A Pastor’s Joy

What is it that brings a pastor joy? I might be tempted to say preaching. When God calls a man to preach the Word, preaching becomes something he longs to do. God instills this desire in the preacher’s heart. He may have been shy and an introvert until this call was placed on his life and now speaking before others things of God is his greatest joy.

But preaching often brings sadness. It is very hard to issue God’s commands and warnings only to watch them fall on ears that cannot hear. Then the preacher must watch congregation struggle with the catastrophes brought on by rebelling against the counsel God. Jesus felt this way when he looked over Jerusalem and its rejection of the prophets. The Bible says “Jesus wept.” So sometimes preaching brings tears of sorrow. That is just the nature of a preachers calling.

Is there anything in a preacher’s life that brings more joy than preaching? After some thought on this I have to say there is. The preacher’s greatest joy is seeing the positive effects on his audience. Preaching is like planting, you labor with the hope for much fruit. Seeing a ripe crop and knowing that your efforts have produced a positive result in others is the greater joy.

There is no guarantee that a preacher will see the fruits of his labor. Most of the time the preacher has no idea what is going on in the hearts of men. Some preachers live there entire life and see only a few converts and minimal spiritual growth. They continue on knowing that on That Day when they stand before the One who called them they will receive their reward.

But when God chooses to encourage a preacher in his work he often shows him a little fruit. That fruit is the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of his congregation. David Clark told me a long time ago that a preacher’s ministry is like looking at an iceberg. You can only see the top and most of it is hidden under the water. When a pastor can see the congregation loving one another, serving other, interested in Scripture and seeking to shape their lives after Christ that is his greatest joy. Because he knows God is doing so much more that he cannot see. I praise God for what I’ve seen at Lee Creek over the years. May His work among us continue.

The Best Church

“_____ is the best church in our area. They have more stuff going on than every other church combined. They go on camping trips and fishing trips, have a soft ball league, have a special event for every holiday, ride ATV’s together, offer free nights at the water park and the go-cart track, they even have their own ice cream truck.” Well, that settled the debate for all who were listening, what other church can compete with an ice cream truck? I mean after all, to be viewed as a pillar of Christian religion in our community these things are now mandatory. A W Tozer once said “Most churches can’t operate having only a hymn book and a Bible.” Most shocking of all was Tozer made that statement in the 1950′s.

This is the view of many a church goer in America. Church is no longer a place of prayer, praise and preaching. While these three elements may remain in the church to some degree they are no longer the the primary role of the church. The driving force is now numbers, and by numbers I mean people, and lots of them. The surest way to attract people is to offer the things people want. You won’t win any BBQ competitions with tofu and you won’t attract large crowds by only offering preaching, prayer, and praise for a holy God. It’s simply does not appeal the masses.

But if you take it to be the goal of the church to “reach” people, then by all means reach them. Use every available option to get their attention. If I or anyone else criticizes this ideology, well we don’t love Jesus and aren’t concerned about lost people. Even worse, were just jealous of their success.

One has to wonder how the early church gained such a strong footing in the world with out the resources of modern churches. A study of this topic will quickly reveal the early church had a resource the modern church is void of: power from the Holy Spirit. Man kind does not like to rely on God’s help, he wants to do it all by himself. Therefore todays churches have found out how to draw people to themselves without the power of God. They have even made it their mission. The world agrees these are the best churches. Ravenhill said “The apostles had no gold, but lots of glory. We have lots of gold and no glory.”

In praise of the sovereignty of God

It is no secrete that we preach the sovereignty of God in all things. Many people hate this doctrine. They are okay with God being sovereign over some things like the climate and solar system. Some go a step further and grant God to be sovereign over life and death, he may even control some governments they say. But when we say God is sovereign over the salvation of men’s souls they lose their minds. They will not back off their claim to man’s free will to choose or not choose to follow God.

They claim that if you take away free will, you make man a robot. I would argue that man is already a robot. He is a sin robot. He was born in sin and he can not stop sinning. Nor does he want to stop sinning. It is only the consequences of his sin that he fears. No one feels bad about speeding until they see the blue lights flashing. As long as man can justify his sin he’s okay with it and his free will will freely sin as long he can get away with it. That is until the blue lights flash on to his sins. Question: Who catches sinners in their sins? Is it the sinner who self arrests himself? Or is it a power higher than himself that intervenes and stops him in his sins? I think every honest Christian has to answer it is the Holy Spirit that convicts us of our sins and brings us to the place of faith and repentance.

Now that we’ve established it is the Spirit’s role to bring sinners before a holy God for reconciliation in Christ, some more questions are in order. How is it that most humans escape the Spirit? Is the Spirit of our God bad at his job? Is he so over worked and under manned that he catch them all? Or is the free will of man just to much for the third person of the Trinity? Or could it be that the Holy Spirit overcomes the individuals he sets out after?

You say “wait a minute, that makes God unfair!” How so? Did he promise to save everyone? Has he not offered the gospel world wide? Did God not send missionaries to every people group on the earth commanding all men everywhere to repent? The problem has never been that God is unjust but it has been that man is dead in his sins. Apart from a sovereign God taking an active role in drawing us to himself, no one would be saved. His sovereignty over us is not doctrine to be despised but rather an attribute to be praised.

Church Clothes

Do you have any church clothes? You know, the clothes you only wear on a Sunday, because Sunday is the day you go to church. I had a friend who had work overalls (Mon-Sat) and new Sunday overalls for church. What is it about Sunday that makes us dress up? I know all the old arguments about wearing your best and I don’t disagree with that line of logic, but…

When did Sunday become our only day to meet with the Lord? I say “only day” because that is often the only day most people have any religious activities. Most church goers feel if they have devoted an hour or two to the Lord on Sunday, they’ve done their duty. They hang up their church clothes, store their Bibles, and get back to the real world. This routine is as normal as church clothes and work clothes. But there’s more to it than clothes.

Church clothes are a recent tradition in the history of Christianity, and so is one meeting a week. The early church held meetings of some kind just about every day of the week. They would have prayer meetings in homes on numerous occasions throughout the week. From Acts 19:9-10 we know Paul held daily classes in Ephesus for two years. Without buildings, it was common for churches to meet in multiple homes at the same time. These meeting were not one hour arrangements, they often went well into the night and some went all night. My how we’ve changed.

Why have we changed? We have our own buildings now, and there is plenty of room. (especially after Sunday morning) So how did this change take place? Well, we got busy, to busy. To busy to meet more than once a week. To busy to study at home. To busy to fellowship and pray with other believers during the week. Busy doing what? Work? Sports? Family? Yard? Hobbies? Rest? Clubs? Dare I say a TV show? Yes to all the above.

I know all these things have a rightful place in our lives. But, have you considered where you spend your time? Our service to the Lord and His saints can’t be fulfilled in an hour. The early church had what we seem to have lost, a daily devotion to the Church. Maybe they felt a deeper need for more time with God and his people? Back then the church wasn’t something you put on and hung back up. May God rekindle this daily desire in our day.

Ripe For Picking!

As I came down my driveway this week I noticed the blackberry briars by the pond were covered in berries. My mind began to reminisce of blackberry cobbler, blackberry jelly, blackberry syrup, blackberry… Oh I’m sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, as I looked at them from the truck it appeared that there were so many ripe berries that I could easily pick a gallon after supper. That would be enough for a cobbler and two pints of jelly.

After supper reality set in as I began picking. The ripe berries I saw from the road were not as plentiful upon closer inspection. I would carefully begin picking only the best berries and then realize that there were more ripe berries just out of my reach. So I carefully moved through the thorns to the “better” location only to find that were not as many berries as I had thought. As I moved around this patch of briars looking for the best I saw the mother load of blackberries! It was right where I first began picking. I thought, How could I have missed all those perfectly ripe berries? Did they ripen after I left? I went back an stood right where I started and looked for them but I couldn’t see them until I pulled back the leaves.

You see, if you are going to get all the best berries you’re going to have to pull back some leaves and branches. Blackberries don’t move, they just stay right where God put them. The outer berries are easy to see and pick, but that’s just the beginning of the harvest. The sweetest grow in the shade.

And so it is with the Bible. The truth is right there in front of us, and much of it visible and easily accessible. How ever there is much that goes unseen because we don’t study for a fuller understanding. Much like blackberries the sweeter fruit grows in the shade of the leaves. Sometimes its not until we are reading another passage that a previous verse is brought into light.

Many people take one verse or one phrase and thank they have all God has to offer. This is just laziness seeking low hanging fruit. One passage will never fill your berry bucket up and feed you a cobbler. We must carefully study all the Bible in context. God has blessed us with a bountiful harvest, but it will not be enjoyed by the lazy.

VBS Treason

It is clearly Vacation Bible School season in the south. Social media is filled with invites and accounts of each church’s VBS program. I have always been amazed at the time, energy and cold hard cash churches invest in this one week affair. It seems to be a contest to see which church is first, has the biggest or the most unique VBS.

I am not anti VBS, I think it can be a healthy program for the church in the summer months. The problem with VBS is that is has become a sacred right that is required in Evangelical churches. Over the years VBS has become big business and churches will spare no expense to have the latest greatest. Or they will spend countless hours making the decor by hand.

Let me ask you few a questions about VBS, Could it be we majored on the minor and minor on the major? Are crafts and games needed every night to teach kids the Bible? Or are they only needed to draw a crowd?

Allow me to illustrate, the 12×8 inch match stick cross that I made in VBS when I was 8 years old still hangs in my moms kitchen. It consist of about 150 burnt match sticks that some adult struck and blew out and not for me only but for 100 other kids as well. That was a cheap craft but how long did they spend preparing those 1500 matches? To be honest, I don’t remember a single VBS lesson. I remember a few water balloon fights, starfish sandwiches, and making a bead bracelet. VBS was just a fun time.

Churches tout every kind of stat on VBS to justify the expense of it. Stats like enrollment, average each night, workers present, commencement attendance, who gave the most spare change, who did and didn’t get a pie in the face, and how many got saved. Why do we still call this a Bible School?

Those who benefit most from VBS are the publishers, Oriental Trading Co, and parents who just want a free babysitter. I know this is Baptist treason and I run the risk of being classified as the VBS Nazi but VBS is out of control. When a church spends more time decorating, crafting, gaming, snacking and teaching sign language to songs than they do teaching the Bible, it’s not a Bible School, it’s just a Vacation. Vacations are great and everybody needs one, but a church shouldn’t pay for it.

The Ups and Downs Of Ministry

The office of pastor carries with it a number of joys and sorrows that are not typically experienced in any other walk of life. This is uniquely seen in the regular preaching two or three times each week to the same people. This sustained ministry of the Word forces the minister to live with the results of his ministry. In other words, he has to live among those he has taught.

The sorrow comes when warnings are proclaimed from Scripture but not heeded by the congregation. Sometimes his counsel or a message is even despised, and some people ultimately leave the church over it. The pastor has no option but to watch the out come and offer to help pick up the broken pieces if their life choice doesn’t work out. What makes this so saddening is the fact that many personal, family, and church problems are preventable if we will simply pray and seek to mold our lives to Scripture.

The joy comes from delivering God’s Word on a regular basis and then hearing someone tell of how that teaching or counsel helped them. On any given Sunday even the worst of preachers are told “that was a good message” or “great sermon today” by many good folks in the church. Real lasting joy never comes from preaching a good message or getting a lot of compliments. It comes from seeing lives changed by God’s Word.

Let me explain, Jeremiah was an excellent preacher and faithful to declare all that God had told him. He even acted it out and painted a crystal clear picture for Israel. But no one responded to God’s commands. They hated him and he wanted to quit. You all know the story, he couldn’t stop, the Word was in his heart and it was like a fire in his bones. So he went on preaching but remained weary and sad.

With out giving you all the details, I’ll just say, I’ve carried a lot of this kind of sorrow of late. But it is not all doom and gloom. I have personally heard of quite a few accounts lately where a sermon was brought to someone’s mind in a time of need. Actions were altered, eyes were opened, troubles were avoided, and answers were found. In other words, God is changing lives at Lee Creek. That has been a wonderful source of encouragement to me. I praise God for it and pray that it will continue.

Good Preaching

“That guy can really preach” he told me as he recounted last Sunday’s service at a local church. “It was powerful to see how everyone responded at the end.” I interrupted him after a few minutes and asked “What was the sermon about and what Scripture did he preach from?” “Oh” he said “he used a whole bunch of Bible verses, you couldn’t narrow it down to just one passage. That’s what I like, a preacher that uses lots of Bible.” So I asked again “What was the title of his message?”"Uh, I don’t guess he ever gave us a title” he said with a smile “he just preached what God put on his heart. And boy, it was a good one.”
This is a typical conversation here in the “Bible Belt” about how successful last Sunday’s sermon was. The preaching was really good and the alters were full but nobody really remembers what was said during the message. Except for a few jokes or a funny story. Sadly, it could very well be true that jokes and stories are all that’s worth repeating from many worship services. “That guy can really preach” can mean just about anything around here. He’s loud, he’s animated, he’s funny, he’s simple, he draws a crowd, he’s short, he’s educated, or he may simply fill the alters at the end.
You see, most people don’t have any biblical concept of what preaching is. We just have our own preferences that we have been conditioned to look for in a preacher. David Clark always said “In the South, we’ve been trained to watch preaching instead of listening to sermons.” I’ll never forget a song leader telling me his job was “to light a fire in the church and fan the flames till he could pass the torch on to the pastor. Good preaching starts with the flow of the Spirit.” What does the “flow of the Spirit” even mean? Sigh…
Biblical preaching is reading the Word, explaining the Word, and teaching the hearers how the Word applies to their lives today. 2 Tim 4:2 “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.” Not Shouting and spouting random verses, old cliches, or telling us what God put on you heart. Good preaching lays the Bible before the hearers and explains their responsibility to it. If you can’t remember the content on Monday, how good was it?

Man Made Mandates

In Romans 14 Paul gives instruction to brothers in Christ who happen to disagree on diet, days and drinks. Some eat the meat of pagans and some think it’s a sin to do so. Some keep special holy days and others don’t. Some only drink water while others enjoy wine. This chapter has been made famous for dealing with “weaker brothers.” Paul’s advice is not to force someone to do something they are not comfortable with. Don’t push alcohol on the teetotaler nor think less of him who does drink. Don’t mandate or forbid holidays. The same goes for the food you eat, avoid it if it makes someone else uncomfortable. That is how the weak and the strong can get along in the same body. By the way, it is the strong who have liberty to do such things and the weak that forbid it. So as the strong and liberated let’s not flaunt our freedoms.
I encountered some weaker brethren this week in social media. They were mandating that Christians not allow their children to attend public schools. Because the “clearly biblical” thing to do is home school or private school. While there were no clear Bible references given to support the sinfulness of parents sending their kids to public schools. Many bad examples from around the country were sited as to the failure of governmental education. Basically if your children attend public schools you are a weak Christian at best and you might not be saved. Or so they said.
This legalistic approach to education is a text book weaker brother moment and here’s why. The Bible is not cut and dried on the methods of educating your children, save that the parents bear the responsibility. The Bible does not condemn governmental services or our use of them. Every school district is as different and every set of parents. This is why a binding statement in Scripture can’t be found on this subject.
So how should a strong brother respond? We have the liberty to decide for our family the educational system that best suits our needs. It we choose in home, private, or public it’s none of their concern. Nor do we hold the right to force our preferences on them, it their choice as well. Problems will only arise when one brother tries to force the other. Be strong, don’t do it.

No Absolutes

We clearly live in a society that does not like absolutes. Conversations are filled with statements like these: “you can’t know right or wrong, what’s right for one maybe wrong for another.” ” No one knows what is right for me to do since they don’t know me or how I feel.” “We can’t be sure about anything because there is so much science hasn’t discovered yet.” Some people claim to be unsure of their own gender. A few even claim there gender changes from day to day. Never mind that science discovered there to be only two genders (both evident at birth) many millennia ago. But hey, who are we to set up such absurd absolutes as male and female?
The problem is not merely that the facts haven’t been given to this wishy-washy generation. Its that our society does not want facts. They would rather operate on feelings. If you feel OK about something then its OK for you to do it. Who are we to judge how someone else feels? After all, insensitivity and hurt feelings are the worst things anyone can experience in our society. The problem with feelings is that they can change over time but absolutes never change. So a society built on feelings tends to become very fluid and eventually falls further than anyone ever imagined possible.
Before you try to take the high ground and distance yourself from the responsibility of these societal leanings. This attitude didn’t start last night, we’ve all been programmed this way. Consider these phrases that have been around for years: “Follow your heart” “Trust yourself” “Whatever makes you happy.” At least four generations were raised hearing this message from parents, schools, friends and the media. Is this not “feelings” driven advice?
No one likes to be told they are wrong. No one wants to hear about the negative consequences of their own actions. When a society lives without absolutes, it ends up as in Judges 21:25 “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
As Christians we embrace absolutes. We have an absolute ruler in Jesus Christ. We have absolute truth in the Bible. Therefore we are not free to live our lives based on our feelings. We base our lives on Christ and his Word. This is what makes Christians stand out in an ever changing world.
A word of caution is in order here for every believer. Just because you embrace Christ and his Word does not mean you can force others to feel the same way. Some Christians want to legislate moral absolutes. You were not forced to accept the absolutes of Christ and Scripture by legislation, but rather by the Holy Spirit. So why try to force others to your position when the Bible calls us to exemplify it every day among them? I Peter 2:12. “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” The absolutes of Scripture apply to Christians and when we embrace them we demonstrate His lordship in us.