From One Pastor to Another

Robert Murray McCheyne to a fellow pastor:

“Take heed to thyself.
Your own soul is your first and greatest care.
You know a sound body alone can work with power,
much more a healthy soul.
Keep a clear conscience through the blood of the Lamb.
Keep up close communion with God.
Study likeness to Him in all things.
Read the Bible for your own growth first,
then for your people.”

Horatius Bonar, Words to Winners of Souls, p. 10.

The Power of the Word of God in a Young Pastor’s Life

J.I. Packer, as a young pastor, found himself “marginalized, isolated and required to work on unfulfilling and flawed agendas, in a manner that made him think of the Israelites having to make bricks for Pharaoh.” He claims to have lived “like Moses in Midian, with frustration in [his] heart, wondering what God could possibly be up to.” During those years his spiritual education was proceeding. Below are some of the main lessons that God through his Word hammered into his heart.

I personally benefited from these few lessons and I hope you will too.

He summarizes:

1. Goodwill — I should not get bitter or lapse into self-pity or spend time complaining or angling for sympathy. God was using my ministry, and I was forbidden to get fixated on my frustrations.

2. Hope — I must not become cynical or apathetic about the vision I had been given or to abandon it because there was no immediate way of advancing it. God is never in a hurry, and waiting in hope is a Christian discipline.

3. Faithfulness — As husband, father, teacher, honorary assistant pastor and occasional author, I had plenty each day to get on with, and I could not honor God by slackness and negligence, whatever discontents I was carrying around inside me.

4. Compassion — Clearly I was being taught to empathize more deeply with the many Christians, lay and ordained, male and female, who live with various kinds of disappointments and thus were in the same boat as myself.

5. Humility — I must never forget that God is supreme and important, and I am neither, and he can manage very well without me whenever he chooses to do so.

Three Avenues of Spiritual Attack and What To Do About Them

Our church is under spiritual attack. In fact, all churches are under attack. Every single believer in Christ is engaged in a constant, inescapable battle against spiritual degeneracy in three forms:  Our unbelief of God’s word, our lack of forgiveness of others, and our unhumbled pride in what we are and have done. So, I would like to propose a challenge for us this summer.

Here are three specific things for your concerted reflection and prayer which I have gleaned and adapted from reading J.I. Packer’s article, “Self-Care for Pastors: Riches from the Anglican Devotional Tradition” (Crux, December 2003/Vol. 34, No. 4, pp.2-13).

1.  Let us pray and ask the Lord to give us individually and corporately a greater capacity to trust Him and His promises. Packer writes: “In these days of liberal Christianity in our churches and post-Christianity in the culture outside, unbelief of God’s affirmations in the Bible and the gospel is rife.  Justification by faith (being accepted by God while yet a sinner) is not understood and divine promises are not received and trusted.”

Consider praying through a simple promise of Jesus for us like Matthew 16:18 or Matthew 28:18-20 and ask to increase your faith to trust the Lord to do what He says He will do. Why not heed the counsel of John Murray who urged believers to spend at least fifteen minutes every day meditating on some word of God connected with His promises to His people and then plead with Him for its fulfillment. If fifteen minutes seems a bit much, why not dedicate five?

2.     Let us pray and ask the Lord to give us the grace to forgive others the way that we have been forgiven. Packer speaks bluntly of this avenue of spiritual attack: “Unforgiveness, which is a form of unlove, is regularly an expression of hurt pride and resentment, disguised as self-respect.  As Jesus often warned, unforgiveness is a total block to the blessing of God” (Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37). Wow! A total block? This should move us to examine our hearts to see if we are nursing a spirit of unforgiveness towards anybody.

Whom do you need to forgive? Yourself? Your spouse? An in-law? A fellow church member or pastor? Let’s resolve to become a church that models grace in all of our relationships as we forgive others just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). What an impact we would have in our city if we follow the Lord fully in this matter of forgiveness.

3.   Let us pray and ask the Lord to make us people who are marked by humility, free from the spiritual cancer of pride. At every stage of our Christian development, pride is our greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend. The person who is always finding fault is full of pride. Pride is spiritual cancer because it eats up any possibility of truly loving others. Proud people are critical people. You need to look no further than the renowned Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice “who never looks at any woman but to see a blemish.”

Packer parses this avenue of spiritual attack with convicting precision: “Unhumbled pride, as is often said, takes four forms:  Pride of face, when you think you are most handsome; pride of race, when you think your skin is the best color; pride of place, when you think you are better positioned than others; and pride of grace, when you think you are one of God’s top people – and pride of grace is the worst of the lot.  All these forms of spiritual degeneration banish true spiritual joy, which for healthy believers is constant, and create pitfalls for pastors in abundance.”

On the other hand, humility is the blessed gift of self-forgetfulness. A humble person simply thinks of himself or herself less. Paul sets it forth beautifully in Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

May I leave you with one helpful skill to cultivate the grace of humility. Actively look for ways that God is at work in the lives of other people around you. Ask yourself: Where have you seen God’s grace and Spirit at work in the lives of others in your family, your work place, and your church and tell them so?  Are the members of your family more aware of the evidences of grace that you’ve noticed in them or of your barrage of criticism?  How about your kids?  When was the last time you specifically shared with your son or daughter an evidence of God’s grace that you’ve noticed in his or her life?

Our vitality, unity and outward focus as a church are easily threatened by squabbles and conflicts. Please take this challenge personally and pray that the Lord would send times of refreshing from His presence so that we become people marked by our strong trust in the Lord and His promises, by our readiness to forgive others the way that we have been forgiven, and by our humility that willingly serves the interest of Jesus Christ in the lives of others.

“What kind of pastor would you like as your pastor?”

The Apostle Paul reminds Timothy and us that pastors and all church leaders must be those who “hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Timothy 3:9). This hit me with new force today in light of recent pastor scandals in the evangelical church in America.

Alexander McColl once asked his congregation in a sermon:

“What kind of minister would you like as your minister?” Then he answered his own question. “For myself, I would like a minister who had been scorched by the law, melted by the gospel, and much sifted by the temptations of Satan.”

Well, I would like to receive counsel from an elder who was the same sort of man and who had had the same sort of spiritual experience. He could tell, out of his own personal experience, what the Lord means by what he says in his Word, how best to resist temptation and the devil, how to trust in the Lord and his Word, how to make my way through a difficult set of circumstances.

Life is simply too complicated, and I am simply too weak, to make it through by myself without the counsel of others, their correction, their advice, their encouragement. I need wise and godly counsel, and who can give that to me except a man who, as Paul says, holds to the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.

The Confessions of a Pastor

shepherd-sheep-10Holy Father, all of us serve at Your bidding as undershepherds of the Great Shepherd of the sheep – our Lord Jesus Christ. First of all, we ask Your forgiveness for the times that we have taken for granted the awesome privilege we have to serve as a divinely-appointed shepherd to watch over Your sheep. Pardon us for the times that we have complained about the messiness of caring for sheep. Remind us that we shepherds are also wayward sheep.

Your word calls us to vigilance in shepherding Your church which You purchased with Your own blood. Yet, how easy Lord to neglect this sacred task. Negligence can gradually impact us in countless ways. Pardon us for our lack of love for Your sheep. Forgive us for not strengthening the weak, not healing the sick, not binding up the injured, and especially not seeking after the lost.

Your word calls us to shepherd Your people gladly and willingly. Yet, we confess that often we serve out of a sense of compulsion. Duty rather than delight too often marks our shepherding. Pardon us for the times that we have been harsh with your sheep. Make us your willing and joyful shepherds.

Your word calls us to shepherd Your people eagerly. Yet, we confess that we do our work more for what we get out of it rather than for what we can give. Forgive us for our greedy, grasping and self-serving hearts.

Your Word calls us to serve as examples for Your people. Yet we ask Your forgiveness for too often using our positions of leadership as a means to domineer and control others rather than to serve them.

Inspire and encourage us today with the promise that the chief Shepherd is coming again to reward with glory every shepherd who has served faithfully.

Cause this future hope to pulsate in our hearts so that we have a renewed resolve to care well for Your flock.

This we pray in the name of our good Shepherd who laid down His life for us, AMEN!

Scriptures used: Ezekiel 34, 1 Peter 5, John 10

Three Main Avenues of Spiritual Attack

Dr. J.I. Packer is one of my favorite theologians and writers. On many occasions he has brought clarity and insight to the Word of God for me. One article that has been particularly enriching is called “Self-Care for Pastors: Riches from the Anglican Devotional Tradition.”

In this article, he emphasizes that there are three main avenues of attack against leaders of Christ’s church.

He asserts:

“We are all engaged in a constant, inescapable battle against spiritual degeneracy in three forms:

  • Our unbelief of God’s word,
  • our lack of forgiveness of others,
  • and our unhumbled pride in what we are and have done.

In these days of liberal Christianity in our churches and post-Christianity in the culture outside, unbelief of God’s affirmations in the Bible and the gospel is rife. Justification by faith (being accepted by God while yet a sinner) is not understood and divine promises are not received and trusted.

Unforgiveness, which is a form of unlove, is regularly an expression of hurt pride and resentment, disguised as self-respect. As Jesus often warned (Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-35; Mk. 11:25; Lk. 6:37), unforgiveness is a total block to the blessing of God.

Unhumbled pride, as is often said, takes four forms: Pride of face, when you think you are most handsome; pride of race, when you think your skin is the best color; pride of place, when you think you are better positioned than others; and pride of grace, when you think you are one of God’s top people and pride of grace is the worst of the lot. All these forms of spiritual degeneration banish true spiritual joy, which for healthy believers is constant, and create pitfalls for pastors in abundance.”

– (Crux, December 2003/Vol. 34, No. 4, pp.2-13)

In light of this, let us pray with renewed resolve that the Lord would make us:

  • people who have a greater capacity to trust God and His promises,
  • people who forgive others the way that we have been forgiven,
  • people who are marked by humility, free from the cancer of pride.