Four Encouragements and Challenges for Young Pastors

4278335002_3e90e703c3_zI first started serving on staff at a church when I was 18 years old. Forest Hills Baptist Church called me to be their student pastor at the age of 23. Then they called me to be their Senior Pastor at 25. I say that not to draw attention to my age, but to share a continual struggle I’ve experienced the last decade in my ministry—not being despised for my youth. Over the course of my first decade in ministry, 1 Timothy 4:11-16 is well worn in my Bible. I’ve referenced it frequently in the midst of my insecurities for encouragement and guidance.

“Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:11–16, ESV)

I know there are many young pastors like myself out there who struggle to minister to people much older than themselves. But what Paul shows us in these few verses is that over time and by the grace of God, the older saints will grow in their respect for us as they see our maturity in Christ. How do young pastors model godliness as leaders to those around them? Paul gives us four ways.

1. We Model Godliness in our Character.

We are to set “an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” This means that the godliness we cultivate in our life is put on display in our relationships with others. If you hope to garner the respect of the congregation, the grace of God should be evident in your life. If you’re a gossip or if you are a hot-headed, immoral, unreliable person, you are not going to gain the respect of anyone. We are all called to set an example to one another, particularly for those in leadership in the church.

2. We Model Godliness in our teaching.

Paul instructs Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” He tells Timothy not to “neglect the gift you have,” that gift being teaching. The authority of the pastoral office is not derived from age or experience, but from the authority of God’s word. The Bible is the rod in the hand of God’s shepherd. If a young pastor hopes to garner the respect of older saints, he must display a mastery of the Scripture but also display that he’s been mastered by it. He must use his gifting of teaching to faithfully build up the church. This for me (as shown in the journal quote earlier) became the great truth I’ve clung to as a young pastor. When anyone seeks to despise me from my youth, not only have a sought to model godly character, but I’ve devoted myself to faithfully teaching the Scriptures. I’ve labored hard to proclaim the word of God in season and out of season, and though I may be young—I pray that I’ve garnered the respect and trust of my congregation.

3. We Model Godliness in our Growth.

Paul tells Timothy to “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see you progress.” As a young pastors, we are far away from arriving to perfection. Yet, if we hope to gain the respect of older saints, we must display a pattern of growth, saturating ourselves in the truth. All should be able to observe our progress, our growth, and our maturity. As I think back over the last decade, I think of so many failures and sins in my life! I thank God I’m not the man I was at 18! I thank God that I’m not the man I was last year! I think of how much I’ve grown as a husband and father, pastor and preacher—and I still have such long ways to go! Again, no body hits perfection in this life, but over the course of our Christian journey those closest to us should be able to observe our steady plodding and growth in godliness.

4. We Model Godliness in our Endurance.

Our faithfulness to Christ must stand the test of time. Paul cautions Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” Watch your life and your doctrine closely! He goes on to instruct Timothy: “Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” By enduing in the work of ministry over time, persisting in cultivating and modeling godliness, God will work. By continuing to faithfully shepherded the congregation, even as a young pastor, not only will Timothy’s own life be saved, but so too will those entrusted under his care. We must persist and persevere in Christ until the end, and a faithful shepherd who watches his life and teaching well not only has the gracious reward of heaven, but has the joy of knowing he helped his church to cross the finish line of faith.

Two Ways for Christians to Respond to the Orlando Shooting

4045383465_f22759e77d_z As we woke up to the news of massacre and carnage in Orlando, the event shocked the consciences of the American people. The news of another mass shooting in our country has become all to familiar in recent years. Yet, the catastrophe yesterday marks the largest shooting in American history—a record that no one wanted to see broken. As our eyes glued themselves to the news outlets for the latest updates, our inquisitive hearts long for answers. As the law enforcement officials report more information in the days to come, what can we as Christians do in response to this havoc?

Already, the opportunists have jumped to political solutions, using the Orlando slaughter as a chance to propel an agenda. We want to do something to stop the shootings that recur so frequently, so such reactions are understandable. So calls for the regulation of gun control and the ban of radical Islamists have already overtaken the tragedy. Though we should explore political solutions to this persistent problem in our country, I would suggest the church should take a different approach. Before we jump to the politicization of the event, may we first mourn with the hurting and proclaim the hope of Christ.

Mourn with the Hurting

Many are hurting—The friends and family of the victims, the LGBT community, peaceful muslims, the city of Orlando, and more. Before we rush to judgement or vocalize our disagreements with any of those communities, the church must weep with those who weep. We mourn with those who mourn. We must identify ourselves with the brokenhearted, sharing tears with all.

Though our ears still ring with the shell shock of this news, we must offer our compassion and tears for those affected by this abominable attack. God birthed the church out of the afflictions of our savior. In his prophecy, Isaiah called the messiah the suffering servant. Jesus identified with us in his incarnation, becoming human just as we are. The messiah shared in our sufferings and experienced the horrors of sin and evil unleashed upon the world. As Jesus carried his cross to Golgotha, God experienced the terror of bloody murder. God became a victim and aligns himself with the oppressed and marginalized, all for the forgiveness of human sin.

Just as Jesus shared in our sufferings, so too should we share in the sufferings of those around us. We must display compassion, love, and hope for those families of the victims, coming alongside them and sharing in their grief.

Proclaim the Hope of Christ

Not only must we mourn with the hurting, we must also proclaim the hope of Christ. Jesus identifies with the weeping, but he also came to stop all the weeping. The rampage in Orlando unsettles us, serving as a poignant reminder that the world is not as it should be. The evil and hate that can fill the heart of a man to open fire in a crowded room reminds us of that. Something is seriously wrong with the world. The fault line of this world cannot be filled by shuffling political dirt. The tectonic plates of sin continue to quake the earth with unspeakable acts of evil. The restraining grace of God provides the only explanation for why the world is as stable as it is. Human remedies cannot solve the virus that is human sin.

Yet, the cross of Christ not only displays Jesus’ identification with our suffering, but proclaims victory over our suffering. God sent his son to save sinners like us, but also to restore the broken world to its original and perfect design. The Gospel involves individual restoration, but the good news expands to the entire cosmos. Yes, Christ shares in our weeping, but he also stops the weeping. This is the tension we live in as Christians between the times. The kingdom of God is here now, arriving with Christ himself two thousand years ago. Yet, the kingdom has not yet been fully realized, and won’t be until Christ comes again. Jesus’ arrival marks the inauguration of his kingdom, but that kingdom has yet to be fully consummated. As Jesus endures the sufferings of the cross, his resurrection breaks the back of our enemies sin and death, but there final defeat has yet to come. Though the kingdom of darkness continues to squirm, we must proclaim the hope that Christ has won the day on that resurrection morning and that he is coming soon. The day will soon come when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”” (Revelation 21:4, ESV)

As our nation processes the carnage from Sunday, may we mourn with the hurting and proclaim the hope of Christ. Though blood stains the floors of Pulse in Orlando, Jesus is alive and he is coming soon. As we mourn with the brokenhearted, may we proclaim the hope of Christ and in our sorrow may our longing for his return grow evermore in our hearts.

Jump Starting the Blog

If you are a frequent reader here, you will have noticed that there hasn’t been many posts recently. I’ve kept many a plate spinning these past six months and I had to let one drop. That plate happened to be the blog. By the grace of God the other plates remain in rotation. Yet, I hope to jump start this blog this week posting on a more frequent basis. My family and I just came back from a week of vacation and I’m feeling recharged and refreshed. My schedule slows down a bit over the summer, so I have a little more energy to devote to the blogosphere. I hope to have some new posts this week! Stay tuned!

A Review: Church History for Modern Ministry by Dayton Hartman

41EhsS6bkWL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_When you use the word ‘history’, most people think back to the snooze fest that was high school history class as their eyes roll back into their skull. People just don’t dislike history, they disdain it. For them, history is irrelevant, impractical, and a waste of time. In an age where we idolize the new and ignore the old, we kick history to the bucket. Unfortunately, many Christians and ministry leaders are ignorant of the great cloud of witnesses who have come before them. Dr. Dayton Hartman, pastor at Redeemer Church in Rocky Mount, NC, wishes to correct that trend in his new book Church History for Modern Ministry: Why Our Past Matters for Everything We Do. Hartman chronicles his own journey of discovery of the importance of history and shares practical ways a historically informed ministry contributes to vitality in the local church.The first chapter, Back to the Future, examines the danger of ignoring church history and then proposes benefits of how an understanding of the past can inform present ministry methods and concerns. In chapter two, Creed and Creeds, Hartman makes a compelling case for the importance of creeds and encourages ministry leaders to incorporate them into the life of the church. Chapter 3, Imitating Christ, describes how church history can contribute to discipleship, as Hartman casts a vision for personal disciple making among believers and within the home. Chapter 4, Preaching and the Cultural Drift, illustrates how history helps inform apologetics, as church leaders can learn from patristic thinkers like Justin Martyr to more contemporary apologists like Francis Schaeffer. In chapter 5, Christians and Culture, Hartman encourages ministry leaders to engage culture and make culture, as he reflects on men like Abraham Kuyper. In the final chapter, Yesterday, Today was the Future, Hartman makes one final plea to invite ministry leaders to the study history, to learn from the giants, and to be humbled by their legacy.

Hartman writes with clarity and humor as he makes his case, sprinkling his chapters with historical examples. The book serves as an easy introduction to those unfamiliar with church history, as separate boxes help summarize the historical figures or define confusing terms. In addition, Hartman provides excellent recommended reading throughout the book for those who do not know where to begin in the study of history, including a helpful appendix. Church History for Modern Ministry is a very practical book, a great tool for church staffs to read together and discuss.

As I read Hartman’s book, in many ways it was like reading my own journey. Ignorance of our spiritual family history pervades our churches, and ministry leaders must help their people shed their chronological snobbery by informing them of the importance and relevance of our past. If you are a ministry leader who could care less about history, I beg you to pick this book up; may Hartman’s argument change your mind. For those of you who already see the importance of history for the local church, this book is for you too, as it is filled with practical ways to teach and inform your congregation of the giants who came before us. May Church History for Modern Ministry wake ministry leaders from the slumber of their high school history class and awaken them to the practical relevance church history can bring to modern ministry.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 24

  Psalm 24 is a liturgical psalm used by the people of Israel to assemble together in worship. It is a psalm bursting with excitement and energy, as the people rejoice at the opportunity to gather to worship the Lord. As we study this psalm of David, we will see what it means to truly worship the Lord as we wait in eager expectation for King Jesus.

Praying the Psalms

Commentary

v 1-2 - The Lord owns it all. He creates the cosmos, so the cosmos belongs to him. The focus at the start of this psalm is on the earth. The earth is beautiful and filled with beautiful landscapes, vegetation, and creatures.

God has established all there is by the word of his power. He brought the land out from the waters. He chisels the rivers and their curves with his finger. He is the master craftsman, the prestigious artists, and the detailed designer of the earth. He then, sets man as the crown jewel of his creation. He fills the earth with creatures in the sea, on the land, and in the air. He finishes his work by creating humanity in his image. He places man in a place of honor and creates humanity in his own image. As this psalm of David begins, our attention is drawn back towards Genesis 1. The Lord is the creator God. Because the Lord creates the world he owns the world. Yet, the Lord not only owns the whole earth, but he owns those who dwell in it, manly human beings. All of it is his and all of it belongs to him.

v 3-6 - This psalm was most likely used for liturgical purposes by the people as they go to worship the Lord. The question asked is a reflective one. “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?” (3). If the Lord is the creator God who owns everything, who are we as human beings to approach his holy hill to worship him? The psalm tells us the type of people who are fit to come and worship the Lord and approach him in his holiness. It is he who possess both a love for purity and a love for the truth. In purity, a true worshiper of God possess clean hands, undefiled by sin. The heart of the worshiper is pure, not filled with carnal lusts and passions. A worshiper is not merely outwardly righteous. A person could perhaps fool others in looking outwardly righteous. But a true worshiper of God is pure from within his or her heart. There is a personal holiness that goes deep into the recesses of our hearts. We must not be like the Pharisees whom Jesus called white washed tombs who were rotting on the inside. A true worshiper is pure in heart.

Yet, a worshiper of God not only has a deep love for purity but a love for truth as well. Sound doctrine is essential for proper worshiper. The one who si fit to ascend the hill of the Lord is one who “does not lift up his soul to what is false” (4). She does not believe the lies of the world, but possess a hunger for the truth of God. She studies her Scripture diligently longing for greater knowledge of God. She is on guard against false teaching, errors, and lies. She tests the spirit’s to see whether they come from God.

A true worshiper, one who ascends up the holy hill and who stands in the holy place of God is one who loves purity and truth.

There is great blessing in having the privilege of worshiping the Lord. God gives us his favor and gives us his righteousness. Those who seek the face of God will find him. How we need more men and woman who hunger for more of God! Where are the men and women of this day who possess a deep love for purity and truth? Where are the Christians who trust in the righteousness given them by faith to have such boldness to walk in confidence to the holy place of God and enjoy his presence? Where are those who enjoy and worship the Lord who own’s it all? May we seek God with such intensity and repent of seeking lesser things. Our master beckons us and invites us to worship. Our creator and owner calls his children into his holy assembly.

Yet, as we think about the question of this stanza, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?”, there is no one who is worthy. As the apostle Paul tells us in Romans there is no one righteous, no not one. All of us are tainted and defiled by sin. Our hands are not clean, nor are our hearts pure. Each of us are fish hooked on the deceptive lies of this world. Knowing ourselves truly, we know that we are not worthy. Yet, this passage anticipates the coming of a king of glory who qualifies us for true and proper worship. We have a God who give salvation to us by giving to us the righteousness of his only son.

v. 7-10 - As this liturgical psalm continues, there is a climactic chant towards the end. It has a call and response rhythm to it. It encapsulates the jubilant demeanor of God’s people as the King of glory comes. There is the panting anticipation that God would come and be with his people.

The question: “Who is this king of glory?.

The answer: “The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord , mighty in battle!”

The King of glory comes. He is strong and ready to win the battle and achieve victory. The King of glory has come. The creator of the universe entered into his world in the person of Jesus Christ. He comes fit for battle as the strong and mighty warrior. Yet, he first came not to overcome political powers, but to overcome our spiritual foe. Jesus comes to defeat the kingdom of darkness and the enslaving condemnation of our sin by his death on the cross. Yet, on the third day the gate was be open. The stone was rolled back and the resurrected King of glory came into his victory.

The resurrected Christ eventually ascended into heaven. The gates were opened and he return to his glorious place at the right hand of the Father. Yet, as we wait for his return, we know that the gates will one day be opened again. They will be lifted and the King of glory will return clothed in power to establish his Kingdom on the earth he owns. The earth is his and its inhabitants. And on that day when Jesus establishes his kingdom, those who are saved and made righteous by faith will ascend the hill of the Lord  and stand in his holy place.  The gates will be opened that the King of glory may come in. “Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory!” (10).

Prayer Guide

  • Thank the Lord for his creation and confess his possession of it all, remembering that all you own does not belong to you, but to him.
  • Ask the Lord with the Spirit’s help through your faith in Christ to have a love for purity and truth. Ask God to help you become a worshiper who lives your life for his glory.
  • Thank the Lord that he saves you and makes you righteous through Jesus Christ.
  • Praise the Lord that the King of glory came and one the victory.
  • Ask the Lord to help you trust  that the gates will one day be opened, and that the King of glory will return.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 23

Is there a more comforting image of God than as a shepherd? God is a tender shepherd who loves his sheep. The sheep trust him and the shepherd loves his flock. He cares for us, leads us, protects us, and loves us. Psalm 23 is one of the best known passages of Scripture. It is quoted and memorized by many, and most people are familiar with it. Yet, because we are so familiar with the psalm, we become numb to its potent reminder of God’s love and affection for his sheep. Psalm 23 is a psalm of trust, whispered by generations in the anxious dark night of the soul. Though calamity surrounds, God’s faithful sheep preach this psalm to their own hearts as a always needed reminder that “The Lord is my shepherd”. Let’s take a look at the beautiful psalm with fresh eyes. Praying the Psalms

Commentary

v 1-3 - David is a sheep. As the psalm writer, he recognizes that the Lord is his personal shepherd. He is foolish, weak, and frail as a man. To call yourself a sheep is almost to call yourself an ignoramus. Sheep are not very smart. They stray away. They are stubborn. They are clueless. Yet, David has enough self awareness about his own heart, that he is prone to wander in to the dangerous thicket of sin. He needs a loving shepherd who can guide him and protect him. The Lord is his shepherd.

The Lord is the good shepherd, because he provides for the sheep. David does not want for anything. The shepherd makes sure his sheep are provided for and taken out to the safe and nutritious green pastures. God leads his sheep to a place of safety and of rest. He does restore our souls.

As we think about the work of Christ, our good shepherd he too restores our soul. He leads us down the narrow path of righteousness that leads to life. He guides us and shows us the way. He leads us the the fountain of everlasting waters. He takes to the comforting green grass into his presence where their is peace and enteral joy. We have a good shepherd who cares for the sheep, and his name is Jesus Christ.

v. 4 - As a sheep, not every day is spent in a beautiful green pasture on a gorgeous cool afternoon with rays of sunshine sparkling over your reflective fleece. Bad days come, even for little lambs. Everyone has moments where we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death. These moments of loss, grief, pain, and sadness distress the heart of even the most trusting sheep. Yet, the distress of the valley dissipates when we remind ourselves one the goodness of the shepherd.

David says that even though he walks through those valleys, he does so without fear. No matter what is lurking in the darkness behind the cleft, the Shepherd is with him. The Shepherd carries a rod and a staff to both protect and guide the sheep to safety. No matter what carnivorous wolves salivating in the darkness, the shepherd will protect his sheep from the blood lust of their enemies. He will make sure that his sheep pass through the valley safely and without harm. This is why David says that the shepherd’s rod and staff are a comfort to him. He knows that God is not an impotent God, unaware and caught of guard by the darkness. Rather, he is the courageous shepherd who is ready to defend at any moment.

What comfort for us as the people of God! God is not only all loving and all knowing, but he is all powerful. What voracious enemy threatens you when God is your shepherd? Who will be able to overcome the strength of the Almighty? God is the protector of his sheep. He does not disappoint, therefore the sheep can have utmost trust in their shepherd as one who is more than able to defend them from harm.

v. 5-6 - The image then shifts from one of shepherding to feasting. God is the host who prepares a table for his guests. He does this in the presence of the enemies. Though they swarm, God lavishes his protective love on his children.  To prepare a meal and eat a meal with another was a sign of intimacy, affection, honor, and love. God lavishes all of those on us as he prepares that table. He pours out the anointing oil on our head and he fills our cup till it overflows. The imagery of all this is clear; God lavishes his children with blessing, kindness, and love. It does not matter what enemies there may be, he delights in his sheep and he cares for them.

Because of God’s extravagant care, protection, and love for his sheep as the good shepherd, David knows that goodness and mercy will follow him all of his life. If God is for him, who can be against him? As we are recipients of God’s divine love we leave a trail of evidence of God’s goodness and mercy, no matter how long or dark the valleys may be. He is a God who brings us into his presence and we dwell with him for ever.

What a beautiful image of comfort and what an expression of trust! Yet, how much greater does the beauty of Psalm 23 increase as we dwell on the good shepherd Jesus Christ who lays down his life for the sheep? Jesus leads our soul by giving up his life for our good. God anoints our head with the lavish, priceless blood of his own son. He lavishes us with every spiritual blessing as our cup overflows into an ever growing ocean of divine grace.

Jesus stands in the upper room as his enemies surrounded him. He prepares a table for his disciples and says eat and drink the body and blood of the son. As Jesus set down his goblet of wine, he goes into the garden prepared to have the cup of God’s wrath poured out on him. The overflow of blessings we receive from God is only possible because the overflow of divine judgement was poured on Jesus. Judgement and wrath followed Jesus at the end of his life, so that you could have goodness and mercy follow you into eternal life. It is through the death of the good shepherd that we are brought into the house of God. The good shepherd becomes the lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

By the blood of Christ, we are brought into the permeant rest of vibrant emerald pasture and running crystal waters. We are lead into the great wedding feast of the lamb as we eat at that divinely prepared table of unending nourishment and celebration. We will pass through the valley of darkness through the blood of the protective shepherd; on that day when the valley of death is behind us, our shepherd will lead us to the land of rest and there we shall dwell with our shepherd in ceaseless joy and an ever expanding satisfaction forever more.

Prayer Guide

  • What situation has you stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed? Share that with the Lord.
  • Praise God for the ways he cares for you as your good shepherd.
  • Ask the Lord to help you trust in him, knowing that he will never let you down.
  • Thank God for the good shepherd named Jesus who by his life and death brings you into enteral rest.

Are You A Church Reformer?

The Church always needs reformers. In every generation, the church drifts into theological malaise and a numbing apathy. The Gospel leaks from our churches over the decades as churches assume the Gospel, forget the Gospel, then replace the void with a non-gospel. There tend to be two different times of drift in churches (often they happen together, but not always). On the one hand is Gospel-drift. Churches can drift into heresy as they abandon orthodoxy, reject the authority of Scripture, and modify the Gospel for the contemporary palate. On the other hand is mission-drift. Churches can abandon their mission to spread the Gospel, as their orthodoxy grows stale, legalistic, and dead; their hearts grow cold to the lost and dying world as the church would rather preserve their traditions than modify their methods for reaching their community. God uses church reformers to boldly correct these two errors. As pastors shepherd their churches they may discover potential gospel-drift or mission-drift. Sometimes they will discover both. Perhaps you are a pastor or a ministry leader serving in a church that’s in need of reform. After all, no church is perfect. If you are called to reform or revitalize churches, what are the characterizes of church reformers? Let me offer four suggestions.

0000000183L

1. A Deep Dependence on God

Reform can only happen by the power of God. The man who thinks he can bring about reform and revival within his church in his own might and ingenuity is a fool. Church reformers know that the power for transformation does not rest on their own talents and abilities, but the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, church reformers regularly fall on their knees and beg God for help.

2. A Commitment to the Authority of the Scripture

Church reformers point people to the authority of God’s word. They are committed to its power and authority in the life of the church. Sadly, protestant churches, who so zealously committed themselves to sola scriptura at the launch of the reformation, sadly begin to look exceedingly Catholic, as their own traditions supplant the authority of God’s word. The church reformer commits himself to the authority of the Bible, and leads the church in light of its teaching. Thus, the Church reformer boldly preaches God’s word every week, as he constantly explains the Bible and and calls the church to action.

Everything is suspect, and no tradition is unchallenged. Every church practice, every ministry, every organizational activity must be cast under the probing word of God. The reformer loves the Bible and continually points the people to obedience to the Scripture, no matter what the cost or the extensiveness of the change. People will say, “We’ve always done it this way”, but the reformer responds with, “My conscious is bound to the word of God.” He challenges assumptions, digs out idolatrous motivations, and calls people to obedience to the Scriptures.

3. A Willingness to Put Your Neck on the Line.

Any man who wishes to engage in such work, must be willing to put his neck on the line. Church reform is risky business. Those who challenge the status quo will be bombarded with criticism and critique. If you want a comfy pastorate, then simply tell people what they want to hear. Yet, that’s not what we are called to as pastors. We are called to challenge sin in the life of the church and call for repentance and belief.

People may accuse you of the most malicious motives. They will grow angry and begin to squirm under the biblical intensity you bring. Yet the purity of the church is at stake: the integrity of the Gospel, the souls of your community, and the glory of God. Press on! What’s the worst that could happen. You lose your job? Church history is filled with courageous reformers who acted in fear of far worser consequences.

4. An All Consuming Love for the Flock

Finally, reformers must display a deep love for the flock. What compels the reformer to action is the glory of God and the love of the people. He must long to see the people flourish in holiness and engage in mission. Every action he takes is not for his own ego, but for the good of the flock. Church reformers endure such criticism and heart ache because they want the best for God’s people. Though sometimes we must strike the sheep when they wander into a den of wolves, we always strike in love.

Church reformers labor in love for their flock. Therefore, they are willing to be patient and they delay plans of reform when the people are not yet ready. Church reformers see their churches not as projects to be accomplished, but a people to be loved and cared for.

The Call of Every Pastor

Church reformers depend on God, commit themselves to God’s word, and put their necks on the line to love the flock of God for the glory of God.

I believe the call to church reform is the call of every pastor. Ecclesia temper reformanda set; the Church is always reforming. Every Pastor must take his flock again to God’s word, address areas of Gospel-drift or mission-drift, and call the church to repentance.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 22

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For most Christians that haunting question stirs our hearts with sorrow. That desperate question was uttered by none other than Jesus himself on the cross. Jesus references the first line of Psalm 22 as he hangs on the cross. The Gospel writers, particularly Mathew, uses Psalm 22 throughout the crucifixion narrative to emphasize the innocence of Jesus. Psalm 22 is a psalm of lament and like all psalms of lament, the conclusion ends in praise. As we read in this Psalm about the horrific suffering of an innocent man, it so clearly points us to Jesus, the innocent son of God. Jesus’ crucifixion would not be the end of his story, but ends in great victory through his resurrection. Psalm 22 may begin in great sorrow, but concludes in great praise and victory, following the patter of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Praying the Psalms

Commentary

v. 1-5 - The psalm begins with a desperate and anxious question. Why does God seem so far away? Why does he seem so distant? Does God not hear the cries of the innocent? Can he not hear their groans in the dark of the night? The psalmist cries out day by day, night by night, but the Lord doesn’t answer. There is no rest.

We have all felt this way at some point in our Christian life. Where is God when it hurts? Just when we think we need him the most, he seems peculiarly absent in our lives. We may be in agony and anguish, but God doesn’t respond.

The psalmist has put his trust in the Lord continually. He knows that he is the holy one of God. His suffering casts no doubt on the goodness of God’s character. The psalmist knows that in the past, God answered the cries of the faithful of Israel. They trusted God, and were not point to shame.

Yet, the Psalmist is confused. He has grown up hearing about God’s faithfulness towards his people, but in his situation God seems to be absent? What seems to be the problem? So the psalmists is resolutely confident in God, but at the same time confused. Why is God absent for him, when God has intervened in the lives of so many others?

v. 6-18 - The psalmist then describes his condition. He is decimated and despised. He is rejected and scorned. He is mocked and taunted. To his enemies he is but a worm. His enemies scoff at his faith and taunt the Lord, “He trust sin the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (v 8) This psalmist is a man who is hated, but for no good reason. He is completely innocent and without faulty, yet he is despised and rejected by men.

Though he is jaded and barbed with the verbal spears of malicious foes, the psalmist trusts the Lord. He reflects on his trust in the Lord from the beginning. He has trusted continually in the Lord, even in his infancy, while he was at his mother’s breast. He has been wholly devoted to the Lord and innocent of these dehumanizing accusations.

Yet, the psalmist continues to be poured out like water. His bones are out of joint. His heart is melting under the duress of the persecution. His strength has dried up as he comes to lay in the dust of death.

The blood thirsty canine scavengers encircle him. They devour the weak as their prey. The count his bones to divide among them as they cast lots to divide his clothing. They pierce his hands and feet. These wicked men seek to take anything of value from this man and leave him in dehumanizing shame. They will not cease until they have turned this righteous and godly man into a worm.

As we read what this innocent man of Psalm 22 is going through, the images bring to our mind the crucifixion of our Lord. From the mocking at the cross—“If you are the son of God come down for there”, or “He saved others, but he cannot save himself!”—to the casting lots of his clothing, and to the piercing of his hands and feet, in all of it we see in Jesus.

Anyone who would have walked by Golgotha’s hill on that good Friday would have come to the conclusion that God has abandon this man. There is no way that God delights in him, because God has not rescued him. This is the way many of us think today. If God lets us incur a terrible fate, than either the problem must be in us or with God. Yet, throughout the Bible we see that God allows suffering to come upon the righteous in order to deliver them for the glory of his name. God uses the malicious intent of wicked men and turns it on its head. God is so sovereign that he is able to use depraved acts of violence to bring about an ultimate good.

[Tweet "God is so sovereign that he is able to use depraved acts of violence to bring about an ultimate good. "]

v. 19-21 - The sufferer cries out to God for help. Those his circumstances seem to swallow him up, his trust in the Lord is unfading. He calls out to the Lord, “Do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!” This final desperate cry is one of deliverance and salvation.

When we are in similar situations, we too should pray and ask God for help. May our suffering never cause us to lose our confidence in God’s ability to rescue. Though he may seem far, he is near. Though he may seem incompetent, he is more than able. A crises of life should not become a crises of faith. Despite what this psalmist is going through, his trust in the Lord is resolute. So too should it be for all of God’s people.

v. 22-31 - As lament psalms do, this psalm concludes in praise. “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him” (24). Those who trust in the Lord, place their trust rightly. God is reliable; he hears and responds to the desperate cries of his people. Though it might be delayed, rescue is coming. The result of that rescue leads to praise, satisfaction and joy. This rescue not only leads to the satisfaction and joy of the sufferer, but it leads to world wide praise to God!

All the peoples of the earth will worship before God. The Kingship belongs to the Lord, and he will reign forever. The result of this rescue is the worship of God’s name from generation to generation. Those yet to be born will one day hear of the righteousness that God has done.

As we think about Jesus’ cry on the cross, it is understood much deeper in light of the entire psalm. Yes, Jesus was in great suffering and agony as the innocent man who was pierced on that cross. At that moment of great suffering, God seemed distant and it appeared that God had abandon his son on the cross as Jesus bore the penalty of sin. Yet, God would not abandon his son, even in death. Though Jesus died, on the third day he would rise again to victory. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the center point of history. The entire earth must hear the good news of what Christ has done by dying in our place on the cross. The crucified son of God has been given the kingship that endures for ever. This good news has been told from generation to generation, to a people yet unborn.

The Gospel of Jesus has continued to be passed down from generation to generation. For two thousand years Christian moms and dads tell their children about the righteousness of God found in Jesus Christ. As Christians we must continue to proclaim to the next generation that the suffering son of God is the resurrected king and the savior of the world.

Prayer Guide

  • Have you ever felt abandon by God? Share your heartache honestly to the Lord.
  • Pray that God would give you the faith to trust him even when things go badly in your life.
  • Ask the Lord for deliverance from your enemies, particularly when you are suffering for righteousness sake.
  • Praise the Lord that God did not abandon Jesus, but raised him again on the third day.
  • Ask the Lord for opportunities to share the good news of Jesus with others.

The Problem with Theological Liberalism

51XTJe5SjkL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_As liberal theology diverged from protestantism in the 19th century, it created a crises of authority with Christianity in America. The squabbling over orthodoxy led to theological innovation, which diminished the authority of Scripture, spurred dogmatic doctrinal claims, and revised Christianity with modernism. As the Unitarians such as William Ellery Channing arrived on the scene, later men like Henry Bushnell, often called the father of American liberal theology, would cast a different vision for Christianity. The birth of theological liberalism developed into the prominent social gospel movement of the early 20th century. Gary Dorrien, in his excellent three volume work, The Making of American Liberal Theology, argues that the main premise upon liberal theology is the conviction that Christianity can be expressed without reliance upon an external authority. As enlightenment thinkers probed the Scripture with a critical eye, scholars began to question the veracity of the Bible. Under this pressure, liberalism developed as a third way alternative "between the authority-based orthodoxies of traditional Christianity and the spiritless materialism of modern atheism or deism" (Dorrien, 1:xiii).

This epistemological shift from the authority of Scripture to modernistic rationalism and romantic existentialism brewed tensions between those committed to orthodoxy and those committed to revising Christianity. Both the conservatives and the liberals within the Christian church believed they were protecting the church from the tumultuous shift of modernism. Conservatives resisted the philosophical shift taking place all around them, attempting to use reason to defend their belief in the authority of Scripture and protestant orthodoxy. The liberals attempted to recast Christianity in modern light, in attempts to keep it relevant in a culture that was becoming critical and skeptical about religious claims. All of this came to a head in the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the 1920s and 30s.

J. Gresham Machen argued in his book Christianity and Liberalism that Christianity and liberalism are not two variations of the same religion, but two entirely different religions, built on two very different foundations. This is the tragic irony of liberal theology, in attempts to shed away the external authority of the Bible they only replaced it with a wobbling authority of ever changing cultural ideals. They've taken the firm foundation of the word of Christ and replaced it with the shifting sands of contemporary cultural whims.

As time has proven, theological liberalism is a failed project. As many mainline, liberal denominations fade into obscurity as their numbers dwindle, we must be reminded of the importance of the authority of Scripture in the Christian church. If the word of God is not the authority, something else will take its place, to the decline and distortion of the church. No third way exists between Christ and the world. The Gospel has always offended popular culture and any attempt to dilute its offensiveness only leads to ruin. As voices within and outside the church continue to urge evangelicals to let go of our authority and trust in the Bible, may we cling ever tighter to the unchanging word of God.

Passing the Baton at Forest Hills

At the conclusion of our centennial celebration, I couldn't help but be filled with joy. Seeing so many faithful saints return produced great thanksgiving in my heart. In many ways, I'm still humbled that God has called me to shepherd a church like Forest Hills. I've developed a profound appreciation for the legacy and heritage of Forest Hills over the years. As I thought about this weekend, I knew it would be special. In some ways this weekend symbolized a passing of the torch, the handing off of the baton to me and my generation of believers. IMG_0901

As I stood on stage and introduced James Herron, our oldest living senior pastor, I couldn't help but be thankful for men like him whom God used mightily for his Kingdom. Yet, in his sermon this Sunday, he cautioned about making too much of the past, but charged us as a congregation to move forward into a new century. Nostalgia is a wonderful, powerful sensation, but too much of it will drug you as you become gloomy about the present and pessimistic about the future. Ironically, we never realize we were living in the good ol' days, until those days are gone. By the grace of God, we tend to forget about the dark days, as our memory preserves the bright spots.

Yet, nostalgia cannot hinder God's work in the present and his vision for the future. The work is not yet over. The Great Commission lies before us, and lost souls need to hear the Gospel of Jesus. In our nostalgia, we cannot run our race backwards. This is the tension of churches with such great history like Forest Hills. We must simultaneously give thanks and honor those who have come before, and at the same time run with our eyes on the finish line, not on the starting line. Indeed, that's what those who came before us desire. Who runs a relay race, takes the baton from his teammate, then turns around and backtracks towards the starting point? Our teammates want us to move forward, not backward. We must sprint towards Christ, not to an idolized vision of the past.

[Tweet "Nostalgia cannot hinder God's work in the present and his vision for the future."]

Over the weekend, I've felt that tension within my own soul. My gratitude for my forebears, the faithful shepherds of this church who've come before me, cannot adequately be expressed in words. They have preserved the apostolic Gospel, preaching Christ now in our church for a century. In an overwhelming and monumental way, that mantle has now fallen on my shoulders. By the calling of God, I now stand with the baton of the Gospel in my hand, charged to lead these wonderful people into the next century.

As I think about my own shortcomings as a leader and inadequacies as a pastor, the responsibility can be overwhelming. Yet, press on in the race we must. We must preserve the integrity of the Gospel and innovate new methods of reaching a new generation in a drastically new American culture. As a result, change is afoot in Forest Hills Baptist Church. Ministry strategy and programs have been and will continue to shift over the next several years around our vision to treasure Christ, equip believers, and send disciples for the glory of God.

As we run our race, may we not falter in our steps, but press on towards Christ, prepared and ready to pass off the baton to the next generation. May we not break the chain of faithful saints who came before, and may the great relay race of the saints, that has continued at Forest Hills now for 100 years, continue in our church till Christ returns for us.