Loving the Flock as a Shepherd/Teacher

This week I received some admonishment from a minister concerning how a pastor should love his flock. I was told it is more important to love the flock than it is to give them long sermons.  By “loving the flock” he meant that consists of going to the hospital and being in homes. I’ve been thinking about this admonishment for the past few days since I received it.

I absolutely agree it is an act of love and super critical for a pastor to spend time with his sheep. I’ve found that in ministry this is a big part of being a pastor, and this ministry often extends to folks that are beyond your flock to family members and friends. I’ll also be the first to admit that as a young pastor I still have a lot to learn about visiting my church members in their homes and in hospital beds. I fall short in this area and so I take the admonishment seriously. I’m not sure I’ll ever spend as much time as I’d like and perhaps as I need to spend among my folks at church. (PSA: They’re a fantastic group of people to pastor and spend time with.)

Being in the hospitals, nursing homes, and homes is part of being a pastor. I’m not sure how a man call can himself a pastor without spending time with his sheep. The very word for pastor in the New Testament is the word for shepherd. You cannot be a shepherd without spending significant time with sheep. It means spending time with them when they’re born, when they’re sick, when they’re feeding, and when dying. Being a pastor means being a shepherd. As important as it is to be a shepherd, it isn’t mutually exclusive from being a preacher.

I take my admonishment to love my people and my community by spending time with them, but I reject the idea that our churches don’t need pastors who can preach “long sermons.” I think the Apostle Paul would reject it also. When Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-12 about the people and ministry that Christ has given to the church he says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” Paul says God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, then he lists another office: pastors and teachers. He links the two together because as far as the New Testament is concerned the role of a pastor/elder is always that of a pastor/teacher. Christ has given the church pastors and teachers. Pastor, our role is to be a shepherd and a teacher, not one or the other.

It is absolutely essential that pastors shepherd and teach because souls are in danger, Paul continues:

to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:12-16 ESV

I think what our churches need are pastors who will spend time with them and spend time in their study. We need pastors who spend time with their nose in their Bibles and their books and pastors who spend time in hospital waiting room chairs and 1970’s green couches. It isn’t mutually exclusive that pastors need to be “visiting pastors” or “preaching pastors,” God calls us to be both and if we neglect one or the other we will not love our flocks well. May God give us grace to shepherd well in the home, in the study, in the prayer closet, and in the pulpit.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. – 1 Peter 5:1-4 ESV

 

 

Pray for Someone

This morning at Oak Grove, I preached a “Mother’s Day sermon” on 2 Timothy 1:5;3:14-15. You can listen to it here if you’d like.

To set up the context of verse 5, we looked at the surrounding context as Paul begins his letter to Timothy. In verse 3 he writes,

“I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.”

I shared with my folks at church this morning that we should pray for one another. Paul at the end of his life not knowing if he’d ever see Timothy again tells him, I’m praying for you. I think we’d do well to tell our brothers and sisters that we love them, that we thank God for them, and that we’re praying for them (really actually praying for them). I’m not inclined to think we should dismiss thoughts of people when they come to our mind. I think those seemingly random moments when a particular person comes to mind is a great opportunity to pray for that person. The simple act of praying and shooting that person a text can be a difference maker in someone’s day. It glorifies God, reminds us of our dependence on him, and can be a huge encouragement to someone else.

There’s nothing incredibly profound or insightful here, just what I think to be a helpful reminder to pray for people and let them know you’re praying.

Teaching Children – A Gospel Cordial from Charles Spurgeon

The Holy Scripture may be learned by children as soon as they are capable of understanding anything. It is a very remarkable fact, which I have heard asserted by many teachers, that children will learn to read out of the Bible better than from any other book. I scarcely know why; it may, perhaps, be on account of the simplicity of the language, but I believe it is so. A biblical fact will often be grasped when an incident of common history is forgotten. There is an adaptation in the Bible for human beings of all ages, and therefore it has a fitness for children. We make a mistake when we think that we must begin with something else and lead up to the Scriptures. Parts of the Bible are above a child’s mind, for they are above the comprehension of the most advanced among us. There are depths in it in which leviathan may swim, but there are also brooks in which a lamb may wade. Wise teachers know how to lead their little ones into the green pastures beside the still waters. – Charles Spurgeon

Spurgeon Commentary: 2 Timothy, ed. Elliot Ritzema, Spurgeon Commentary Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), 219.

Acting Like a Theological Toddler – Using Ad Hominems

I said something in a sermon the other week I’m not sure I should have said, “poopy pants.” It is silly to say such a thing from the pulpit. As silly as it is, I was using it as an illustration of an ad hominem you might expect to hear from a toddler.

An ad hominem can be defined as follows:

1. appealing to one’s prejudices, emotions, or special interests rather than to one’s intellect or reason.

2. attacking an opponent’s character rather than answering his argument.
Toddlers and small children aren’t always the most reasonable little people, they don’t know how to argue and so when they don’t like someone or something the resort often times to name calling. As toddlers grow, they eventually become adults and often times they don’t stop the name calling.

I used this in my sermon because of what the Pharisees were doing to Jesus in John 8. Jesus had discussion with the Pharisees about who He was and who His Father was, they laid claims to Abraham as their Father and Jesus appeals to Abraham welcoming the day of Jesus, they didn’t have a theological leg to stand on when debating with Jesus. So, what did they do? Did they appeal to the Torah? Did the appeal to the prophets? No, they called Jesus names:

 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ – John 8:48-52

The Pharisees called Jesus a Samaritan and said He was demon possessed. They tried to insult Him by calling Him a Samaritan, and they tried to discredit Him by saying He was demon possessed.
I really began to think about this even more as I made my way through John 9 this past Sunday. The Pharisees have an interrogation of the man who was born blind that Jesus healed. They want him to answer who he thinks that Jesus is, and all the man can do is point to the works that Jesus had done. He can’t tell you if Jesus is a sinner or not, all he knows is that he was blind and now he sees and that only someone from God could do such a thing. This clearly isn’t the answer that the Pharisees are looking for from the man who had been healed, so how do they respond? Do they appeal to the Torah? No, they begin with the ad hominem attacks again.

And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. – John 9:28  ESV

They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. – John 9:34 ESV
They can’t prove Jesus to be a sinner, they can’t disprove the man having been born blind. So, they respond by attacking his character. They revile the man and say that he was born in sin.
As I preached through this text a couple weeks ago one of my points of application was to know what you believe and to know why you believe it. We need to be able to articulate what we believe when discuss theological issues. If we find ourselves unsure, we just need to go back to the Scriptures again and evaluate. We need to ask ourselves, “is this what the Bible teaches? Is that what this passage is really saying?” None of us have arrived to a full understanding of the faith delivered once for all to the saints, we can be wrong. However, far too often what I see when people get into theological discussions, rather than dealing honestly with the text of the Bible when they get to a place of disagreement they call the other person, camp, group a name. Calling someone a theological moron isn’t going to win any debate, and more importantly it isn’t going to win any hearts. We far too often get into theological mudslinging rather than honest discussion of the text or the issue at hand. It is okay to have disagreements and to have discussions. In fact, I think we should have discussion on points of theology and practice. But as we do so, let’s do so in a way that is charitable and honoring to Jesus and honoring to those we disagree with.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. – 2 Timothy 2:24-26 ESV

Don’t Skip the Text: A Word on Commentaries and Sermon Preparation

I’m a preacher and in a very real sense being a preacher is a vocation and most vocations have tools. One of the most important tools that a preacher has are his books, in particular his commentaries. I own a lot of books and the majority of my books are Bible commentaries. I love them, I cannot seem to get enough of them. I love them because they are books about the Bible. I’ve made it a habit in my nearly 5 years in pastoral ministry to preach through books of the Bible expositionally.

That being said, I have lots of books on the books that I’ve preached through or I’m currently preaching through. Week after week I’ll pick up commentary after commentary on the book I’m currently preaching through. If it is reading through Logos on my Kindle or a good old fashioned printed book I’ll pick up at least half a dozen commentaries on any given week for my Sunday morning sermon. Every time I prepare I am faced with a temptation. That temptation is to jump into the text of the commentary and skip over the text of the Bible it is commentating on. I almost always have my Bible with me when I’m doing this exercise, it has its own tab on Logos or the Bible I preach from will be laid open on the front porch swing, desk, or kitchen table wherever I’m doing my sermon prep. It’s certainly sufficient in and of itself. I’ve read my passage several times through before I even begin to read Bible commentaries, so it seems natural and okay to skip over the presentation of the text in the commentaries, but don’t do it!

Anytime you have the opportunity to read over the text again as you prepare to peach it is a good thing. I’ve made connections by reading through the passage I’m preaching in a commentary that I’m not sure I would have made otherwise. When you read the Bible in a commentary you are using you have the opportunity to do several things. You will often get a different translation that you preach from. I preach from the ESV but the commentaries I read regularly expose me to the NASB, KJV, NIV, an authors own translation, and of course others that aren’t quite so common. I find exposure to those other translations is often helpful. You also get to see the Bible in a different format. This might sound silly, but sometimes just seeing the Bible laid out differently allows you to see things in the text you might miss where there is a page or paragraph break. And again, you get exposure to the text again. If the point of expository preaching is to proclaim the point of the passage, the more exposure the better. I do not know of anyone who really can say they have read their Bible too often. Read the text and read it often!

What is Wisdom?

I’ve begun this journey working through the “wisdom books” of the Bible this year and I think one thing that needs to be answered right from the beginning is the question of, “what is wisdom?”

The book begins with a call to wisdom:

To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
– Proverbs 1:2-6

Wisdom is clearly important to the writer of Proverbs and it is stressed that it should be important to the readers. Longman writes, “Wisdom is a rich concept and is not easily summarized.” He’s absolutely right, as you read across the book of Proverbs wisdom is personified, it is attributed to many different kinds of people as well as animals, wisdom seems to extend to as many subjects as one can find. One’s first implication might be that wisdom is intelligence, but mere intelligence doesn’t always merit wisdom. For the author of Proverbs, wisdom is knowledge applied and knowledge lived. One doesn’t need lots of intelligence to be wise. If it is the ant planning for winter, or the young man staying away from the promiscuous women, to be wise one needs to apply what one knows to make right decisions and right actions. Again, I find Longman helpful in defining wisdom:

…we will begin with the basic idea that wisdom is the skill of living. It is a practical knowledge that helps one know how to act and how to speak in different situations. Wisdom entails the ability to avoid problems, and the skill to handle them when they present themselves. Wisdom also includes the ability to interpret other people’s speech and writing in order to react correctly to what they are saying to us.

If Longman has a right understand of what the author of Proverbs is trying to teach his readers, we’d be wise to heed the wisdom of Proverbs (and Ecclesiastes and Job). Wisdom is for living, and I’m thankful God has revealed wisdom through the word written and the Word incarnate. In days to come I hope to expound a bit on some of the types of wisdom that are revealed in Proverbs.

Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom; get insight;
do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. – Proverbs 4:2-7

 

Wisdom For Living – Reading Proverbs

As I’ve begun this journey through reading the wisdom books I decided to take advantage of a book that was part of the Logos Free Book of the Month program. The book is “How To Read Proverbs” by Tremper Longman. I’m not very far into the book but I thought some words from the introduction were worth sharing. I believe it was Johnny Hunt who called the Epistle of James “Shoe leather Christianity,” and if that is true of James in the New Testament it is certainly true of Proverbs in the Old Testament. Proverbs is an incredibly practical and “straight shooting” book of the Bible. It is a book full of wisdom that is to be practiced for living.

Longman begins his work on Proverbs:

Life isn’t easy. We may enjoy temporary rest from the battle, but no one is completely immune to the complexities of circumstances and relationships. These problems range from minor annoyances such as getting called to jury duty at an inconvenient moment, to major disasters such as a serious illness or a significant rupture in an intimate relationship. Sometimes we wake up in the morning and see the day as a series of obstacles to be avoided. We would love to be able to navigate life in a way that minimized the problems.

The Bible never suggests that the life of a follower of God will be devoid of problems. If anything, it says exactly the opposite. Life has its joys, but, according to 2 Corinthians 1:5 (“You can be sure that the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ”), even the joys are in the context of suffering. Unalloyed joy will come only in heaven. On this earth, we will have problems.

How do we handle life’s problems? How do we deal with difficult people or uncomfortable situations? What do we say and how do we act? How do we express our emotions? The Bible has a word to describe the person who navigates life well; that word is “wise.” A wise person lives life with boldness in spite of the inevitable difficulties.

We need wisdom in this life to handle its various situations. I’m thankful that the Lord has graciously given us these books we call “wisdom books.” Our God is a gracious God who hasn’t left us in the dark on matters of life now or eternal. If we lack wisdom, let us read and let us ask.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. – James 1:5-8 ESV

A Year of Wisdom – 2017 in the Wisdom Books

At the start of the new year many folks plan and make resolutions. For many Christians the new year is a time to start over with their Bible reading. For some it becomes and honest effort to actually read through the Bible when they stopped the year before. For others they’ll read through the pages of scripture in their entirety for another time. I’ve always encouraged Bible reading through the Bible. In the past I’ve read through the Bible cover to cover and it is certainly a very worthy endeavor. However, I always feel rushed when I attempt to do a reading plan. It’s difficult to not want to slow down and stick with a book or particular passage. This year I’ve seen several folks talk about how they intend to spend some specific time studying particular books rather than trying to read through the entire Bible in the year with a reading plan. I’ve decided to spend sometime in the wisdom books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. These are all books that I’ve read before, but I’ve not spent much time studying.

Their worth in study is reflected in the opening words of Proverbs:

To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
the words of the wise and their riddles.

– Proverbs 1:2-6 ESV

There’s great wisdom to be found in the pages of all of Scripture and ultimately the wisdom of God is found in Christ Jesus as the Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 ESV

As such I believe in many ways that Proverbs isn’t just a collection of ancient Jewish sayings that might find their way into fortune cookies, rather it is a book about Christ. As are the books of Ecclesiastes and the book of Job. These books are books that deal with seemingly every area of life. They speak of joy and sorrow, life and death, pain and pleasure. I begin my journey in Proverbs and intend (Lord willing) to blog a bit in my journey through these books. I pray I’m a little wiser at the end and able to share a little bit of the wisdom found with all of you. Soli Deo Gloria.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7 ESV

P.S. I’ll also be sharing on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #AYearOfWisdom if you care to join in on social media.

Be Patient Until the Lord Comes: Pondering Charlotte

The world we live in is chaotic. The world is broken. The world is fallen. It isn’t just humanity that is broken and fallen, the Apostle Paul tells us that all of creation is groaning as it awaits for the return of the Lord Jesus (Romans 8:20-22). As an American and a North Carolinian this week has show how broken and fallen our world is. The city of Charlotte has been in turmoil this week. I’m not going to get political. I’m not going to put myself in the role of judge, jury, defense, or prosecutor in this post. I, however, am never hesitant to get theological. Men and women created in the image of God have lost their lives and have been harmed for reasons considered just and unjust. I’m not sure what the right response to all of the events that have taken place should be. I know many have made knee jerk reactions in the media and individuals on social media. There is one thing that I do know that I can do and that is to place my hope and trust in the Lord.

I was reading the book of James this morning and began thinking about the implications of James 5 on the current situation. James was writing to Christians who were enduring suffering and persecution, and I readily accept and realize that what is going on in Charlotte does not directly have an impact on me. I’ve not lost any loved ones or members of my community to the violence taking place. However, my heart groans to see the conflict in my country, especially when it hits so close to home. James wrote to these suffering believers:

 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.-  James 5:7–11 ESV

He tells them to be patient as they wait for the coming of the Lord Jesus. There is much work to be done in seeking reconciliation, peace, and justice with the seemingly constant shootings and responses in our country. I hope and pray by God’s grace we can begin to see some of that in our nation, but ultimately I know there will always be conflict because men are always going to be fallen. So, while I can share unhelpful memes on Facebook and make my pronouncements about what has happened or not happened, I think it would be of much more benefit to be a person of prayer, a pursuer of one trying to live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18), and to be a person of patience waiting on the one who can bring peace. I have confidence that he can bring peace even now in the midst of chaos and hopelessness and I long with confidence that there is coming a day when he will bring peace eternal. He is our hope and he is our peace. May Charlotte, Tulsa, and the rest of our nation find their hope and peace in him, his name is Jesus and he is coming again.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. –  Revelation 21:1–7 ESV

A Full Head and a Full Heart – A Gospel Cordial from Don Whitney

I maintain that a biblically balanced Christian has both a full head and a full heart, radiating both spiritual light and heat.

If absolutely forced to have only on or the other, we must choose the burning heart. If we have the truth in our head but our hearts are not right with God, an awareness of truth will only magnify our guilt before Him at the judgement. But if we have properly responded to the gospel from the heart, in the end we shall be saved even though the rest of our doctrinal understanding is shallow or muddy. Not only would I choose that option for myself, but I would prefer that for those I pastor as well. It’s much harder to get a ship out of the harbor than to correct one on the sea that has drifted off course.

But let us be both out of the harbor and on course. Christians must realize that just as a fire cannot blaze without fuel, so burning hearts are not kindled by brainless heads. We must not be content to have zeal without knowledge.

Does this mean we must be brilliant to be Christians? Absolutely not. But it does mean that to be like Jesus we must be like learners even as He was at only age twelve, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Does this mean we must have several diplomas handing on the wall to be first-rate-Christians? It certainly does not. But it does mean that we should discipline ourselves to be intentional learners like Jesus, of whom it was marveled, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?”

 

– from Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life