Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Time for Sabbath Rest...

This summer will be the second time in my pastoral ministry that I have had the opportunity to take an extended sabbatical. I am indebted to our church's leadership for providing this for me every three years. They had the foresight and and generosity to set this up for the pastor even before they knew who it would be when I arrived here nearly seven years ago. So this July I will step away for a month and enjoy a much needed rest.

For some folks, there is confusion and skepticism about why a pastor would ever need extended time away. That usually comes from the same crowd that's convinced that he only works on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights! I've discovered this time is valuable for several reasons.

First, the preaching and teaching ministry is one of the most mentally and emotionally draining tasks that anyone can engage in. I tell folks often that Sunday just keeps coming at you. It's a continual challenge to remain fresh and energized when you are speaking to many of the same people for most of the year. My sabbatical gives me the chance to step away and be fed by other preachers and teachers. I can read and study more extensively for myself. I can engage the Word of God, not to preach it to others, but to preach it to myself.

Second, my sabbatical gives me time to reconnect with my family and more intensively pour myself into their lives. Some months in the ministry I can spend anywhere from 4-8 hours in family counseling. As pastors, we often feel guilty that we are giving our best energy to other marriages and other children, rather than investing in our own.

And finally, my sabbatical gives me a chance to step away and really look and my ministry with the long view. In the daily grind of congregational life, you so often get caught up in just trying to keep your head above water each week. There are mettings to prepare for and hospital visits to make. Effective ministry requires some intensive attention given to the big picture.

If your pastor does not get the opportunity to take a sabbatical every few years, I strongly encourage you to be his advocate and provide this for him and his family. The long-term benefit to your church will far outweigh the inconvenience of having him out of the pulpit. His family and the family of God will be blessed by an extended time of sabbath rest.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Summer Reading List

Between some vacation trips and a study break I'm taking this summer, I've put together a reading list that I am already working on. These choices reflect my interests as a pastor as well as one of my "guilty pleasures"--American westerns. Maybe a few of them will interest you as well. I hope you will take time this summer to not only refresh and replenish your body, but also sharpen and grow your mind. Happy reading!

Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding & Living God's Word, by George H. Guthrie
I met Dr. Guthrie this month at the Southern Baptist Convention and fell in love with this new work he has released. I plan on teaching it this fall on Sunday nights as a preparation course for reading the Bible through as a church next year. It's a great resource every one should have who is serious about knowing their Bible.

Tempted and Tried, by Russell D. Moore
I'm almost finished with this great study on the temptation and triumph of Christ in the wilderness. It's one of the best resources you will find on dealing with temptation in your life.

Hell Under Fire, Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, eds.
I finished this book last month as a resource for preparing my present sermon series on hell. This is a collection of essays on the doctrine of hell by some truly world-class evangelical scholars.

Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, by David L. Allen
I'm looking forward to reading this work that is a collection of presentations made at the John 3:16 conference a few years ago.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas
I've heard so many good reviews of this award-winning work by Metaxas. I'm really looking forward to diving in to it.

Radical Together, by David Platt
This is the follow-up to Platt's ground-breaking book. David's probably the most respected voice in the SBC right now.

The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral and How it Changed the American West, by Jeff Guinn
I love westerns, so I'm really looking forward to learning more about the real story of the O.K. Corral (even if it ruins it for me when I watch "Tombstone" from now on).

Doc: A Novel, by Mary Doria Russell
"I'm your huckleberry."

The Word Became Fresh: How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative Texts, by Dale Ralph Davis
I've always felt that Old Testament narrative is the most challenging type of text to preach. This is a great new resource for preachers and teachers.

Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach, by Kenneth Keathley
Keathley's treatment of these doctrines intrigues me and I'm looking forward to becoming more familiar with his position.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Biblical Friendship Looks Like This...

"Brother, I want you to know that I am committed to you. Your will never knowingly suffer at my hands. I'll never say or do anything knowingly to hurt you. I will always in every circumstance seek to help you and support you. If you're down and I can lift you up, I'll do it. Anything I have that you need, I'll share it with you. And if I have to, I'll give it to you. No matter what I find out about you and no matter what happens in the future--either good or bad--my commitment to you will never change. There is nothing you can do about it and you don't have to respond. I love you and that's what it means." Source Unknown

Monday, July 5, 2010

10 Questions to Turn Your Conversation to the Gospel

(From an article by Don Whitney)

Many Christians suffer with unnecessary fears about sharing their faith. Once they finally get a conversation turned to the subject of the Gospel, however, most believers find that they're able to manage quite well. Much of the time the biggest problem is simply moving a conversation from small talk to "big" talk, the biggest subject of all—the Gospel. Here's a list of questions that can help. Some of them aren't original with me, though I don't recall where years ago I first heard the ones I've borrowed. I've found that the last one opens more doors for the Gospel in the widest variety of situations.

1. When you die, if God says to you, "Why should I let you into Heaven?", what would you say? Are you interested in what the Bible says about your answer?
2. If you were to die tonight, where do you think you would spend eternity? Why? Are you interested in what the Bible says about this?
3. Do you think much about spiritual things?
4. How is God involved in your life?
5. How important is your faith to you?
6. What has been your most meaningful spiritual experience?
7. Do you find that your religious heritage answers your questions about life?
8. Do you have any kind of spiritual beliefs? If what you believe were not true, would you want to know it? Well, the Bible says .
9. To you, who is Jesus?
10. I often like to pray for people I meet; how can I pray for you?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What I Wanted

It was Spring, but it was Summer I wanted;
The warm days and the great outdoors.

It was Summer, but it was Fall I wanted;
The colorful leaves and the cool, dry air.

It was Fall, but it was Winter I wanted;
The beautiful snow and the joy of the holiday season.

It was Winter, but it was Spring I wanted;
The warmth and the blossoming of nature.

I was a child, and it was adulthood I wanted;
The freedom and the respect.

I was 20, but it was 30 I wanted;
The youth and the free spirit.

I was retired, but it was middle-aged I wanted;

The presence of mind without limitations.

My life was over;
and I never got what I wanted.

(quoted by Chuck Swindoll)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why I Will Vote for the GCR Task Force Recommendations

If you are a Southern Baptist, by now you know that next week at our annual convention in Orlando we will vote on recommendations from a "Great Commission Resurgence Task Force" that was appointed at last year's convention in Louisville. The Task Force's work has been the focus of our attention for the last twelve months because the recommendations they put forward in their report have lasting ramifications for our denomination in the years to come.

If you aren't familiar with the group's report, I urge you to visit the GCR Blog and watch or read the entire report. If you would like to read several opposing viewpoints, go to Baptist Press.

I have a keen interest in the report and have read and prayed over it carefully for two key reasons: 1) I'm a lifelong Southern Baptist and a product of God's work in this denomination. Her mission is near and dear to my heart. 2) I'm being nominated next week to serve on our North American Mission Board as a trustee. As you'll see in the report, the mission and even the very existence of NAMB has been a key focus of the discussion.

I have good friends, fellow pastors and leaders in our state conventions, who strongly disagree with many of the key components of this report. And I will go on record as saying that I hope there will be consideration given to strengthening the language concerning the Cooperative Program as our key funding strategy. But at the end of the day, my conviction to support this initiative is three-fold:

First, Southern Baptists aren't the hope of the world. Yes, I said that. Jesus is the hope of the world. As I've pored over many of the opinion pieces on Baptist Press and other places, I'm often grieved that many of our leaders seem to feel that the preservation of a denominational structure should take priority over the spiritual darkness of the world. I know that there isn't a single one of them that actually believe this, but if our passion for the Great Commission is continually limited by our unwillingness to ruthlessly evaluate "sacred cows" (like cooperative agreements and the key mission of longstanding bodies like the Executive Committee) then will we ever really discover the true potential God has given this great denomination?

Second, the people of God should always be on a mission to seek God with fresh eyes and a pure heart. For too long I think we've been unwilling to consider a better way simply because it would require us to make changes that would put a strain on longstanding relationships between state conventions. My concern about "cooperative agreements" simply reflects my bewilderment at how we can keep doing something at the state and national level that we have already seen fail at the local level. For instance, how effective would our church's mission giving be if there were "cooperative agreements" with the student ministry, Sunday School classes, and committees? We would have to require that a certain amount of our missions giving each year be sent back to these groups so that they could fund their own mission projects. This obviously still gets some mission work done; it even involves and develops our own peope in missions, and there isn't anything wrong with that. But would it surprise us if our missions giving actually went down because people began to see that much of their giving never actually made it to missionaries and church planters on the field? Yet this is essentially how a great deal of our missions giving to foreign fields comes right back to the state level. Are good things being done? Absolutely. Is this the best way to fund missions work in the most spiritually lost places? I just don't think so.

Finally, time is short and Jesus is coming back soon. No one who has tracked the health of our convention over the last decade could argue that we are at a critical crossroads. We have to be willing to make the hard choices that give us the greatest potential to impact the world while God grants us the opportunity. I totally agree that if every individual would tithe, if every church would give at least a tithe or more to the CP (our church gives 14%), then it may have never occurred to us that we needed a Great Commission resurgence. But obedience to God has always meant that there is a crucial devotion to stewardship--stewardship of monies, personnel, as well as stewardship of our thinking and planning.

We all recognize that these recommendations aren't a cure-all. Nothing can replace our personal devotion to loving God with our hearts, souls, and strength. But my prayer is that if they pass, they might become a launching platform for the greatest Great Commission movement of our lifetimes. May we all come together under Jesus to make it so.

Monday, June 7, 2010

What Your Pastor Cherishes Most...

This year at Together for the Gospel, John MacArthur was asked what kind of counsel he might give to elders or church members who wonder what their pastor needs the most from them. For all of my friends who want to discover how to help their pastor be as successful as he can possibly be, these words are priceless:

"What I cherish the most is a true and loving loyalty. This disloyalty, betrayal, undermining, just cuts the heart out of your pastor. When I talk about loving loyalty, I mean when there is an issue that needs to be addressed you go eyeball-to-eyeball, man-to-man, and you confront it. And I love that. I love when guys come to me and say, “John, I think this is a problem. I think you are overlooking this. I think this is a misstep on your part.” Those are the men I cherish. Those are the men I pull to my heart. 

But what is just terribly debilitating is to feign that kind of affection to the man and then undermine that among the people. That is the most difficult thing. It is the betrayal that that brings. I could endure any problem in a church. I am challenged to solve any problem. But it is so hard when the men that you trust betray you behind your back. Because he is God’s man in your midst, you give him your love and you give him your loyalty. Be honest with him, face to face, man to man, open hearted. But understand the burden that he bears, and you need to be his true friend. You really do."