June 27, 2007

Get 'Em While They're Hot

Today and tommorrow only (7/27-28) desiringgod.org has all of Piper's books on sale for $5/ea. No limits. ESV Bibles, too. This is better than half-price Monday at Valley Thrift Store!

June 25, 2007

Weeping, Promising...Acting (or: Good, Better...Best)

Sunday, we began a new study in the book of Habakkuk. In doing so, we pointed out that 2 Kings 22-23 is the backdrop for the prophecy of Habakkuk. The people of God had neglected God’s word, defiled God’s worship, forgotten God’s gospel, and lost their own children. And Habakkuk (1.2-4) wept over the decay of God’s chosen. So, eventually, did King Josiah. It all started when the Bible was rediscovered (22.10) and read aloud in the king’s hearing (22.11). What followed in the life and leadership of Josiah was weeping, promising, and acting. His response to the word of God, I believe, serves as a paradigm for God’s people who hear His word and realize that we are not measuring up to the standard Let me summarize Josiah’s response:

1. Josiah wept at God’s word. The book of the Law had, apparently, been buried under a pile of other paper work in the Temple. So buried, in fact, that the king had never read it! He had lived his life and led God’s people in ignorance of God’s word. But, (22.11), “when the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes.”

Isn’t that how we should all respond when we realize we have been ignoring this or that portion of God’s word? When we realize we have been parenting incorrectly, worshipping incorrectly, believing incorrectly, using our money incorrectly, and so on…shouldn’t the response be heartache over our crimes against God? When was the last time you were undone inwardly by God’s word?

2. Josiah promised God obedience. “The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart” (23.3). Josiah didn’t just feel bad about his sins—he came to God with words! He asked forgiveness…and he promised, with God’s help, to begin a new way of obedience.

Is that your response when you are convicted of sins? Do you simply leave the church or the prayer closet feeling bad…and hoping you will do better? Or do you actually pull aside with Jesus and seek His forgiveness and His help? And do you commit yourself to begin, from this day forward, to “keep His statutes with all your heart”?

Surely many of us actually do #’s 1 and 2. But #3 is really the key…

3. Josiah acted on God’s word and his own promises. The remainder of chapter 23 tells Josiah began, radically, to put into practice everything he had discovered in the book of the law. He gathered everyone together to hear God’s word read aloud. He tore down altars that had been in place for centuries. He fired the false priests. He burned idols to the ground. He reinstituted the long-neglected Passover—at his own expense (2 Chronicles 35.7). He followed through on his promises—even at the risk of losing money and popularity!

What about you? Has God convicted you lately? Has your heart been pierced over some sinful habit, or neglected duty? Have you come to Christ, seeking forgiveness and help…and committing to go and sin no more? And are you actually, come what may, following through?

June 20, 2007

Out of Egypt

Some of you know that, at each year's pastor's conference, John Piper gives a biographical message/challenge from the life some great saint of the past. Of all the audio messages I have ever listened to, this series is some of the best stuff.

This week, I have listened to Piper's message on Athanasius of Alexandria (Egypt, not Virginia!). This is, perhaps, the most challenging and thought-provoking of them all. Listen or read it when you get a chance. Point 6 has some very keen insight that will be helpful in thinking through the Evan Almighty debate in which I have been engaged of late.

June 18, 2007

Waiting for a BLT

I have been thinking lately about tomatoes—not least of all because June is the perfect time of the year for one of Tobey’s delicious bacon and tomato sandwiches! But even more so, I have been thinking about growing tomatoes as an analogy for pastoring Christ’s church.

Now I am no expert at growing tomatoes. We have put out a few vines over the years—with mixed results. So I don’t know a lot, but here is what I do know. The best tomato crops usually come with diligent prep work. The soil has to be tended; the vine has to be properly planted; the lattice-work has to be put in place; the vine has to be carefully tangled in the lattice, keeping the plant upright; and, if you live in southwest Ohio, a net has to be draped over it all to keep the deer away! Then, just add copious amounts of water and a healthy dose of patience…and before long, you will have some pretty tasty BLTs!

Now here is the point: pastoring, believe it or not, is much the same as tending tomato vines. In fact, Paul compares pastoring to growing tomatoes: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Cor 3.6). OK, maybe Paul was thinking of grapes or wheat. But, either way you slice it, pastoring is a lot like cultivating plants!

So…here is the big lesson I have been learning in recent days: God must cause the growth. For the last four-and-a-half years, my church and I have done a lot of planting and watering together. So many good things have been put in place—a more biblical leadership structure, higher membership expectations, a better understanding of Christian community, deeper doctrinal roots, and so on. All these things are wonderful accomplishments—for which we should be very thankful to the Lord!

So then, the structures are in place - the tomato vines are up; the lattice is doing its job; the leaves are out; and the sprinkler is running. But now we must wait for God to cause the growth! Now we must wait for God to grow stronger families, better disciples, and new believers out of all the prep work that we have done. I hope this is what all of us want to see. No one does all the work of setting tomato vines except to grow tomatoes! And we haven’t done all the work of re-forming our church just for the sake of structure. We want, now, to see spiritual fruit!

But God is the one who must cause the growth. That is where I have gotten sidetracked recently. I started thinking that, as soon as we got all the vines in the right places, we’d wake up in a day or two and see fresh ripe tomatoes. But that isn’t how tomatoes work! And it isn’t how spiritual fruit works, either. Growing tomatoes (and churches) takes patience. I hope I am finally starting to learn that!

So, we have done the preparatory work (and we must continue to tend the vines, and water the church with prayer). But, most of all, we must wait…and plead…for God to cause the growth. And so must you...

June 13, 2007

Thoughts on Wednesday Night

Gird yourselves with sackcloth
And lament, O priests;
Wail, O ministers of the altar!
Come, spend the night in sackcloth
O ministers of my God,
For the grain offering and the drink offering
Are withheld from the house of your God.
Consecrate a fast,
Proclaim a solemn assembly;
Gather the elders
And all the inhabitants of the land
To the house of the LORD your God,
And cry out to the LORD.

Joel 1.13-14

June 11, 2007

Musings of a Small-Church Pastor

Our church has 66 members. Perhaps not a good number for those who are superstitious…but I am thankful for all 66 of them! But, I would be lying if I said that a church of 66 people doesn’t sometimes feel a little bit too small. Coming from north Mississippi (and particularly, the Memphis suburbs) I have grown accustomed to thinking of a ‘small church’ as one with only a couple-hundred people in attendance!

What does that mean? Well, it means that the words ‘small’ and ‘large’ are certainly relative. But it also means that, sometimes, I find myself crying in my oatmeal a little bit…questioning why God doesn’t allow us to be ‘more successful’ in our outreach, etc., etc., etc. And, though I know whining is sinful (Philippians 2.14), I still find myself doing it! The syndrome has hit me again the last couple of weeks as the reality has set in that four members were moving away (a bittersweet thing)…and that a handful of other members seem to be falling away (only a bitter thing). So I’ve been murmuring to the Lord. But He has rebuked me on several fronts. I share in case you are concerned, as I am, that you haven’t been as successful as you’d like in your outreach, or in whatever other endeavors you may be undertaking…

1. My whining is selfishness. Is there a time to be distressed over the smallness of a church; or the slowness of its growth? Of course! The Bible is filled with righteous mourning! But my ‘mourning’ has really been whining. It has come, largely, because the small numbers make me feel unsuccessful—as though that is why we should enter ministry: to feel successful. Selfish ambition, pure and simple. Pray for me in this, that I would do my work “as for the Lord rather than for men” - including myself (Colossians 3.23)!

2. I should, on some levels, be glad of a small flock. Hebrews 13.17 says that elders “keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” God is going to ask Keith, Charles, and I how we dealt with each one of our 66 souls. So maybe having less to deal with is, right now, a kind of blessing! The old Scottish pastor John Brown once spoke to a young pastor going to his first church: “I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren who are around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at his judgment-seat, you will think you have had enough.”

3. "Better is the little of the righteous, than the abundance of many wicked." That is a direct quote from Psalm 37.16, which I came across, quite unintentionally, in the midst of my whining last week. In other words, it is better to be righteous and have very little to show for it…than to be in cahoots with a pack of unrepentant sinners and have it all! The original context speaks, I believe, about material possessions. But I think it is easily applied to the church. Better is small a church with a handful of righteous people than to have a megachurch full of people who do not know their spiritual right hand from their left. When I think of my friends who are in those kinds of churches, I am so thankful for my little flock of true believers. Their walking with the Lord makes my job (and my life) so much better!

So, if the Lord wills, may we grow far beyond our current 66…but not for mere personal satisfaction; not at the expense of individual soul-care; and not at the expense of righteousness!

More Ethiopia Pictures

Jordan and Nathan just returned from Ethiopia, teaching the second round of the Pastor's Training Institute. They obviously did a better job taking pictures than Scott and I! Enjoy! And check back periodically at their blog...maybe they'll have a full update posted soon (hint!).

June 2, 2007

Water for Africa

Check out Abba's Living Water project. And ignore the really goofy looking picture of the youngest board member!