Why grace?

I just began studying Romans again, and I was struck by Paul’s train of thought regarding grace.

Through [Jesus] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the Gentiles, including you who are also called by Jesus Christ. (1:5-6)

We have received grace to bring about the obedience of faith

Paul spends a great deal of time in this letter defining the vocabulary of our belief. In Romans, grace brings us completely into God’s favor through the mediating work of Jesus. When God says, “What about sinful John Smith?” Jesus replies, “Don’t look at him look at me. His identity is forever wrapped up in who I am.”

Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God…Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. – Martin Luther, Preface to Romans

We are saved from sin for a purpose. Our salvation by grace is evident through actionable obedience to God calling us out of our old life.

…for the sake of his name…

Individuality is sacred today. Everyone must be free to express themselves and pursue their own interests. But salvation is not about us. It’s not for our joy and success. It is for the glory and honor of God. It’s so that he would be the focus of all respect, recognition, and honor. Paul, wants us to see from the very beginning that the purpose of our salvation and our call to evangelize is rooted in God’s glory and fame.

…among the Gentiles…

God’s interest in us doesn’t stop with our conversion. He wants our changed lives to be contagious and multiplying. When Paul talks about Gentiles here, he means those who haven’t heard about YHWH, the God of the Bible. Many of Paul’s fellow workers were still struggling with the idea of crossing the cultural divide between Jew and Gentile. But the gospel is for all, especially those who have never heard and few are working to reach.

…including you who are also called by Christ Jesus.

The message of Romans is not just for the lost. It’s been used as an effective evangelism tool for years because of its foundational truths on the human condition and the process of salvation. But our contagious grace and our life of faith must be seen by those in the church. The building up of the church and the strengthening of believers is God’s plan for evangelism. We must understand these words like law, gospel, grace, and faith. They must be a source of joy and strength in our church people.

Your personal salvation is not the conclusion of grace. The impact of grace in your life ripples out into your church and community. It has lasting, eternal impact for the glory of God.

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Review: Help for the New Pastor

Help for the New Pastor: Practical Advice for Your First Year of Ministry by Charles Malcolm Wingard

I received this book at Together for the Gospel this year, and I think it was a great choice for the young pastors there. We learn so much about studying and delivering the Word at seminary, but I think most guys would say that there is a learning curve when it comes to church administration and pastoral care. Hopefully education on these subjects comes from watching trusted mentors, but I fear more often it’s a trial by fire for young pastors. Help for the New Pastor is a great reference tool for young pastors feeling overwhelmed by church leadership and pastoral care.

While I have learned a lot about the content of the first six chapters, the rest of the book was full of insights that I had not encountered often. In particular, chapters 9, 10, and 13 were full of wisdom and experience about what to talk about during visits and even what scriptures a pastor might want to read. I’m happy to have this on my shelf, and I will regularly give it as a gift to new pastors.

  1. Understanding your call to ministry
  2. Preparing for pulpit ministry
  3. Preparing and delivering a sermon
  4. Practical advice for preaching
  5. Leading worship
  6. The Sacraments
  7. Church Administration
  8. Growing through conflict
  9. Home visitation
  10. Practicing hospitality
  11. Counseling
  12. Weddings
  13. Hospital and Hospice Care
  14. Funerals
  15. Your denominational duties
  16. The character and habits of effective ministers
  17. Small things that yield big results
  18. A long and faithful ministry

How to Prepare for Pastoral Transitions

  • read this post on For the Church here.

Goodbyes are inevitable.

When a pastor leaves a church, it can be heartbreaking but also harmful to the community. These transitions can cause hurt, disunity, and doubt that hinders the growth and message of the church. Looking at Paul’s departure from Ephesus, we can see that it doesn’t have to be this way.

If Paul were to be called a pastor of any church, it would be the church at Ephesus. He spent years with these people, more time than in any other city. He was deeply invested in these peoples’ lives, and his departure from them was painful. But he effectively used his time in Ephesus so the church was positioned for continued growth. This made it easier for Paul to obey God when transition time came.

During his goodbye message to the Ephesian leaders in Acts 20, Paul shows at least four ways that we can avoid chaos during ministry transitions:

He held nothing back.

Now from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and summoned the elders of the church. When they came to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and during the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. You know that I did not avoid proclaiming to you anything that was profitable or from teaching you publicly and from house to house. (Acts 20:17–20 CSB)

From his first day until his last, Paul worked tirelessly among these people. Because of the itinerant nature of his work, Paul could have easily become pessimistic towards new places. But he did not close himself off to ministry opportunities in Ephesus. He quickly and intentionally entered into peoples’ lives and homes with his message of repentance and faith. He was consistent through the tears and bold in spite of the consequences his ministry produced.

If we hold back our words or our presence from our people, then we are hindering the penetrating power of the gospel. It is hard, messy work being so personally involved, but we must spend time laying a foundation for our people.  We must model the gospel faithfully with words and actions, and we must teach believers how to study the Word, because these things will guide them long after we are gone.

He never lost perspective.

But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)

Even though he had grown very close to the Ephesian church, Paul does not choose to remain among the friendly and familiar. And how could he? He was “compelled by the Spirit” (30:22) to move on to Jerusalem. To stay would be to disobey.

When you give your life to God’s gospel ministry, your address may change, but your purpose never will. There will be churches that are painfully hard to leave, and sometimes that choice will be made for you. While we should enter any pastorate with an indefinite commitment, we also know that no place can be called our forever home in this life. God may move us at anytime, but if we have our eyes fixed on him anyway, we will be found faithful in any of the situations which he gives us.

He trained watchmen.

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood…Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I never stopped warning each one of you with tears. (Acts 20:28, 31)

Paul was not blind to the fact that his departure was going to be dangerous for those that he was leaving behind. Gaps in leadership provide an opportunity for the Enemy to bring disunity and misdirection into the church. Since Paul held nothing back in his discipleship, he had capable leaders ready to protect the flock and continue the work. He reminded these leaders of their appointed responsibility to guard themselves and the people against the dangers inside and outside the church.

Unfortunately, many pastors have too much love for their position. They are unwilling to share their pulpit and their platform. This selfishness has no place in the biblical model of discipleship which calls on pastors to essentially work themselves out of a job. We must whole-heartedly disciple leaders capable of teaching and guiding our church community. The threats facing our churches are too great to face alone. We must train fellow watchmen to care for our communities. These leaders will be able to not only weather a transition in the pulpit, but they will also be equipped to move into their own ministry opportunities as God leads them.

He entrusted the church to God.

And now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)

Paul knows the church’s growth, any results from his words or his care, were not because of him. God is the only one who can change hearts, build his church, and bring his people home.

Pastors, we have no ownership of our people. We bear a responsibility to the church, but God purchased it by his own blood. We must trust that he will care for believers and that he will complete the work that he started.

Transitions in ministry are never going to be easy. When Paul left the Ephesians “there were many tears shed by everyone” (30:37). Knowing that goodbyes are inevitable, we have a responsibility to minister even more diligently today.

Do the next thing

(This is a repost from last summer)

Sometimes it’s crazy hard to know if we are making the right decisions in ministry. We feel a world of possibilities, but we also fear missing God’s “call” or “perfect will.” Why do we doubt that the God who bent history towards our salvation, made our dry bones come alive, and placed his spirit within us is going to let us ruin everything? Yes, the Christian life requires daily obedience to God’s way of life, loyalty to our heavenly Father, and care for others. But we also have to make decisions. If these former things are in line – if our footing is solid – why should we doubt the next step?

This poem is a quiet reminder of genuine ministry. I can picture the faithful pastor in this poem – who is fittingly anonymous. He spends one day after another studying the word, delivering his message, and caring for his people. Most often it was a thankless task, but now, standing before his Saviour and seeing his God, it was infinitely worth it.


From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Thrust them with Jesus, do the next thing.

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.

Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.

(Unknown Author)

When I Don’t Feel Like Serving

Matthew 14:13–14 (HCSB)

13 When Jesus heard about it, He withdrew from there by boat to a remote place to be alone. When the crowds heard this, they followed Him on foot from the towns. 14 As He stepped ashore, He saw a huge crowd, felt compassion for them, and healed their sick.


I’m an introvert that loves people. And that often makes working in Christian ministry hard. Minor inconveniences can throw off my emotional cadence, leaving me ready to retreat to quiet and solitude.

Jesus takes me to school here in Matthew 14. He hears about the gruesome execution of John – his relative and partner in ministry – at the hands of Herod, and he just wants to get away to be alone to reflect and pray. What a glimpse of Jesus’ humanity. He shows us a very relatable response to grief and loss with his need for solitude and time alone with God.

But he’s given little time to himself. His ministry follows him everywhere. As soon as he steps off the boat – there they are. The relatable equivalent would be escaping the office only to run into a crowd of church members at Starbucks. And yet Jesus doesn’t put the boat in reverse when he sees needy people waiting for him. He feels compassion for them and heals their sick. (1) He doesn’t fake his care, but instead musters the proper, righteous emotions for the situation. (2) He acts in these peoples’ lives. He shows that he cares, regardless of their motivations.

Brother Pastors, let’s not hide from the mess in front of us. Let’s enter into that mess with Christ-like emotions and care.

 

Daily Devotion: Isaiah 9

…”But in the future he will bring honor to the way of the sea, to the land east of the Jordan, and to Galilee of the nations. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness. You have enlarged the nation and increased its joy. The people have rejoiced before you as they rejoice at harvest time and as they rejoice when dividing spoils. For you have shattered their oppressive yoke and the rod on their shoulders, the staff of their oppressor, just as you did on the day of Midian. For every trampling boot of battle and the bloodied garments of war will be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of Armies will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:1–7, CSB)

“The people walking in darkness” calls the readers attention back to the previous chapter where the people are roaming the land dejected and hungry. They look to the sky and curse God. They look at the problems all around them and curse their leaders. They see the earth and they give up.

But these people consumed by darkness have now “seen a great light” out of Galilee. The people rejoice over the miraculous provision supplied by God. The only thing Isaiah can compare it to is the supernatural way that God saved his people through Gideon in Judges 7:25.

There is no longer any need for war uniforms. The memories of these bloody times are burned in the fire.

All because a child has been born. He is wonderful, mighty, eternal, and peaceful. He is a counselor, father, royalty, and God.

His rule is established immediately and forever.

This is done for the glory and satisfaction of God.


I can’t help but focus on these royal titles given to the Messiah. Each one is something that we need. Especially if our life resonates with the people in this story who are suffering and depressed. We need a counsellor with unique wisdom to speak into our life. But we don’t just need a listening ear and kind advice, we need someone with abundant power to change my situation – change my heart. His work in my life is timeless.

Charlottesville

I recently self-diagnosed myself with “caring fatigue.” It started in July of last year with two names: Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Even living in China at the time, I wasn’t far enough away from the videos of these men being shot and killed. Their deaths and the conversations surrounding their deaths caught my attention.

So I started to look for context outside of my white/evangelical/Southern Baptist box. I listened carefully to Christian brothers and sisters of color. Their stories of hurt and racism made the years of silence from my churches deafening.

Why had my Christian leaders pointed me to people all over the world who were hurting and needed the gospel but neglected to point me to the pain within my own country. And I’m not just talking about people of color, but also the many disaffected groups within American society. Opium epidemics, meth addictions, broken families, human trafficking, urban poverty, rural poverty, neglected children, mass incarceration, abortion rates, corrosive politics…the well-practiced church productions that I attended on Sundays did not reflect the messy, broken world everyone lived in the rest of the week.

Feeling the need to fix all these problems led to my “caring fatigue” diagnosis. But I know that I cannot fix these problems. There is only one savior of the world, and it isn’t me. But I can listen, learn, and live like I really care about people around me.

I can stand up and call evil by name. The actions of ethnic nationalists and racial supremacists this last week is evil. Brother pastors you must call it by name from the pulpit. Brother and sister Christians, you must genuinely care about everyone around you. Get involved in one another’s messed up lives. Build up one another in the church and get outside the church walls with your knowledge of God and the Bible.

Many of these men hold to the ideology of “blood and soil,” emphasizing a persons heritage and land. There is only one person’s blood that matters to me. The blood that Jesus shed in his death for all people (Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; Revelation 1:5). The blood that brings me back into a face to face relationship with God (Revelation 22:4). The only soil that matters is not the soil of this world – broken and cursed by the sins of humanity (Gensesis 3:17-19). I long for the soil of the new earth, remade by God (Revelation 21:1-5). That’s where my citizenship is (Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 11:13-16).

Here are resources and people to listen to if you want to learn more…

Faithfully Magazine – http://faithfullymagazine.com

Be the Bridge – https://beabridgebuilder.com

Ekemini Uwan – http://www.sistamatictheology.com

Kyle James Howard – https://kylejhoward.com

Christena Cleveland – http://www.christenacleveland.com

Truth’s Table (podcast) – https://goo.gl/UtS7tC

Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission – http://erlc.com

Hillbilly Elegy – JD Vance

 

 

 

Daily Devotion: Isaiah 8

Human nature demands that we address what’s right in front of us. We live for the here and now. Even if we are future minded in our planning, it is only for a sense of control over present circumstances. We are temporal beings, existing in time. And we are sensing beings, only able to understand what we can see and touch in the moment. This is why it is so difficult to trust God’s timing in our life. Working by his clock is difficult. But God exists apart from time. His planning is perfect, and he is not swayed by current events.

In Isaiah 8 the nation is worried about the strength of their enemies, so they start making worldly alliances. The Lord would have them trust in the slow and steady pace of his care…

…these people have rejected the slowly flowing waters of Shiloah… (8:6)

They are worried about the future, and they feel like the Lord is not listening, so they consult mediums and spirits of the dead. But Isaiah points to the testimony of his life and children as signs of God speaking to the people (8:18). Then in 8:20 he has this great call to where the answers to their questions can be found…

To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, there will be no dawn (hope/enlightenment) for them. (8:20)

We need to be slow to approach other people to strengthen us when we are doubting. Let’s first go to God as our refuge.

We need to seek the Word of God before we look for clever advice from others.

Do the next thing

Sometimes it’s crazy hard to know if we are making the right decisions in ministry. We feel a world of possibilities, but we also fear missing God’s “call” or “perfect will.” Why do we doubt that the God who bent history towards our salvation, made our dry bones come alive, and placed his spirit within us is going to let us ruin everything? Yes, the Christian life requires daily obedience to God’s way of life, loyalty to our heavenly Father, and care for others. But we also have to make decisions. If these former things are in line – if our footing is solid – why should we doubt the next step?

This poem is a quiet reminder of genuine ministry. I can picture the faithful pastor in this poem – who is fittingly anonymous. He spends one day after another studying the word, delivering his message, and caring for his people. Most often it was a thankless task, but now, standing before his Saviour and seeing his God, it was infinitely worth it.


From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Thrust them with Jesus, do the next thing.

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.

Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.

(Unknown Author)

Daily Devotion: Isaiah 7

There is no such thing as Christian cowardice. Christ secured courage for all believers. We do not fear men who can only harm the body. We do not fear spirits who have been given an expiration date. We do not fear want of food or shelter because God promises to meet our needs. We do not fear death because Jesus gives us life.  

In Isaiah 7, Ahaz is afraid. Aram and Israel have decided to attack Jerusalem. As they advance into Ephraim, the “house of David” is afraid, all the “hearts of his people trembled like trees shaking in the wind.” So the Lord sends an encourager, Isaiah, with this message: “Calm down and be quiet. Don’t be afraid or cowardly.” There are 4 things that we and Ahaz must stand firm in…

Stand firm in your identity. Repeatedly, Ahaz is reminded that he is part of the House of David. Those great promises that were delivered to David still apply to him. The king can rest assured that God still knows who he’s dealing with and he will not forget David, the man after God’s own heart. Christians, we are now called sons and daughters of God. Worthy of his name and his inheritance. He will not forget Jesus in whom our identity is now grounded. We have been grafted into the family vine. Stand courageously in your new identity. (7:2, 13)

This is what the Lord God says: It will not happen; it will not occur. (Is 7:7)

Stand firm in the Word of God. Isaiah serves as the voice of truth in order to destroy doubt. We need to listen to people who speak the truth in love to us. No matter how many times we read the truths of scripture, we still need our community to speak the truth to us and affirm us. Sometimes I don’t feel like God has anything to say to me that I haven’t already heard. Then a brother pastor who I respect will bring me a word of truth or encouragement that jump starts my heart. We need people like Isaiah who can look at our situation and say, “You know that thing your worrying about? It’s completely wrongheaded to worry about that. Here’s why…” We are meant to be agents of affirming God’s Word to one another. 

If you do not stand firm in your faith, then you will not stand at all. (Is 7:9)

Stand firm in your faith. God is not telling him to stand firm in positive thinking. Faith is so much more than that. Because God has proven himself faithful to us, we can follow his commands for our life in faith. He gives us no reason to doubt that his way is the right way and his time is the right time. That is unbelief. We must remain steadfast in our obedience to a God-centered life. 

See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Emmanuel. (Is 7:14)

Stand firm in God’s Promises. God has given sufficient signs of his providence before, but he offers one more. The promise he gives here was most likely to a young girl in the assembly. And it was a promise of extended peace. Ahaz could see in his mind the years of peace promised from that day until the promised child’s adolescence. And this would be a sign that a God was with his people. The peace was not permanent, however. The rest of the chapter shows that great suffering is coming to the land. But seeing God keep his promise would serve to grow their faith so that when things grew worse in the future they could trust God to be faithful once more. 

Later, Matthew identifies this promised child in Isaiah 7:14 as applying to Messiah. Jesus was also a promised child. His life should also give us courage to face the hard times even as we wait for him. We long for eternal peace and freedom from fear. We long to not only have “God with us” but see him face to face. 

How do you need to be reminded of the courage that you have in Christ?

Like Isaiah, who are you being called to encourage today?