Every Christian knows the feeling. You know you need to pray, but the words don’t come to you. Then you finally begin grunting out a few words, but God feels distant and you suspect your prayers are stopping at the ceiling. Then you feel guilty because you struggle to pray and it inhibits your prayers even further leading to a vicious cycle of guilt, shame, and confusion.

We don’t have to be stuck in this position though because there are some basic truths we can remember when we struggle to pray.

Remember the Bible Gives You Encouragement to Pray

During the early years of my Christian life I approached my devotions as if Bible reading and prayer were two separate activities. Then I read Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life and he talked about how the discipline of meditation bridges the gap between prayer and study. Since God inspired the writing of Scripture, all of Scripture testifies to him and beckons us to come to him. If you struggle to pray, start reading in your Bible and ask yourself several basic questions that can lead to prayer. Is there something in this passage to thank God for? Does this passages name a sin I should confess? Am I struggling with a problem this passage addresses and need to ask for strength? Is there a command in this passage I need help to obey? Is there good news in this passage I am struggling to believe? This is not an exhaustive list of questions to ask, but they can lead into some serious and deliberate times of prayer.

Remember the Father Invites You to Pray

Everywhere we turn in our culture self-help gurus tell us to get rid of people in our lives whose problems weigh us down. Because so many people buy this advice we often go through great difficulties without someone walking beside us to bear our burdens. This phenomenon means we hear things in the Bible we don’t hear anywhere else. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known to God.” “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares for you.” While many other people do not want to be burdened with our problems, God invites you to bring them to him. He welcomes your cares and anxieties because he loves you. From now on, let every worry, fear, and anxiety prompt you to come to the Father in prayer.

Remember Jesus Represents You as You Pray

Many times our guilt and sense of unworthiness drive us away from prayer. The awareness of our sin and neglect of our walk with the Lord weighs us down and we feel hypocritical for coming to present our requests before him. Remember your position as a child of the King does not depend on your goodness or inherit worthiness. Jesus died for us to bring us back to God and represents his people before the Father. When you struggle to pray you should meditate on the death of Christ and how his sacrifice for you removes every barrier between you and the Father. This is the reason we pray “in Jesus’ name.” We draw near to God through him and because of him.

Remember the Spirit Helps You to Pray

Sometimes we come to pray and do not even know how to get started. Either we struggle for words or we are so weighed down that we cannot speak. In Romans 8 Paul speaks of this problem and gives us wonderful encouragement. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” When you don’t know what to pray, ask for the Spirit’s help. He comes alongside you to empower you to pray and prays for you when the words won’t come out.

Since the Father hears your prayers, the Son’s death assures you will be heard, and the Spirit helps you, will you come to God in prayer today?

Related Posts:
Eight Passages Every Christian Should Memorize

For Further Reading:
A Praying Life by Paul Miller

Though I didn’t come to faith in Christ until I was in college, I grew up going to church multiple times a week. One of the things that stands out from the Sunday School teachers I had and conversations I overheard was the amount of Scripture many of these faithful Christians had memorized. As I started out in my Christian life I didn’t see the importance of Scripture memory and therefore didn’t learn many basic passages of Scripture Christians need to know. It took a few years after becoming a believer to realize I didn’t know many of the passages of Scripture more mature believers referred to most often.

The Psalmist said , “Your word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Memorizing and meditating on God’s word provides fuel for our growth as Christians. Sometimes when we face discouragement or temptation we remember a word we have memorized and it is exactly what we need in that moment to encourage us or give us strength. In evangelistic conversations or times when you are discipling another believer you often don’t have time to flip around and try to find a passage of Scripture. When you have devoted yourself to scripture memory, you already have it and are able to speak it as part of normal conversation.

Many believers don’t know where to start when they are memorizing the Bible, so here are eight passages that are central to understanding the message of the Bible and the basics of the Christian life. While there are many more Bible verses to memorize, these eight provide a great starting point.

The Ten Commandments

For most of my childhood I saw plaques of the Ten Commandments on people’s walls next to their pictures of Jesus and Bear Bryant. The plaque always looked the same. They had to tablets on each side and the commandments were listed with Roman numerals. When we turn to Exodus 20:1-17 in our Bibles though we don’t see the commandments listed in this way. They begin with a word about God’s redemptive act of rescuing them from slavery in Egypt and then tells them what it looks like to live as his people in the world. Memorizing the Ten Commandments will remind us of our need for the grace found in Jesus Christ and give us guidance for living the Christian life.

Psalm 1

The first Psalm offers a glimpse into the practices of the godly person and the attendant blessings that come from walking this way. The Psalmist shows the blessed man does not walk according the course of the world, but meditates on the law of God day and night. Since it is always day or night, this serves as a wonderful reminder to stay immersed in the Lord’s word. Then he shows that the result of separation from the world and meditation on the truth is a stable, fruit bearing life which is constantly nourished by the flowing streams of God’s word.

Psalm 23

While we could point to many passages of Scripture that remind us of the character of God, this Psalm has encouraged and helped many Christians throughout the centuries. Psalm 23 points to the lovingkindness of God our shepherd who feeds, guides, and cares for his people. Also, familiarity with this Psalm helps us to better understand Ezekiel 34’s promise of God’s shepherd who is come and Jesus’ claim to be the Good Shepherd who will lay down his life for the sheep.

The Beatitudes

Jesus’ words at the opening of the Sermon on the Mount show us the true, inner character of the Christian. Each of the eight beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12 begin with a statement of blessing upon the people who embody and certain virtue and then it names the blessing. Memorizing and mediating on these verses will remind us that Christian virtue begins in the heart and permeates every aspect of our lives.

The Lord’s Prayer

Many Christians struggle with knowing how to pray. Thankfully Jesus told us, “pray then in this way.” Jesus’ model prayer provides us a framework for understanding how we can pray. Each petition shows us something we should praise God for, thank God for, or ask God for. As you memorize Matthew 6:5-15, use each phrase to lead you into a time of prayer.

Romans 3:21-26

Few passages of Scripture summarize the heart of the Christian message like this important paragraph from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul reminds us we have sinned, we cannot work for our salvation, and Jesus died to bring us back to God. Paul emphasizes Jesus’ death as a substitution for our sins and that Jesus’ death vindicates the righteous character of the God who saves.

1 Corinthians 13

We often hear the “love chapter” at weddings, but this is not its immediate context. Chapters 12 and 14 deal with the role of spiritual gifts within the church and Paul shows the character of love to remind us that that we cannot exercise our spiritual gifts in a way that is not fueled by love. The application spreads from spiritual gifts to our other relationships as we remember that everything we do must be done in love.

The Armor of God

Christians face spiritual opposition every day from the world, the flesh, and the devil. When we think about the devil’s lies and accusations, we often find ourselves at a loss for how to defend ourselves. Paul instructs Christians in Ephesians 6:10-20 to put on the full armor of God to help us stand against the schemes of the evil one. Each piece of the Christian armor shows us how the truths of the Gospel protects us in the battles we encounter.

This is not a complete list of every passage a Christian should memorize, but it provides a great start for the Christian wanting to learn the basics of the Christian message and the Christian life. It’s possible I missed an important passage, what other passages would you say every Christian needs to memorize?

Related Posts:
Why You Should Read the Bible

Why I’m Using a Physical Copy of the Bible Again

For Further Reading:
An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by Andrew Davis

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney

A Few Good Reads

June 20, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

4 Ways to Reach a Child’s Heart
I share a lot of posts about parenting in this space and it has everything to do with where I am in life. We have a daughter entering middle school, a daughter in elementary school, a preschool-aged daughter, and a toddler son. Every day confronts me with the realization that I have a lot to learn about parenting and need God’s grace every step of the way. Richard Phillips’ post on engaging our children’s heart proved to be especially helpful to me this week as I think about what it looks like for me to enter into their world and engage their hearts. “This all requires time, for time is the currency with which I purchase the right to say, ‘My son, my daughter, give me your heart.’”

25 Reasons Fathers Still Matter
Yesterday I read someone who said we should do away with Father’s Day because it is disrespectful to single mothers and same-sex couples. Our culture tends to downplay the role of fathers in a child’s development and men are tempted to abandon their responsibility to their children. Joe Carter shares research on the importance of fathers in the life of a child and in doing so demonstrates why they are indispensable. “Christians, of course, should not need to be told the importance of fatherhood. The Bible is filled with dozens of passages on the significance of fathers and the responsibilities of fatherhood. But when making that case to a secular culture it can be helpful to be armed with empirical evidence of the reasons why fathers are essential to the well being of their children.”

Four Reasons We Don’t Share the Gospel
The more I talk with people the more I become convinced that many people in our culture have never heard the real Gospel or have had its message confused by the many false gospels permeating our society. This means it is imperative for individual Christians to talk about the good news about Jesus, but we often don’t do it. Steven Lee shares four reasons why and what we can do to overcome them. “All Christians need fellow believers to help them grow in their understanding of the gospel. We all need others in our lives who spur us on to a greater compassion and zeal to love the lost by sharing the good news of Jesus willingly, winsomely, and boldly.”

Three Obstacles to Church Revitalization
This is a post I wrote for J.D. Greear’s site “Conventional Futures.” Often when those in the ministry talk about the obstacles to bringing new life in a church we focus on outward problems. In this post I write about inward barriers pastors face and offer practical steps of overcoming them.

 Living by the Book
Yesterday’s post on Bible reading reminded me of this important work on how to read the Bible. William and Howard Hendricks explain how Christians can get the most out of God’s word by learning how to observe what is in the text, interpret the text accurately, and apply the text to everyday life. The time spent in this book will pay great dividends.

Bible

photo credit: Old Bible via photopin (license)

In my younger years as a pastor one of my favorite sounds was to hear people turning the pages in their Bibles as they looked for that morning’s text. That sound has largely been replaced by the sound of silence, as many people use the Bible app on their phone or tablet. In fact I still remember the first time someone used an iPad to read his Bible in one of our worship gatherings because I kept trying to figure out why his face was glowing.

The number of digital resources available for Bible reading and study has exploded in ways I never could have imagined when I became a Christian in the late 1990’s. Logos, iPad apps, and iPhone apps seem to have eliminated the need to carry around a physical copy of the Bible. After all, why would you carry around a fifteen hundred page book when you can access it on a device that fits in your pocket?

For several years I attempted to have my daily devotions on a Bible app on one of my devices. At different times I used my iPhone, iPad, Kindle app on my Macbook, and Logos. After trying this for a while I found my devotions lagging and returned to a physical copy of the Bible as an experiment. Reading a physical copy of the Bible rather than a digital device seemed to be more fruitful for me, and now I do almost all of my Bible reading in my Thinline ESV. Here are a few reasons why I made the switch back to a physical copy of the Bible for my devotions and have no plans for returning to digital.

I Can Write In My Bible

One of the major problems I had with reading the Bible on a screen was I found my attention wandering. While many apps have note taking capabilities, reading with a pencil my hand turns me from a passive reader to an active reader. Holding a pencil helps me to focus as I underline sentences, draw boxes around connecting words, and write notes in the margins. When I come back to those passages at another time, I can see insights that struck me previously. Bible apps have note taking and highlighting capabilities, but I find that a pencil is much more effective.

I Can’t Do Anything Else with My Bible

I struggle with being easily distracted. As I have been writing this post I have been tempted to click the Google Chrome icon so I can check Twitter and see what people are saying about the NBA Finals. My phone has social media apps, my iPad has games, and my Macbook has work I need to do. The only thing I can do with my Bible is read my Bible. When I have my morning devotions with only a Bible on the table it helps me to focus my attention on the Bible and the Bible alone.

My Children Can See Me Read My Bible

One of the things we want to do is build a love for the Bible in our children. We want them to love reading, hearing, and studying Scripture. We instill this through family devotions, catechisms, Scripture memory, and encouraging them to take notes during the sermon. They also need to see the example of their parents reading and meditating on the Bible. If I’m on my phone, they don’t know if Dad is reading the Bible, checking email, or scrolling through Instagram. When they come downstairs in the morning and see me reading my Bible, they see their Dad doing what he encourages them to do. Sometimes they will sit down and ask what I am reading, which leads to good conversations about the things of God. This usually doesn’t happen if they see me looking down at my phone.

I Remember to Read My Bible

I’m a pastor, but there are days when I am facing a crowded schedule and need a visual reminder the read the Bible. Seeing my Bible in the bag I take to work reminds me to take a few minutes, sit down, and hear from God in the Scriptures. Looking at my phone doesn’t remind me of this and neither does seeing my laptop, but my Bible reminds me too. Also, having a Bible with me during the day encourages me to read it during the little time gaps that pop us throughout the day. If I am meeting someone and they run late, I can pull my Bible out and read it for a few minutes before they arrive. I could theoretically do this on my phone, but the Bible is one of many apps on my phone calling for my attention. A physical copy of the Bible in my bag calls my attention to it alone.

This post should not be seen as my saying Bible apps are bad for Christians. On the contrary, they can be helpful when you are in a place where you cannot get to a physical copy of the Bible and it’s easier to pull your phone out to pull something up in the Bible during a conversation. Logos Bible Software has been a great help to me in my sermon study. After doing the initial study for my sermon in my Bible I open Logos up and have a library’s worth of material at my fingertips. These resources are great for study and iPhone apps are helpful for convenience, but I am finding that for my personal Bible reading a physical copy of the Bible works best.

Related Posts:
Why You Should Read the Old Testament History Books

Why You Should Read the Psalms

For Further Reading:
How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart

40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible by Robert Plummer

photo credit: Rings via photopin (license)

photo credit: Rings via photopin (license)

This week Beth and I celebrated our thirteenth anniversary.  One of the fun things about your anniversary is to look back, not only on your wedding day, but  also on the grace God has shown you throughout your entire marriage. In particular you can look over the entirety of your marriage and see how the Lord has been at work in you.

I thought I knew a lot about marriage when we stood before our family and friends thirteen years ago because I had memorized Ephesians 5 and read some books, but the following months proved I didn’t know much at all. God is good though, and in his faithfulness he has helped us both to grow, mature, and experience a portion of the joy the Lord intended marriage to be when he ordained it in the garden.

The Lord has been teaching me through our marriage, through his word, through talking with other Christians, and by his Spirit over the last thirteen years. Here are four marks that seem to be present in healthy and growing marriages.

Permanence

Anyone can get excited to work on their marriage for a few minutes, but growing marriages require daily work. In his book, What Did Your Expect?, Paul Tripp likens marriage to a garden. You cannot plant a garden, ignore it, and expect to see fruit. Instead, you must do the hard work of pulling weeds and cultivating crops. In the same way, marriages require consistent effort over the long haul. We work on our marriages by cultivating kindness, forgiveness, time together, listening, and a host of other virtues. We must also weed out anger, bitterness, selfishness, rudeness, wandering eyes, and any other sin that effects your marriages.

If you inspect the garden every day to look for growth, you probably don’t see perceptible movement, but over the course of weeks you begin to see fruit. In the same way, we only see growth in our marriage over the course of time and this growth only takes place when spouses are committed to each other for the rest of their lives. Marriages grow because spouses are growing, and many people will not take the time to make the difficult changes that need to be made when they are not committed for the rest of their lives. Marriage requires serious self-reflection, repentance, compassion, forgiveness, and self-forgetfulness. These virtues don’t form in our hearts overnight and it does not happen without painful changes. When you are in your marriage for the rest of your life, you will commit to making the changes you need to make because you value the glory of God and your spouse’s joy.

Teamwork

When I was in high school we played pickup basketball all spring and summer. Many times two guys from the same team would fight each other for a rebound and eventually someone would shout, “same team.” These two guys struggled against each other when they should be working together and had to be reminded they they were on the same side.

We need this same reminder in marriage sometimes. Spouses take out their bad days on each other, snap at each other when the children have been misbehaving, or work against each other instead of working together. In this situation the only answer is for spouses to stop and remember that they are in this together.  We have to remember we have the same ultimate goals for lasting joy and the glory of God followed by a commitment to stop acting as if our spouse is a problem and remember they are our partner.  Many of the obstacles married couples face will be reduced in size when we face them as one. This doesn’t mean they go away, but we go into difficulties with a completely different mindset when we know we are together. Going in to face problems at work, sickness, overwhelming bills, and disobedient children as a united couple give couples support and comfort they don’t have when they are divided.

Thoughtfulness

So often when we have problems in our marriages, we don’t need a seminar to help us because our greatest struggles come from treating each other in an ungodly way. We speak rashly, hold grudges, forget how to show patience and empathy, and speak to each other in ways we would never tolerate if the shoe was on the other foot. Couples work against each other, undermine each other, and forget to show each other even the most basic courtesy.

Many times, the answer is to apply “love your neighbor as yourself” and the “one another” passages to our marriages. After all, isn’t our spouse our closest neighbor? How much would our marriages change if 23 obeyed “bearing with one another and forgiving one another, as the Lord has forgiven you, so also should you?” What would kind of practical difference would it make if you showed basic kindness and only treated your spouse the way you want to be treated? We overcomplicate marriage, and think we need some kind of specialized training when we really just need to show love, kindness, patience, and forgiveness. This one change makes overwhelming differences.

Friendship

About ten years ago everyone started talking about the importance of date night for marital health. Especially when couples have small children, getting away for a few hours is an important ingredient in your marriage. We can have fun and enjoy our time together, especially since we don’t have other people to feed instead of ourselves. However, it a couple’s only quality time together is a date night we are missing some of the best opportunities for our marriage to grow. Nothing helps our marriage grow like daily time together. Working on projects together, cooking and cleaning the kitchen together, and hanging out together after the kids go to bed are some of the best times we can have together. This kind of time together over time builds friendship, helps us work out problems together, and gives moments of joy in the midst of tough days.

The time we need together everyday must be intentionally carved out. No one ever magically “finds time” for important things because if something is truly important we must make time for it. This means aligning schedules and cutting out extra activities if necessary. It involves getting kids in bed or in their rooms at a decent hour or getting up before the kids wake up to have breakfast together. Whatever form it may take, repeated quality time builds a truly loving and lasting friendship.

We don’t talk enough about the role of friendship in marriage. We think of friends as the people who live outside of our own homes, but if we are in union together shouldn’t our spouses be our closest friends? Shouldn’t this be the person I want to spend time with the most and be more willing to confide in than anyone else? If this is not the case, if we want to run from our spouses instead of spend time with them, it serves as a reminder for us to walk in repentance and forgiveness towards them. If years of anger and hostility have driven a barrier between spouses, the answer is to repent, forgive, and reconcile with them so the barrier is torn down and the friendship restored.

These are not all of the marks of healthy marriage, which is why there will be a part 2 soon. What are some of the marks you have seen in healthy marriages?

Related Posts:
Husbands, Be a Patient Listener

Husbands, Be Quick to Forgive

For Further Reading:
The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller

The Mingling of Souls by Matt and Lauren Chandler

A Few Good Reads

June 10, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

Yes, Muslims Really Qualify for Religious Freedom
In a recent editorial for The Christian Index, Dr. Gerald Harris argued that Muslims should not receive full religious freedom because of the faith commitments of some of its adherents. Dr. Harris’ editorial advocates a stunning departure from the historic Baptist understanding of religious liberty and Bart Barber responds with a thorough exposition of our position on this issue. Barber’s post explores the history of religious liberty and offers some thoughts on this current debate. “The most rapidly growing religion in the world is Evangelical Christianity—the faith that gave the world universal religious liberty and has been its staunchest ongoing defender. You’d think that those two facts would instill a little pragmatic confidence in the idea of universal religious liberty.”

When Your Pastor Preaches a Sermon Dud
Sometimes when you go gather with God’s people to pray, sing praises, and hear his word your pastor completely drops the ball on his sermon. This can happen when his main point wasn’t clear, he didn’t have relevant application, seemed like he wasn’t into it, or was just plain boring. What should you go home and do that day? How should you respond to your pastor bombing? Tony Reinke offers some helpful suggestions drawn from the writings of John Newton. “Our pastor is a weak and sinful man, and he is quite likely aware of this without our help.”

Why Daughters Need Their Dads
I get the privilege of being Dad to three amazing girls, so anything I can read on how to be a more faithful and godly father piques my immediate interest. Dr. Meg Meeker shares why girls need their Dads, and how we shape their lives for decades to come. “Over the years, in erratic bursts and in simple ordinary life together, she will absorb your influence. She will watch every move you make. She might not understand why you are happy or angry, affectionate, but you will be the most important man in her life, forever.”

Four Ways for Fathers to Engage at Home
Men face many temptations in parenting, and one of the most subtle is our tendency to be disengaged from our children for the few hours we are home in the afternoons. Jeremy Adelman reminds us of four specific ways we can engage our kids when we are at home with them. “When our wives and children are awake and want to be with us, our phones are a distraction from what matters most in that moment. By the time we get home most days, our children will be asleep within a few short hours. Don’t waste it on your phone.”

God and Politics
With the 2016 general election getting into full swing, it’s helpful for Christians to step back and think about how our faith affects the way we view and engage in politics. Few people can answer this question like a pastor in the nation’s capitol. This short book from Mark Dever will help us as we seek to engage the political in a biblically faithful manner. “In a society where religion is increasingly private, and faith is OK as long as it s not shared, many would seek to keep God out of their politics. But is that right, and is it biblical? This is an important topic to consider, not just for those working in government, but for all of us as we seek to be responsible citizens in a fallen world.”

“Discouragement is an occupational hazard of Christian ministry.” John Stott may be able to lay claim to some of the truest words ever spoken. I wrote a few months ago that pastors sound ridiculous when we talk about the ministry like it is the world’s hardest job, but it does have unique challenges, difficulties, and discouragements.

In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul lists the hardships he faced as part of his ministry. He received  beatings and imprisonments. He endured the forty lashes minus one five times. Paul lived under constant danger and threats from authorities. Then there were the shipwrecks and as well as nights spent naked, cold, and hungry. These sufferings and trials cannot compare to one other burden he bore though. “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” That Paul chose to mention his concern for the churches alongside his bodily sufferings tells us the enormous weight pastors carry.

The ministry allows us to see some amazing glories. We get to bear witness to the glorious truth about Jesus and experience people going from darkness to light through faith in him. Broken marriages reconcile, prodigals come home, and struggling people grow in their faith.

The heartbreaks can be profound as well though. When a marriage falls apart or someone walks away from the faith you look in the mirror and wonder what you could have done differently. People leave your church where you love and pray for them for the big church down the road where no one will know their name. When the ministry stagnates everyone looks your way. The pressures can be overwhelming.

What can tired, broken pastors do? Where do we go when the pressures of the ministry feel like they are going to break us?

Remember the Good News

I don’t start with the Gospel because we’re supposed to, but because the Gospel is our lifeblood. Our only hope in this life is the death of the Lord Jesus Christ for us and his resurrection from the dead. We must come back to this ever-flowing fountain every single day so we can be reminded of the hope, peace, and life we have because of him.

In addition we need to remember who we are because of the Gospel. Before you were called to be a pastor you were called to be a child of the King. Through your faith in Jesus you have been adopted as a child of God, and you can rest knowing nothing will separate you from the love of your father. Things may not be going well in your church family, but this does not change your standing before God because you have been justified by faith alone in Jesus and not by your performance in the ministry.

Because you belong to the Father through faith in Jesus Christ you have an audience with the Father. In 1 John 5:13 John summarizes his entire epistle by saying, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” He moves from this statement on assurance to our knowing God hears and answers us when we pray. Why would John connect assurance to prayer? Could it be that John wants us to see that when we know we belong to the Father we come to him with confident prayer? When we know we are part of the Father’s family, we take our burdens, cares, anxieties, and heartaches to the Father. He hears, he sympathizes, and he gives us his peace.

Rely on Your Fellow Leaders

As you read through the narrative passages in Scripture you never see just one man leading a church. The church in Jerusalem was led by the apostles. Paul had companions for his missionary journeys and he appointed elders in the churches that he founded. The idea of lone ranger ministry is foreign to the New Testament.

No one can shoulder the burden of ministry alone and as pastors we have to learn to be honest with our fellow leaders and rely on them. Unburdening our difficulties to our lay leadership can be humbling, but this means it’s the best thing for you to do. They need to know where you are so they can pray for you and help you. Do not try to walk alone because it never leads to anything constructive or God-honoring.

If you do not have lay leaders you can trust, you need to do two things. First, find a pastor friend you can talk to. They know where you are and can walk with you through the difficulty. Also, start disciplining some men who can be future leaders in the church. You don’t have to be stuck with unreliable leaders forever, so work to raise up some new ones.

(Pastor if you find yourself thinking about hurting yourself, how the world would be better off without you, or begin experiencing prolonged periods of darkness you need to see a medical professional and/or Christian counselor immediately. There is not one shred of shame in admitting you are dealing with crippling depression and the embarrassment of talking to a professional pales in comparison with the damage that would happen if you hurt yourself.)

Change Your Definition of “Success”

In our ministry climate the main point of Kent Hughes’ Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome becomes more important every day. We have to fill out statistical reports for the denomination each year. Pastors at conferences ask “whatcharunnin’” and well-meaning family members ask you if your church is growing over Thanksgiving dinner.

When filled seats and met budgets become our barometer for ministry “success” we set ourselves up for disappointment and frustration. Instead, begin to focus on faithfulness and looking for every evidence of grace which suggests God is at work in your ministry.

Evangelize, disciple, pray, and study. This doesn’t make for an interesting reality show, but faithfulness in these disciplines over the long haul will yield fruit for the kingdom of God. Look at your ministry for the fruit you cannot report on a denominational form. Rejoice when you receive a text message from someone asking about a Bible verse, when a young Christian gains victory over sin, or when someone who previously seemed uninterested came to you with a great idea for ministry. These seemingly small things and more can be evidence God is at work through your ministry. Look for these treasures and celebrate them.

Weary pastor, don’t give up today in doing the things that matter. Remember the Gospel, pray, lean on the brothers around you, and walk faithfully in the basics of ministry knowing your labor in the Lord will not be in vain.

Related Posts:
48 Scattered Thoughts about Pastoral Ministry and Being a Pastor

Six Foolish Things I Used to Believe about the Ministry

For Further Reading:
Leading on Empty by Wayne Cordeiro
Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp

A Few Good Reads

June 2, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

10 Ways to Grow Your Marriage While Having Young Kids
Gavin Ortlund hits on an important issue for young families who face the consistent temptation to forget about their marriage in the midst of raising small kids. His encouragement is practical and should be committed to memory. “When planning a date night, I often think, Can we afford this? But when we do it, I always think, I’m glad we did this—we needed it. It’s so important to have times of laughter, recreation, and play with your spouse. The old saying is corny but true: ‘Families that play together stay together.’”

Evangelicals must not bear the mark of Trump
Michael Gerson of The Washington Post addresses the news that 500 evangelical leaders will meet with presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump soon. He argues that by endorsing Trump for even the most noble of pragmatic reasons evangelicals will sacrifice their credibility before the watching world. “Evangelical Christians are not merely choosing a certain political outcome. They are determining their public character — the way they are viewed by others and, ultimately, the way they view themselves. They are identifying with a man who has fed ethnic tension for political gain; who has proposed systemic religiousdiscrimination; who has dramatically undermined the democratic values of civility and tolerance; who has advocated war crimes, including killing the families of terrorists; who holds a highly sexualized view of power as dominance, rather than seeing power as an instrument to advance moral ends.”

13, right now
All parents know our kids are growing up in a very different world than we did. Jessica Contrera chronicles the quest for status and recognition kids deal with in the digital world. “Katherine Pommerening’s iPhone is the place where all of her friends are always hanging out. So it’s the place where she is, too. She’s on it after it rings to wake her up in the mornings. She’s on it at school, when she can sneak it. She’s on it while her 8-year-old sister, Lila, is building crafts out of beads. She sets it down to play basketball, to skateboard, to watch PG-13 comedies and sometimes to eat dinner, but when she picks it back up, she might have 64 unread messages.”

Galatians 3:28 Does Not Encourage Color-Blind Christianity
Many well-meaning people say we should live in a color blind society. They often say this to try to tap down racial tensions and encourage the downplaying of race in our culture. Christians who advocate for this viewpoint often point to Galatians 3:28 as evidence for their assertions. Jarvis Williams shows the fallacies behind this view and points us towards simultaneously embracing our ethnic diversity and unity in Christ. “Christians, don’t be color-blind, but be transformed in Christ and pursue unity in Christ both with those who are like you and who are distinct from you. If you affirm Christian color-blindness, you will fail to live in in light of Gal. 3:28: ‘you are all one in Christ!’”

A Meal with Jesus
This book is five years old and I have recommended it many times, but I am working through it again and wanted to bring it back to your attention. Christians often wonder how they can engage their neighbors with the gospel and Tim Chester points to an obvious answer from Jesus’ ministry- shared meals. He works through Jesus’ meals in Luke’s Gospel and shows how we can engage in mission and community around the table. ““Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, create programs, or put on events. He ate meals. If you routinely share meals and you have a passion for Jesus, then you’ll be doing mission. It’s not that meals save people. People are saved through the gospel message. But meals will create natural opportunities to share that message in a context that resonates powerfully with what you’re saying.”

Many have been talking about the incident at the Cincinnati Zoo this weekend. A young boy slipped away from his mother and climbed into the exhibit with the zoo’s gorilla. Many said the gorilla was acting protective toward the young boy, but the zoo staff believed his posture was threatening and shot him.

In the days since the incident many on social media have pointed fingers at the little boy’s mother. Many have quipped that the gorilla took better care of her child than she did and others declared the mother should have been shot instead of the gorilla. A petition calling for Child Protective Services to investigate the mother for neglect gathered over 100,000 signatures. Many people sent threatening messages to her and several other people who shared her name. The vitriol pointed in her direction has been heated and blood-thirsty.

As I read the story and heard the mother had four children a stark realization came to my mind- this could have happened to me. We have four children ten and under. A couple of months ago I took all four of them to the Birmingham Zoo by myself. Thankfully nothing catastrophic happened, but I spent the entire trip counting. (Our youngest stayed in a stroller so I only had to count three.) My children can fall behind, wander, or dart off at the drop of a hat. Even if I stay vigilant for 99.999% of a trip it will be the .001% when I find myself having to ask, “where is your sister? Where is your sister?”

This perspective would not have entered my mind fifteen years ago. At that time I had never experienced what it was like to have children. I became easily annoyed by a crying baby in a restaurant because the parents should be able to control their children. Faced with a story like the one from the Cincinnati Zoo my reaction would have been to place blame and scorn upon this mother who in my opinion was an obvious failure at making her children obey.

This was not my response when I first read this story in 2016 though, because experience has taught me that parenting is really hard, especially in public places. For the last two months, whenever my fifteen month-old son does not like what is happening around him he lets out an ear-splitting squeal. He often does this in restaurants, where we cannot let him down out of the high chair to roam around. We’ve tried many things to remedy this situation- telling him “no,” trying to teach him to sign “more” with his hands, and anything else we can think of in the desperate moment. Nothing works, because we cannot “control” him. He is a human being made in the image of God with a will of his own which has not been tempered by age, maturity, knowledge, or the new birth. He wants whatever he wants at that moment and squealing is his method for announcing this to the world.

I also only have to remember an incident from my own childhood. My family was at a waterpark and I was swimming in a wave pool. My mother was sitting on the side of the pool and showed me where she would be sitting. In a split-second they could not find me. They searched the bottom of the pool frantically as they were afraid I had drowned. Little did they know that on a whim I got out of the pool quickly because I forgot where my mother was sitting and started walking around the park trying to find her. In the blink of an eye a forgetful child slipped away.

I tell these stories from my own life because I know where this mom is coming from. You don’t have to be negligent, foolish, or derelict in your duty as a parent for your child to climb into a zoo exhibit. You only need to look away for a moment, close your eyes to take a deep breath, answer a question from one of your other children, or not have eyes in the back of your head.

We would know these things if culturally we developed a quality we seem to have forgotten- empathy. Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is an essential character trait we abandoned in our culture. Because we can share our immediate thoughts on the internet and then feel the need to defend them, we started forsaking the simple act of putting ourselves in another person’s place before we started calling for them to be prosecuted for a crime or have their children removed from their home.

For the person who follows Jesus, empathy and compassion for people in difficult situations is not an option. We read in the New Testament that Jesus came to earth and was tempted in everything we were, but without sin. The writer of Hebrews also pointed to Jesus’ experience with weakness and suffering as a reason to pray to him because he is a merciful and faithful high priest who hears our prayers.

Christian, think about this for a minute. Jesus walked through the human experience of temptation, weakness, and suffering. Now when we go to him he welcomes us into his presence and sympathizes with our weaknesses. He hears us, understands us, and shows us his grace. If this is what the Christian receives from Jesus, how could we not show it to others? This is not just about the mom from the Cincinnati Zoo, but every person we hear about or encounter who struggles and fails. We fail, we struggle, we are weak, and we sin, but we receive grace. How can we say this grace dwells within us when we don’t demonstrate it to other weak, sinful people?

Related Posts:
Redeeming Our Uncivil Discourse

For Further Reading:
Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson

A Few Good Reads

May 26, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

Why are We Flushing Thousands of Years Down the Toilet?
David Murray addresses the confusion in our culture about gender and sexuality. He wonders why we would rush changes in our culture ignoring thousands of years of precedent and comes up with fifteen reasons why we might do so. “Until we understand the motives behind these decrees and decisions, we’ll never be able to argue successfully at the deepest level of the heart and mind. And we’ll never get to our knees and pray that the God who holds the king’s heart in His hand, just like the rivers of water, would turn it wherever He wishes (Prov. 21:1).”

Don’t Waste Your Summer
School ended for the Summer here in Shelby County yesterday, so Kevin DeYoung’s suggestions for making the most of our summer came at an appropriate time. “In a little over three months we’ll all be moaning, “Where did the summer go? I can’t believe it’s over.” So what can we do over the next hundred days or so to help alleviate that feeling of loss? Or to put it positively, what can we do to make the most of June, July, and August? Here are twenty suggestions.”

What Does the Word “Gospel” Mean in the New Testament?
Since the word “gospel” is integral to Christianity, it’s important to know what it means. R.C. Sproul shares three ways the New Testament uses this word and how this should impact our understanding of what the good news is. “The gospel is under attack in the church today. I cannot stress enough how important it is to get the gospel right and to understand both the objective aspect of the person and work of Jesus and the subjective dimension of how we benefit from that by faith alone.”

Getting to the Heart of Atonement
Speaking of the Gospel, Jesus’ death in our place for our sins stands as an essential element of the Gospel. Therefore, we must have a right understanding of Jesus’ death for us. Bill Mounce explains several words related to the atonement and how they help shape our conception of Jesus’ death. “Everything we need for God’s forgiveness, for the removal of God’s anger, and for reconciliation with God himself can be found in Jesus.”

Living in the Light: Money, Sex, and Power
Tim Keller has often said that the three greatest idols we face are money, sex, and power. In his latest book John Piper helps us keep Christ at the center of our lives so we know how to approach these in the proper way. You can read an excerpt at The Gospel Coalition. “When Christ is our supreme treasure, we are able to keep money, sex and power in their proper place, enjoying them and glorifying God with them instead of rejecting them or worshiping them.”

Missional Motherhood
Many mothers struggle with feeling like the work they do with their children doesn’t feel like it contributes to the advancement of God’s kingdom. Gloria Furman’s new book helps mothers understand how their labors further the work of the gospel. You can read an excerpt at The Gospel Coalition. “Despite the routine tasks and mundane to-do lists, motherhood is anything but insignificant. God has designed motherhood as part of his greater plan to draw people to himself—instilling all women, whether called to traditional mothering or not, with an eternal purpose in nurturing others.”