Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What Has God Called You To Do?

In Matthew 17:20, Jesus says, "if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.'" I shared yesterday that I believe the word "nothing" in this verse doesn't mean "nothing without any exception." I believe it is limited by the context in which it is used. 

Because of the context, it is better to understand it as "nothing God has called you to do." It means that when God calls you to do something, it will always be possible. It doesn't matter how large of a perceived obstacle stands in your way, it will be possible to accomplish the given task as long as you believe (trust) in Jesus Christ. The issue is not whether it is too big or too difficult, it is whether you are staying connected to Jesus. So then, the natural question that follows is this: 

What Has God Called You To Do? 

I do not want to discount that God calls some people to do things that He doesn't call other people to do. He gives different gifts of different degrees to different people. It is impossible for me to argue with someone who shares a story similar to Eric Liddell, who once said, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure." He strongly believed that God called him to run.

God may have made you fast. He may have made you smart. He may have made you gifted in business. He may have made you athletic. He may have made you musically inclined. And all of these things are good and right. But I want us to get past the feelings and experiences that tend to dominate our thinking these days. All you have to do is watch the opening rounds of American Idol to see that some people believe God made them to sing and very clearly, He didn't. Whenever we begin to deal with our feelings and experiences, we open ourselves up to be wrong!

He may have called you to do something unique. I don't know that. But one thing I do know. I know what He has called you and me to be and do. We can find a whole host of things He has called us to be and do in the Bible. And these things are not up for debate. These are things we do not have to guess at. These are examples of things that we know for certain He has called us to, which means, they are possible as long as we have faith in Jesus Christ. These are things that are possible to achieve if we stay connected to Jesus. Here is just a small sampling of what could be many . . .

  • Moral Purity
  • Thankfulness
  • Evangelism
  • Forgiveness
  • Humility
  • Patience
  • Love & Honor Your Spouse
  • Prayerful

For sure, we could list many other things we are called to in the Scriptures. And so, the next time you are in a situation in which someone does something to you and you think, "There's no way I can forgive that person for what they have done." I want you to think of this text. God has called me to forgive others as He, in Christ, has forgiven me. Therefore, if I trust Him; if I believe in Jesus; if I stay connected to Jesus, forgiveness is possible. It may seem impossible, but it's not!

The next time you face a temptation that strongly pulls you away from moral purity, I want you to think of this. If you believe and trust in Jesus, you can say no and remain morally pure. "Nothing is impossible for you."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

When "Nothing" Doesn't Mean "Nothing"

I am a big proponent of verse by verse preaching through a book of the Bible. The main reason why I believe this is the most effective means of preaching is that it allows you to see the text of Scripture in the context in which it was written. This past Sunday, I came face to face with a passage that can only be understood in the context in which it was written. But unfortunately, it has often been ripped out of the context and applied wrongly in many different ways!

But before I illustrate how it has been wrongly understood, let me help paint the context for you. I am preaching through the book of Matthew and last week came to Jesus' interaction with a father who desired to have his boy healed of his epilepsy (Matthew 17:14-20). We are later told that the boy's problems are rooted in demon possession. As Jesus normally does, He extends grace on this man and heals they young boy. 

But to me, the most interesting part of this interaction is Jesus' conversation with the disciples after the healing. Matthew 17:19-20 says . . .
"Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, 'Why could we not cast it out?' He said to them, 'Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.'"
When the man approached Jesus seeking healing for his son, he tells Jesus that he first brought the boy to the disciples and they failed in healing him. And so now the disciples get Jesus alone and ask him why they couldn't do it. They know they have been given authority to heal and cast out demons. Jesus  told them to do it. When Jesus sent out the twelve, He gave them "authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction" (Matthew 10:1). He told them specifically to "heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons" (Matthew 10:8).

But now they tried to do what God told them to do and they couldn't do it. Why? Why were they not able to do what Jesus had told them to do. Jesus' answer to them is that they have little faith. He isn't saying they have a little quantity of faith. After all, just a few words after this He will use the illustration of faith that is like a mustard seed. That's little faith. It's little faith, but powerful enough to move mountains (to move mountains was proverbial for overcoming great difficulties . . . another textual faux pas, but we don't have time to deal with that here).

 Jesus isn't talking about their quantity of faith, but their quality of faith. Quality of faith seemingly is a faith that is dependent upon Jesus. It seems to me that they were not relying on Jesus when they tried to heal this boy. If I were to guess, they simply were going through the motions of healing, instead of relying on the One who commanded them to do it.

Okay Thad, this is a good story, but what's the point of this blog post? Well, glad you asked. At the end of the passage, Jesus says . . .

"Nothing will be impossible for you."


As in NOTHING without any exceptions. Is Jesus saying that we do possess the ability to literally move mountains if we have enough faith? Is He saying that I can do anything I want if I have faith in Jesus? I am convinced after studying this passage that nothing cannot mean nothing without any qualifiers. Let me explain.

  • The reason why I cannot break a 4-minute (or 5-minute or 6-minute) mile has nothing to do with me not having enough faith in Jesus Christ. 
  • The only explanation as to why I cannot fly has nothing to do with not trusting Jesus enough.
  • The reason why I am not on the PGA Tour is not connected to how much faith or dependence in Jesus I have had in my life.

I use these as crazy examples because I want to prove a point. Nothing cannot mean nothing without any exception. There is not a person I know that would literally say the reason why they cannot fly is because they do not have enough faith in Jesus. That's ridiculous!

But I have heard things like . . . "The reason why your child is sick is because you do not have enough faith. The reason why you are poor and do not live in a nice neighborhood is because of your lack of faith. The only explanation for why you are driving a 2001 Saturn instead of a 2014 BMW is because you do not trust Jesus enough."

Ever heard anything like that? It's just as ridiculous as my illustrations, but people tend to buy into them. I hear this all the time from those who preach a health / wealth gospel. The reason why your are not rich; the only explanation for your sickness; the reason you are not happy all the time is because of your lack of faith in Jesus. Ridiculous! Nothing doesn't mean Nothing without any exception. It Can't! 

So What Does NOTHING Mean?

Well, put it in the context. The disciples were not able to do what Jesus commanded them to do. He told them to cast out demons and now they found themselves not being able to do it. But then He explains to them that if they have a faith that stays attached to Him, a faith that is connected to Him, then nothing will be impossible for them. 

Doesn't it seem reasonable that what Jesus is saying is that NOTHING He commands us to do will be impossible if we stay attached to Him? We will be able to accomplish everything He has told us to do if we trust in Him. If we live a life of dependence upon Jesus Christ, then we can do what He has told us to do.

Makes sense, doesn't it?

Tomorrow, I'm going to share some further thoughts on how to know what God has called us to do.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Grace is Free by Marci Preheim

In the week leading up to Mother's Day, I took the opportunity to read a book directed at womanhood. I know, that sounds strange. Here I am, the evangelical gospel-loving pastor, who takes time to read a book addressing issues with women. 

There are at least two reasons for this. First, I want to learn more about what women struggle with as this would hopefully, make me a better pastor. Second, my assumption is that the solution to a woman's struggle is not that much different than the solution to my problems, even though I am a man. 

Both of those hopes were fulfilled in Marci Preheim's little book, Grace is Free. In this book, she shares how she grew up in a very fundamental home in which her lack of perfection told her that she was not good enough to be loved by God. That moved her to abandon the faith and run headlong into a sinful life. Thankfully, she eventually discovers the truth of grace in the gospel message.

Throughout the book, Preheim wonderfully shows how the gospel of grace penetrates and releases the heart from any sort of performance-based thinking. And there is one phrase that seems to come up over and over again. She consistently calls women (and men) to believe more, not do more. 

I never perceived in her writing that she thinks the pendulum should swing so far to one side that a person never does things. It's just that it follows the believing. And so the greatest need for the woman (or man) is to trust Christ and believe more intentionally the truths of the gospel, not first do something. Believe, not perform. Let me share two quotes of many that explain her perspective on this thought of believing more instead of doing more.
"Both Leslie and I default to a 'striving' mode when we are not consciously believing the true gospel. It's in our DNA to feel like we are not praying hard enough, reading enough Scripture, or doing enough godly things to deserve God's favor. We fall into the mentality that somehow with Christian activity we can draw down God's favor upon us. Believing we have his favor no matter how we perform in a given day is the hardest thing for us to do" (51).
And then she writes,
"When it comes to the gospel, perspective is everything. I can easily default to what I grew up believing--that I can make myself better. It's the same individualistic lie the world promotes: do better, discipline yourself more, choose your own destiny, be somebody. But the gospel is a gift given to sinners who humble themselves before an almighty God, surrender to his plan, and gratefully receive the sacrifice he made on the cross to pay for their sins. It doesn't demand the spotlight--it doesn't demand anything" (122). 
Obviously, this is not just a thought for women. I learned many things about women in this book. For instance, she shares how no women can ever live up to the standard of Proverbs 31 and to teach it as the standard probably hurts women more than helps them. But this book helped affirm to me how the gospel of grace impacts and heals from the temptation of performance. For that reason, I would highly recommend you to read this book!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Basics Conference, Day 3

This afternoon concluded the 2014 Basics Conference. If you are interested, you can find all the resources (audio and video) HERE. I would highly encourage you to take some time to listen to the messages from this conference. You will be blessed. Here are just a few highlights from this morning.

Q & A with All Speakers
The morning began with a Question and Answer time with all the speakers. While many of the questions are the same that they receive every year, I was particularly drawn to one that had to do with a sabbatical. I don't know a pastor who wouldn't want a sabbatical. While I do not know if I will ever be at a place where I could have one, their words of advice about rest and purpose made me desire it even more. Please listen to the audio for a further explanation.

Main Session -- Alistair Begg
Begg began the conference by encouraging pastors to preach through the book of Ecclesiastes. He chose to end the conference by preaching through the last chapter of the book. As I said the other day, I do not have to be encouraged to preach this book. I see the relevance. I understand how it applies to the life of the average person today. But to sit and listen to this last chapter being explained showed once again how it applies. 

There is an opportunity we have with our young people to teach them about our Creator God. But it is a limited time. Soon, they will grow old and drift away from any understanding of Him. The description of the old man is humorous and enlightening. In the end, we are called to get above heaven and fear God (enjoy Him, love Him, worship Him) and do what He says. That is the chief end of man.

Concluding Remarks
I once again appreciated the interaction I was able to have with friends and colleagues at this conference. I will look forward again to it next year. 

Thank you Parkside Church for your generosity and hospitality. The work of the gospel in the life of your people is obvious. I praise the Lord for you.

Basics Conference, Day 2

As I have shared, I am at the 2014 Basics Conference at Parkside Church this week. Here is a summary of what happened on the second day (which is the only full day) of the conference.

Main Session - Gary Millar
My only exposure to Gary Millar is in reading his book, Saving Eutychus, a cleverly entitled book on the basics of preaching. Sometimes when you listen to someone preach after you have read their book on preaching, you become disappointed. This was not one of those times. His words from 1 Kings 18 were timely and helpful for my life. 

One thing stood out for me, and it is in his comparison between Elijah and Obadiah in that chapter. Elijah is a black and white, hard-core prophet; Obadiah seems to be in all shades of grey, almost cowering in his position as assistant to Ahab. And yet, God used both of them. God uses all kinds of different people and it is always based on His grace. When the big leader is affective for the kingdom, it is just as much God's grace as when the nobody does something great for Him. That was helpful for me to think through in my own life.  

Main Session -- Christopher Ash
In his second main session. Ash preached from Psalm 146. While there were many things in this message that impacted me, some of the most helpful parts was when he gave several general questions to help interpret the Psalms. He said the Psalm teacher should ask these questions in this order . . .

  1. What would it have meant for an Old Covenant believer to sing or pray this Psalm?
  2. What would it have meant for Jesus to sing or pray this Psalm?
  3. What does it mean for us corporately in Christ to sing or pray this Psalm?

The main thrust of this sermon was that God is the one that deserves praise, men do not. We are not to put our trust in princes (any influential person) because they die. And when they die, they take their plans with them. This is a shot across the bow of the Christian Celebrity. In fact, the real danger in putting someone on a pedestal is that we soon begin to believe that they are worthy to be trusted. That is dreadful.

Breakout Session -- "Maintaining Pastoral Zeal While Avoiding Burnout" by Christopher Ash
This session is very important and helpful for pastors. In fact, I would encourage all pastors to watch or listen to it if you have some time. And even if you are an elder or church leader, I would encourage you to think through how you can help your pastor think through these things. Ash shared several helpful thoughts for the pastor who is on the verge of burnout. 

  1. Dust - He tried to help us remember that we were created from dust and we will return to dust. The point being is to help us remember that we are human. 
  2. Sleep - God might not need sleep, but we do.
  3. Sabbath Rest - One out of seven rest pattern is a Christian mandate
  4. Renewal - He encouraged us to find what it is that energizes us and make the conscious effort to make room in our schedules for them.
  5. Friends - We all need people who will tell us the truth.
  6. Rebuke - We need people who will be able to tell us to quit seeking our own glory.
  7. Encouragement - Pastoral ministry is worth it. It is difficult to measure the success of a ministry, but it is worth it.
  8. Joy - Rejoice in being a recipient of God's grace, that even if we do nothing else in ministry in our life, we can still rejoice over the fact of being a Christian.

Breakout Session -- "Preaching Simply, Preaching Richly" by Gary Millar
Much of this session was taken out of his book, Saving Eutychus. But it was still very good. He is a masterful communicator and it came through as he shared how the preacher is to preach simply! SIMPLIFY! And as you simply, it always goes back to Jesus and the gospel. 

But once you learn to preach simply, you need to learn to preach richly. We should not only know the main idea of the text, but also the vibe of the text. What is the emotional tone of the text? That should influence the message as well. 

Evening Activities
I regret to say that I was unable to attend the evening dinner or session by Gary Millar. But I heard good things of his treatment from 1 Kings 19. I look forward to watching it soon (all of the resources can be found HERE).

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Basics Conference, Day 1

As I have shared, I am at the Parkside Basics Conference this week. Here are some of my thoughts from the first day's sessions that took place yesterday. 

Breakout Session -- Daniel Henderson
The conference started with a bang for me. I chose to attend a breakout session entitled, "Seven Vital Truths about a Culture of Prayer." I have been feeling recently that our church does not pray enough. I don't pray enough. This concept of a prayerful dependence upon God is something I'm not sure I sense in my life or the life of our people.

One statement at the beginning of his session really struck me. He said, "Prayerlessness is my declaration of my independence from God." Ouch! When I choose not to pray, I am saying I do not need God. And even when I do seek Him in prayer only when I need things, I am seeking His hands and not Him. Henderson encouraged a culture of prayer that seeks God for God, not because of what He can give. He then continued to give his seven truths about developing a culture of prayer in your church. 

1. A Prayer Culture is not a Prayer Program
2. A Prayer Culture Always Emanates from the Epicenter of Church Leadership
3. A Prayer Culture is Fueled by Experience not Explanation
4. A Prayer Culture is Rooted in Clarity and Conviction about Community
5. A Prayer Culture is Sustained by the Right Motives
6. A Prayer Culture is a Key to Supernatural Mission Achievement
7. A Prayer Culture is more a Crock Pot than a Microwave

He encouraged that prayer is not simply another ministry in your church, but it is something that the leaders of the church should make sure permeates every ministry of the church. There were many helpful thoughts in this session that I will go back to in the next few weeks.

Main Session -- Alistair Begg
I have loved the ministry of Alistair Begg. He has blessed me tremendously in the past years through his teaching and writing ministry. He opened the first main session by reading Ecclesiastes 1 and then encouraging pastors to preach the book of Ecclesiastes. He noted that his talk was not going to be an exposition, so I'm not going to critique him on it in that way. But he did say he is going to do an exposition on a portion of the book in the last session. I really look forward to that.

It wasn't an exposition, but a reminder that preaching this book is needed. To be honest, I failed to see the purpose of his sermon. Maybe there are some in the audience that need to be encouraged to preach through the book of Ecclesiastes, but not me. If there are, then I'm certainly glad he preached it. But I don't need that motivation. I get it. I know it speaks to the audience today. I get that it is extremely relevant to the world in which we are living. I have preached through this book before and I look forward to preaching through it again.

There was one thing he said that impacted me. He made mention that too often, preachers talk about the gospel, but do not present the gospel. That's a helpful warning to me. It is not just enough to talk about gospel truths, but I need to make sure to turn that gospel truth toward the listeners, asking for a response from them.

Parkside does a wonderful job with the mealtime at this conference. As is usual, the group of guys I am with end up sitting with some people we do not know. I had the privilege to sit with two men from West Virginia, two men from Ireland, and one from Norway. Yep, three of the guys at my table were from across the pond. It was encouraging to hear their stories of how the gospel transformed their life and how God is using them today.

One funny note. The two gentleman from Ireland made the note that it is unfortunate that Alistair Begg has lost his accent. Huh? If that's the case, I'd hate to hear what he used to sound like. 

Main Session -- Christopher Ash
The main session ended with Christopher Ash preaching through Psalm 74. Again, a very unique selection of a biblical text to preach through for a pastors conference. He noted that the Psalm begins with Grief (vs. 1-11), then notes the author's Belief (vs. 12-17), and ends in Pleading (vs. 18-23). I suppose that some of the men might be in that place of grief in their ministry. Some are finding themselves holding onto, in belief, the One who breaks the heads of the sea monsters. And some are pleading with God to continue. I see that and trust it landed where the Spirit of God wanted it to land.

Probably the most helpful part of his sermon was at the beginning when he explained the job of the teacher of Psalms. He explained how the one who teaches Psalms should . . .

1. Teach the Lyrics - He needs to help make the words understandable.
2. Teach the Tune - He needs to help people feel the meaning in their heart.
3. Teach the Want-To - He needs to help them want what it wants. 

I like that and will come back to this during the summer months as I preach through several Psalms as part of my "Summer in the Psalms" series.

If you think of it, pray for the many pastors and church leaders who will be taking in a full day of conference today. If you are interested, you can find the schedule and link for live stream HERE.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Parkside Basics Conference 2014

Today begins the 2014 Parkside Basics Conference. This is an annual conference put on by Alistair Begg & Parkside Church for pastors and Christian workers. There are a few reasons why this is one of my favorite conferences to attend each year.

First, it is close to my home. I only have to travel about 35 minutes to get to the church from my office. I love that. I can get some work done Monday mornings, get back to the office on Wednesday afternoon, and still enjoy time sitting under the teaching of God's Word. Anytime I can sit under a quality conference that is close to my house, I'm going to take advantage of it.

Second, the speakers are usually men I've not had the opportunity to hear before. Besides Alistair Begg, this years conference will include Christopher Ash and Gary Millar. While I have never heard Ash or Millar speak, I have read some of their books. The Priority of Preaching by Christopher Ash is one of the most helpful books on preaching I have read in the last few years. In addition, he wrote a short little book called Listen Up!, a book on listening to preaching. Since that has always been a topic on my heart (Helping Johnny Listen), I was eager to read it and learned from it. I hope to get a chance to talk to him about that resource.

Third, the atmosphere of the conference is free, loose, and casual. I appreciate that. Some of the pastors conferences I have attended in the past tend to be filled with formal music and feel like a production. This one is just simple. Teaching, meals, and some time for fellowship (oh, and their incredible bookstore). I appreciate the simplicity of this conference.

I am looking forward today to spend some time with friends in the ministry. I am looking forward to learning and growing in my faith and profession. And I'm looking forward to getting out of the office for a few days to be challenged by the teaching of God's Word. As I often do through the different conferences I attend, I will try to blog my way through each day, sharing things I am learning. 

If you are interested, you can follow along with the conference. It is being streamed live HERE. The first break-out session begins at 3pm and then the first main session is at 4:15 pm. I'm sure they would love for you to join in wherever you are at in the world.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Shallow Repentance

I am most of my way through reading Dr. Larry Crabb's Fully Alive (review coming soon). This thought on shallow repentance was really helpful.
"Shallow repentance looks something like this: we do something wrong and then we feel guilty. Feeling guilty also makes us feel bad, unhappy, irritable, and cold. We then dwell on our failure as a way of doing penance. Penance, of course, is pride. It's our way of telling God that He really ought to forgive us so we can feel better about ourselves. We weary God with tearful pledges to do better, promises we repeat after every failure. When we manage by serious self-effort to not commit our besetting sin for a season, we feel more proud than grateful, still self-absorbed. When we do fail again, whether in familiar or new ways, bad feelings start the same cycle of shallow repentance all over again" (177).