Thursday, June 11, 2015

One Year Already!

I am about 2 months late on writing this post but it is hard to believe that it has already been one year since I was installed as the senior pastor of Covington Baptist Church. Well, technically 1 year and 2 months! Before that, I served as the associate pastor at Covington for 6 years. It has been "quite a ride" so to speak! Looking back, I have seen the Lord's faithfulness to both me and my family in so many ways. I would just like to take a few moments of reflection to ponder and document some of the greatest lessons that I have learned in this first year:

1. This is Christ's Church! In I Peter 5, Peter exhorts the elders of the various churches to shepherd God's flock. This can only be done Biblically and effectively, however, when the elders realize that they are doing so as undershepherds awaiting the return of the chief Shepherd Jesus Christ. In other words, each church is Christ's not the pastor(s). I have thought about this truth frequently over my first year in this new position. While I am called to faithfully guard, instruct, and care for the flock, I must remember that these are Christ's people. Only He can change lives and truly meet each sheep's needs. What a stewardship has been granted to me yet what a relief as well!

2. You Lead/I Follow! Along with the above point, many times it has been impressed upon my heart that I cannot lead the church on a whim. The church is much bigger than one man's ideas, preferences, or philosophies. It is about being in line with Christ's calling and equipping and being willing to follow. This is done in the context of a plurality of leadership. Is God moving us in a certain way or a certain direction? Do others sense that call? Are we willing to abandon our comfort or complacency to lead others where the Lord is first leading us? As a pastor, in being called to lead I am first called to follow Christ.

3. Pastoral Ministry is Humbling! I do not mean this in a negative sense at all! I am continually humbled by the calling which lies before me. Everyday I must stare at the inadequacies of self before I can turn to the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Every week I am called upon to deliver the Word of God despite my own unworthiness. Every week there are hurting people looking for life's answers and a message of hope. Where will I turn? Far too often I am prone to look within to do what only Christ can do. God first must break the preacher before He can ever break the church. Am I willing for this to take place? Am I willing to rejoice in my own inadequacies so that I may cling to Christ? In many professions individuals pride themselves on their accomplishments but to be affective for Christ, we must come embracing our emptiness. I need to learn and relearn this lesson every single day.

4. Preach Christ! There are a variety of "topics" that one could address from the pulpit. There are many interesting and even scandalous ways to work a message to try to peak one's curiosity and make the subject matter seem appealing. But if there is one thing  that I must cling to it is what the apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 1:23: "But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles." He must be on the lips of the preacher every time he preaches! His work must be proclaimed to believer and unbeliever alike! It is the only thing and He is the only Person who can change lives! May I be known as a preacher of Christ. Whether the Lord has my ministry as a pastor to be 5 years or 50 years, may all who listen to me hear of Christ and what He has done!

5. Ministry is Hard Work! Sometimes I wonder if people get the perception that pastoral ministry is a "Sunday only" job. Nothing could be further from the truth! To fully understand the pressures of a pastor I think one must be one or have been one in the past. No matter the pressures, difficulties, or demands, however, it is Christ's work. God uses these complexities to conform the pastor to be more like Christ. In other words, I find myself needing to remind myself at times that God has ordained the things I walk through, pleasant or unpleasant, as His sovereign plan to bring about redemption in me. That does not mean that I must enjoy every part of the process but it does mean that I can be thankful for what He is accomplishing through it. Such words are easier said than done but at the end of the day I can rest in His sovereign care and sufficiency for my life.

I hope that these few thoughts have spurred you to think about what God has been teaching you in your life journey! I would love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Christ Centered Teaching: Seeing the Need

Have you ever sat under teaching from the Bible whether that be in a Sunday worship service, Sunday School class, youth group meeting, devotional time, or school classroom and enjoyed the preaching/teaching or personal study received while at the same feeling like something was missing? I know I have. In fact, I have preached and taught more times than I would like to admit with that same feeling. Maybe you could put your finger on what it was that was missing but then again maybe not. I would like to propose to you that the missing ingredient in far too many Sunday sermons and Bible lessons is Christ.

While on the outset you would think it would be obvious to keep Christ at the center it is actually much harder to do unless conscious effort is applied. In case you are unsure if you are missing Christ in your daily diet of God's Word or in your teaching, let me ask you a few questions:

  • When you are finished, who are you or others left focusing upon: self or Christ? Much of our preaching, teaching, and Bible study at best assumes the good news of the gospel and at worst ignores it. When we focus solely upon ourselves in a text (what we must do, how we can improve, what we must copy, etc.) we are setting people off on a wrong foundation that will not sustain them long term.

  • Do you see the "heroes" of the Bible simply as individuals we must emulate or as pointers to Christ? Don't get me wrong, we are to see people like David, Joseph, Abraham, Moses, etc. as faithful believers in whom we should follow in their footsteps but if we keep it at that we will miss the main point of the Bible. You see, each of these individuals pointed to Someone greater. The Bible uses these individuals to show us that as much as they did, they too sinned and failed God in many ways.  Their rescue of others and obedience was but an imperfect picture of a greater rescue to come. Now, as we live our lives, we strive in the perfect merits, boldness, perseverance, and rescue of Jesus not self. 

  • Do you teach or study the commands of Scripture apart from the Gospel? It is so easy to get caught in a grocery list mentality when it comes to the commands of the Bible. In other words, we preach both to others and ourselves the idea that "here are the commands now go do them!" There is one problem with this, we fail them all the time! But there is hope! That is where the gospel comes in! Jesus in His life, death, and resurrection perfectly obeyed and fulfilled all of those commands on our behalf and then paid for our failure of those same commands by dying for us! Therefore, even amidst my failure I know Jesus, through His perfect life and work on the cross, is holding me up! Hallelujah! Are you giving others that hope when you teach! Are you giving yourself that hope! Jesus' commands are not burdensome because He is the One holding us up and living through us! (I John 5:3)

  • Does your teaching or study of Scripture produce a greater passion in your soul because of what Jesus has done for you? We have to be careful on this point because feelings are never a gauge to truth. However, looking onto the truths of Jesus and His work will stir our hearts once it has gripped it! I have seen this so many times in my own life and in the eyes and lives of those who I can see starting to "get" the realities of the gospel. So many times we live passionless lives and have passionless Bible studies because we are not beholding anything to be passionate about! When I look at Scripture through the lens of myself it makes me want to run not rejoice! But when I study Scripture looking at the One who lived and died for me I rejoice in the relief, joy, and purpose that He brings to my life! 
So how is it with you when you come to the Scriptures? If we are studying in a Christless manner we will live Christless lives. Are you consciously tracing the work of God in Christ throughout the Scriptures for yourself and others? As Jen Wilkin once wrote, "It is tempting to read the Bible as a road map for our lives or a guide for abundant living. But the Bible, strictly speaking, is not a book about us. It is a book about God. From Genesis to Revelation, it reveals and celebrates the character and work of God. We do gain self-knowledge, but only as we gain God-knowledge, learning to see our own character in relation to His." (http://www.crossway.org/blog/2014/07/5-ways-to-make-the-most-of-your-bible-study/)



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Divine Pursuit

It is amazing how things come up in life that completely take us off guard. It is amazing that we get
taken by surprise as much as we do given that there are so many variables in life. Yet, each off guard moment is a powerful and awakening reminder of how feeble and frail we really are.

My "surprise" moment came on just the second day of this new year. We were having a wonderful time heading back to PA after spending some much needed vacation time during the holidays. We stopped in Virginia at a hotel, swam in the indoor pool, ate pizza together as a family, and watched some tv. All was well. At around 10:30 pm, however, I was awoken by a heaviness in my chest and trouble taking deep breaths. I wasn't sure what to think! Mind you, I'm only 34 years old! I woke up my wife who was half dazed and told her my symptoms. We were both completely taken off guard! Anyway, to make a long story short, I headed to an emergency medical clinic which, providentially, was located within walking distance right behind our hotel! All of the tests they ran came back normal. The next day, after arriving at home, I continued to experience the same symptoms and they seemed to be increasing so back to the emergency room we went that night. Again, all of the tests came back normal so still no answers.

Later the following week, I went to my doctor who referred me to a cardiologist where more tests were run. All of my tests came back normal. My wife and I were praising the Lord that I have a good, healthy heart but were and are still left scratching our heads as to what this must be. As we still are pursuing answers with our doctor, I want to share with you that while I do not know, medically, what is causing my problems, I do have assurances, spiritually, as to what God wants to accomplish in my life.

I remember that first night, being nervous, laying on the medical clinic bed searching my mind for answers as to why the Lord was allowing this. The one thing that came to mind was this: God is pursuing me. I have preached this truth over and over again to our church congregation. God lovingly intervenes in our lives, even through difficult situations and circumstances, to pursue us and draw us closer to Himself. Yet, now it was and is time for me to live this out and go through this. How would I react in the midst of difficulty and trial? Would I look to Him and allow Him to draw me closer to Christ or would I be consumed with myself and draw me deeper into the narcissistic "woe is me" mentality? The answer to these questions have yet to be answered as I walk daily by faith. But I do know this: God wants my heart in deeper and more intimate ways. He will lovingly pursue me no matter how far I run, how much I recoil, or how independent I feel. This is exactly what I need.

This is where the gospel meets us everyday. It shatters and exposes us in our sin and need for someone outside of ourselves to be our rescue. It reveals any misconceptions that "we are enough". It tells us of One who loves us so much that He would pursue us even to the point of sacrificial death. It invites us to relinquish our self dependence, self reliance, and self interests in exchange for a marvelous rescue and relationship for which we have been created for. A loving God could do no less than reapply the gospel to our lives over and over and over again. Praise the Lord for His divine pursuit!

(It has been a while since I have written on here! I do intend on keeping up with my blog so pardon the longer period of silence.)



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Monday, December 15, 2014

Keeping Our Eyes On God's Promise

Have you ever tried to count all of the promises that are in the Bible? I know I haven't! According to one source, there are 3,573 promises (source). How accurate that is I'm not sure but even if it is off a little those are a lot of promises!

This past Sunday I just concluded our Christmas series entitled "The Promise: A Celebration of Christmas" (listen here). In this series, we unpacked the overarching promise of redemption that gave way to the Christmas story. It was because of God's promise to redeem that He sent His Son as a helpless baby. It was because of God's promise of redemption that God the Son lived a perfect life which gave way to a perfect sacrifice on our behalf. It is because of God's promise of redemption that we know that He will never stop working on us or for us (Eph. 2:10). It is because of God's promise of redemption that we know that when we feel like it's all over God has already written the true ending and it is marvelous (Rev. 21-22)!

You get the point!

What we have to see here is that every single promise in the Bible is because of God's one singular promise of redemption. It was declared from the very beginning in the midst of tragedy and chaos in the garden (Gen. 3:15) and it continues through today--yes even amidst your chaos!-- and for all of time! So, in light of this, how are you viewing God's promises? Do you realize when you start to doubt what God says you are really doubting His complete plan of redemption? Why? Because everything, and I mean everything, is staked upon that! If God were to ever be untrue to any one of His promises then that would mean that God would be untrue to THE promise!

We know this can't be the case so today let's heed Jesus' words amidst our doubt:


“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 6:25-34



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Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Prayer For Strength


Father,

How often we lack the strength that the day, circumstance, decision, task, and demands. How often we find ourselves trying to muster a strength from within ourselves which can only carry us so far. Lord, how often are You the last one that we look to for the things that we need. Father, we don't understand why You allow us to go through so many of the things that we do. How often would our ways and plans be different. Yet, Father, we desire your will above our own and when our desire is not for what you desire, we know that you understand that we are but dust. Please, we pray, grant us the strength which we do not have. Grant us that special strength that only comes from above that we, too, may glory in the cross of Your Son. Take what is a blessing and bless us with it. Take what is a trial and bless us with it. Take what is an adversity and bless us with it. Give us strength as we learn to trust. For Your name's sake, for Your glory, for Your children.

In the name of Your beloved Son,

Amen

Friday, November 14, 2014

The True Leader

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Hebrews 2:10

How do you view God? Do you see Him as a demanding task master barking our orders and ready to call you out at the sign of any misstep or failure? I think many of us view God as the first depiction described in this image. Yet, is this mindset correct? How can we know what God is like?

Jesus answers this question for us. In John 14:7 He says, "If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." So, according to Jesus' own words and explanation, we know the Father by the Son. Jesus is our perfect example of who the Father is and what He is like. 

So what example does the Son present of the Father to us? Hebrews 2:10 answers this question. Jesus is our "pioneer" or leader who paved the way to the Father for us through the perfection of His suffering on our behalf. You see, Jesus is the perfect representation of the bottom image of the picture. He is our leader and we walk in the path of His perfection and finished work. 

So, going back to the original question, how do you view God? God is not the apathetic, harsh boss barking out orders relentlessly. He is the one who stepped down from the pedestal of exaltation to lead the way for us to Himself. Walk in this truth today and go forth boldly knowing you are walking in the footsteps of Jesus!

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Lesson From "The Law"

Well, today (Monday) is my day off. We usually try to travel outside of our small town to just get
away for the better part of the day. On our drive, my wife and I were having a great conversation when I realized I was traveling downhill and was going about 80 mph. I started to break as I saw a police officer still a good way off parked in the median. As I passed (at only around 65 mph at this point), sure enough, I watched him in my rear view mirror as he slowly pulled onto the road eventually flashing his lights to pull over.

"Oh, no!" I thought. Not only was the reality that I would be given a ticket suddenly sinking in, but that this would be my second ticket in the past 2 months was eerily creeping over me! "This is not good!" I thought. Rachel was very calm and understanding in light of my current predicament!

As I sat in the car during that seemingly eternal time when the officer takes your information back to his car to make sure you are not a murderer or anything, I couldn't help but feeling like kicking myself for not heeding the last officer's warning 2 months ago to "watch my speed!". You see, I took my chances with the law and the law won!

As I continue to think back upon the events of today I cannot help but think of an even deeper principle. The Law (God's Law) is meant to crush us. It will win every time! It is meant to show us the deep depravity and error of our ways. It is meant to show us of our great need. While we can try to "do better next time" (like the police officer's words to me 2 months ago!) when it comes to the law, we always fall short. No matter how hard we may try, it will not be long before we find ourselves pulled over along the road of life having broken God's perfect Law.

BUT, thanks be to our God for a Redeemer! Where I have broken the Law, Christ has perfectly obeyed the Law.  Where I have failed, Christ has fully succeeded. Where I fall short, Christ has reached God's perfect standard. Now, when I fail and must pull over alongside the roadways of life to look at my "ticket" of failures and insufficiencies, I see the blood red words of Christ written all over them and it says this: "PAID IN FULL".

Thank you Father that your Law points me first to my failure but does not end there! Thank you that your Law points me to Jesus and my daily need for Him!



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