Month: May 2017

Review: The Pastor’s Justification

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The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry
by Jared C. Wilson

Faithful pastors point to Christ. They share Law and Gospel. They pour out forgiveness. They long to connect their people to Jesus, so they grow in him. The pressures, though, are severe. Pastors “should” do so, so many things. Their sinful sheep pull and push. And believe it or not, pastors have sinful natures, too. They are very familiar with their own sins. They need the forgiveness they pronounce… but so often, no one offers it.

This book gives what so many faithful pastors need. It points to Christ. It shares Law and Gospel. It announces forgiveness.

Wilson has written exactly what I needed to hear. He announces Law. He shatters many of my personal idols, and I know not mine alone. He talks about people-pleasing and martyr complexes – two things of which I am supremely guilty. And he doesn’t give excuses. He doesn’t pull punches. He announces the Law: I have sinned by my fault, by my own most grievous fault. “The primary problem in ministry, brother pastor, is not them. It’s you.”

But then he doesn’t give me a ten-step program to get out of the pit I’ve dug for myself.

No, he points to Jesus. He reminds me that Jesus didn’t just come for my flock… but for me, too.

Pastors, will we seek justification in our reputations? In our church’s numbers and figures? In our retweets and links? In our podcast downloads? In a book deal or speaking engagement? In our own sense of a job well done? This is sand.


Or will we look up and out, away from ourselves, away from the fickle fellowship, away from Satan’s accusations and insinuations, up to the right hand of the Father, where our righteousness sits, firmly fixed eternal? There is your justification, pastor, perfect and big, bigger than you and better than you but bled and bought for you and birthed in you, yours irrevocably, sealed and guaranteed through both your successes and failures, through the pats on your back or the knives in your back. There is your justification, there in Christ, and because in him there is no shadow of turning, you are utterly, totally, undeniably justified.


Brother, you are free.

The book breaks down into two parts. Part One, the Pastor’s Heart, takes the reader on a guided tour of I Peter 5. Wilson gives Law and Gospel to knock down idols, heal with real forgiveness, and then motivate with Christ. Part Two, the Pastor’s Glory, walks through the solas of the Reformation and shows how they apply very specifically to ministry.

I personally found Part One to be far more useful, but that could be because I read Part One along with several brother pastors, and the bulk of Part Two I read after my move to a new congregation, so I didn’t get to have the conversation.

Either way, I found that as I read Part One, I nodded along so often. It’s as if Wilson is an old friend who knows me so very, very well. He knows where my weaknesses are. And it reminds me that I face no temptation that is not common – and no temptation that Jesus didn’t face and defeat for me.

I highly, highly recommend this book for both pastors and any other leaders in ministry. Church councils would benefit if they’re involved in the ministries of their congregations, as would leaders of Bible studies. It may not apply as much, but I think they would still benefit. The book doesn’t just diagnose a problem; it gives the remedy: Jesus, not as example, but as Savior.

I was blessed by this book, and I think your pastor would be, too.

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Second Thoughts

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Tonight, two more people said they’d go through membership classes. I talked on the phone this morning with another person who wants to see what it takes to become a member. This past Saturday, I started a person in on the course.

I preached on Sunday. (Well, of course I did!) The people are complimenting me. They’re asking questions, and not everything is perfect by any means, but I seem to be receiving so much respect. Even with that, the people seem at ease with my more easy-going nature. Today, a member invited my wife and kids to come swimming with her and her teenage children.

I have more free time. Granted, it’s the summer and there’s usually more downtime in the summer, but I have enough that I’m writing for fun – looking at even maybe getting Seeking New Earth going again.

I’m being accorded respect. I have time to read professionally and for pleasure. God is laughing and already sending people to me who want to know more about Jesus.

And with all that is going well…

…I’m having second thoughts.

I ran away, didn’t I? It was so hard at my last call. I looked to the future and saw no human way for things to get better.

Except I was wrong. Things were shifting. Slowly, but they were shifting. We had friends nearby. We had friends in the congregation. The kids were stable and in a good school. And all I could see was hardship. And the first opportunity to run?

I took it.

A dear friend told me that he hoped I’d get away from my old call and discover what “normal” was. He knew well enough to know that where I was a difficult call.

Is this normal?

Am I feeling guilty over… normal?

Am I feeling guilty over leaving a God-given call to go to a God-given call?

Yes. I am.

Because I know that while I weighed options, while I looked at where I could best serve, where my family could best be served, where my skills would best match, while I looked to the future and the past, and while I know all those things were chosen and chosen for the best – I know this new place fits my skills. I know I can serve this place. I know I already love these people, and they love me.

But I know that even with all that… I am still a sinner. I know that I have chosen also for the wrong reasons. I chose to leave because it was hard, too. I chose to leave because I despised that old call, too. Not all of me. The real me, the saint – for I am both sinner and saint – the saint praised God for the old call, just as it praises him for this one. But the sinner, it reviled the old call.

And every decision is tainted. Every. Single. One.

God, have mercy on me, the sinner.

Even in this gift, even in this glorious place you have given me, I find new ways to sin. I don’t pine after what has gone, but I do cringe at the goodness I have been given.

Do you see what a mess I am? I am blessed, and I look and ask what’s wrong with me.

But God loves even messes like me.

Father, untangle me. Take my knots and make them yours. Take my frayed ends and make them yours. Let me celebrate your blessings. You have made me your child; let me celebrate that. You have forgiven me; let me celebrate that. And you have given me a new home here on this earth, a new congregation to serve. Forgive the sins that brought me here, and bless me in this new place. Let me serve you here with an open heart, for you have already forgiven me.

Review: Chivalry

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Chivalry:The Quest for a Personal Code of Honor in an Unjust World by Zach Hunter

It’s not a list of rules. It’s a code of honor, calling men and women to higher standards. It’s about being more. And if we live it, it will transform us – and the world.

Or at least that’s what the book claims. It also claims that author Hunter unites teachings of ancient knights with the teachings of Jesus. Thus, the book claims to be Christian.

Sigh.

The book has some great stuff in it. Great advice. And the ten principles to live by aren’t bad by any means!

For instance, the first principle, “I will not go on this journey alone” encourages the reader to find mentors and friends who are not afraid to correct them. It urges us to find people from many walks of life to encourage us, so that we don’t “lean one direction” too much. Use people of different ages – both older and younger! One great observation said, “By now, I know that if my phone rings and I’m hoping their names don’t show up on my caller ID, I’m probably going through something I really need them for.” The closing line of that chapter says, “Chivalrous people aren’t foolishly confident, believing they don’t need anyone else on this journey. They realize they are human, weak, and vulnerable.” This is fantastic advice.

Other principles include “I will practice self control and selflessness,” “I will fight only for the sake of those who are unable to defend themselves, or in the defense of justice,” and “I will honor truth and always keep my promises.” Ten principles in all unfold through the book. The volume ends with questions to dig deeper into each principle as well as a pledge to “live the code” for each principle.

I said it before: This is fantastic advice. The book stirs up that desire to be more and to do more. It gives solid application for the advice and stories fill the book with great readable examples.

But… despite all that, I don’t know if I can really recommend this book as-is.

You see, it claims to be Christian… but for nearly all the book, Jesus is used as merely example. “Jesus did this, so you should do it, too.” Jesus becomes one more person to try to emulate, right along with Confucius (I kid you not) and Audrey Hepburn. Granted, Jesus is used far more often than either of the other two, but an example he is.

To be fair, Hunter does talk about Jesus being our Savior. Briefly. About halfway into the book. But in the same token, he talks about hating the word sin and prefers thinking about it as “missing the mark,” which just encourages him to try harder. He talks about how we don’t need more rules… and then lays out ten principles to live by.

The thing is… this book could be fantastic. Talk about the principles and how we don’t live by them. Show how miserably we fail, even though the principles are good (and they are good). And then point to Jesus who did keep the principles… and now, because he has died for us, our failures are gone. Because he have been given his righteousness, in God’s eyes we are already chivalrous. We are knights. So now, be what we have been given credit for being already. You have Christ’s chivalry… so be chivalrous!

Such a book wouldn’t just lay out principles, but also give the power to do them. It wouldn’t be a pep talk pumping us up to try and then fail, but a way to point to Christ and live out his grace every day. Honestly, I’m considering taking these “ten principles” and trying to work them into a teen Bible study (or a sermon series? Maybe. Not sure on that.). However, they need to be shown that sanctification flows from justification – that Christian life flows from the Life that was given for us. This book by itself… it’s good advice, but it ignores the source of our ability to do anything.

So, can I recommend the book? Alas, not as a Christian book. Good advice? Absolutely. Well-written? You got that right.

But it needs a lot more Jesus to make it a good Christian book.

Not in Kansas

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He started tearing up. “She didn’t know that Jesus died for her. She didn’t know that Jesus loved her personally. But… but she confessed her faith in Jesus before she died.”

This man sitting at my table… he’s one of the people I serve. And he’s talking about his mother. He’s talking about witnessing to his mother, about sharing Jesus with her. He’s talking about his passion of sharing Jesus, and how glad he was that God used him to bring God’s Word to his mother.

Earlier this week: “Yeah, I’ve got this coworker that’s not Christian. I want her to come meet you. I’ve been inviting her to church for years.” She’s sitting in her living room, and I’m visiting her. And she’s talking about her witnessing opportunities, and wanting to be equipped to reach out better.

Earlier than that: “Yeah. Yeah, that’d be good!” She’s back from college – literally just a few hours before I arrived to visit. She wants to get a college group going while everyone’s home for the summer to talk about “real life” problems they have, and what Jesus says about them. I ask her to talk to the others, and we’d do it. Just tell me when to show up! And – I talked to her today. She’s in process. She’s taking ownership and going forward with it.

I am so not where I was.

The thought of members where I was being ready to do these kind of things… to list off people they wanted to be trained to witness to? To tell stories of how the Holy Spirit motivated them to reach out – to family members, even? And not “just” bring-them-to-church but to actively talk about Jesus? To be told, “That’s a good idea – go do it” and respond with, “Ok, I can do that!” – I am going through a bit of a culture shock here!

One of my members scattered Bible verses through a conversation… and not to “prove his point” but because he’s that in touch with the Word. And that member is a leader in the church. That blew me away – a spiritually mature man leading the church? Whoa!

A young man – 20 years old! – volunteered to accompany me to our church’s district convention. Usually that goes to retired men who have to be battered into it – at least in my experience – but this young man said, “It sounds really interesting. I want to grow in God’s Word!”

I just… I’m overwhelmed. And I get it – this is the honeymoon. New pastor and all that. There are problems here, and I’ve started seeing some of them first-hand. I’m sure I’ll complain about them soon enough. But right now… it is amazing serving people who are, at least in part, interested in maturing in faith.

It’s also really, really scary. It means I need to up my game. It means I need to be digging far deeper into Scripture, spending more time in prayer, and learning from those who have gone before me far more than I have been the last few years. Not that I ignored Scripture – far from it! – but now I need to be able to feed those who actually know it already!

Am I up for this?

I don’t know. I really, really don’t know. But… I ask God to help me. It’s all about Jesus. And that’s something I can handle. That’s something the Holy Spirit has taught me.

Now… time to handle the culture shock!

Well, that escalated quickly.

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Today… I finally got to preach for my congregation. Today we finally got to have a “normal” week after… what seems like months of “lasts” and “firsts.” And, sure, today was the first time I got to preach here, but… well, it feels like home.

The congregation seemed to accept my leadership. We had (seriously) record-breaking attendance for Bible study this morning, and on Mother’s Day, no less! One of the congregation pulled me aside and with tears told me, “I praise Jesus that he sent you to us.” We had my first council meeting here this morning, and it looks like I’ll be able to work well with these guys.

But as I left the council meeting and tried to get into the sanctuary to set up for worship, a woman grabbed me. She introduced herself and asked, “Pastor, may I take Communion this morning? I was confirmed in one of your churches when I was fifteen.”

Which set off a yellow flag for me. Usually when people phrase it that way, it means they’ve not belonged to a church for quite a while. I was right; she belonged to a different church body currently. However, it’s a church body close to ours in most doctrines. Apparently she moved into the area a couple months ago and has been attending here regularly – regularly enough several of our members knew her name.

So I told her that I wouldn’t commune her today, but, “Let’s get together this week and talk. If everything looks good, maybe we can do a confession of faith and you’ll be able to join here, so I can commune you next time.”

She about burst with happiness. I’m meeting her tomorrow at noon.

And God laughs. I was called for evangelism here, and I’m hitting the ground running. Our Bible studies for the next couple months will be on how to share Jesus well, personally and congregationally. I have plans on how to reach out into the community – after I’ve figured out the community better! But here he says, “Well, here’s one of my daughters that needs a home. Here.”

Of course, tomorrow I could learn that I can’t welcome her into membership that easily. We’ll find out as I ask about what she believes. But for now it’s a fantastic opportunity, and one that – well, I’m excited for!

I’ve found a new place to serve. I’ve been called to be a pastor here. And it is so, so good to finally be the pastor here and not waiting in between.

This… this is a blessing.

“And I ask…” Again

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Not my installation… but AN installation!

And I ask God to help me.

It’s my second time standing in front of a congregation publicly making my promises. It’s my second time kneeling as pastors lay their hands on me and speak the promises of God. It’s my second time declaring my intent to remain faithful to God.

And I ask God to help me.

Last time, I wrote that all the stress landed on that phrase. I am thankful that this week God has reminded me that I need to rely on that.

As I’ve started planning ahead, I’ve looked back. I’ve evaluated. I’m determined to avoid my many mistakes of the last call (and admittedly discover new ones). I’ve looked ahead on what I need to do to serve this congregation well. What I need to do to get to know the people here well. To get to know how outreach may work best at this time at this place. I’ve started dreaming about how awesome it’s going to be to grow this congregation. How successful I’m going to be here. What I’m going to be able to accomplish here without the hindrances of the past. How things will be so different. Better. Because all those people who held me back aren’t holding me back anymore.

And then God slaps me.

This last week I got to attend a pastors’ conference and meet the local brothers. And… it reminded me that I can’t rely on me. That was the message in sermons and devotions. And today, a classmate preacehd for my installation… and he reminded me that it’s not about me. It’s about relying on Christ. Because he’s the one who carries me. He’s the one who carries the church.

Yeah.

It’s fun to dream. But… it’s not about me. (more…)