A Minister's Prayer - Part 3

"Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth, that an honest testimony might be borne for Thee."

So reads the next section in the prayer "A Minister's Preaching" in the book Valley of Vision.  

Why do we preach?  Preaching, after all, seems to be considered by some to be suited to a former era.  Today we are to have conversations and tell stories.  One of our members told me that an unsaved friend recently shared that she liked listening to one well-known TV preacher because "He makes me feel better about myself."

In the end, we preach because people need to hear from God.  We, like the writer of the lines above, long that people might be edified with divine truth.  We want to see them grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, to see them mature in their faith, to see them live out the truth of Scripture in their lives. 

But that is not an easy thing.

When I graduated from Bible College I think I expected that people who were interested in spiritual growth would hear the things that God's word said and simply change.  I wish is was that easy.  In point of fact change in our lives takes time, and I've started comparing what we do when we preach to the way layers of newspaper and paste become a paper mache creation.  I can't create the final product, but I can add to the layers each week by God's help.

In the end, whether people feel good about themselves is hardly important.  What is important is that our people grow to be like Christ.  That's what it means to be edified.  There is no more important task.  May God give us a pastor's heart to long that our people be edified.

Monday, Monday - January 28, 2008

Monday is a day many pastors take off, but I'm usually in my office. It's a good day to catch up on "stuff" and do some planning for the week if I haven't been able to do that over the weekend.

I began a series called The Story: From Creation to Christ that I plan to preach through this year. I chose 46 different passages/incidents in the Old Testament and am tracing the storyline of the OT to show how it points to Christ. The process of determining what to leave in and what to leave out was interesting and challenging. But I finally settled on what I would do and have mapped out a year's preaching.

I was curious to see if anyone had done this and committed this to print, but I had very limited success in finding anything other than traditional Bible Survey materials. New Tribes Mission has some great materials, and I looked a a few good Children's Bible Story books as well. One of the best is the Jesus Storybook Bible. I love the subtitle: Every Story Whispers His Name.

I am so glad to see that Purgatorio is back. Nothing like the Divine Vinyl section. I can remember those days . . .

A Minister's Prayer, Part 2

"My Master God, I am desired to preach today, but go weak and needy to my task;"

Long story short. I entered pastoral ministry while in Bible College in 1976. I preached a few times but frankly, it never came easy to me. I felt uncomfortable, and that discomfort grew as time went on. I was the Associate Pastor on a two-man staff, so it was not something that I needed to be doing, so I gradually let it alone.

In 1980 I took a position in a larger multi-staff church. For 23 years I did not preach outside of one Good Friday service. A series of circumstances led to the departure of the Senior Pastor in the winter of 2003. We were by then a three-person staff and it appeared despite my length of service that the church would not be able to sustain three people. I felt I might be the odd man out. I asked our Elders for the opportunity to preach in the interim for several reasons, some for the benefit of the church having a familiar face, but also because I wanted to see if this was something that I could do, and thereby open other opportunities for ministry beyond my previous experience.

As God had it, the interim became permanent, and in a month I am coming up on my fifth anniversary of regular preaching. I have grown to love the opportunity. Preaching can be discouraging (Is anyone growing?) and it can be challenging (How am I supposed to present this passage?). I have days when I wish I could say, "Ok. Let's take a break and let me do this again and hopefully get it right." I also have days when I sense God's hand in a bit of a different way. Preaching is tiring, which is why my Sunday afternoons are given to a good nap. Those of you who preach know the drill.

I resonate with the words of the Puritan brother who wrote the sentence above. I feel that I must preach to be doing what God wants me to do. Yet I am fully conscious of my own weakness and need. I am grateful for each Sunday that God gives me the opportunity to share His Word. I can see how it would be possible to be so comfortable in preaching that doing it is almost second nature and hardly a thought is given to the magnitude of the task or the consequences in the lives of people. But I pray that does not happen.

If you listen to my sermons you won't hear a great orator. What I hope you would hear is someone doing his best to share what a text is saying and how that message relates to the lives of people who, after 28 years, have become dear to me.

Guys are not great at acknowledging weakness or need. And it is very possible for pastors/preachers to think that they are strong enough for the task. But I have come to learn that one of the things that I must keep in mind is that this work is one for which I am weak and needy.

Thank you, Lord, for providing the strength.

A Minister's Prayer, Part 1

I have benefited greatly from the book Valley of Vision over the last two years. I often read an appropriate prayer during our church's observance of the Lord's Table.

I find one particular prayer very moving, and it is one that I posted back in 2006, called A Minister's Preaching. While I prefer to exegete Scripture, I thought I might open this new year and return to blogging as hopefully a personal discipline that will also help some other pastors by sharing some thoughts on this prayer, which I pray each week before I leave my office for our morning worship service.

A Minister’s Preaching

My Master God,
I am desired to preach today,
but go weak and needy to my task;
Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth,
that an honest testimony might be borne for thee;
Give me assistance in preaching and prayer,
with heart uplifted for grace and unction.
Present to my view things pertaining to my subject,
with fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
a feeling sense of the things I preach,
and grace to apply them to men’s consciences.
Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.
Help me to offer a testimony for thyself,
and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.
Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people,
and set before them comforting considerations.
Attend with power the truth preached.
and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.
May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,
and help me to use the strongest arguments
drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings,
that men might be made holy.

I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness,
that I might be a pure channel of thy grace,
and be able to do something for thee;
Give me then refreshment among thy people,
and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer,
or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end,
from lack of warmth and fervency.
And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.

What Would Change About Our Sundays If . . .

I'm stepping out of the normal Sunday morning routine this week by showing a video sermon by Mark Dever that I feel challenges the way we approach our time of worship on Sunday. Mark presents thirteen propositions about worship. Though some require explanation, most of them are pretty clear. What would change about our Sundays if we realized that:

1. God cares about how he is worshipped?
2. Worship if fundamentally about God?
3. Worship involves our whole lives?
4. Worship is fundamentally hearing and responding to God's Word?
5. Worship involves our wills and emotions?
6. Public worship should be distinguished from private worship?
7. Public worship is the business of the church assembled?
8. Public worship should edify the congregation?
9. Public worship is not based on a certain musical style?
10. Passivity is always inappropriate in worship?
11. Corporate worship is worth preparing for?
12. True Christian worship services will attract non-believers.
13. If you are a true Christian, corporate worship is your future?

I especially appreciated Mark's 1st, 10th and 11th points as it relates to the way we approach our gathering on the Lord's Day. How do these things change the way you approach Sunday?

Back . . . again

I had great hopes of being able to do a real, honest-to-goodness series of articles on the priority of meeting together as a body of believers, but an unusually busy summer waylaid that intent. But we're back with some tips and resources:

A great article on how to retain and benefit from your reading.

We've been looking at a very good video series this summer from Ligonier Ministries entitled 5 Keys to Spiritual Growth. The highlights - to me - were Ligon Duncan's message on the reason for praying to a God who is sovereign and Mark Dever's excellent discussion of what should go on when we gather as a church (Worship in Spirit & in Truth). We've found a good video series to be a nice change of pace in our adult Sunday School.

Can you top this trivialization of the cross? I saw this on a church sign in our area: "Avoid burning - use Son Block"

Church: Organization or Organism - Part 1

A friend emailed me this week and told me of a conversation he and his wife had with a friend of theirs who is getting married. The bride-to-be said this of her future husband: "He's not really into organized religion, but he's a Christian." It reminded me of a familiar mantra from the late sixties and early seventies: "The church is not an organization, it's an organism."

I'm observing that such thinking is not all that uncommon today. It is not so much that people are choosing to fly solo in their pursuit of Christ. What is happening is that people are jettisoning the church - for various reasons, but including the fact that that Christians don't need an institution. But is that true? And if the church is an institution or organization, is that bad?

As I was scanning some blogs the other week, I noticed that those who have misgivings about the place of the modern local church often point back to Acts 2:42-47 as a model for church life. And there is a lot to be admired in that passage. It describes a group of believers in Jesus Christ in an almost Eden-like environment. But as much as there is much to learn and emulate from that passage, two things need to be remembered. First, this is a description of the church in it's infancy, and second, this is not the "last word" on what the church does.

Last night I was watching the Detroit Tigers roar (pun intended) past my beloved Phillies. As the game got more and more out of hand, I began channel surfing and came across a documentary on the History Channel about the Hippie movement in the late sixties. At first, hippies were gathered primarily in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco. They numbered a few thousand, took drugs (LSD was, for a time, legal), had free sex, and tried to enjoy what they felt was an attempt at utopia. Things turned ugly - and quite fast - when thousands more teens and young adults headed west during the Summer of Love. The Haight-Ashbury district turned into a cesspool of sickness, crime and poverty. So the True Believers began to migrate elsewhere. Some moved to other cities, but some moved into the country to continue their quest for utopia. There they lived communally, contributing their possessions, working together, etc., until the inevitable happened: they realized that they could not sustain themselves just by "existing" and enjoying each other's company. So back into society they went, took jobs, had families, and bought houses.

One of the people interviewed was Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. As a participant in that culture, he stated that many of those living in the communes felt that they were living as the early Christians did (apparently following the model of Acts 2:42-47, though Vonnegut did not refer to that particular passage). That brought me back to my own experience as a young adult during that time – though I was part of the institutional church. Many young Christians – inside and outside the structured church – wanted that kind of community, that kind of authenticity, and that kind of heaven-on-earth that so many tried to accomplish (in wrong ways, of course). The church was big, our parent’s religion felt stale. There had to be a better way.

And we were right. There had to be a better way. But it wasn’t going to be by staying in Acts 2 mode.

(More to follow)