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Posts Tagged ‘Faithfulness’


Last week I brought up the envy and discontentment that we can feel in church life because our church is as “x, y or z” as another church. We can kick against the goads and ignore the call of God who has placed us in His Body according to His wisdom and goodness. Many churches try to be something they are not instead of the church God has made them to be. Many pastors do the same thing.

But there is another danger, the dark opposite of envy and discontentmet: complacency. This is the notion that since I can’t be like that other pastor, I don’t really have to try. Since our church can’t be like that other church we don’t have to strive to be better.

Envy can drive obsession to be something you can’t be. Complacency drifts into being slack and ineffectual.

And so the tensions of church life, and pastoral ministry begin to arise. They can be seen in these ways.

Complacency <==> Faithfulness <==> Covetousnes

Ineffectual/lazy <==> Utilizing Gifts & Abilities <==> Over-taxing people

Status quo <==> Always improving <==> Over-reaching

Leaders need to honestly assess who they are as pastors, elders and congregations. There must be discussions and analysis of gifts, abilities and resources within a congregation, and the best way to use them to the glory of God.

Let’s look at music as an example. Each congregation has its own musical resources that are intended to shape their music ministry. Each church, therefore, has different limitations. When I first entered pastoral ministry the congregation had the self-proclaimed “piano lady” who was the wife of an elder. That was about it. When she was on vacation they used one of those digital hymnal boxes to lead singing. I dusted off my guitar, faced my inhibitions about playing in front of people, invested time most weeks practicing and played along on songs I could play. It was a small church and my mistakes weren’t the end of the world to most of the people.

We played hymns and a few Scripture songs. We had a few snow birds, and one used to play organ for her church. She played for a few Sundays when our beloved piano lady was out of town. It didn’t go well. It would have been okay except for a man who was very vocal about his displeasure and she never tried again.

The “old days” of Cornerstone except the pianist is “missing”.

Eventually God brought another musician into the congregation. She had are greater abilities than the piano lady and we were able to significantly expand the range of music we sang as a congregation. For a period of time there was a third keyboardist who could spell the other two and we all loved her rendition of Amazing Grace. We identified a few people who sang well and had them lead the singing. For a small church, we had a very good music ministry. It was one that grew as God provided new resources, but sought to live within its limitations. The piano lady couldn’t do syncopated music. If she was the only keyboardist that day we didn’t do any.

One temptation would have been to be complacent. We could have refused to improve our ministry as God provided. We could have ignored the provision of new musicians. We could have refused to expand our musical options (adding songs and new styles). We also could have thought we were supposed to have a music ministry like the big church down the street and gotten bitter because our musicians weren’t semi-professional (or go bankrupt paying musicians).

The same thing has happened at my new congregation. We had some very good piano players and a very good guitarist. We have 2 people who can play bass, and one who plays the penny whistle. We had a violinist. I am the least skilled musician among us. The congregation sings well. We didn’t stick with the status quo. We’ve expanded our music. We bought a piano to replace the keyboard and made it the focal instrument. A new member added a beat box to the mix. One of the young women practiced to improve her skills and has gone from playing hymns alone to playing with other instruments. We’ve asked one of our strongest voices to help lead the singing, particularly important for new songs.

It hasn’t all been positive. We have one instrumentalist dealing with the realities of aging. Our violinist moved away. All of these things shift our gifts and abilities, expanding and contracting our musical boundaries as a congregation. Our music can and should be getting better rather than becoming stale through complacency.

That is how all ministries of a church should be. How are our resources changing? Are we able to do more or do we have to start thinking about doing less? How can we do what we do better?

This is the process of becoming the best church, to the glory of God, that we can be. That doesn’t mean trying to become like someone else, but growing more into who God has made us in His providential wisdom. That can be painful as we let of old ways and learn new ways. But we need to avoid the traps of both covetousness and complacency. This is difficult since we are prone to self-deception (each of us can mask either as ‘being faithful’). One way is to keep our focus on Christ and His principles instead of exalting our preferences. We can’t be all things to all men all at the same time. We are called to be the church God has made us to our particular community at this particular time.

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Spring 2001 from the Staten Island Ferry

Spring 2001 from the Staten Island Ferry

I was engaged to be married when it all happened.  CavWife to be was teaching in NW NJ, and could see the smoke from the parking lot. One of her students were among the few that lost parents in the building. Thankfully my parents decided to extend their stay in NH because they were booked on the flight out of Boston to LA that day.

Many of us have stories. There are faces we see, video clips that can never be erased from our minds. But I want to consider who we are, or have become in the last 12 years.

In October 2001, we had an engagement party at my future in-laws’ home. That was the day we began the invasion of Afghanistan. We have yet to leave. We have been fighting there my entire married life, forgetting one of the great blunders: don’t get involved in a land war in Asia.

America is increasingly weary of war. We have watched too many of our young people come home in body bags or missing limbs. We seem to have an entire generation suffering from PTSD.

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Envy is a problem for everyone. The 10th Commandment is essentially about envy- wanting what someone else has. It is a cancer to the soul, breeding complaints against God like a whiny teenager. “If you loved me …”

Ministers are not immune. We can be tempted to envy how God is at work in other churches. At least in how we perceive it.

I had one of those experiences recently as a few fellow pastors gathered to discuss a common project. One, a church planter, noted upon being asked how their new facility is already packed. The attendance is about 50% higher than ours.

For me it turns into self-condemnation of a sort. “You stink. If you were a good pastor/preacher/leader you’d see that and more.”

Envy destroys contentment. And that is the 2nd mistake that Dave Kraft addresses in Mistakes Leaders Make.

It isn’t limited to ministry success. You can envy how much other pastors make. As a Presbyterian, I know how much new pastors in the Presbytery make. When you pastor a smaller church, that is tough. Suddenly you think about your retirement, that cruise you wish you could take and a host of other things. It can easily distract you from the task at hand.

“I think it is good to compare what is happening through me (and in me) with what could potentially happen. It is good to compare where I am with my growth and ministry effectiveness with where it is possible to be, with God’s grace. Where I get into trouble is when I compare with others who have different gifts, callings, capacities, and personalities.”

There are several important things there. First, comparing is okay if I’m wondering what God could do with me (keeping my gifts and limitations in mind). It becomes a question of faithfulness, am I being faithful? How can I be more faithful? That is a far better standard than success.

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I really like Matt Chandler’s preaching. He’s a little edgy, and has that Baptist almost screaming things at times. But I benefit from much of what he says. He also experiences similar reactions to the gospel as I did in small city Florida. He just experiences it on a much larger scale in the Big D. His frustrations with people being inoculated for the gospel ring true in my time in Florida.

I’ve read Jared Wilson’s blog for some time now. I like how he tries to keep the gospel central. You have to like a guy who moves to Vermont to pastor a church, especially when he adopts the local sports teams. That’s good missional thinking, right?

Well, they wrote a book together. Matt was the primary author, and Jared helped him out. The book is The Explicit Gospel, and it has blurbs filled with praise from the likes of Rick Warren, D.A. Carson, Mark Driscoll, David Platt, Ed Stetzer and more. A literal hodge-podge of famous (and some might say infamous) pastors. Incidentally, CavCorollary #167 is don’t believe the blurbs.

I am half way through the book, and thought this would be a good time to process it. The first half focuses on “the gospel on the ground.” The second focuses on the “gospel in the air”.  Think trees versus forest. It is the same gospel, but from different perspectives, or angles.

“If the gospel on the ground is the gospel at the micro level, the gospel in the air is the story at the macro level. … One crucial thing that viewing the gospel on the ground helps us do is distinguish between the gospel’s content and the gospel’s implications. … On the ground, the gospel comes to us as individuals.”

The gospel on the ground, according to Chandler, distinguishes between the gospel and its implications. It focuses on the personal aspects of the gospel instead of the cosmic aspects of the gospel. We need both. But we need to distinguish them or we get all messed up. This is one of the problems that he mentions in some “gospel” preaching- they talk as if the implications of the gospel (social justice, good works, community etc.) were the gospel itself. So they distort and obscure the gospel as a result.

But let’s get back to the beginning.

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Yesterday, as all of us who don’t live under rocks know, was Father’s Day (or is it Fathers’ Day).  In a fallen world, such a day is somewhat tricky.

I now view this day from 2 vantage points.  I view it as the son of an imperfect but pretty good father.  I also view as the imperfect father of children.  There are dangers on every side.

I probably struggled with my relationship with my father the most after graduating with my decree in counseling.  Fancy that, huh?  I did have to take an honest look at my father, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  But if you get stuck there, you become bitter.

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My friend, the Jollyblogger, has been commenting on his unexpected journey as a cancer patient.  He says some very good things about what he has learned and the difficulty he has experienced.

One thing he mentions is the realization that so much is out of your hands.  We like to think we are control of large parts of our destiny (I’ve taken too many tests for job openings that expect you to answer that success is the result of ONLY hard work).  I can identify with that sense of powerlessness, that lack of control, in my own set of circumstances.  Mine are different- I’m not facing the possibility of death.  But there are some incredibly unattractive alternatives encircling me.

I have little to no control over the outcomes as I search for a new position.  My fate, seemingly, is in the hands of others.  I can’t control pastoral search committees.  I can’t control human resource departments.  I appear to be at the mercy of other sinners who are just as inconsistent as myself.

I’m not called to be in control, but to be responsible.  Surely, no search committee will call me to be their pastor if I don’t apply for that position.  The same goes locally as I attempt to make ends meet while searching for a new pastorate.  I must take the time to fill out forms, send out e-mails, look on the internet.  I must then WAIT (and wait, and wait- while continuing to follow other leads).

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This is my chosen sermon text for the week.  Here are some interesting thoughts I ran across in my prep today:

“There can be no sustained faithfulness on our part unless we are convinced that we can trust God.  The basis for that trust is the consideration that we have a high priest who is merciful and compassionate in his relationship with us.”  Wiliam Lane in Hebrews: A Call to Commitment

“The promise is that God’s children will receive mercy accompanied by sustaining grace.  Mercy and grace are closely allied and essential aspects of God’s love.  That love is outgoing in providing the protective help that does not arrive too late but at the appropriate time, because the moment of its arrival is left to the judgment of our gracious God.”  William Lane in Hebrews: A Call to Commitment

“For he is not talking about sin and its guilt but about temptations, afflictions, and persecutions.  So the mercy meant here must be the cause for our deliverance- namely, in its consequences.  … In addition to this, the apostle is not here referring to the initial approach of sinners to God through Christ for mercy and pardon, but about the daily access of believers to him for grace and assistance.  To receive mercy, therefore, is to be made to participate in the gracious help and support of the kindness of God in Christ, when we are in distress.  This springs from the same root as pardoning grace and is therefore called ‘mercy’.”  John Owen in Hebrews

“… God’s word is like a long staff by which he examines and searches what lies deep in our hearts… God, who knows our hearts, has assigned to his word the office of penetrating even into our inmost thoughts.”  John Calvin in Commentary on Hebrews

“… for when Christ receives us under his protection and patronage, he covers with his goodness the majesty of God, which would otherwise be terrible to us, so that nothing appears there but grace and paternal favor.”  John Calvin in Commentary on Hebrews

“After terrifying us, the Apostle now comforts us, after pouring wine into our wound, he now pours in oil.”  Martin Luther, quoted by Philip Edgcumbe Hughes in A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews

“The hardness of the struggle should be an inducement to the Christian to draw near to the throne of God’s grace, rather than to draw back and abandon the conflict…”  Philip Edgcumbe Hughes in A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews

These are things I need to keep in mind, not just for a sermon, but everyday life.  As I prepare, it has been one rough week.  It is not just something to talk about, but something I need to be true and rely upon.

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