Devotional Ruminations: 1 Timothy 1:3-7

My devotional ruminations are just that–devotional thoughts that come from my personal time in Scripture. These ruminations include basic observations and questions (some of which will remain unanswered). Today, I want to make a handful of basic observations from 1 Timothy 1:3-7. Incidentally, my prayer to the Lord was to spend time in a book that will help me cultivate a love and passion for the church and pastoral ministry.

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, [4] nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. [5] The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. [6] Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, [7] desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions (1 Timothy 1:3-7 ESV)

  1. Paul left Timothy, his apostolic delegate, in Ephesus. Why Timothy? The answer is not in this text but Philippians 2:20 sheds some light on why Paul left Timothy.
  2. Paul did not assign and abandon. He continued to mentor Timothy.
  3. Like Timothy, pastors do not go into a ministry as a pre-packaged finished product. They too need to continue to grow and develop and minister in their shortcomings. As Paul said later in the letter, “…so that all may see you progress” (1 Timothy 4:15). Pastors minister with encumbering inadequacies but we can minister with empowering grace (2 Corinthians 4:7; 12:9).
  4. Paul left Timothy at Ephesus to perform two key shepherding tasks: preserve pure doctrine (v. 3) and practice pastoral love (v. 5). There is both a firmness and a gentleness that is required in carrying out these tasks.
  5. The pastor serves most effectively when he serves from his inner life: a pure heart, a good conscience, a sincere faith (v. 5). These qualities that should be cultivated and displayed in the shepherd. Are “a pure heart,” “a good conscience,” “a sincere faith” synonymous phrases or are they pointing to nuances of spiritual formation?

Spurgeon’s Encouragement to Church Planters and Small Churches

sun breaking throughI came across these words from the “Prince of Preachers,” Charles Spurgeon. He first delivered these words 144 years ago but they provide fresh encouragement today.

Thank God, there are many workers here tonight, and maybe they will put themselves down as feeble. May the words I utter be an encouragement to them, and to feeble workers collectively. When a church begins, it is usually small; and the day of small things is a time of considerable anxiety and fear. I may be addressing some who are members of a newly-organised church. Dear brethren, do not despise the day of small things. Rest assured that God does not save by numbers, and that results are not in the spiritual kingdom in proportion to numbers (“Encouragement for the Depressed,” a sermon preached on Sunday evening, August 27, 1871).

Devotional Ruminations: Matthew 5:27-30

Mount of BeatitudesI am currently reading in the gospel of Matthew for my devotions. I have really been challenged to walk with Jesus and sit at His feet and reacquaint myself with what it means to be His follower. Matthew 5-7 comprise what we commonly know as the Sermon on the Mount. Contemporary Christians must hear the Master’s words and then receive them with all of their moral weight. Matthew 5:27-30 deals with the subject of lust. This sin of lust makes promise after promise to satisfy only to bring moral and marital ruin. Here are four observations on lust from the words of Jesus.

1. Lust is not confined to action, rather it is committed at the level of intent. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ [action] [28] But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart [intent]” (vv. 27-28). “You can look but not touch” badly misses the mark of Jesus’ teaching.

2. Lust is a sin that promises gratification but actually leads to destruction (physical, relational, and spiritual) (cf. Proverbs 5:1-6). “For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (v. 29, 30). Jesus says this twice. It should really capture our attention.

3. Lust must be fought militantly. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (v. 29)…”And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” (v. 30). Hyperbole? Yes, I think so. But to simply place these statements under that literary rubric and then diminish the weight of these statements is the height of folly. If we do not resist lust (and any other sin) “to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:4), we are placing our souls and bodies in eternal danger.

4. Lust does not characterize a follower of Christ. The very inclusion of this topic is an imperative for being set apart (i.e. holy) as followers of Christ. Yes, sex is a natural, God-given human drive (and it should be celebrated and enjoyed according to God’s pattern; cf. Proverbs 5:15-19; Song of Solomon). Yes, we live in a hyper-sexualized culture. Yes, we are surrounded by and immersed in sexually-charged content. But none of these realities excuse us from not battling the sin of lust. Moreover, the follower of Christ can overcome this sin (Romans 6:6-7).

We must see lust as our Lord described it. Battling and overcoming lust is what Jesus said His disciples must do, thereby distinguishing themselves as salt and light in a morally decaying and dark culture by the grace of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit. So battle lust my brothers and sisters knowing that the battle is hard but the victory is yours.

(Image of Mt. Eremos from bibleplaces.com, Mount of Beatitudes)

Five Reminders About Pastoral Ministry from Mark Driscoll’s Announcement

140307_mars_hill_bigMark Driscoll is stepping down while accusations against him are reviewed.  Sarah Pulliam Bailey at Religion News Service published the report last night. The video is available on YouTube. Discroll is a lightning-rod figure in evangelicalism. I have not scoured the web for responses to his announcement nor do I care to. However, it has been interesting to trace the developments leading up to this moment.  Driscoll’s announcement led me to five reminders about pastoral ministry.

  1. Pastors are public figures. Pastors subject themselves to tens, hundreds, or thousands of people Sunday after Sunday depending on the size of one’s congregation. This is not inherently good or inherently bad, it is a simple reality. Pastors spend most of their time up front. Many words are spoken in just one sermon. I checked out a few of my sermon manuscripts and most manuscripts contain at least 2,000 words. This gives people plenty of fodder for discussion and/or criticism. The “up-frontness” of pastoral ministry makes it public in nature. Some criticisms will be unfair. However, pastors cannot take the posture that all critics are “haters.”
  2. Pastors have feet of clay. Pastors minister out of their frail and flawed humanity. Each pastor is normally gifted in one or two areas and deficient in many more. Pastors are often seen working out of their area of giftedness but less often seen working out of their deficiencies. This is true in a pastor’s public and personal life. The reality is that pastors are quite vulnerable in diverse ways. James 1:14 says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” and again he says in James 3:2, “For we all stumble in many ways…”
  3. Pastors are works in progress. Driscoll observed that he moved into a place of leadership too soon. He is a living example of the warning in 1 Timothy. “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6). There is no way to know for certain whether a man is ready for gospel ministry. Indeed, there is the increasing sense of “who is sufficient for these things” (2 Corinthians 2:16) in the heart of a pastor. Pastors are men who are still growing in Christ. Paul Tripp has expressed some concern with the situation at Mars Hill. Tripp has stated in his book on pastoral ministry that a pastor must never lose sight of his identity, namely, that he is a “…man in the middle of his own sanctification…” (Tripp, Dangerous Calling, 25). The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” (1 Timothy 4:15).  We should never expect a pastor to be perfect but we should expect a pastor to be progressing.
  4. Pastors need accountability.  Because pastors are in the middle of their own sanctification, some accountability structure is necessary. This should include mentors or trusted friends outside the church and leadership in the church.  When pastoral ministry is seen as a platform for carrying out personal ambitions it leads to an attitude that they can act with unchecked power.  I’m not referring to a system of “checks and balances” but a kind of system where there is some sort of accountability for carrying out pastoral ministry.
  5. Pastors need grace. When I watched the video, what struck me was Driscoll’s brokenness and accompanying humility. I don’t think the latter would be present without the former. “Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts” (Proverbs 20:30). This has been years in the making for Driscoll. It seems as if the process is accomplishing a good work in him. Pastors will fail. Pastors will sin. Pastors will wrongly offend people. Driscoll confessed that there were times he was “angry, short, and insensitive.” When pastors sin and repent, give them grace. Give them the kind of grace that you would want in those difficult times. Give them the kind of grace God in Christ has extended to you. These are the times when Psalm 147:3 is most vividly seen, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

An Outreach Parable

The year is 1621 in Massachusetts.  The English settlers have endured a brutal winter.  Their numbers are fewer; some contracted illness Massachusetts Winterand died.  Others survived.  And now it’s finally Spring.  A man wakes up to the melodious sounds of birds singing.  The man knows that the time has come to prepare the soil and plant the crops.  Supplies are dangerously low and they will last the man and his family until harvest but no longer.  This man contracted a severe illness along with others but as Providence would have it, he survived.  Though he is much improved, his body is still feeling the effects of the illness.  Even so, he knows in spite of his personal discomfort he must labor in the field.  The lives of his wife and children depend on it.  He goes out to the field and labors but before too long he is tired and his health rapidly deteriorates.  Based on his level of discomfort, he leaves the field.  One day passes and then another.  Days turn into weeks.  The field is never prepared and no seeds are ever sown.  The family prays for an abundant harvest because their rations are nearly depleted but they pray in vain because no seeds were ever sown.  Harvest comes.  The family eats their final meager portions.  The man now sees the irrevocable and tragic effects of his decision to consider his own comfort before the well-being of his family.  Their supplies are spent.  The man and his family die.  Unknown to this family, many of the other settlers also experienced severe personal discomfort while laboring in the fields but they persevered because the lives of others depended on them.  They prepared the soil and unsparingly sowed seeds.  They prayed for God to bless their labors.  He rewarded them with a bountiful harvest.

There are two lessons on outreach from this parable.

  1. We are often quick to succumb to our personal discomfort when it comes to being a witness for Christ.  Sadly, this means our discomfort is more important to us than the lost souls of men. So are you willing to move beyond your personal discomfort in being a witness for Christ, especially this Easter season?  Are you willing to labor in the fields of the gospel for the sake of others regardless of the personal cost?
  2. We cannot pray for a gospel harvest if we never sow gospel seeds.  God cannot and will not bless outreach efforts we never carry out.  Are you praying for God to bless your non-efforts?   Conversely, we can and should pray for God to bring forth a harvest of souls when we faithfully and liberally sow gospel seeds.  The gospel is still the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes!

Reflections from Shepherds Conference 2014

I attended the Shepherds Conference for the first time this year (SC hereafter).  Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA hosts this annual Shepherds Conferenceconference.  SC had an impressive line-up of keynote speakers, including John MacArthur, Al Mohler, and Mark Dever.  I want to offer several reflections on the conference related to the content, experience, and collegiality of the conference.

First, the content of SC was superb.  The conference had general sessions and breakout seminars.  The general sessions were outstanding.  A general session by Mark Dever on Isaiah 34-35 and a general session by Al Mohler on Romans 1 proved to be personally enriching and the two best general sessions from my perspective.  The conference offered a number of seminars so one could not attend very many of them.  I attended a session titled “Small Church, Big Impact.”  Unfortunately, it was broader that the title of the seminar so I went away a little disappointed.  I would also add the music was great.  One of the highlights from the music was the singing during the plenary meetings.  There were over 3,000 conference attendees.  The Grace Community Church worship center was packed.  There were skilled vocalists that provided musical ministries as well as some different choirs.  They all did a great job.  But for me, it is tough to beat the sound of 3,000 men heartily singing.

Second, the experience at SC was outstanding.  Grace Community knows how to put on this conference.  They had over 750 volunteers working.  These volunteers were sincerely welcoming, readily willing to serve, and graciously assisting in any way possible.  Food was abundant, breaks were a nice length, and the schedule was full but not insane.  A person who attends the conference is immersed in hospitality.  The volunteers were efficient too.  They made sure to keep lines moving to minimize wait times.  This leads me to another observation.  The conference was sold out.  If there is a critique I would offer is that it was packed.  Sometimes seating was hard to come by in the main sessions and the breakout seminars.  However, this is probably more a reflection of the success and appeal of the conference.  One of the memorable moments at the conference was when the power went out during John MacArthur’s general session.  Evidently, this was a first in the history of the church.  What did he do?  He kept preaching.  It was a great moment.

Third, the collegiality at the conference was phenomenal.  This is a conference geared toward conservative evangelical pastors.  This means that the vast majority of men at SC were like-minded on the larger issues.  So it would be easy to meet a stranger and immediately have enough things in common to carry on a good conversation.  However, I didn’t attend SC alone. I attended the conference with seven other pastors from Minnesota.  The time spent with these men made the trip worthwhile.  We stayed in a small house and just had a great time.  We discussed ministry, associations, and any other topic entirely unrelated to the conference.  We laughed hard and often.  We spent some time in prayer.  Incidentally, we experienced a 3.2 earthquake while we were praying.  It was so Acts-like (cf. Acts 4:31).  We also enjoyed some time at the Santa Monica pier and promenade.  This trip strengthened our bond as brothers in Christ and fellow pastors.

Santa Monica

In summary, the content of SC was superb, the overall experience at SC was outstanding, and the collegiality at the conference was phenomenal.  This was a memorable trip.  Conferences are like tweets on a Twitter feed, there are just too many to get to.  SC is one conference I would love to attend annually, especially with my pastor brothers.

P.S. I want to mention the group of pastors who went from Minnesota (in alphabetical order): Joel Albright, Steve Brower, Greg Linscott, Matt Morrell, Dave Stertz, Micah Tanis, and Shad Vork.  The time spent with these men had to be the highlight of the trip.

MN Crew

Haddon Robinson on the Sufficiency of Scripture

As food is relevant to hunger, water relevant to thirst, and air relevant to life, the Scriptures are relevant to our most fundamental needs…When we address men and women imprisoned in confusion, hopelessness, dread, and despair, we have nothing to offer them but the Scriptures. But ultimately they are enough.

(Haddon Robinson, “The Relevance of Expository Preaching,” in Scott M. Gibson ed, Preaching to a Sifting Culture [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2004], 93).