What Should Be One of My Chief Aims at Church?

The answer is quite simple: encouragement.

Now not just your own encouragement, which is important enough, but the encouragement of others. That’s the aim. That’s where the emphasis falls.

In a section like 1 Corinthians 12-14, where Paul addresses spiritual gifts, and the attendant misuse among the Corinthian saints, the apostle exhibits both a clear and sustained emphasis upon encouragement.

Here’s a sampling to make the point. Why are gifts given?

My Top Ten Suggestions for New Pastors

As still a rather newish seminary professor, I am growing accustomed to seeing yet another batch of graduates go off into their first pastorate. I regularly get asked for a tip or two about what to do upon arrival (or sometimes I just offer them without being asked!). So I thought I would give ten of them that I regularly pass along one way or the other. Though surely there are others who have given such a list (Ah! A quick Google search after I compiled my list netted this one from the Banner and another one from Thom Rainer for some other ideas), here is mine for what it’s worth.

1) Form an external prayer team before you arrive. As Paul asked others to pray for his ministry (Eph 6:18-19; Col 4:3-4), so it is wise to ask for prayer support to sustain you through those early days. Giving friends and family who know you best some specific prayer items to ask the Lord to go before your arrival will best insure your paths will be straight.

2) Systematically visit with the congregation through your first year. Getting to know your new flock is essential to properly caring for them (Prov 27:23). Whether going […]

Refreshment on Revival

At last…..  almost a month without proper internet access & the stress of moving to a new house. Which reminds me of a few thoughts I had some time ago on Revival from Zechariah 1.1-6….

Exile was now over. The people had returned. State-sponsored rebuilding of the House of Yahweh in Jerusalem had been decreed by Cyrus . The harsh reality of life in the Empire back in their homeland which had not, as yet, lived up to their dreams of restoration. The Jews as a consequence had grown spiritually gloomy and cold. So the Prophet of God is sent to stir up his returned Church. There are at least ten lessons or principles the Spirit gives us which help us think properly about revival…

1. The Church always tends to decline so is constantly in need of revival v4.

2. Church revival comes through the efficacious preaching of the Word of God v1, 3 & 6.

3. Church revival comes with messages which place a stress on sinful behaviour or practice & the need for the grace of repentance v2, 4 & 6.

4. Church revival comes after a period of chastening & acknowledgment of waywardness on the part of the people of God v6b.

5. Church revival is forgotten by previous generations […]

‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’

I’m sitting in Terminal C in Newark airport waiting for the (increasingly delayed) departure of my flight to Belfast. I have earplugs in my ears and an iPad on my lap as I try to redeem the time. I’m on my way home from the annual Pastors’ Conference organised and hosted by Trinity Baptist Church in Montville, New Jersey, and thought I would write a few words by way of reflection on this year’s conference, which took as its theme faithfulness in ministry.

It’s a vital biblical emphasis isn’t it? Going the distance, come what may; and not just staying in the ministry until the end, but to do so without compromising the biblical convictions we began with; and not just staying the course without compromise but growing in zeal and knowledge and love for God and his people. How many Pastors long for a success in ministry that has less to do with faithfulness and more to do with the kind of status symbols pursued by the people of the world: big numbers, a high profile and far-reaching influence. Not that it’s impossible to desire these things for good and holy reasons, but more often the temptation is to want them […]

The Shoemaker’s Dream

The Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote a touching short story entitled “Where Love Is, God Is.” In the story we are told that a cobbler named Martin had suffered a series of difficulties, including losing his wife, several children, then finally his three year-old son. A visiting missionary one day tells Martin he should devote himself to serving God and leaves him with a New Testament. One night Martin falls asleep while reading the Gospel of Matthew.

Martin then dreams, and hears the Lord promising to come to him. The next day, the shoemaker encounters several people in need whom he assists. Later that evening, the Lord speaks to Martin in the darkness, repeatedly saying “Is is I,” and at each of these instances the faces of the people Martin had helped that day are brought to his mind. Based on Matthew 25:31-46 regarding how our Christian faith should lead us to help those in need, Tolstoy’s story highlights the truthfulness of Jesus’ words from this passage: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (25:40).

The Shoemaker’s Dream is a wonderfully done children’s book rendition of Tolstoy’s work. A project of […]

A Culture of Encouragement

Pastoral burnout is a difficult issue to address – partially because it combines the hard data of how many pastors leave the vocation on a regular basis with the “soft data” (is that a thing?) with issues less easy to measure, like feelings and encouragement and relationship dynamics. I appreciated the recent Mortification of Spin podcast and would recommend it to your listening. 

I’d like to add one thought to this discussion, something based on my own experience. (This was long enough ago that I think I can share it without offending anyone or causing any of my church family to fear for my current sanity.) Several years ago I went through a period characterized by loneliness and discouragement.

Crippling the Church

There are a number of things crippling the life and witness of the church at present: a failure to preach God’s Word, a disinterest in the real care of people, a preoccupation with self indulgence, but the one I want to speak to is ‘giving’.  Specifically the giving of money.  It’s a sensitive subject when in reality it shouldn’t be.  That’s because too many of us are mistakenly invested in pursuing our happiness in ‘things’, when the real source of our joy is found in our being increasingly conformed to the image of Christ.

Paul writes to the church at Corinth to gently stir them to fulfill what they had started a year earlier but not finished – the weekly collection for the relief of their fellow believers in Jerusalem. (2 Corinthians ch 8)

By way of encouragement he points them in the direction of the church at Macedonia.  What he writes is simple and yet astonishing in its radicalness.  He says of the believers in Macedonia, who are struggling with the hardships of extreme poverty, that they had begged him not to prevent them from the privilege of giving to the needy in Jerusalem.   Generous giving which was funded, not out […]

A Few Christian Voices on the 2016 Election

Recent thoughts from a few Christians on the state of the election:

Wayne Grudem, “Trump’s Moral Character and the Election.”
Douglas Wilson, “A Fight In a Leper Colony.”
John Piper, “A Tweet.”
Al Mohler, “The Briefing 10/19/16.”
James White, “My Thoughts on the State of our Culture and the 2016 Election.”

Mr. White reads a letter from President John Adams that is worth considering.  I will paste part of it here.

Lifting Your Soul

Often we hear the psalmist speaking of “lifting his soul” to the Lord. Yet what does it mean to lift your soul? How do you actually do this?

Perhaps the closest sounding phrase we have to it in our modern parlance is when we speak of “lifting one’s spirits.” This idiom is used to describe trying to cheer someone up who is discouraged or depressed. Often you will see articles on ways to lift your spirits that encourage such things as reading inspiring quotes or changing your physical surroundings.

Yet this is not what is meant by the psalmist when he speaks of lifting his soul. The Hebrew word for lifting is nasa, and I recall as a student remembering it by thinking of NASA sending up a rocket. That picture of a rocket headed heavenward is helpful, for fundamentally to lift one’s soul means to deliberately come to the God of heaven in worship. By doing a simple study of the Hebrew poetic devise of parallelism used in the Psalms, we can identify more specifically what it means to lift our souls to the Lord.

Lift your soul to the Lord by trusting him to teach you how to walk in his ways. Psalm 25 says directly […]

Of Butterflies and Caterpillars

Our town has a Butterfly Garden. It’s a place where suitable plants are grown to provide a habitat for butterflies to flourish in and around a growing town. I am to blame for it apparently. A local conversation group had an annual church service and asked if we would oblige one year. We invited them to our evening service, and made it an evening of praise and exploration of creation in scripture and in the Psalms we sang. En-route from Genesis to Revelation, from old creation to new creation, I spoke about the butterfly and the wonder of its design and and the lessons we can learn. And suitably inspired they decided to build a butterfly garden…

I’m a designer at heart. I studied architecture at university, and still dabble in various forms of design. One of the things that strikes me as I look at this world is how fantastically designed it is. And butterflies are an incredible example.

When you think ‘butterflies’, don’t just think ‘bright flappy things’—think of the two stages before that: the caterpillar and the pupa. There aren’t many other animals that go through such a complete change during their lifetime. Yet all the information for that transformation […]