The Pastoral Profession?

E. M. Bounds, the pastor and prolific writer on the subject of prayer once said…

“The preacher…is not a professional man;

His ministry is not a profession;

It is a divine institution,

A divine devotion.”

One of my favorite preachers and authors is John Piper, Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He has written many books that have awakened me to my need for greater precision in my theology or some area of pastoral ministry that I need to improve upon, yet, his counsel is always cross centered.  The following is the first couple of pages to his excellent work, “Brothers We Are Not Professionals” (A must read for any Elder or Pastor), which is a collection of articles that he wrote for his denominational (Baptist General Conference) magazine, The Standard.

Enjoy…and then pray!

Brothers, We Are Not Professionals

We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry.  The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet.  It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ.  Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry.  The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake.  For there is no professional childlikeness (Matt. 18:3); there is no professional tenderheartedness (Eph. 4:32); there is no professional panting after God (Ps. 42.1).

But our first business is to pant after God in prayer.  Our business is to weep over our sins (James 4:9).  Is there professional weeping?  Our business is to strain forward to the holiness of Christ and the prize of the upward call of God (Phil. 3:14); to pummel our bodies and subdue them lest we be cast away (1 Cor. 9:27); to deny ourselves and take up the blood-spattered cross daily (Luke 9:23).  How do you carry a cross professionally?  We have been crucified with Christ; yet now we live by faith in the one who loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20).  What is professional faith?

We are to be filled not with wine but with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).  We are God-besotted lovers of Christ.  How can you be drunk with Jesus professionally?  Then, wonder of wonders, we were given the gospel treasure to carry in clay pots to show that the transcendent power belongs to God (2 Cor. 4:7).  Is there a way to be a professional clay pot?

We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus (professionally?) in our bodies (2 Cor. 4:9-11).

I think God has exhibited us preacher as last of all in the world.  We are fools for Christ’s sake, but professionals are wise.  We are weak, but professionals are strong.  Professionals are held in honor; we are in disrepute.  We do not try to secure a professional lifestyle, but we are ready to hunger and thirst and be ill-clad and homeless.  When reviled we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things (1 Cor. 4:9-13).  Or have we?

Brothers, we are not professionals!  We are outcasts.  We are aliens and exiles in the world (1 Pet. 2:11).  Our citizenship is in heaven, and we wait with eager expectation for the Lord (Phil. 3:20).  You cannot professionalize the love for His appearing without killing it.  And it is being killed.

The aims of oru ministry are eternal and spiritual.  they ar not shared by any of the professions.  It is precisely by the failure to see this that we are dying.

“The life-giving preacher is a man of God, whose heart is ever athirst for God, whose soul is ever following hard after God, whose eye is single to God, and in whom by the power of God’s Spirit the flesh and the world have been crucified and his ministry is like the generous flood of a life-giving river.” (Piper & Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, pg. 16)

We are most emphatically not part of a social team sharing goals with other professionals.  Our goals are an offense; they are foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23).  The professionalization of the ministry is a constant threat to the offense of the gospel.  It is a threat to the profoundly spiritual nature of our work.  I have seen it often: the love of professionalism (parity among the world’s professionals) kills a man’s belief that he is sent by God to save people from hell and to make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in the world.

The world sets the agenda of the professional man; God sets the agenda of the spiritual man.  The strong wine of Jesus Christ explodes the wineskins of professionalism.  There is an infinite difference between the pastor whose heart is set on being a professional and the pastor whose heart is set on being the aroma of Christ, the fragrance of death to some and eternal life to others (2 Cor. 2:15-16).

God deliver us from professionalizers!  Deliver us from the “low, managing, contriving, maneuvering temper of mind among us.” (Richard Cecil quoted in E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer, pg. 59)  God, give us tears for our sins.  Forgive us for being so shallow in prayer, so thin in our grasp of holy verities, so content amid perishing neighbors, so empty of passion and earnestness in all our conversation.  Restore to us the childlike joy of our salvation.  Frighten us with the awesome holiness and power of Him who can cast both soul and body into hell (Matt. 10:28).  Cause us to hold to the cross with fear and trembling as our hope-filled and offensive tree of life.  Grant us nothing, absolutely nothing, the way the world views it.  May Christ be all and in all (Col. 3:11).

Banish professionalism from our midst, Oh God, and in its place put passionate prayer, poverty of spirit, hunger for God, rigorous study of holy things, white-hot devotion to Jesus Christ, utter indifference to all material gain, and unremitting labor to rescue the perishing, perfect the saints, and glorify our sovereign Lord.

Humble us, O God, under Your mighty hand, and let us rise, not as professionals, but as witnesses and partakers of the sufferings of Christ.  In His awesome name.  Amen.

Lord…May I be that man…and may You kindle a flame in Your church so that such men would rise up and and embrace Your matchless holy calling to be Your mouthpiece and to suffer affliction for Your Name’s sake…

You are worth it!!!

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Prerequisite to reading this article…you must click the video and listen to the song while you read…

Yes, that’s the title to the well known song by Bob McFerrin that was made popular in the early 80’s when I was still in high school. In fact, I remember going through drivers training humming this song. Even with its emptiness it is still a song I like to whistle, not just because I like Reggae music (big secret revealed!!!), but because I also understand that my Sovereign God says much the same thing, except with much more certainty and clarity.

Let’s be honest, we all struggle with worry and anxiety, don’t we.  Listen to the struggles of these believers.  Sara worries about her kids all day long as they are at school.  Jim never gets his mind off of the bottom line number in his checkbook.  Linda fears that she will never get married.  Margie dreads the pain of getting old.  Bill is anxious about the chemotherapy he is facing this week.  George is troubled about his wife who has Alzheimer’s.  Nancy is constantly worried that she will never lose any weight.  Meagan is waiting to hear if she has been accepted to BIOLA.  David must go to the grocery store but he hates crowds as he is always battling what he perceives people think about him.  Jared is a little bit of a germaphobe and his kids are playing at the local McDonald’s playground.  Sharon fears that God doesn’t love her.  Dana is out of work and trying to care for three kids.  Sammy is being chased by collection agencies and doesn’t want to answer the phone.  Jose has a Sunday School lesson to teach this Sunday, and is worrying if it is doctrinally sound or if it will be a help to anyone.  Greta can’t sleep at night because she is so guilty about the fact that she and her boyfriend, Brad, went too far.  Judy is hoping it won’t rain for her 10th birthday…Now add your struggle to the list!!!

Is it possible that worry is one of those dirty little secrets of the Church?  A power that renders us passive, doubtful, lacking strength and timid when we have every reason to be active, confident and courageous?  As Paul Tripp says so aptly, “Could it be that many of u s live with a huge gap between the theological confidence that we celebrate on Sunday and the street-level fear, worry, and anxiety that accompanies us the rest of the week?”

Think about the very familiar passage in Matthew’s Gospel (6:25-34)…

25“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  26“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?  27“And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?  28“And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin,  29yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.  30“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!  31“Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’  32“For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  33“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Now let’s be certain to understand this foundational truth. The very fact that Jesus is addressing this subject of worry (anxiety) should give us hope. In other words, the fact that God is not silent on the subject means that He understands it, that He has something to say about it, and that if we are willing to listen to His counsel, we can walk with Him in every situation knowing that our worry is completely in His hands.

Let me describe it this way. As I am typing I am sitting in one of my favorite escapes, Panera Bread. Each day the baker comes in early and cooks all the bagels, souffle’s, Cinnamon rolls, breads and other treats (truly heavenly). Each day he must focus on what is needed for that day: Are there enough plain, onion, whole wheat and Asiago Bagels (people get very angry if there are no Asiago Bagels, echem!); Are there enough sourdough, french, artisan, whole wheat breads, etc.  Now, if he spent his whole day worrying about the bagels or breads he needs to bake for next Thursday, he is going to be spinning his wheels this Tuesday about something that doesn’t need to be on his mind today. Today has enough bagels and breads to give him enough work and attention. Thinking about the bagels for next Thursday will often mean that today’s bagels are inferior as the right kind of care and attention is not given.  It is a weak illustration, but I think that you get the point…

God has given us enough bagels to worry about today.  The oven is on, and the racks are full.  Leave Thursday’s bagels for Thursday and give yourself to being diligent about today’s bagels.

So, here are some ways we can counter the worry that plagues us so much…

Ask yourself the following questions:

Where is my treasure? Earlier in the same passage Jesus says…

19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  20“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;  21for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

When our treasure is not in heaven we will be plagued by worry over the cares of this world.  Check your heart for the treasure that it is seeking!

Am I living for self? The Apostle Paul deals with this in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

14For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;  15and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

What do I really need? This embraces both of the above questions and builds upon it.  Paul Trip aptly states that “Worry and rest always reveal the true treasures of your heart.”  What is provocative here is this,

“You will rest the most when what you treasure the most is secure, and you will worry the most when what you treasure is most at risk.”

You see, your life is always shaped by what you tell yourself you need!  So, who is telling you and convincing you that you “need” that garment, car, house, job, bagel, etc.

This is where the Gospel comes in to breathe a hope that we so desperately need.  It is only through the Gospel that we can have treasure in heaven, but we so quickly lose sight of the riches we have and the treasures we are storing up as we struggle through this life.  It is only through the Gospel that we can beat self into submission (mortify the flesh as Paul says) and conform our flesh to act and think in a way that is consistent with God’s Word and the Character of Christ.  It is only through the Gospel that we gain perspective on our needs.  We are temporary citizens in a land far away from home.  We are serving Him as Ambassadors, not building our own houses, castles or kingdoms.  We live for Him and trust that He will be faithful to keep His promises to provide for our very needs.

That’s how we can truly rest.  Not because we are in control, but because He is in control.  Our Great God and Savior, the ruler of the universe, the one who loves and cares for His children, the one who gives Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit to be with us through every trial, struggle or triumph.

So, my friends…

Don’t worry, be happy…

Resigned to Resign

This has probably been the most difficult day of my entire ministerial experience over the past 20 years.  Today I resigned as Sr. Pastor at Castro Valley First Baptist Church where I have served faithfully for the past five years.  This is a church that I love, call home and had hoped to finish my years of ministry at.  Below are the notes for what I shared this morning.  I share them simply to ask you to pray for me and my family and to stem the possible tide of rumor or gossip.

Dear friends…

About a month ago I was able to go visit my mother and father in Georgia.  During that trip God worked in my heart as I poured over the pastoral epistles and He drew my attention to 2 Timothy 1:6-7 where it says,

“For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”

I returned from that trip thankful that I had been able to help my parents but also refreshed and rekindled for God’s work here at CVFirst .  Like many of you I have been greatly encouraged by…

  • How God has provided for us in 2009
  • The spirit of worship and service among our flock
  • The hunger for God’s Truth
  • and the momentum of ministry that is taking place.

However, a week and a half ago, on a Tuesday night, as I met with our Deacons, things changed.  And it is with great sadness that I must announce to you that today is my last Sunday as Sr. Pastor at CVFirst.  This is not something that I want, but it is what I am being asked to do by our Deacons.

Now, let me assure you that the Deacons have been careful and prayerful in coming to this decision.  I have been aware of the seriousness of this possibility since August, and to provide clarity let me assure you of the following:

  1. My resignation has nothing to do with any moral issue in my character
  2. Nor is it about my calling and giftedness for ministry.

The Deacons did share with me three areas in which they do not support me…

  • Leadership
  • Shepherding
  • Preaching

As I see it and as another board member confirmed to me, the issue comes down to Ideology (and, of course, our Ideology is born out of our theology…)

  • What is behind this is that we have a different conviction about the role and function of the Sr. Pastor
  • And the role and function of those who desire to be Elders.

Please note that even though there has been struggle between me and the board, even in this request, there is and has been, for the most part, a mutual respect and graciousness.

I can honestly say that I am at peace…

  1. Because I have a Sovereign God whom I am very confident is at work even through this trial and He wants me to learn all the lessons I can – so I want to be humble and teachable.
  2. I am also at peace because I have a great and godly wife who stands with me, who has born the burden of the struggle with grace and strength that only comes from God.
  3. I am also at peace because of the incredibly gifted, supportive and godly staff that I have had the pleasure to serve along side of.  They have grown in their giftedness, theological precision, understanding of what “real church growth” is really about, and in their love for God and His people.  I can honestly say that if I were in a position to hire a ministry team that these faithful servants  would be the first men and women on the list.  They have counseled me and supported me through this trial.  Be certain that there is “no” tension between me and any staff member.  They are my faithful friends, co-laborers and servants of our great and sovereign Lord.
  4. I am also at peace because God has used so many of you to encourage me and my wife with your words of support even though you didn’t have any clue of what might be taking place behind the scenes.

Now, some of you are clearly angry, many are confused and it wouldn’t surprise me that others are somewhat relieved or happy.  I want to encourage you all to be careful that your anger or joy doesn’t turn to sinful anger or sinful gloating.  That won’t please our Heavenly Father.

  • This is a time for you to pray and seek His guidance…
  • He will give you wisdom.

With all my heart I say, “I love you” and I will miss you all very much.  CVFirst has been my family…and family matters to me and to God.

Through these last few months I have prayed that I would be humble, teachable and that I would keep my hands off of the wheel and let God be the one who is driving.  I don’t want to interfere with what He is doing no matter how much it hurts.

Let me close with this passage of Scripture… Philippians 2:12-13

“So then my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

Pray…

Lord, you truly do work in mysterious ways to perform your wonders.  But we ask that as You move that You would give us wisdom, discernment and a determination to glorify You in everything we do…

Lord, thank you for the years of ministry here and for how you have grown and nurtured your flock.  I ask that you would protect them, guide them and give them grace heaped upon grace to continue to be a light in Castro Valley so that your Name will be glorified and people will honor your Name.

My wife (Elia) and I covet your prayers.  We have no idea what God has in store for us now, but we are confident in Him who is sovereign and will hold on to His will for our lives.  We also want what is best for CVFirst, a great church full of great people.  We were so overwhelmed by the outpouring of love toward us after the announcement.  Thank you church for your love.

God bless…

Don’t listen to yourself, listen to God?

“Don’t listen to yourself, listen to God” is advice I have been given and advice I give when someone is going through a trial or grieving over loss…but just yesterday I violated my own advice…

I did what I do periodically and listened to a talk I did on Grief (Hope Through the Valley).  It is truly humbling to be reminded that God uses the minister of His Word truly as a mouthpiece and not as the “computer storage and regurgitator” of His Scriptural data.  You may not understand this (unless you are a preacher/teacher of God’s Word), but there are many times when I have preached on Sunday that I cannot remember much or most of what I said.  Oh, yes, I labored over the text of Scripture for hours, but God clearly speaks in His own way in the moment of preaching and I am simply happy at that point to be His mouthpiece for His Word.

Anyway, since I am going through a trial of my own I though I would listen to my talk on grief and, do you know what happened?  God ministered to me through me!  that sounds so self serving, but truly, I was amazed, strengthened and comforted by what God spoke to my heart through me (I know…mental gymnastics are kicking in here).

So, here is the kicker for all who may be reading this blog.  Why don’t you take out one of your journals or something that you have written that God put on your heart through the study of His Word, read it and see how God ministers to your soul.

Go on…try it…you won’t be disappointed.

Feeble Sense…

These past few days I have been meditating on William Cowper’s poem which became one of the Olney Hymns, “God Moves in Mysterious Ways…”  And in particular the fourth stanza which says…

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense

But trust Him for His grace;

Behind a frowning providence

He hides a smiling face.

Thank you Lord for the comfort and truth that these words breathe…You know what You are doing.

Shepherd or CEO

I was listening to a sermon by Alistair Begg this week that included a significant discussion on the tendency of the church in America to abandon the idea of the Pastor as a Shepherd faithfully feeding God’s people with the Word with that of a CEO or President of a company.  To do that he read this children’s poem.  Can you make the connection?

BAD SIR BRIAN BOTANY

by A.A.Milne

Sir Brian had a battleaxe with great big knobs on.

He went among the villagers and blipped them on the head.

On Wednesday and on Saturday,

Especially on the latter day,

He called on all the cottages and this is what he said:

“I am Sir Brian!” (Ting-ling!)

“I am Sir Brian!” (Rat-tat!)

“I am Sir Brian,

“As bold as a lion!

“Take that, and that, and that!”

Sir Brian had a pair of boots with great big spurs on;.

A fighting pair of which he was particularly fond.

On Tuesday and on Friday,

Just to make the street look tidy,

He’d collect the passing villagers and kick them in the pond.

“I am Sir Brian!” (Sper-lash!)

“I am Sir Brian!” (Sper-losh!)

“I am Sir Brian,

“As bold as a Lion!

“Is anyone else for a wash?”

Sir Brian woke one morning and he couldn’t find his battleaxe.

He walked into the village in his second pair of boots.

He had gone a hundred paces

When the street was full of faces

And the villagers were round him with ironical salutes.

“You are Sir Brian? My, my.

“You are Sir Brian? Dear, dear.

“You are Sir Brian

“As bold as a lion?

“Delighted to meet you here!”

Sir Brian went a journey and he found a lot of duckweed.

They pulled him out and dried him and they blipped him on the head.

They took him by the breeches

And they hurled him into ditches

And they pushed him under waterfalls and this is what they said:

“You are Sir Brian — don’t laugh!

“You are Sir Brian — don’t cry!

“You are Sir Brian

“As bold as a lion —

“Sir Brian the Lion, goodbye!”

Sir Brian struggled home again and chopped up his battleaxe.

Sir Brian took his fighting boots and threw them in the fire.

He is quite a different person

Now he hasn’t got his spurs on,

And he goes about the village as B. Botany, Esquire.

“I am Sir Brian? Oh, no!

“I am Sir Brian? Who’s he?

“I haven’t any title, I’m Botany;

“Plain Mr. Botany (B.)”