Currently I’m preparing to take part in a preaching workshop hosted by the Charles Simeon Trust. This is the third year I’ve participated and anticipate being just as blessed this year as in past years. Unlike other theological or pastors’ conferences, this is a real workshop, with lots of prep work and peer review throughout the week. If there’s a workshop meeting near you, I would encourage any pastor to attend. Toward that end, here are a few quick thoughts and encouragements regarding the work of preachers.
It is a true tragedy when a great life is marred by a glaring failure, when accomplishments are marked by an *asterisk, when every great memory is followed by the ominous “Nevertheless.” Lives that begin well but end poorly are much harder to comprehend than those that are wicked from front to back.
Such were the lives of some of the kings of Judah. Between the thoroughly wicked reigns of Ahaziah and Ahaz we find four of these tragedies.
Put bluntly, through trial and error — mostly error — God has taught us a lot about practical administration in the church. Like many pastors, I’ve often believed this was beneath me or at least some type of distraction. But here in our local congregation as well as in other places I’ve been involved, I’ve come to learn the importance and the effectiveness of a well-run church.
[This is another question received during the “Stump the Pastors” portion of our college retreat.]
When you’re doubting God’s goodness, what would you recommend doing to help you stop?
On Sunday night a man stopped by our church to get some information about us. After some time in conversation, it became clear he was in extreme despair and was angry at most people in his life. We asked about his relationship to God and, to my surprise, he claimed to be a Christian. But when we tried to explore the nature of his faith, he said nothing about love for God or trust in God but simply resigned himself to the fact that “God can do whatever he wants.” If he had ever had a sense of God’s goodness, he had obviously lost it. What would you have said to him?
“What advice would you give to someone who is looking for older godly mentors but has none at home and few at college, if any?”
[This excellent question is another from our college retreat’s Stump the Pastors session.]
This question simultaneously excites and discourages me. Anytime a young Christian desires a spiritual mentor, something good is happening. That desire signals a humble willingness to learn, a realization of the need for growth in Christ, and an acceptance of God’s provision of such growth in the form of mentors. However, the question should also alert us that someone is having a hard time finding such a mentor–that despite the clear instructions in God’s Word, many in the church aren’t making themselves available for those younger in the faith.
[I’ve kept many of the questions from our college conference’s “Stump the Pastors” session, hoping they would find a good home here.]
“As a guy, is it okay to not want to be married?”
My lovely daughter claims to not like apple pie. So I often answer her simply by saying, “You’re wrong. You do like apple pie. Everyone likes apple pie.” She huffs and gives me her pie.
So it is with some in the church who don’t have a strong desire to be married. “Everyone else is married. Even those who aren’t talk about it all the time. What’s wrong with me? Is it okay to not desire marriage?”
In his extraordinarily useful book A Method for Prayer, Matthew Henry includes a large section on repentance, which begins with these words:
Having given glory to God which is his due, we must next take shame to ourselves, which is our due, and humble ourselves before him in the sense of our sinfulness and vileness…
With many examples, he demonstrates effective prayers of repentance. To the modern reader, what may stand out the most is the acknowledgement of sin’s evil. It’s one thing to admit we’re sinners and name our sins before God. It’s equally important to stare at those sins long enough to own and feel our shame as well as our guilt. (Henry says we are to “aggravate” or poke at them until we see them for what they really are.)
Toward that end, here are two aspects of the evil-ness of our sin which God has recently shown me very clearly.
On Monday night Mitch Daniels, the president of Purdue University, led a discussion with J.D. Vance, the author of the extremely popular Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. The book is a powerful telling of Vance’s own story of growing up in extremely dysfunctional homes, yet moving upwardly in society to become a Marine, college graduate and Yale-trained lawyer. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it, especially as a way to begin to understand a group of people not usually in contact with anything approaching a healthy church.
Here are a few of the highlights of the conversation.
Regardless of whether you love or dread change, it remains inevitable. Save the unchanging character of God, everything and everyone we know undergoes constant change. And beyond the never-ending constant stream of change, there are also times of life marked by even greater change, times we often call transitions. This past weekend I was able to spend time with a group of college students exploring together a faithful way of navigating the big transitions in life. More than anything, I was hoping they would see that being proactive as we head into transitions is more challenging but much more effective and joyful. Toward the end of helping you be proactive in times of change, here are some of the highlights.
Do not say, “I will repay evil,”
wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.
It’s a drama as old as Haman’s hatred of Mordecai but as current and present as the latest movie trailer. Last night I saw the trailer for a new movie promising the star character’s pursuit of his family’s enemies at all costs. This called to mind the many other films that have followed the path of vengeance, always to my not-so-secret delight. But this morning, Proverbs reminded me, beautifully and clearly, of God’s call upon His people to leave vengeance to Him alone.
Maybe you don’t have movie-quality enemies whom you’re tempted to stalk endlessly and violently, but Scripture wouldn’t repeat this lesson if the vast majority of us weren’t tempted in one way or another to love revenge. So I hope you’ll consider with me the dangers of a vengeful spirit and the different (and much, much better) path to which God has called us. I believe the desire for revenge or vengeance is a current issue facing many Christians and our obedience to God in this area will be one of the most significant testimonies we have to God in an increasingly Godless nation.