May God Be So Gracious To Us

Long it has been an excuse for many how their decline in Christian ministry is due to their advancement of their age.  It is as if the long lives of many imminent saints, biblical and historical, are akin to eclipses that are exceptional when they occur though that occurrence be seldom.  I will not argue that gospel ministry should increase as one grows older, for aging and the limitations of both body and mind are the terrible consequences of sin.  Nevertheless, I would seek to encourage not only the elderly saints but all saints by God’s preservation of Moses.

In Deuteronomy 34.7b, it is written that though Moses was 120 years old when he died, yet his eye was kept undimmed and his vigor unabated.  That struck me sweetly a few days ago and the fragrance of it has stayed with me.  Moses, of course, was a minister of God and the great but imperfect mediator between God and the people of Israel.  His congregation was a most difficult lot.  The vast majority of the “congregants” were unregenerate people.  Only Caleb and his children, and Joshua and his family, and the children of that present evil generation of Israelites, would enter into the Promised Land.  They were stubborn, stiff-necked, rebellious.  They grumbled against his preaching, spat upon his leadership, and fornicated with other gods and peoples.  While he is up in the glory of communion with God, they are falsely worshipping a golden calf made with their own hands.  Moreover, Moses did not have the benefit of a well-structured church facility.  He did not have a beautiful pulpit, or a choir loft, or church programs.  He did not have a church van or a skilled softball team.  Many of the things that we clamor for as necessary and essential to the task of ministry, Moses did without, only he had personal communion, intimate fellowship with God, talking with God face to face.  And, that was more than enough.

But this is about God’s gracious preservation of Moses’ physical and ministerial vigor.  In spite of the difficulties that marked his tenure and stewardship, and the divine knowledge that this people would break covenant with God, and that they would be cast off into exile; in spite of his wilderness wanderings and the many heartbreaks of ministry (see Korah, Aaron and Miriam, his own misguided action, etc.), yet God preserved him for the task that God had called him to.

Brothers and sisters, as you are saints, so you are being equipped to do the work of ministry until the whole church comes into the full maturity of Jesus Christ.  We all have a gospel ministry, a heavenly stewardship.  I would urge upon us all the ideal of increased ministry as the years do pass so quickly by.  And, I would urge upon us this initiative in prayer to God: “Oh, God, would that You who called me by Your own Name and the glory of Christ, would that You also preserve me for gospel ministry, would you graciously uphold the light of my eyes and the vigor necessary for the task that You have assigned for me.  As time does pass, I trust that You will help me to know You and see more of Your glory, and I ask that, if it be so, You would match that increase in sight of You with an increase in zeal and vigor and love for the work of the ministry which bears the Name of Christ Jesus.”

Moses was 120 years old when he died, yet his eye was undimmed and his vigor unabated.  May God be so gracious to us . . . for His own glory and Name’s sake.

Holy Oil or Earthly Ambition?

What is the motivation behind your study of the Bible pastor?  Seminarian? Christian?  John Owen, dubbed the Prince of Puritans, was known throughout his life for his genius, the immensity of his learning, and his intense passion for biblical study and theological writing.  One of his biographers, Andrew Thomson, comments on Owen’s struggle for purity in study, and his words are good for us to consider and take to heart:

Of Owen:

He was wont to confess with a far more profound sorrow, not unmixed with shame, that no holy oil at this time fed his midnight lamp.  Instead the great motive which had borne him up, during those days and nights of consuming toil, was an ambition to rise to distinction and power in the church.

Of course, by God’s steadfast love to Owen and to us (for we do reap greatly from his holy motivation), John Owen was converted and pricked of conscience, and this birth and prick did lend itself to a forsaking of all earthly ambition for the sake of Christ and the holiness that is pleasing to Him.  Owen burnt brightly of holy oil, and so did his zeal for study.  Let us follow his example, praying to God that nothing but holy oil would feed our midnight lamps, that is, that we would have no other aim in study but the personal and corporate practice of the holiness without which no one will see God.  Earthly ambition only tends to destroy both holiness and the soul’s joy in God, and thus is fit for none but the self-deceived, hypocritical, fearers of men, and the unbelieving.  Why strive for a high place on earth when we, by grace, may have the sight of God in heaven?  Let your fire in the midnight hours, then, be fueled by humble improvement in holiness.

How Will He Care for God’s Church?

The title is a quote from the apostle Paul, 1 Tim 3.5b.  The context of the quote concerns the qualifications for those men gifted by God and set apart by the church for the noble task of overseer (elder/pastor).  The most immediate context is that qualification that deals with the management of one’s own home.  “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”  Simply put, if he knows not how to manage his own household, he is not fit to care for God’s household whom He has so graciously adopted to Himself through Jesus Christ.

Much has been said and written concerning the professionalization of the ministry.  We have listened to many sermons, read John Piper’s book, and given an attentive presence to the echoes of well-meaning professors, and yet many still go comatose to a passage such as the stated above as soon as they receive a ministerial degree; as if their call to gospel ministry were through the seminary rather than the local church with whom the live and serve and worship.  Gospel ministry is no job in the sense that any other job in all the world is a job.  No degree qualifies any man for this stewardship.  God has divinely specified qualifications for the men that would aspire to shepherd His flock.

The greatest barometer for the pastoral ministry is God’s Word and the people among whom you live out the gospel.  Thus, the most pertinent and natural person(s) with whom an aspiring pastor has to do, God excepted, is his wife and children.  The issue is as simple and potentially difficult as this: ask your wife and children, “Do I pastor you well and with all dignity?”  I say simple because it is that simple.  And, I say potentially difficult because our pride might not like what we hear in response.  It is because your life is so constantly on display to them, both the grace of God and the failings of your flesh, the gold that He is refining and the black eyes of your mismanagement, that it is to them that we must preeminently attend to and shepherd with persistent humility, prayer, and a quick willingness to confess sin with pleadings for forgiveness.

The church may witness our doctored teaching, pristine preaching, earnest serving, and zealous leadership, but they will not observe our quick temper, or our irritability, or our stumbling into sin, or our functional gods in the same way or to the same degree that Jenny or Luke most certainly will mine.  Thus, God makes the godly management of the home prerequisite to the pious care of His church, because by dealing in reality with them, we are left naked, we are laid to bare before God and those most intimately aware of who we are in private and in public.  By their accountability the conscience is kept soft, the heart repentant, the aspiring shepherd holy where and when it matters most.  If a man will be holy in private with his family, he will be holy in public with God’s elect.

So this divine qualification prevents us from any pretense of self-deception, and it protects God’s family from careless shepherds who for the time being are not yet ripened enough on the Vine of Christ Jesus.  Let us not then take the noble office nonchalantly as if any man would suffice to lead Christ’s people to Him and to everlasting glory.  Let us be quick to God’s Word.  Let us take care to move at the pace of His requirements, applying them diligently and prayerfully, and coming to them time and again for a heavenly appraisal.  And, let us, brothers, beg of God to help us manage, care for and shepherd our wives and children with grace, dignity, faithfulness, and preeminence.  Then, by God’s mercy, we shall be qualified by Him to care for His church.

“Humility is the Key to Following Christ”

This is a sermon preached by Pastor Ryan Fullerton.  A challenge to comfort Christianity, and frankly, to me as I continually battle to do that which Christ called me (and us) to do most fundamentally, viz., “count the cost.”  Listen with an attentive heart as Pastor Ryan opens up the worthiness of Christ by the knobs of Paul’s Christ-constrained life and gospel ministry . . . to which he bids us “imitate.”

A Divine Work in Boston

Some of you may not know that I, along with my family, and two other brothers, along with their families, are planning to plant a church in Boston, MA, Lord willing, by the summer of 2012, with a launch date sometime in the summer of 2013.  My prayers of late, by God’s supernatural grace, have been directed afresh towards this work and towards the brothers and sisters who have preceded us in gospel labors, that they might enter into a season of great awakening.  Thus, the following article is of particular evidence to that end.  May God be glorified in Christ.  Go here.

Obligated and Eager, Rom 1.14-15

I will be taking a class on Paul’s epistle to the Romans in the Spring and thought that I would go ahead and work my way through his magisterial letter.  Yesterday, I came across Romans 1.14-15, and found myself awakened by what is written there.  It is simple, really, once one looks at the passage as applied not only to Paul and his apostolic office to the Gentiles but to all Christians, having come under the banner of Christ’s commission (cf. Mt 28.16-20).  Christians, if we would imitate Paul who imitated Christ, are obligated to preach the gospel to all people everywhere without distinction.  “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish” (1.14).  An impartial obligation is the yoke of the Christian who likewise finds themselves in one or the other of the categories of men which Paul describes.  The majority of us are the “foolish” – and we should only be so thankful to God that He has caused us to know as much.  But, I was struck by two things in this verse: the obligation, and the impartiality of the obligation.

Our culture is one that despises obligation, although we have many of them to own up to everyday.  Rarely is obligation equated with a joy that produces eagerness.  This obligation is of that rarer sort.  Upon this obligation Paul writes, “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (1.15).  Thus, the obligation is defined as preaching the gospel.  And, more than that, it is an obligation that is met with eagerness.  Are you eager to preach the gospel?  If not, perhaps you have failed today to understand the joyful obligation that you are under to do so.  Where the joy and weight of this obligation is not felt, the eagerness with which we ought to be preaching the gospel will seldom be our affection.  When it comes to gospel ministry, obligation, what we are constrained to do, and affection, what we are to feel, go hand in hand.  You will not have one without the other.

Concerning this obligation, we must see with the eyes of our hearts how impartial it must be.  Some of us think ourselves best equipped for one sort of man or another, either the Greek or the barbarian, either the wise man or the foolish, and so we spend our time evangelizing those people.  Good!  Let us not grow weary in evangelizing those that we have an affinity with.  However, Christians must be careful not to become partial in this obligation to preach the gospel.  The obligation, by its very nature, is universal in its practice.  What Jesus accomplished on the cross was a penal substitutionary death, an actual salvation from sin for all the peoples of the world who repent and trust in Him who died and was raised for them.  This was in fulfillment, at least in part, to numerous Old Testament passages that highlight the value of Him who was slain on the cross.  For example, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa 49.6).  The reason that Paul was obligated to preach the gospel to all men without exception was because His Lord and Savior was of such infinite value and worth to God; and insofar as we consider the ten thousand charms of Christ, so we too will feel the obligation to be impartial in our preaching of the gospel.  Rather than thinking, “they aren’t so much like me,” we shall begin to feel, “Jesus is worthy, yes, Jesus is worthy of my eager preaching of the gospel to every tribe, tongue, people and nation!”  Thus, when we observe the impartiality of Paul as he writes of his obligation, we observe Paul’s grasp on the infinite worthiness of Christ to be impartially proclaimed.

Let us then, brothers and sisters, be all the more impressed upon by our obligation to all peoples, that for the sake of Christ they should have Him proclaimed to them; and, as we are impressed by our obligation, let us grow in our affections for the task, for God loves an eager preacher.  We are obligated; let us be eager – for His glory amongst the nations.

Chrysostomos

Chrysostomos was the nickname given to John Chrysostom, preacher for twelve years at the Cathedral in Antioch and named bishop of Constantinople in 398 A.D.  “Chrysostomos” meant “golden-mouthed,” an affectionate play upon his name.  In Between Two Worlds, John Stott quotes Philip Schaff as saying that he “remains to this day a model for preachers in large citites” (21).  Stott identifies four aspects of his preaching that I wanted to set before you very simply —

First, he was biblical.

Second, his interpretation of the Scriptures was simple and straightforward.

Third, his moral applications were down to earth.

Fourth, he was fearless in his condemnations.

While I am sure that we might add to or nuance this list, preachers would be wise to consider these ingredients in a culture that largely disdains the very idea of preaching and a preaching culture that largely obliges this disdain.  May God grant more men that we might nickname “Chrysostomos.”

“The Human Future is an Urban Future . . . Will the Church Also Hear?”

Intriguing post by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, entitled “Mission and Metropolis: The Church and the City.” An excerpt:

The human future is an urban future. In one of the greatest social shifts of all human history, over half of all living humans now inhabit cities. Driven by population shifts, immigration, and human reproduction, massive new cities are springing up all over the globe. Will the church rise to this challenge? The answer to that question will largely determine the future of Christian missions.”

The Primary Ministry for Pastors

“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed” Proverbs 15:22.  A few of my friends and I took a recent trip northward to the greater Boston area, praying to God for wisdom, discernment, pristine clarity, and the faith necessary to plant a church.  During our stay there, we met with several brothers who helped us in immense ways.  Their counsel was rich, touching upon every possible thing that we might have asked and more.  In hindsight, they varied from one another on certain things ranging from general topics to specific advice over when, where and how.  However, the longer we stayed, the more meetings we had, the more counsel we received from this multitude of advisors, one main gem of wisdom broke through the cloud of words like a beam of sunlight on an overcast day. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church.”

Every advisor, no matter his area of expertise, no matter his knowledge base, told us that the most important consideration in church planting and Gospel ministry is the joy of our wives.  I was exceedingly glad and challenged by this counsel.  I’d like to offer it to you also, Christian.  I say “Christian”, for while the joy of our wives in Jesus is paramount for the pastor, so it is no less for any married male disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Nevertheless, allow me to take my sniper scope and hone in on my brothers who intend to shepherd the flock of God.

If you are anything like me, you have high hopes and grand plans and majestic visions for Gospel ministry.  Hopefully, you, as well as I, are concurrently wrestling over the fact that faithfulness in ministry in fundamental, and that you, being weak, can accomplish nothing of what you have set your heart upon apart from Christ and the church producing, equipping, building, and mobilizing power of the Holy Spirit.  I am sure that God has given you talents and spiritual gifts to work out the Great Commission and to lead His people to a grander vision of Him.  Perhaps He has given to you the brains of John Owen, the impact of Augustine, the ability to touch men’s hearts like John Bunyan, the meditations of Jonathan Edwards, the faith of George Muller, the voice of George Whitefield, and the piety of John Calvin or John Wesley.  Let me say, if you are not ministering to your wife, if you are not serving her, washing her with the pure water of the Word of God, if you are not fighting for the fullness of her joy in Jesus, if you are not laboring to see her love for God increased, if you are not partnering with her in the Gospel so that she comes to treasure Christ and prize Gospel ministry to others, then it does not matter one lick how much time or what hopes, visions, plans, talents, or spiritual gifts you may have, you are failing in ministry, you are failing in the most fundamental pastorate of your life – the call to love your wife and manage your household well.  Apart from these, how can you love and manage the household of God?  Wife and home are the most natural microcosms of the church.

A few days ago, I sat down with a good man, a man with great intentions for Christ.  In speaking of the difficulties of church planting, he commented that he labored some 85 hours every week.  The most immediate question that popped into my mind was, “How then can you be loving your wife and children?”  You see, he had embraced the illusion that more time spent ministering to the church equaled a greater ecclesial profitability.  I would encourage him to ask his wife!  His plant is dying and he doesn’t recognize it.  Why should I say that?  Because family is not primary.  The primary ministry for pastors is their own family.  If their wife and children are being neglected, so God has established that the church will have a dysfunctional shepherd, and a dysfunctional shepherd can only lead the flock astray.

Brothers, let us be warned.  Humbly, I submit to you even as it was to us, “Husbands love your wives . . . and manage your households well.”

“Why New England is the New American Missional Frontier”

By Jared Wilson, pastor in Middletown Springs, VT.  Interesting.  Go here.