- I will preach what people need to hear, not what they want to hear, which is the Word. I will preach the Word.
- I will honor those in my congregation, but I will not be a slave to their expectations. I am only a slave of Christ.
- I will believe in people because I believe in the Holy Spirit that resides in them.
- I will develop people in their God-given gifting. I will not use or manipulate them simply to advance my vision or to see things happen in my church.
- I will not show great preference to those who can do more in the church or give more to the church. I will do my best to pastor my whole flock.
- I will model Godly character, demonstrated by humility, integrity, authenticity and faith.
- I will grow in generosity. I will model giving, even when it may hurt.
- I am not a CEO but I will assume my place of leadership, therefore, I will lead; I am the leader with an important job. Which is to point people to Jesus.
- I will oftentimes err on the side of grace, even when those around me don’t understand why I should show such grace or mercy. Oftentimes they lack the full picture or story.
- I will lovingly correct those heading towards error; I will not look the other way because it is convenient or it avoids conflict.
- I will hold onto people loosely, not in a controlling way, because I know who is the ultimate Shepherd. Should people leave my church, I will bless them on the way out.
- I will honor my family over ministry.
- I will not apologize for taking time to rest, as many do not understand the heavy weight of the pastorate.
- I will trust that the growth of my ministry is in the hands of the Lord; therefore, I will not be anxious if my church is large or small, for the Lord both gives and takes away. I will not succumb to the world’s superficial methods to growing a church, even if they are effective.
- When mistreated or persecuted for something I did not do, or when I am the object of gossip, I will not take revenge; I will count it all as joy.
- I will be an imperfect, but God-honoring, husband, father, and pastor. I will be a Christian man.
An article of encouragement to pastors in difficult seasons I wrote for Tabletalk magazine.
"When No One Comes to Christ" - Featured on the Acts 29 Blog
For us to understand who we are, we must understand who we are not. REFLECTING ON THE GOSPEL (PART 2)
The reason we as Christians often have an identity crisis is that we fail to realize all we have in the Gospel is a gift. Reflecting on the Gospel will always remind us of the gift of having our identity in Christ. John the Baptist was a great example of this. John the Baptist, when questioned who he was in John chapter 1, simply replied, “I am not the Christ.”
Our identity is secure is Jesus, because we know not only who we are, but who we are not. And we are not the Christ.
THE GOSPEL. In ministry, in life and in leadership we are constantly reminded of the importance of the Gospel. The Gospel is the lens through which life really comes alive. It is the missing element in our broken world. And it demands a response.
Over the past decade there has been a great reemphasis on the idea of "preaching the Gospel to yourself." Why? Because we are in a perpetual identity crisis. Pursuing power, popularity, preeminence... So the idea of preaching the Gospel to ourselves daily as the most important daily habit we have, as Mahaney and others have written, is paramount. We've all been reminded of Luther's phrase that we should beat the Gospel into our heads continually, as our tendency to forget gospel truths is also paramount.
However, the term preaching can be a bit misleading. The problem is, not everyone listens when someone is preaching. How many times have you preached a message and you yourself even forgot what it was about? It’s a pretty sad commentary for those of us who preach weekly. And what about the hearers? Unfortunately for us pastors, those who were in our Sunday service oftentimes have the same problem. By lunchtime after the morning service, the vast majority don’t even remember what we preached.
If you preach the Gospel to yourself, you need to ensure that you are listening to your own preaching. This requires reflection. This may appear as if we are splitting hairs on words. But we're not. (Good thoughts here). The Christian leader mustn’t only preach the Gospel to himself, he reflects on the Gospel every day. He reflects on Gospel truths, he meditates on the Gospel.
In my experience, if there is a defining issue in the character of the Christian leader, if a line needed to be drawn in the sand between the Christian leader who lives on mission, and functions well in his context; and those who do not live on mission, and do not function well, it is this point. The ability to not only preach the Gospel, but to reflect on the Gospel.
The word reflect perhaps at first glance, appears to be a weak word. The activity of reflection seems subservient to an activity like preaching, especially in the mind of a passionate communicator. A communicator likes to think of preaching. Preaching is associated with the excitement of church life, of us using our gifting to communicate to others.
Yet reflection requires a level of meditation on the truths of God that preaching in and of itself may not. Reflection requires time. It requires a prayerful spirit. It requires meditating on truths and applying them to everyday situations. It requires heart exegesis. And as one friend of mine has said, it requires an excavation of the soul.
The truth is, our souls require this exegesis; our souls require meditation on the truths of God. As Chan Kilgore wrote, "For us to live in full view of the cross and allow the truth of the gospel to define every moment of our lives, we must know it well. We must remind ourselves of it often." This requires deep reflection.
The Christian leader doesn’t only preach the Gospel to himself, he reflects on the Gospel every day. Why? To know God and to know ourselves. After all, all of the attributes of God are found in the Gospel. All of the characteristics of God are seen in the Gospel. All of the fruits of the spirit, that we want to bear; and the gifts of the Spirit that we eagerly desire, or should eagerly desire; all of these can be found in the Gospel. And all of them require reflection.
Reflecting on the Gospel means we reflect on God’s attributes, God’s character, God’s gifts, and above all, we reflect on God’s story – creation, fall, redemption and restoration.
In the context of pastoral leadership, reflecting on the Gospel is a non-negotiable. We must aim for the heart in our daily devotions, in our pastoral preparation. It is impossible to be a missional leader who does not reflect on the Gospel, because it is our communion with the Spirit that clarifies the very tasks of our daily mission. We must reflect on the Gospel.
So with this idea of reflecting on the Gospel in mind, I'll be posting four key implications in the coming days. Four implications to our ministries, our churches, and most of all to ourselves.
1. Reflecting on the Gospel reminds us of our identity.
2. Reflecting on the Gospel reminds us of our security.
3. Reflecting on the Gospel ensures our integrity.
4. Reflecting on the Gospel enables us to order our priorities.
Stay tuned for part 2.
"In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry." - Ephesians 4:26
One of the most challenging aspects of Christian life is dealing with anger. Specifically, righteous anger. With all of the great cultural tides swarming around us, it is quite easy to get angry these days. Angry at the changes we are seeing in culture, angry at sin, and angry at Christians or the church for a lack of response, or for responding the what we perceive is the wrong way.
Fundamentally we must understand that there are two types of anger. Righteous anger, which is fueled by the glory of God; and unrighteous anger, which is fueled by our own glory, or pride.
Righteous anger is a good thing. Why is it good? It shows that sin grieves us. A church that does not grieve sin is a callous church. A Christian that does not experience righteous anger is a callous Christian.
John Stott said this... “There is a great need in the contemporary world for more Christian anger. We compromise with sin in a way which God never does. In the face of blatant evil we should not angry not apathetic. If God hates sin, his people should hate it too. What other reaction can wickedness be expected to provoke in those who love God?”
But the difficult part is this... In your anger, do not sin... Oftentimes we lack reflection on why we are angry. Perhaps it is not truly righteous anger we are experiencing, but an idol of control or comfort that has been threatened. A loss of position. A loss of political power. A loss of reputation. None of these things are a justification for righteous anger, because they are fueled by pride. And none of these things should surprise us, Jesus told us these things would come.
We often mix genuine grieving of sin with a victim mentality. We like to think that in expressing our anger we are like Jesus turning over the tables outside the temple courts, when in reality we are just failing to tame our tongues, and failing to bear the fruit of the Spirit - self-control - in our lives. Our anger at sin must not be reckless, as reckless anger will never produce the righteousness of God. Our anger must be free from pride, spite, malice, animosity, and the Spirit of revenge. This is where it gets hard.
At the same time, we must be careful in our discourse not to criticize the anger of fellow Christians so easily. Oftentimes we criticize our brothers harshly, without knowing why a particular sin grieves them so deeply. Do we know their background? Their family situation? Their history? And worse yet, in some cases, some Christians criticize fellow believers primarily for the approval of the world or of the culture. ("See, I'm not like them..") Often it's more popular to criticize the church to the church than anything else. (FYI - only in America is there a conference circuit for this)...
Fellow Christians will and should grieve sin, they will express righteous anger. Perhaps not always in the best way, nor in the appropriate forum, but they'll do it nonetheless. It would be callous for us to not allow them to grieve the sins of others as the Spirit leads them. Don't assume that your valve for righteous anger is the same valve as everyone else. The question is whether our righteous anger is free of pride and the spirit of revenge. The truth is, all too often it's not. But if it is, don't deny to others a Biblically justifiable emotion. You may actually be quenching the Spirit.
I don’t know if you were a child of the late 80’s or early 90’s, but I was. As a musician I have always loved music, including rock in all of its forms, but especially punk and heavy metal. During the 80s and 90s heavy metal music was in its prime. And the whole idea behind heavy metal was war. It was all about the battle. The language of all of the bands was about warfare.
Stryper influenced me... “Soldiers under command.” I considered myself a soldier at that time. In high school I was actually discipled through Christian rock music. Kind of scary to think about, but God used it. Despite the spandex, makeup and big hair, these bands had a message that resonated with me. The message was a relentless one; a battle between light and darkness, between good and evil, between right and wrong. I saw the world in these terms along with them.
I remember attending my first Christian rock show when I was 14 years old and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. The band Undercover preached afterwards and told us that life was a war.
You want me to let you in on a secret: It is. Life is hard and cruel for most. It is a war.
And so despite the excesses, spiritual warfare was always a part of the language of our generation, at least in that subculture. We believed while there was a very real God there was also a very real Satan. That both angels and demons exist. That there are forces, principalities, powers... there are strongholds that exist, and it is our job as believers to engage in God’s work to combat these evil spirits.
It wasn’t long thereafter that we started our own Christian rock band, with a similar message. We were terrible, but we had a good message. As I look back I know that God can use anyone for his glory. Despite our lack of talent, we preached Christ. We preached heaven and hell. And people came to Christ at our concerts... God really can use anything.
About that time we started our own Christian youth group called “Soldiers of the Light”. Pretty original, right? But we really believed that God could use us to make a difference in the spiritual an supernatural realm. And so our youth group held prayer vigils. We prayed on the nearby college campus against immorality and sin. We participated in marches against abortion. We saw spiritual fruit, despite our extravagant approach.
What I learned from that time was precious. God gave me a keen understanding of the reality of evil, of powers, principalities, strongholds. While we sometimes we overemphasized our role and underemphasized God’s role, it was a true learning experience.
Let’s jump forward 25 years or so to 2015. Heavy metal is not dead, but it is in a coma, a niche market of music. Battle-oriented themes in music are hard to find. Most of us make fun of anything that came out of the 80s and 90s, and especially as it relates to the idea of battle. Nowadays we in the church often scoff at the language that was used 25 years ago. Many of us say... “How foolish to use all of this battle terminology. Jesus spoke about loving people, loving our neighbors. Loving them to Christ. Not using judgmental terms. How can you engage and dialogue with culture with armor on?”
The problem is that being in a battle requires some judgement, doesn’t it? It requires armor or you'll be destroyed quickly.
At least in the American church, these days it is fairly popular to dismiss or at least downplay the idea of the battle we are in... Of spiritual warfare. If we do talk about battle, it’s less about the battle belonging to the Lord, and more about the battle being ours. That we would win our battle to become the best person we would be. That we would win “our victory”, that we would achieve “our destiny.” That the Lord would give “us” something. It all seems to be really about “us” these days. Prosperity theology hijacked much of our understanding of spiritual warfare, making it largely about us and little about God. We have a lot to learn. We have to put our armor back on. For too long many of us have despised it.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:10-17
The truth is the battle we are in is largely fought on our knees. But it is a battle nonetheless. Let us not gloss over the reality of the battle we are in for the hearts and minds and souls of our generation. Let us not despise the idea of war to run after a life of convenience and achievement. Let us remember that we are not only sons and ambassadors, but we are also soldiers. Soldiers under command of the King.
35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:35-38
The gospel challenges us to pray for laborers. If you don’t care about the nations coming to Christ, pray that you would begin to care. If you don’t care about the eternal destinies of people who have never heard the name of Jesus, pray that you would begin to care. If you don’t care about the lukewarmness present in the church, pray that you would begin to care.
You generally will not pray for what you do not long for. So pray that God changes your desires, lest we be an insincere people.
Rex Edwards paints this picture well of many a modern-day Christian: “We sing the words of the hymn ‘Onward Christian Soldier,’ and wait to be drafted into His service. We never enter. We sing ‘Oh, For A Thousand Tongues,’ but don’t use the very tongues that we have… ‘Serve the Lord with Gladness,’ yet we complain when someone asks us to do something.”
God has something more for each one of us. He's called us to be laborers, and he has called us to pray for other laborers. Pray that the Lord would give you the desire to see His will fulfilled to the nations and beyond.
It was early in the morning on New Year’s Day in 2006, in Rio de Janeiro, and I was having trouble sleeping. The noise of the New Year festivities had kept me awake. So I decided to take a walk along the beach. As the sun rose over the beach, I noticed a white rose, cut and in perfect condition, lying right along the shore. I had recently gotten engaged and so finding this rose seemed quite timely. I decided I would take that rose back to my fiancée’s house, thinking, “For sure, she will love it.”
As I continued to walk, I found another rose. I thought to myself … “How strange; another rose in pristine condition.” I picked it up and went along my way. Over the course of the next mile or so, I found a few more roses, enough for a bouquet. I had no idea where these roses had come from, or why they were in such perfect condition. Nonetheless, I felt that they needed to be used. So I made a bouquet out of them, and later that day, presented them to my fiancée. I was certain she would love this beautiful bouquet.
The first question my fiancée asked was, “Where did you get these roses?” For a moment, I was tempted to not tell the truth, but I shared the story. After all, it was a unique story. She began to laugh, and threw the whole bouquet in the trash. I was surprised.
“You don’t understand,” she said. “All of these roses were o˜ffered up to the spirits. They are part of Macumba, a spiritist religion here in Brazil. They do this every New Year’s Eve. What you are giving me is something that was a sacrifice for the demons.” My heart sank. I was so certain that she was going to love the bouquet. After all, it was a beautiful bouquet. Did the origin of the roses or what they had been used for really make that much of a difference?
I like to think of these roses, this bouquet, as our righteousness.
We are called to be righteous. In 1 John 3:7, we are told, “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” Righteousness is a testimony of the Christian life of God’s Spirit living in us. We have a righteous standing before God because of Jesus, and His Spirit in us produces righteousness as a part of the process of sanctification.
Yet, oftentimes we are like the macumbista spiritists, and we attempt to off˜er up a sacrifice of righteousness to God. A sacrifice of our own effort. We do this, believing that our works will enable us to be righteous enough to gain favor in the sight of God.
The challenge is this: the Scriptures teach that righteousness that originates from humanity is as filthy rags before the Father. All of it. And so while a bouquet of righteousness may give evidence of the Christian life, our works will never be good enough to cause us to be declared righteous in the sight of a perfect God. They will never be a sufficient sacrifice.
That’s why confession is so important to the Christian life. Because our propensity to sin, even “in our righteousness,” is so great, our need for confession is even greater.
The challenge for the Christian is that we need to not only confess our sin, but also confess our righteousness before God. This is because so often our sense of righteousness is not rooted in Christ, but in pride. In 1 John 3:4, we read, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” Pride is among the most obvious, daily habit of sin seen in our lives. It’s where we say, “I don’t need you God, I’ve got this on my own. I am not under your law.” Sin is lawlessness.
With such great daily sin, daily confession is necessary. It is by our daily confession that we demonstrate to the world that we abide in Jesus. In 1 John 3:6, we are reminded that “no one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” This is a wonderful truth and a terrible warning at the same time. To abide in Jesus means that we have a new Master. Not only are we free from the need to practice sin, but He has given us His Spirit to overcome it.
We know that obedience is not optional in the Christian life. Confession is not optional, either. Martin Luther once said, “All of life is repentance.” All of life. In essence, all of life is confession and turning from sin.
The life of repentance is a life of confession. This leads to joy, hope, and peace. To avoid the “practice of sinning” we read in 1 John, we must increasingly engage in confession and repentance. This can only be done by reflecting on the gospel.
The “practice of sinning” is not overcome by relentlessly focusing on the act of our sins; it is overcome by consistent, daily reflection on the gospel. When we reflect on the gospel and the beauty of Jesus, it becomes easier to confess our sins and to confess any righteousness that is not rooted in Christ. It is in this way that the “practice of sinning” can be overcome. A relentless focus on Jesus. As a result, any bouquet of righteousness we have in our lives is no longer rubbish. Why is that? Because Jesus is the bouquet; He is the offering. And when Jesus is the bouquet, the Father will never reject it. All sin is, and has been, overcome.
This article first appeared in Tabletalk Magazine.
About three years ago the fine folks at MovingWorks.org decided to visit us in Rio and share the story of our calling.