Category Archives: Pastoral Thoughts

Repost: Brothers in the Local Church: Serving or Throwing Stones?

05/20/2014 

I am grateful to the brothers at The Front Porch for posting this interview.

In this interview, Thabiti Anyabwile chops it up with Dr. Eric Redmond, executive pastoral assistant and bible scholar in residence at New Canaan Baptist Church in Washington D.C. The brothers discuss what makes a good senior and assistant pastor, how to transition from the former to the latter, and focus on Eric’s book: “Where Are All The Brothers?” How do you speak to men who are skeptics about the church in a loving, winsome way? How do you correct theirs errors and encourage them to lovingly engage accurate perceptions they have about the church — even if they’re negative?  Pull up a chair and join Eric and Thabiti up on the porch as these brothers discuss how black men can taken from A to Z in the life of the local church.

 

Piper: Barnabas, not Dr. John, on PKs

pastors-kid-featureRecently I visited another church to preach for two Sunday services. Between the two services, my family and I were invited to attend Sunday School. My three teens went to the teen class, only to experience a typical affair for PKs: They were expected to know all of the answers to the Sunday School lesson, but contrastingly were expected not to win any Bible trivia games because they would have an “unfair” advantage; (and people wonder why I have spent much of my adult life having a disdain for Sunday School).

This is the smallest, simplest example of unreasonable expectations churches place on PKs—Pastors’ Kids. Space will not permit me to tell stories of the cruel treatment of PKs by jealous children, including ridicule, ostracism, and intentional targeting for enticement to the worse vices in ugly hunter-vs.-deer-types of games. Neither will it permit me to confess all of the unreasonable expectations PKs experience because of dad’s need to have almost-perfectly Christian children, and because of his failure to shield his children rather than shield his own reputation as the always-available, hardly-disagreeable shepherd. Add to this the PKs’ inability to live what appears to be a “normal” childhood, or to interpret the world dad’s job has created, and you have a recipe for very confused children who will grow into messed up adults – Christian or not. Yes, this sounds like whining compared to trials of other parents – some as single parents – who have fiercely rebellious children with mental challenges, police records, or substance abuse issues. However, if you talk to the average PK, the life he/she faced was full of pressures that their fellow members could not begin to understand.

Therefore I am grateful that Barnabas Piper, one of four sons of John Piper, has written, The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity (David C. Cook, 2014). As the publisher says of the book, Barnabas has written so that the PK might “live in true freedom and wholeness.” I suspect the book will help the PK’s dad and mom live in freedom and wholeness too.

However, please do not dismiss the book as something for pastor’s family only. Part of the problem facing PKs is that the rest of the church cannot see what they are doing to crush the spirits of PKs, and to truncate the church’s blessings as the members unknowingly act as tools of the Enemy to undermine the pastor’s ministry (cf. 1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:17). I would encourage, highly, the God-fearing layperson and church officer to read this book with his or her church-member spouse. Read so that the Gospel can ring out from your pulpit with joy – so that the billions of unreached peoples can hear about Jesus because your congregation’s PKs did not require the pastor to divert from study and prayer to healing the PKs’ church-induced pains.  Do this, too, so that the Gospel will be ordained with glory and joy as the negative connotations associated with PKs – connotations created by the aforementioned experiences and many more – are recognized and minimized. Why don’t you get a book for your pastor’s oldest PK too? I bet this will abound to the joy of many.

Thank you, Barnabas, for all you experienced as a child of John and Noel so that millions could increase in their passion for the supremacy of God. Thank you for sharing from this experience so that the Lord can be glorified in his church and many PKs will be free in his grace. I am grabbing a copy for each of my children, and my pastor’s children too.

 

Related

Barnabas Piper: “Why I Wrote ‘The Pastor’s Kid'”

Growing up Christian, Dangerous Calling, and A Handbook for Parents in Ministry.

Ortlund: Faithful pastor, you’re not crazy

From Ray Ortlund, Christ is Deeper Still blog: Faithful pastor, you’re not crazy.

RAY ORTLUND|9:23 AM CT

Faithful pastor, you’re not crazy

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The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.  To him be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.  2 Timothy 4:18

A text message came in from a pastor friend.  I’ve known him for decades.  He is the kind of man for whom the adjective “saintly” was invented.  He pastored a thriving church for many years.  Then someone on staff stabbed him in the back and rallied others to get him thrown out.  The objections to his ministry had no substance.  “The issues” were not the real issues.  As Moishe Rosen, founder of Jews for Jesus, said to me once, “Some try to pull down a prominent man, not because they themselves wish to take his place, but because doing so gives them a feeling of power.”

My friend had met with someone from his former church, wishing to reconcile.  But the person blew him off.  All that the meeting accomplished was to re-open an old wound.

So here is what I want to say to my friend:

You’re not crazy.  This has been happening to God’s men since Cain and Abel.  It is one way you identify with Jesus himself.

What was your crime, within that religious subculture called your church?  Your crime was that you were not out for yourself but totally out for the Lord.  You were, for that reason, and completely unbeknownst to you, an embarrassment, a reproach and a threat to the strongholds of unresolved sin deep within the hearts of some around you.  They had to get rid of you, lest Jesus get too close.  And they had to make it your fault, to justify themselves.  After all, their self-image of innocence was the whole point.  Without even realizing it, they had made “their church” into a mechanism for evading God while also confessing God, diminishing God’s claims on them while also reassuring themselves that they were good people.  The cross had not set them free to be honest with themselves.  They were secretly laboring under the burdens of self-salvation, since Jesus just wasn’t that real to them.  But you were dealing in completely different categories, assumptions and values.  The Lord was so wonderfully real to you in his grace and glory, that you longed for his complete rule in every respect.  So, it was like oil and water.  Unless there had been a spiritual breakthrough and deep repentance, conflict was inevitable.  But the conflict did not discredit you; it validated you.  It just wasn’t the validation you wanted!  All you wanted was their blessing, for the greater glory of Jesus.  But the rejection you suffered there is the reason 1 John 3:12 is in the Bible — to tell you that you’re not crazy: “And why did he murder him?  Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s were righteous.”  There it is.  That was your crime, pastor.  You were a godly man, wholehearted for the Lord.  Your ministry was righteous.  In your church, that was a fatal step.

So you lost your ministry there.  But you didn’t lose your ministry altogether.  What feels like loss is, in fact, re-investment.  You were a profound man before, and now you are even more profound.  For the rest of your life, when someone comes to you who has just taken a torpedo amidships and they’re going down, you will understand, as few men can.  You are now equipped as never before to comfort sufferers.  In your weakness and desolation, you are formidable.  What can anyone do to you now?  You’ve gone deep into the heart of Jesus, and you’ve found him to be an utterly faithful Friend.  For the rest of your life, that glorious awareness of your Friend above is going to be pouring out of you onto devastated people.  And your ministry will have more impact than ever before.

It’s a privilege to know you and walk with you.

Amen.

When You Sense Your Church is Dying

6776-church_old_winter.630w.tn.jpgFriends at christianity.com have posted my, “When You Sense Your Church is Dying.” Here is an excerpt:

One of the most wonderful experiences believers can share is being part of a strong, growing church. What a joy it is to share in a congregation that has unity, love, holiness, a sense of the Spirit in worship, Christ-centered preaching, God-fearing leaders, members of all age groups and ministries towards all members, and a passion for reaching the lost. In contrast, it is burdensome to be part of a dying congregation: Worship is mundane, large age group segments are absent, there is strife among members and coldness toward visitors, and there is no purposeful preaching of the gospel to the lost or the baptized.

Having been part of both thriving and dying churches, I have witnessed believers make choices that have either blessed or harmed the recovery of their congregations. Here are some humble suggestions on how to live godly when you are facing a dying church.

My true concern is that we do not think long and hard about the Gospel when church becomes uncomfortable to us. Instead, we simply look for greener grass, not thinking about the possible ways the Lord can use us to be part of his work to sanctify his Bride, which includes one’s own, individual sanctification.

Recently I spoke with three young adult believers between 25 and 35 years of age,  each from different congregations, about staying in their churches of aging membership(s) and/or mediocre preaching and/or traditional corporate worship style(s). I appealed to them to consider the growth in their lives that could come from learning to endure and serve in imperfect settings. I attempted to explain that the substance of worship music is more important than the style, and that much could be learned from less contemporary styles. I spoke with urgency about the need to see the value of continuing in one place for a long time in order to see disciples formed and in order to maintain relationships saturated in the love of Christ. I wished for them to gather with other members in their churches to pray for the hearts of their older congregants, pastors, and leaders to be open to changes that would glorify the Lord and bring signs of life and health back into the church — and that for the sake of the local and international mission fields each of their churches could reach.

I think of the three that one heart was won to stay. One-third is not a bad bating average. However, I wish more saints would learn to remain in tough situations, pursuing the glory of God through prayer, meekness, and faithfulness. I am not suggesting that anyone accept false doctrine, ongoing infighting, or sub-Gospel lifestyles. Yet I am saying that where churches are seeking to honor the Lord but have lost their way slightly, it is better not to abandon such assemblies.

I am grateful for the ministry of christianity.com. I was glad to meet some of the faithful staff at TGC13.

Related:  Gospel Departures , and Committing to One Another (@amazon).

 

Gospel Departures

6472-depart_train_track.630w.tn.jpgChristianity.com recently posted my article, “Gospel Departures,” based on Acts 20:1-12. The article is 700-900 words of an almost 5000-word sermon; each of the points is edited greatly.  I could not include the third point of the sermon in the article. Many thanks to christianity.com for their kindness.

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So often, it is the case that when church leaders make moves from one ministry to another, they leave the way people vacate foreclosed home. Hearts are yanked out. Relationships are fractured. Huge informational and resource holes are left behind.

Sometimes, this kind of destruction seems almost intentional—as if the ministry leader had a singe of vengeance coming off his clothes. It is astounding that some who are in “gospel ministry” never seem to think of leaving in a positive way so that a grace-filled, gospel ministry is set up to prosper long after their departure.

Departures from the local church—God’s house—ought to be gospel departures. Acts 20 illustrates this very different approach to departing. Paul’s example is instructive for church leaders, who—if they must leave because of God’s clear calling—ought to leave in such a way that will make the ministry enjoyable for people being left behind as well as for those who will eventually serve in their place.

1.     Gospel Departures should be an encouraging fellowship and elude fighting (20:1-6).

Realizing that this might be his last time seeing all of the disciples he made on the three missionary journeys, Paul makes the gospel version of a farewell tour. He calls together the disciples, encourages them (v.1), then he departs. He does the same all over Macedonia, “speaking many words of encouragement” (v.2). Comforting, exhorting, or strengthening the believers was very important at this point. Paul’s was focused on building, making sure the churches he planted were growing, healthy, strong, and hopeful in Christ. In this way he could be assured that they would continue in the gospel.

When a plot from the Jews comes up, Paul changes his travel plans so as to avoid a conflict with the Jews. The hostility of his enemies is growing fiercer in the Acts narrative. They are ready to do away with Paul. But rather than taking them head on, Paul goes back to Macedonia. Why? At that point, it was more important to make sure the gospel was firmly established in the churches than to battle his enemies. His goal was to have the gospel advance further so that Europe could eventually be reached.

Paul also had traveling with him men whom he could encourage (20:4). Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, was fond of saying that this was Paul’s discipleship group. Paul poured into them so that these places would have an ongoing vibrant work when he was in Rome. He took time to just enjoy the Feast of Unleavened Bread with the people at Philippi before continuing his journey.

One of the things I have noticed by shepherding many public school teachers is that when their time of retirement comes, they often avoid a departing celebration. Instead, they say to their co-workers, “No thanks. I just want to get my stuff and go.” After 35 or more years on the job, they have become disgusted or wearied by their experiences or changes to their schools. So if they simply can leave, someone else can pick up their duties and train those who follow.

In switching Gospel ministries, whether leaving to run another small group, or no longer playing a lead role in a youth ministry, we cannot simply leave. We must take time to encourage those in whom we have invested our time—not magnifying ourselves, but emphasizing the importance of Christ’s death and of our resurrection hope, of our assurance before God in judgment and of the Holy Spirit’s sufficiency to give power to continue the ministry without us.

2.     Gospel Departures should make the last Sunday(s) about life and the Word of God rather than death and worry (20:7-12).

Luke is particular to indicate that this long episode took place in Troas on “the first day of the week” (v.7). On this Sunday, Paul spoke at extreme length because he intended to depart the next day. He reasons and dialogues, prolonging his speech until midnight in order to get in as much gospel truth as he could before departing.

In the room, as Paul is preaching even longer than I have ever preached, there is a boy named Eutychus who is being overcome by the heat and haze of the oil lamps and the length of Paul’s discussion. So this small boy sits in a window, maybe to get some fresh air, and falls out of the window two stories (what Greeks called the third story) to his death.

This seems anything but “fortunate,” which is the meaning of Eutychus’s name. This is the last time this group will see Paul, and now stuck in their memory will be the tragic death of a child! For most, this tragic death would have brought ministry to a standstill. But for Paul this was an opportunity to display the power of the gospel.

In the same prophetic manner that Elijah threw himself onto the widow’s dead son in First Kings 17, Paul runs down from the second floor, throws himself on the boy, put his arms around him and says, “Don’t be alarmed. He is alive!” (v.10). Paul shows the resurrection power of Christ by raising this boy back to life. Rather than people being alarmed or worried about the events, they were greatly comforted.

Paul then was able to share a fellowship meal with the people of Troas. He also continuedpreaching until daybreak—five or six more hours! He gave great exposition of “the faith once delivered” so that the people of Troas would be firm in what they had been taught and believed. His last Sunday’s focus was the Word of God.

Often, a going away event for an office employee can turn into a “roast” in which jests and pranks are meant to lighten the occasion of departure. While the business world is an appropriate place for roasting, such is not always the case with the church. For Paul, and for us, final words ought not be jokes or trivialities, but weighty, Christ-centered dialogue with clear explanation of the goal of God in the gospel. As the people of God, let us endeavor to make all our departures from the local church gospel departures.

Eric C. Redmond is Executive Pastoral Assistant and Bible Professor in Residence at New Canaan Baptist Church in Washington, DC. He blogs at “A Man from Issachar.” You can follow him on Twitter @EricCRedmond.

4 Reasons Why Christians Have Nothing to Fear

Christianity.com posted my, “4 Reasons Christians Have Nothing to Fear.” I am grateful to them for their kindness.

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6172-mountain_top_fearless.630w.tn.jpgWe do many things to avoid death, the pain of death, and the uncertainty about what awaits us after death. Some people refuse to plan their wills or attend funerals, for that forces them to think morbid thoughts. Others avoid new ventures that involve air travel even though you are more likely to be in a car accident than a plane crash. Still others of us shrink back from sharing our faith where it would mean persecution or possibly martyrdom.

If we are going to be people who live Christ-centered, counter-cultural lives, we cannot let death bully us with concerns about death itself, the manner of our demise, and what lies just past the door to the afterlife. Instead, we must be fully assured that Christ’s work in the incarnation, on the Cross, and in the resurrection means for us that there is nothing to fear.

In writing to the Hebrew Christians in 2:14-18, the author immediately recognizes a problem of human existence. As human beings, we are mere “blood and flesh,” and once the blood is spilled, we are no more. God, being without blood and flesh – without a physical body – has no concern about dying.

So that he could go through the same experience as people, God himself came in the incarnation, put on human flesh and blood, so that he too could experience death, and in doing so take the power of death away from the Evil One.

So, the first reason we have nothing to fear is because Jesus has identified with us in order to defeat the devil (2:14-15).

The writer to the Hebrews is certain of the reality of the devil. Apparently he has some real ability to use death as a means to his ends, for it says he has the power of death.

What the devil has, in fact, is delegated and usurped power. It is delegated from the Lord with limitations, as seen in the case of Job, for God alone is the one with the power to create life and to return men to dust. It is usurped in that man in the garden handed over dominion of the earth to him, and death entered under his rule with man’s disobedience. He uses that power to destroy the lives of the wicked.

Because Christ took on a body, he was able to go to the Cross and die. By dying and then rising again from the dead, he “rendered powerless” the devil by taking away his tool. Holding death in his hand, the devil could say to humanity, “You better obey me rather than God or I will kill you!” But it is now not so with Christ coming into the world. Thus the devil still attacks us and seeks our ruin; but we have nothing to fear from him because his power to destroy us by death is taken.

Second, we have nothing to fear because Jesus, in identifying with us, delivers us from the fear of death (2:16). Jesus delivers those who are slaves to the fear of death. The fear of dying controls the lives of unbelievers so as to enslave them to actions that seek to escape death and how one might die.

For example, the captain of the sinking Costa Concordia departed the ship before the passengers, to make sure he kept his life even if others perished. In a sense, everyone who tries to leave a legacy of their own greatness are trying to keep themselves from being erased completely by death.

Jesus, however, frees us from the fear of death so that we do not spend the rest of our lives making decisions based on avoiding the pains associated with death. Uniquely, Jesus does not do this for angels, but only for those described as “the offspring of Abraham.”

When one thinks of the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael are the first to come to mind. The Lord separated Isaac from Ishmael so that the promises to Abraham would come by election. Those who follow in the faith of Abraham are also his offspring; all who have believed Christ by faith are his offspring. For us death will not be a scary event. Christ’s death for us makes death a short stop on the way to heaven, for Christ literally “takes hold of us” to carry us to glory.

Third, we have nothing to fear because Jesus has identified with us to diffuse the Divine wrath (2:17). We are identified as brothers of Jesus – a truth by virtue of Divine adoption. By coming in a body and experiencing the same things we are experiencing, Jesus takes on another role—that of High Priest.

Under the Mosaic Law, the high priest had one unique duty. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, he took blood into the Holy of Holies, to the Mercy Seat, atop the Ark of the Covenant, in order to atone for the sins for Israel. If God accepted the sacrifice of the one goat, another goat that was spared would not return. In this way God signaled that his wrath against the people as satisfied.

Christ, by coming and experiencing the things of human life, and going to the Cross, took the role of the High Priest. It is he who would take sinful humanity to God through his sacrificial blood shed in his death for us; it is he who would bring the Holy God down to man.

Christ did this by making propitiation for the sins of the people. The word, literally, is “Mercy Seat.” Jesus is that mercy seat where God covers and removes sin because his wrath has been satisfied. He takes care of the real problem we face at death—the judgment of our sins.

Yet Jesus is not a detached priest. Because he experienced this life and death he is merciful and faithful. In the Old Testament God is the one who is merciful and gracious. Jesus takes divinity and sticks it into the priesthood by understanding what you and I go through in this life. Nevertheless, although mercy and faithfulness are for the benefit of the believer, Jesus’ service was for God. God is the one with the plan to send Jesus to satisfy his wrath. We have nothing to fear.

Fourth, we have nothing to fear because Jesus has identified with us to divert our desertion (2:18). The Hebrews faced real persecution. They were tempted to dessert the faith and leave Christ for Judaism. They were tempted to leave Jesus because to follow him meant martyrdom.

However, because Jesus took every temptation to the full extent, enduring it without giving in, he understands temptations better than any of us. Because he endured the Cross with our sin and God’s wrath upon him, he knows death better than any.

Thus, when the Christian life gets too hard – when submission is too much, pain is too strong, waiting is too long, or love is not returned – it is not time then to throw in the towel. It is then time to run to Jesus who is able.

 

Eric C. Redmond is Executive Pastoral Assistant and Bible Professor in Residence at New Canaan Baptist Church in Washington, DC. He blogs at “A Man from Issachar.”

 

Related

A Grief Sanctified: Through Sorrow to Eternal Hope (Packer)

A Grief Observed (Lewis)

 

Dr. Robert Cameron Received into Glory

robcameron2It is with great sadness that I received word yesterday of the passing of Dr. Robert Cameron, founding pastor of Mt. Carmel Church (OPC) in Somerset, NJ. Dr. Cameron was a senior statesman among African American pastors within the Reformed traditions. He was author of, Last Pew on the Left: America’s Lost Potential, a work about racism and society. A few of his sermons are available on sermonaudio.com. Dr. Cameron preached Christ  crucified. I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Cameron through the work of my friends Chris Arzen and Joe Lasardo. Dr. Cameron will be missed.