Book Review: The Gospel – How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ

As stated previously, I’m a big fan of 9Marks and their missions to “equip church leaders with a biblical vision and practical resources for displaying God’s glory to the nations through healthy churches.”

Personally, I’ve found them to be very helpful and insightful in thinking thru complex issues with remarkable clarity.  They have also been a tremendous help to our church, specifically in the area of Elder training and assessment.    We have been to their Weekenders, and their “Building Healthy Churches” series of books are required reading.  IOW, get ready for several more book reviews like this.

First up is “The Gospel – How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ” by Ray Ortlund, who is the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church, in Nashvegas.

The gospel is the center and foundation of everything in the church, or it should be.  The depth to which that is realized within a church lies in the balance between the theology of the gospel, and the practice of the gospel.  The primary danger being that “a church with the truth of the gospel in its theology can produce the opposite of the gospel in its practice.” [16] Ortlund holds these two in tension throughout this helpful book and how this tension plays out is the true test of a “gospel-centered” church.

As Ortlund points out – this doesn’t start with doctrine so much as it starts with the beauty of Christ.  Hence the subtitle.  Churches need to center this balance of theology and practice on the incomparable beauty of Jesus in His redemption of sinners by his boundless mercy and grace

So, how do churches get a gospel culture?  Works of service?  Deeds of mercy?  Turning the lights down low and turning the music up high?  There are no shortcuts – “gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture.  The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace.” [21].  Funny how doctrine gets a bad rap, but there is no escaping that we have to building on the same foundation or the walls will be rickety.  We can’t hang pictures on the walls of grace without digging the ground and setting a foundation on the rock.  “Truth without grace is harsh and ugly. Grace without truth is sentimental and cowardly.” [22]

Before you get nervous with the word “doctrine” remember – the gospel is a set of indisputable facts.  God is perfect, holy and just.  We rejected Him and made ourselves kings of our own kingdoms, thus incurring the just wrath of God.  Jesus was sent as our wrath-bearer – becoming the very perfection, holiness, and justice of God.  What do we do to participate?  Ortlund, quoting Gerhard Forde, points out “Nothing.  Just be still.  Shut up and listen for once in your life to what God the Almighty, creator and redeemer, is saying to his world and to you in the death and resurrection of his Son! Listen and believe!” [34]

How does look in the local church?  “The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace where good things happen to bad people.” [36]. The church is the environment for growth, the arena for holiness, it’s God’s Plan A for reaching the world with the good news of His Son.  It needs to held high, honored, and committed to.  “There is no churchless Christianity in the Bible. We individualistic Americans need to face that. God is building a new community, and it’s worth belonging to.” [41]. Anytime we pick on individualistic Americans I’m in.  Of course…there is a healthy dose of self-conviction in that. If I were honest of course.  This is where the gospel confronts, sanctifies and grows the church. Quoting John Owen, “…the love of Christ is effective and fruitful in producing all the good things which he wills for his beloved. He loves life, race and holiness into us; he loves us into covenant, loves us into heaven.” [47]

This should get real practical, real fast. The church is also where “the gospel is field-tested for real life…the gospel should be displayed most clearly in our church. Therefore, how we behave in the household of God matters to everyone around us.” [66].  The reality of practical holiness and progressive sanctification by the Spirit, all done under the banner of love, are the bread and butter of life in the church.  “The goal is not to make the church safe for sin; it is to make it safe for confession and repentance.” [73]

What stops us then? First – what are we preaching? The gospel much be preached from the center God’s Word.  One needs only to look as far as the ecclesiological and denominational wreckage of the American church to see what happens when we drift from the center.   But once that becomes the heart of a church, attention turns to the members themselves.  Ours is a religion of faith and Ortlund rightly points out “one of the largest barriers to the work of the gospel in our churches is unbelief among us church members.”  Ouch.  Why did he have to say “us…” Because unbelief undermines the authority of the gospel in our actual lives.

Solution?  Focus on the perfect beauty of Jesus Christ.  “God simply changes everyone’s topic of conversation from what’s wrong with us, which is plenty, to what’s right with Christ, which is endless.” [90] AMEN!  We don’t  spur each other on to growth in the gospel unless we look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of or faith.

Preach the gospel of Christ boldly!  “The one thing the gospel never does is NOTHING. Every time we hear the gospel preached, it hardens us a little more, or it softens us a little more…no one is static. No one is NOT responding to the gospel. Everyone is moving further along one path or the other.” [95-97]. Think about that the next time we stand in the pulpit, or give a youth group talk, or sit down for family devotions.  The gospel forging a culture, let us pray it is one of true saving faith in the hearts of the hearers.

Ortlund closes with a practical call to action for the church in power, culture and love.  In power, we call upon God in prayer. In courage, we boldly run the race set before us focused on Jesus and others, and not ourselves. In love we are identified as Jesus followers, as we love others and the true church.

Straight up – this is a great book.  It makes you think deeply about how the gospel not only saves us, but fuels the church in representing the beauty of Christ in a dark world.  It gives you hope of gospel transformation not only within our own hearts, but the culture of our churches.  It points to the glorious eternal hope we have in Christ and how by dwelling on the riches of the glorious gospel, we will be better prepared to meet him one day.

 

 

 

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Book Review – Love Came Down at Christmas

This year, [well…actually LAST year as it’s now January] I wanted to read a dedicated Advent devotional. I also haven’t read much by Sinclair Ferguson, but have always found his teaching helpful.

Enter Love Came Down at Christmas, which I snapped up during the Ligonier Black Friday sale.  [Note for next year’s shopping…]

If you’ve never read an Advent devotional before, the idea is that you read it during well…Advent.  There are 24 devotionals running the month of December leading up to Christmas.

Love did come down at Christmas and Ferguson rightly points us to the source of love itself – Jesus.  “He shows us what love it. Love is simply being like Him.” [10]

“Love always means that you come down. It means that you use [your]gifts for the good of others, not to make yourself feel good. It means that are willing to do things that are uncomfortable or inconvenient for you, or that go unnoticed.” [17]

Indeed, Christmas is a time of year when we stop and think of others, there is no one who has ever thought more of others than Jesus Christ. [Philippians 2:5-8]

With love being the foundation, Ferguson goes on to have the reader daily reflect on other attributes of Christ.  I found this convicting and helpful, as we don’t get time off from sanctification.  It’s not often that we consider doing such soul-work at Christmas, but yet we need patience, kindness, contentment, humility, and even being well-mannered.

One day I found particularly helpful was Day 10 titled “Throw Yourself In.” Being a philosophical/worldview kind of guy the author confronts our worlds obsession with self.  “Christmas says there is a cosmic scheme of things.” Perfect segue into the riches of the gospel!

“Through faith in Jesus, we discover that our lives fit into the ‘cosmic scheme of things.’ He recreates in us a love for himself and restores us to fellowship with himself, which transforms self directed love into love of our neighbors. In this way the birth of Christ leads to our rebirth. That new birth sets us free from the tyranny of the project of the self.” [69].

The birth of Christ leads to our rebirth.  That rebirth includes the counter-cultural realization that we aren’t the centers of the universe and in fact, by rejecting the real center of the universe we have fractured our relationship with Him and have put us in the place of needing to be rescued from our sin.  Love comes down to rescue us at Christmas, and how he does that is astounding – truly the greatest gift of all.

I found this book convicting and encouraging…exactly how I like books, especially ones for such an important time of the year, when love truly came down.

Book Review – In His Image

So…disclosure time. I didn’t do as well as I wanted to reading books in 2018. I managed to squeak out a few more than I did in 2017…and I was slightly less diligent in publishing reviews. Hence, I’ll have a few reviews that are stragglers of books read in 2018. That being said, here is the first such review.

I have not read personally anything from Jen Wilkin, other than her tweets and a few postings on TGC. My wife has benefitted greatly from her books, as have other ladies in our church as she seems to have a solid grasp on the Word of God and theological application. This book verified all that for me.

Subtitled “10 Ways that God Calls us to Reflect His Character” you knew right away that we were headed into a survey of God’s attributes.  What was helpful about this book was how Wilkin weaves his character into our quest to “know God’s will” for our lives.  One of the top Christian cliches and misunderstandings that American Churchianity has every produced.

Wilkin poses the better question in response to “What should I do?” – “Who should I be?” [13].  And as you can probably see what’s coming – who we are as Christians has everything to do with who Christ is, as we are united with Him.

This speaks to our fallen natures – the sin, selfishness, weakness that resides in us all – and thus there is only one answer to that:  the gospel.  “The gospel transforms us to who we should have been.  It re-images us.” [14]. 

“What is God’s will for your life?  Put simply, that you would be more like Christ.”  [16]

AMEN.  Thank you, Jen Wilkin.  Not that we finally answer our true calling and find our purpose by unlocking some secret plan for our destiny with a new job, or new mission.  Rather that we live out our highest calling – to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.  

Wilkin then walks through 10 aspects of God’s character that we should be:

  1. Holy.  God is holy, so we are to be holy. [1 Peter 1:14-16]  “Holiness permeates the entire Christian calling.  It lies at the very center of the gospel. We are not merely saved from depravity; we are saved to holiness. Creation entails consecration.” [25]
  2. Loving. Modeled after “agape” love – “a selfless, purposeful, outgoing attitude that desires us to do good to the one loved.” [34]  It’s worth noting that everything rolls up under #1 – so as Wilkin rightly points out “if I seek to be holy without agape, I addd nothing, I am nothing, I gain nothing.” [1 Corinthians13:1-3; 37].  The ultimate example of love is what God did for us by giving us His Son, Jesus on the cross.
  3. Good. “As those who are the recipients of the good and perfect gifts of God, goodness toward others means generosity. It means were recognize that God gives us good things no so that they might terminate on us, but so. that we might seared them on behalf of others.” [51]. “Be the person who seeks the welfare o others. Be the person tho ives without counting the cost. Be the person who serves joyfully with no expectations of thanks for recognition. Be good employees, good next-door neighbors, good parents, good children…” [52]
  4. Just. Stop score-keeping. Stop attempting to self-justify.  There is only one who knows all things and has acted perfectly to right all wrongs.  Jesus is both just and the justifier. [Romans 3:21-26] “Be just as he is just, delighting in his law, extol his good government, do justice daily as children of your Heavenly Father.” [69]
  5. Merciful.  “Justice is getting what we deserve. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting what we do not deserve.” [72].  I like the way Wilkin writes…clearly and powerfully…”the fact that you are currently inhaling and exhaling at this very moment means that you are a recipient of mercy.” [73]. God expresses his mercy towards us in Jesus, so we ought to be merciful.
  6. Gracious.  God’s grace is everything.  Without it, we are only left with his just wrath for sin.  Even after conversion, his grace empowers us to grow in Christlikeness.  “Those who enjoy such abundance can afford to deal abundantly with others.” [93]
  7. Faithful. “God is incapable of infidelity at any level.” [99] We are not, yet God like faithfulness should be a life goal.  Being faithful is an intentional chasing to be like God, and not the sinful desires of our hearts. Talk about God’s will for our lives, it doesn’t get much more practical and nitty gritty than choosing to follow his way in the 1.78 trillion thoughts, words, and actions every single day.
  8. Patient.  I’m not a patient person.  God is perfectly patient.  Any questions?  But seriously, to make it worse – God is all-knowing and perfectly patient. I know only a microscopic slice of my life and I’m impatient.   That means we have to trust him with our lives because he knows best.
  9. Truthful.  We have to remember that any of these things we know because they are comparison items.  We know what is good, because we compare it to something known to be good, etc.  However, God is the very definition of these characteristics.  He is truth. He created truth.  He is truth personified in Jesus.  This flies in the face of our current “what’s true for you is cool” moral relativism culture.  I love that Wilkin goes all worldview by pointing out there are actually answers to the big questions of “Where did we come from?” “Why am I here?” “What’s wrong?” and “What fixes it?”  [125cf]. This world, in all it’s blessings, is a false reality. The truth is God and we know him thru the Word of God.
  10. Wise. So many times we pray for wisdom in a situation.  I wonder how much of that would be informed if we diligently, honestly, and humbly pursued #1-9?  In order to know God’s wisdom, we need to know God.  We need to spend time with him in prayer, in his Word, and following it.  the Bible is very clear the road to wisdom, sometimes it’s a lack of desire and submission on our part.

 

Wilkin rolls all of this up into what we were created to do – worship.  “The motive of sanctification is joy…fullness of joy results when we seek to reflect our Maker. It’s what we were created to do. it is the very will of God for our lives.” [148]

May we focus more on being like God himself this year and less of our own “mission quest” – let the world see God in you.  “God’s will for our lives is to become living proof.” [153]

Thanks Jen Wilkin. 

 

 

 

 

Book Review – Letters to an American Christian

It’s not polite to talk religion or politics…

…so let’s write a book on both.  Yeah…I wouldn’t have bought this book, but sometimes being a book reviewer forces me to read things I would normally run away from, which is usually a good thing.  I love to talk “religion” [note the intentional quotes], but truth be told I actually despise politics and avoid talking about it entirely. [Except in my head usually when I’m scrolling through Twitter…]  I can’t stomach the partisan rhetoric, the divorcing of a biblical world view for a political party and the overwhelming bloat and corruption that has come to be systemic.  

Now that I have that out of my system…let’s talk about this book.  Bruce Riley Ashford is a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and regular contributor to religion and politics topics at places like Fox News.  The book is a series of “letters” between himself and a young Christian who is looking for guidance and perspective in how his new faith should interact with the world of politics.  This makes for a fun and enjoyable read.

Riley, as smart as he is, sees plenty of guys like me.  Christians can’t disengage from politics, as ugly as it may be sometimes.  “Our Christian faith functions as the deepest motivation for contributing for the common good of our nation…it gives [us] the courage to criticize powerful politicians, corporations, or influencers even there might be negative repercussions for doing so.” [6-7]

The world and the politics reflected in it are, undeniably, embedded into an overall God-centered worldview and a solid biblical theology.  The Bible tells us that sin is alive and well because of the rejection of God as our King.  “It should be no surprise that the realm of politics is twisted and corrupt.” [14]  I knew this was coming…I needed to hear this, and the first two chapters gave a great foundation and a great tone to begin.

I was very happy to see it doesn’t take Riley long to place a stake in the ground not only in a Biblical worldview of all things, including politics – but to also identify the most important political assembly – the church.

Yes, I reacted negatively to this at first as well, but the author defined his terms well “the church is political in the sense that it is the only divinely instituted embassy for Christ’s Kingship. And for that reason, it is the one policy assembly in which every Christian American should participate.” [31-32]

The church is a physical representation of the spiritual kingdom of Heaven here on Earth.  This claim was not lost on the early Christians.  So much so that “Paul had to remind them to give proper respect to the Roman government and resist the temptation toward anarchy. If that were true of Jesus – the founder of our faith – and true of his first followers, doesn’t it make sense that God’s set-apart community today, the local church, would be similarly political?” [33]

Keeping boundaries in place is therefore very important here.  “Whereas statism is a situation in which the government exceeds its proper limits, ecclesiasticism is a circumstance in which the church oversteps its bounds.” [43]. We are not called to “take the place of government or control it.  On the other hand, governments and political leaders are not called by God to appoint pastors, baptize church meets, or interpret the Bible.” [41]. I was very happy to read this as well, in today’s world we can count on a steady stream of lane-swerving from both camps.

So…we need “Christian thinkers who will soak themselves in the biblical narrative and Christian tradition so that they will be able, reflexively and intuitively, to challenge the reigning narratives of the political, parties, and cable news networks. So they will counteract the foolishness that dominates our nations public square and the incivility the degrades our public discourse.” [54]

That might be my favorite paragraph in the whole book.    Of course, I’m totally still chicken to jump into a political discussion. To that end…the author spends the rest of the book reviewing a “Christian view on hot-button issues.”

I would commend these remaining chapters to you, as the author faces them head on with a solid biblical worldview, with a healthy balance of grace and love. I can’t say I agree with him on his perspectives and/or tone, but this is why we as Christians need to engage on politics and hot-button issues.  We need to be encouraged to think outside of our own thought patterns and be challenged on some things, and affirmed on others.

The third and final part of the book offered many helpful encouragements, I found his identification of four opportunities before us:

  1. We need to reintroduce God to the public imagination.
  2. We need to decenter ourselves in our political endeavors, God is the point.
  3. We need to reframe public issues in light of the gospel.
  4. We need to revitalize cultural institutions.  [IOW…don’t shrink back..get involved.]

I commend this book to all who are, perhaps like me, fearful to engage in political thought…it should be like all things – we do so with a solid biblical filter in place and all for the glory of God as we shine the light of the gospel to all.

Book Review – The Supremacy of God in Preaching

41aW95Yh5uL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_[No…I’m not reading a book a day.  I have been very lax on posting reviews, so while the wifey is out of town, I’m trying to catch up…]

Cards on the table: I’m a Piper-Head.  He was so instrumental in my coming to faith…so helpful, so powerful…I could go on.  So naturally, I absorbed The Supremacy of God in Preaching.

First written in 1990, when I had a sweet mullet and used to wear argyle socks, it was revised in 2004.  Piper comes out swinging right from the [Revised] Preface – “Preaching is worshiping God over the Word of God – the text of Scripture with explanation and exultation…this includes understanding with the mind and feeling in the heart.” [10].  You can guess how nicely that will set up a huge Piperian wordfest – and it does.

In the [Original] Preface, Piper starts by dropping “People are starving for the greatness of God.  But most of them would not give this diagnosis of their troubled lives. The majesty of God is an unknown cure.” [13] No matter what the trouble is, this “vision of a great God is the linchpin in the life of the church, both in pastoral care and missionary outreach…the living out of a God-bosotted [See…I told you…] life and worldview.” [15] This sets the foundation for the rest of the book.

Piper divides the book up into two main parts – Why God Should be Supreme in Preaching and How to Make God Supreme in Preaching.

Part 1 he further sub-divides into the Goal, Ground, Gift, and Gravity of Preaching.  The goal of preaching is the glory of God.  Do people take away from our worship services, and particularly our sermons a sense of the glory of God?  He quotes Mather “The great design and intention of the office of a Christian preacher is to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men.” [25]. Preachers – this is our job – proclaim the glory of the glorious God.

This isn’t possible without the ground of preaching, which is the cross of Christ.  “Preaching is the heralding of the good news by a messenger sent by God.”  This is essential, for without the cross there is no solution to the fundamental problem of how sinful humans can be reconciled to a perfect, glorious God? Quoting Sproul “Man-centered humans are amazed that God should withhold life and joy from his creatures. But the God-centered Bible is amazed that God should withhold judgment from sinners.” [34].  “It horribly skews the meaning of the cross when contemporary prophets of self-esteem say the the cross is a witness to my infinite worth, since God was willing to pay such a hight prices to get me.”  [Todd White, anyone?]. Piper writes “What should shock us is that we have brought such contempt upon the worth of God that the very death of his Son is required to vindicate that worth. The cross witnesses to the inline worth of God and the infinite outrage of sin.” [36].

The gift or preaching is none other than the power of the Holy Spirit – we are utterly dependent on it.  “Without it, nothing of abiding value will be achieved no matter how many people may admire of coney or enjoy our illustrations or learn from our doctrine.” [42]. The Spirit’s Word is the Bible – we preach the Word…all of it. [Said the Preacher who just finished preaching Hosea. Yikes!].  Piper offers a few practical steps of how to rely on the power of the HS – I admit to the Lord that without Him I can do nothing and therefore pray for help.  I trust and act in the confidence that God will fulfill His Word and then thank God when it’s over for sustaining me. [47-49]

The gravity and gladness of preaching includes both the weight of compassion for the lost, and also a genuine love for his people that leads to joy in the ministry of the Word.  Piper, being Piper, expounds on joy – “If you are indifferent to your joy in ministry, you are indifferent to an essential element of love. And if you try to abandon your joy in the ministry of the Word, you strive against God and your people.” [56!] “The gladness of preaching is biblically essential if we would love men and glorify God!” [57]  We should not go too far with this, as Piper cautions that “laughter seems to have replaced repentance as the goal of many preachers, and is seems to be the stock of many preachers that they must say something cute or clever or funny”. [59]. Absolutely.  This is always a real and present pressure and temptation.  Yet we must hold both the gravity and gladness in balance and tension.  It goes back to God’s Word and the power of the gospel – “preaching is part of God’s security power. He calls effectually by the Word and he keeps effectually by the Word.  Heaven and Hell are at stake every Sunday morning.” [62].  Since this is so vital, [and I need them to sink in] he gives a few practical steps:

  1. Strive for practical, earnest, glad-hearted holiness in every area of your life.
  2. Make your life – especially the life of your study – a life of constant communion with God in prayer.
  3. Read books that were written by men or women who bleed Bible when you prick them and who are blood-earnest about the truths they discuss.
  4. Direct your mind often to the contemplation of death.
  5. Consider the biblical teaching that as a preacher you will be judged with greater strictness.
  6. Consider the example of Jesus.
  7. Strive with all the strength you have to know God and to umber yourself under his mighty hand.

Part 2, for those of you who know Piper, will not be shocked to learn that it is grounded in the preaching and life of Jonathan Edwards. [see #3] How we make God supreme in preaching, is helped by looking at a man like Edwards – a “God-besotted preacher.”

What Edwards preached and how he preached were owing to is vision of God. [77] Two inferences follow – one that the goal of all that God does is to preserve and display his glory and that the duty of man is to delight in God’s glory. [79].  This not only included holy affections, but also a faith that is of course initially placed in Christ for salvation, but then diligently preserved.  “Preaching is a means of grace to assist the saints to persevere. Perseverance is necessary for final salvation. Therefore, every sermon is a “salvation sermon” – not just because of its aim to convert sinners, but also in its aim to persevere the holy affections of the saints and so enable them to confirm their calling and election and be saved.” [#Boom, 81]

What sort of preaching flows from all this? One that…

  1. Stirs up holy affections.
  2. Enlightens the mind.
  3. Is saturated with Scripture.
  4. Employs analogies and images.
  5. Uses threat and warning.
  6. Pleads for a response.
  7. Probes the workings of the heart.
  8. Yields to the Holy Spirit in prayer.
  9. Is broken and tenderhearted.
  10. Is intense.

“People are starving for the greatness of God. This is the heart pang of every human being. One a few know it. If only people could articulate the silent cry of their hearts! Christian preachers, more than all others, should know this truth – that people are starving for God.” [108]

Lord, may I know this in my soul and walk in this more deeply each day.  Thank you,  Preacher Piper.

Book Review – Church Elders

Church_Elders_large9Marks has always provided rock solid resources for the local church – but what makes them so helpful is that they are so accessible.  They have a knack, that reminds me a lot of Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Grace, to be unassuming, and “entry level” and then be able to go deep quickly and not shy away from the meat.  For this I’m very thankful.

Church Elders by Jeramie Rinne is that kind of book.

I can relate to the title of the Intro – “I’m an elder.  Now what?”  – as I’m fairly certain I said those exact words when I became a lay elder almost 10 years ago.  Now on the “other side” as a “vocational” elder, I can see the look of bewilderment on the faces of men as they step into the office.  Again, this is where a book like this is very helpful.  It will become required reading for all new elders for sure.

I believe this is the first book I’ve read by Jeramie Rinne and I found his writing to be clear, informed, and mixed with just the right amount of light-heartedness.  He writes “this book is intended to provide a concise, biblical job description for elders.” [15] and he accomplishes that well, not only for elders, but for church members as well.  Pastorally, the more that we can highlight the biblical perspective of elders, the better our people will understand the purpose and calling of an elder.  He provides practical, yet grounded points that should serve the church well.

  1. Don’t Assume.  Just because someone “looks” like elder material, or [worse] says they ‘should be’ an elder, doesn’t mean they are Scripturally qualified. [See 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1] Do you have a true inner hunger to shepherd the local church?  Do you exemplify Godly character? Can you teach the Bible? Do you lead your family well? Are you male? Are you an established believer?
  2. Smell Like Sheep.  Rinne summarizes the elder’s job as “shepherd the flock…to be more precise, elders are under-shepherds who serve the Good Shepherd by leading his sheep.”[35] This means we have to know them…be in relationships with them.  One sentence I highlighted and underlined was this – “Eldering is more about people than programs.” Yes and AMEN.  We aren’t a board of directors…we are shepherds. Rinne, rightfully so, pushes on the mega-church = corporation model.  The pastor isn’t a CEO, he is a shepherd of people.
  3. Serve Up the Word. The words Pastor and Teacher go together. [46]. Elders need to be actually teaching the Word of God in some capacity.  Preaching, leading Bible studies, small group discussion, one on one discipleship.  We also need to be protecting all teaching from false doctrine.
  4. Track Down the Strays. We keep watch.  We count sheep.  Who is missing?  Where did they go? Did they fall thru the cracks? Specifically, we watch over the members of the church and encourage the attenders to commit to membership so they can be better cared for. There are different varieties of straying sheep:  sinning sheep, wandering sheep, limping sheep, fighting sheep, and biting sheep.  Elders take notice of the flock and get involved.
  5. Lead Without Lording. Elders have clear Biblical authority to direct the affairs of the local church [74], BUT that doesn’t mean we are dictators. No power trips allowed.  He gives some practical thoughts:  chose humble elders, delegate to deacons, remain accountable, honor the Word, replicate yourself, and trust the congregation.  The great paradox to keep in mind is that an elder is simultaneously a shepherd and a sheep, a leader of the flock and a follower of Jesus, an overseer of the body, yet a dependent part.  [83]
  6. Shepherd Together. Eldering is a “team sport.” We are called to a team of elders, it’s not a solo mission.  We share the load, have many gifts, we sharpen each other, and we love and enjoy each other.
  7. Model Maturity.  When a church appoints a man to be an overseer, it is formally saying “Here is an official church-recognized example of a mature follower of Jesus.” [101]  This makes me gulp in fear when I read it.  Rinne provides some more context “…he isn’t the only example, he isn’t the perfect example, not the best example for every virtue…but he is a duly designated model nonetheless.”   Thus, elders, we need to watch our lives closely and make gospel progress.
  8. Plead for the Flock. Straight up – elders are called to prayer. In a techy example that resonated with the nerd that I am, Rinne writes “Try not to think of prayer and an extra activity tossed into your already overloaded schedule. Rather, think of it as the operating system on which all the of the elders apps run.”  #GOALS. We are called to pray publicly, privately, as a team of elders, and personally with the sheep.

I found this to be an excellent resource for both aspiring and established elders alike.  Let us commit ourselves to the work of shepherding the flock of God that he purchased with the blood of His Son, Jesus.

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

(Acts 20:28 ESV)

 

 

 

 

Book Review – The Pastor and Counseling

I’m a big fan of 9Marks and their resources.  I have found them consistently helpful and accessible.  This book, The Pastor and Counseling, is no different.  Deepak Reju [Pastor of Counseling at Capitol Hill Baptist in DC] and Jeremy Pierre [Biblical Counseling Professor at SBTS] team up to write a fantastic book.

Counseling is an unavoidable element of pastoring.  I’m profoundly grateful for a great seminary education at SBTS, and also organizations like ACBC that stress the centrality of biblical counseling. Pastors, we aren’t giving advice.  Our people are coming to us for instruction in the Word of God and the application of it to their problems.  BUT, this is not without compassion.  This book succeeds on both ends of that spectrum.

And as the Word of God centers on Jesus Chris, so then must our counseling.  Jesus Christ is the means of change. Jesus Christ is the goal of change. [18]

The book is logically divided up into three main sections:  concept, process, and context and also has a few handy appendices in the back.

Right away, the authors challenge us pastors to make sure we are not having a “pulpit-only” ministry.  Ours is a personal ministry as well.  We identify with the weakness and sin of people, speak to God on behalf of the people, and speak to people on behalf of God. [28]. We have to get involved.  Yes, it is messy.  Yes, there is drama. Yes, it will take time.  But…that’s the nature of compassionate biblical pastoring, kids.

So, where to start?  This book offers three initial goals:  Address the presenting problem, display the relevance of the gospel [it’s always relevant!], and help people grow in Christlikeness.  “The main confidence of the pastor is that if a person belongs to Christ, God has pledged himself to the task of renewing him or her.” [38]

Aaaand there it is.  Transparency time.  As a pastor who counsels, this is the elephant in the room in all biblical counseling sessions…”IF a person belongs to Christ…”  Biblical counseling doesn’t “work” unless you are a Christian. I’ve had more failed counseling cases then I’d like to admit, but all of them were because people weren’t made new in Christ or refused to submit to the authority of His Word.  This is one of the biggest challenges in pastoral ministry, how to help people who are up to their ears in the misery of sin, yet refuse to submit fully to Christ.  I was curious to see how Reju and Pierre addressed this.

But getting back to the meat of the book – how do we actually do this?  The authors answer that question with three basic steps:  You listen to the problem. You consider heart responses.  You speak the truth in love. [49]

All of this requires a relational connection grounded in mercy, love, and respect.  I appreciated how practical and honest the authors were as they explained this – sometimes that is hard when you “are dealing with folks that are shifty, egocentric, foolish, arrogant, or just plain infantile.” [61].

Once the relational connection is established, explore the concern [listen well and ask good open-ended questions]; display hope [one of your primary jobs, there is always hope in the gospel!]; and set expectations. [homework, next meetings, etc.]

In the meetings that follow – get updates, follow up on homework, continue to explore the concern, and offer redemptive remedies. This will be the bulk of the rest of your meetings, but second to “is this person a real Christian” – how we actually do this is the biggest challenge.  The authors rightly point out that it requires patience.  We can all see the behavior is wrong, but what is motivating the behavior, the inner heart workings, are not immediately known.  This takes time to draw out.  We can’t simply “tell them what their idols are and then admonish them to worship God instead.” [76]. This is the great temptation for us pastors.  Why aren’t they getting it?!  “And we urge you brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” [1 These 5:14]. I sincerely appreciated the authors emphasis towards the compassion we should have and felt adequately convicted.

But…there has to be balance.  This too was well covered.  “Consider the 80/20 rule.  The person you’re helping needs to be responsible to do 80 present of the work in any given counseling session, with you guiding him or her with good questions, a few Scripture texts and appropriate advice.” [86] Amen.

The authors also took this opportunity to remind the readers of a few important considerations. Primarily of which is “Is this person saved?”  Again, due to the importance of this question, I would have liked to have seen this broken out into a full chapter…or even a full book.  [Anyone?!].  We will also be called to ministry to the unbelievers, and there is a tremendous evangelistic opportunity in it for us – but there needs to be more practical application of how that relates to counseling from the word of God to someone to doesn’t submit themselves to it.  #EndSoapbox

That brings us to the final meeting.  Sooner or later, you have to figure out when to end meetings.  Counseling can either have a positive ending, or a negative one.  Hopefully, it’s obvious that the positive ending would be that real, lasting, biblical change happens. Buuuut…that’s not always the case.  Dare I say, I think it’s probably the minority due to the effects of sin.  Sometimes counseling has a negative ending.  There is no change, they aren’t interesting in actually applying the 80% effort, they don’t trust you, they need more help than you can offer [90-91]…and what wasn’t mentioned that I wish was which is probably bigger than all of them – “they really won’t submit to the authority of the Scripture because they aren’t legit Christians.”    Sadly, after a negative ending we usually never see them again…until a few months or years later when the problems didn’t actually go away and they return for help.  This leads to the final section, how do we create a culture where helping others is in the DNA?

Pastors, we are the primary shaper of the church’s culture. [104. I just actually got scared typing that.]  “The way to glorify God is to make disciples. This task should be in the departs part of a pastor’s value system.” [105 – Giant AMEN].  The authors point out a few key expectations to lay down.  Membership – does your church have a high value on biblical church membership?  Equipping – are our people being equipped by the pastors/elders for discipleship through teaching and modeling? Third, connecting.  You have to actually be with people and encourage your people to be with each other as well.

Sometimes, despite doing all of this “right” there still are times where you may need to refer out to another counselor, or even medical “professional” help.  I sincerely appreciated the authors bold stance on this, as I’ve personally walked thru a few very painful seemingly “dead end” counseling situations and can see new hope springing from a fresh counseling perspective with someone else.  The authors provide a helpful overview of this sensitive topic, but emphasize the centrality of God’s Word.  “A guy with a Bible is not enough.” [122]. Pastors/elders:  we need to actively guide any referrals and resist the temptation to just pass someone off because we are tired.

This book was extremely encouraging to a tired soul who has walked through many difficult counseling situations.  I recommend it to all pastor and elders diligently laboring in God’s church for His glory as we walk beside our brothers and sisters in Christ.