Years before receiving a call to serve as pastor, I received one of the most helpful lessons on ministry from Eddie Rasnake and the pastoral staff of Woodland Park Baptist Church.
In 2002 I moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee to go through the SALT Institute. SALT stands for Servant Approach Leadership Training. And this two-year cohort program—which continues to serve the people of WPBC—equipped (aspiring) church leaders with sound principles for Bible study, disciple-making, and ministry. Nearly fifteen years later, the things I learned in SALT continue to shape my approach to ministry. That said, one of them, stands above the rest—ministry is received, not achieved.
What is an Achieved Ministry?
Have you ever met someone whose singular aim is to convince you they are called to ministry? Maybe they give away scores of Vista Print business cards inviting you to invite them to your church; maybe they email you regularly to convince you why they should speak or sing or play at your next youth event; or maybe they give as much attention to networking as to prayer and the study of God’s Word. All of these are symptoms of an achieved ministry.
To be sure, Christians ought to be zealous in using their gifts (Romans 12:8, 11). We ought, as William Carey once said, “Expect great things from God,” and “attempt great things for God.” But while God honors such passion, we must admit there are plenty of zealous people not named Carey. In other words, not every zealous minister is equally pleasing to God. Too many are driven by impure motives. And here, I’m not just talking about others. I know my own heart and the conniving ways I seek to assert myself.
So what is the solution? My answer, the answer I received from the SALT Institute, is to crucify self-achieved ministries and pursue, with a patient heart, a received ministry. Continue reading
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me.
— Exodus 25:1–2 —
But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.
— 1 Chronicles 29:14 —
Old Covenant Giving: A Legal Requirement in the Land
From the opening pages of Scripture God has called his saints to give. Providing the first sacrifice when he made skins to clothe Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21), God modeled for his children the kind of animal sacrifice that would please him. Abel followed in faith (Genesis 4:4; Hebrews 11:4), as did Noah (Genesis 8:20–22), Abraham (22:16–18), Moses (24:4–5; 40:29), and the priests of Levi (when they kept the Law). Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people were called to give.
Echoed in every other world religion, giving is a necessary part of worship. In Israel, tithes, offerings, and sacrifices—atoning and festive—were a normal part of worship. Likewise, the Old Testament testifies that every demon-inspired deity demanded gifts and every culture offered sacrifices—sometimes even giving up their children to the flames of Molech (Leviticus 18:21; Jeremiah 32:35). In short, from a cursory reading of Scripture or a survey of the world, mankind is people who worship, and giving is a necessary part of that worship. Still, in that worship there are right and wrong ways to worship, which means there are right ways and wrong ways to give.
Where should we eat? What should we eat? Where’s the best place to eat?
Whether we take time to think about it or not, questions about food come up every day. Wherever you live, food plays a large part in who we are. Restaurants are often associated with various countries, ethnicities, or even religious practices. Shall we eat at the Mexican grocery or the Kosher deli? Is this food on my diet? Where did it come from?
How we eat—or refuse to eat—says a lot about us. In a sense, we are all foodies—even if you prefer McDonald’s over the farmer’s market. Or to turn it around, dietary practices and table fellowship shape who we are. Studies have shown that children thrive on family dinners, while rigid commitment to veganism may result in deeper relationships with other herbivores and increased disgust with carnivores.
In these ways, food choices are ethical decisions. Eating is an undeniably moral activity. Therefore, as we sit down to “eat” the Lord’s Supper, we should ask: How does Scripture speak about food?
After spending the last eight weeks (June — July) looking at Paul’s instructions on sex, singleness, marriage, divorce and remarriage in 1 Corinthians 5–7, we pulled back the lens yesterday to see how these three chapters inform our understanding of church discipline. As Jonathan Leeman argues in The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, “local church membership and discipline . . . define God’s love for the world” (17).
In our sermon, we too considered from the text of 1 Corinthians how a church displays love through church discipline. If this sounds like a contradiction in terms, please listen to or read the sermon and read this article on objections to church discipline.
(If you are still not convinced, order Leeman’s book and a set of steak knives. The fusion of holy love and church life is a feast to consider, but it is not for the faint of heart. It is not a milky doctrine but true meat for the maturing disciple). Continue reading
Last year the elders of our church preached through a series on the church. The penultimate message in that series turned to the important but often misunderstood topic of church discipline. Expounding Matthew 18, our elder-turned-fulltime-seminary-student, Jamie McBride, articulated a vision of church discipline that is compassionate, convictional, church-building, and Christ-centered.
This Sunday we return to the topic of church discipline, as we summarize and apply 1 Corinthians 5–7. For the last eight weeks, we have walked through Paul’s instructions on church discipline (ch. 5), legal proceedings and sexual purity (ch. 6), and singleness, marriage, divorce, and remarriage (ch. 7). Now we will consider how these teachings are meant to shape life together in the church.
In preparation for Sunday’s message, let’s consider five faulty objections that come against church discipline. Jamie answered these objections in his sermon. And I will answer them here, drawing on many of his biblical insights.
Five Objections to Church Discipline
1. “It’s none of my business.”
In our hyper-individualistic culture, we are accustomed to passing by the plights of others. In the church, however, we cannot simply ignore the needs of others. We are not a restaurant that gives out biblical teaching and communion wafers. We are a family, a household of God, brothers and sisters committed to Christ and one another. We are not like Cain who mocked, “Am I my brothers keeper?” We are our brothers keeper. Continue reading
First Corinthians 7 is a difficult passage for many reasons, but one of those reasons has to do with how poorly the evangelical marriage machine (i.e., Christian romance novels, endless marriage conferences, Christian Mingle, etc.) has loved singles and thought about the subject of singleness. While the EMM projects marriage as the blissful goal of every Christian adult, singleness is often perceived as something to avoid. Yes, Paul calls it good, but . . .
Genesis 2:18 is the tell-tale verse: “It is not good for a man to be alone.” Period. End of story. From this verse, and the cultural statistics about men and women waiting for decades before married, the goodness of singleness is missed.
Then we read 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul makes odd statements about how the married should live as though they are not married (v. 29) and that those who marry do well, but those who do not marry do better (v. 38). To understand Paul’s point, we have to fight back images of monks punishing themselves for impure thoughts and stories of celibate priests abusing young boys. “Surely,” we say to our selves, “the inspired apostle is correct in what he says, but things have changed.” “Yes, there is a gift of singleness that God gives to some people, but that’s not me and should be avoided at all cost.”
Long story short, I think we still have a negative view towards singleness. To the married, there maybe suspicion of those who are not married. And to the single, there may be sorrow, anger, or frustration that Mr. Right has not yet arrived. In fact, this sadly is the promise most True Love Waits-type ministries offer—“If you save your virginity, you will be rewarded with a godly (gorgeous) spouse”. But is that so? Continue reading
“Vocation” is a word that comes from the Latin word for “calling” (vocare). In modern vernacular it often is an unimpressive synonym for work, i.e., vocational training. However, in Scripture, the word is filled with significance, even dignity. God calls us to himself, out of darkness and death, into the life and love of his beloved Son. Therefore, Christians must understand “vocation” not as a mundane description of work, but rather a dignified “calling” to serve God and the creatures who bear his image. Truly, to ignore or minimize this vocation is to miss a significant facet of the Christian life.
When the Reformers like Martin Luther threw off the shackles of Rome, they restored the doctrine of justification by faith alone. However, contesting the clergy-laity divide, they also esteemed the priesthood of all believers and the doctrine of vocation. In fact, in church history any study of vocation must consider his writings, for he wrote so much and so well about this doctrine.
Taking this into consideration, Gene Veith an evangelical Lutheran has captured much of Luther’s doctrine, make that the biblical doctrine, in his excellent book God at Work: Your Vocation in All of Life. Introducing his topic, he writes, “When God blesses us, He almost always does it through other people” (14). This, in a sentence, is the doctrine of vocation. Or more exactly, this is the fruit of the gift of vocation.
In what follows I’ve traced the themes of his book and encapsulated a number of his best quotes. I hope it piques your interest in this topic, even as it paints a picture of why vocation is so important for the Christian. Continue reading
Following Jesus means obeying the Great Commission, with its command to make disciples of all the nations. But what does that mean? And how do we do it?
In a few other posts I’ve answered what it means to be a disciple and who makes disciples. But today, I want to begin to address the question: How do we disciple?
A Brief Introduction
Many helpful books have been written on discipleship. My (old) favorite is Robert Coleman’s Master Plan of Evangelism; my (new) favorite might be Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus by Mark Dever. Both are simple reads. The former tracing Jesus’ pattern of discipleship; the latter giving practical instructions on “helping others follow Jesus,” which is Dever’s simple definition of discipling. If you have never read a book on discipleship, I’d recommend you pick up one of these two—then read the other.
In the meantime, let’s try to put a few how-to’s in place, with or without any prerequisite reading. Without limiting or listing the number of ways discipleship can be carried out, here are three ways we might conceive of discipleship. Continue reading
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
— Jeremiah 29:7 —
Today marks the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence—a day that marks the birth of our nation and reminds us of the wonderful liberties we have in America. In celebration our family read that founding declaration this morning and praised God for placing us in this country.
At the same time, though, my praise is mixed with pain and petition.
America is not what it was when it was founded. In many wonderful ways the liberties that were not afforded to all men have been extended. But in other less admirable ways, the liberties constituent in the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights have devolved into a libertine version of hyper-individualism. (On this point listen Albert Mohler’s recent discussion with Yuval Levin). Whereas rights were once understood to be endowed by our creator, rights have become things which men can create or castrate as they—or the Supreme Court–wish.
One of the greatest differences the founders vision of liberty and today’s is found in the increasing distinction between the “freedom of worship” and the “freedom of religion.” The former is the freedom of personal belief and private religious assembly; the latter is the constitutional right—the very first right—which says in the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; . . .”
In our day, the change in language to “freedom of worship” is altering the understanding of this first amendment right, and with societal pressure Christians are being forced to mute their beliefs—especially with regards to marriage, sex, and lifestyle choices (a clever euphemism in and of itself). For that reason, on this day of liberty I am both grateful and grieved.
But perhaps, as a pastor, I am most concerned about the way some Christians and Christian leaders celebrate the Fourth of July without voicing any concern for these changes. Can we watch fireworks, grill hotdogs, and eat apple pie, assuming all is well? I think not. As Os Guiness (A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and America’ Future) and Eric Metaxas (If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of America’s Liberty) have observed, America’s liberty is under threat from within. And therefore, this holiday leads me in two directions regarding religious liberty and the freedom to worship. Continue reading
A number of years ago, as I ate dinner with friends at an outdoor café, I was wrongly identified as a famous race car driver. It was more than a little awkward, as the mistaken gentleman belted out: “Dale!! Dale Earnhardt, Jr.?!? Is that you? Awww . . . I love you, man!”
With sorrow and embarrassment, I had to say: “Sorry, you’ve got the wrong guy.” He quickly recognized his mistake and passed on, as we continued to laugh about the boisterous error.
Misidentification is common in our world. Who has never misidentified a friend in a crowd? Or drunk from the wrong glass? Or put the wrong beverage in the glass? In our fallen world harmless mistakes like this abound. But so do more serious ones.
Sin is a Case of Gross Misidentification
In 1 Corinthians Paul constantly reminds the church who they are. In chapter 3, he tells them “You are God’s field, God’s building . . . God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (vv. 9, 17). Likewise, in chapter 6 he says of them individually, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v. 11). In the context of deciding who will inherit the kingdom of God, he says that those who persist in their sin—i.e., who define themselves by their greed, drunkenness, or immorality—will not enter the kingdom. But you, beloved children, Paul says, are new creations in Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17). Continue reading