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Posts Tagged ‘personal ministry’


I became a Christian in the 1980’s. Soon This Present Darkness became a popular book in evangelicalism. While Peretti was writing fiction, some took it as reflective of reality. Some people’s focus shifted from Jesus to a fear of demons.

We do see an outbreak of demonic activity with the Incarnation of the Son. Some try to normalize those events and come up with formulas, rites and whole taxologies of demons. We’ve gone too far in many ways.

Safe and Sound: Standing Firm in Spiritual BattlesYears ago David Powlison wrote the now out of print Power Encounters to address this erroneous focus among Christians. Prior to his recent death, Powlison wrote another book , a shorter book, on the subject called Safe & Sound: Standing Firm in Spiritual Battles. This little book is a gift to the church if we’ll listen.

Unlike Power Encounters which serves as a corrective, Safe & Sound is more instructive. It has a different approach or focus. At times he notes how others have gone far beyond Scripture, but the focus is more positive and instructive. Yet, as he notes, the Christian life is lived in the fog of war.

The heart of the book is Ephesians 6. In the first part of the book where he defines spiritual warfare, he shows us how to see the passage in context with expanding circles of context (I claim this phrase as my own and will use it if I ever write a book on preaching). He looks at the text in the context of the Letter to the Ephesians, the context of the New Testament and then the context of the whole Bible. This itself is instructive to people.

“At the center of spiritual warfare is not the devil. It’s Jesus Christ.”

Context of the Letter

Powlison wants us to see that ultimately all of the letter is about spiritual battles. Jesus has rescued us from the Prince of the Spirit of the Air. Church growth, numerically and spiritually, is a spiritual battle. Sanctification is a spiritual battle. Family life is a spiritual battle. All of these involve battles with identity, guilt & shame, truth & lies, the struggle of allegiance between the two kingdoms. Anger, for instance, can give the devil a foothold when it persists and when we sin in our anger.

“All of Ephesians is about our conflict with darkness- within ourselves, with other people, and with the spiritual forces of evil. … Ephesians is about union and communion with Christ and union and communion with each other in Christ. Spiritual warfare is against the forces that would divide an break our fellowship with Christ and one another.”

Context of the New Testament

This is where this book can sound more like his earlier book. He is addressing the accounts of demon possession in the Gospels and Acts. If we pay attention, we see those power encounters connected with the Incarnation are very different than much of what passes for power encounters today. Only once Jesus asks the name, because usually He’s telling them to shut up. Demons are not connected with particular sins ( the demon of lust, greed or idolatry). In addressing sin people are called to faith & repentance, not the casting out of demons.

Image result for miracle maxAdditionally, spiritual warfare is often seen as defensive. Powlison wants us to see spiritual battles as offensive. He addresses this in both the immediate and NT context. It is not intended to be the Battle of Helm’s Deep as we retreat to a defensive position before an advancing demonic horde. It is more like Miracle Max reminding us to “have fun storming the castle.” As we move forward we encounter resistance, so we need the armor of God. This is also seen in the OT as the people of Israel engage in conquest of the Promised Land. They are on the offense, and God is clearing the way for them in many instances.

“When we are in the grip of anger and bitterness, James says that there is a demonic aspect to us (James 3:13-18). We resemble the liar and murderer in how we exalt ourselves and judge and damn others.”

Context of the Whole Bible

Image result for gladiatorPowlison notes that most expositors connect the armor with Paul being surrounded by Roman soldiers. He brings us to Isaiah and Psalms to see the armor of God there. Jesus shares His armor with us. Jesus shares His power & might with us. Jesus gives His Word of truth to us. Through the OT connection, we also see the centrality of Christ in our spiritual battles.

As a counselor, Powlison writes with an eye on counseling people. After his discussion of the whole armor from Ephesians 6, he addresses different kinds of counseling situations in Part 2 of the book. He addresses personal ministry, the triad of anger, fear and escapism, death, the occult (keep in mind Ephesus was filled with the occult as seen in Acts), and Animism. He reminds us that the focus is on the person before us, not a demon. The final chapter, like the Introduction, is quite personal. In the Introduction he spoke of his conversion. In the final chapter he speaks of his diagnosis and then-impending death.

“One of the goals of pastoral counseling is to restore to people the awareness of choice in situations where they don’t feel like they are choosing.”

The Appendix briefly summarizes Power Encounters and helps us to see the shift from Jesus’ extraordinary ministry (which involves love to needy people, reveals Jesus as God Incarnate and prompts people to faith) to our more ordinary ministry involving love to people in need to reveal Jesus as God Incarnate and which calls them to faith and repentance. Sadly, we love the spectacular and fail to recognize that ministry is ordinary faith expressing itself in love.

“We must learn how to fight well, how to put on Jesus Christ himself, wearing the weapons of light with which he defeats the powers of darkness.”

This is a very good book in that it consistently points us to Jesus and calls us to ordinary ministry in some difficult circumstances. There is no fat to trim in this book. Powlison gets to the point and stays on point as he does in the other books he wrote in his final days. As a result, these are good books for busy elders and lay ministry leaders. He points us to the gospel and ordinary means of grace, not encounters with demons, as we engage in spiritual battles. This is a helpful addition to a toolbox, particularly for those without the time for Gurnall’s classic work on the armor of God.

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When I’m talking to people about a pastor’s work, I try to communicate the necessity and differences between public ministry (mostly Sunday morning) and personal ministry.  The first is more general, but the second more specific.

In his book, The Work of the Pastor, William Still addresses the former in his first chapter and the latter in his second chapter.  Perhaps I am not as stupid or crazy as I am prone to think I am.

It is the public ministry that sets the stage for the personal ministry.  It flows out of the ministry of Word (and sacrament, which he left out).  The average person, with normal spiritual sickness, merely needs a solid, balanced diet of the Word and some disciplined routine, says Still.  I wouldn’t disagree.  Often it is the neglect of the means of grace, or disciplines of grace, which produce so much spiritual lethargy, dullness and weakness in temptation.

(more…)

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Lots of people have their best of 2010 lists.  Why should I be any different?

But I will do it a bit differently.  Instead of books released in 2010, I will recommend some of the books I read in 2010.  Unlike some guys, I am not always on top of the new releases.  Additionally, sometimes this can mean we forget great books from the past.  I will include 2 books that I re-read this year as well.  Great books hold up over time, even if you suffer from ADD.  Lastly there will be a few books I read this year (or at least tried to) that I do not recommend.

Great Books I Read in 2010

  1. Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes You Just by Tim Keller.  I just finished this book, so it is fresher in my mind.  In typical Keller fashion he challenges conservative Christians, “progressive” Christians and unbelievers to think more biblically.  The timing for this book was great as the conservative-liberal divide on the issues of social justice seem far more pronounced and polarizing.  He brings a wealth of information into the discussion, but is far from wishy-washy.  Keller has biblical boundaries for this discussion.  Some just want to talk.  I believe Keller does a great job of keeping the gospel central to this discussion.  Even better, it was released in 2010!
  2. The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.  This was a very good book that encourages pastors and elders to have a different understanding of ministry.  Too often our view of ministry limits our ministry in an unhealthy way.  I’m struggling with how to implement some of this in an existing church.  Not the fault of the book.  On second thought, perhaps that would have made a great additional chapter.
  3. The Marrow of Modern Divinity by E.F. (most likely Edward Fisher) with notes by Thomas Boston.  Yes, this is a few centuries old.  But it is an important book that I’d been meaning to read for a few years.  I’d been providentially hindered from reading it.  It is written in the style of a dialogue between 4 different characters.  E.F. (and Boston in his notes) brings in the work of a number of even older theologians, and their own contemporaries.  It deals with the Christian’s relationship with the law both before and after conversion.
  4. The Transforming Community: The Practice of the Gospel in Church Discipline by Mark Lauterbach.  This book is a few years old, but I think it is an important book for pastors and elders.  Church Discipline is a much neglected subject and Lauterbach does a great job of keeping the gospel central to how a church practices discipline.
  5. War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles by Paul Tripp.  Tripp applies a sound biblical, gospel-centered theology to communication. It goes far beyond “how to”, to unearthing our sin and idolatry.  Unlike some of the other books, this is appropriate, and aimed at, all of us who confess Christ.  Some great biblical wisdom that often brought me to repentance.
  6. Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and and Transforms Parenting by William Farley.  There is no dearth of parenting books.  This is one of the best precisely because he focuses on how the gospel is applied in parenting.  If you’re a parent, it might be wise to pick this up.  If you know a parent, give it as a gift (like I did).  I think you might catch the common thread thus far: the gospel.
  7. By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me by Sinclair Ferguson.  Continuing that thread is one of my favorite authors.  This is yet another great mind-transforming, heart-warming book.  It has both heat and light.  I cannot recommend it enough.  Buy this book!
  8. Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches by Russel Moore.  Again, the gospel as revealed in adoption this time.  Moore writes, as the subtitle makes clear, not just for families but for the church family.  It is a great book, though at times a tad clumsy as it shifts back and forth between his family’s story of adoption and the biblical theology of adoption.
  9. The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens and the Bible by James Hoffmeier.  There have been any number of attempts to justify various immigration positions from the Scriptures.  Hoffmeier uses this expertise in the OT and archeology to dig into the appropriate texts rather than just read his position into them as is common practice.  It is not a very long book, but is a very helpful book that is worth reading by anyone who cares what the Bible may have to say about this important subject in our day.

Great Books I Re-read in 2010

  1. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power and the Only Hope that Matters by Tim Keller.  I didn’t read it all that long ago, but a great book holds up.  This is one of those books that holds up.  Another timely book by Keller.  As a great preacher, he is able to shape the books so they are bringing biblical truth to current issues.  But these are not “fad” books, but topics he’s been preaching about for years.
  2. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul Tripp.  I read this again for community group after reading it during the “lost years” of transition.  It is a great book for understanding personal ministry to one another.  It helps me as a pastor, and it should be helpful for ordinary church goers.  He brings a good biblical theology to the task.  Some material is also found in War of Words, but I found that to reinforce the message since I was reading them at the same time.

Books I’m Not Excited to Have Read (or at least tried)

  1. Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and Not Yet by Jason Stellman.  I had high hopes for this book.  I struggled with how he applied his 2 kingdom theology.  It sounded too much like let the world go to hell in a handbasket except for those who embrace the gospel.  The church and Christians appear to have no real function in society aside from evangelism.
  2. Pray Big: The Power of Pinpoint Prayers by Will Davis Jr.  I did not make it very far in this book.  It was basically an attempt to proof text his views instead of developing a solid, applicable theology of prayer.  This is why I usually don’t read broadly evangelical books.

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Communication is a problem for all of us.  It is a problem as old as that fateful day the serpent spoke to Eve.  It plagues our marriages, families, churches and the work place.  There is no place on earth where there are people that there is not a struggle to communicate.

Paul David Tripp wrote War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles with this pervasive proclivity in mind (also available in CD book, a DVD seminar, discussion guide and here is a sample chapter).  He does get to the heart- focusing on the heart, not just technique.

This book is not just a practical self-help book.  Actually, it isn’t a self-help book at all.  It is intensely theological, but applies that theology.  The help it offers is the gospel.  Jesus alone is able to end the war of words of which we are all apart.

Theologically he does not shy away from the reality of indwelling sin.  Our problems are rooted here, which is why only Jesus can resolve them.  He also puts forth a rigorous doctrine of sanctification.  This book is really about the process of sanctifying our speech as we root out the sin in our hearts.  This is a book that often prompted me to repentance, particularly as he illustrated matters with personal stories.

My only ‘complaint’ is the amount of material repeated from Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands.  It really isn’t a complaint- I probably needed to hear it repeatedly.  There is a great deal of overlap in the approach of the books- the problem is in the heart, the solution is the gospel, and change takes place in personal ministry.  So obviously there will be overlap.  I just happened to be reading both books at the same time.

This is not a book to read quickly, or take lightly.  It is not meant for application for others until there is application to yourself.  But I encourage you to read it- it just may significantly change your relationships, if you are able to apply the truth uncovered here.

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I’ve already considered the first 6 chapters of Paul Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands.  That provides a theological foundation for one another, or personal, ministry.  The rest of the book is Tripp’s model for personal ministry.

He does not lay out steps, but rather simultaneous practices: love, know, speak, do.  He explains how personal ministry is loving people, getting to know them (and their sin), speaking truth (in love) and the process of moving them from one place to another (agenda, responsibility, identity).

I found this model to be quite helpful.  It is not just helpful for pastors & counselors, but is intended to be used by normal Christians as they minister to one another.  This is a great way to train lay leaders (elders, small group leaders, ministry leaders/volunteers) in how to do personal ministry.

It is easy to understand, and contains many examples from Paul’s own personal & ministry experience.  The only constructive criticism would be to make some of the chapters shorter, and therefore easier to digest.  He covers lots of ground in those chapters, often covering 2 or more important ideas.  Those chapters would have to be broken up to effectively train people in personal ministry.

One of my favorite sections is on Establishing Agenda and Clarifying Responsibility.  In particular is the eschatological nature of the Christian life (pp. 240-1).

“Paul understands the Christian life eschatologically.  This means that today is preparation for tomorrow, and tomorrow is preparation for something else yet to come. … He is exposing our wandering hearts and foolish minds and the ways we trust our passions more than the principles of his Word.  He is calling us to forsake our own glory for his, and teaching us that the idols we pursue will never satisfy us.”

“Everything you face today is premarital preparation- living now with then in view.  In contrast, sin produces in all of us a tendency toward ‘now-ism,’ which means we forget three things: who we are (betrothed to Christ); what he is doing (preparing us for the final wedding); and what we are supposed to be doing (remaining faithful to him). … A common factor in depression is self-absorbed now-ism.  Anger is often fueled by a self-righteous now-ism.  Fear and anxiety are strengthened by an obsession with the hear and now.  Maturity and perseverance are weakened by a ‘now’ mentality.”

“We all forget that God’s primary goal is not changing our situations and relationships so that we can be happy, but changing us through our situations and relationships so that we will be holy.  We need people who love God and us enough to come alongside and help us deal with our spiritual myopia.”

This is where I am living, and where most of us live.  I see the obsession with ‘now’ crippling many.  They are running a sprint rather than a marathon.  We seek mercy (a change of circumstances) rather than grace (God changing us).  Sometimes he sends mercy (thankfully!), but often the grace comes first.  He changes us before he changes our circumstances.  He is shaping our hearts.

Personal ministry is helping one another “deal with our spiritual myopia.”  What an important, essential ministry that is missing in most churches today.

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