Wednesday, August 29, 2012

There Is Always Something to Be Thankful For

“Let me be thankful: first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although he took my money, he did not take my life; third, because although he took all I possessed, it was not much; fourth, because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.” Mathew Henry

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Spiritual Arrogance

Spiritual pride is very apt to suspect others; whereas an humble saint is most jealous of himself, he is so suspicious of nothing in the world as he is of his own heart. The spiritually proud person is apt to find fault with other saints, that they are low in grace; and to be much in observing how cold and dead they are; and being quick to discern and take notice of their deficiencies. But the eminently humble Christian has so much to do at home . . . that he is not apt to be very busy with other hearts . . . He is apt to esteem others better than himself, and is ready to hope that there is nobody but what has more love and thankfulness to God than he, and cannot bear to think that others should bring forth no more fruit to God’s honour than he.  - Jonathan Edwards 

Monday, August 27, 2012

On Human Inability

We declare on scriptural authority that the human will is so desperately set on mischief, so depraved, so inclined to everything that is evil, and so disinclined to everything that is good, that without the powerful, supernatural, irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit, no human will ever be constrained toward Christ. (Charles Spurgeon, Sermons, Vol. 4, p.139).

The Power of Beholding

“If we regularly beheld the glory of Christ our Christian walk with God would become more sweet and pleasant, our spiritual light and strength would grow daily stronger and our lives would more gloriously represent the glory of Christ. Death would be most welcome to us.”

John Owen

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Theology is a Response to the Word

From Jared Wilson, here.  
“[Theology is] not a response to the human situation or to human questions; it is a response to the Word of God, which demands a response because of its intrinsic nature”
Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction
“[The] man who refuses to listen and to obey the Word acts not as a free man but as a slave, for there is no freedom except through God’s Word . . . Theology responds to the Word which God has spoken, still speaks, and will speak again in the history of Jesus Christ which fulfills the history of Israel.”
Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction
Yes. Theology answers the problems of the world but by beginning with the Word, not the world. So much of what we call theological pursuit involves the disjointing of Scripture to fit the contours of our concerns. Instead, real theology results from the heart and mind wrestling with the revelation of God. And if this puts our hip out of joint, so be it.  

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Something More Critical Than Knowing God!

J. I. Packer:
What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands [Isa. 49:16]. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.
This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort—the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates—in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.
Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 41-42, emphasis added.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Encouraging Leadership

Here is something that I need a constant reminder of and all of us who lead others. . . .
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When it comes to leadership, I can be intimidating. At least, that’s what people tell me. My engine runs at high RPMs, and I tend to be on the type A side of the personality spectrum. I approach most issues in a black-and-white fashion and pursue excellence.
Most leaders exhibit similar characteristics. That’s why we’re drawn to leadership. People want to follow because you are confident, strong, and know what you want and how to get it. But these characteristics can ruin your people (and you) if you’re not careful.
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. - Prov. 16:24
Leaders can give you a list of ways you can improve. They know the areas that need adjustment, correction, or improvement. This is a necessary ability in leading anything well. They will not long tolerate the status quo, or the organization becomes stagnant, and we all know what happens to water when it remains stagnant. It starts to stink.
However, if this is true, how can we lead well without constantly harping on our people? Herein lies the power of encouragement.
The concept of withdrawals and deposits has been helpful for me when it comes to excellence in leadership. You will inevitably have tough conversations with those under your direction – you know, those conversations that start, “Hey Mike, can we chat about something?” You both know that you are about to take a relational withdrawal from him in the form of a suggestion for how Mike needs to grow, change, repent, or whatever. But, following the bank analogy, is there money in the bank from which to draw? Or is your relational/leadership check going to bounce?
Money is deposited into the leadership bank via encouragement. If there is no consistent deposit into the bank of Mike’s life, he is going to burn out quickly, grow to hate you, or simply leave the relationship without warning.


There are three areas in my life that need my continual focus on encouragement: my wife, my kids, and the people under my care at The Vine. Recently, my wife and I have been talking about our oldest child and his need for constant correction. He is having a bit of a bad attitude about school, and it seems to be a persistent thorn in my wife’s side as she homeschools. She feels like she has to be “on him” all the time.
We chatted about this concept of deposits and withdrawals and renewed our focus on making deposits of encouragement in our children. If all they hear is correction with no words of encouragement we run the danger of provoking them to anger (Eph. 6:4).
Think of people who have led you in the past. Who are those leaders you loved following? I would be willing to bet that for most of you, the leaders you most loved were those who excelled at encouraging you even as they challenged you to grow.
Now think of those people who have lead you in the past who you didn’t exactly enjoy following. I would be willing to bet that those leaders were probably not strong in the encouragement department.


Obviously, this is a simple concept but quite difficult to master. To grow as an encourager, consider three actions points to implement in your rhythms of life and leadership:
  • When you walk into a room with your spouse, your kids, or those under your care at church – really, any leadership setting – try and make a discipline out of speaking words of encouragement in short bursts of improvised blessing. Just make a habit out of it. Make the first thing that comes out of your mouth a simple word of encouragement.
  • Many years ago at a conference, I remember Bill Hybels saying that every day when he came into the office he would start the day by writing out five hand-written notes of encouragement to five of the hundreds of people who were under his pastoral authority. This stuck with me for a reason. It’s powerful.
  • Have parties with your people. And when you do, make a habit of publicly blessing those under your care with words of life in the presence of all those gathered. This will set an amazing tone for the whole group and the person being recognized will be immensely blessed.
What other ways could you think of?
As a leader, withdrawals are going to be necessary. Are you making sure there is money in the bank? In what ways could you be a much more effective leader by pursing continual encouragement of the people under your care?
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up. - 1 Thess. 5:11
Zach Nielsen is one of the pastors at The Vine Church in Madison, Wisconsin, where he serves in the areas of preaching, leadership development and music. He is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa and Covenant Theological Seminary and blogs at Take Your Vitamin Z. Twitter: @znielsen
For more resources on leadership, check out Tony Merida’s eBook Proclaiming Jesus.
For more free articles on leadership, read: Spiritual Strength Training by David Murray, The Gospel Grid by Jeff Medders, and 5 Ways to Keep Church Discipline from Seeming Weird by Jared Wilson.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Much of life is about making the best choices.  When we make a choice to do one thing we make a choice not to do another thing.  For instance, I have had some people who have left my church and still wanted to maintain our relationship.  There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this but practically it is difficult.   To choose to spend time with them means that I am choosing to not spend time with someone else God has called me to shepherd.  With limited time, I cannot shepherd sheep who have chosen to go to another flock and be shepherded by another shepherd.  The same is true even with those I am called to shepherd.  I need to prioritize my time strategically with my flock.  Jesus did this in his ministry.  He ministered to the crowds but discipled the twelve.  He discipled the twelve but focused more intently on the three - Peter, James, and John.  He focused on the three but had a more intimate relationship with one, John.  I thought this article was helpful to see how easy it is to waste time with the wrong people.  This is critical because it can mean the difference between surviving and thriving.  We will never get it right all the time but can learn to do it better . . . 
It is easy to see other people making this mistake. It is more difficult to catch yourself doing it. I’ve been guilty plenty of times.
Two Trees: One Alive and One Dead - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #2311331
Photo courtesy of ©
For example, a few years ago, while I was still CEO of Thomas Nelson, I met with an important author. In the course of the meeting, I learned he was unhappy with the cover design we had done for his previous book.
Being the people-pleaser I am, I thought I could fix his problem. “I will take personal responsibility for this next cover,” I announced. “I will work with you directly to make sure we get a cover you love.”
I then hired a designer I knew who had delivered stellar results for another one of our authors. In a few weeks, the designer delivered six superb cover comps. I made a few suggestions, the designer revised his work, then I submitted them to the author.
He didn’t like any of them.
I spent an hour on the phone with him, as he berated the designer. Undaunted, I rolled up my sleeves and spent the afternoon personally searching through a stock photo library, trying to find just the right image—not exactly the best use of my time as a CEO.
But finally I found a photo I loved. This is it, I thought. Perfect!
I went back to the designer and had him create several more comps based on the new photo. I submitted the new batch to the author, confident he would love one of the options. I followed up with a phone call.
He hated them all.
Again, he criticized the designer. He then came after me. “If you would just spend the money and hire a decent designer, we could get onto more important things.” He lectured me like this was the first time I had ever done this.
Silly me. I hired another designer and went through one more round with him. We produced twenty-one cover comps in all. He didn’t like any of them.
Finally, we acquiesced and used a cover designed by his team. I wish I could show it to you, especially compared to the others.
With that, I woke up to the fact that I had invested all this time, money, and emotional energy and had not moved the needle one bit. It was a total waste. He was incorrigible.
The resources I wasted on him would have been better spent elsewhere.
We finished out our contract with him but passed on offering him another one. We had had enough. We let him go to another publisher.
Leaders often make this same mistake in various areas of their lives. For example,
  • A mother invests all of her emotional energy in a difficult child to the neglect of the quiet, compliant one. The difficult child gets worse and the compliant one begins acting up to get attention.
  • A corporate executive spends most of her time helping under-performing salespeople rather than provide leadership and inspiration to her top producers. She then wonders why she can’t keep her best people.
  • A pastor expends so much of his time trying to fix broken people that he doesn’t have the energy to develop the leaders who could help shoulder the burden. He constantly grumbles about his workload.
What can you do if you are in this situation?
Make sure you are investing your best resources—including your time and energy—in your best people. Here’s how:
  1. Acknowledge that your resources are limited. Your time, money, and energy are finite resources. It’s easy to forget this and overcommit. But it’s a zero-sum game. Every time you say “yes” to one person, you are saying “no” to others.
  2. Become aware of where your resources are going. It’s easy to think the situation is temporary or an exception. But is it? This is the little lie that keeps us stuck if we aren’t careful. Look back over your calendar and make an honest assessment. It will reveal the truth.
  3. End unproductive or unhealthy relationships. This is the hard part. If you can’t end them, then at least establish boundaries. If you need inspiration or moral support, read Henry Cloud’s excellent book, Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward.
  4. Identify the people you should be investing in. This is the most important step. Change your focus. Who are the individuals you have overlooked? Who are the people who should be getting the bulk (or at least more) of your resources? Who are the ones who represent the future?
  5. Schedule time on your calendar to serve these people. Good intentions are important, but they are not enough. Like the old adage says, “What gets scheduled gets done." The opposite is also true, “What doesn’t get scheduled doesn’t get done.”
Yes, Jesus spent time with broken people. He healed the sick. He comforted the broken-hearted. He ministered to the outcasts.
But he spent the bulk of his resources on just twelve people. He proactively invested in them, knowing that his mission was, humanly speaking, dependent on their success.
Question: Where do you need to shift your focus and allocate your resources differently? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Challenging Task of Shepherding Each Sunday

Pastors face many challenging responsibilities each time they deliver the message of God's Word.  They must feed the sheep, rebuke the disobedient, correct false teaching, and exercise responsible leadership. Today in the Word 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

6 Traits of a Pastor in Awe of God

I need to be reminded of my calling and my place in life and ministry.  This was helpful.

What traits does the awe of God produce in the heart of a pastor that are vital for an effective, God-honoring, and productive ministry? Here is a list of six.

1. Humility

There is nothing like standing without defense before the awesome glory of God to put you in your place, correct a distorted view of yourself, yank you out of functional arrogance, and take the winds out of the sails of your self-righteousness. In the face of his glory I am left naked with no glory whatsoever left to hold before myself or anyone else. As long as I am comparing myself to others I can always find someone whose existence seems to make me look righteous by comparison. But if I compare my filthy rags to the pure and forever unstained linen of God's righteousness, I want to run and hide in heart-breaking shame.
This is what happened to Isaiah, recorded in chapter six. He stands before the awesome throne of God's glory and says, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" (Isaiah 6:5) Isaiah is not speaking in formal religious hyperbole here. He is not trying to ingratiate himself with God by being oh so humble. No, he learns that only in light of the awesome glory and holiness of God do you see an accurate view of yourself and the depth of your need for the rescue only a God of glorious grace can provide.
Somewhere along the way in ministry too many pastors have forgotten who they are. They have a bloated, distorted, grandiose view of themselves that renders them largely unapproachable and allows them to justify things they think, desire, say, and do that simply are not biblically justifiable. I have been there and at times fall back there again. At these times I need to be rescued from me. When you are too much in awe of you, you're set up to be a self-righteous, controlling, over-confident, judgmental, unfalteringly opinionated ecclesiastical autocrat. You unwittingly build a kingdom whose throne will be inhabited by you, no matter how much you  convince yourself that you do it all for the glory of God.

2. Tenderness

The humility that only awe of God can produce in my heart produces pastoral tenderness toward people who need the same grace. No one gives grace better than a person who is deeply persuaded that he needs it himself and receives it from Christ. This tenderness makes me gracious, gentle, patient, understanding, and hopeful in the face of others' sin, while never compromising God's holy call. It protects me from deadly assessments like, "I can't believe you would do such a thing," which tell me I'm essentially different from everyone else. It's hard to bring the gospel to people when you're looking down your nose at them. Facing others' sin, awe-inspired tenderness frees me from being an agent of condemnation or from asking the law to do what only grace can accomplish and motivates me to be a tool of that grace.

3. Passion

No matter what is or isn't working in my ministry, no matter what difficulties I am facing, no matter what battles I am fighting, the expansive glory of God gives me reason to get up in the morning and do what I have been gifted and called to do with enthusiasm, courage, and confidence. My joy isn't handcuffed to circumstances or relationships. My heart isn't yanked wherever they go. I have reason for joy because I am a chosen child and a conscripted servant of the King of kings and Lord of lords, the great Creator, the Savior, the Sovereign, the Victor, the One who reigns and will reign forever. He is my Father, my Savior, and my Boss. He is ever near and ever faithful. My passion for ministry does not come from how I am being received. It flows out of the reality that I have been received by him. I'm not enthusiastic because people like me, but because he has accepted and sent me. I'm not passionate because ministry is glorious, but because God is eternally and unchangeably glorious. So I preach, teach, counsel, lead, and serve with a gospel passion that inspires and ignites the same in the people around me.

4. Confidence

Confidence, that inner sense of well-being and capability, comes from knowing the One I serve. He is my confidence and ability. He will not call me to a task unless he has enabled me to do it. He has more zeal for the health of his church than I ever will. No one has more interest in the use of my gifts than the One who gave them. No one has more zeal for his glory than he does. He is ever-present and ever-willing. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is boundless in love and glorious in grace. He does not change; he is faithful forever. His word will not cease to be true. His power to save will never be exhausted. His rule will not run out. He will never be conquered by one greater than himself. I can do what I have been called to do with confidence, not because of who I am, but because he is my Father, and he is glorious in every way.

5. Discipline

Ministry isn't always glorious. Sometimes your naïve expectations have proven to be just that---naïve. Sometimes it's going to take more than ministry success and the appreciation of people to pull you out of bed to fulfill your calling. Sometimes you won't much see much fruit as the result of your labors and won't have much hope of seeing a harvest anytime soon. Sometimes you will think you have been betrayed and feel alone. So your discipline must be rooted in something deeper than a horizontal assessment of how things appear to be going. I am more and more persuaded in my own life that sturdy self-discipline, the kind that is essential in pastoral ministry, is rooted in worship. The awesome glory of God's existence, character, plan, presence, promises, and grace gives me reason to work hard and not give up, no matter whether we are in a "good" season or one that is stormy.

6. Rest

Finally, as I face my weaknesses and the messiness of the local church, what gives me rest of heart? Glory gives you rest. It is the knowledge that nothing is too hard for the God whom you serve. It is the surety that all things are possible with him. It is knowing, with Abraham, that the one who made all those promises is faithful. There may seem to be many horizontal reasons to be anxious, but I will not let my heart be captured by worry or fear, because the God of inestimable glory who sent me has made this promise: "I will be with you." I don't have to play games with myself. I don't have to deny or minimize reality in order to feel okay, because he has invaded my existence with his glory, and I can rest even in the brokenness between the "already" and the "not yet."

Getting Your Awe Back

I don't have a set of strategies for you in conclusion. But I counsel you to run now, run quickly, to your Father of awesome glory. Confess the offense of your boredom. Plead for eyes opened to the 360-degree, 24/7 display of glory to which you have been blind. Determine to spend a certain portion of every day in meditating on his glory. Cry out for the help of others. And remind yourself to be thankful for Jesus, who offers you his grace even at those moments when grace isn't nearly as gloriously valuable to you as it should be.
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.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Inevitability in the Life of a Church

From Ray Ortland

“Whenever a change occurs in the religious opinions of a community, it is always preceded by a change in their religious feelings.  The natural expression of the feelings of true piety is the doctrines of the Bible.  As long as these feelings are retained, these doctrines will be retained; but should they be lost, the doctrines are either held for form sake or rejected, according to circumstance; and if the feelings again be called into life, the doctrines return as a matter of course.”
Charles Hodge,  “Address to the Students of the Theological Seminary,” Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review 5 (1829): 92.
Hodge is not asserting that feelings are more important than doctrine.  He is observing that feelings precede doctrine by creating a bias toward certain doctrines.  If a church’s heart is tender and warm toward the Lord, that church will love the Bible as his Word.  If a church’s heart cools off toward the Lord or becomes simply distracted, that church will be doctrinally unstable.  The heart works with such power that it creates inevitability in a church’s theological future, for good or ill.
It’s why we pastors work so hard to help our churches love the Lord, above all else.

How Are You Following Jesus?