Saturday, August 29, 2009

Getting Old to the Glory of God

This should be an extremely helpful video to the many in my congregation who are struggling with the physical effects of aging. Sometimes those between the ages of 16 and 35 forget that they are aging as well. No one stays young forever. God intended it that way so what can we learn from aging? How can we magnify the glory of God through aging? These are important questions because our culture values very superficial and artificial ideas about human value, beauty, and strength.

Learning Curve

It's been nearly eighteen months since I became the pastor at Memorial Baptist Church and wow have I learned a lot. The purpose of seminary was to train me in the Bible which I'm thankful for but there are some practical lessons about leading and working with people that can only be learned on the job. There are great books and conferences out there that will help but ultimately you just have to jump in, trust in God's grace, and walk according to the Word. Thankfully I have a church with many patient and gracious people. They have encouraged me along the way and been patient when I've made mistakes. There have been days I'd never want to re-live but I sure am glad I lived them (and lived through them).

The biggest lessons learned are first and foremost humility. That's a lesson you never stop learning. The second big lesson learned (which I've still got a long way to go on) is discernment in shepherding. Sometimes you have to prod the sheep forward and sometimes you have to nurture them along more slowly. Learning when to push and when to pause requires a lot of prayer and a lot of sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. I was greatly affirmed recently with an article by a former professor and mentor Jim Hamilton who now teaches at Southern Seminary and pastors in Louisville. This is a worthy read for any pastor needing encouragement and any church who is being led by a new pastor.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Missions: Make your Choice

Here is a very moving video that highlights the need around the world for the gospel. 'Missions' is not merely social work. It is not just personal, neighbor-to-neighbor evangelism. It is bringing the gospel to a people who are outside your immediate cultural sphere. Please pray for our missionaries on the ground now. Ask the Lord to reveal how you can support this gospel mission. Would you be willing to give up cable TV, satellite radio, a couple rounds of golf, or a monthly dinner at a restaurant to provide for a global and eternal need? At the end of the video there is a quote which presents three options to us regarding missions- you can go, you can send, or you can disobey. Which option have you chosen? Make your choice.

Monday, August 17, 2009

10 things that really make me smile this week...

1. My wife gets some much needed rest at the beach with her mom, aunts, and sister (us guys are joining them later in the week which is good because I don’t like being at home without my B).

2. We had a great time hosting three other young couples at our home Sunday night. I’m praying for each of these couples that God would strengthen their homes and use them as leaders in our congregation.

3. I get to meet with one of those young couples this Sunday night because they are getting married in a few weeks and I have the joy of doing some pre-marital counseling.

4. I’m getting with other men in the church (and guests) at Buffalo Wild Wings this Thursday night for the first guys-only get together. “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

5. The Lord has introduced me to another young man in the community that is not a believer but is open to talking more about the faith.

6. Football season is right around the corner. What everything has to be ministry-related? My Astros are spiraling and I relish getting to unwind on the couch every Sunday afternoon watching my Texans spiral too.

7. Blair and I watched the movie Bella yesterday afternoon which had a great pro-life and pro-adoption message (two things I’m really passionate about). I’m still thinking about that movie today and highly recommend it!

8. This Sunday’s sermon texts- Matthew 16:13-28 and Nehemiah 2 are amazing. I am having so much fun getting to exegete these texts and it will be even more exciting to teach them!

9. I’m having breakfast tomorrow with the senior adults of Ridgewood Church and my good friend Kyle. He’s asked me to bring a devotional and he’s quietly hoping I don’t forget.

10. Blair and I are now about three months away from being parents!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Discipline to Read!

Reading is a discipline and as Donald Whitney once said, “Discipline without direction is drudgery.” Some of you may be intimidated to read non-fiction/ theological stuff. I’ve found it to be immensely edifying though it was definitely a learned discipline. As a youth I’d read comic books and an occasional fiction book- which I’m not disregarding, but we need to challenge ourselves. So allow me to suggest a plan for you that seems to work for me (most times). My biggest problem with books is that I get drawn in easily and discouraged once I realize that I’m trying to read 17 books at a time! This is where the discipline comes in.

On Mondays and Tuesdays my goal is to read something from a “classic”. You need to read old stuff. Right now for example I’m working through Augustine’s Confessions. On Wednesdays and Thursdays my goal is to read something “contemporary”. These are the days I have the least spare time available so it forces me to read more old stuff than new which is good. Currently I’m working through Russell Moore’s new book Adopted for Life. On Fridays and Saturdays my goal is to read “commentary”. This is reading that is directed toward the study of the Bible (which I haven’t mentioned because that is a book to be read daily). Right now I’m reading parts of Derek Kidner’s commentary on Ezra and Nehemiah from the Tyndale set. Sundays is either a potpourri day (catch up on any of the aforementioned books) or a break day (watch football).

This plan- classics/ contemporary/ commentary- guards against getting bogged down, bored, or just listening to one author for a long period of time (in case you are like me, a slower reader). Don’t worry about how many pages you cover. Just make forward progress and be willing to punt. If it is a bad or unhelpful book don’t feel guilty about not finishing it. Remember reading isn’t about boasting in your intellectualism. That’s idolatry of the self. Reading is about growing in Christ and exercising your mind to the glory of God. So start reading!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

David Platt on Biblical Literacy

David Platt is the pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL. He recently gave what is being referred to as “the most powerful sermon in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastor’s Conference” (see below). Recently Collin Hansen interviewed him in Christianity Today. This is an very good interview and a worthy read. Here is one of Hansen’s questions and an excerpt of Platt’s answer…

CH: "All good evangelicals affirm the centrality of the Word. Still, we have a severe problem of biblical illiteracy. How do we go from knowing the Word is important to knowing what the Word actually says?"

DP: "We have severely dumbed down the Word, and shown a lack of trust in the sufficiency of the Word in the way we preach. We find it necessary to supplement it with entertaining stories and quips or good practical advice for living the Christian life that are not based in the Word. This deficiency transfers into people content with a little "Word for the Day," in a devotional book at best, as opposed to deep knowledge of Scripture. We're trying to hit at the problem from a variety of angles at Brook Hills. First of all, in worship we're quoting the Word, singing the Word, and engaging in intensive study. We'll study 55 minutes to an hour. We try to really saturate the community of faith with the Word when we gather together."

David Platt: SBC Pastors Conference 2009 from Todd Thomas on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Marriage Matters

The divorce rate among Christians is about the same as that among non-Christians. Approximately one in two marriages will end in divorce. At some point these marriages will for one reason of another sever the covenant they have made together with God. Let me stress something- this is a covenant they make not exclusively with each other, but the couple make it together and with God. Marriage according to Ephesians 5 is meant to be a unique display of God's glory. It is a matrix for presenting the love of God and the submission we are to have to God. So when a husband and wife head for divorce it isn't just their lives on the line (or the children or the millions of dollars the divorce industry costs the public); rather, God's reputation is on the line.

It may seem surprising that the divorce rate hasn't gone up in recent years. The 50% rate has held for a couple decades now. The primary reason there hasn't been a spike in this is because couples are opting out of marriage before they even make the covenant. Cohabitation among sexual partners and the practice of cycling through multiple sexual partners is greatly on the rise. While the church doesn't advocate this behavior and the Bible speaks very candidly against fornication and sexual immorality, do we encourage marriage enough?

Often I hear marriage discouraged among young couples. Wait. Wait. Wait. Make money. Enjoy life. Experience everything. Finish your degrees. Establish your career. It almost sounds like marriage is a death sentence. Live your life to the hilt and when you're all spent, give whatever's leftover to a spouse for the rest of your days. That's what we'd say if we were honest. We really should do a better job in the church (but especially in the home) of preparing young men and women for marriage. We just help them to see marriage as a goal worth striving for. It isn't a consolation prize. If we treat it and talk about it as such should we be suprised when it is so easily discarded?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

From the Other Side of the Hospital Bed

Monday morning I arrived at the hospital for some outpatient blood work that my doctor scheduled to help determine what was causing the intense and ever-more frequent abdominal pains I'd been having for days. After getting to the hospital at 8:00am on Monday I didn't come home until last night at 7:00pm. In between those times was an unplanned and undesirable stay in a hospital room. This might not sound like a big deal to those of you who have made several such stays (and it really wasn't a big deal by comparison) but to someone who rarely gets sick, has never broken a bone (sans one rib busted at a youth camp), and cringes at the sight of a needle this was not a happy experience.

Don't misunderstand me, all the nurses- Christina, Autumn, Phillis, and Leigh were great as were my doctors and the other hospital workers. The care was excellent, but it is still a hospital. Right now there's still no answers- after more blood work, CT Scan, and an ultrasound- and I'm on a liquid diet with antibiotics and ordered rest, but I'm genuinely thankful for the experience. It help me to empathize with my fellow church members who I often visit during their hospital stays. There is a great difference between sympathy (feeling for someone) and empathy (feeling with someone). A pastor should always have sympathy but it is even better and possibly more comforting to the congregation when he can have empathy.

I can certainly empathize with the frustration of being put through the ringer being poked, prodded, and tested without having any answers. I now understand the cabin fever one can get being stuck on a bed as time seems to stand still- hours feel like days. It is more real to me how one feels trying to get the sleep you need in a place where it is nearly impossible to sleep soundly. I understand watching loved ones- in my case my wife Blair- go through the pain and frustration right next you emotionally. It makes sense when someone is so thankful for that first jello cup but is happy if he's had his last when he leaves. I can relate to being elated when the nurse comes to take your blood pressure at 3:30am because it breaks up the monotony or how joyous it is to have a visitor (even if you relish your privacy) because you start feeling like a lab rat after a while without genuine personal interaction (thank you). I can better appreciate those phone calls that comfort the patient but especially the nervous spouse (thank you). I can understand the comfort of having someone take your mind off the circumstances and then to put the circumstances at the Lord's feet in prayer (thank you Keith Meyer). I appreciate more clearly the encouragement that comes from knowing that many others are praying and are concerned (thank you).

I'm thankful that while this wasn't brain surgery... or surgery at all and it was only one night's stay it taught me a lot. Every pastor should spend a few hours from the other side of the hospital bed... just make sure it's nothing serious.