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Monday and the Word Preached

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Yesterday many attended worship services in their local church and heard the Word of God preached.  But now what?  Now that the Word has been preached is there more to consider?  Let me suggest that there is….

Joel R. Beeke’s book The Family At Church:  Listening to Sermons and Attending Prayer Meetings published by Reformation Heritage Books offers wisdom on listening to God’s Word, dividing the subject into three thoughts:  How to prepare for the preached Word, how to receive the preached Word, and how to practice the preached Word.  Today I would like to share Beeke’s thoughts on How to receive the preached Word and how to practice the preached Word.

Receiving The Preached Word

“…those that hear the word preached [should] examine what they hear by the Scriptures, [and] receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God” (Westminster Larger Catechism # 160).

Many people listen halfheartedly to sermons, as if they were not compelled to hear the Word of God; likewise, many preachers preach as if they were addressing empty pews instead of people with eternal souls.  The Word of God must engage both the pastor and the listener.  Here are some guidelines for listening rightly to God’s word.

  1. Listen with an understanding, tender conscience. Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matt 13:3-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4—15) presents us with four types of listeners, all of whom hear the same Word:  1) The stony-hearted, superficial listener.  2) The easily impressed but resistant Listener.  3) The half-hearted, distracted listener.  4) The understanding, fruitful listener.
  2. Listen attentively to the preached Word. Luke 19:48 describes people who were very attentive to Christ.  Literally translated, the text says, “they hung upon him, hearing.”   We must not listen to sermons as spectators but as participants.  The pastor should not be the only one working.  An attentive listener responds quickly—whether with repentance, resolution, determination, or praise.  Too many people come to church expecting to be spoon-fed.  As you listen to the Word of God, ask yourself, how does God want me to be different on account of this sermon?  Ask what God wants you to know what you did not know before.  Ask what truths you are learning that He wants you to believe.  And ask how He wants you to put those truths into practice.  In every sermon you hear—even those on the most basic gospel themes—God offers you truths to believe and put into practice.  Pray for grace to work at listening.
  3. Listen with submissive faith. James 1:21 says, Receive with meekness the engrafted Word.  Faith is the key to profitably receiving the Word.  Seek grace to believe and apply the whole Word (Rom 13:14).
  4. Listen with humility and serious self-examination. Do I humbly examine myself under the preaching of God’s Word, trembling under its impact (Isa 66:2)?  Do I cultivate a meek and submissive spirit, receiving God’s truth as a student while being intimately aware of my own depravity?  Do I seriously examine myself under preaching, listening for my own instruction rather than for the instruction of others?

Practicing The Preached Word

  1. Strive to retain and pray over what you have heard. Hebrews 2:1 says, “We ought to give earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.”  Many people find note-taking helpful in retaining the teaching of a sermon others find that it gets in the way of active listening because it makes them lose their train of thought.  Do whatever helps you remember and pray over the sermons you hear.  One woman took notes during the sermon.  Then on Sunday evening she got on her knees, put her notes in front of her, underlined those things that she should strive to put into practice and then prayed through them one at a time.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the truths you have heard. Speak with fellow believers about the Sunday sermon.  After church do not simply engage in frivolous, worldly conversations after church.  Talk about the Bible, about Christ, the soul, and the eternal world as it applies to the sermon.

The Westminster Directory for Public Worship advises parents to engage in “repetition of sermons, especially by calling their families to an account of what they have heard.”  When you come home from church speak to your loved ones about the sermon.  Encourage your children to take sermon notes.  That way you can sit down as a family (during Sunday dinner or afterwards) and talk through the sermon.

Familiarize yourself with the sermon by meditating in private upon what you heard in public.  One sermon properly meditated upon with the assistance of the Holy Spirit will do more good than weeks of unapplied sermons.  Meditate on each sermon as if it is the last you will hear.  Read commentaries on the text.  Pray over the message and apply it to your life.

  1. Put the sermon into action. How you ask?
  • Listen carefully to sermons that teach us how to live.

Like the Bereans, search the Scriptures to see whether what you hear is truth.  Listen with discernment.  When you are convinced that a message is scriptural, ask yourself:  How can I put this sermon into practice?  Perhaps you just heard a sermon on the need to flee from certain sins.  Ask yourself:  How can I shun the sins that have been pointed out?  What steps must I take to do that?

  • Ask older, more experienced Christians for advice.

Talk to people who are spiritually mature about how to live as a Christian.

  • Thank God for all that you receive from sermons.

Give glory to God when you are able to put God’s instruction into practice.  Often, I fear, we receive little because we are not grateful for what we receive.  The Heidelberg Catechism states that “God will give His grace and Holy Spirit to those only, who with sincere desires continually ask them of Him, and are thankful for them” (Q. 116).

  • Lean upon the Holy Spirit.

Beg God to accompany His Word with the effectual blessing of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44).  The preached Word will be a transforming power in our lives under the Spirit’s blessing.  If these directions are ignored, the preached Word will lead to our condemnation.  As Thomas Watson wrote:  “The Word will be effectual one way or the other; if it does not make your heart better, it will make your chains heavier.”

Are you an active hearer of God’s Word?  Are you a good listener of the proclaimed gospel, or are you only a critical or careless hearer?  Are you teaching your children/grandchildren how to be good listeners?  Do you realize, as Charles Simeon said, that every sermon “increases either our salvation or condemnation”?

‘Take heed, therefore, how ye hear”

In Christ,

Rick

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Respect the Authorities: Introduction

POSTED BY JEREMY WALKER

It was recently my privilege to have published a new book with the title, Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness. The fundamental premise of the work is that the church needs to recover its pilgrim identity, and from that work out its pilgrim activity, cultivating simultaneously a holy separation from and a holy engagement with the world around us. In the book, I try to offer not only a way of understanding that identity and activity, but also to offer ten pilgrim principles for kingdom life in a fallen world. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but it is meant to be a relevant and enduring one.

The seventh chapter is entitled, “Respect the Authorities.” It seems particularly pertinent in the light of recent events. With the permission of the publishers, I am going to reproduce, over the next few days, that chapter. The outline is the same as for each such chapter: a brief introduction, an assessment of the scriptural framework, a section of summary thoughts, and a series of specific counsels. Please bear in mind that the chapter is slightly out of context as given here. Other chapters in the book also bring appropriate counsels for the present time – chapters that help us to understand the environment, know the enemy, fight the battles, pursue the mission, relieve the suffering, appreciate the beauty, anticipate the destiny, cultivate the identity, and serve the King. If you are interested in more, you can get the book Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore, or direct from the publisher. If what follows is helpful, I shall be grateful. Herewith the introduction …

There are many common misconceptions about the role and priorities of the Lord Jesus Christ’s church. Many of those misconceptions arise from a failure to reckon with the identity of the church, not least in its relation to the world. Some people seem to labor under the misapprehension that the church is, or ought to be, a political force, a social force, or an economic force. Listen to some, and you might even imagine that she is a deliberately subversive, if not outrightly a rebel, force. I would go so far as to contend that if we see the church simply or merely as a moral force, we are again falling short of our calling.

All this is to put the church in entirely the wrong sphere, to assess her on entirely the wrong plane. To look for such priorities in the life of the church of Christ is to seek for oranges on an apple tree. The church, by divine design and intention, is a spiritual force, a gospel organism. Her involvement in and impact upon the world socially, politically, and economically may not be insignificant, but it will be substantially incidental. The church does not exist to have a political life or role.

By this I mean that when the church pursues her mission and fights her battles in this world, the specific intention is that sinners will be saved, in the fullest sense of the word: brought into the kingdom of God and trained up in the kingdom of God. What is the effect when that happens? Well, for example, the drunkard ceases to empty his glass. The thieves stop lifting their goods. The fanatics stop idolizing the people and things of the world, as it loses its sparkle in their eyes. The philanderers leave their bits on the side. The pornography consumers clean up their acts. The addicts begin to break their addictions. The lazy begin to work. The distant spouses begin to speak and to love one another. The liars begin to tell the truth. The parent begins to care for the child. The student begins to heed the teacher. The cheat begins to live with integrity.

Nothing is more practical in its impact than salvation! Such things as these are happening all the time on a small numerical scale in the lives of repenting, believing, saved sinners in countless countries on every continent. Suppose that were to happen on a larger scale. What would be its effect?

To take one example, consider the consequences of a revival of religion that took place in Ireland in the nineteenth century through God’s blessing on the preaching of W. P. Nicholson. As he declared the gospel in the dockyards of Belfast, men’s hearts were touched by the truth, and many were convicted on account of their sin, repenting of their transgressions and trusting in the Lord Jesus. As the work of the Spirit developed, the owners of the Harland and Wolff Shipyard had to open a warehouse to store all the tools returned by the repentant thieves of the dockyard, men who had once thought nothing of walking away with what did not belong to them–one of the unwritten “perks” of the job, as it were.

Similar stories can be told of pubs and brothels bereft of customers, of whole streets characterized by family religion and peace where strife had once reigned, of entire regions transformed by the power of the gospel. It happened in Ephesus when Paul preached the gospel there. The silversmiths of the city–the makers of the idol figurines of Diana–felt robbed of their customers as the appetites of fallen hearts were radically and practically redirected by the power of the Spirit of Christ.

And what would happen in your community? What pubs, bars, and liquor stores would close? What stores would cease trading, and which services would stop being offered? What download patterns would change? What antagonism might ensue? What transformations in schools, workplaces, homes, and streets there would be! But these would be the consequences of the church pursuing her priorities, not a reflection of their shift.

Again, I am not suggesting that individual Christians should be careless or dismissive of their place and opportunities in particular cultures and societies. We are not required by our Christianity to abandon, retire from, neglect, or despair of opportunities in the civic sphere. Indeed, this is one of those areas where Christian salt and light are desperately needed.

In the Old Testament, for example, we have Daniel advising Nebuchadnezzar to “break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity” (Dan. 4:27). Esther, like Daniel a relatively isolated figure under a pagan government, has to face a challenge: “If you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Est. 4:14). Stirred to action, Esther uses the position in which God has placed her and the influence He has given her to contend for righteousness. Doing so, she delivers both herself and her people.

In similar fashion, when John the Baptist was calling men to repent, he was asked by tax collectors and soldiers how they ought to live as citizens of God’s kingdom: “Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what is appointed for you.’ Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, ‘And what shall we do?’ So he said to them, ‘Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages'” (Luke 3:12-14).

via “Respect the Authorities”: introduction – Reformation21 Blog.

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How does a pastor encourage military veterans in his congregation during July 4th weekend?

How does a pastor encourage military veterans in his congregation during July 4th weekend?Posted on June 24, 2015 by Brian Croft — 1 Comment ↓For those living in America, you know July 4 is coming, which is the day we celebrate our Independence as a nation.  For my international readers, this is a day that is often used to honor those who have served our country in the military.  This typically means the Sunday connected with this holiday becomes the place where these celebrations take place.  You will find a variety of approaches, from churches doing full blown patriotic musicals in place of the corporate gathering, to nothing different than a normal Sunday service.Some go way over the top, while others do nothing trying to make a statement about how church is not a place to celebrate your country, but worship God.  Regardless where you find yourself on this spectrum, most American churches have men and women who either serve, or have served in the military who are present on Sunday.  How does a pastor encourage these members in his church?I must confess, in the early years I was more concern with upholding Sunday as a day to worship God, not honor our country.  This caused me to make some unhelpful and insensitive rookie comments in discussions with a few folks wanting more done on Sundays.I still feel that Sunday is the Lord’s Day and should be focused on the Lord, but here are a few ways I have learned we can still encourage those who have served in the military over this holiday weekend without compromising our convictions about Sunday worship:1)  Recognize vets in your congregation publically.We do announcements at the beginning of the service as well as any other logistical issues before our call to worship.  This is a great time to do things like this as it is placed before worship begins in our view.  This can be a great encouragement and help church members learn something about each other they didn’t know before.  The last time we recognized all those who serve or have served in the military, we observed four different generations standing, which was a wonderful way to see the presents of a multi-generational church in our midst.2)  Pray for the leaders of your country in a pastoral prayer.American holidays as this give us a great opportunity to teach our congregation how to process them in light of the gospel and God’s glory, not a man-centered focus.  A well prepared pastoral prayer can accomplish this in a powerful way.  We should be regularly praying for our President and those leading our nation in our public gatherings any way throughout the year.  It is also nice to have a mature Christian man respected for his military service pray in the service in some way.3)  Thank military service men and women privately.There is an elderly saint in our church who fought in a war defending our country over 50 years ago.  For several years, we argued about why we don’t do a musical and sing patriotic songs in place of Sunday worship.  I have learned throughout the years how kindly to explain why we don’t do this.  Yesterday, I decided to go to him first before we had a chance to meet and discuss the service planned for that day.  I went to him, looked him in the eyes, and thanked him for all his service.  I acknowledged I don’t say it enough, but I am aware of the freedoms I enjoy came at the sacrifice of men like him.  This 80 year old man looked up at me with tears and just hugged me.  There was no argument about the service.This is a lesson I wish I had learned years ago.  These faithful folks don’t want a musical, they just want to feel appreciated by what they have done and the sacrifices they had made for us.  They want to know their young pastor cares about this important part of their life and history and does not take our freedoms for granted.Pastors, we don’t have to change our convictions, but we need to be sensitive to all our people and seize the opportunities to encourage certain folks.  The 4th of July in America is one of those days.  Make a plan in the next couple of weeks to call all the vets in your church and thank them for their service.  You may be surprised how much it means to them and will open future opportunities for ministry with them.

via How does a pastor encourage military veterans in his congregation during July 4th weekend? | Practical ShepherdingPractical Shepherding.

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Through a Glass, Darkly: An Invisible War

Ministry can sometimes be very difficult and trying as outlined by a fellow pastor’s wife.  But how are we to respond?  Consider this article written by our friends at “Through a Glass, Darkly”:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

An Invisible War

Adam and I have worked in ministry most of our lives. He served his first church while in seminary in Mississippi in 1990, and we have worked in churches and Christian schools ever since. Like other ministry couples, we’ve seen a lot — sometimes too much — of the spiritual wars that go on in ministries. They can be ugly, so very damaging, and give the most horrible witness to the very world we are supposed to be reaching with the gospel.

And sometimes my heart hurts with the grief caused when Christians attack Christians, usually claiming some righteous cause. Jesus warned us about false church leaders who would come “as wolves in sheep’s clothing,” aggressive, ripping the church to pieces. Anyone who’s served in ministry has seen such things.

I think back to places we’ve served, and I hear of churches suffering right now, and I wonder: how should ministry people respond when this is happening? I confess — in the past Adam and I have not always responded in the best way. We were young, immature, and it was not in our natures to stand by and watch someone do damage to the ministry we loved, and say nothing, do nothing.

But if you intervene, you can make the conflict much worse. You can quickly become a wolf yourself unintentionally. You can think you’re helping when you’re damaging the church more. Soon, people you thought supported you are turning on you, everyone is choosing sides, and a disastrous blow-up is on the horizon.

We’ve seen this happen before too.

Now we are of the opinion that prayer is in order in such situations, and patience, and forgiveness, and long-suffering, and perseverance. I’ll be honest:  that is so much harder to do than lashing out and fighting back. Oh how wearying and burdensome it is on the soul to simply wait and cry out to God for help and leave it to Him!

It’s important to take the long view. We think we’re certain about the right-and-wrong of a situation. We are quick to apply labels to people. We are instantaneous in applying blame. We feel anguish when God does not vindicate us now, right now. I write this for my ministry friends out there who are suffering, really suffering, and doing it silently. Wait patiently on the Lord. Pour out your  heart to Him. Practice daily forgiveness and confess your sins. And continue to do the tasks of ministry that are yours to do — as our precious Elisabeth Elliot told us, do the next thing. How valuable that advice is!

Next Sunday when you look at your pastor in his pulpit, consider how lonely his position is. He has few friends in whom he can truly confide. He may be suffering criticism and attack. He may be suffering temptations. depression, anxiety, sadness. Encourage him. Support him. Tell him you appreciate his work. Can you imagine how crushing it would be to hear criticism from every member of a congregation? Yet each person sitting in a pew can feel it’s his duty to critique. Love your pastor and encourage him to stay, to feel welcomed, to be ministered to. He is constantly under Satan’s attack. Make sure you are not one of the arrows attacking him.

Each of us should long for peace in our churches. Pray for that peace and be part of it. Peace is rarely achieved by people leaving, by anger and temper, by attacks and offenses. Peace comes when each of us submits humbly to others in prayer and forgiveness. I say this particularly for other pastors and their wives who are experiencing  these sorrows. May these words help or comfort as you persevere.

via Through a Glass, Darkly: An Invisible War.

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Praying Most For What You Love the Most

Praying Most For What You Love the Most | The Christward Collective

by Matthew Holst • May 28, 2015

Your prayer-life is a measure of your spiritual maturity. Just about any decent book on prayer will tell you so. Your prayer lives exposes you to the reality that what is nearest and dearest to your hearts are those things for which you pray the most. It is an inescapable rule. In this respect, your prayer life may betray the public image which you, in turn, portrayed to others. Just a few years back, I became painfully aware that my prayer life was centered on…me. What a shock it was to realize that my prayers were essentially self-serving!

The practice of prayer has fallen on hard times in the church today. There may be many factors producing this rapid downturn in frequency and quality of prayer. Two of the most obvious are the affluence of western society and the lack of deeply spiritual representative prayer in our churches.

The Affect of Affluence

The affluence and relative ease of western culture has relaxed the grip that Scripture should hold on our lives. Our material lives are easier than they were even one hundred years ago: the present relief we have from infant mortality or child labor, from common sicknesses that often resulted in death but are now treatable have lulled us into a false sense of security. The Puritan pastor and theologian John Owen apparently had eleven children, ten of whom died in childhood–the one who didn’t die in childhood died of tuberculosis soon after she had married. Owen’s wife passed away eight years before him. People once knew–even expected–death and serious sickness to be a present reality in their lives, and often it drove them to prayer. They knew what it was to “number their days and gain a heart of wisdom.” (Ps. 90:12)  Sadly, it is not so now. As longevity and better quality of life are now expected–even deemed a right–we have been driven from pondering our mortality and eternal realities to filling our lives with less consequential matters–with trivialities. Prayers for health, wealth, success, family, children, friendship, employment, while not illegitimate topics of prayer (3 John 2), are the topics which saturate most Christian prayers today.

The Affect of Prayer in the Worship Service

The dilution of spiritually rich prayer has also been aided and abetted by prayers from the pulpit. The casual manner of many public prayers–where Jesus is merely our best bud and God is little more than a divine handy man–teach the average Christian how not to pray. Awe, transcendence and a sense of holiness in prayer have been replaced with a superficial familiarity with the Almighty. Ministers lead and teach by example and must teach the manner and the content of biblical prayer.

How then should we pray, publicly and privately? Most books on prayer focus on using biblical petitions – this is the what and how of prayer. The what is the content of our prayers, the how is the manner of our prayers. Have we adopted a biblical and God-honoring posture of prayer, or have we adopted an essentially selfish attitude in prayer? What are our priorities in prayer? Are we more concerned with the spiritual realities of our life and the lives of others than with the material? For example, when was the last time you prayed that God would “make you worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph 4:1; and 2 Thess. 1:11); or, that you would be “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom.12:12); or, that “God…would give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had”. (Rom 15:5-6); or, that “the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:13); or, “that you will not do anything wrong.” (2 Cor 13:7).  Or do ceaselessly give thanks to God for your brethren, remembering them in your prayers? (Eph1:16; Col 1:9); or, do you pray that “you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col 1:9); or, we could turn to the Psalms – “create in me a clean heart of God, and renew a right spirit within me”(Ps. 51:10); “be merciful to me O God, be merciful to me for in you my soul takes refuge” (Ps 57:1); and “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” (Ps. 67:1)

The truth is that our prayers are not saturated with Scriptural petitions (which place a great deal of emphasis on our spiritual well-being and little on our material well-being) because we are not saturated with Scripture and its priorities. Resultantly, we often end up praying for the wrong things. Or, perhaps we might better say, we don’t pray for the right things. While praying for material matters is both permissible and necessary, there are more important things in life. We are not here to live our lives for material and physical well-being. We are to be supremely mindful of the life to come. To that end, our prayers ought to focus on those matters that will fit us for eternal life. In short, our spiritual condition is far more important than our material or physical condition.

To help us pursue a spiritually rich prayer life, I want to commend several resources specifically designed to aid us all in our prayer lives. All of them centre on the following idea: we are to pray Scripture. We are to pray the petitions that the writers of Scripture teach us to pray. In doing so, we will have access not to the power of prayer, but the power of your Almighty and loving Father in Heaven who works through the prayers of his people to strengthen, encourage, and shape us into the image of his beloved Son.

Recommended Resources

D.A. Carson, Praying with Paul, A Call to Spiritual Reformation. – I highly commend Carson’s practical and piercing work into the heart of prayer. The book examines both the theology and practicalities of prayer, engaging in an analysis of Paul’s prayers. This book will change your prayer life.

Terry Johnson, Leading in Worship – While this book is targeted at those who lead worship, the helpful collection of Scriptural prayers which will suit everyone interested in growing in the grace of prayer.

Matthew Henry, Method for Prayer. This is the collection par excellence of biblical passages that may rightly be used in prayer. The book covers every conceivable item of prayer and is of profound use to the Christian.

Timothy Keller, Prayer – This book is an easily-accessible theology and practice of prayer and will serve the reader well.

Samuel Miller, Thoughts on Public Prayer – This unique little book teaches ministers and congregants how to lead others in public prayer. It focuses both on form and content.

via Praying Most For What You Love the Most | The Christward Collective.

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CAN WE BE ANGRY AT PRODIGALS?

Reposted from Gospel Coalition

Recently, while reading Luke 15 and the parable of the prodigal son, I began to reflect on the character of the father. Preaching on this parable tends to highlight the father’s loving welcome, his compassion and grace upon both sons, his willingness to come out to greet both sons at great cost in terms of social shame and dishonor, and his great joy at receiving the lost son. This is right and good. But I think it’s worth considering Luke 15:20:

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

We often focus on the fact the son was a long way off when the father saw him. The father was sitting there, waiting, hoping for his wandering son to come home. The welcoming heart precedes the prodigal’s repentance. Long before you ever thought to come back, God was there, waiting to run to you. So with our own prodigals, we wait with open arms, ready to receive with joy all who come in repentance seeking grace.

But what is the father allowed to feel in the meantime? There’s danger in reading too much into a parable beyond the plot as it’s developed, or delving deeply into the psyches of characters whose existence spans about 20 verses. Still, it says in the text the father saw him and then he “felt compassion,” moved to action.

What did the father feel before he saw the son coming home? Can we imagine him frustrated and angry? Are we to suppose during the months, or even years, the prodigal is away the father is only and solely feeling a mild, welcoming compassion? Is there no place for a holy frustration at destructive choices he sees his beloved child making? Is there no place for hurt, for grief at the pain of rejection in the midst of his unrelenting love and mercy? Are these feelings allowed for gracious Christians?

Danger of Adding Guilt to Grief

Parents of wandering children know such pain. Many pastors know the feeling too. It is a bitter pill to watch a wandering member, a child of that faithful elder, perhaps one of your own disciples, straying into apathy, sin, or open unbelief. You know as soon as you see the slightest hint of remorse, repentance, or even signs of hope of these things, that your heart will move toward them with tender care. In the meantime, there is angst. Is this simply sin?

I worry that in the middle of the already high call to mercy, grace, and compassion contained in the parable, we might be subtly adding a heavy load on the parents of prodigals. Not only must they avoid bitterness and prepare to welcome prodigals back, they must also never be angry, never frustrated, never irritated at the sin into which the loved ones has fallen.

Reflecting on this question, I was reminded of Jesus’s woes against the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Matthew 23. At the end of Jesus’s withering assault on the hypocrisy, false spirituality, and legalistic piety of the Pharisees, he issues this lament:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Matt. 23:37-39)

In the middle of the same speech, Jesus condemns the Pharisees for blind arrogance, their rebellion, and all of the ways their hearts remain far from God even while they praise him with their lips. And yet Jesus speaks of the great compassion with which he would have welcomed them, sheltered them, and protected them from the storm to come. Anger, grief, and compassion all come to full display in Jesus’s lament over Jerusalem.

It should come as no surprise. We hear the echo of lament from Yahweh in Hosea 11:5-9 as he cries out in frustrated anger at his beloved son Israel’s sin, and he shows compassion upon him nonetheless:

Will they not return to Egypt
and will not Assyria rule over them
because they refuse to repent?
A sword will flash in their cities;
it will devour their false prophets
and put an end to their plans.
My people are determined to turn from me.
Even though they call me God Most High,
I will by no means exalt them.

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man—
the Holy One among you.

Even while acknowledging the analogical nature of the language, we see grief, anger, and compassion of the Holy One of Israel himself.

Take Your Grief to the One Who Grieved First

At my young age, I haven’t known years of struggling with prodigals. Still, I want to offer a few words of encouragement to those who have.

It’s okay to be frustrated when the ones you love wander. Looking to the God of Israel revealed in the Old Testament and walking around in flesh in the New Testament, we see frustrated, angry compassion. Mourning and grief are how love reacts to the rejection and self-destructive sin of its object. There is no need to feel guilty for lacking perfectly composed compassion.

That said, we must take care to not fall into trap of the Pharisees. Jesus’s lament and anger was aimed precisely at the religious who did not seem to be wandering according to their outer appearances. We mourn people who are explicitly wandering, chasing sin, and rejecting fellowship and Jesus. But beware your anger does not turn to bitterness that sets you up to fall inadvertently into the role of the older brother, lost behind the walls of self-righteousness.

Instead, in prayer, take the pain, the frustration, the anger, the mourning, and the grief to the one who has known it intimately. Take it to the one who suffered it infinitely in the agony of the Cross. Take it to the Holy One of Israel who, though “God and not a man,” nonetheless became man for our sake, precisely because in his great compassion he would not hand us over.

Only he can keep your grief from turning to bitterness. Only he can bring hope in the midst of your mourning. Only he can keep your anger from overwhelming your compassion. Only he can give you the strength it takes to keep your heart open with grace and mercy for the prodigals in your life.

Derek Rishmawy is the director of college and young adult ministries at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Orange County, California, where he wrangles college kids for the gospel. He got his BA in philosophy at the University of California, Irvine, and his MA in theological studies at Azusa Pacific University. Derek blogs at Reformedish and Christ and Pop Culture. You can follow him on Twitter.

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20 Lessons in 20 years of pastoral ministry

Originally posted on Practical Shepherding

By: Brian Croft

This week completes 20 years of serving in vocational ministry of some kind. I spent my first 8 years serving as an associate pastor in a variety of roles in several different churches (May 1995 – August 2003). These last 12 years have been spent as Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church (September 2003 – May 2015). There are several lessons to reflect upon, many through pain and suffering. Here are 20 in light of my 20 years:

1. God’s Word is sufficient to build Christ’s church.

I remember my first Sunday as Senior Pastor, I sat alone in the sanctuary wondering if the doors of this church would be open a year later. I realized in all my cleverness or worldly wisdom I could not save this church. I believed then that God, by his Spirit and through his word, was sufficient to build his church and revitalize it. Over a decade later, I have watched God do that very thing.

2. The Gospel is powerful enough to change lives.

Programs, gimmicks, or personality do not change people’s hearts. Nor do these things give life to a church that had been in decline for over thirty years. For twenty years, I have watched the gospel free people from the bondage of sin and give hope to the hopeless. I have watched the gospel unite old and young, black and white, rich and poor, and give life to our church. The gospel of Jesus Christ is enough to change lives and revitalize any local church.

3. An effective pastor is one who feels deeply.

The church has bought into this phony idea of strong biblical masculinity being a stoic, unemotional, unrattled man. The Bible paints a different picture, one in which true masculine strength is a man who feels deeply so he is able to love passionately and sacrifice willingly. Feeling deep emotion causes our heads to descend into our hearts, allowing us to empathize with hurting people. An effective pastor is one who owns his weakness, is secure in Christ enough to be vulnerable, and suffers with others.

4. Hang on to your family.

I was once told, “You can always have another ministry. You only get one wife.” I would add your children also grow up so fast and they need their dad. Make sure you balance ministry and family life in such a way that your wife and children still feel like they come first, even in the midst of the grind of ministry. I learned to take all my vacation time. I learned not to answer the phone during dinner, devotions, and my day off. Don’t forget, if you lose your family, you may lose the right to serve in ministry (1 Tim. 3:4-5).

5. Don’t underestimate the value of older members.

Because it is hard for older, existing members of a dying and declining church to accept a young pastor and a different direction, it is easy to view them as obstacles. I know this because I did. Yet, the longer I stayed at my current church, the longer both I and these long time members battled to love each other and work together. I thought I was the one being very patient with them in the early years. As time went one, I realized how patient they were actually being with me as a young pastor trying to grow.

6. Pursue being wanted, not needed.

For the first several years as Senior Pastor, I was told that I would probably be the last pastor of this church. When I left for my sabbatical a couple of years ago, my hope was to come back and realize how much I had truly become unneeded. That is what I experienced and expendability never felt so good. Yet, I still feel more wanted than ever. That should be the goal for us as pastors: that we build leadership around us so the church is not dependent on one person, and yet we are fruitful enough in ministry that we are still wanted by our church. Not the best formula for job security, but a wonderful plan for a healthy church.

7. Don’t neglect your own soul.

Paul told the Ephesian elders to, “Take heed to yourselves and your flock” (Acts 20:28). Pastors know to take heed to their flock, but often forget the call to take heed to themselves. For twenty years, the moments where I was not at my best or was batting with sin more could always be traced back to some kind of neglect towards my own soul. Pastors, cut something out and do what you must to care for your own soul. If you are not refreshed by the Lord’s grace and Spirit daily, you will not be at the right place to minister that grace to others.

8. Faithfulness is worth the harshest of criticisms.

There have been hard decisions made in every church I served. Members have been disciplined out of the church. Men who just completed seminary were counseled not to pursue ministry. Attenders were not allowed to become members. Other members were removed out of neglect. Unpopular decisions to defend the gospel in the community were mocked. I have endured many harsh words in every church position because of decisions made seeking to obey Scripture. There was a year my name was so slandered that people knew me only through those painful words spoken when I would walk into a store or coffee shop. The harshest words are worth enduring with the hope that when I stand before Christ He will count me faithful.

9. Authentic brokenness in a pastor is better than unique giftedness.

So many men are envious of the gifts of others. Pastors are no different. We tend to think we need the mind of D.A. Carson, the preaching passion of John Piper, and the charisma of Matt Chandler, or we will not serve our church well. But I have learned that a pastor who will own his brokenness, weakness, and neediness for Jesus in an honest and authentic way before his congregation is valuable and serves a church faithfully. Modeling how to walk humbly with Jesus is worth more than the most exceptional ministry gifts.

10. Training men for ministry is an unspeakable joy.

Other than seeing conversions to Christ, one of the greatest joys of these last twenty years has been training men for ministry, sending them out, and then watching them flourish in that new ministry. Although it is hard and painful to send some of your best, most gifted out from you, it is worth it and a great personal joy.

11. The burden to care for souls is too great for one man.

Most of the churches I have served had a single pastor model and the task to care for souls was overwhelming doing it alone. I saw it with those who bore that burden and I felt it when I inherited it as a Senior Pastor. This is why the New Testament clearly teaches that the care of souls in the local church comes not through one man, but a plurality of pastors/elders to share that load together. Maybe the most significant decision made in the last twelve years in my current church was when we moved to a plurality of pastors.

12. Pastors will give an account for all souls under our care.

Pastors often forget we will give an account to the Lord Christ for not only the souls of those who love and support us, but those who do not. When I struggled to love certain difficult people (which was often), it was the piercing words that I will “give an account for every soul” (Heb. 13:17) to Jesus that kept me from dismissing my responsibility before the Chief Shepherd.

13. The most crucial pastoral quality might be patience.

There are many crucial godly pastoral qualities needed in a pastor, but the reason patience might be the most important is how it affects the others. Patience allows a pastor not to overreact to one event. It causes a pastor to make decisions and evaluate his church with a long term plan in view. I learned there is a discernment and wisdom that exists in patience that does not typically exist with ramrodding our agenda through.

14. Be content driven with music in corporate worship.

I went through a very revealing change in ministry environments. I was one of the main music staff members at a church where we used the all the latest technology: theatrical lighting, enormous projection screens, and lots of “wow!” I left that for a church that sang hymns out of the hymnal. What did I learn from this radical transition?: #1, style divides; #2 life-giving truth unites. Content should drive our public gatherings. Regardless the style and feel of your weekly services, make sure people leave talking about the wonderful truths they sang, not how well the music was played.

 15. Learn what NOT to do.

In the four churches I served in as an associate pastor I learned more about what NOT to do than what to do. I saw practices and ministry philosophies that lacked biblical warrant. And unfortunately, I witnessed firsthand how many of these practices harm the souls of God’s people. Those were difficult times for me in many ways, but they helped me develop and hone biblical convictions I still hold to this day.

16. Prayer changes me the most.

I spent twenty years of ministry not praying as much as I should. Many regrets here. But when I did, I found God meeting me in my struggle and despair and comforting my soul. That became a sweet place of rest, more so than any one answered prayer. The prayers of a pastor are a special thing when he cries out for his people and his church to be strengthened. God has answered many prayers throughout two decades, but what God did in my soul as I cried out to him was always more significant.

17. Choose battles wisely.

The fact I can write this having been in vocational ministry for twenty straight years is in itself evidence of God’s grace in my life. I look back on so many decisions that I made as well as some that I chose not to do. Had I gone the other way on some of those I likely would have been fired. In my first five years as Senior Pastor alone there were three efforts to remove me. Pick your battles, don’t let them pick you. Be patient and wise. Seek good counsel. Pray a lot. A single decision can be the one that God uses to turn the ship of a struggling church, or overturn your ministry.

18. Expect suffering.

My experience has emphasized this truth so much that I would counsel anyone seeking to be a pastor, but not wanting to suffer much, to go do something else. Our families and ministries are on the front lines of spiritual attack and gospel work. Suffering will come and at times all at once. Expect it. Hang on loosely to the things of this world. Hold tightly to Jesus and your family. Allow your pastoral suffering, for it is certain to come, to make you long for heaven.

19. Numbers are not a helpful gauge to determine church health.

The common trend is to use butts and budgets to gauge church health. Having served in churches with large budgets and lots of behinds, I can tell you firsthand those criteria by themselves are broken compasses for measuring whether God is working and a church is healthy. Pastors must learn to evaluate their church and ministry in the way God does, not corporate America.

20. Jesus always has to be enough.

For most of my ministry, my identity was wrapped up in my ministry in a harmful way that led to a very narcissistic approach to my life and ministry. It has only been in the last few years that God has exposed this idolatrous approach to ministry that has led to some hard, painful soul work. As a result, I am experiencing a freedom in my soul that has caused me to hold loosely to all my ministry. As long as I have Jesus, that has to be enough. For most of my twenty year ministry, Jesus wasn’t enough. I can say he is now. Even though I get to do all kinds of exciting ministry in my life now, I could walk away from it all today if I needed to. Jesus has to be enough and I have found it has caused me to enjoy all the ministry I do even more because I get to do it, I don’t need it.

Conclusion:

There they are. I promise you I failed miserably in many different ways that led to these lessons learned. Be encouraged dear brothers and fellow pastors. The Lord often teaches us through our sins, failings, disappointments, and weaknesses. By the Lord’s grace, he allowed me to learn them as he continued to allow me to serve him. Now, I am asking God to allow me to serve him another two decades if he would give me that honor and it would fit his good and perfect purposes.

Brian Croft is senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church and founder of Practical Shepherding.  He is also the senior fellow of The Mathena Center for Church Revitalization at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and has written over a dozen books on pastoral ministry.  He is married to his wife, Cara, and they have four children.

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Lasting Peace

From Banner of Truth

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Loving Boundaries

From Paul Tripp Ministries

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“Remember Me” – The Best Scripture Memory App I Have Used

If you desire to memorize Scripture, but have had a difficult time doing so, let me suggest a free app that may help.  I have tried many different ones in the past, but this one is BY FAR the best I have ever used. So give Bible Memory: Remember Me app a try and let me know what you think.  (You can also find it on iTunes for Apple users but unlike the Android app counterpart it is not currently free)

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May 13, 2015 · 9:00 am