Numbers 7 is a fairly hard-to-read list of the offerings brought by the various tribes to the consecration of the shiny, new tabernacle. Each day a different man from a different tribe brought the same sacrifices (a silver plate, a silver basin, both full of flour and oil, a gold dish filled with incense and a miniature herd of animals for sacrifices). Such records are easy to pass by, perhaps skimming it so one can check it off the Bible reading plan. While we need to be careful not to look for magical meanings in the numbers or names, we do need to let God’s Word speak to us.
For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more…
My wife and I sat down to dinner at my professor’s home in the last couple months of our seminary training. Glad to receive this invitation, we enjoyed their warm hospitality and genuine care for us. Thinking ahead to being ordained in a few weeks, I decided to seize the opportunity and asked rather abruptly, “What advice would you give to a new pastor?”
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you–that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.
There are real costs to ministry. If you decide to give yourself in ministering to others (which seems more like a Biblical command than an option), it will cost your time, energy, money, sometimes even your reputation. Because it’s often fighting an uphill battle, ministry tends to wear us down, and we end up hearing statistics about pastors leaving the pastorate and how hard it is to get people involved in real, spiritual ministry to each other.
Maybe a little selfishness is in order. Maybe we’ve spoken too much about the costs of ministry but not the blessings.
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.