Friday, April 07, 2006

Opposites Within

Strange and mysterious is my life;
What opposites I feel within!
A stable peace, a constant strife;
The rule of grace, the power of sin;
Too often I am captive led,
Yet often triumph in my Head.

I prize the privilege of prayer,
But O what backwardness to pray!
Though on the Lord I cast my care,
I feel its burden every day;
I'd seek his will in all I do,
Yet find my own is working too.

I call the promises my own,
And prize them more than mines of gold;
Yet though their sweetness I have known,
They leave me unimpressed and cold;
One hour upon the truth I feed,
The next I know not what I read.

Thus different powers within me strive,
And grace and sin by turns prevail;
I grieve, rejoice, decline, revive,
And victory hangs in doubtful scale;
But Jesus has his promise passed
That grace shall overcome at last.

(From Gadsby's Hymns, #728, by Newton)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Personal Philosphy of Ministry

At some point in the not-so-distant past I was looking through the "job" postings on the SBC website, mostly out of curiosity, and one church in particular which was looking for a senior pastor wanted to know the "personal philosophy of ministry" of each applicant. That got me to thinking. Is there a biblical basis for the concept of an expressed "personal philosophy of ministry," and if so, what is it?

In Colossians1.27-29, Paul tells the Colossian believers [and us] that a great mystery has been revealed, and the essence of that now-revealed mystery is "Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me."

In his commentary on Colossians and Philemon, Peter T. O'Brien had many worthwhile comments on these verses, but he summarized the content in this way:

"Paul worked energetically proclaiming Christ as Lord. This he did by systematic and intensive teaching and admonition. His pastoral and apostolic tasks were not finished with the conversion of men and women. This was only the beginning and the end would not be reached until the day of Christ when the quality of his ministry would be tested. So he strove energetically for the cause of the gospel as God continued to work mightily through him, and he made it his aim to present every man perfect in Christ on the final day."

And along similar lines, Darius Salter, in his book What Really Matters in Ministry, summarized the role of the pastor as one who prepares the local church entrusted to his care for heaven. He writes:

"The preacher who best equips his hearers to cope with the pressures of American society may not be the preacher who best prepares his people for heaven, an environment where they will operate by a totally different value system. We will walk on gold in the new Jerusalem because that's about the only worth gold will have. "

So is there any merit to having a "personal philosophy of ministry"? I would say, "Yes," as long as it is biblical. Laboring to generate a philosophy of ministry from scratch is probably a waste of time, since the One who has entrusted his under-shepherds with a flock to care for has already given them instruction and direction as to what they should be doing and how they should be spending their time.

Does this remove any option for pursuing our own agendas in our churches? Definitely. Is this humbling? Absolutely. But Jesus himself instructed us and gave us an example of what servanthood really looks like, and there is another post on this blog that picks up on that topic...

Monday, March 27, 2006

Fierce wolves and twisted things

In Acts 20:17-38 we find the account of Paul giving final instructions to the elders of the church in Ephesus. Over the past several years I was involved in the leadership of our small church in Spearfish, SD, and having had that responsibility I thought long and hard about what Paul had to say to the Ephesian elders.

One particularly ominous warning is found in verses 29 and 30. "I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them."

The "fierce wolves" I can understand, as the Church has always been threatened by false teachers, and much of the New Testament is written with this in mind. But the men who arise "from among your own selves" has puzzled me. Why would someone do this? What could possibly be their motivation? I think the answer is found in the last phrase of verse 30, "to draw away the disciples after them." To sum it up in one word: Pride.

This idea was confirmed for me this morning as I was browsing through the book On Being a Pastor by Derek Prime & Alistair Begg. In the chapter "The Call and the Calling" they write this: "He will also see himself as something of a watchman or a guardian (Acts 20:28; Jude 3). There are always 'savage wolves' wanting to come in among the flock who will not spare it if they can do harm (Acts 20:29)."

They didn't specifically mention the men who rise up from within the church, but they got me to thinking. And what I thought about was another book I read this weekend, Humility: True Greatness by C. J. Mahaney. In this new and truly humbling book there is found this haunting statement: "Pride also undermines unity and can ultimately divide a church. Show me a church where there's division, where there's quarreling, and I'll show you a church where there's pride."

And if I may make one more connection, Psalm 84:10 says, "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness." That statement alone speaks volumes about the danger of pride and the beauty of humility in the church, but I'll add this comment from John Calvin regarding this verse: "Many are to be found who desire to occupy a place in the Church, but such is the sway which ambition has over the minds of men, that very few are content to continue among the number of the common and undistinguished class. Almost all are carried away with the frantic desire of rising to distinction, and can never think of being at ease until they have attained to some station of eminence."

Ambition. Pride. The desire to be the one who is worshipped instead of being one who worships the only One worthy of worship - God. The original sin that catapulted Lucifer from his place in heaven. The ongoing sin that drives men - creatures formed by the Creator - to draw men after themselves. And the sad fact is that there are "sheep" who will follow and have followed men such as this.

God help us have the wisdom and discernment to not follow those who are thus driven by pride and ambition, and to keep us from being the very ones who are guilty of such treasonous acts against the one who obtained the church "with his own blood."

Jesus Holds and Guides the Helm

This is a hymn I encountered this morning in my time of reading, devotion and private worship. It is found in an "old" hymnal known as Gadsby's Hymns, number 1049 if you happen to have a copy. It is, I think, a fair representation of the overall life experience of one who follows Jesus Christ, and the last verse is especially comforting and encouraging when in the midst of life's storms.

The Christian navigates a sea
Where various forms of death appear;
Nor skill, alas! nor power has he,
Aright his dangerous course to steer.

Why does he venture, then, from shore,
And dare so many deaths to brave?
Because the land affrights him more
Than all the perils of the wave;

Because he hopes a port to find,
Where all his toil will be repaid;
And though unskilful, weak, and blind,
Yet Jesus bids him nothing dread.

His destined land he sometimes sees,
And thinks his toils will soon be o'er;
Expects some favourable breeze
Will waft him quickly to the shore.

But sudden clouds obstruct his view,
And he enjoys the sight no more;
Nor does he now believe it true
That he had ever seen the shore.

Though fear his heart should overwhelm,
He'll reach the port for which he's bound;
For Jesus holds and guides the helm,
And safety is where he is found.

Speaking of hymns, last night (Sunday evening) the church we are becoming part of had the distinct privilege of singing the excellent song/hymn "In Christ Alone." What made it distinct is that we were led in the singing by Keith Getty and his wife Kristyn, who are visiting the US from their home in Northern Ireland. Keith wrote this particular song, and others, with Stuart Townend.

My first real encounter with this hymn was at the 2003 Desiring God National Conference commemorating the 300th birthday of Jonathan Edwards and his God-entranced vision of all things. I say "real," because I am not able to sing this in a group setting without getting choked up as I think about what Christ has accomplished for our great good and his greater glory. Come to think of it, I often have the same experience with the incredible truth found in the third verse of another excellent hymn, "And Can It Be." If you've never had a similar experience at least once in your life, then perhaps you're asleep, dead, or what is being spoken of in these hymns has not happened to you as of yet. Thoughts to ponder.

If you take the time to read the lyrics, you'll see that the song speaks of a very similar promise as the hymn listed above.

In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone! - who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save:
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied -
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious Day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine -
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
‘Til He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

By Stuart Townend and Keith Getty.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Ticket to Heaven?

Jesus said in Luke 9.23, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." Following Jesus Christ means being his disciple. And being his disciple is Christianity. A Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ. There are no Christians who are not disciples of Jesus Christ. If you want to be challenged even more on this idea, read The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur.

For those who think Jesus' words in Luke 9.23 are too hard to swallow and therefore he really didn't mean them to apply to everyone, and especially to themselves, there is this option.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Problems and enigmas

Along similar contours as the post on "World Christians," I offer this quote from Lloyd-Jones Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.

"Once more, then, we are reminded at the very beginning that the Christian is altogether different from the world. It is a difference in quality, an essential difference. He is a new man, a new creation; he belongs to an entirely different kingdom. And not only is the world unlike him; it cannot possibly understand him. He is an enigma to the world. And if you and I are not, in this primary sense, problems and enigmas to the non-Christians around us, then this tells us a great deal about our profession of the Christian faith."

What this tells us, and Lloyd-Jones leaves unsaid, is that our profession of the Christian faith is as empty as a vacuum, and I'm not referring to the machines we use to clean our floors. We are deceiving ourselves and living in a false state of perceived security. No human can experience regeneration, conversion and so on and not be someone profoundly different from who he or she was before. And this new and different person becomes a problem and an enigma to those who remain as they were.

At the very least, Peter writes, "they (unbelievers) are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you." When is the last time we caused anyone around us to be surprised by our life choices, by the way we live, by the words we speak and the thoughts we think?

Indeed, can it be said of us that our lives reflect the rock-solid truth that in God's presence there is fullness of joy and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore?

World Christians

In Philippians 3.18-21 Paul tells the Christians in Philippi (and everywhere else) that "our citizenship is in heaven," in contrast to the "enemies of the cross of Christ" who have their "minds set on earthly things." And in 1 Peter 2.11 Peter urges the Christians that he is writing to (and this includes us today) that they (and we), "as sojourners and exiles," should "abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul."

This truth, and it is true, that our citizenship as Christians is in heaven and not on earth and that, as a result, we are sojourners and exiles on this planet (and in our countries, states, cities, etc.) should reveal itself in many ways in our daily lives. It should be part of the very fabric of who we are and how we view and relate with the world around us.

One result must be that we begin to view ourselves as "world Christians," as opposed to "worldly Christians." Don Carson explains what he means by "world Christians" in his book The Cross and Christian Ministry, 116-117.

"What we need, then, are world Christians - not simply American Christians or British Christians or Kenyan Christians, but world Christians. By 'world Christians,' I am referring to Christians, genuine believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the following things are true:

  • Their allegiance to Jesus Christ and his kingdom is self-consiously set above all national, cultural, linguistic, and racial allegiances.
  • Their commitment to the church, Jesus' messianic community, is to the church everywhere, wherever the church is truly manifest, and not only to its manifestation on home turf.
  • They see themselves first and foremost as citizens of the heavenly kingdom and therefore consider all other citizenship a secondary matter.
  • As a result, they are single-minded and sacrificial when it comes to the paramount mandate to evangelize and make disciples.

The church, of course, is the only institution with eternal significance. If anyone ought to transcend the limitations of merely temporal allegiances, then those who constitute the church should." (emphasis mine)

Can we even begin to imagine what kind of effect the church would have on the world and on our local communities if all Christians began to think and act like "world Christians?"

What would this look like? For Americans, at least,

  • the temporal distraction that is politics and political battles fought under the banner and guise of "Christianity" would cease to have such control over us, especially when we try to comprehend how we could possibly think of any one person as a "political enemy" while at the same time someone desperately in need of the Gospel. You simply can't do it. Instead, we must begin to believe Jesus when he said that "blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
  • the widespread and massive, and I do mean massive, hoarding of resources for ourselves and withholding of these same resources from those around us in need, would come to an end. In America we have coined a term for this easily justifiable action. We call it retirement. Do we think Jesus was kidding when he told the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12.13-21? Was he confused? A liar? No, the deception is ours, and ours alone. The application he makes in verse 21 crosses all borders of culture, time and space. "So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God." For much more on this point click here, scroll down to page 45 (page 3 of the PDF) and read the short section "An American Tragedy: How Not to Finish Your One Life." Then read the rest of the book.
  • this list could go on and on, and it should. Each of us must look around at our communities, our churches, but especially our own lives and find the areas where we fall short, because we all have them.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Pleasures Forevermore

As I ponder what to say in these opening posts regarding the title of this blog which I've taken from Psalm 16.11, perhaps a quote from C. S. Lewis regarding human desire would be most appropriate. This is taken from his address, "The Weight of Glory."

"If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased."

More to follow...


Why start another blog in a world of blogs? I have several reasons and they are somewhat self-serving, though it is my hope that they will be helpful to others in the end.
  1. Because writing helps to clarify thinking in ways that speaking cannot. It is my regret that I have spoken too much and written too little in recent years, and this blog is an attempt to remedy the situation.
  2. It gives me a centralized place to store what I have written and intend to write.
  3. It exposes these thoughts to the critiques, and possibly critical thinking, of others. Of course, this assumes that someone will actually read this blog.

It is my intention that my primary source material will be the Bible, with secondary sources being all things that are related to the Bible, either directly or indirectly. That should narrow it down a bit! Seriously, if what Piper says is true, and I'm inclined to think that most of what he says is true, then practically everything in the universe is related to the Bible and to the God who gave us the Bible, and if we don't think about all things in their relation to God, then we are not thinking correctly or adequately about those things.

Which leads me to a few presuppositions which I bring to this blog...

  • There is an eternal, infinite, transcendent, holy, triune God. (Not an exhaustive list of his attributes, by any means.)
  • This God created the universe and everything in it. (Genesis 1.1)
  • The universe continues to exist only because God holds all things together. (Colossians 1.17)
  • God has revealed himself to us in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Bible, of which Jesus Christ is the primary subject. (Luke 24.25-27, 44-47)
  • Every person who has ever existed is a sinner in need of salvation which is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ. (Romans 3.23, John 14.6, Ephesians 2.8-9)
  • God does everything, absolutely everything, to display his glory. (John Piper)
  • The cross and crucifixion of Jesus Christ was no exception. (John 17.1-5, Acts 2.23, 4.27-28)

To wrap up this initial post I'll offer a few disclaimers...

  • I reserve the right to edit anything that appears on this blog, either before or after it is published.
  • Any and all comments by any and all readers are welcome.
  • I reserve the right to preview, post, reject or delete any of those comments.
  • I reserve the right to delete this entire blog at any given time, though I don't expect that to happen.
  • I reserve the right to abide by, forget, reject, change, alter, or remove any or all of these disclaimers at any given time.