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pastors

October 13, 2010

DayOneMinistering the Master’s Way is a unique little series published by DayOne. It is a series that knows exactly the audience it is trying to reach—the pastor or elder of the local church. Each of the books looks to a different practical aspect of the Christian ministry. Many of the titles deal with very niche topics, but ones that are largely untouched by any other author—visiting the sick, accepting a call to minister at a local church, offering pastoral comfort to those who grieve, even caring for the pastor’s voice.

There are currently 9 volumes in the series and, unless I am mistaken, several more are in the works.

This is a great series to buy for your pastor or elders. Get them a few of the volumes and I suspect they’ll be eager to complete the set and to seek out the new ones as they are released.

September 15, 2010

On this week’s episode of the Connected Kingdom Podcast we have Brian Croft as our guest. Brian blogs at Practical Shepherding, a blog every pastor or church leader should be reading. And it’s not just for pastors, either. There is a lot of wisdom there for anyone who cares to read it. For example, any dad can benefit from this post: How can I make sure I am individually shepherding my children?

In this podcast we talk to Brian about his testimony, how he got started in blogging, some particular challenges for pastors in their shepherding and the most urgent message he would share with a young pastor.

If you want to give us feedback on the podcast or join in the discussion, go ahead and look up our Facebook Group or leave a comment right here. You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or another program. As always, feedback and suggestions for future topics are much appreciated.

September 14, 2009

I’ve never been mistaken for Brad Pitt. Not once. Neither has anybody ever stopped me on the street only to look disappointed, apologize and say, “I’m sorry, I thought you were Johnny Depp.” It just never happens. There’s a reason for this. Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp are remarkably handsome guys (says I in a totally heterosexual way). While we all know that, at least to some extent, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there is no doubt that, at least culturally, there is some standard of what makes a person beautiful or exceptionally handsome. Depp and Pitt fit the mold quite well. I, like most others, decidedly do not. Some concerned therapist may write me concerned that I do not have healthy body image or some other pyscho-mumbo-jumbo, but I’ll assure him that I’m doing just fine, thank you. I know who I am and I know what I’m not. And I’m no Brad Pitt.

What is remarkable to me is that Aileen, who (thankfully) seems to have no irrational and deep-rooted crushes on movie stars, can still be perfectly content with me, with my not-so-chiseled-chin and my I-know-they’re-under-there-somewhere-abs. This is, in my books, a good thing. Her love is blind in all the right ways and I’m the grateful beneficiary.

A couple of days ago I was driving around Los Angeles (in a hybrid car, mind you—how CA-cliché is that?) with a couple of friends (neither of whom look like Pitt or Depp) and we began to discuss celebrity culture within the church and the tough task of any but the absolute best preachers. I don’t think we can rationally deny that there is some serious celebrity culture in the church today, and even (or perhaps especially) within this New Calvinism. Whether this has always been the case, I do not know. But I consider it undeniable that, for good and/or for ill, it is a powerful force today. And those who face the tough task of forever “competing” with the brilliance of these celebrity preachers are the ordinary pastors who serve at churches just like yours.

Christians today have access (via the Internet, of course) to vast libraries of the best sermons by the best preachers—the Pitts and Depps of the preaching world. Of course in place of square chins and rippling abs are amazing abilities to communicate lucidly, to illustrate lavishly, to speak passionately, to exposit brilliantly. These are men who, by any objective measure, stand head and shoulders above the crowd just as Depp and Pitt do above me. They are men who are extraordinarily gifted by God and who have been faithful to use their gifts for his glory. I certainly do not wish to speak ill of these men who are such a gift to the church.

But where my wife remains content with her husband, I see so many Christians who struggle to be content with their pastors. And why is this? Because all week long, these people are drinking from another cistern, to borrow a phrase from Proverbs (5:15). They are doing the equivalent of a wife who spends her week plastering her home with posters of movie stars and staring at them greedily. How can her husband hope to compete with those ridiculously good-looking guys? And many Christians today listen to their pastor on Sunday and then listen to fourteen sermons by fourteen pastors before the next Sunday comes around. And, more often than not, their own pastors’ sermon pales in comparison. Little wonder that we see increased cases where small-time pastors find themselves simply copying the top dogs, plagiarizing the brilliance of other men. Haven’t we almost driven them to this?

The fact is, God has put us in churches with less-than-perfect and often less-than-brilliant pastors. The fact that there are extraordinary preachers tells us that there must be vast numbers of perfectly ordinary pastors. This means that most of us have been blessed by God with a very ordinary kind of pastor, just as most of our wives have been blessed by very ordinary-looking husbands. These men, these ordinary pastors, are the ones to whom we owe our loyalty. They are the ones to whom Paul refers when he tells the church at Thessalonica “to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” These are the men God has given to serve you and to labor as pastors before you. It is through these men that God means to specially bless you in that unique body called the local church.

I do not mean to say that we ought not listen to podcasts or that we have to pretend that the extraordinary pastors do not exist. We can listen to their sermons and enjoy their great giftedness in teaching the Word of God and in calling us to live in light of it. But through it all we must guard our hearts. You would not want your child to be parented by another mother and father, paying lip service to you but giving his heart to others. You would not want to see that look in your wife’s eye, that disappointed, disgruntled look, after she has spent her day staring at posters of movie stars. And you need to guard your heart that you do not inadvertently turn it over to a pastor who is not your own, a pastor who in any measure you care to see, is superior to your own.

November 26, 2008

The Call by Os Guinness is a book that was on my list of things to do for a long, long time before I actually settled down to read it. But once I got into it, I was amazed at just how much wisdom it contains. At one point Guinness discusses the importance of living life for an audience of One. He begins the chapter by reflecting on Andrew Carnegie and his lifelong desire to be able to parade through the streets of the city of his birth to prove to them that he had been able to become fantastically wealthy. He desired to be seen and known by a human audience.

Guinness talks about other examples of people who have been obsessed with the praise of men. He mentions Marlene Dietrich who would record the applause given at the end of her performances and would then play the recordings for visitors to her home. She would gather friends such as Judy Garland and Noel Coward and play them both sides of a record filled with applause, telling them solemnly what city each round of applause was from. Guinness quotes Mozart who wrote to his father, “I am never in a good humor when I am in a town where I am quite unknown.” He quotes an old French story which tells of a revolutionary who, when sitting in a Paris cafe, hears a disturbance outside. Jumping to his feet he cries, “There goes the mob. I am their leader. I must follow them!”

Such narcissism is shocking, yet is all too common. Some time ago a reader forwarded me a link to a copy of Sharon Stone’s rider, the document that describes her requirements when she accepts a role in a film. Reading the document is almost nauseating, yet is no doubt not uncommon for Hollywood standards. She demands, among other things, $3500 per week in unaccountable “per diem” funds, three nannies, two assistants, presidential suites, first-class travel, a deluxe motorhome, and the rights to keep all of the jewelery and wardrobe items she uses in the film. Even more shocking, to myself anyways, were the requirements dealing with publicity of the film. The rider insists that her name is given first position in the credits for the film and that her name be at least as big as the movie’s title. Her picture, if it appears in advertising, must be at least as big as, if not bigger, than any other person’s likeness. It goes on and on. As I read this I thought of a friend who used to work in the special events industry. She tells of a particular musician who insisted that no one turn their back on him. People serving him had to, quite literally, walk backwards when they left the room lest they turn their back on him. Reading this is enough to turn one’s stomach.

In The Call, Guinness discusses narcissim in the context of audience. Christians are to be motivated to serve and to please an audience of One. We are to called to seek the pleasure of God. Guinness finds it odd that in a century which began with some of the strongest leaders the world has known—Churchill, Roosevelt, Lenin and Stalin—has ended with a “weak style of leadership codependent on followership: the leader as panderer.” He quotes Winston Churchill, a man who had an amazing way of cutting to the heart of issues. “I hear it said that leaders should keep their ears to the ground. All I can say is that the British nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are detected in that somewhat ungainly posture.” At another time he said, “Nothing is more dangerous…than to live in the temperamental atmosphere of a Gallup Poll—always feeling one’s pulse and taking one’s temperature.” Violet Bonham Carter once said of Churchill that he was “as impervious to atmosphere as a diver in his bell.” Why was this? Because Churchill knew his mandate and sought to fill it to the best of his abilities. He was far from perfect. In many ways he was a troubled, rude, unkind individual. Yet he led the British nation through a dark hour and his name lives in history as an example of a great leader.

The application to the church is obvious. In our day we have leader after leader, teacher after teacher, telling us that the leaders of the church must take their cues from the people. Leadership is seen ever more as leading the people where they want to go, not necessarily where they need to go. Leadership is shaped by fleeting public opinion more than objective standards.

Yet what the church needs is leaders who serve the audience of One—leaders who, like Churchill, are sure of their calling and their mandate. They care nothing for the whims of their followers or potential followers, but only for pleasing the one who has called them to be leaders. These words from Spurgeon, sent to me by a friend, seem particularly pointed:

Never think of the Church of God as if she were in danger. If you do, you will be like Uzza; you will put forth your hand to steady the ark, and provoke the Lord to anger against you. If it were in danger, I tell you, you could not deliver it. If Christ cannot take care of his Church without you, you cannot do it. Be still, and know that he is God… When you begin to say, “The Church is in danger! The Church is in danger!” what is that to thee? It stood before thou wert born; it will stand when thou hast become worm’s meat. Do thou thy duty. Keep in the path of obedience, and fear not. He who made the Church knew through what trials she would have to pass, and he made her so that she can endure the trials and become the richer for it. The enemy is but grass, the word of the Lord endureth for ever.
May 15, 2008

The Basics conference is just wrapping up with a Q & A session involving the three speakers (Alistair Begg, Jerry Bridges and Voddie Baucham). They are answering questions put to them by the people attending the conference. Questions have varied from the spiritual qualifications of men and women who serve in worship teams, to the place of parachurch ministries in the life of the church, to the reason there is no cross at the front of the sanctuary of this building. Good questions, good answers.

This is the second year I’ve been at The Basics and my experience this year has been much the same as last year. This is really a good conference and one that is geared very specifically and very sensitively to pastors. I especially enjoy the pacing of the conference. Often when I attend conferences I find them almost frantic—every session I’m thinking already of the next session (or how I’m going to track down some lunch or…). But at this conference there is really no reason to worry and there is no reason to leave the church campus or to hurry about. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks are all provided by godly volunteers. The speakers eat in the same area as the people attending and they are available to whomever would like to speak to them. There is a break after every session with no three hour periods of sitting still on a pew. The cost is minimal and the benefits great. It is a very good atmosphere with unparalleled opportunities for fellowship. It is easily one of my favorite conferences.

I’d encourage you to consider treating your pastor to this conference next year. Next year’s roster will include Alistair Begg, John Lennox and John Piper. It is bound to be a good one. Keep an eye on the web site for Parkside Church and get your pastor out here next year. It will be a blessing to him and to you.

March 11, 2004

In the wake of The Passion of the Christ I have seen several discussions about why Pilate showed surprise that Jesus died so quickly. These discussions are based on the gospel of Mark where we read:

Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. (Mark 15:42-45)

To understand Pilate’s surprise it is important to know that crucifixion was a method of execution designed to prolong suffering. Entirely different from the methods of execution practiced in most parts of the world today which are designed to be quick and painless, crucifixion prolonged the pain and the suffering as long as possible. It was not unusual for people to hang for two or even three days before they died. Indeed the thieves who hung on either side of him had to have their death hastened by the breaking of their legs in order to die before the start of the Sabbath. Jesus, though, spent only a few hours on the cross before He died.

Pilate, then, was surprised when after only a short time, Joseph of Arimathea came to him to request Jesus’ body. Pilate was sufficiently surprised that he summoned the centurion who had presided over the crucifixion to hear first-hand that Jesus was, indeed, dead. It was only then that he agreed to give the body to Joseph for burial.

So why, then, did Jesus die so quickly?

I believe there are two keys to understanding this. The first is found initially in Matthew and repeated in John. The gospels of Mark and Luke say that after crying out His final words, Jesus breathed His last. Matthew, though, says “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.” John says Jesus “gave up His spirit.” The significance of this wording is that it shows that Jesus was in control of the timing of His death. He did not die because His body could take no more punishment or because of blood loss. He died because He decided it was time to die.

The second key is found in the gospel of John. John 10:17-18 reads “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” Ultimately nobody took Jesus’ life from Him. He freely gave it up in order to save those whom He loved. When His work on the cross was complete he, as God, as the one in control, allowed His spirit to leave His body. His work was complete and there was no reason for the physical suffering to continue. So the very moment He had completed the purpose for which He came - His work of atonement on our behalf - He yielded up His spirit.

Though Jesus’ suffering may have lasted for less time than that of the men hanging on either side of Him and far less than many who were crucified before and after Him, it was not the duration of His suffering that achieved our salvation but rather the intensity of His suffering. During the time He was on the cross Jesus perfectly satisfied God’s demand for justice for our sin. The suffering He endured was far beyond human comprehension. At any time He could have caused it to end, but He waited until “it [was] finished” and until He had accomplished the work He had covenanted with His Father to perform on our behalf. Through it all, though, He retained control.

Jesus did not lose His life; He gave it.

March 10, 2004

Every believer carries a measure of the guilt for Jesus’ death. If it were not for our willful disobedience to God’s perfect Law, we would have no need of a Savior. We acknowledge in song that it was our hands that drove the spikes into His’ and sometimes speak about driving the nails into Jesus’ hands every time we sin. We speak figuratively, of course, knowing that although we were not present at the time of His death, we bear the guilt of providing the need for His death.

In the Bible we are given a brief glimpse of a man who was present while Jesus was nailed to the tree. This man was a Roman centurion, a commander over 100 soldiers of the Roman army. We know little about the man except that he was probably a hardened solider and commanded a detachment of what were most likely Syrian-born soldiers. He had, in all likelihood, presided over the crucifixion of hundreds or even thousands of men and must have become hardened to the agony these men endured.

It is likely that this man was present from the time Jesus was brought before Pilate right until the Lord’s body was lowered from the cross and given to Joseph of Arimathea. He may even have been present with the detachment of soldiers that aided in Jesus’ arrest the night before His crucifixion. This man would have accompanied Jesus from the time the Jewish leaders brought him to the Praetorium. He would have ordered his men to beat Him, caring little for who He was, knowing Him only to be another in a long line of people he was commanded to execute. He would have been nearby when his men dressed Jesus in a robe, pressed a crown of thorns onto His head and walked Him to Golgotha. He would have given the order to proceed with the crucifixion.

The centurion is mentioned in three of the four gospel accounts. He is mentioned not for his cruelty, ruthlessness or ability as a soldier. He is mentioned for something far more important, for a marvelous transformation that occurred immediately after the death of one of his prisoners.

Having seen so many crucifixions, the centurion knew what to expect from prisoners. Most people who were sentenced to be crucified were criminals, brigands, thieves and murderers. He had heard countless men scream in agony while being whipped and plead for their lives before Pilate. From their crosses he had heard them shout curses to men below and blasphemies to God above. The behavior of the thieves on either side of Jesus was all too common, as they mocked and ridiculed Jesus as he hung between them.

Perhaps it was during this time that the centurion began to notice that there was something different about Jesus. Where most men cursed and swore, Jesus, as His hands were nailed to the wood, cried out for God to forgive those who were causing His suffering. Or maybe He noticed the tender mercy in Jesus’ voice when He spoke to the penitent thief beside Him, promising that the same day he would be with Jesus in paradise. Perhaps he was amazed that during such suffering Jesus could look down at His mother and ensure that her future was secure by telling John to take care of her. Certainly three three hours of darkness that accompanied Jesus’ suffering would have marked this as an execution unlike any other.

We can only guess when the centurion began to realize that perhaps, just perhaps, Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be. What we do know is exactly when He knew with full certainty.

Just before He died, Jesus cried out “It is finished.” Immediately after that He said “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” At that very moment Jesus died. At that same moment a violent earthquake shook the land with such ferocity that rocks were split. Matthew tells us “when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Luke expands on this saying “when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!”

And just like that, the man who presided over Jesus’ execution, the man who ordered the nails to be driven into His hands and feet, became the first person to become a believer after Jesus’ death.

What an awesome, exciting testament this is to God’s divine grace! God was willing and eager to save one of those primarily responsible for the murder of His Son. A man who watched Jesus be scourged, who watched his soldiers mock and abuse Him and who probably enjoyed every minute of it, suddenly cries out in terror, realizing that He has killed an innocent man. His cry of terror is also an expression of faith as he confesses his new-found knowledge that Jesus was the Son of God.

I am certain that this story served as a great encouragement to many people in the early church. Though many of them carried the guilt for having killed the Lord, the realization that God could save even those who held the nails, would have proven that He is a God of love and forgiveness. It would have reassured them that, like this centurion, they could gain God’s favor through Jesus’ sacrifice.

This centurion’s miraculous conversion continues to serve as an encouragement today. Just as we share the centurion’s guilt for driving the nails into Jesus, so we can share the victory He won that day. As with this soldier who lived and died almost 2000 years ago, we need only have faith to believe that “truly this was the Son of God” and we, too, can be forgiven for the part we played in this terrible, unjust execution.