheer volume of reading was always too much for me).

My goals for 2012, Lord willing, is to get through the following: The Gagging of God by D.A. Carson, Dominion and Dynasty by Stephen Dempster, Abraham's Four Seeds by John Reisinger, The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller, and hopefully a few others along the way.  And finally, so I avoid becoming the stereotypical pastor who has zero athletic ability and awareness, How I Play Golf by Tiger Woods is on my current library loan!