When is the last time you prayed for persecuted Christians?

Today I was reminded of the need to be praying for our brothers and sisters who are in chains for Christ. It is reported that in North Korea Christians are being used for chemical experimentation and having their heads crushed by steamrollers in front of their families. This is distressing and compelled me to pray for them and others all around the world. Here are some things I brought to the throne of grace that I thought I would share with you to encourage you in your prayers:

  1. That they would not be surprised by such suffering – 1 Peter 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:12
  2. That they would remember that suffering is a privilege and they will be wonderfully rewarded – Matthew 5:11-12; Matthew 25:23
  3. That God would flood their hearts and minds with his promises and his character not the least of which is that God is forming Christ in them – Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 4:13
  4. That God would use their sacrifice to strengthen and advance His church – Read the whole book of Acts but at least Acts 8:1-8.

There you have it, four ways to pray for our persecuted church family. Now start praying!

John Calvin On The Christian Life

I just read this and had to share it. It resonates deeply with my soul. After quoting Romans 12:1-2, Calvin writes:

This is a marvelous thing – we are consecrated and dedicated to God to the end that we might not think, speak, meditate, or act unless it be to His glory. The sacred can’t be put to profane use without injustice to God. If we are not our own but the Lord’s, it’s clear what errors we must flee, and what we must direct our whole lives toward. We are not our own; therefore, neither our reason nor our will should dominate our plans and actions. We are not our own; therefore, let us not make the gratification of our flesh our end. We are not our own; therefore, let us forget ourselves and our own interests. Rather, we are God’s. Therefore, let us live and die to Him. We are God’s. Therefore, let His wisdom and His will govern all our actions. We are God’s. Therefore, let us – in every way in all our lives – run to Him as our only proper end. How far has he progressed who’s been taught that he is not his own – who’s taken rule and dominion away from his own reason and entrusted them to God. For the plague of submitting to our own rule leads us straight to ruin, but the surest way to safety is neither to know nor to want anything on our own, but simply to follow the leading of the Lord. – John Calvin, A Little Book On The Christian Life, pages 22-23.

Admittedly, some days my progress in the Christian life is little more than staggering, limping, and crawling but I press on and praise Him for any and all success!Let us all who name the name of the risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ fix our eyes on the goal of being wholly and solely committed to God’s glory. May it be our sole pursuit!

The Most Powerful Platform In America

For my pastoral ministry class I recently completed reading The New Guidebook for Pastors by James W. Bryant and Mac Brunson. Although there are a few things I would quibble over, all in all I profited spiritually and practically from it. One of my favorite chapters was chapter 3, “The Pastor and His Preaching.” Below are a few quotes from it that encouraged me and I hope will encourage you.

All through the Word of God and down through the annals of history, when God has moved it has almost always been attended by the preaching of the Word. There is no task more important, no calling any higher, and no work more noble than preaching the Word of God. – page 31

 

Too often our desire to reach numbers, people, and crowds has caused us to sacrifice the Word of God on the altar of drama, theatrics, and entertainment. While there is nothing wrong with skits, great music, PowerPoint presentations, and even appropriate videos, there is something tragically wrong when we do anything other than make preaching the Word of God central in the service. You cannot separate the Word from worship. – page 34

 

John Albert Bengel, speaking of the Word of God in preaching, said, ‘When the pulpit is in strong health, the light of Scripture shine bright; when the church is sick Scripture is corroded by neglect, and thus it happens that the outward form of Scripture and that of the church usually seem to exhibit simultaneously either health or else sickness; and as a rule the way in which Scripture is being treated is in exact correspondence with the condition of the church.'” – page 35

 

The centrality of the Word of God is of utmost importance. Whenever a preacher steps into the pulpit, what he does with the text influences the health of the church. If there is any hope of winning the lost to Jesus Christ, if there is any hope of maturing the vast majority of those in the pews who are in desperate need of growing, then the preacher must preach the Word! The only thing that twill relieve the famine in our land is commitment to content. Preach the Word!

 

The Lord said to Jeremiah, “Behold, I am making My words in your mouth fire and this people wood, and it will consume them” (Jer. 5:14 NASB). Think about that for a moment. When you preach the Word of God, it is like fire that sets people aflame. No U.S. president in any state-of-the-union speech can claim that. No Hollywood writer, actor, or producer can do anything like that. No athlete in any winner’s circle can make a speech that sets the audience on fire. But the man of God has the promise of God that when he speaks the Word of God, it is like fire that burns and like a hammer that shatters rock (Jer. 23:29).

The pulpit that is on fire with the Word of God is the most powerful platform in America and all over the world. Pastor, is your pulpit aflame with the truth of God’s Word? Is your heart still on fire for God?

1 Timothy 4:13 – “Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.”

Are You A Patient Person?

I will be honest. I am not. In fact, as God graciously and perfectly conforms me more into the image of Jesus, I am learning that impatience is probably my greatest weakness. I am not happy about this. Patience is required for godly leadership. “The Lord’s bond-servant” says Paul, “must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged” (2 Timothy 2:24). Those who preach God’s Word are to do “with great patience” (2 Timothy 4:2). Not surprisingly, this impatience leads to misunderstanding and confusion and frustration not only in my own life but in my family and ministry.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 rebukes my impatience:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

 

In this familiar passage, Solomon talks about times and seasons. He begins by stating a thesis, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (v. 1). He then proceeded to illustrate it and prove it to be true (verses 2-8). Clearly, God has a fitting time for each thing to be done. Timing is critical in everything. Timing is something that has to be God-directed. This is why I am more and more convinced that one of Satan’s greatest ploys is to rush us. Noise and haste are usually of the devil.

Added to this are a few more very fitting verses on waiting:

  • Psalm 25:21: “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, For I wait for You.”
  • Psalm 37:7: “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him…”
  • Psalm 27:14: “Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”

God’s Word to you and me over and over is to wait on the Lord!

The supreme example of this is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who saw and understood his entire life was on God’s sovereign schedule (see John 12:23, 27; 17:1). There was no noise or haste in his life. He did not succumb to Satan’s ruse to rush him (see Matthew 4 and the wilderness temptation). Jesus perfect patience rebukes my impatience.

So here I am rebuked – graciously, lovingly, opportunely – rebuked. How about you? God’s timing is nothing like ours. W must learn to be still and quiet and to wait on him through prayer and study of God’s Word. This is not wasted time. There is no better way to determine God’s timing and grow in the perfect patience of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

An Ox Stands Between An Altar And A Plough

This week’s lectures from Dr. York on Pastoral Ministry focus on the call to a specific ministry. How does one know if they are being called to a specific ministry?

Sanctified Common Sense

Does the ministry fit my skill-set, personality, gifting? Is this a good place for my kids and family? Dr. York strongly emphasized that it is not wrong to think about these things but they are not the primary reasons.

God Works On Your Wanter

The Lord causes you to fall in love with where he would have you to minister. Since Dr. York is on a mission board for Southern he shared a couple of illustrations of young families desiring to leave the States and go minister in the jungle where it is dangerous. Why would anyone do that? Because they love Jesus and God is causing them to fall in love with surprising places.

Overall Passion

Is your overall passion to glorify Jesus and to honor him, then make your best decision! It cannot be wrong. If the supremacy of Christ is what you really care about then that is what God wants you to do. This then is the ultimate reason for why one should choose a ministry. If you pray, Oh, Holy Spirit help me to be a great preacher” or “Help me to pastor a great church” the Holy Spirit will say, “No. I am not interested in doing that for you.” But if you cry out, “Oh, Holy Spirit, I want to make much of Christ” then the Holy Spirit will help you do it. There is no doubt. To be sure, glorifying Christ might be desperate, lonely and hard but we are to bloom for God’s pleasure. Whether God allows you to bloom where nobody notice or where everybody notices is entirely up to Christ!

Ready For Eithermissions

At this point Dr. York shared an example of the old American Baptist Foreign Mission Society’s seal of an ox standing between an altar and a plough. Written above it are the words, “Ready for either.” What a perfect picture of submission to God’s will! Ready for sacrifice or ready for service. This should be the heart-motto of every Christian, whether called to pastoral ministry or not – a pure and complete devotion to Christ, wholly and solely surrendered to Jesus for obedience, duty, and sacrifice.

 

11 Encouragements Not To Be A Prayerless Christian

Why eleven? Just to drive you perfectionists crazy, that’s why! No, not really. I am making my way through On Being a Pastor by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg. Most recently I read the fourth chapter titled “Prayer.” I was so encouraged by it that I decided to post a few snippets from it with the hope that God will use it to build up your prayer life also. It just so happened that it was eleven phrases/paragraphs that I highlighted.

More important than being a shepherd or teacher is being a son of God. Prayer is the principal expression of our relationship to God through our Lord Jesus Christ. No privilege is greater than being able to call God “Father,” and knowing that it is true. – pg. 62

 

A prayerless Christian is a contradiction in that if our life is under the control and influence of Christ’s Spirit, we pray to the Father with delightful confidence. – pg. 62

 

Prayer is our principal and main work. It has priority over the ministry of the Word in that it must come first. It is by prayer that the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, is effectively unsheathed. Prayer perfectly complements the ministry of the Word. – pg. 65

 

It is one thing to say that prayer is an undisputed priority and another thing to practice it. – pg. 65

 

Prayer is crucial because of the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. The importance of a shepherd and teacher’s work automatically makes him the target of the enemy of souls. Like a Christians, we know a constant struggle between the flesh and the Spirit. The strength of Jesus Christ, obtained through prayer, is the necessary and sufficient resource for victory. As spiritual leaders, some of the temptations we experience will be unique to our tasks, and it is through prayer alone that we find insight to recognize them and power to avoid them. An unrelenting foe demands unrelenting spiritual watchfulness through prayer. Satan delights to make casualties of those who have encouraged others to fight the good fight of faith. Satan places an amazing variety of temptations in our way, and it is foolish to imagine that we know them all already. He will try to overwhelm us by the sheer magnitude of our task of shepherding and teaching, especially when people are a disappointment to us. He will try to sow the seeds of discouragement as we realize how hard the hearts of men and women can be toward God and His truth. He will do his best to make us focus on our weakness and limitations. But prayer can thwart all Satan’s attacks. Through prayer, disappointments turn into opportunities to prove God. Through prayer, the hardness of men’s and women’s hearts melts. Through prayer, the limitations of our human nature are countered. The primary way to overcome Satan is on our knees. – pg. 66

 

Every time we find it difficult to maintain prayer, we will be helped by remembering that this is simply an indication of its key importance in the spiritual battle. It is sheer foolishness to pray only when we feel like it. – pg. 67

 

Called to be shepherds as well as teachers, we must be intercessors for the members of Christ’s flock entrusted to us. Prayer is one way in which we keep watch over the spiritual well-being of the lambs and sheep of the flock. If no one else prays for them, we must. It is significant that the ministry of intercession is the one ministry that our Lord continues in heaven now on our behalf. We are never nearer to His heart than when we bear up in our prayers the concerns and well-being of His flock. – pg. 69

 

No prompting to pray is to be ignored, and often we discover later that there was an acute need in the lives of those for whom we prayed. – pg. 72

 

It is as impossible to understand the Scriptures without the Spirit’s help as it is to read a sundial without the sun. pg. 74

 

Shepherds and teachers need the prayers of God’s people and should not hesitate to ask for them. “Pray for us,” the writer of the letter to the Hebrews urges his readers (13:18). – pg. 80

 

No Christian knows how much he owes to God for the prayers of others, and not least shepherds and teachers. – pg. 81

Are You Called To Pastoral Ministry?

The second lecture this week for my class Pastoral Ministry with Dr. Hershael York was about the call to ministry. Dr. York strongly believes that there is a specific call to pastoral ministry. And by the way, if you didn’t know, there is actually quite a bit of disagreement about this in the Christian world. Dr. York is persuaded that while all Christians are called to ministry (can’t argue with that) the call to pastoral ministry is a specific call of the Holy Spirit. It is not a general call but a specific moving of the Holy Spirit. This is where those who don’t believe there is a specific calling to pastoral ministry like to argue saying this is too subjective or mystical. How does one know they are being called to pastoral ministry or just have bad indigestion? Dr. York said this specific moving of the Holy Spirit is less mystical than many describe it. We should not ask for a sign from God to know if we have been called or not because in the Bible asking for a sign is always a sign of weak faith! Did you catch that? That is really important – in the Bible, asking for a sign is always a sign of weak faith! Think about Gideon. The angel had already told him what to do but instead he demands signs. When an angel tells you what to do, you get doing it, not demand signs! Think about the ministry of Jesus’ and how they constantly demand sign after sign. Is Jesus ever pleased about that? I don’t think so. But anyways, how do we know we are being specifically called by the Holy Spirit to pastoral ministry? Dr. York says it is the intersection of four things:

  1. Desire: You want to do it. You think about it. You desire it. You can’t imagine not doing it.
  2. Gifting: If God calls you he enables you. It may not be innate but the Holy Spirit would never call you to do it without empowering you to do it. God develops your skill set.
  3. Opportunity: A place of service for you to do it. Here Dr. York somewhat chastised (probably too strong of a word) seminary students for being blind to opportunities. We shouldn’t wait for golden invitations. When Dr. York was in seminary he determined to preach every week and called prisons, nursing homes, etc if he could come and preach. He didn’t wait to be asked. He had fire in his bones and sooner or later instead of having to look for opportunities he was being asked by people all over the place to preach.
  4. Testimony of Others: People affirm God’s calling in your life. This is important because my appraisal of myself is not completely honest nor accurate. We need affirmation from others who can tell how God has gifted us this way. And this affirmation should come from a sound local church.

I think it is very helpful and biblical. It is important to know you are called because days will come when you want to quit. There will be days if not weeks of great discouragement and setback. The success of ministry depends upon the strength of your calling. And by success is not meant pastoring a mega-church but faithfully living out God’s calling in your life, faithfully investing all of yourself into the calling for God’s glory and honor.