Pastoral Faithfulness

Death happens. It happens as a result of the normal aging process. It happens when disease invades the body. And it happens when tragedy strikes. No matter the circumstance, all cause great suffering for those left behind. But it’s hard to imagine any death that challenges our faith, and quite frankly makes us question God’s goodness more than a death that results from especially tragic circumstances. When we suffer, how is it possible to still find satisfaction in God? In an article entitled, Preparing People to Suffer: What Expectations Do Our Sermons Create? John Piper addresses from a pastor’s perspective that very question, not only in the case of suffering due to tragic circumstances but suffering due to any circumstance at all.

            “Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” In this section of Psalm 90, Moses appealed to God to pour out His grace so that people would find satisfaction in Him above everything else. This would enable them to rejoice all their days. Piper suggests that in times of personal suffering, the wise pastor cries the very cry of this passage and then preaches its truth to those he shepherds. This doesn’t mean that the hurt doesn’t hurt. Nor does it mean that tragedy will not bring about questions. But thankfully, through the hurt and the questions, by God’s grace and the Spirit’s help, we can accept the truths taught in Scripture. Thankfully, we have a God who sees where we can’t, whose purposes are perfect, and though it may appear otherwise, who is always working for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28).

Pastors have an awesome responsibility to preach the whole truth of God, including the reality of suffering. It may not be easy to preach, and it may not be what people most want to hear, but it has got to be done. Piper says by teaching the reality of suffering and God’s sovereign goodness in and through it, when tragedy strikes, it leaves you needing only to embrace those in the midst of their pain.

I’m thankful for my pastor for his faithfulness in not dodging the difficult truth of sufferings reality. Even in their pain, I’m sure many in our congregation have been blessed because he didn’t. However, teaching it is not only a pastor’s responsibility. It is the responsibility of all who minister in any manner. So be grateful for your pastor for preaching it and anyone else who teaches it. Because when they do, it not only better prepares you to deal with suffering in your own life, but also minister to others in theirs.

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As Christ Loved the Church

 

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25)

Today, Karen and I celebrate 26 years of marriage. I first met Karen in high school. She was a junior and I was a senior. We dated for a few months before going our separate ways. Who would’ve known that 10 years later we would be married? I can say with certainty that at the point in which we were married, both personally and in marriage, I had a different set of priorities than I do now. It’s not that those priorities were necessarily bad. They just weren’t the best because they weren’t centered on a relationship with Christ. In fact, I didn’t have a saving relationship with Christ and for a long time my priorities remained elsewhere. It is impossible for a man to lead his family in the way God would have him when his life is not centered on Jesus Christ. Thankfully, in God’s perfect timing and only by His grace, our marriage has a different center. My prayer is that it will always remain that way.

            There’s no human covenant more important than the covenant of marriage. It is also a covenant in need of an extra measure of God’s grace. Outside of grace that comes in salvation, I don’t know where it’s needed more. This is the case for a couple of reasons: First, marriage is constantly under Satan’s attack because of what it pictures. The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:32 that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Secondly, marriage is made more difficult due to the closeness of the relationship. Is there anyone more uniquely qualified to point out your faults than your spouse? I doubt it! No matter where any of us may be in our walk with Christ, marriage is tough. It’s tough because it involves two imperfect people prone to sin. Too often, we take God’s Word and remind others what they should be doing while at the same time ignoring what God may be trying to say to us. I believe this tendency is even greater when it comes to our spouses. For husbands, God’s command is clear. Our wives needs, as He defines them are to be our goal. We are to love her sacrificially, just as Christ loved the church. This command is not conditional on her response.

            I know it’s impossible to love Karen, my bride, as Christ loves His. But that doesn’t lessen His desire or expectation that I do so. Therefore, it shouldn’t lessen mine. This means I’m left to rely on God’s strength instead of my own, because in my own I will fail. I have failed. For any marriage to be as God designed it to be requires that our relationship with Him be the one we treasure most. A relationship with Christ has the power to change all other relationships.

            I thank God for His grace for my past failures in loving Karen as He would have me love her. I’m sure I’ll need more grace along the way. I thank God for Karen. The years have gone fast. Like all marriages, ours has been far from perfect, but I am so thankful she’s my wife. After 26 years, she’s more beautiful than ever. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for our future. Happy anniversary sweetie! I love you!

Old to New

“…seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10)

Paul’s letters always contained both theological and practical components to them. After correcting their misplaced theology about Christ, Paul dealt in a very practical manner with those in the church at Colossae. For some, the practices of their lives before they were saved were still present. Paul challenged them to bring these practices in line with their new identity in Christ.

As we prepare for the New Year and look forward to what lies ahead, I guess it’s only natural to think back on the one that’s ending. Doing so may bring joy, perhaps sadness, or maybe a little bit of both. I imagine it also comes with a certain amount of regret. There are always things we wish we had done and said that we didn’t, and things we did and said that we wish we hadn’t. The truth is, we are all sinners and from year to year, sin will be a constant companion. But in His grace and mercy, through Jesus, God has dealt with our sin.

The Christian life is a process, not a process in the sense that we are progressively being saved over time. We are saved the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ. The Christian life is a process in the sense that over time, we become more and more like Christ. This is known as progressive sanctification.

In this life we will always be less than perfect, but we have a Savior who is perfect. And although our conformity to the image of Christ will not end until we go to be with the Lord, our guilt does. This doesn’t mean we are to make light of sin. Paul didn’t in writing to the Colossians or anyone else. All sin matters to God. He is a holy God and He calls us to be holy as well (1 Peter 1:15). But often is the case that instead of letting our failures of the past instruct us moving forward, we end up consumed with guilt. This is not God’s intention as it denies the perfect sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Though we live the consequences of our sin, its penalty was paid in full at the cross.

So, when you look to this upcoming year, look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Thank Him for His forgiveness. Thank Him for His faithfulness. Thank Him for His grace. Thank Him for His mercy. Embrace everything He has for your life. Know that He is more interested in your present and future than He is your past. But most of all, remember, there is no one who loves you like He loves you.

That Song Will Preach

“but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)

One of the things I’ve always loved about Dan, our music minister at Hunter Street Baptist Church, is that as he prepares us to lead worship on Sunday mornings, I sense he’s more interested in our internalizing the truth of a song we’re singing than he is about how well we sing it. That’s not to say he’s not interested in us leading well and sounding good because he is. In fact, he’s taught us that how we prepare and lead brings glory to God. Sometimes at choir practice, Dan will take the lyrics of a song we’re working on and exposit its meaning and application for our lives. I love when he does that. At other times, perhaps pondering the lyrics of a song himself, you might hear him say, “Now that song will preach”. On this particular night he did the latter. Not that every song doesn’t or shouldn’t “preach”, but on this night and with this song it was especially so.

We had begun working on a song called And Can It Be. Though the song’s lyrics touch on many doctrines found in Scripture, more broadly, it’s about Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin that guarantees the eternal security of the believer. In his book Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem defines the atonement as the work Christ did in His life and death to earn our salvation. Scripture points to two causes for the atonement: God’s love (John 3:16) and God’s justice (Romans 3:25). That God would sacrifice His Son for our sin, and that Christ would willingly be that sacrifice is an amazing truth. Grudem expresses well its application for believers, writing, “The New Testament emphasis on the completion and the finality of Christ’s sacrifice of himself for us assures us that there is no penalty for sin left for us to pay. The penalty has entirely been paid by Christ, and we should have no remaining fear of condemnation or punishment”.

I’m thankful for the emphasis Hunter Street puts on having a correct theology and for the many opportunities we as members have to grow in our knowledge of God and the doctrines found in Scripture. One of those ways has been to study through books such as Systematic Theology. Granted this book is deep and covers a lot of topics that’ll make your head spin, but God uses studies like these to help us grow in our faith. He used it to help me grow in mine. I still remember studying through this book with a group of men. I especially remember the night we studied through the chapter on the atonement and the impact it had on me. I don’t know about you, but there’s a lot in my past, and my present as well that makes me cringe. It’s easy to get trapped by our sin, believing that God can’t or won’t forgive us. Understanding the implications of the atonement helped to free me from that trap. God’s grace truly is greater than our sin. Knowing that Jesus hung on the cross as my substitute, that He willingly paid the penalty for my sin, that He bore the wrath of the Father, that His blood purchased my freedom, and that I will spend eternity with Him, blows my mind. If you’ve trusted in Christ, He’s done that for you as well. Praise God!

Correct theology helps us to live a life that brings glory to God, glory that He alone deserves. Let me encourage you to find a church that is committed to the truth of Scripture. I’m sure thankful for my church’s unwavering commitment to biblical truth. And I’m thankful for a music minister who also teaches and helps reinforce that truth in songs such as And Can It Be. What a great song. You should listen to it sometime, because let me just tell you, “That song will preach”.

When You’re Down, Look Up-Our God Is Faithful

“…for I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12)

How are we to “count it all joy” (James 1:2) when we’re going through trials, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) even when those circumstances are bad, and how are we to believe that just because we love God “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28)? I believe those are pretty good questions, but I also believe God has even better answers.

It is in the context of some sort of suffering that each of the passages above exist. Suffering is always a potential barrier to worship and to living out one’s faith. Ultimately, as Christians, we manage through these times by drawing strength from the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The reality of our lives lived in the flesh makes it easy see all that happens, whether good or bad, from only a human perspective. God’s perspective must be our goal. It’s easy to thank God for the good times just to turn around and blame Him for the bad times. Our perspective must be centered on His promises. God never promised difficult times wouldn’t come, but He absolutely promised to be with us when they do. We must trust and seek to know Him more each day.

In his devotion Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon likens the knowledge of Christ to climbing a mountain. He says at its base, because we can see only a little bit, the mountain appears to be only half as high as it really is. However, as we move up the mountain, we are able see more and more. Spurgeon concludes by talking about how at the end of his life, the Apostle Paul was able to say, “for I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12) and that “each experience had been like climbing a hill, each trial had been like ascending another summit, and his death seemed like gaining the top of the mountain from which he could see the whole panorama of the faithfulness and love of Him to whom he had committed his soul”.

We live in a fallen world and our view is sometimes cloudy. This makes it easy for the circumstances of life to bring us down. But when they do, look up and keep climbing, because our God is faithful.

Relevant All the Way Through

“For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your head” (Obadiah 15) 

One of the things I love about a study bible is that it helps me understand the context of the book I’m reading. I really needed it this morning as my daily reading took me to Obadiah. Let’s face it, some books of the Bible are easier to understand than others, and quite frankly, easier to find. Obadiah is only twenty-one verses long and if you weren’t specifically looking for it, you might pass right by it. However, whether it’s a long book or a short book, often read and studied or not, Old Testament or New, all of Scripture is God’s Word and therefore profitable to us. And as I studied Obadiah this morning, I realized how relevant a message it has for Christians today.

The primary themes of Obadiah are God’s just judgment against His enemies and His faithfulness and mercy towards His people. The exact date of Obadiah’s prophesy is difficult to determine, but it concerns imminent judgment on Edom, Israel’s longtime enemy, for their part in a military assault on Jerusalem. Obadiah’s reference to “the day of the LORD” is of the day when God will bring judgment to His enemies and blessing and salvation to His people.

Sometimes we shy away from certain parts of Scripture because of a lack of familiarity or a perception that they’re not relevant for today. This is where a study bible can be useful in helping our understanding. Through Obadiah, God pronounced judgment on Edom for the evil they perpetrated against Israel, but at the same time reassured Israel of His faithfulness in spite of their circumstances. God is always faithful to His people. In times when it may appear that evil has an upper hand and living out our faith in Christ is difficult, we must remember, God is sovereign and His justice will reign. My study bible expresses it this way, “It is the righteous purpose of God, not the evil of men that determines history”. Though our faith may sometimes be weak, our God is not. He is always at work for us and we can trust Him in all things and under all circumstances.

Do Not Be Moved

“[Let no one] be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this” (1 Thessalonians 3:3)

In his book Desiring God, John Piper uses an analogy of a camera to help explain the idea in which God sees our suffering. He says that on one hand, God uses a narrow lens in which He looks and grieves with us as we undergo suffering. This is often the only lens you and I see through. But according to Piper, God also uses another lens, a wide-angle lens in which He sees beyond the immediate situation. This is the lens that sees what has occurred before and what will result from this moment, ultimately working for our good and God’s glory. This “good” may be realized in our lives as God works out the circumstances, or it may only be realized in death.

Paul knew about suffering. It was a topic he wrote about in almost all of his letters. He knew its purpose and the importance of teaching that purpose to others. He also demonstrated the proper response to it. Through his suffering, Paul knew his strength came from the Lord. Jesus was Paul’s reason for living. To see Him magnified was his passion. But Paul also knew that to die was gain (Philippians 1:21). As he wrote his final words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he was comforted knowing he had fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith. He also knew what awaited him—a crown of righteousness. That was worth everything Paul had endured in his life and it will be worth everything suffering may cost you in your life as well.

So how do we respond in times of suffering? We trust God. He is sovereign. We allow His Word and His Spirit to penetrate our shaken and shattered lives. We live each day in view of eternity knowing that no amount of suffering can compare to glory (Romans 8:18). And we trust that His grace is sufficient to see us through (2 Corinthians 12:9).