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!