Monday, November 19, 2007

Please Know This. . .

Please know that on this day that I prayed for you. I did not call out your name because I did not know who you were. . . . . But please know that I prayed for you. . . . .I prayed in this manner. . . .

God, please touch those out there whose minds are being slowly captured by doubt. They are slowly being blinded to their need for God and they are slowly getting further and further from You.

God, please help that pastor and his wife who are faithfully serving you and trying to bring the knowledge of the holy to those saints who are against them. I prayed that God would strengthen you amidst the withering criticism that has created dread in your heart for any place of ministry that you have to go to. I prayed that God would deliver you from the hands of carnal men who are so opposed to the extension of the Kingdom of God.

God, please help those marriages that the fires have almost entirely flickered out. I prayed for those whose words toward their spouses have become spears that wound not the body but the heart. I prayed that the excitement and hope that walked down the isle the day you were married would return. I prayed that there would be a spirit of reconciliation to come and put the war to rest.

God, please help those faithful saints who are having to weather the demands of a pastor whose expectations are putting huge yokes on their spirits. I prayed for saints who are nothing more than pawns in the hands of a minister's ungodly ambition. I prayed for saints who have been wounded by out-of-control men who are not shepherds but are "lords" over the heritage that is supposed to belong to God.

God, please bring life and energy to those who are working on a job that is demanding greater production with smaller means to accomplish the task. I prayed for those whose directors, bosses, overseers, and supervisors are wicked and unprincipled and have a trail of bodies behind their accomplishments. I prayed that God would help those who are working for low wages and yet have high commitments with financial obligations.

God, please help those who cannot see tomorrow's light because of today's darkness. Let them understand that sometimes the most important thing about living is simply walking the path that does not have much glamor but much responsibility. I prayed that God would give you enough manna for the day so that when tomorrow gets here, your faith will be stronger because you made it through your yesterday.

Please know that on this day. . . I prayed for you . . .

Thursday, November 15, 2007

In Honor of "Joe"

Occasionally, I go to the Out of Ur blog hosted by Christianity Today and read some of their thoughts and ideas. This morning I was prompted by another pastor to go and read through an article that asked “Are Pastors Competitive Enough?” The writer of the article Andy Rowell is quite forthright in his assessment of the fact that the secular and the spiritual do not mix.

As I read through the article, several thoughts came to mind that might be helpful for those who are involved in ministry.

Delving into the business world or sports world to get a model for ministry can be incredibly destructive and produce heavy loads of guilt. We are not making widgets, we are in the business of building the souls of men. The business of working with a man’s soul can be a wearisome, anxiety-producing, and frustrating experience. If we are working the ministry from a business angle then at some point, the “widget” in progress must be tossed aside as a defective product. Imagine what would have happened to John Mark if he would have been tossed aside simply because he could not make it in Paul’s first missionary journey. The corporate executive would have tossed him aside, the coach would have cut him from the team, but instead Barnabas and Paul had a parting of ways. Because Barnabas was dedicated to trying to salvage whatever he could in the life of this young man, twenty-two years later Paul would make a request that John Mark be brought along because he was “profitable for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

The more I read my job requirements from the Pastoral Epistles, the more I understand that the business model is very much at odds with God's plan for ministry. The spiritual resume and the curriculum vitae of Harvard Business School have not matches. John Piper is quoted, “We are fools for Christ’s sake. But professionals are wise. We are weak. But professionals are strong. Professionals are held in honor. We are in disrepute. We do not try to secure a professional lifestyle, but we are ready to hunger and thirst and be ill-clad and homeless.”

I can remember way back in the day, as they say, (early '90's) when John Maxwell was the hottest ticket in town. I went to five of his leadership seminars. I bought his books. I bought some of his video series. I joined the Injoy Life Tape Club. I got “juiced” going to those meetings. I can distinctly remember him making a sarcastic statement to the effect of, "Joe is a good guy. . . Joe is a godly guy. . . . Joe is a praying guy. . . . Joe is going to Heaven. . . . but Joe ain't got a clue!" This remark was made in at least 3 of the 5 seminars that I attended. This provoked much laughter from the crowd.

I must confess in honesty that I laughed too. It was in one of those moments of my very youthful immaturity. The more Injoy stuff I listened to and the more Maxwell books that I read something started happening, I begin to change. I started playing the game. You know the game that tries to put you in the path of the “successful.” It was a punishing game that wouldn’t let you hang out with a certain group because they “aren’t motivated” (i.e. not successful).

The game, sad to say, affected my preaching too. Now looking back in retrospect this is the most troubling aspect of all. I was no longer content with taking the great truths of Scripture and unfolding them and letting ancient truth save those who heard me. I did all of this because I did not want to be like “Joe.” I wanted to be a “communicator” or as this generation might say “relevant.” I might add that the same old girl from the early ‘90’s now is wearing a new dress and the masses are bowing down to her because they are afraid to be “just Joe.”

Life pressed on and I had to endure some fiery trials. Some things came along that knocked my “sanctified” (worldly??) ambition for a loop. The ladders I was trying to climb started collapsing. I had some real dilemmas of life that seminars, tape clubs, books, and videos did little for me. The only relief and direction that I could get was in a prayer room and pushing away from the table. The secular books failed me but the real Book didn’t. Then a little more maturity came and I momentarily took my eyes off of my little self and my little world and my little “personal growth plan.” When I momentarily took my eyes off of me and my plan, I saw “Joe.” There he was!

He came to life for me one day at a Junior Camp in Alabama in the mid 90’s. I was making sure the dorms were secured and that all of the campers were out. As I walked past a dorm, I heard a voice. I thought to myself that surely it wasn’t a voice for all the campers were no longer in the building. So I slowly opened the door and I had indeed heard a voice. It wasn’t just any voice, it was a praying voice, it was a voice that mixed with sobs, it was a voice that crying for revival and for children. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but the Spirit and the “spirit” of Joe literally rooted my feet to the floor. I didn’t mean to listen to this man pray but the Lord was on this day going to use an object lesson for me. I recognized the voice of “Joe” as a pastor from a little small burg in Alabama. His church is out in the country and to hear some speak of it, not much has ever really been accomplished. But on that day, that glorious day, in that last week of June, God showed me something! I stayed maybe one to two minutes before carefully exiting and for at least 10 years this elderly pastor never knew that I had walked in on his prayer that day.

I turned to leave and when I did finally get out of the building, I found that the tears that had sprang to my eyes were now coursing down my cheeks. On that day a great purging of my soul took place. God jerked out all sorts of stuff like ambition, position, false humility, pride, and host of other things. I have to confess that my soul is still a work in progress but on this day the Spirit of the Lord and the “spirit” of “Joe” planted a seed of character in my life.

From that day until now, I have observed men who served small churches face dilemmas that were almost insurmountable. There were twists and turns in life that brought them much pain and hardship. Duress seemed to be a constant companion and difficulty literally tried to pound the life out of them. I am certain that their days were filled with discouragement and their nights were sleepless because of the worry that faced them.

It was almost as if suddenly there they were the "Joe's" that Maxwell had spoken disparagingly of. They faced their challenges and disappointments but with much sacrifice, pressed on. A couple of men that I know lost their wives to cancer. One man I know pastors a small country church but he has labored there for 30+ years and has not seen much "growth." Another man I know has great burden and vision and is given to much prayer and yet his church hasn't "done much" (or so the business model would say). Another man I know had much pain and difficulty because of some of the poor choices that several of his children made in their teenage years. All of them "plowed" on. . . .

They are just the "Joe's" who have been called to work their particular portion of the Kingdom. If you look at their plow-handles, they are marked with blood, sweat, and tears. Tears of faithfulness and commitment to their flock stain the plow-handle. Their sweat has fallen into the earth as they gave themselves to weeding and watering the crops.

What these men have not done is disqualify themselves for service by looking back. I am in honor the “Joe's” who are bi-vocational. They are willing to carry the financial burdens of their churches at the expense of their own needs. They are not blessed with a "staff" per se to help them with the many demands of the pastorate. More often than not because of their lack of resources, the tables get more of their energy than does prayer and the Word. But on today, “Joe” I tip my hat to you.

I don't believe in laziness or a lack of vision or burden, however, in the grand scheme of the Kingdom of God, if we pursue a business model or a coaching model, it is going to lead to us making some very terrible spiritual decisions.

Jack Welch, William Rehnquist, George Bush, Clarence Thomas, Lou Holtz, and a few others are some of the biographies that I have recently read and while they made provide a bit of inspiration, it is very fleeting. I cannot get spiritual direction from a carnal source! Therefore, the real model for ministry is going to be plainly defined for me in the Acts and the Pastorals. This model frees me from the inebriation with numbers. . . .

By the way, in researching out the real story behind Jack Welch, his character leaves much, much to be desired.

One of the most famous quotes that Kelsey Griffin gave us during my TBC days was, "You boys are gonna be shocked on judgment day!" The longer I live the more I believe that Brother Griffin was very wise in making this statement. When we get to that great and final day, I have a feeling that more than one “Joe” will have an enormous reward that is literally going to take our breath away. . .

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Puritan John Owens: Overcoming Sin and Temptation

If you are regular reader of this blog and particularly of the book lists that I have suggested in the past, you have noted my occasional mention of the Puritans. The Puritan which has probably challenged me the most and directed my thoughts perhaps more than any other would be Thomas Watson. I have steadily purchased a number of his books in the last few years and have been profoundly impacted toward his writings about sin and his encouragement to pursue after holiness. Their writings on prayer are also quite unrivalled in our modern generation of books on prayer that has turned God into some sort of cosmic Santa Claus. Furthermore, if there are any leanings toward the writings of the Emerging Church (? Submerging Church) leaders, then you have two choices: A. Don’t read the Puritans, or B. Be prepared to have all of their “theology” quickly and rapidly sent to the “deep-six.”

Certainly there are some disclaimers with reading the Puritans. First, you will find there is much to labor through in their writings and thoughts. This is not a bad thing as we have almost forgotten how to think critically in our generation, especially concerning eternal matters. You will not simply decide to sit down and read through their books like you might do with a John Grisham novel or a Dick Francis mystery. Secondly, you will find that much, much Scripture is used and the more familiar you are with Scripture, the more value the Puritan writings will have. Thirdly, it would be very wise to read the Puritans with an open note-book nearby to jot down thoughts that come to mind as you read through them.

To help you out, I am recommending that you go to a blog maintained by Tim Challies. I venture by this blog almost everyday and have found some very good things written in the past couple of years. In fact, Challies is so disciplined that he has blogged every day now for over 1450 days (4 years or so). I admire his discipline and also because his material is not light-weight. A few months ago, he began a series of reading through the classics of good Christian material. He started with J. C. Ryle’s classic, “Holiness,” to which one blog a week was devoted to some good discussion of a chapter in the book.

He is about to begin the second installment and I have intentions of joining in the exercise and perhaps learn a little and maybe even contribute a little to his blog discussion. The book that they are reading is written by John Owen entitled “Overcoming Sin and Temptation.” It has been edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor for a much easier readability. You can either purchase the book or even better you can download the 400+ page book free, which is what I have done.

The book actually contains three of Owens’ works:

  • Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers (1656)
  • Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It (1658)
  • The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalency of Indwelling Sin (1667).

In “Mortification of Sin in Believers,” Owen offers the following thoughts on killing the old man or the body of sin:

(1) consider whether the sin you are contending with has any dangerous symptoms attending it;

(2) get a clear and abiding sense upon your mind and conscience of the guilt, danger, and evil of that sin;

(3) load your conscience with the guilt of it;

(4) get a constant longing for deliverance from the power of it;

(5) consider whether the sin is rooted in your nature and exacerbated by your temperament;

(6) consider what occasions and advantages your sin has taken to exert and put forth itself, and watch against them all;

(7) rise mightily against the first actings and conceptions of your sin;

(8) meditate in such a way that you are filled at all times with self-abasement and thoughts of your own vileness;

(9) listen to what God says to your soul and do not speak peace to yourself before God speaks it, but hearken what he says to your soul.

(This is not typical Joel Osteen stuff, especially number 8.)

So you have some free resources to load up your mind and spirit before you get into the holidays. The only thing it will cost is the time necessary to read the book.

A Prayer Pouring Out of Psalm 119

--> I am presently preaching through the stanzas of Psalm 119 and it has been a spiritually enriching exercise.   Toda...