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Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18

What Would Compel Me? – A Poem

What would compel me

My mouth to open

Words unwanted

To hearts warped and broken?

 

Why give at great price

What nobody wants

Message of rescue

Answered only with taunts?

 

Give at great price

For at great price it was given

Salvation unwanted

To those by rebellion driven

 

I speak for he spoke

And by a miracle I heard

A voice irresistible

Conviction for the first time occurred

 

Like that Traveller to Damascus

What I did not seek sought me

My eyes were opened

To see one nailed to a tree

 

Dread filled my heart

The fear of the Lord it is called

A new thirst, a fresh hunger

By my state grew appalled

 

Undeserving of love

Love I know knew

Through words unwanted

When I saw him called True

 

Like the beauty of Dachstein

As Everest’s peak

The vision before me

Compelled me to speak

 

What I did not want

To others now proclaim

The glory of love

Christ Jesus his name

 

Wretched beyond belief

Gross beyond description

Hating all good

Yet he brought to me redemption

 

What compelled him was love

This controls me too

“Be reconciled to God!

He took all your due!”

 

If his love you now know

You will have affections bright

Speaking to listless rebels

Him who brought you from darkness to light

 

The Rope – A Picture of Church Membership

As a pastor convinced of the importance of each believer being a committed part of a local expression of the body of Christ – a church – I am always grasping at ways to talk about church membership and why it is important. No one can top the inspired picture of “one body with many members” that Paul employs, but recently in an attempt to express to my church what membership is and why it is important, I was struck with the following image.

The Christian life is a mountain climb, the substance beneath our feet is the gospel, the peak is conformity into the image of Christ, church membership is a rope going from base to summit, and becoming a member of a church means laying a hand on that rope. We learn from the New Testament, especially from places like Ephesians 4:11-16, Hebrews 3:13, 10:23-25 that it is by pushing and pulling our fellow climbers, calling up encouragements, echoing down warnings, that we reach the peak.

Imagine if we were strung together on the rope, all at different stages of the climb. What happens if one stops moving? What happens if one falls down? Such a one must be exhorted and encouraged. At times when the weak go limp we may even be required to pull them so that we can keep going. If one starts going backward, pulling the church down, the church must warn, push, and if need be, even cut them loose. When someone lets go of the rope and attempts the hazard of free-climbing, we reach out to them with earnest voice and stretching fingertips, pleading with them to once again lay hold of the rope.

Sometimes we hand people off to another rope (another church), but we dare not let people be free-climbers. Free-climbers are exposed to all sorts of dangers. They fall, they perish, they get lost, they lose track of the sure footing of the gospel.

We must admit, we need the rope. If we knew ourselves and our environment we would know we need the rope. I hope we are honest enough to see that. Our footing (the gospel) is sure, but the climb is steep while wind, rain, and storms of this life lash against the slopes. Darkness crowds in and obscures the peak at times. We need the rope. We need our fellow climbers. We dare not let go. And we dare not stop moving. To stop is not only deadly for us, but it pulls down and endangers others. There will be times when we have to be dragged, when we have to be pushed, but the rope is God’s means for getting us safely to the peak.

Do you see the danger of climbing without clinging to a rope? Have you ever stopped to consider that when you stop your climb, when you stop pulling and moving along with others, what effect that has on those around you? Are you holding a rope? And if you are, what kind of rope-holder are you? Do you put your team of climbers at risk or do you help everyone get to the top?

The invitation to church membership is an invitation to take hold of the rope. Anyone who has ever seen a movie about Everest or some other peak knows that going at it alone never ends well. We are too easily disoriented. Our straying feet slip from the gospel too readily without others to hold us up. When cold surrounds us, and we are fatigued from trying to climb in our own strength, we are tempted to lay down for a nap. And with no one attached to us, to shake us, to slap us, to yell at us amidst the snow, “Don’t you dare fall asleep, because you won’t wake up”, we die.

God keeps his people by his power. This is the truth that drives us on the darkest moments of the climb. But to let go of the rope is to turn aside once again to the very essence of our rebellion – which is to look at God and say, “I know better than you. I believe you will keep me apart from your means.” Such reasoning is Satanic and deadly.

Lay hold of the rope, if you have not already. Pull, push, shout, poke, shout some more. Don’t let go. When you lose your footing someone will be there, holding the rope to help reestablish you on the gospel. When you are weary, someone will be there to pull your weight. When you are falling asleep, overwhelmed with pain and fatigue, a chorus of voices will be there to shout “Only a little farther.”

Much that is called church membership is admittedly a mere association of free-climbers or a rope untethered. But I am speaking of something more meaningful than that. I am talking about a rope that is God’s means of getting his people on the footing of the gospel to the peak of glory in Christ along the slope of sin, through the darkness of deception, and the winds of suffering.

This is what we mean when we talk about church membership. This is the rope we need.

Preach Every Sermon As If It Were Your Last

Psalm 90:12

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (ESV)

2 Timothy 4:1-2,6

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word… For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. (ESV)

Perspective in life is important. I am one of those people that seems always in need of having my feet to the fire, which is perhaps why God has blessed me with a keen sense of my mortality. This is a gift from which we can learn so much, as long as we don’t allow ourselves to be driven to despair. When I was a young man, it was that sense of the temporality of life that drove me to desperate repentance, as a teen it drove me (with a little help from John Piper) to be determined not to waste my life, and now as a pastor it urges me to attempt to preach every sermon as if it were my last.

It is frighteningly easy when you are preaching week after week to begin to feel in your sermon prep the way you do about everything else in life. We begin to feel invincible, immortal. The steady beat of time falls on deaf ears. It is when I find myself in one of those moments that it seems God is most likely to stir me to preach, in Baxter’s words, as a dying man to dying men.

So what does it look like to preach every sermon as if it were your last? Here are five things to consider:

I. It must be faithful

Any pastor knows how easy it is to develop a laundry list of topics we would like to unleash on our congregations if our chances to preach were running out. But preaching this week as if it were our last sermon is not so much about “letting the sheep have it” as it is about knowing that I will soon stand before the Lord and give an account for how I presented his word. Therefore, the safest practice for a preacher in an uncertain world where we get into accidents and receive surprise diagnoses is to continue to faithfully exposit the Scriptures. This means no eisegesis. No twisting the text to make the most of the opportunity. We don’t know tomorrow. Only the Lord does, so we must be faithful. It is the Spirit working through the Word that brings life and changes hearts – it will be this way tomorrow, the week after, and every week after that until Jesus comes back. The Word will carry on, even if I am gone.

II. It must be patient

This is closely connected to faithfulness. Urgency must never overpower the patience that should mark pastorally-driven, Spirit-dependent preaching. This requires that we realize when we preach that God uses us, but he does not need us. His purposes will not fail. His kingdom will not cease when I step away from the pulpit.

III. It must be urgent

We must be patient. But if we are to preach each week like it is our last sermon, there is also an urgency that should mark our preaching. We are patient because the future is in God’s hands, but we are also urgent because the future is in God’s hands. When expounding a text of Scripture, it should be obvious in the clarity of the exposition, the passion in the deliverer, and the sharpness of the application, that this is an urgent word from the Lord to which we must respond. It is possible for preaching, under the guise of being faithful and patient, to fail to urgently bring people to a point of crisis. God’s word should be treated for what it is – bread for the starving, living water for the spiritually parched, life-giving prophecy for dry bones.

IV. It must be delivered as if you mean it

The very urgency that is required by the nature of Scripture as God’s revelation to us, should also shape us homiletically. If a sermon was our last, I think we would understand the urge to preach it like we mean it. A lot of the idiosyncrasies found in our niche of preaching culture would go out the window if we knew a sermon was our last. Perhaps that is a lesson we need to take to heart on a weekly basis. Let the text shape you, who God made you, and then let it flow out of you.

V. It must be replicable

Preaching every sermon as if it were your last means preaching in such a way that others can learn from and follow your example. There is something healthy about preaching in such a way that can be taught, a way which can be learned from you by the preachers of tomorrow. Does our preaching help people not only understand the text, but understand how to understand it? (Do you understand?) Is our preaching marked with Biblical theology that helps others build a blueprint of the Bible in their minds? Does our preaching display faithful patience, while preserving appropriate urgency, all the while delivered as by one who has himself been affected by the text? If you would preach every week as if it were your last, then you must be preaching to your replacement.

These are the lessons that I have been reflecting on. And if you preach or hope to have a future preaching, I hope you will put these things into practice in every opportunity that you have to teach the word of God to others, whether that be in a small group, a Sunday school class, or 1-2-1 over coffee.

Be faithful, be patient, be urgent, be real, and keep your eye on the future beyond you.

A Father’s Desire ~ A Poem

Life unknown

The pain too close

I need you to know

What for you I desire most

 

Tomorrow may have joy

Or with crushing sorrow sway

We are cursed and broken

You must, you must know the way

 

Flying from Adam’s paternity

Pain ever makes so clear

This our greatest priority

From this comes my deepest fear

 

See your broken patterns

The dirt that stains your heart

Before the pain o’er whelms you

Be desperate for a new start

 

There is One that gives it

A remedy for our genes

To heal us from our darkness

A blood that strangely cleans

 

Go to Jesus, my child

Seek His smitten face

He is heaven’s remedy

Because He took our place

 

Crushed – my final pummel

Bruised – my eternal blow

Killed – life to give me

Cursed – that I might know…

 

 

That life is found in Jesus

There is no other place

That gives me satisfaction

Than looking on His face

He is who you need

Lost, He for you wins

Run to Him my child

He’ll take away your sins

 

Siena, call him Savior

Augie, call him Lord

George, call him precious

Be held by His sovereign cord

 

Isabelle, plead for mercy

Owen, seek him too

To His promise He’s faithful

He will deliver you

 

My dear ones seek my Jesus

Then when all comes crashing down

We’ll have a hope unfading

A precious, righteous crown

 

Because Jesus was a child

Who never turned to sin

And grew to die for sinners

Death will not, will not win

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Assurance A Battle ~ A Poem

Life uncertain

Life not due

This is why

I look to you

Trust a battle

Faith a scare

Anxious thoughts

I daily wear

My breath is bated

My skin is pale

My tears now flow

For fear I dare not tell

Now I speak

The Gospel word

Repeating, repeating

The Spirit’s sword

I know it’s true

I know He’s there

All that I need

Amazing grace so fair

The sovereign King

Who holds all things

Bids me sing

Beneath His wings

Christ was slain

Jesus was broken

For my sins

Then was awoken

Life is certain

God’s promise true

Fear has no place

With the cross in view

Assurance a battle

The enemy grim

The Sun at times

It grows so dim

Shining still brightly

My future is set

For my Sun is my Savior

He will deliver me yet

To me He will come

Or to Him I will go

From this I’ll not move

His sure Word tell me so

So battle today

Or battle tomorrow

I won’t turn away

I won’t drown in sorrow

The Father has called

The living Son once died

The Spirit has filled me

I’m safe at His side

What Are You Sending Them To Do?

Joe and his wife, Jane, have been serving on a church planting team in Southeast Asia for 3 years. The time has come to be back in the States and enjoy the amenities of western life while updating their sending church on what they have been doing. At a special mid-week meeting Joe gets up to the podium with a pit in his stomach. The people were expecting stories of drastic conversions, of rapid multiplication of churches, perhaps even of healing and bizarre encounters where God flexed his saving arm. But there is a problem. Joe feels like he has none of that to tell. He has tried his best in newsletters to make things sound exciting, if he was honest even the numbers he submitted were embellished or “preemptively hopeful” as he told himself. But Joe knows the truth. Joe is anxious. Joe is embarrassed. They sent Joe on a mission. A mission at which he had failed – and now he had to get up in front of them with seemingly nothing to offer.

As he gets up and shares the mundane, day-to-day, seemingly fruitless ministry he is engaged in, should the church be disappointed? Should they consider recalling him or silently cutting their support in favor of the new guy who has planted 1000 churches in the past 6 years? The answer to that all depends on what the church expects of him.

What did they send him to do?

There are many “Joes and Janes” out there in the harvest fields, feeling the same pressures, asking themselves the same questions. Are we failures? What are we doing wrong? What will our supporters think of us?

Churches, you can help them. You can help them answer and avoid troubling questions as you raise up, send, and support them. And do churches go about doing that?

Churches help them by thinking clearly and biblically about what is they are sending people to do. There needs to be a theologically-based hierarchy of expectations.

Looking at a passage like Romans 10 we see that unless someone is sent, then Christ cannot be preached – a simple reality. And if Christ is not preached, he cannot be believed in and confessed by those that are lost. This passage outlines well our responsibility, the expectation that should be placed on those being sent.[1] To preach the word of Christ. This is how disciples are made.[2] But this duty that is presented to us has to be carried out in tandem with the biblical reality that no one can come to God unless the Father draws them. It must be done while embracing the truth that winning souls requires not only the word of Christ proclaimed, but the sovereign coming of  Spirit with power.[3]

What does this mean for the expectations churches place on missionaries? It means we need to know that God works through our faithfulness, but it isn’t always the work which we desire or the ideal result for which we send people. Paul admits as much when he says “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”[4] Not everyone will believe, because some are destined to hear and disbelieve.[5] But the only way any will believe is if they hear the “word of Christ” from those sent to preach.

With that understood one can begin to discern the common problems regarding the expectations placed on missionaries. Sending churches often expect those they send to make converts, start movements, plant churches, and tally baptisms. All of these things should be desires, prayers, and aims for the ministry – but they can’t be the expectation placed on those that are sent. Why? Because all of these things require both faithful ministry of the gospel and something that is outside of the control of the messengers – the sovereign work of God.

The faithful preaching of Christ unites and divides, it softens and hardens, it serves to establish and to cause to stumble. It is not for those that are sent to determine which result their work has, but to proclaim the gospel in confidence that the God-ordained result will certainly occur.

People may be producing flashy-yet-faulty results because of unfaithfulness and faithful people may be seeing nothing to literally “write home about”. It is the duty of the church to call people to faithfulness, identify such people, and send them for the purpose of being faithful to the mission: which is to plant and to water with the word of the cross, to be the “aroma of Christ”, “to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light”.[6] You send them to do that, support them and encourage them in that, regardless of what the results may be. Why? Because “Christ always leads us in triumphal procession” as we spread his aroma through the gospel proclaimed and lived, knowing that “even if our gospel is veiled it is veiled to those who are perishing”, knowing that we will be to some “the fragrance from life to life and to others the fragrance from death to death” because it is “God who gives the growth” and causes “light to shine out of darkness” “so that it might become apparent that the surpassing power belongs to Him and not to us.”[7]

The important truth that must shape your sending and supporting is that faithful, loving proclamation of the gospel, done for the glory of God, is never in vain – regardless of what kind of results are seen. That truth must shape your vision of missions at all stages: equipping people to go, sending people, and supporting them.

So when one couple has planted 100 churches and another has planted 0, you applaud God for his work and you encourage both for their mutual faithfulness.

This author has written elsewhere that there are people sent to the field who should not be on the field, but the other reality is that sometimes good, faithful people struggle to stay on the field, get immensely discouraged, and even leave when they can’t sustain their work because they don’t have the flashy numbers that are expected of them.

Churches need to have a biblical, theologically-rooted understanding of what we are sending missionaries to do. They need to have a different definition of success than the world does. They need to send people with the confidence that in the Lord our labor is never in vain.[8]

Make sure that the “Joes and Janes” that are sent never feel insecure about their ministry, that they are never tempted to embellish their reports, that they understand as they are faithful those churches that support them are with them 100%. Equip and encourage them for faithful ministry filled with humble confidence in the God who called them – in times of both ministry feast and famine. Remind them, as I was reminded by a friend recently, that God is always working, it may just be winter.

The following list is by no means comprehensive, but is simply some things that churches may consider as they raise up, send, and sustain missionaries in the field.

Practical steps for churches:

Define Success – Prepare people you may send by giving them a biblical definition of success as faithfulness.

Quantify Faithfulness – In ministry reports, do not ask primarily about results but develop ways to quantify faithfulness. If someone is being lazy and unfaithful they certainly shouldn’t expect fruit and faithfulness to proclaim is a right expectation for which they should be held accountable. In language learning ask people if they can clearly articulate the Gospel message. Ask missionaries not how many converts or Bible-study attendees they have, rather ask them how many people to whom the gospel has been clearly articulated. Find out the amount of time they are spending in intentional relationships – regardless of where those relationships end up.

Beware of The Message You Send – Avoid showcasing workers who have reports of a lot of positive results. This sends the wrong message to the weary-faithful. Often workers seeing a lot of harvest get promoted and put on a pedestal for things which only the Holy Spirit can be given the credit.

Communicate Expectations Both Ways – Ask those you support and send “What do you think we have sent you to do?” Find out what expectation they have placed on themselves. Clarify and even adjust your biblical expectations of them.

Support Faithfulness – If you are a church looking to financially support people, don’t necessarily pick people with flashy ministries with big success stories and assume that is a guarantee of their faithfulness. Some of the largest churches in the world are devoid of the gospel – numbers can lie. Support people who have proven to be faithful to the mission, including the message, even if they have little to show for it.

Send Faithful People – Make your church a proving ground for faithful ministry. Don’t assume zeal equals calling or maturity. Send people who have already proven faithfulness.[9] This should provide you with more confidence that they are being faithful to do what they have been sent to do when there is no discernible fruit being reported.

Pray – Labor alongside those you send/support with prayer anchored in the knowledge that it is God who grants repentance and the gift of faith[10]

[1] Romans 10:14-17

[2] Matthew 28:19

[3] John 6:44, 1 Thess. 1:5

[4] Romans 10:16

[5] 1 Peter 2:8

[6] 1 Cor. 3:6, 2 Cor. 2:15, 1 Peter 2:9

[7] 2 Cor. 2:14, 4:3, 2:16-17, 1 Cor. 3:7, 2 Cor. 4:6,7

[8] 1 Corinthians 15:58

[9] 2 Tim 2:2

[10] 2 Tim. 2:25, Ephesians 2:8

A Husband’s Pursuit ~ Poem

If she could see my inward part

Would she me love with all her heart?

For love her truly, I truly do

Even with this introspective view

Her greatest joy, my greatest pleasure

Yet sin has made this at my leisure

For Christ’s sake I must like him be

But secondarily this I wish her to see

To love her like Christ, this is my call 

But for this God must have my all 

Were any less than this devoted

Some part of my love would be demoted 

So in pursuing her, I pursue my Lord 

For loving her is to Him moving toward

Glory Had A Name: A Christmas Poem

Darkness deep

Lost-ness profound

It held my heart

To the farthest part down

 

The glow that I chased

Vanished in haste

No hope it imparted

However well it may have started

 

My soul it was searching

In the darkness I groped

But the light I was seeking

Was aimed at my boast

 

Then very surprising

The Son came arising

Light it did bring

Though quite a strange thing

 

Shining on not my expectation

It exposed my greatest misconception

Of the meaning of life –which was me

When that light led to a tree

 

Though darkness was crowding

Never before had I seen so clear

From dead branches shining

A glory so strange, yet so dear

 

Justice was raging

For mercy all pined

‘Til looking closer

I saw both entwined

 

For the justice was mine

As was the mercy too

For both were there present

In that strange golden hue

 

As cold as Christmas morn’

There was a chill in my bones

Then alighted a fire

Of hope for my soul

 

Forgetting myself

Yet not forgetting my need

I ran to the light

That was shining for me

 

‘Tween tears I did gaze

On the broken, sweet face

That once softly cooed

Amid Donkey’s bray, cow’s moo

 

Now it was weary

Now it was still

Broken and crushed

By judgement… I would never feel

 

For light there was shining

Which darkness can’t quell

The Savior had been born

To rescue from hell

 

So this was the rescue

So this was the light

He was born for me

To carry my spite

 

Now he lives forever

At Christmas we proclaim

That light has shined in darkness

That glory had a Name

“We’re like a family!” <- Really?

Many churches make it their philosophical aim to be like family and when that reputation is achieved it is thought to be a sure sign of health and unity. They want a place where people care for each other, praying for one another during difficult times, checking in on one another, greeting everyone that comes into their gathering with warmth and gladness. When people say that their church is like this, they will usually gladly declare, “We’re like a family!”

But the question that needs to be asked sometimes is, “Really?”

Let me start by saying that a church should be like a family. It should be a place where we genuinely rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, where we bear each other’s burdens, where we take care of each other, where the needs and longings of others are a concern to us, a place where when we gather there is warmth and palatable love and commitment. To this every church should aspire.

The problem, I think, is that often when we say that a church is like a family or that it should be like a family, what we really have in mind is an idealized, Hallmark-channel, Ward-and-June-Clever-esque family. We want our church to be like a family without the messiness and tough-love of a real family.

A church member may believe that their church is like a family until real discipleship begins to happen. It feels like a family until individual sin is confronted. It feels like a family until someone speaks difficult truth into your life – telling you something you don’t really want to hear. Then it is no longer a family in the idealized sense. It is divided. It is uncomfortable. People avoid each other. The “dinner table” is tense.

The problem is that what was just described is real family life. In a real family there is warmth and love, but there is also messiness, there is confrontation. In a real family you find the people that love you enough to risk relationship for your greater good. In family is found the few people on earth who can speak hard truth to you, because they love you, because they care more about your long-term security and joy than momentary ease – yours or theirs.

Family life is wonderful, but it is also very hard, because we aren’t perfect. The same translates to the church. It is a wonderful thing to be a part of a church, but it’s hard, because we are sinners and the Word we speak to each other confronts that reality with imposing light.

Imagine a family where everyone is allowed to do their own thing. Destructive behaviors are never challenged, the father passively sits in the arm chair with beer in hand as chaos unfolds, mother is careful not to say anything to her rebellious daughter lest she upset the balance, the son is making some poor decisions, but challenging him would just upset the peace of the moment. The family is gathered, everyone is smiling, there is a kind of peace and togetherness, but it is actually kind of creepy. Because no one is being real. There is a terrible selfishness at work as the members of this family care more about the comfort of the moment than they do the good of one another.

Now imagine a family where one sister sees that her sibling is becoming more and more distant, getting into relationships that could be harmful. She so badly just wants to let it go, to let there be a kind of “peace”, but she loves her sibling too much for that. She loves her sibling enough to sacrifice momentary comfort for lasting good. A father sees his son showing signs of destructive behavior, he gets along well with him and he doesn’t want to mess that up, but his love for his son motivates him to speak to him. The son’s initial reaction is to run out of the house and slam the door, but perhaps over time he begins to see that his father was right. The point being, a real family is a place where the individuals love each other so much that they are willing to risk comfort and approval for the sake of each other’s good.

In Ephesians chapter 4, we are told that we grow up in Christ and are protected from harm as we speak the truth in love to each other. Sometimes when looking at that verse people take “love” to be the manner in which we speak, when I think it is more about the motivation. In his writings, Paul had some very harsh and difficult things to churches and individuals, but he was speaking the truth motivated by love. Sometimes in the church when uncomfortable truth is spoken people call it out as unloving not because it is unloving, but because it doesn’t fit into our idealized view of love – because what is being said challenges our self-love.

So before you boast that your church is like a family, consider whether or not it is actually a community of loving accountability under the authority of Christ and directed by his Word. Will your “family” atmosphere hold up to the rigors of discipleship? If it will, then you are blessed and you have a true family dynamic, but if not, then your idea of family is likely idealized and skin deep.

In the church we are supposed to be like a family, because that is precisely what we are in Christ! But during this age in redemptive history the reality of sin means that we can only truly be described as being like a family if our loving dynamic includes both tender love and tough love.

So strive by God’s grace, anchored in his love displayed in the Gospel, to give love and receive love in both forms. By doing this we will be able to move from cheesy clichés about what it means to be a family and onward to an authenticity that leads us to lose sleep, risk relationships, weep, pray, plead, and rejoice until the whole family is together with Christ their head – safe and sound.

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