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.

Ten Challenges of Pastoral Ministry

I have been in pastoral ministry for 15 years now. That is difficult to get my mind around for a number of reasons but largely because it doesn’t seem like I have been at it that long. Of course, “long” is subjective since my father faithfully served the Lord for over 40 years in pastoral ministry. During these 15 years there have been a number of pastoral challenges. I have never taken the time to categorize them. However, this morning I started Pastoral Ministry taught by Dr. Hershael York at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His opening lecture was titled, “Ten Challenges Faced in Pastoral Ministry” and let me tell you I can relate to each one of them. Here they are with a few of my thoughts.

  1. We deal with the spiritual and eternal matters of life. This one really hit me. Dr. York spoke of how the worst thing a physical doctor can do is cause someone to die. Certainly that is bad, but if I as a pastor mishandle God’s Word I can impact people eternally!
  2. The pastor’s role is prophetic in nature. As pastors we are asked to deal with people at their most embarrassing, difficult, and trying situations. And in these situations we have to call upon them to repent and live Godward lives. We don’t have the luxury of sharing our opinions.
  3. Pastor’s lead an army of volunteers. There is no power of the paycheck. Members can get mad and leave at any time.
  4. The pastor has an unclear identity. What is the pastor’s #1 task? 10 people will give 10 different answers. Some will say to preach the word, to shepherd the sheep, to preach, to evangelize. Few churches clearly define what they expect from their pastor and even when they do they expect more than they say. Many just assume preachers ought to do things.
  5. Uncertainty about church polity. Most churches have an unclear vision how church is to be governed. What is the relationship between elders/deacons?
  6. The church expects the pastor’s family to be involved. This is unlike any other profession! The CEO of a business is not expected to have his wife help run the business. What in particular struck me about this point was that Dr. York said the church has the right to judge my house/family because one qualification of being a pastor is I lead my house well. He also made the point that the pastor’s wife will either expand or diminish ministry but never be neutral. This makes me very glad to be married to a wonderful woman, Valerie, who has more than I could ever explain expanded my ministry.
  7. People expect the pastor to be the initiative taker. This one is so true. When we get sick, we don’t expect the Dr. to call us or check up on us. We go to the Dr. But we do expect the pastor to call us and we get made when he doesn’t follow up. If we miss church for a few weeks and don’t hear from the pastor we get mad that he doesn’t follow up. Then, when the pastor does take initiative, we get upset that he did!
  8. The demand for originality. Dr. York made a very interesting point that if you preach three sermons a week for about 48 weeks that is the equivalent of writing 9 novels! Wow! This makes having fresh, engaging content very challenging especially when you consider how many other responsibilities the pastor has with family and church. On top of everything else, he is expected to deliver fresh, powerful messages from God’s Word!
  9. The church gives the pastor responsibility without authority. Dr. York gave a few examples. For example, the church expects the pastor to grow the church but no authority to do much. One young man was burdened about young families in his church and that his church had a very bad nursery. It was in very poor condition. So this young pastor took it upon himself to raise the funds for a new nursery and over time he did! But when he went to the deacon board they refused to do it. Then they later got mad at him the church isn’t growing!
  10. Friendship development difficulty. It is important for the pastor to have close relationships with his sheep. The pastor however must make sure he is not one person in the pulpit and a whole other person at home. The pastor must be holy in all of his friendships.

These 10 things make pastoral ministry unlike any other calling in life. No other job in the world has these 10 things. As I listened to all of this, the thought that kept coming in to my mind was, “Who is sufficient for all of this?” And it was like Dr. York read my mind because he then asked that question and went on to say, “No one! We need the Holy Spirit in our lives. We must fill up on the Word of God each morning before we leave the house and we must disciple our wives so we are working together as a team.”

2 Corinthians 3:5 – “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.

 

Faith And Faith Alone Is The Only Way One Becomes Right With God

I write this not to make demands upon you. My only object is your good, your salvation. I write this to tell you about a free gift which it would be to your eternal joy to receive. I write to tell you a fact, namely, that salvation is all of grace, which means, free, for nothing!

Read diligently these words found in Romans 4:5: However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

Who does God save? Who does God justify? How does one become right with God?

Does he save those who are good?

Does he save those who try their best?

Does he save those who are faithful?

Does he save those who work really hard at faithfully going to church, keeping the commandments, being generous with time and money, or doing your best at being a loving person?

No!

Who does God save? What does Romans 4:5 say? Look again at the verse, However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” 

Salvation goes to the ungodly!

Salvation goes to those who do not work for it!

Salvation is not an obligation!

Salvation cannot be earned!

Salvation is a gift! It is all of grace and it is freely offered to all who trust in God who justifies the ungodly!

Suppose you are trying to sell your house and the realtor is just moments away from arriving with potential home buyers. What is it you are most likely doing and have been doing for the past few months? No doubt you have been busily fixing it up to look more presentable and acceptable so the potential home buyer will be impressed and snatch it up before anyone else gets it. I think most of humanity thinks of salvation in this manner. We try and fix ourselves up, tidy ourselves up, make ourselves better in the hope that God will be impressed with us and save us. But what do the Scriptures say? God saves those who do not work. God justifies the ungodly.

Reader, please hear this: There is nothing you can do to make your heart an acceptable abode for God’s dwelling but the good news is, may this truth sing in your heart, God justifies the wicked! When you trust him, not trying to hide your sin, not trying to cover it all up, but openly bare it all to him and trust him to deal with it, he comes to dwell forever in your broken, sinful heart. But that is not all! In his grace and by his power he fixes your heart from the inside out and makes improvements over time. You don’t fix yourself up and then hope God decides to reside within you. You come to God in all of your brokenness and ungodliness and wickedness and he lovingly comes to reside in your life and then he begins his good work of restoring you and making you like his Son Jesus Christ.

Do not resist this offer of grace, this free offer of salvation, this free offer of eternal life and happiness. Do not refuse the hand of Jesus  who was nailed to the cross for sinners such as you. Come as you are, as ungodly as you are. Believe in God who has finished the work of salvation in Jesus Christ. Relinquish self-trust and cling to God by faith in Jesus. There is nothing for you to do! Simply by faith receive the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Faith and faith alone is the only way to be made right with God. In the blink of an eye, and for one reason and one reason only, you can go from being unsaved to saved, unrighteous to righteous, sinner to saint – because you trust God to do it all. No other reason.

 

 

Mere Christianity: Atheism is too simple

I am continuing to re-make my way slowly through Mere Christianity
by C.S. Lewis. It is great reading. If you have never read it, Christian or not, I highly recommend it. The section I have quoted below comes from book 2, chapter one, “The Rival Conceptions of God. n it he briefly shows how atheism is irrational because it is self-refuting. Note: Mere Christianity is divided into four books but please don’t let that discourage you from reading it. Each chapter is very short because they were all initially brief radio addresses made during W.W. Two.

For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world—that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God ‘made up out of His head’ as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again. And, of course, that raises a very big question. If a good God made the world why has it gone wrong? And for many years I simply refused to listen to the Christian answers to this question, because I kept on feeling ‘whatever you say, and however clever your arguments are, isn’t it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by any intelligent power? Aren’t all your arguments simply a complicated attempt to avoid the obvious?’ But then that threw me back into another difficulty. My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.

Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (pp. 37-39). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Mere Christianity: The Life-Force

Over the weekend I decided to re-read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. It has been very rewarding. At the end of chapter 4, “What Lies Behind The Law,” after explaining the Materialist view and the Religious view, Lewis adds an excerpt on the In-between view called Life-Force philosophy, or Creative Evolution. The moment I read it I thought to myself that it is a perfect explanation of our society today though written 70 years ago.

The wittiest expositions of it [Life-Force philosophy] come in the works of Bernard Shaw, but the most profound ones in those of Bergson. People who hold this view say that the small variations by which life on this planet ‘evolved’ from the lowest forms to Man were not due to chance but to the ‘striving’ or ‘purposiveness’ of a Life-Force. When people say this we must ask them whether by Life-Force they mean something with a mind or not. If they do, then ‘a mind bringing life into existence and leading it to perfection’ is really a God, and their view is thus identical with the Religious. If they do not, then what is the sense in saying that something without a mind ‘strives’ or has ‘purposes’? This seems to me fatal to their view. One reason why many people find Creative Evolution so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences. When you are feeling fit and the sun is shining and you do not want to believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, it is nice to be able to think of this great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest. If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life-Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children. The Life-Force is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen?

Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (pp. 26-27). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.