Success can be confusing. No matter the field or context of life, measuring success is a dominant desire. This measuring becomes problematic when the matrix is misunderstood. Ignorance of what constitutes success can bring a plethora of issues both externally and internally in the life of an individual or organization. Considering successful ministry can be daunting and I know in my tenure as a pastor I’ve been taught conflicting thoughts on how to know if I am successful. For over 20 years the idea of ‘counting’ heads and money has been the measure of success but if we peer into the pages of scripture, there would be no example of a successful church, pastor, apostle or Savior if that were the case. Others have concluded that success should be based on the experience of the individual or the congregation. They would posit that true success isn’t how many, but rather, how powerful the experience. Again, if this is measured in comparison to the New Testament, there would be no historic picture of success found in these measurements.

There is the room of course, for many conversations of practical wisdom as it relates to dealing with people, communicating, caring and doing life together, but any human being can pull off successful ventures of gathering up people with a common goal or vision. It only takes a brain and a voice. The problem comes when all this discombobulated instruction on success invades the mind of a pastor or congregation and they begin to make strides to ‘measure up’ according to man’s wisdom. While I’ve spoken to these things before, I want to know just put the authority where it should be; the Word of God.

When we want to see an amazing feat we can go to either a magic show, and be deceived and enjoy it, or we can go to a sporting event or daredevil exhibition. Either way, there are many amazing things to behold in the world of daring humanity. If we want our breath to be taken we can listen to a chorale of voices singing the classics of old, a symphony bringing the trills and tonal harmonies to life in our ears, or we can view the grandeur of the sea, the mountains or the beyond! Sadly, all of these things, while awe-inspiring, are not majestic or awesome in comparison to the glory of God. So, in man’s feeble mind, he has tried to find other ways to behold the power of God and then painted the canvas of “worship” and “church” with these silly and boring tactics.

How amazing would it be if I were preaching this Sunday and out of the blue I began to float in the air and fire came from my hands as I read the words of Jesus? People would think they had witnessed a miracle and their hearts and minds would be overpowered by that experience. Likewise, if I walked out into the congregation and touched the ailing and their bodies were actually healed, legs grew back, eyesight restored; people would lose their mind in amazement. What if I were able to know things that were not mine to know or had the ability to provide music that would shudder the soul and cause others to feel, what they thought, the very presence of God? I would submit that all of this, even if it happened in greater detail, would be boring and nothing in comparison to seeing the glory of God face-to-face!

So, if we want to SEE a miracle, it is better to stop looking for the next great “work” of God and realize that there is already a perfect miracle for us to behold every moment of our lives! Jesus in John 6 says, “This is the work of God that you believe in the Son that He has sent.” See, the people of John 6 wanted more miracle food. When Jesus refused to feed them in their hunger and commanded them to be satisfied in Him, they wanted a sign for Jesus to prove Himself as worthy. In the same manner, many professing believers seem to believe in anything they can feel, create, and experience that satisfies their flesh instead of actually believing in Jesus Christ and His finished work of redemption. The point is that success in ministry is not measured by the number of people in the pews, money in the bank, missionaries in the field, miracles on the stage, healings in the clinics, or tongues in the air like cymbals. It is measured by the majesty and glory of God in the face of the people of God, who believe, worship and love each other with all authority. So how then are we to measure this? How is this experienced and evident in the life of the church? Through the Word of God Alone!

God’s word faithfully proclaimed is the only measure of successful ministry.

2 Timothy 3:[16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

ὠφέλιμος – means valuable, profitable, having worth and bringing a yield. So, the word of God, which is God speaking, is profitable for all things that the church needs. It teaches (doctrine), reproofs (disapproves), corrects (sets right), and trains in righteousness (teaches Christ). The successful pastor is equipped for every good work through the Scripture. That is the miracle of God and a display of His creative power at work. His word being taught, His sheep hearing and heeding, and His people being governed by the Miracle of New Life by His everlasting Grace. Anything else is just boring and of lesser awe than this!  Stop seeking out the devil’s measure of majesty and rest in the revelation of God to you.

Rest in Christ!

Some of the most engaging fodder of man center on what Scripture has not revealed.  My entire life I have always been a philosopher, thinking more than anything else I do. I remember vividly daydreaming as a boy where my mind would contemplate deep things while becoming lost in the plethora of endless introspections. Many people today, while they may not expressly waste countless hours as I have in thought, do spend a great deal of time placing faith and hope in theological thinking instead of biblical teaching.

There is always room for thinking. We are required to think, to hold every thought captive, to meditate on the Word of the Lord, and to have wisdom and discernment. This isn’t the point of my premise. The point is that often times we land our theological plane on the runway that isn’t paved and quite honestly, doesn’t exist within the pages of Holy Writ. For example, many of us have a humanistic view of Lucifer, the Devil. He’s often thought of in caricatures of the ghastly and demonic (as portrayed by literature and film) when in reality, he is the angel of light and his beauty is grand. He is a deciever, so he purposes to disguise himself to be “like God.” Hell is another area of grand extra-biblical thought. Some people feel that the Devil is in hell and runs the place, when Scripture teaches that God has exiled Satan to the Earth and at the Day of Judgement, Satan will be assigned to hell.

What causes these types of controversies? Or worse, what causes this type of teaching. It’s one thing to posit, it’s a whole other conversation when what is not clearly taught in scripture is presented as fact. Well, several things are at play here.

  • Oral Tradition – Many people hold to unbiblical views on matters because their view has just been handed down for ages. It’s what they’ve always thought and heard and therefore, they have never really questioned it.
  • Obtuse Teaching – To think that pastors and bible teachers are exempt from their own presupposed traditions would be an error in judgment. Many who teach just restate what they think and have heard. While some of these matters are not grievous heresies, this type of teaching – lazy and thick-headedness – produces a vast ignorance among the church.
  • Organic Thinking – Our minds actually come up with really creative ideas. Some of the things that I have pondered, while not found in scripture, are absolutely worthy of a screen play! Well, maybe not, but they are at least within the confines of human imagination. And often times, they are very logical. Our minds come to the table with many “what if it is like this?” To which we have to answer, “What does Scripture teach?”
  • Obstinate Toughness – This is just being hard headed. We just do not like to be wrong and when we see something different that what we ‘know’, we tend to refuse it. The good thing is that God can overcome the hardest of hearts through the blood of the lamb. This unwillingness to learn is a bad sign because it reveals a refusal to know the truth of Scripture, which is to know the One True God.

We should be like the Bereans who inquired the Scriptures when they heard Paul teach. We should be students of the word and study to show ourselves an approved worker. Imagine learning something from someone who never learned what they were teaching, but rather they just repeated what they had heard. Are they a student? Are they qualified to teach?  Being that we worship God from how He is revealed in Scripture, it is vital that we know Him rightly. We should test every idea that comes into our heads and our ears. And when what we ‘know’ conflicts with what God teaches, we should rest in what we see from the Bible. We know that God is always good. We can rest securely in everything that is taught in Scripture and better, we can rest securely in those things that are not explicitly taught, knowing that these things are settled as the mysteries of God.

Rest well beloved,

Pastor James

ThePointSketchAs long as there has been sin in the world there have been people with problems. Adam’s first issue was the fact that he was naked and then ashamed; Eve likewise. Since then the problems of humanity have compounded to an immeasurable proportion and it is very likely that things are not going to get better for humanity any time soon. The Good News is that Jesus Christ has suffered temptation, suffered in the flesh and risen from death and ascended into Heaven to “prepare” us for the presence of God (Among Many Things found in redemption…). So, those who know the love of God IN and THROUGH Jesus Christ ALONE can have joy in the midst of the problems. As believers, we know that all things are for our good and in time we will see the outcome of such in all circumstances. We understand that God is sovereign and that nothing is out of His touch and decree and that even in the worst of times His love for us is visible, effectual and known.

To this point then let’s remind ourselves of the love of God.  First, God is love. So, He is known as love in His nature, love, holiness, character and actions. Second, if we love God it is only because God first loved us. Third, God’s love is only known through Jesus Christ the Son whom HE (God) put forth to satisfy His judgment against us and bring justice for our sin according to His holiness. We learn that there is no greater “love” than for a man to lay down his life for a brother, therefore, God loved the world in this way (so loved) that HE gave His Son.  So, we summarize the love of God in the following way:

  1. God is love.
  2. God’s love is only known through the GIVING (sending and killing) of Jesus His Son.
  3. God loves us in the giving of Jesus Christ to die for our sins in that we cannot pay for them ourselves.

So, if we understand God’s love this way according to scripture, then we can rightly assume that to DISAGREE with God’s love through the Son is to REJECT the love of God. Those who reject the love of God are condemned already (John 3:16-18) and are subject to the wrath of God’s hatred for sin and sinners. Hmmmm….. Let that soak a minute and now let’s move to the point of our conversation.

Ministry often times is man-centered. It can been seen in a selfish light of “I want a friend”, “I want a shoulder to cry on”, “I want someone to pity me.” Of course this is not exclusive nor is it the rule but everyone can resonate with such statements. Let’s consider true ministry as “An attempt or effort to love others as God has loved us.”  Thinking this way should have already opened your eyes. So, if God ONLY LOVES in the giving of His Son, then in the same manner (like in Ephesians 5:22-25) we should love each other as God loves us. We are unable to put Jesus the Son on the cross for He has already fulfilled His ministry as the Lamb but we are able to POINT TO THE LOVE of God for us and in doing so we are LOVING each other.

Ministry takes on a whole new light when we think biblically and especially when people come with their problems.1 Thessalonians 5:14 teaches that the church should be admonished when idle, encouraged when downhearted and strengthened when weak.

Everyone needs a good ear from time to time and it is always good when a believer seeks out counsel from a brother or sister in the local family of faith. In this seeking of counsel often times it comes to the point of just listening to someone whine about how bad things are rather than seeking good counsel. In the end it is always improper (according to our understanding of love) to allow someone to just fall into pity and self-centeredness for any reason. Our love for them should point them to the promises of God through His word and in the admonishing of the idle a stern warning comes first to BE IN THE WORD and BE IN THE BODY.

Without these two things no counsel will work, no hope will stick, no joy will arise. To give someone a shoulder to cry on while they live in continual disobedience and rejection of what the scripture teaches on how they are victors is “like” casting a diamond into the sea in hopes it would swim to a new family for their wealth or maybe like throwing a pearl in a pig sty. In other words, it does NO GOOD at all to just allow someone to ignore the power of God and His gospel just to have a pity party.

The answers to life come from God’s word, the power of victorious living come from the word, hope and courage come from God’s word… grace comes from God’s word. The letter of James tells us that those who see and do the word of God are victorious and rest on a solid foundation and just like Psalm 1, their feet will be planted and produce great growth. So, when someone needs wisdom, we go to scripture and show them to “ask and it will be given.” When someone needs comfort we exhort them to believe Jesus Christ when He says, “come to me all who are weary.” When one comes broken in their battle over sin we show them that Christ has suffered in every way and with every temptation but has sinned not. Others come with worry and in need of answers to their problems that they would find an escape and Godly council says, “stand fast in the fiery trials” and “do not be surprised” when they come.

Being out of the word of God and away from God’s people is like asking God to save you from burning as you set yourself on fire. Well maybe not quite as dramatic… but you get the point. At the cusp of this matter lies the ministry of the church of Jesus Christ, who are ambassadors of the living God through the redemption that is theirs in Christ. Sadly, many who want counsel want more than what the Word of God offers or want to be free from the pain of this life and sadly apart from the Word they will never find answers.

So what is the point of this rambling treatise? For all of those who diligently minister to those in need, please remember that the greatest ministry is the ministry of the word and the greatest friend is found in the body of Christ. So as we labor to answer the questions of life for others and we point them to the word of God we put our hope in Christ not ourselves. If we find some who refuse to hear and heed the word but they keep coming back for something else, it may be that we have to just clearly show them we have nothing more for them. Part of the pain of the Father’s discipline is being alone when we reject the Father’s instruction. Not to say we abandon others but we surely have to be clear that there is little we can do to help if they will not hear.

Warn the idle, encourage the downhearted and strengthen the weak through the word of God – if they do not listen, pray that God will cause them to listen and in their silent and lonely search for hope, God the Spirit will guide them back to His written word and back into the intimacy of His Holy People!

Lord Bless!

Recently the discussion of preaching has been in my ears and before my eyes.  Sadly, like most pastors and church goers, preaching has taken a back seat to “felt needs”, humanism and pragmatic comedy and proverbial enlightenment.  Creativity has taken the place of awe of the Creator and application has replaced worship.

Much needs to be said, however, much has already been said for thousands of years on this topic.  Sadly, the debate will continue and many will dismiss the reality of the present state of the church as “where we are” and try to fix it by continuing down the path of a reducing the Word of God to a plan apart from a Person who is Jesus Christ our KING!

In this, for those who desire to truly know, Spurgeon has a few thoughts on preaching.  Historically, he has been entitled as the “Prince of Preachers” so it would do us well to hear what he has said.  It would also do everyone well to visit 2 Timothy 4

[4:1] I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: [2] preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. [3] For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, [4] and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. [5] As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

(2 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV)

In light of this, the command PREACH THE WORD is enforced by the amazing reality that God in His awesome power and purpose in Christ has come and His Kingdom is established through through His glory therefore, Jesus will judge all creation and one can be certain He will judge preachers according to James 3:1.  Thus, preaching is required of pastors, it is required of those who are called by God, not to deliver man’s creative exploits as derived from the scriptures, but with complete patience one must reprove, rebuke and exhort through teaching of the Apostle’s writing as it was intended to be read and understood.  Many will not approve of such things in the name of “church growth” but Paul addresses that as well, that the time has come where people will not endure the truth.

Look at what Spurgeon had to say in line with this: Continue reading “Preaching is God’s Natural Means to a Supernatural End”

 Worship

Worship is one of the wonders of the Christian life creating awe, an opportunity of expression and a sense of overwhelming joy that is unsurpassed.  This joy is fully known because of Jesus Christ, the One and only Son of the living God who created all that exists for His glory.  Jesus, in His glorious and triumphant life, death and resurrection, has secured the eternal forgiveness and life for all who believe.  Because of this great work, God is revealed to the lost sheep that they might be saved.  From the beginning of time, God has established Himself as the object of great worth, praise, adoration and reverence.

Though our current attitude toward worship changes from season to season and generation-to-generation, the scriptures teach us all that is needed in order to understand worship, participate in worship and celebrate Christ who is the object of our worship.  Worship, in a nutshell, is praising something because of its worth.  As the church, we understand that the only one who is worth anything in this universe is the one who created it all, the Lord God Almighty who has made Himself known through His Son, Jesus the Holy Anointed One of God.  These lessons will engage the mind and the heart in the action of worship and allow the learner to look deep into the cavern of their soul and discern what is the greatest joy and affection found.  They will be able to see clearly God’s plan for worship through His creation, His holiness, His worthiness, His character, His justice, His mercy and His love toward His children.

Paul says in the book of Romans chapter 8 that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.[1]  Therefore, we must now take time, to view scripture through two lenses:  a lens of theological truths, and a lens of consequences of worship.  Then we will understand the great God worthy of great worship!

Continue reading “A Few Thoughts on Worship Through the Scripture”

2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

This text has resonated with me over the last few months as I have considered why so many people work so hard to fight the sovereignty of God.  It’s texts like these that are completely misquoted that cause such a concern for the power of man in redemption.  Over the years I have heard this verse to be used to explain why someone must grow, learn and serve.  Although I think it is a good point, the “unsaid” assumption is that man people read this verse to say, “You will be approved by God if you work unashamedly in truth.”  Although there are many variations, this is one of them main teachings of this verse.  If one would take just a minute and look at the verse, even in English, it says nothing at all to that point. Continue reading “Test of Sonship, NOT Test for Sonship”

Burned out PastorIt never fails, every few weeks I get to sit down either over coffee or on the phone with a brother-in-arms in the Gospel ministry who is ready to throw it all away and quit.  “Walking back into the world seems like the only hope I have to stay alive” one said to me recently.  Another pointing out how he just cannot go on taking the negative and thankless hatred that is spewed to his face and about him week after week.

It’s time to consider what makes a man go to the desperate end to consider walking away from what God calls him to do until his heart stops beating.  I’ve never really written about this, but boy have I lived and dealt with it many times over.  As a matter of fact, I have actually written a resignation letter more times than I can remember, the glory of it all, is that I have never printed them out and turned them in.  Thank God for His grace.

“Burn Out” is one thing, continuing to “smoke” is another.  As I entitled this post I thought some people would take this and run with it, we’ll see; however, when a pastor “burns out”, he often doesn’t even have the option of taking up smoking, because it would just belabor the problems in his life.  And when ministry knocks you down and there is hardly any breath left in your lungs, you are now just blue, but beaten to a pulp – I digress.

Really though, burn-out for the pastor is something that all too often comes quickly and smothering to the point that he is unable to overcome the pain, even if he remains, and becomes disqualified to shepherd himself, must less any flock of sheep.  As I think about these seasons in my past and know that there might well be such a season right around the corner, I think about Paul’s teaching to Timothy where he said, “preach the word in season and out of season.”  I know Paul was not lying here, but I can honestly say I have never seen an “in-season” for the word of God in many congregations.  Although one can see many in seasons in the lives of individuals and those who hunger passionately for God’s truth, as a whole, the bodies in the pews are not usually ready for the truth of God’s word.  So thinking through the seasons of a pastor’s life, I think it’s a big and constant “out of season” lesson that we must endure.

Well, I hope this helped, have a great life…

Now if I had ended this article there it would have been a mess.  So, as I move forward, I want to make very clear a few things.  There are reasons a man feels burnout and some of them can be man-made or God-made.  In this context, if a pastor, who is called of God to proclaim the Gospel of Christ and shepherd the body of Christ to maturity and love is doing everything but what God has called him to do, he has reason to be burned out because he is a wasted life.  On the other hand, sometimes proclaiming and pushing the truth to light brings some external and internal struggles that brings the frustration to a boil.  I want to mention a few things, obviously not exhaustively, that might help such a man get his bearings. Continue reading “Depression | Burned Out and Smoking… | Dealing with Ministry Blacks and Blues”

Just to give a small background-in March of 07 I was heavy, out of shape and depressed, seriously.  For two years I ate like a champion, worked out and became an athlete.  Of all my loves “before”, pie, cake and anything laden with sugar baked fruit had a dreadful future: eaten.  Until about a month or so ago, I had not even eaten any pie in almost two years but when I had, it was minimal and scarce.   So on Thanksgiving day this year I decided to indulge in some good old apple pie.  The first bite was phenomenal, just more than I could stand.  Bite after bite did not feed my desire but rather grew my desire.  In the end, I had eaten all but one piece of the pie; life was good.

That may seem strange that I would dialog about a pie eating binge, however, I have discovered that my desire for pie is a great metaphor for spiritual desire.  For the average person, eating a pie would seem odd.  As for the “average” Christian, staying in the bible seems to be odd.  Why is it so far removed from our lives as believers that we don’t even desire to eat what is truly food.  I mean, when we crave food, we eat it and we drive to get it and we’ll pay good money for it to taste good and fill our stomachs.  How absurd that we fill our flesh but do not desire to fill our souls.

When someone is given the ability to see God for who He really is through His word, that person is given a taste of fascinating glory and magnificent righteousness that is breath taking.  It’s like me and that pie, I had to eat it, there was no other choice because as long as the pie sat on the counter I would be distracted, thinking, looking, tasting and wondering if someone else was going to get to it first.  When we are given life out of death in Christ alone, we should desire Him that way.  The good news?  Jesus is enough for all the church to feast and he is never going to be exhausted.

So, the end of my rant is here.  Do you desire the word of God?  Do you desire His magnificence, His all encompassing worth and His righteousness?  Does the very thought of getting into the scriptures get your heart beating and your mind craving more time to worship and adore Him?  If not, then it may mean one of two things:  first, it might mean that you are blind spiritually and you do not see the value of God and His glory.  Second, it could mean that you are just so cold in your relationship with Him that you have forgotten Him like the church of Ephesus in Rev 2 and that you need to see a glimpse of His glory once more so that you will remember from the heights from which you have fallen.

Jesus is the most precious and valuable person in the universe and those who know Him and hear his voice get overly amazed at the thought of Him speaking.  He speaks through the pages of scripture where He has preserved His manifestation to us until the time He returns.  Get into the word and get away from the world.  There are some who claim Christ who no more want to read the word or sit and hear someone preach that have a tooth pulled yet that same person will break his neck and take off work to fish, hunt, play games, or get away for the weekend.

Desire and cravings are either for the world or for the Christ – there is no middle ground.