Four years ago this week my eldest daughter, for an academic project, needed to interview someone relating to their profession. She chose to ask me a series of questions relating to my life as a pastor. Having been reminded of this today I read back through my answers and the answer to this question is necessary for many who are in the ministry of shepherding these days. I have already made the distinction of a pastor/shepherd and just a teacher/preacher.  The first does the second but not all who do the latter are called to the first.  This answer was given to a 16-year-old girl who has always been fascinated by the work of the Lord in our lives, and moreover, His providence in the times of great hardship.

How has being a pastor affected your life? Well, it has made my life hard. Ministry for the average “church” is just a list of things done and programs practiced, but for me it has been different. Having pastored churches of over 2000 members as well as churches of 40 members, God has allowed me to see one continual stream through it all: suffering. In suffering God is made brighter because I have not been able to qualify any success in ministry by my wisdom or hands. So, at many times pastoring is a lonely place, even though we are surrounding continually by people, the burden is difficult to express and in some ways, unnecessary. Many pastors will lie and say, “It’s a big ball of fun..” But it isn’t, it is gloriously satisfying but gravely burdensome. So, to simply put it, pastoring has allowed me to see that my life is not mine, but it is God’s and He has given it away to others for His name’s sake. This gives me great satisfaction.

This, among other things, is a great reminder and glimpse at the nature of the cross work of Christ, the continued work of laboring as Paul and the Apostles did for the sheep of Christ. We will suffer and we will suffer well. 

 

[18] And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, [19] serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; [20] how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, [21] testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. [22] And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, [23] except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. [24] But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:18–24)

We’ve finalized a wonderful week in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is faithful and true and able to make all manner of mess gloriously resolved!

Thank you all for being patient with us this week. We will not be having Theology:OnCall this evening but will pick up in the morning with all podcasts.

  • Daily “Are You Listening?”
  • A New “Straight Outta Context” on Old Testament allusion.
  • A new “Theology Answers” on the verses that normally are used against sovereign grace doctrine.

Please continue to pray for us as we trust in the Lord for several pastoral issues that we’ve dealt with this week and pray for my bride who has been ill this week, as we await some test results, that we can find the answer to some medical issues.

Lord bless! Thank you again for hanging with us in patience and thank you for partnering with us in prayer! Please take this time to consider the sermon from this morning posted below and GraceTruth Church. AND as always, post your questions throughout the week, we will hit the ground running in the morning!!

With all the affection of Christ!

Pastor  James 

Being holy and sanctified is not what you think.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love
5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,
6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,
8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight
9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ
10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. – Ephesians 1:3-10

 

Only Jesus Satisfies… is that true?

John 6:41–51

[48] I am the bread of life. [49] Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. [50] This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. [51] I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 

 

Listen every day,

 

ARE YOU LISTENING
Our daily 2 to 4-minute podcast on applied theology. Wake up with us every day.

STRAIGHT OUTTA CONTEXT
Our weekly, Wednesday podcast on how to understand and interpret the bible. 10-20 minutes each week.

THEOLOGY ANSWERS
Our weekly, One Hour podcast dealing with theological issues with hosts Edward Dalcour and James Tippins.

THEOLOGY OnCall
Our weekly Sunday evening Question and Answer Facebook LIVE vidcast. 8PM EST

 

Listen every day,

 

ARE YOU LISTENING
Our daily 2 to 4-minute podcast on applied theology. Wake up with us every day.

STRAIGHT OUTTA CONTEXT
Our weekly, Wednesday podcast on how to understand and interpret the bible. 10-20 minutes each week.

THEOLOGY ANSWERS
Our weekly, One Hour podcast dealing with theological issues with hosts Edward Dalcour and James Tippins.

THEOLOGY OnCall
Our weekly Sunday evening Question and Answer Facebook LIVE vidcast. 8PM EST

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Now that’s the standard. As a child I remember well all the times I heard that phrase. My mother’s family was a family of large steel contractors who built commercial brick and metal buildings. There are very few churches and schools in my hometown that don’t have the “Adams” or “Pro Builders” plaque somewhere on the grounds. The standard of workmanship, technique, work ethic and tool quality was always reinforced to me in my youth. One particular was the popular brand of plumbing fixtures that garnished the name “American Standard.” By name, that particular sink or toilet was the standard in America. It was considered the best whether it was is beside the point, they claimed they were, so the professionals that trusted in that claim made them a household name. The standard is that which everything else is to be measured and compared. It is the best experience, ideal, example or quality of something.

Obedience has always been a part of my life. As a child, I was taught that obedience was connected directly to love and fear. If one has a love for an authority they will desire obedience and ‘pleasing’ that individual. On the other hand, if one has fear of that authority they will obey out of a desire to avoid the consequences. So, my question for today is “what is the standard for obedience when it relates to obeying God?”

First, let me make clear that the STANDARD is absolute perfection without which one will never see the Lord apart from His wrath. So, we have the open statement that Jesus the Christ is the standard of obedience in His humanity because on He is perfect. To fail in following the command of God in any way, no matter how small, makes one guilty of violating the glory and holiness of God. Therefore, one must recognize that there is NO SUCH thing as obedience to God in a manner that satisfies God’s demands and therefore there is no obedience from any human (apart from Christ) that makes Him pleased with them.

Now, to the point. Apart from the perfection of Jesus Christ, who is the next best thing? That is my question to people constantly when they come for counsel from feeling the pressure of pleasing God while time and time again are unable to obey fully. For example, many come to me desiring for their internal thoughts and emotions to be more Christ-like while others are just unable to obey the simple aspects of the Christian faith like being in a local assembly of believers under the direction of the Lord’s word through elders. Others are unable to forgive and others are just so caught up in trying to please God they have created their own set of laws and live by them very well. As I ask them to show me the standard each of them are quick to answer Jesus. To which I reply, “Why do you try to be God?”

This, of course, startles them. But in reality, this is exactly what we are trying to do when in any part we think we can come close to the glory of God in perfection. Now some people have been quick to then accuse me as antinomian which in itself proves they are not in the love of God nor do they understand the gospel of grace. And in essence, they hate the rebuke that all of their “holiness” or “obedience” is worthless. It saddens me to see people stuck in this type of thinking but if they are not regenerated there is little to be done to help them see. Thankfully God teaches that He will open the eyes of His people in His timing through the hearing of His word. So, I rest the assurance that the Lord will do what He wishes with His people and I am only a voice for Him. Sola Deo Gloria!

So back to the standard. Let’s review a few of the immovable saints of old and see how they compare and see if we actually desire to be like them:

  1. Adam & Eve. Well, we know they were righteous and perfect without sin and depravity and they couldn’t last a day in the garden with Satan. So, we’ll leave them right there. They didn’t have a good standard of obedience to God.
  2. Cain. What? Why him? He didn’t have obedience to God…. yes he did. He offered the first fruits of his labors with all the trimmings. The only difference is he thought of his offering as sufficient because it obeyed the rules given by God when he actually hated God evidenced by his continued measurement of his righteousness by his own standard; the law! He obeyed better than most everyone I know in life over four decades already, so there’s that.
  3. Noah. Well, he wasn’t the patriarch of obedience as most consider him. After all, while he had faith in God, his justification was not granted him by his works as God produced the works unto His own glory in Noah. And then there’s the drunkeness…. “that’s only one thing” people argue. Well, how many of you would look down on your deacon or pastor if it were known they were getting drunk? I rest my case. Noah is not a standard of obedience to God at all.
  4. Abraham. Really? Where did he every obey God? For thirteen years after God saved him and gave him the promise, he walked in obscurity lying and making excuses for his own benefit. But all the while he never trusted in himself but always believed God would be his hope, even when he didn’t live as though he believed it. Abraham never really showed himself the standard of obedience.
  5. Moses. Nope. He started out as a murder in the plan of God and didn’t want to “go”. But God worked in him all that was necessary for God’s redemptive shadow of true salvation; the Gospel of Grace.
  6. David. Please. Obedience to God was not on his radar most of the time, yet, he was a “man after my own heart…” – God.
  7. Oh, let’s talk about Elizabeth and Zachariah. What about John the Baptist? What about the disciples?
  8. Peter. Nope. Peter’s obedience to God was wishy-washy. Hardly ever not fueled by a fleshly zeal.
  9. PAUL!  He’s the one!  No, he isn’t. Paul was a murder, a lost and hopeless cause yet he obeyed the law perfectly, even in his murderous heart he was justified by the law he understood! Paul is not the standard and never will be. Let’s not work to be like the Apostles, as a matter of fact, let us not work at all to be like anyone, even Christ!

That may rock many of you, but in reality, that is the truth of the Scripture. While we may emulate and copy from time-to-time the nature, heart, and mind of Jesus, we will never be like Him until He takes us unto Himself. Being obedient to God is not about perfection, though that is required of us, it is about faith. Our striving and living here is to be a manner worthy of the calling (effectual call of regeneration) that we have been given of course, but it is not a call that leads us to a continued slavery in sin, especially the sin of self-assurance, works-fruitfulness, and most of all, legalistic and judgmental worthlessness. When we fall prey to this way of living we no longer live by faith and then we begin to measure other people by our standards and not the standards of God and His merciful grace. Obedience to God is required of every man and obedience to God is impossible for every man.

We become jaded and find fault with others as we sit thinking we are doing better than they in their walk with Christ. We find ourselves measuring spiritual leaders with a stricter judgment than prescribed in Scripture and in practice we blindly become God in our own minds. I personally believe those that live in this manner, by the evidence that they refuse to hear of the grace of God coupled their hatred of the brethren, are most likely unregenerate. Let’s be certain that we are not counted in that number. Rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Let the word of God dwell in you richly that you may fulfill the perfect work of God by believing only in the name of Jesus Christ!

In closing, we need to realize that obedience is not fully obedience. It is never satisfactory and it is never to be measured by the standards of culture and personal righteousness. If anyone wants a measure of life without discipline let it be seen that we believe in the finished work of Christ; that is the gospel of God who saves His own people from His holy wrath. Let us remember that we are given the Spirit and the thus the mind of Christ and we will love the brethren through teaching and encouragement toward love and good deeds for the benefit of the body of Christ. So often people disfellowship over their version of the law and when doing so, we must be patient, loving, kind and gentle while holding fast to the finished work of Jesus as our assurance, hope, and life. Let the Lord’s discipline work in His people, we are not God. Those who do not see were never His and to that, we pray God will grant them repentance and life so that He would be glorified in our unity, love, worship, and hope! Amen.

The effects of constant turmoil can be burnout. I’ve experienced plenty in my life and in reality, I have “quit” the ministry many many times. The truth is though, I have never told anyone!  This podcast purposes to talk a little about the issue of ministry fatigue, its causes, its purposes and most of all, its remedy.

Sometimes I wonder why I ever ended up in the pastorate. From the early days of childhood into high school I desired to be a surgeon, then along came chemistry and I was satisfied in music. Along the way, I’ve become an expert in many subjects and hobbies from illusions/sleight of hand to martial arts. I’ve spent countless hours studying the human mind, quantum physics, defensive logistics, combat theory, chess, and tonal dissonance. Years have taught my body to dance, climb mountains, swim, trackstand on a switchback, and devour ten thousand calories in 24 hours. My mind has learned to foster thought, engage the critics, leave the fight, stay the course, feel the pressure and rest in grace. Skills have prepared me to fix dryers, motherboards, vehicles, bones, restore homes, landscape, hang drywall, frame houses, dig footers, and put in the pipes. I can even sew, hem pants, taper a shirt, prepare a marketing analysis, produce video, graphic design, program websites, and set the clock on the microwave. The point, I’ve done a lot of stuff in my short life and none of it has ever been half-hearted. I don’t understand the purpose of being so-so at anything. Those things that my body did so well have fallen away to a thing called arthritis. What my brain used to manage abruptly wrecked through another harsh and painful experience known as depression. In all of it, I have never found an identity. None.

A common thread has always been stitched into every part of my life. The Word of God, from the earliest of days, has been a source of joy and power for me. It’s a grand example of the grace and mercy of the Lord to work in His children a love for Him through Scripture. For most of my life, I could engage in any forum, any hobby, any point in culture and do well. I’ve learned to shoot, sing, fight, play seven instruments and have done well at a few business ventures but in all of them, I have always found myself in the word, ministering to others, listening and teaching them the truth of Christ. As a matter of honesty, I never really wanted to be a pastor and was content with the idea of being used by the Lord in everything. But God in all His purpose will do with us as He chooses, not how we choose. In the Lord’s “putting” me into the ministry as a vocation I brought a lot of my personality and ‘skills’ to the table. I was taught early on that my ‘tool belt’ was vital to the success of the ministry of the church. Looking to be the best and giving myself the OK to be “all in”, I quickly began to surround myself with successful people who were accomplishing what I felt to be the right fruit.

Historically I have served in many areas of church life having worked with youth, children, music, teaching, seminaries, evangelism, missions, and everything in between. I have witnessed 300 enter the baptismal waters in a year’s time, seen thousands “come to faith” at “services”, and been on staff with church plants and mega-churches, some of the prior becoming the latter. In the end, even “ministry” never became my identity. There is a lot of heartache and pain under my belt for which I am eternally grateful because without it, I would have never truly seen the substance of Christ’s suffering and how we identify with Him. Having written several unpublished works on my journey, I’ve learned it doesn’t really matter at the end of all the suffering if we don’t finish well. I’ve also learned that pain is part of progress and thinking that utopic days are our goal is childish and foolish surrealism. There are a few pain points of ministry though that I’ve learned sting much harder than normal. In all the calamities of sorts, nothing has been more hurtful than when friends and loved ones reject the Lord Jesus and love the world more than ever.

  1. When Family Members Claim Christ but Hate Truth
  2. When the Fan Base Becomes the Mob
  3. When the Brother is replaced with Beligerance 

Suppose that a life without Christ was blissful with no pain. No poetry in the heart from the labor of pestilence and persecution. A life with no rejection, separation, angst, or problems appears on the surface to be ideal, but my experience as well as the experience of the record of history, including Scripture, is that pain becomes part of the joy. It is the darkness in our lives that makes the light so glorious. To leave suffering in life would be to leave the fellowship of Christ, and in turn, bring suffering all the more as it became an eternal certainty rather than a light and momentary teacher. When bridled with agony, I have learned to lean into Scripture and thus into Jesus. Nothing can take the burden like Christ and His gospel of peace. Rest well in the power of Christ through His Word. 

I was always taught that these things were God’s gift for me to use for His glory. Now of course if they are enjoyed they are for His glory, but they are not what is needed by the church. While I have fixed a few computers, renovated a few buildings, and played a few funerals on the saxophone, the purpose of my life is to be a voice that points to the One that matters. Jesus Christ. I had to come to the end of my worth and usefulness and recognize that I was not the powerhouse I was always praised for being. This kind of death is hard on the esteem, but the grace of God, it’s powerful and useful. This means that all those years of training, leadership development, persuasion, influence etc. was all for nothing. Looking back I am thankful for having come through it, but at the time I counted my life as a large failure and a waste of God’s time as far as the ministry was concerned. This type of death makes your ministry history moot. As it should be. After all, didn’t John the Baptist even proclaim that Christ must increase therefore he would decrease? God took his life because the bridegroom gets the bride. So often, the current “church” gets the bride, the groom, the glory and the whole nine yards. They share their programs and people. The music and their measurements as if they are running for Ms. America. After all, isn’t ministry about attracting people to look at us? No. That’s the devil’s job.

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!

With today’s culture of constant interaction, information, and interruption, getting ‘away’ from it all has taken many forms. It appears as if instead of scheduling time away through short trips or vacations periodically, most people feel the need to ‘vacate’ every day. With every week containing 168 hours, most people spend 40 laboring to live. That leaves 128 hours of time that has to encompass sleep, eating, restroom breaks, bathing, preparation, and relationships. Let’s take 56 out for sleeping 8 hours per day leaving 72 hours every single week for necessities and obligations. For the Christian, there should be a minimum of 3 to 4 hours a week in fellowship, if we never make excuses to miss work, we should not make excuses to miss fellowship with the saints, it’s actually stupid to do so.

So now we’re down to 68 hours.  That’s time enough to take on another FULL-TIME job still leaving 28 hours to spare.  Where does the time go? Well, I could write for ages on the wasters of time in the name of profitable things. How many of us have one full book of the bible memorized? OK, how about one chapter? Maybe one portion, let’s say the introduction to the Gospel of John? That’s 18 verses… I know for a fact there are several people recently who know each lyric of each song on their iPhone. That equates to five verses of music times 400 to 600.  Why?  I know many people who know the lines out of movies verbatim. But can’t tell a clear story of Jesus life and ministry.  A movie that takes two hours vs. a story that takes 25 minutes? The problem here is not time, it’s idolatry. But that’s not the point of my writing.

Out of all this waste of time, it seems that people want to meddle in worthless areas of life while professing that Christ is enough. See, the scripture shows us what to do when we feel overwhelmed, broken, fearful, worried, angry, forgotten, martyred, etc.  We are to “think on the things that are eternal….”  The matter is simple. When we want to “escape” we often pray that God would help us get out of the matter at hand or change our circumstances, our hearts, or our minds. The conflict arises out of a misunderstanding of how to pray and how to listen to the scripture. See, getting away from everything can be found in books, media, movies, sports, vacations, games, etc., but those things are just temporary deflections. They do not actually set us in any real place or give us any real benefit at all. Without quoting myriads of research on the matter, psychologists have long known the effects of constant avoidance of life through natural or ‘artificial’ means. They have a word for it, addiction.

Addiction to stuff, feelings, thoughts, stories, interaction, social media, phones, games, sports, solitude, or whatever robs us as believers of the core of God’s presence which is found in the Bible. Some argue, “well, I read other books and the bible, can’t I just enjoy escape in reading, after-all, the bible is a book right?” No, is my answer. NO! The Bible, while a book in its form, is not a book. It is God’s word, thus it is the utterance of God speaking to us. Scripture teaches that the basics of salvation come through hearing the Bible (Rom 10:17) and that comfort comes from putting our minds on the scriptures. The error rests in the attitude of approach. That is that so many times we just peek into the bible for answers rather than digest the scripture in order to be intimate with Jesus Christ. Scripture reading is intimacy. So putting our minds on eternity is to literally put our minds on the teaching of the truth of Jesus. Who He is and what He’s done. We don’t run after Jesus in the biblical texts to find His “message” about our problems, we run into Jesus through the Holy Writ because while we read God the Spirit interacts with us. So, reading Scripture puts our mind on the very thing that we will ETERNALLY be focused on: Jesus Christ and HIS GLORY!

So here’s the point: Read Scripture for your escape. It will not rob you of glory and power but will put you in an intimate place with God. Through scripture, God will speak, settle us, and give us the ability to rest in His promises as He comforts us. Our relationship with God is only found in His word. And for those who are constantly reading, listening, gleaning, and hounding after other “theological” arguments, stop that also. Find more time in the word so that your joy will be full.  “These things are written…”  This is found many times in Scripture to the following end: that you may BELIEVE in Jesus Christ and so have ETERNAL LIFE. This life beloved is NOT eternal and I think it’s time that we as the church spend out time thinking on better things.