In Honor of the Fallen…

I don’t often share a story on my blog that isn’t original with me, however, having read the following story by a commercial airline pilot about his experience I thought it would be a good reminder for me and for any of my readers as we take time to remember on this Memorial Day, 2010.  The original account can be found here.

My lead flight attendant came to me and said, “We have an H.R. on this flight.” (H.R. stands for human remains.) “Are they military?” I asked.

‘Yes’, she said.

‘Is there an escort?’ I asked.

‘Yes, I already assigned him a seat’.

‘Would you please tell him to come to the flight-deck? You can board him early.”

A short while later a young army sergeant entered the flight deck. He was the image of the perfectly dressed soldier. He introduced himself and I asked him about his soldier. The escorts of these fallen soldiers talk about them as if they are still alive and still with us. ‘My soldier is on his way back to Virginia,’ he said.

He proceeded to answer my questions, but offered no words. I asked him if there was anything I could do for him and he said no. I told him that he had the toughest job in the military and that I appreciated the work that he does for the families of our fallen soldiers. The first officer and I got up out of our seats to shake his hand. He left the flight deck to find his seat.

We completed our preflight checks, pushed back and performed an uneventful departure. About 30 minutes into our flight I received a call from the lead flight attendant in the cabin.

‘I just found out the family of the soldier we are carrying is on board’, she said. She then proceeded to tell me that the father, mother, wife and 2-year old daughter were escorting their son, husband, and father home. The family was upset because they were unable to see the container that the soldier was in before we left. We were on our way to a major hub at which the family was going to wait four hours for the connecting flight home to Virginia.

The father of the soldier told the flight attendant that knowing his son was below him in the cargo compartment and being unable to see him was too much for him and the family to bear. He had asked the flight attendant if there was anything that could be done to allow them to see him upon our arrival.

The family wanted to be outside by the cargo door to watch the soldier being taken off the airplane. I could hear the desperation in the flight attendants voice when she asked me if there was anything I could do.. ‘I’m on it’, I said. I told her that I would get back to her.

Airborne communication with my company normally occurs in the form of e-mail like messages. I decided to bypass this system and contact my flight dispatcher directly on a secondary radio. (There is a radio operator in the operations control center who connects you to the telephone of the dispatcher.) I was in direct contact with the dispatcher. I explained the situation I had on board with the family and what it was the family wanted.

He said he understood and that he would get back to me.

Two hours went by and I had not heard from the dispatcher. We were going to get busy soon and I needed to know what to tell the family. I sent a text message asking for an update. I saved the return message from the dispatcher:

‘Captain, sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. There is policy on this now and I had to check on a few things. Upon your arrival a dedicated escort team will meet the aircraft. The team will escort the family to the ramp and plane side. A van will be used to load the remains with a secondary van for the family. The family will be taken to their departure area and escorted into the terminal where the remains can be seen on the ramp. It is a private area for the family only. When the connecting aircraft arrives, the family will be escorted onto the ramp and plane side to watch the remains being loaded for the final leg home.

Captain, most of us here in flight control are veterans. Please pass our condolences on to the family. Thanks.’

I sent a message back telling flight control thanks for a good job. I printed out the message and gave it to the lead flight attendant to pass on to the father. The lead flight attendant was very thankful and told me, ‘You have no idea how much this will mean to them.’

Things started getting busy for the descent, approach and landing. After landing, we cleared the runway and taxied to the ramp area. The ramp is huge with 15 gates on either side of the alleyway. It is always a busy area with aircraft maneuvering every which way to enter and exit. When we entered the ramp and checked in with the ramp controller, we were told that all traffic was being held for us.

‘There is a team in place to meet the aircraft’, we were told. It looked like it was all coming together, then I realized that once we turned the seat belt sign off, everyone would stand up at once and delay the family from getting off the airplane. As we approached our gate, I asked the copilot to tell the ramp controller we were going to stop short of the gate to make an announcement to the passengers. He did that and the ramp controller said, ‘Take your time.’

I stopped the aircraft and set the parking brake. I pushed the public address button and said, ‘Ladies and gentleman, this is your Captain speaking. I have stopped short of our gate to make a special announcement.

We have a passenger on board who deserves our honor and respect. His Name is Private XXXXXX, a soldier who recently lost his life. Private XXXXXX is under your feet in the cargo hold. Escorting him today is Army Sergeant XXXXXXX. Also, on board are his father, mother, wife, and daughter. Your entire flight crew is asking for all passengers to remain in their seats to allow the family to exit the aircraft first. Thank you.’

We continued the turn to the gate, came to a stop and started our shutdown procedures. A couple of minutes later I opened the cockpit door. I found the two forward flight attendants crying, something you just do not see. I was told that after we came to a stop, every passenger on the aircraft stayed in their seats, waiting for the family to exit the aircraft.

When the family got up and gathered their things, a passenger slowly started to clap his hands. Moments later more passengers joined in and soon the entire aircraft was clapping. Words of ‘God Bless You’, I’m sorry, thank you, be proud, and other kind words were uttered to the family as they made their way down the aisle and out of the airplane. They were escorted down to the ramp to finally be with their loved one.

Many of the passengers disembarking thanked me for the announcement I had made. They were just words, I told them, I could say them over and over again, but nothing I say will bring back that brave soldier.”

“Lord, may we remember the many men and women who have given their lives to give this great country of ours a continued freedom.  May you protect those who are presently serving us and strengthen the many families that have lost sons and daughters, husbands and fathers, wives and mothers.  May we truly be mournful and thankful for their sacrifice.  May it also draw us to your sacrifice and suffering on our behalf that gives us eternal freedom from the war that rages against our souls.”


Church Planting is for Wimps – a Review

As some of you know I am in “transition” as they say, waiting on God to give me guidance and direction for His next steps for me and my family.  So, when at the Together for the Gospel conference I was intrigued by this book, just to get some insight into the mind of a church planter.   Now understand, I have never planted a church before but I have been approached by an organization to consider it, therefore, I was hoping that I could get some pointers to help me process through that possibility.  You see,  God has used me to start a singles ministry, pastor a small and hurting church family as well as a struggling but established medium sized church, and what I read in this little book is as relevant in all those situations as it is in a church planting context.  So, to that end, I would encourage any believer who cares about their church and the core priorities of that church to read Mike McKinley’s story and very helpful guiding principles.

At the outset it needs to be noted that although the book is titled “Church Planting is for Wimps” the authors experience is one of church revitalization.  In other words, he “re-started” a church that had almost died.  To some degree  his peers who also are revitalizing churches share the opinion that, in comparison to revitalization, church planting is for wimps (tongue in cheek).

So, the first principle McKinley stresses is that a church should avoid the modern church growth tendency to start churches that are intentionally designed to appeal to a certain kind of person (i.e. Gen-x’ers, College, target group).  McKinley believes that doing so violates the biblical mandate to be “all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22) rather than all things to some and constitutes an unhealthy church.

It seems to me that Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 wasn’t saying that he would mimic the people that he was trying to reach, you know, with a ripped tunic and Doc Martens sandals.  He was trying instead to remove unnecessary offense whenever possible.  He wasn’t telling them to sport goatees–he was telling them not to flaunt their Christian freedom in everyone’s faces.

He continues…

It seems like we should intentionally plant churches that will, as much as possible, welcome and engage people who are different and diverse with respect to age, gender, personality, and nationality.

The one thing that should characterize a church plant that wants to reach people from all kinds of backgrounds is the ability and desire to show intentional love.  In fact, if you were to go to churches all across the world they would be a people who pray, sing, read the Bible and hear the Word being preached.  The goal of church planting is to cultivate diversity rather than a homogeneous group of people.

The second principle answers the question, “What should be a church planters highest priority?”  McKinley answers that question with the backdrop of a run down church facility that needs to have plumbing fixed, toilets updated, widows cleaned and repaired, weeds pulled, etc.  The one thing that Guilford fellowship needed most was…

…for their pastor to have God’s Word preached in a clear, systematic and compelling way.

This is because the Word of God stands at the center of the life of the church.  As Edmond Clowney encourages…

The church is the community of the Word, the Word that reveals the plan and the purpose of god.  In the church, the gospel is preached, believed, obeyed.  It is the pillar and the ground of the truth because it holds fast tot he Scriptures (Phil. 2:16).

Without the Word of God, a preacher, especially a young preacher with little history, has no true authority.  He might be able to woo them with the devices of the flesh just like any comedian or rock star.  but without the Word he will have no true spiritual trust from his people.

But there are three enemies that a church planter/revitalizer will struggle against:

  • Misplaced Pragmatism – putting your time and power in things like attention-grabbing direct mail for the neighborhood or organizing a huge event that will attract the masses rather than using your best time and energy for the preparing and preaching of God’s Word.
  • Pride – It takes humility to build the church on the preaching of God’s Word because it is not particularly glorifying to the preacher.  He writes…

If you preach a great series of topical sermons on marriage or finaces or sex, your church plant might grow.  If you are a savvy marketer and put up provocative billboards around town, your church might grow quickly.  And people will think that you are great.  You can wear trendy shirts, get blond tips in your hair, and wear a microphone that hooks around your ear.  But if you preach God’s word faithfully, few people will be tempted to think that you are great.

God has designed it that the preacher isn’t the one to get the glory…He is.

  • A Lack of Confidence in God’s Word – Mark Dever’s advice to McKinley was this: “Do everything you can do to preach excellent sermons.  Everything else will fall into place.”

The third principle can be stated like this:  “Somehow the church survived for almost two thousand years before Malphurs and Barna told us we had to have “mission” and “vision” statements. His point is this…

If you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing as a church planter, if you need to write out a statement in order to remember that your church is supposed to evangelize the lost and help Christians grow in Christ, you shouldn’t be a church planter.  How about casting a vision the way protestants have cast vision for the past five hundred years!  Teach God’s Word! Explain it to God’s people, and tell them God’s mission and vision and values and purpose and strategy for their life.  Don’t refer them back to some mantra that you make sure everyone in the congregation has memorized.  Teach them what the Bible says about what it means to be a faithful Christian and faithful church.

McKinley also discourages a church planter from writing his own statement of faith and instead encourages the embrace of an already established and polished statement such as the New Hampshire Confession of Faith (1833).  Also, as it relates to the church constitution and bylaws, his recommendation is that the priority is to shore up the nature and structure of the church’s leadership (Plurality of Elders).  How you structure that leadership will have a direct impact on the discipleship and spiritual livelihood of the saints.  Having said that, however, he believes that…

“The goal of a church should not be to establish plural eldership at any cost, but rather to elevate the standards of spiritual leadership at any cost (Phil Newton).”

Fourth, McKinley stresses the importance of training up the men to be leaders in the church: to be godly, theologically sound, to lead their families well, to be involved in the church, and to understand the importance of servant leadership.

He stresses that the church planter/revitalizer should not  invest all his efforts in bringing in more people before he has done the hard work of cultivating leaders.

Fifth, the church planter must not give in to the church growth pressure to be an extraordinary pastor that has an obsession with church size, but instead, consider  being a pastor who will “preach and pray, love and stay.” Many who serve faithfully, pastor well, preach clearly and love their flocks will not see overwhelming and immediate fruit from their efforts.  As one man says…

Young men tend to overestimate what they can accomplish in the short term and underestimate what they can accomplish in the long term.”

Now, not only is this book an excellent thought provoking resource to any pastor, it is a joy to read.  Mike McKinley is just plain funny and that humor with the refreshing Biblical counsel kept me glued to the pages.

Now, you may not agree with all of his conclusions.  You may think that he overstates some points of view, but I dare you to read it, church planter or not.  It will be a good tool to help you review your priorities as a pastor of the church God has placed you in or to shepherd.

We could summarize is points this way:  A church that is glorifying God…

  • will be diverse in race, gender, age and vocation.
  • will be known in its community because of its extraordinary love expressed among its members as well as to those outside the church.
  • will value as central the clear and systematic (i.e. expository and through a book) preaching and teaching of God’s Word above all else.
  • will clearly identify the important doctrinal truths for the benefit of the church and for those who might come to stirr up division in the church.
  • will seek to train men to be leaders in the church, ultimately establishing a Biblical plurality of Elders.
  • will seek a steady growth that is the result of faithful Word-centered ministry rather than quick pragmatic church growth strategies (i.e. marketing, business strategies, etc.).
  • will expect that their pastor will be faithful to keep the preaching and teaching the priority and to abandon the inundating pressure to be an extraordinary pastor (in the worlds eyes) but to be  extraordinary because He is committed to doing God’s Work God’s Way.

This has been a very helpful book to me.  It has affirmed the core values that I hold dear and has encouraged me to seriously consider the church planting possibility before me.  The church is God’s, not mine.  It isn’t measured by size, but faithfulness and fruit.  I trust that God will continue to use these encouragements in my life as I seek to glorify Him wherever He puts me into ministry.

Read it…you won’t be sorry!

The VonPhillips Family…

Well, my wife gets all the credit for this post as I am a pretty dull source of musical wisdom and skill.  True, I did play the violin when I was about 9 years old, but it wasn’t a “cool” instrument and I put away childish things.  Then, at the beginning of High School, I picked up the guitar and taught myself to play – rather badly I might add, but at least enough to get me through college (a helpful solace when I bombed a test or was rejected for a date) as well as to strum a few chords in singing “Do Lord” as a Youth Pastor.  A few years later I pulled it out again and started to lead worship (with the help of Eric Arnason) at the church I was shepherding in Waterford, MI.  So, I share that to say, it is really my wife who has the lioness’s share of musical ability and any genes transitioned to the next generation of Phillipsi are contributed by her.

So, with that I am sitting back and enjoying some of the musical talents unfolding in my family.  A couple of years ago my oldest, Vanessa, stunned us all by singing “My Only Hope” at the RCS 2008 Pops concert.  She did a great job and has since participated in worship teams at church and school.  Sadly I don’t have any video of her singing, but there are some pictures…

Here is Adam, my youngest, tooting his horn.  This horn, however, is a “herald trumpet” and he is playing while standing in the balcony of Redwood Chapel while the rest of the RCE Elementary Band is on the stage. (you can hardly see him, but he is there!)

Here is Deanna playing Swan Song on the Piano at her first Recital…

Here is Gavin, who has taken to his guitar, playing a Rodrigo and Gabriella number with Reggie at the 2010 RCS Pops Concert…

Part 1

Part 2

Well done guys…Mom & Dad are really proud of your hard work and how you are using your gifts for the Lord…

Basics 2010 – Friends

It is amazing to look back over the years and see how God has directed the lives of men of God who are also personal friends.  In the picture below four friends from college and from high school stand together enjoying a moment in time and a memory of God’s divine hand on their lives as well as the joy of serving Him in ministry…

From left to right…

Tigg Vanaman is the Sr. Pastor at Great Lakes Baptist Church in Holly, Michigan.  Tigg is one year my senior.  We were in high school together and later we served together at Dixie Baptist Church where both of us were Associate Pastors.  Tigg is passionate in his love for his God.  He loves missions and has spent a number of his years teaching Spanish in Christian Schools (while pastoring) as well as leading multiple mission trips to places like Costa Rica and Mexico.  He is a great friend I know I can trust with any issue that is before me.  In these latter years we have been known to call him Darth Vader and he is a great partner in crime when it comes to punning.  As a result a simple conversation, serious or not, usually takes twice as long as we find ourselves drifting into puns and laughter.  It isn’t a good idea for us to sit next to each other at things like funerals, graduations or other somber occasions – it could spell disaster.

Ken Dockery is presently in the process of a church plant in the heart of Cleveland, Ohio.  A number of years ago while serving as  a Sr. Pastor in Pennsylvania Ken had some serious heart issues and ended up at the Cleveland Clinic.  He tells about how while in that room he would look out into downtown Cleveland and his heart was fixed on serving that city.  Ken is a genuine, passionate and godly minister of the word.  A man of great faith and vision for God’s purposes in his life.  He is also know for wearing a pink road biking outfit (which he won’t put on the web) while raising money for the Cleveland Clinic on his Inspire Hope Tour (yes, click here…)

Me…you know enough about that guy…

Randy Bachman is not the lead singer of Bachman Turner Overdrive (here) but holds a much more significant position in the kingdom as the Sr. Pastor at Baptist Fellowship Church in Waterford, MI (where I served previously).  He is a true friend that I have spent hours serving along side of as well as on the phone with talking through ministry issues.  We served at Dixie Baptist together with Tigg and have attended numerous conferences together as well as taken many trips recruiting teachers for the Christian School that was part of our ministry.  On of our fondest memories is attending the Pensacola Blessing at Brownsville Church of God, where, fortunately we did not receive any blessing (I think the blessings were closed for that day or on vacation) which was a good thing as I don’t think I wanted to see Randy dance or even bark like a dog.

If laughter is a measure of healthy friendships then I must admit that we are joined at the hip.  In fact, it isn’t unusual when with friends like this to be in tears – not the mushy warm and fuzzy kind but the gut busting “I’m in pain afterward” kind.  Those times are precious and a true refreshment to the soul – that is, after the recovery sets in.

But what truly unites us is a common passion to live our lives for the glory of God and to be faithful shepherds of God’s people who take the exposition of God’s Word and the care of His flock seriously.

I am thankful that God has put friends like this in my life.  They are agents of God’s grace, His counsel, a healthy accountability and a brotherhood.

Basics – Sinclair Ferguson – Breakout – Preaching Christ From the Old Testament

In my 20 plus years of preaching experience I think that one of the hardest things to do is to preach Christ from the Old Testament.  That may sound strange to the average person sitting in the pew, but to a pastor and shepherd who wants to be sure that what he is saying is actually found in the text rather than imposed on the text.  To often preaching from the O.T. is relegated to some kind of moralistic lesson, i.e. “David fought a Giant named Goliath and killed him with the first of five stones, and each of the other stones was for Goliath’s brothers, therefore, God will give us strength to fight the giants in our lives with the five stones of faith, truth, patience, boldness and ingenuity.”  Well, the text says nothing of the sort.  The fact that Goliath is a giant is simply to give credence to the magnitude of God’s ability to work through us.  We who are worthy and gifted only to come with bread and cheese to a battle.  Or take the story of Gideon where God widdles down the army to 300 men.  These were not the best and bravest, they were simply the ones God sovereignly selected to be his fighting agents in this battle.  In each of these stories the theme is, “The Battle is not mine, it is the Lord’s”.  So, with those examples I want to share with you Sinclair Ferguson’s thoughts on “Preaching Christ from the Old Testament.

He describes one of the flaws in preaching from the O.T. as the “Where’s Waldo approach” in which he means the question is asked, “Where are you in the text?”  The answer to that question is, nowhere!  The better question is, “Who is Jesus Christ in this narrative?  Our role as Pastors is to find Jesus and to expound Him.  Two foundational principles, however are necessary:

1. We will never learn to preach Christ from the O.T. unless we have learned to preach Christ from the New Testament.

2. We need to learn to read the O.T. in a redemptive-historical way – which means that we need to see the unfolding of the O.T. as a revelation of God’s story of preparing for and ultimately providing for Jesus, the Savior, Messiah, Substitute, Prophet, Priest & King (etc).

He suggested that the O.T. narrative can be seen as exposing the footnotes of Genesis 3:15.

Next, he presented 7 features of preaching Christ from the O.T. (How Jesus holds the O.T. together)

1.  The principle of the Coming Conqueror in the age-long conflict

We must be asking the question, “Where is the conflict?”  And, when we find the conflict it will be an outworking of this principle that ends with victory over death and Satan.

2. The Seed principle – in Eve’s seed a Savior will come

The O.T. keeps its eye on the seed of Abraham

3. The Sacrifice principle – “He will be crushed…” (Is. 53)

4. The Covenant Principle – It always works its way out in cursing or blessing

5. The Truth principle – “And did He really say to you?” (Satan to Eve)

Here we are called to “undeceive people who have swallowed the lie!”  (Rom. 5:8) We need to be undeceived by God.

6. The Rest principle (Noah – name means rest)

This is in reference to the restoration of God’s people…to a new beginning that is pointing forward.

7. The Participation principle – Every person in the O.T. is a kind of Jesus lookalike…

Sinclair was a great help in providing guidance on an ongoing difficult but wonderful task.

A couple of other resources that come to mind that have been a big help to me as I preach from the O.T. are…

The Word Became Fresh by Dale Ralph Davis.  I love anything that Dale Davis has written.  His commentaries on Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings are a real treasure.  They flesh out his guidelines recorded for us in “The Word Became Fresh.”

Beginning at Moses by Michael Barret.  Clearly my favorite teacher during my seminary years at BJU.  He captivated my heart toward the O.T. and the rich resources contained in it as well as an appreciation for a careful study and application of the O.T. text.

Basics – John Shearer (Breakout) – Reflections and Resolutions – Ps. 71

Psalm 71 speaks of a man who recognizes that the clock never stops ticking.  So, the writer doesn’t want to be found squeaking out his existence in a rocking chair during his last years, but rather, he wants to be like Caleb that is saying, “give me this mountain.”

John Shearer, during this breakout session, give us Seven Resolutions to help us in our service as preachers of God’s Word.

1.  I will always take refuge in the Lord – vs. 1

2.  I will always hope in the Lord – vs. 5-6

3. I will always praise You Lord – vs. 6, 8, 14

4. I will always treasure Your presence – vs. 9-13

5. I will always tell of Your salvation to others – vs. 15-17

6. I will always declare Your power to the next generation – vs. 18

7. I will always wrap myself round with the promises of God – vs. 21ff

In listening to John Shearer I felt like I was hearing words of wisdom from an ordinary pastor.  I think that if I had the opportunity to sit under some men in this world John Shearer would be one I would like to learn from.  He has served the Lord for many years.  He has been faced with very difficult church situations and has endured the hardship that is part and parcel for the ministry and the above resolutions are all welcome messages to be preaching to yourself when you are facing struggle, difficulty and all sorts of trials in life, especially within the context of the ministry.

Here is a great quotes from this session:

“God’s Providence is My Inheritance” – written on the entrance of a puritan home in Chester, UK.

Basics – Sinclair Furguson – Paul On Union With Christ (Both Sessions)

Sinclair, Ferguson and Begg sounds like a law firm, but this week it was a gathering of three Scotsmen who are all pastors in ministry to speak to pastors from God’s Word about the Basics of ministry.  Over the next few blogs I will endeavor to summarize their messages given throughout this week.   But, before I do, let me just mention that the Basics Conference has once again proven to be an extremely refreshing and pastoral affair.  God has spoken to me through these men in various ways which I will seek to relate as I report.  Needless to say, I think that this conference is outstanding, and as a minister of God’s Word it is totally refreshing to be ministered to.  So, to all who have been and are praying for me, who have helped me attend this conference, I want to express my deepest gratitude for your ongoing support, love and encouragement for this ordinary pastor who wants to be a faithful expositor that smells like sheep.

Now, on to Sinclair…Sinclair Ferguson is a native of Edinburgh, but is presently serving as the Sr. Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina.  He is a prolific writer and is a weighty preacher, not for weighty sakes, but because he is bringing to the text a robust backdrop and has an incredible way of tying God’s Word together.  He took two messages to speak to us on the implications of our “union with Christ” for us as ministers of the Gospel in our living and in our ministry.

Union With Christ and Christian Living – Colossians 3:1-17

Paul’s favorite way of speaking about a Christian is to identify them as being “in Christ.”  The expressions “in Him”, “in Christ” and “in the beloved” are used over 160 times in the New Testament.  It describes our new creation and means that we are a part of a new order.  We are united to Him by the Spirit through faith.  For the believer (those who are “in Him”) all fullness is found in Christ and we enter into all the fullness of His resources wherein we have been given a new identity.  Sadly, however, the contemporary church has spent too much time looking at the blessings of the Gospel (being “in Him”) horizontally rather than vertically, i.e. what’s in it for me temporally rather than the blessing of the spiritual family that I am now a part of.  Because of that drift we struggle in finding our identity in Him…

I loved Sinclair’s next statement…

“Identity theft is not a phenomenon unique to the 21st century.  Satan has been stealing our identity in Christ since the garden.”

So, the implication then is that it is…

“only when the foundation of being “in Christ” is true that the imperatives of the Gospel be embraced…otherwise we will kill our people”

In other words, there is a direct link between having an understanding of our position “in Christ” and our proper ability to keep the commands God demands.  If we simply present the commands without the “in Christ” reality our people will only feel the weight of the law and they will die.

That was all introduction.  Next he gave us four implications of being “in Christ”.

1.  It produces a new mentality – Col. 3:1-2

We are able to set our minds on things above, and as Romans 12:1-2 tell us, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  This isn’t an IQ issue where only the smart Christians can understand and live their lives “in Him”, but it is a mindset issue.  The fact that I am “in Christ” will have a drastic effect on how I think, my outlook on life and my approach to living out the Gospel.

2. It gives birth in me to a new sense of destiny – Col. 3:3-4

“When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:4)

When we grasp our destiny we will live now in such a way as to impact the kingdom.  Sinclair shared with us how one of his teachers in school gave an assignment to write your own orbituary.  The purpose of which was to evaluate how you wanted to live your life now.  In a similar manner, we should be thinking about how we want to live our lives now since being “in Him” means that we are certain about our destiny.

3. It effects a new spiritual honesty

When you know who you are in Christ you don’t need to pretend who you are.

4. It gives rise to understanding the principles of Spiritual Mastery

“You never mortify sin by mortifying sin…but as you are putting off the sin you are simultaneously putting on Christ.”

So, to be “in Christ” is going to affect how we live:  How we think about life, our understanding of our destiny, our ability to truly be honest with each other and our grasp of how we master sin in our lives.

In Sinclair’s second message he challenged us on the second issue,

How our Union with Christ affects our Ministry – Phil. 3:1-4:1

The reality is that when we preach it is really Christ who is preaching through us…His Servants.  We don’t preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…We minister out of the reality of being united with Christ.  Therefore we need to see…Four Aspects of Union with Christ and Paul’s Gospel Ministry

1. The Background to his teaching about our union with Christ

We have to ask ourselves the question, “How can a dictator of Scripture expound the realities of the Gospel to his readers?”  Paul’s answer is, “I want to “know Christ” in the fellowship of his resurrection & sufferings in order to become like Him.  I want to be like him in His flesh and in His glory.  You see, we were chosen before the foundation of the world, and we will be raised to be like him for all eternity, yet while we are here we live out our lives “in Him” before the world to see.  The reality is that before God there are only two men: Christ and Adam,  and everyone hangs on a string from one or the other.

2. There is a structure to His union with Christ – there is a grammar with which God speaks the Gospel.

We need to speak properly the Gospel…to use the right language that is shaped by the Gospel itself.  Sinclair taught us that in Latin, unlike our western languages, the “doing word” is put at the end of a sentence.  We, however, want to put the doing word at the beginning of the sentence so we can add Christ’s doing on top of our doing to merit God.  The opposite, however is true and we need to recognize that the grammar of the Gospel has an appropriate mood: indicative (what is true) & imperative (what you need to do) and this grammar should ooze from us in our preaching ministry, i.e. Because __________ is true we need to do _______________!

Next, we must recognize that the tense of the Gospel is the present that is rooted in the past.  This is an emphasis of the grandeur of the already in light of the not yet.  God is doing ________________ in me now because _______________ has been done in the past on my behalf.  He loved me and gave Himself for me, therefore Christ lives in me.

3. There is a central role to union with Christ in Paul’s pastoral ministry

Do people truly know what Paul says “we know”?  He knew that he was dead to sin.  Likewise sin is around us, but sin does not have dominion over us because being “in Christ” means that we are dead to sin- Add to that the joyful reality that we can now respond to sin in the power of the spirit!!

4. This dominates the way Paul thinks about his Union – His driving ambition as a Gospel minster

Paul is saying that to know Christ, to gain Christ, is to be united with Christ.  It is the pattern of Gospel ministry to share in the suffering and blessings (gaining) of being in Christ.

“Union with Christ is the epicenter of what it means to be a Gospel Minister”

Sharing in the suffering & sharing in the victory are two lenses that must be looked through simultaneously as we seek to minister for His glory.

Personal Contemplations on Being “in Him”.

1. I think that as a minister of the Gospel that I need to do a better job of teaching and demonstrating the centrality of what it means to be “in Christ” to those who sit under my ministry.  I think that shallow American Christianity has hijacked the centrality of this truth from the life and breath of the church.  Oh, the language is certainly there, but the full understanding and implications of being “in Him” are not clearly understood.  That is a fault of the Christian culture in which we live and my own failure as a preacher of God’s Word.

2.  The realm of Biblical Counseling must deal with this issue or else we will simply be trading one sinful habit for another one.   In other words, if I am helping people “re-habituate” their lives according to Scripture (cf. Eph. 4:22-24) I must be sure that they understand that their ability to change is inseparably linked with a growing awareness and embrace of what it means to be “in Him”.  Without that clarity we may be guilty of training Pharisees to be more gifted Pharisees.  Perish the thought.

3. Being “in Him” is the fuel of confidence that I have to be a faithful servant of Christ who opens up the Word of God before men for His glory. Yes, I am a sinful creature, but God has re-created me in Christ Jesus.  I am no longer condemned.  I have full assurance that when I stand before God on the judgment day that even though I continue to sin that I will be found clothed in His righteousness alone – “in Him” – and not clothed in my attempts to be righteous.

4.  My suffering is God’s workroom for putting on display what it means to be “in Him”. Being “in Him” is not a promise for a care-free life.  It is, however, the security that whatever God chooses for my life is completely and directly connected to my status in Christ.  There is no better place for me to be but “in Him” regardless of the circumstances…and the circumstances never change my status in Christ.

I still feel like I am a rookie when I listen to Sinclair Ferguson.  Yet he challenges me to wait on God and to further diligence in and over the Word of God so that I can have greater clarity and understanding regarding the great truths of His majestic Word.

Sinclair…thank you for ministering to this ordinary pastor who wants to live his life and minister God’s Word with a clarity, courage and conviction because I am “in Christ”.

Basics 2010 – Prelims…

As the heading states, this conference is uniquely “a conference for pastors on preaching.”  And this year, the 11th year of the Basics Conference, Alistair Begg’s guests are Dr. Sincliar Furguson and John Shearer – three Scotsmen who are all working pastors.  Now I have  been to a number of conferences but of all I enjoy the Basics conference on a personal and pastoral level.  The subject matter is rarely the “issues” of the day, but rather how to pastor and preach the Gospel in the context where God has placed you.

So, my subsequent posts will be my attempt to share with you the basic content of each message and to share with you some things that God has been teaching me.

First, let me say that often going to a conference like this isn’t always about the conference itself.  For example, as I was waiting at the gate for my flight at San Jose International Airport I noticed a man that looked very familiar.  I had seen him at the Basics conference and the Shepherd’s Conference (at Grace Community Church) before.  So I asked him if he was going to Cleveland and then if he was attending the Basics conference.  He smiled and said, “Yes I am.”  And we began talking.  Well, by Divine Providence as I am sharing my story of Resignation from CVFirst, how much I loved the people, how hard it was to honor God in the midst of injustice and the confidence that I have in the sovereignty of God, he told me, “Rod, what you are going through is almost exactly the same as what I went through 5 years ago.”  There is a common statement among pastors that goes something like this, “As much as people think that they understand the burden of a pastor, they really don’t know how much we love what we do, love the people under our care and carry burdens far greater than most understand or imagine.”

Alistair Begg & Tigg Vanaman

So, it is always great to share those burdens and struggles with men who truly understand…God is good!

Second, attending this conference has already been a treat as I have been able to fellowship with three very good friends:  Tigg Vanaman, Randy Bachman & Rich Knodel.  Tigg and Randy served with me at Dixie Baptist Church many moons ago where we were all Associate Pastors together.  Randy now pastors Baptist Fellowship Church where I served for 7 years as Sr. Pastor.  Rich is an Elder in the same church who came on while I served.  Tigg now pastors the Great Lakes Baptist Church in Holly, MI.  We have already busted our guts laughing and shared our burdens and struggles.  Friends are precious, especially those who serve the Lord as Pastors.

So, now to sit under the feet of three Pastors who love the Lord, the Gospel, the church and have a deep burden to build me up in the faith…

It is time to get back to Basics…

You can listen to the sessions here

Say It Isn’t So…

Yesterday I attended the Rowell Ranch Rodeo Parade that is held in Castro Valley every year.  This  year, however, was a special year as my son Gavin was participating…and that is when the fun began.  You see, he told me that he would be representing  RCS (Redwood Christian Schools) on their float which would be featuring the RCS High School Worship Band in which Gavin plays lead guitar.  That was fine until he told me that he needed to dress up like a construction worker, and then further explained that the theme of the parade was “Building Our Community”.  Well that was all fine and dandy until he told me that other band members would be dressing up as firemen, police officers, doctors, etc.  And I am sure that you can understand what first came to my mind… “My son is turning into the Village People!”

Well, I thought that was bad until Gavin came home from school and told me that the main attraction on the float on which they would be standing was a rainbow.  Now I’m thinking, “This has gone from bad to worse”, but it was all very amusing.  Now I must say that Gavin and his cohorts did a great job.  In fact I was told that their float won — whatever that means…but it was a serious chuckle when they came by.

Another entry into the parade caused me to think deeply.

  • Have I been a neglectful parent?
  • Have I been harsh and leading my children down the wrong path?
  • Have I been inadvertently harming my children but just not knowing it?

Apparently!  You see, it seems that “training wheel’s on bikes are now considered to be unnatural and a hindrance to your child’s development.” (Notice the “No Training Wheels” T-shirt worn by this lovely young  model)  All these years I have been wandering in the wilderness of training wheels, trusting that in them my children could learn how to ride a bike.  Now I am being told that all that effort has been in vain and is an unnatural and a counter-developmental method of teaching my kids how to ride.

I know that I have a lot of things to learn as a father, but I don’t regret using the training wheels…I hope that my words are not offensive or somehow politically incorrect.  I have four flowers that seem to be adjusting to life reasonably well.  I hate to think that if I had only stopped using training wheels then all would be well.

Maybe, just maybe, if I had chosen not to use training wheels my son wouldn’t have dressed up as a construction worker…Hmm…I really have to look hard at my parenting!

T4G – Final Day With C.J.

There are some messages that God brings through His servants that are timely, gentle reminders of His gracious calling and purpose in the life of the pastor and C.J. Mahaney’s message on the final morning of the Together for the Gospel Conference was just that.

C.J. took for his text, 2 Timothy 4:1-5 and entitled his message “Ordinary Pastors”.

He introduced his message talking about and reading from Don Carson’s book, “Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor”, a book honoring his father, Tom Carson.  C.J. emphasized that unlike men like John Piper, John MacArthur and Mark Dever, most of us are simply ordinary pastors.  And as ordinary pastors we can so easily be tempted to compare ourselves with these incredibly gifted men and we are often very discouraged.

So, to bring clarity and to encourage the ordinary pastor C.J. turned to 2 Timothy 4:1-5…

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: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Here we are given a definition of pastoral ministry…a charge and are called to faithfulness in three areas:

1. We are to be Faithful To The Message – “preach the Word”

This is a call to the Scripture in General and the Gospel in particular…the substance and content of our ministry must be saturated with this charge – with the Gospel.

We are not to succumb to the tendency to be original…in fact, we are to resolve to be unoriginal.  If you don’t make this committment to be unoriginal you will:

  • spend your time pursuing  man’s ideas
  • apply yourself to administration
  • be attracted to what is new and trendy

C.J. emphasized that an old car may seem rickety, but it is what is under the hood that is the power.  As we look at our ministries, our churches, the question should be, “What is under the hood?”  Is it the ministry of the Word that keeps the Gospel central or  not…

In being faithful to the message we are to preach the Word “in season/out of season” – i.e. when it is receptive and when it is not.  This means that our God-given task is…

  • to be familiar with the text
  • to be familiar with the church (pastoral discernment of the real needs of the people, not just what they think they need)
  • to pursue godly character in general and patience in particular. (Remember God’s patience with you…and that sanctification is a process)

2. We are to be Faithful to your Ministry (vs. 5)

  • We are called to “endure suffering” as it is the norm of pastoral ministry
  • We are to do the work of an evangelist – this is both your calling and your lifestyle
  • We are to fulfill our ministry – i.e. to be obedient to God’s work through us.
  • We are to be sober minded – i.e. to be alert to the many fads, ideologies and man-made trends that so easily captivate our Christian culture.

3. We are to be Faithful to the Savior (vs. 1) “In the presence of God…”

  • There must be in us an eternal perspective…
  • We must be willing to look ahead and not back…

C.J. did an excellent job of bringing both clarity and encouragement to the role and function of serving the Lord as an ordinary pastor in a context where even our churches are pulling us in directions that directly or indirectly put pressure on us to adjust our Gospel.

Certainly the role of pastor (or the commonly used “Sr. Pastor”) will have his share of administration, management and visitation to be doing – that is all part of the job.  The problem, as I see it, is when those areas are seen as a priority to the neglect of the ministry of the Word.  If there is a call that I can make to any and all lay Elders out there it would be this,

“please be sure to support your pastor by taking from him some of the administrative and management responsibilities that naturally unfold in ministry.  If you don’t you will be forcing him to neglect his primary calling which is the ministry of the Word.  God has called you to serve along side him and to support him.  Look out for his well being in this regard and remember, he’s just an ordinary pastor – even though you wish he were John MacArthur, Alistair Begg or even C.J. Maheney.”

I am truly thankful that God allowed me to attend the T4G conference.  It was an opportunity to reflect on what God is doing in my life…what ministry He is transitioning me to, etc. as well as to reflect on my own call and character as a servant of God called to serve Him as a Pastor.

God continues to affirm and clarify that I am and have been on the right path and that I should be listening to Him rather than man’s thinking.  It is so easy, in our desire to be both relevant and to adjust to the culture in which God has placed us.  But God’s calling is unique and should not be adjusted regardless.  We are to be committed to an unadjusted Gospel no matter where we serve and to the faithful responsibility of shepherding the flock in a way that reflects His Word.