Month: May 2013

The Key to Longevity in the Ministry is Balance

Corcovado jesus
Corcovado jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

My heroes in the ministry are those men who have stayed at the task of ministry for decades.  Several years ago, I met a man who had Pastored the same church over 40 years. His name was Erastus but everyone simply referred to him as Brother Rastus.  One day, I asked him how he had managed to stay at one church for such a long time and he replied, “I just stayed longer than my opponents.”  But then he shared with me that over the years there were many times when he wanted to quit and just walk away.  But something always kept him from doing it.

Like most Pastors in their mid-40’s I can make a list of several guys whom I started out but are now no longer in the ministry.  According to  a recent report by Churchleaders.com  there are over 1700 ministers leaving the ministry every month in the United States.  While some are leaving the ministry due to moral failure, the vast majority are simply giving up and throwing in the towel.  The loneliness, frustration, and discouragement that are a natural part of the ministry have simply become too much so they decide to walk away.  Anyone who has been in the ministry for any length of time knows the hardship and challenges facing Pastors today.  So I have been thinking about what it takes to stay in the ministry and have come up with a list of a few key items that contribute to longevity:

1.) Remember Who You Serve

Pastor, ultimately you do not serve the church. You are called to love the church and minister to the church but you are a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Never forget that!  It is to Him that you owe your ultimate allegiance and to Him whom you will ultimately answer.  If you forget this you will end up being at the beckoned call of every special interest group within your congregation or worse yet a slave to your own selfish desires. Make sure that you have got this straight right from the start of your ministry – YOU SERVE JESUS.

2.) Remember What Your Are Called to Do

In Ephesians 4:11 the Bible says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” This is job description that Jesus gives to every Pastor (Shepherd/Teacher) in the church.  Your job is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, not to do all of the ministry by yourself.  If you happen to Pastor a church that sees things differently, go back and read point number one and then start carrying out Ephesians 4:11.

3.) Remember That You Are Not Alone

In my opinion isolation and loneliness are the two worst problem we face in the ministry.  The people in your church will not understand this, nor will your wife and children, but nearly every Pastor I know will tell you that they are lonely.  It is one of the greatest hazards of our calling.  But it does not have to be this way because Jesus is our ever present help in times of struggle and He has given us other brothers in the ministry who can help us.  The problem is, however, that we often reject the very people that God raises up to help us and continue to dig the holes of isolation deeper.  Pastor, you must make the decision not to continue down that road and stretch out an arm to a fellow Pastor and say. “Hey, I’m hurting and need to talk to someone.”  I guarantee that they will be more willing to talk than you imagined, and in the course you will probably find that they too are discouraged, isolated and alone.  We need to help each other out of this slough of despond.

4.) Remember The Ultimate Goal

In Colossians 1:28-29 Paul says, “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.”  Our ultimate goal is to present the people whom Jesus has entrusted to Shepherd back to Him, fully mature.  This is our goal but we need to know that the process is not finished yet.  Let me give you an example of what I mean here by referring to 1 Corinthians chapter 1.  As you all know, the Corinthians were Paul’s most challenging and difficult church.  As he writes this first letter he is going to have to scold them for their lack of maturity in a number of areas.  But in chapter 1:4-9 Paul says:

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Notice here that Paul is praising the Corinthians not because of what they are right now but because of what they are going to be someday.  He knows full well that they are a mess right now, but God isn’t through with them yet.  We need to keep this in mind whenever we start to get discouraged.  God is not through yet.  He is still working in the lives of the people whom we minister to and one day they will be made perfect.  Until then, we need to keep our eyes on the ultimate goal and keep ministering the Gospel to the lives of the people whom God has called us to serve.

Sermon Audio and Power Points for My Series on the Beatitudes

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 4.21.03 PM In conjunction with the release of my new book “Cultivating a Gospel-Shaped Attitude,” I am preaching a series of messages about the Beatitudes.  In this series I show how the Beatitudes help us in our spiritual formation by providing the gospel-shaped attitudes that will transform our behavior and result in the development of a Christ-like character.  Several Pastors and friends have already contact me about using this material in their small group classes.  I am working on a small-group study guide for the book but for now I thought that it would be helpful to simply provide the sermon audio files and the powerpoint presentations that I have been using in this series.  I will be posting more of these in the coming weeks.  I pray that they will be helpful as you use this material in the local church.

To Order Your Copy of “Cultivating a Gospel-Shaped Attitude” CLICK HERE

Week 1: BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT- Taking Personal Responsibility for Sin

Sermon Audio

Gospel Shaped Attitude Session 1– Power Point

Week 2: BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN-  Mourning Over the Consequences of Sin

Sermon Audio

Cultivating a Gospel Shaped Attitude 2 -Power Point

WEEK 3: BLESSED ARE THE MEEK – Submission

Sermon Audio

Gospel Shaped Attitude 3– Power Point

Sermon Audio

Gospel Centered Attitude Part 4– Power Point

WEEK 5: BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL

Sermon Audio

Cultivating A Gospel Shaped Attitude Pt 5– Power Point

 

WEEK 6: BLESSED ARE PURE IN HEART

Sermon Audio

Gospel Shaped Attitude 6– Power Point

 

“Cultivating A Gospel-Shaped Attitude”

is also available for the Amazon KindleCLICK HERE 

God Keeps His Promises

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...
Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments, painting by Rembrandt (1659) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The death of Moses, recorded in Deuteronomy 34, must have been a life changing experience for the entire nation of Israel.  It is hard for us to grasp just how devastating the death of Moses must have felt to the Israelites, who had followed his leadership for the past forty years.  Few figures in history have left such a lasting legacy upon the world, therefore, we struggle to grasp the meaning of his death.  Some of you reading this may be old enough to remember the death of Franklin Roosevelt, others can remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy.   While too young to remember either of these events, I grew up hearing from my parents and older siblings the stories about the two days these great American presidents died.  The closest parallel that I can draw from me personally  is the day that Ronald Reagan was shot outside of the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C.  Events such as these send chills down our spines when we remember the fear, confusion, and despondency that occur when the leader of a nation is suddenly taken away.  These are the closest parallels that we can think of to try to imagine what the Israelites must have gone through, but even they do not come close to putting us in the mindset of what the Jewish people must have been experiencing.

Moses was more than just a political or military leader to the Israelites.  If it were not for his faithfulness and obedience to the call of God, Israel would still have been trapped in the bondage of slavery in Egypt.  Moses was more than a political leader, he was in a sense their savior, deliverer and rescuer.  His death marked the end of one of the most important phases of Israel’s history and the beginning of one of its most trying periods.  There are several book of the Old Testament that begin by recording the death of a leader for instance—Judges (Joshua’s death), 2 Samuel (Saul’s death), 2 Kings (Ahab’s death) — each of these mark an important transition in the history of the nation, but none of the others comes close to capturing the emotional sadness and crisis brought about by the death of Moses.

No one in Israel was positioned to experience the death of Moses more  personally than Joshua. For years, Joshua had been Moses’ faithful servant.  When Moses went up on the mountain to receive the law, Joshua was there with him (Ex 24:13; 32:17).  Whenever Moses went out to the tent of meeting to receive a word from God, Joshua was there with him (Ex. 33:11).  When Moses needed a trusted general to lead the army of Israel into battle with the Amalekites, he turned to Joshua (Ex 17:8-16).   When selecting members of from each tribe of Israel to go in a spy out the promised land, Moses chose Joshua to represent the tribe of Ephraim (Num 13:8).  For over 40 years, the lives of these two men had been inseparably linked together.  Now Moses was dead.  The people had lost leader but Joshua lost a friend and mentor.  The people had lost one of the founding figures in their nation’s history, but Joshua had lost a father figure who had invested his life in teaching Joshua how to serve God.  The people had lost one of the inspirational leaders of their past, but Joshua had lost a man that he didn’t think he could ever live without.

The author of Joshua begins by abruptly stating that,  “Moses my servant is dead.  Now therefore arise and go over this Jordan, you and all the people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.”  Commenting on this verse, Warren Wiersbe cited the well-known modern proverb, “God buries His workmen, but His work goes on.” (Wiersbe)  I came across that statement about ten years ago, while I was preaching a series of messages through the book of Joshua.  That statement initially startled and even offended me because it seemed to make God callous and indifferent.  It seemed to me, at the time, to convey the idea that God was more concerned about His work than about His servants.  I was convinced then, and remain so today, that there is more going on here than God merely passing the mantle of leadership from Moses to Joshua.  Reading this passage merely as the historical record of the succession of one leader after the death of another misses the point the Biblical author is trying to make.  In order to properly understand the intent of this passage we must read Joshua 1:1-5 as more than mere history—  we must read it as theological history.  This is not meant to deny that the passage contains a record of real historical events, but to read it merely as history misses the point. The historical records contained within the Bible have a unique theological purpose, they are written with the intent of showing how God keeps His promises within the context of time and space.

In Joshua 1:1-9, God wanted to make it clear that the events going on around the nation, in no way changed or invalidated His promises.  The death of Moses brought out the worst fears that the people carried with them.  What will happen to us?  Who is going to lead us?  Is Joshua really up to the challenge of leading the nation?  Should we just give up and go back to Egypt?  All of these question and more would have run through the minds of the Israelites as they sat stunned and dismayed in the desert.  They needed hope.  They needed help.  They needed a Word from God and just as He had done 40 years earlier, God broke the silence and spoke to His servant, Joshua, and gave Him a set of promises.  “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you…No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life…I will be with you…I will not leave you nor forsake you…you shall cause the people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.”  These words must have been like music in Joshua’s ears and they serve to remind us of some of the helpful applications of God’s eternal character.

 

The Promises of God Rest on His Eternal Nature

Many Biblical scholars have noted that the thrust of this passage is developed around the threefold repetition of the phrase “Be strong and courageous” in verses 5,6, and 7.  While I agree that this threefold command forms the crux of God’s message to Joshua I want to point out that the command to “be strong and courageous” rest on the eternal nature and promises of God.  The author of Joshua points us in that direction when invokes the name Yahweh at the beginning and end of this passage (v.1, 9).  The divine name Yahweh is a declaration of His self-existence and eternal nature, therefore, I want to suggest that the author had three primary rhetorical purposes for invoking this particular name for God in this passage.

First, he used the repetition of the divine name (YHWH) to form an inclusio, which marks the beginning and ending of the first rhetorical section of the book.  At first glance this may seem like nothing more than a literary device, however, closer inspection shows that it is part of the author’s larger literary goal.  To see what I mean we need to compare how this book opens with the way it closes.  Notice that the book begins and ends by recording the death of a leader.  It opens with the death of Moses and concludes with the death of Joshua.  In the opening scene, the author shows how the Lord appeared to Joshua after the death of Moses and commanded him to be “strong and courageous.”  At the end of the book, Joshua speaks to the people just before his own death and raises the question of whether they will remain faithful.  We will return in a moment to this observation, but for right now let it suffice to say that the opening section of Joshua is marked by the presence of an inclusion formed by the repetition of the name Yahweh and that the book as a whole is marked at both the beginning and end by the death of Israel’s leader.

Second, the author used the divine name to show the continuity between the life of Joshua and Moses.  Just as Yahweh appeared to Moses at the burning bush, so now He was appearing to Joshua to call and commission him to continue the mission that was begun through Moses.  As we discussed in the previous chapters, the name Yahweh was given to Moses at the burning bush and was used as the special covenant name for God.  It came to symbolize not only the eternal and self-existent nature of God but also His fidelity to His covenant. Now that Moses was dead, the people in general and Joshua in particular needed to be reassured of God’s continued presence and provision.  D.R. Davis notes, “Yahweh’s fidelity does not hinge on the achievement of men, however, gifted they may be, nor does it evaporate in the face of funerals or rivers.” (Davis, 18)  Moses may have been dead and gone but Yahweh was still alive and ready to carry out His promises.

Finally, and most importantly, He used this name as the basis for Israel’s faith.  At several strategic locations in the Pentateuch Moses used the name Yahweh to set Israel’s God apart from the gods of the pagans. By drawing upon this name in the opening statements of the Joshua, the author shows that the commands given to Joshua were grounded in the very nature of God. (Howard, 73)  This brings me back to the point that I was making above concerning the rhetorical strategy employed by the author of Joshua.  As I noted above, the entire book is rhetorically formulated around the death of two leaders— Moses and Joshua. The deaths of these two leaders establish not only the historical setting in which this book was written but also form an important part of the author’s rhetorical strategy.   What this shows us is that the author of Joshua wants to show how God was faithful to His promises after the death of Moses and the actions that Israel will have to take if they want to continue to experience Yahweh’s blessings.  At the end of the book, just before his death,  Joshua calls the people together and asks them to “choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.” (24:15)  The use of the name Yahweh throughout this book serves as a constant reminder that the promises of God rest in His eternal nature.

Since the promises of God rest upon His unchanging nature the death of a leader, even one as important as Moses, cannot not fundamentally change the relationship between God and His people.  The saying that “God buries the workman, but His work goes one,” therefore is not a cold or callous statement about the indifference of God towards his servants, but rather a confession of His timeless, unchanging character.  Rather than recording the mere transition of power from one leader to the next, the opening chapter  of Joshua records for us the historical/theological account of how the God remains faithful to His promises from one generation to the next.” (Boice, 13-14) Every generation needs to be reminded of this truth.

Where do you find ideas for your sermons?

imagesWhen I first started preaching I primarily was what you might call a supply preacher.  My Pastor knew that I was sensing the call to preach so he started to give me opportunities to preach. It was not long before he got me on the associational supply preacher list and I started getting opportunities to preach in other churches.  This was a good gig for a preacher just starting out and it had its advantages.  Mainly, since I never preached in the same place more than 3 or 4 times in a row I only needed to have a stash of about 5 or 6 messages. But the disadvantage rose its ugly head when I was called to be the interim Pastor of a church.  Suddenly, I was thrust into the role of having to preach 3 times per week and my cache of sermons quickly ran dry.  I was faced with the age-old problem of every preacher, “Where do I find ideas for my sermon?”

At first this wasn’t too big of a problem because I simply started to preach messages about things I thought the church needed to know about.  Back then I foolish enough to have an opinion about every thing and naïve enough to believe that I had the right Biblical answer to all of them.  In reality, I quickly became a broken record repeating a list of spiritual clichés about a limited number of pet subjects.  The truth is that the people in that dear church enjoyed this kind of preaching because it didn’t really challenged them and served to reinforced what they already believed and held true.  A sadder truth is that no one was growing in his or her walk with the Lord as a result of my preaching.  All I could teach them was what I already knew and that took less than a month to convey.

For those preachers who are more gifted and intelligent this process will take a bit longer but the result is inevitable.  If you make topical preaching the exclusive way that you preach, you will one day come to the end of your knowledge and your preaching and the people you Pastor will become stunted.  Thankfully, I had a wise and godly mentor who took me aside and showed me a better way.  He turned me on to a way of coming up with sermon ideas that is literally inexhaustible.  I have used this simple method for over 18 years now and I have never struggled to come up with an idea to preach on a Sunday morning, Sunday night or Wednesday night.

BibleDo I have your attention?  Would you like to know the secret that he taught me?  Well, here it is, my mentor Dr. Richard Harris simply taught me to preach the Biblical text.  You can start with a single passage, or a section of Scripture such as the Beatitudes, or even an entire book, but if you want to find a never-ending source of sermon ideas just open your Bible. Dr. Harris taught me to start with the Biblical text and let it give me the topic and the points.

The results have been simply amazing.  Not only have I escaped the weekly tyranny of worrying about what to preach on Sunday but I have also been forced to grow in my understanding of the Scripture. Most importantly, it has helped the churches that I have pastored to grow in their understanding of the Scripture and the gospel.  Below are some helpful articles that I have written to help you get started with this kind of preaching.

 

Taking Personal Responsibility for Sin

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 4.21.03 PMA couple of weeks ago I started preaching a series of message based on my new book “Cultivating a Gospel-Shaped Attitude.”  Several people have contacted me and asked me to provide them with my power-point slides, so I thought that I would post them on here and make them available to anyone who wants them.

Here is the first power point.  I will be posting additional messages in the coming days.

Gospel Shaped Attitude Session 1

 

If you would like a free preview of my book “Cultivating a Gospel Shaped-Attitude” please click here.  

 

If you would like to order a copy of the book please click here.

Pastor! Guard Your Heart From Unconfessed Sin Pts 2 & 3

The other day I started a short series dealing with how Pastors can guard their hearts against unconfessed sin.  Here are parts 2 and 3 of this series.

2. Deal with sin the moment it is discovered

 

English: Icon of Jesus Christ
English: Icon of Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

Pastor, let me stop right here and beg you to deal with sin the moment that it is recognized in your heart.  Don’t delay.  Don’t put it off.  Don’t think that you can wait and deal with it some other time.  Sin is like a cancer that will eat away at your life, it will steal you joy, rob you of your ministry, and take everything that you love away from you.  Pastors know better than anyone in the church the dangers and the consequences of sin.  We see the sad results of sin-filled lifestyles on a daily basis and yet sometimes we are the worst people in the church for delaying repentance and thinking that we can deal with the problem later.

 

 

 

The moment that God reveals the sin of pride, or lust, or materialism, or whatever your favorite sin is, deal with it.  Drop to your knees in prayer and confess it before God, seeking His forgiveness and cleansing.  Delay will only make matters worse and usually ensure that your sin will touch a wider circle of people.  Putting repentance off until another day will lay down an additional layer of callousness and apathy over your heart and if you are not careful one day your affection and love for Jesus will grow cold.  Pastor do not delay when sin is discovered in your heart!  Run to Jesus, confess your sin and receive His forgiveness.

 

 

 

3.  Establish and Maintain Accountability

 

 

 

One of the common links that I have observed among Pastors who have fallen into deep sin is that there has been a lack of accountability in their lives.  In fact, I would argue that a lack of accountability is one of the primary occupational hazards of going into the ministry.  A large number of you reading this book will work within small, single staff churches, where there is no one looking over your shoulder or maintaining accountability.  Others of you serve in multi-staff churches but still have very little in the way of supervision or accountability.  If you are like other Pastors, you will have to set up a structure for accountability in your life.  This means having someone with whom you will open your life and maintain a level of transparency.  Someone whom you give the right to ask you some of the hard questions about your spiritual life and conduct.

 

 

 

Earlier in the chapter I shared the story of Steve with you and how his addiction to pornography has grown over the years to the point where now he is actively engaged in an online affair with another woman.  Steve is still functioning in the role of a Pastor even though his sin is growing worse every day.  If he does not stop soon, his sin will eventually be discovered and it will ruin his marriage and his ministry.  But all of this could have been avoided if he would simply have established and maintained a level accountability with another brother in Christ.  If he had someone who had been asking him the hard questions or who had permission to take a look on his computer to see where he had been spending his time, Steve could have avoided the heartbreak that is almost certain to destroy his family and church.

 

 

 

Pastors need to establish and maintain accountability not only in the area of sexual purity but also in how they handle church finances, their families, their time, and their spiritual lives.  Perhaps there is one person in your life, another man in the church or ministry who can hold you accountable in all of these areas.  If you are like me, however, you may have several friends who each hold you accountable in different areas.  For instance, my friend Larry is basically my accountability partner in the areas of my marriage and spiritual life.  My associate Pastor Cliff holds me accountable with areas related to the use of my time and I have other friends who each have their niche when it comes to holding me accountable.  Each of these friends is a vital part of my spiritual life and helping to make sure that I don’t wreck my life and ministry on some unforeseen, uncharted island of sin.

 

 

 

Unconfessed sin is the single biggest threat to your ministry.  It is the number one killer of Pastors.  Sin is like a cancer that silently and subtly eats away at your life and ministry.  There is no more important issue that we deal with in this book than the problem of unconfessed sin.  Sin is rebellion against God and will separate us from His presence.  Sin will tear you away from the people you love the most and keep you from accomplishing your greatest purpose in life.  Sin in the life of the Pastor is particularly dangerous because it always hurts other people. Sadly when sin is discovered in the life of the minister, church members will end up questions not only the integrity of their next Pastor but also the gospel itself.  Therefore, we need to take special care to maintain our time alone with God and to deal with sin as soon as it is recognized in our lives.  One of the best tools for doing this is to open our lives up to a trusted friend who will hold us accountable.

 

 

 

 

Pastor! Guard Your Heart From Unconfessed Sin: Part 1

English: Photograph of an open Bible with focu...
English: Photograph of an open Bible with focus on a verse from the Gospel of John, chapter 3, verse 16. “For God so loved the World that he gave his one and only son that whosoever believes on him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

One of the greatest dangers in the life of the Pastor is unconfessed sin. It will rob you of your intimacy with God and steal your spiritual power.  Over the next three days I want to share with you three steps that every Pastor needs to take in order to guard our hearts against unconfessed sin.

 

STEP 1: Focus on Your Relationship with God

 

It may seem strange to those who are not in the ministry but nearly every Pastor I know will tell you that they struggle with their own relationship with God.  It is an inherent occupational hazard that the more time we spend dealing with other people’s spiritual lives the less time we will focus on our own.  This often leads us to having blind spots in our lives when it comes to our own sin.  The cure, of course, is to spend more time focused on our own relationship with God.

 

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During my ordination service one of the Pastors who laid hands and prayed over me was named John Hayes.  Over the course of his ministry Pastor John had planted over a dozen Southern Baptist Churches including Open Door Baptist Church in Colliers, WV where I was being called to Pastor.  I will never forget when John knelt down and whispered in my ear, “No matter what else happens, never let Satan steal your time alone with God.  This is the most important time of your day.”   Over the past two decades of ministry I haven’t always succeeded in maintaining this important aspect of my relationship with God, but I have clearly learned its importance. When we spend time alone with God it allows two important things to happen in our lives.

 

 

 

First, the more we focus on our relationship with God the more aware we become of our own sinfulness.  I am not suggesting here that we fall into the trap of having a morbid obsession over our sin, but the simple truth is that as we draw near to God the light of His presence will reveal sin in our lives.  In fact, I am convinced that one of the reasons that I often neglect my spiritual life is that I do not want to be made aware of my sin.  Before you judge me too harshly, I would urge you to take a look at your own heart and see if this is not a struggle in your life as well.  The good news is that never reveals our sin without at the same time offering us His mercy and grace through the gospel.

 

  CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT MY NEW BOOK

 

That brings me to the second things that happens when we focus on our relationship with God — we are drawn into a deeper appreciation and understanding of the gospel.  The simple truth of the matter is that before God called us to be preachers of the gospel, He called us to be partakes in the gospel.  In reality no Christian ever grows beyond their daily need to preach the gospel to themselves — and that includes you and me.  As pastors and ministry leaders we stand in daily need of preaching the gospel to ourselves and applying its blessed truth to our lives.  This constant focus on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ will not only expose every sinful act and idol in our hearts but it will also drive us deep into the arms of Christ where we find grace and forgiveness.