Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Church

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: (1Co 1:2 ESV)
I have been thinking about the church and its relationship to Israel as I have been preaching through 1 Peter.  I will be preaching on it specifically in chapter two, which is just around the corner.  I am also reading Paul, Apostle of God's Glory in Christ by Thomas Schreiner, where I am reading about the church and Israel.  Paul was an apostle, missionary, evangelist, and church planter.  His goal was not to win converts but to plant churches.  The majority of his letters address the needs of churches, specifically exhorting them to stay true to or persevere in the faith.  He rarely addresses individuals; all the personal pronouns, (ie., you) are plural pronouns, addressing the church as a whole.  Many of the issues involve personal and relational issues in the church.  The church, a gathering of a specific group of people for the purpose of ministry and mission, was the natural expression of the christian life.  The early church knows no christian who does not regularly gather with other Christians (Heb 10:24-25).

Saturday, June 23, 2012

10 Things Young Singles in Romantic Relationships Ought to Know

This is from Jared C. Wilson over at the Gospel Driven Church
1. It’s not bad to want to have sex with your significant other. It’d be another sort of worry if you didn’t. The key is to want to glorify Christ more than you want to have sex with each other.
2. The key to glorifying Christ more than you want to have sex with each other is that it is a decision to be made over and over again.
3. Persons in a dating or courting relationship are on their best behavior. So however they are now, you can expect, over time, for them to get “worse.” As familiarity grows, people let their guards down. Marriage does not fix bad behavior; it often gives it freer reign. Ladies, this means if your boyfriend is controlling, suspicious, verbally condescending or manipulative, he will get worse, not better the longer your relationship goes on. Whatever you are making excuses for or overlooking now, will get harder to ignore and more prominent the longer your relationship goes on. You can’t fix him, and marriage won’t straighten him out.
4. Nearly every Christian I know who is married to an unbeliever loves their spouse and does not necessarily regret marrying them, but has experienced deep pain and discontent in their marriage because of this unequal yoking and would now never advise a believer to marry an unbeliever.
5. Assuming you’re special and you’re different and their experiences won’t reflect yours is shortsighted, unwise, and arrogant. The people who love you and are warning/advising you against your relationship might be ignorant fools. Those sorts of people do exist. But odds are better that your parents, your pastor, your older married friends are wiser than you think.
6. Living together before marriage is a marriage killer.
7. Premarital sex de-incentivizes a young man to grow up, take responsibility, and lead his home and family.
8. Pre-marital sex wounds a young woman’s heart, perhaps imperceptibly at first but undeniably over time, as she trades in covenant benefits without covenant security. This is not the way God designed sex to fulfill us. Never give your body to a man who has not pledged to God his faithfulness to you in covenant marriage, which presupposes an accountability to a local church. In short, don’t give your heart to a man who is not accountable to anybody who provides godly discipline.
9. All of your relationships, including your romantic relationship, is meant to make Jesus look big more than it is meant to provide you personal fulfillment. When we make personal fulfillment our ultimate priority in our relationships, ironically enough, we find ourselves frustratingly unfulfilled.
10. You are loved by God with abundant grace in Christ’s atoning work, and an embrace of this love by faith in Jesus provides Holy Spiritual power and satisfaction to pursue relationships that honor God and thereby maximize your joy.

Friday, June 22, 2012

History’s Great Preachers Tell You A Thing Or Two

A blog by Colin Adams in Workman's Toolbox.  Cripplegate has some excellent quotes from preachers about preaching. The quotes support ten principles.
1. Effective ministry consists not of fads or gimmicks, but of faithfully preaching the truth.
2. Preaching is a far more serious task than most preachers realize.
3. Faithfulness in the pulpit begins with the pursuit of personal holiness.
4. Powerful preaching flows from powerful prayer.
5. Passionate preaching starts with one’s passion for Christ.
6. The preacher is a herald, not an innovator.
7. The faithful preacher stays focused on what matters.
8. The preacher’s task is to make the text come alive for his hearers.
9. The preacher is to be Christ-exalting, not self-promoting.
10. Faithful preaching requires great personal discipline and sacrifice.
Read the whole post, including the quotations.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ineffable Joy

I have habit of looking up words I do not know when I come across them in my reading.  This past week while reading  PAUL, Apostle of God's Glory in Christ by Thomas Schreiner, I came across this sentence, "The Spirit communicates in an ineffable way that we are part of God's family."  Ineffable means 'too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words or too sacred to be uttered.'  I immediately thought of this passage,
"Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory." (1Pe 1:8 ESV)
The joy that God promises us, even in the midst of suffering, is described as inexpressible.  That is, it is so great or glorious that it defies expression.  Do you have this joy that only comes by faith?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Light and Heat in Biblical Preaching and Teaching

"For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ. (Col 2:1-2 ESV)

"I can see how he might be interested in truth, because they are troubled by Gnostic Judaizers who want to teach things contrary to the word of God; so the balance of truth and love. We always have to put those two together. There are so many Christians who think of Christian love as sentimentality, and their ideas of truth are so fluent as to accomplish anything that might be religious. And then on the other hand, there are some who are very, very particular about their Christian doctrine, but they do it in the kind of spirit that leaves people very, very cold because their cold right in their hearts, and the result is that the precision of the truth which they have come to understand, gets itself a bad name for its coldness.
So the apostle; and this is true whether it is taught here or not, the apostle and the writers of Scripture are very interested in preserving truth, but they are also in seeing that when we teach the truth and when we seek to live the truth that we do it in Christian love, not sentimentality, in Christian love. Christian love that is thoroughly compatible with a gentle and kindly rebuke. So that's concern number one."  S. Lewis Johnson, commenting on Colossians 2:1-2

Christian Love and Exposing Error in the Church

Teaching the truth means that we not only teach truth clearly but it also means that we must correct error and false teaching as unpopular as that is today.  Too often it is seen as being critical and judgmental.  But the Apostle Paul did not shrink back from doing so yet he was loved by the early church.  In speaking to the elders of the Ephesian church (Acts 20:17) he describes his teaching as not shrinking back from declaring anything that was profitable (20:20) and the whole counsel of God (2:27) and how he admonished everyone day and night with tears (20:31).  He did this because he knew wolves, false teachers, would come teaching twisted perversions of the truth and drawing disciples away (20:30).  Then as he was leaving, maybe to never see them again, there was much weeping and hugging and prayer (20:36-38).
Paul admonished and warned because he loved them and saw it as a means of protecting the church.  He did not hesitate to do it boldly, he did not cut any corners and he was firm about the truth.  And he did it in love; evidently they also loved him.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face. (Col 2:1 ESV)
Paul is in prison and what is on his mind is not his own circumstances, suffering and hardship, but the struggle going on in the different churches and his desire to protect them from false teachers by sharing with them the riches of the mystery that is found in Christ so that they will be able to withstand heresy.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Stockton, California Heading for Bankruptcy

It's increasingly likely that Stockton, California will default on some of its debt obligations, Moody's warned yesterday, as the city faces a July 1 deadline for confidential talks with its creditors aimed at averting bankruptcy.  - Seeking Alpha

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Col 1:28 ESV)
We proclaim a person not a system so we may present everyone mature in Christ.  It is not a system of thought that we rely on but a person, Christ.  That is not to say theology is unimportant.  To speak of Christ is to declare a theology of Christ.  To say we believe in Christ is to make certain theological claims about Christ - who he is, the nature of his essence; what he did on our behalf, the nature of his death and resurrection.  Our thinking about Christ must be informed by Scripture (all wisdom).  Paul did not discuss Christ in a discussion ideas, he proclaimed him.  He proclaimed the work of Christ on the cross on our behalf on the cross, the present work Christ does for us by His Spirit, and what Christ promises to do for us in the future.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hope and Assurance

Saints are filled with hope during suffering because they are confident that God will complete what he has begun.  Paul recognizes the partnership of the Philippians in the gospel from the time of initial gospel preaching to the day he wrote the letter to the community (Phil 1:5).  Their partnership was symbolized by their financial support of the Pauline ministry (Phil 4:10-19), though the partnership was more than financial assistance.  Such fruit in their lives persuaded Paul that God was truly at work.  He was convinced, therefore, that "he who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil 1:6).  The Philippians initial partnership in the gospel was God's work, and Paul does not envision a situation in which a saving work begun by God will default.  Thomas Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God's Glory in Christ, p. 274

Saturday, June 9, 2012

What Would Jesus Do or What Did Jesus Do?

We who profess the name of Christ spend too much time thinking about and asking,"what would Jesus do" and not enough time thinking about and asking, "what did Jesus do?"  Christ did not come to make bad people good but to make dead people alive.  If we focus more on our performance for Jesus rather than on Jesus' performance for us we will end up with dead orthodoxy, lifeless legalism, or hollow religious moralism.

Friday, June 8, 2012

How To Protect Yourself From False Teaching

Now, I'm sure that probably many of you feel exactly as I do as you look around at your fellow Christians and your fellow believers, you probably notice that the greatest lack in our life is the lack of constant pondering of the word of God. It is so easy for us to read other things than to read the Scripture. It's so easy for us to think about other things and not to think about the things in the word of God. But if we do that we make ourselves prey to all kinds of false teaching. S. Lewis Johnson, from a sermon on Colossians 1:24-39 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Immersion 1 is Coming!

There are still a few opening if you are interested in coming!

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John Piper on the Insider Movement

I hear many misinformed and ill formed views on the insider movement.  Here is a thought out response by John Piper.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Why Bible Study Doesn't Transform Us

  Too often Christians do not read let alone, study the bible.  Here is a great article on why the bible may not be transforming us!  I found this on gospel coalition, here.

"When all your favorite preachers are gone, and all their books forgotten, you will have your Bible. Master it. Master it." --- John Piper

I meet with women all the time who are curious about how they should study the Bible. They hunger for transformation, but it eludes them. Though many have spent years in church, even participating in organized studies, their grasp on the fundamentals of how to approach God's Word is weak to non-existent. And it's probably not their fault. Unless we are taught good study habits, few of us develop them naturally.
Why, with so many study options available, do many professing Christians remain unschooled and unchanged? Scripture teaches clearly that the living and active Word matures ustransforms usaccomplishes what it intends, increases our wisdom, and bears the fruit of right actions. There is no deficit in the ministry of the Word. If our exposure to it fails to result in transformation, particularly over the course of years, there are surely only two possible reasons why: either our Bible studies lack true converts, or our converts lack true Bible study.
I believe the second reason is more accurate than the first. Much of what passes for Bible study in Christian bookstores and church resource libraries just isn't: while it may educate us on a doctrine or a topic, it does little to further our Bible literacy. And left to our own devices, we pursue a host of unsavory (and un-transformative) self-constructed approaches to "spending time in the Word." Here are several that I encounter on a regular basis.
The Xanax Approach: Feel anxious? Philippians 4:6 says be anxious for nothing. Feel ugly? Psalm 139 says you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Feel tired? Matthew 11:28 says Jesus will give rest to the weary. The Xanax Approach treats the Bible as if it exists to make us feel better. Whether aided by a devotional book or just the topical index in our Bibles, we pronounce our time in the Word successful if we can say, "Wow. That was touching." The Problem: The Xanax Approach makes the Bible a book about us. We ask how the Bible can serve us, rather than how we can serve the God it proclaims. Actually, the Bible doesn't always make us feel better. Quite often it does just the opposite (feeling awesome? Jeremiah 17:9 says you're a wicked rascal). Yes, there is comfort to be found in the pages of Scripture, but context is what makes that comfort lasting and real. The Xanax Approach guarantees that huge sections of your Bible will remain unread, because they fail to deliver an immediate dose of emotional satisfaction.
The Pinball Approach: Lacking a preference or any guidance about what to read, you read whatever Scripture you happen to turn to. Releasing the plunger of your good intentions, you send the pinball of ignorance hurtling toward whatever passage it may hit, ricocheting around to various passages "as the Spirit leads." The Problem: The Bible was not written to be read this way. The Pinball Approach gives no thought to cultural, historical or textual context, authorship, or original intent of the passage in question. When we read this way, we treat the Bible with less respect than we would give to a simple textbook. Imagine trying to master algebra by randomly reading for ten minutes each day from whatever paragraph in the textbook your eyes happened to fall on. Like that metal pinball, you'd lose momentum fast. And be very bad at algebra.
The Magic 8 Ball Approach: You remember the Magic 8 Ball---it answered your most difficult questions as a child. But you're an adult now and wondering if you should marry Bob, get a new job, or change your hair color. You give your Bible a vigorous shake and open it to a random page. Placing your finger blindly on a verse, you then read it to see if "signs point to yes." The Problem: The Bible is not magical, and it does not serve our whim. The Magic 8 Ball Approach misconstrues the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the Word, demanding that the Bible tell us what to do rather than who to be. And it's dangerously close to soothsaying, which people used to get stoned for. So, please. No Magic 8 Ball.
The Personal Shopper Approach: You want to know about being a godly woman or how to deal with self-esteem issues, but you don't know where to find verses about that, so you let [insert famous Bible teacher here] do the legwork for you. The Problem: The Personal Shopper Approach doesn't help you build "ownership" of Scripture. Much like the Pinball Approach, you ricochet from passage to passage, gaining fragmentary knowledge of many books of the Bible but mastery of none. Topical studies serve a purpose: they help us integrate broad concepts into our understanding of Scripture. But if they're all we ever do, we're missing out on the richness of learning a book of the Bible from start to finish.
The Jack Sprat Approach: This is where we engage in "picky eating" with the Word of God. We read the New Testament, but other than Psalms and Proverbs we avoid the Old Testament, or we read books with characters, plots, or topics we can easily identify with. The Problem: All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable. All of it. Women, it's time to move beyond Esther, Ruth, and Proverbs 31 to the rest of the meal. Everyone, you can't fully appreciate the sweetness of the New Testament without the savory of the Old Testament. We need a balanced diet to grow to maturity.

Discipleship Defined

Why do these six habits of highly ineffective Bible study persist in the church today? Why does biblical ignorance continue to dog the church, despite the good intentions of leadership to obey the Great Command to make disciples? I believe the answer lies in our definition of a disciple.
A disciple is, literally, a learner---one who follows another's teaching. But the modern church has tended to define a disciple as a "doer" instead of as a "learner." We have been asked to do service projects, join home groups, find an accountability partner, get counseling, fix our marriages, sing on the worship team, get out of debt, help in the nursery, hand out bulletins, go on mission trips, give to the building fund, share the gospel at Starbucks---but we have so rarely been challenged to pursue the most fundamental element of discipleship---earnest study of the Word. Yes, a disciple does, but we're motivated to act by love for the God revealed in the Word.
Stop waiting for your community of believers to call you to be what Christ already has. Be a student. Be a good student. Read repetitively and in context, line by line. Keep the God of the gospel at the center of your study. Strive for comprehension before interpretation. Give application ample time to emerge from a passage. Watch ignorance flee and transformation flourish. Study the Word. Master it, master it.
Jen Wilkin is a wife, mom to four great kids, and an advocate for women to love God with their minds through the faithful study of his Word. She writes, speaks, and teaches women the Bible. She lives in Flower Mound, Texas, and her family calls The Village Church home. You can find her at

Monday, June 4, 2012

Today Was Supposed to Be My Wedding Day

A great article on being equally yoked I found at the Gospel Coalition here.  I see so many professing Christians marrying someone who is a nominal Christian at best.  It amounts to idolatry.  It was supposed to be a momentous occasion---the day I would walk down the aisle in my mother's lace wedding gown, peonies in hand, best friend at my side, family and friends looking on with joy. It was supposed to be the day I started a new chapter, the day my dreams would be fulfilled. Little did I know, God had other plans.
We met in the winter of 2010---me and God, that is. He always had his eye on me, but I barely even knew who he was. Once I began spending time with him, our relationship blossomed into something special. He cared for me and loved me like no other. He filled a huge void in my heart.
That's how I came to know God. It's also how I came to know the man I thought I would marry.
The relationship started out like many others, following cultural expectations rather than God's design. Dating, sex, spending the night, meeting the parents, integrating the pets (him, a dog; me, two cats). After 10 months, on a snowy Sunday evening in front of the place we first met, he asked me to marry him. It was romantic indeed. Even strangers passing by yelled congratulations from their car windows.
I was excited to be engaged---to finally be moving toward marriage---but something never felt quite right. I sensed a resistance in my heart, like I wasn't totally sure about something. But he was a good guy---the right age, handsome, fun, easy-going, from a decent family. What more could a girl want?
So I moved forward. Even though I had just bought my own home, I gave it up and moved in with him on a spring day in early March. Everyone has to make sacrifices for love, I reasoned. That's where we're going to end up anyway. Why not start now? At first, it was exciting and felt like the right thing to do. But a different story soon emerged.
After just a few months of living together, God shook things up. I accepted an awesome job opportunity in another state, so we left behind the house we just finished renovating and drove across the country (pets in tow) to set up our life far from home, family, friends, and church.
Shortly after we settled, a friend from work recommended we try out a small new Presbyterian church in the area. I was a tad leery, as I had recently been baptized in a non-denominational church, but I agreed to check it out. I immediately loved it and felt like this could be my church home. On my second visit, I filled out a visitor card, which asked a few questions about how I wanted to get involved. Did I want to join a life group? Be part of a ministry team? Have coffee with the pastor? Coffee sounded good. I checked the box.
Later that week, the pastor emailed me, asking when I wanted to get together. What a great opportunity to get to know him and learn more about the church, I thought. Maybe he would even be willing to officiate our wedding in a few months. High hopes turned to frustration when I mentioned the possibility to my fiancé. "Coffee? With a pastor?" he asked. "Heck, no. That's just too weird."
After weeks of my coercing, praying, hoping, and begging, he finally obliged. But we continued to fight about it---all the way to the front door of the pastor's house. Regardless, I enjoyed myself and looked forward to hanging out with the pastor and his wife again soon. I could see them being our friends---a couple who would help guide our marriage and bring us closer to God.
Before we could marry, the church asked us to complete a series of counseling sessions, so we set up time to meet with our new pastor. He recommended we start reading the book When Sinners Say I Do by Dave Harvey. I ordered it online, along with Tim and Kathy Keller's book The Meaning of Marriage. And in my determination to be the very best Christian wife I could be, I also ordered a copy of Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal.  I thought these books would help us get ready for one of the biggest steps we would ever take.
Help they did, but in a way I didn't expect. As I started reading Harvey's book, the first chapter stopped me dead in my tracks. He explained that faith is the most important part of a marriage. Faith? Really? Even though I was now a Christian, I had never considered this point before. Harvey explains that faith is like the first button on a shirt---if you get that wrong, nothing else will line up right.
I began considering how this idea played out in the episode at the pastor's house, not to mention the weekly task of begging my fiancé to go to church, trying to convince him to join a Bible study, and asking him to remember to pray before dinner. Is it supposed to be this difficult?
No, it's not, I learned from Harvey, Keller, and my pastor. I began to realize that just as my thinking had been flawed about sex as a prerequisite for love, I also had the wrong idea about the most important traits in a marriage. As I kept reading and talking to other Christians, no one said it was a good idea for me to marry someone with a different worldview. In other words, I had come to love Jesus and make my decisions based on him; my fiancé had not. That discrepancy became poison in our relationship---barely noticeable at first but eventually corrupting nearly every aspect of our lives. As I grew closer to God, I grew further from wanting to marry someone who did not have a relationship with him.
Keller's teaching on Ephesians 5 helped clarify what I was discovering. Ephesians 5:25-27 says:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit spoke to me on a weekday in early January when my friend opened the Bible to this passage and showed me the truth. I came to understand that God intends for marriage to mimic Jesus' selfless love for his people. I was awestruck. My husband is supposed to lead me closer to God? I immediately broke down crying. I kept digging, trying to understand how I got so far off base. "He's a good man," I argued. "Yes, but is he a Christian? Does he know Jesus?" people asked me in response. "But if I leave him, won't I be going against what God says, by not loving the unbeliever?" Surprisingly, no. I was not yet married. I had not made a covenant with him before God. I was not bound to him. As much as it would hurt to say goodbye, I knew this was not the relationship God intended for me. He promises much more, and I wasn't going to find it in a marriage with an unbeliever.
As this devastating realization sunk in, we began the process of disentangling our lives. And within a few weeks, my ex-fiancé headed back to his home with his belongings, including the dog I had come to love and all of my hopes and dreams for a lifetime of happiness together. We both knew he had to find God on his own terms, in his own way.
Who could have guessed that simply checking a box on a church form would eventually end in heartbreak, financial loss, and unwanted singleness? Difficult and sad as it was, God was there every step of the way. He was there in the simple way it ended, despite our lives being intertwined in nearly every way. He was there in the support and love our family and friends provided. He was there to give me a sense of peace that transcended all understanding. Left to myself, previous breakups had knocked me down to my lowest points in life. But this time, with more riding on the relationship than ever before, I was truly okay. I suppose obedience to God made the difference. As much as it hurts, God is always there to pick up the pieces.
Marriage and family are still the two things I want most in life, but I know that they're in God's control---not mine. Before I knew God, I tried to control my relational life by making poor decisions and sacrifices that brought little reward. Now, I find fulfillment in God. He is my rock, the one who deserves my love and attention. While it is a daily struggle to trust him with the things I care about so deeply, he has proven that he's looking out for me. I leave my future in his hands.
M. Connor is a communications professional living in northern New Jersey. She can be reached at

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Your Ministry Is Not Your Identity

From Paul Tripp over at the Gospel Coalition.  
I was a pastor in the process of destroying his life and ministry, and I didn't know it. I wish I could say that my pastoral experience is unique, but I have come to learn in travels to hundreds of churches around the world that sadly, it is not. Sure, the details are unique, but I see in many pastors the same disconnect between the public persona and the private man. I have heard so many stories containing so many confessions that I grieve over the state of pastoral culture in our generation. The burn of this concern, coupled with my knowledge and experience of transforming grace, drives me to write this column.
Three underlying themes operated in my life, and I have observed the same themes in the lives of many pastors with whom I have talked. I will examine these in this column and the one to follow next week. Unpacking these themes helps us examine where pastoral culture may be less than biblical and consider temptations either resident to or intensified by pastoral ministry.

I Let Ministry Define My Identity

I always say it this way: "No one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do." Whether you realize it or not, you are engaged in an unending conversation with yourself. What you say to yourself is formative for the way you live. You are constantly talking to yourself about your identity, spirituality, functionality, emotionality, mentality, personality, and so on. You are constantly preaching to yourself some kind of gospel. You preach to yourself an anti-gospel of your own righteousness, power, and wisdom, or your preach to yourself the true gospel of deep spiritual need and sufficient grace. You preach to yourself an anti-gospel of aloneness and inability, or you preach to yourself the true gospel of the presence, provisions, and power of an ever-present Christ.
Smack dab in the middle of this conversation is what you tell yourself about your identity. We're always assigning to ourselves some kind of identity. There are only two places to look. I will either get my identity vertically, from who I am in Christ, or I will shop for it horizontally in the situations, experiences, and relationships of my daily life. This is true of everyone, but I am convinced that pastors are particularly tempted to seek their identity horizontally.
This is part of the reason for the huge disconnect between my public ministry life and private family life. Ministry had become my identity. I didn't think of myself as a child of God, in daily need of grace, in the middle of my own sanctification, still battling with sin, still in need of the body of Christ, and called to pastoral ministry. No, I thought of myself as a pastor. That's it, bottom line. The office of pastor was more than a calling and set of God-given gifts that had been recognized by the body of Christ. Pastor defined me.

Different View from Street Level

Permit me to explain the spiritual dynamics. In ways that I couldn't yet see or understand, my Christianity had quit being a relationship. Yes, I knew God was my Father and I was his child, but at street level things looked different. My faith had become a professional calling. It had become my job. My role as pastor shaped the way I related to God. It formed my relationships. I was set up for disaster, and if it hadn't been anger, something else would have revealed my plight.
I'm not surprised by bitter, socially uncomfortable pastors with messy or dysfunctional relationships at home, tense relationships with staff members and lay leaders, and secret, unconfessed sin. We have become comfortable with defining ourselves in a less than biblical way. We approach God as less than needy, so we're less open to the ministry of others and to the conviction of the Spirit. This sucks the life out of the devotional aspect of our walk with God. Tender, heartfelt worship is hard for a person who thinks of himself as having arrived. No one celebrates the presence and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ more than the person who has embraced his desperate and daily need of it.
I know I am not alone. Many other pastors have developed spiritually treacherous habits. They are content with a non-existent devotional life constantly kidnapped by preparation. They are comfortable with living outside of or above the body of Christ. They are quick to minister but not very open to receiving ministry. They have long since quit seeing themselves accurately and so tend not to receive loving confrontation very well. And they tend to carry this unique category identity home, making them less than humble and patient with their families.
You are most loving, patient, kind, and gracious when you realize you desperately need every truth you could give to another. You are most humble and gentle when you realize the person you are ministering to is more like you than unlike you. When you have inserted yourself into another category that tends to make you think you have arrived, it is very easy to be judgmental and impatient.

Laying Down the Law

I once heard a pastor unwittingly verbalize this problem well. My brother Tedd and I were at a large Christian life conference listening to a well-known pastor speak on family worship. He told stories of the zeal, discipline, and dedication of the great fathers of our faith to personal and family worship. He painted astounding pictures of what their private and family devotions looked like. I think all of us felt it was very convicting and discouraging. I felt the weight of the burden of the crowd as they listened. I was saying to myself, "Comfort us with grace, comfort us with grace," but the grace never came.
On the way back to the hotel, Tedd and I rode with the speaker and another pastor, who was our driver. Our pastor driver clearly felt the burden and asked the speaker a brilliant question. "If a man in your congregation came to you and said, 'Pastor, I know I'm supposed to have devotions with my family, but things are so chaotic at my house that I can barely get myself out of bed and get the children fed and of to school, I don't know how I would ever be able to pull off devotions too,' what would you say to him?" (The following response is not made up or enhanced in any way.) The speaker answered, "I say to him, 'I'm a pastor, which means I carry many more burdens for many more people than you do, and if I can pull off daily family worship, you should be able to do so as well.'" There was no identifying with the man's struggle. There was no ministry of grace. With little compassion or understanding he laid the law down even more heavily.
As I heard his response, I was angry, until I remembered that I had done the very same thing again and again. At home, it was all too easy for me to meet out judgment while I was all too stingy with the giving of grace. This unique category identity as pastor not only defined my relationship with others, but it was also destroying my relationship with God. Blind to what was going on in my heart, I was proud, unapproachable, defensive, and all too comfortable. I was a pastor, so I didn't need what other people need.
To be clear, at the conceptual, theological level, I would have argued that all of this was bunk. Being a pastor was my calling, not my identity. Child of the Most High God was my cross-purchased identity. Member of the body of Christ was my identity. Man in the middle of his own sanctification was my identity. Sinner, and still in need of rescuing, transforming, empowering, and delivering grace was my identity.
I didn't realize that I looked horizontally for what I had already been given in Christ, producing a harvest of bad fruit in my heart, ministry, and relationships. I had let my ministry become something that it should never be (my identity), and I looked to it to give me what it could never give (inner sense of well-being).
Paul Tripp is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries , a nonprofit organization whose mission statement is "Connecting the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life." Tripp is also professor of pastoral life and care at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas, and executive director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care in Fort Worth, Texas. Tripp has written many books on Christian living, including the forthcoming Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. He has been married for many years to Luella, and they have four grown children.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Assurance of our Salvation

As far as the assurance of the believer of eternal life is concerned, that to my mind is the best way to talk about security. It's the doctrine of eternal life. Mr. Spurgeon was right when he said, "I believe not so much in the perseverance of the saints as in the perseverance of the Savior." And so we believe that, because the Lord Jesus perseveres in securing and maintaining in a saved condition the saints for whom he died, we can be confident that if we have truly believed in him and possess eternal life, we shall one day be in his presence. Some men still object to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, but if true saints, by their confession, will persevere then it's equally true that the saints must persevere. So we can say the saints must persevere because they will persevere. So we are confident that having believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall persevere because he perseveres. And these "ifs" are tests for professors and they also remind us that we need to constantly look at our own lives and see if it's really true that we do have eternal life.  - S. Lewis Johnson in a sermon on Colossians 1:21-23.