Help for Established Churches via Podcasts

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and of those podcasts, I listen to ones dedicated to the established church.  We are not a church plant, we are not a replant, we are not a parachurch organization nor a philanthropic organization (exclusively). My church was planted in Colorado in 1960, an old church in Colorado terms.

Here are some podcasts I listen to that help me as a lead pastor in an established church to navigate all the issues that arise:

Church for the Rest of Us–Jimmy Scroggins

A place to find principles, strategies, and ideas that you can implement right now with the resources you have.

EST.– for the Established Church–Sam Rainer, Micah Fries, & Josh King

A weekly discussion for the established church.  Micah Fries (Brainerd Baptist Church, Chattanooga, TV), Sam Rainer (West Bradenton Baptist Church, Bradenton, FL), and Josh King (Sachse’s Church, Sachse, TX).

Rainer on Leadership — Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe

This podcast interacts with various areas of leadership in established churches.

Revitalize & Replant –Thom Rainer and Mark Clifton

Revitalize & Replant is a weekly discussion on church revitalization and replanting featuring Thom Rainer, Jonathan Howe, and Mark Clifton. Revitalize & Replant with Thom Rainer is presented by the North American Mission Board.

Practical Shepherding — Brian Croft

Many pastors lack the necessary training to perform even the most basic of pastoral duties.  In fact, even pastors who have had some kind of formal theological training still lack the practical training that every pastor will inevitably need to face the daily grind of pastoral ministry.   There are very few outlets and resources for this training, and this reality grows even dimmer once outside the United States.  Most of the pastors we help cannot financially support our ministry.

White Horse Inn — Michael Horton and crew

Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast

“Ever wish you could have a conversation with some of the top leaders in ministry today? Well, that’s what my new leadership podcast is designed to bring you.”

Five Minutes in Church History — Stephen Nichols

Each podcast offers an easily digestible glimpse of how the eternal, unchangeable God has worked in the church over prior generations, and how this can encourage us today. This is our story—our family history.

 

What are some other podcasts that have helped you?

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Form vs Function: Our Programs are to Serve, Not Be Served

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Scott, you are an artist par excellence.

At times, churches are so connected to certain ministries and programs that they remain long after their effectiveness is gone. Part of it is a leadership issues, but part of it is a resuscitation or even a resurrection issue–that is, it either needs new life breathed into it, or it needs to die and be brought back in another form all the while keeping the function.

This is nothing new.  In Mark 2:27, Jesus told the religious leaders, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The religious leaders had developed so many rules as to what you could or could not do on the Sabbath that it failed to extend grace, even to the point of where they struggled in seeing Jesus heal someone on the Sabbath. The form (the Sabbath) was to feed the ultimate issue, which is the function (rest and recharging by remembering God’s good grace). The religious leaders, however, set this on its head: people were serving their rules of the Sabbath, thus oppressing rather than releasing them to enjoy their life in God.

In churches today, we see this happening, say, with music. Though styles have changed over the years, we see some gravitating to a preferred style.  That preference, if one isn’t careful, turns into a test of faith for others. As a result, those who prefer hymns or choruses in a specific way impose that preference on others. The church suffered much through worship wars, rather than seeing that there were both good hymns and bad hymns as there were good modern songs and bad ones. Take the best of both: those that honor Christ, encourage the church, and are singable.

In our Southern Baptist culture, missions in another. I grew up with various missions programs that mean a lot to me during the years. But I also came across other missions programs (forms) that were just as impactful in getting the Great Commission in our children’s heads (function).  Let me give you a more pointed case that’s happening now at our church.

My associate pastor, Scott Morter, has long sensed a call to missions in Ireland. Our normal lane of sending is through the International Mission Board (IMB). Our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions goes to help the IMB put missionaries in place all over the world–sort of.

You see, the IMB is focusing on the 10-40 window (10 degrees north latitude to forty degrees south latitude), which is mainly North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.  You don’t have to be a geography scholar to realize that Ireland is not in that window.  Yet, where Scott and his family will go is the least evangelized area in the English speaking world (0.2% evangelical).

Our form (IMB) did not provide a lane, but another group, WorldVenture, did.  Remember, the function is to get the gospel out to areas where the gospel ain’t. If we were married to the form, we would say, “Scott, we will only support you go via the IMB.”  As Jesus taught the religious leaders, that would be legalistic and, yes, sinful. But, we say, “Scott, the goal is for you to get on the field to get the gospel where the gospel ain’t, so we will pray and support and help all we can.”  Yes, he will have to do his own partner development (i.e., fundraising), as opposed to the IMB which provides what’s needed through our giving to the Lottie Moon Offering and the Cooperative Program.

Even so–it’s an example that when our programs reach a tipping point to where we are serving them, even if it’s not accomplishing what they set out to accomplish, rather than the programs serving the Great Commandment/Great Commission function, it’s time to evaluate. Perform CPR, and if that doesn’t work, there’s no sin in letting a program (form) ride off into the sunset so another form can come in to perform the Great Commandment/Great Commission function needed.

 

What the Ancient Celtic Christians Teach Us About Christian Living

A friend of mine recommended a book by George Hunter called The Celtic Way of Evangelism. This not only went over the ministry of St. Patrick centuries ago, but also in their work and success in reaching varying cultures for the gospel. Below is an excerpt of ten lessons we could learn even now.

  1. Celtic Christian leaders would counsel today’s church leaders to relinquish the full responsibility for making Christians into better Christians. Church leaders cannot do it for people—through preaching harder, scheduling more prayer meetings and retreats, or making all other attempts to do it for people through more and better programming. As we have already learned in the field of adult education, delegate to the people the responsibility for their own development. There are limits to what any leaders or programs can achieve in the learning and lives of passive attendees; there are no known limits to what people can become through their own disciplines and (even more important) through nurturing one another’s development.
  2. They would counsel us to relinquish the illusion that Gutenberg’s printing press produced a panacea. From the first printing of Bibles, in the 1450s, Protestant leaders seem to have assumed that if every church member had his or her own copy of the canon we would produce a biblically literate, rooted, informed church. It has never happened in more than five centuries. There is no reason to be confident that it will happen tomorrow—no matter how many translations and paraphrases are published, marketed, and promoted. Celtic Christian leaders would remind us that, before Gutenberg, Christians memorized much of the Bible. In the monastic communities, they came to know all 150 psalms, and much of the rest of the Bible, more or less by heart. The Scripture that is in us informs much more of our ongoing internal conversation than Scripture that we merely read.
  3. They would counsel us to relinquish the illusion that a brief daily devotional each morning, in which (say) people read a snippet of Scripture, a brief reflection, and a short prayer—all on one page of The Upper Room devotional guide—will shape great souls. The people of Alcoholics Anonymous have learned to begin and end each day in devotional focus. The ancient Celtic practice scheduled three times per day, as modeled in Ray Simpson’s A Holy Island Prayer Book: Morning, Midday, and Evening Prayer and in the Northumbria Community’s Celtic Daily Prayer.
  4. Not even three scheduled times for prayer each day make for powerful Christian spirituality. The most important practice, as the Celts recalled Paul’s words, is to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). That is, you pray into each of the day’s situations, events, responsibilities, and tasks, and you include the Holy Spirit in your ongoing internal conversation.
  5. Feel free, often, to pray with your eyes wide open. Often, you have to keep your eyes open when you pray while driving, speaking, attending a meeting, or conversing with someone. But praying with one’s eyes open is not a regretful necessity or a second-class approach. Closed is not necessarily better than open. The Celtic Christian saints often prayed with their eyes open, using something in the creation around them to fix on as a sign of God’s presence.
  6. Harness your imagination in your life of devotion to God. The saints imagined the Lord before them, behind them, above them, within them, or meeting them through a creature of the forest or a person in need. Imagination focuses and catalyzes prayer. (See Esther de Waal’s The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination.)
  7. They would recommend that every Christian have an anam cara—that is, a “soul friend.” One’s soul friend, as I understand it, is not a superior or even one’s spiritual director, but a peer with whom one can be open and vulnerable. (John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom takes the place of the single source that we never had before!)
  8. Meet weekly or biweekly in a small group in which you are in ministry with one another, rejoicing and weeping with one another, pulling for one another, interceding for one another, holding one another accountable, bringing out the best in one another, identifying one another’s gifts of the Spirit, and in which you learn to engage in ministry and to converse about the faith.
  9. In your spiritual life, do not engage in endless ongoing self-assessment and spiritual navel-gazing. Canon Bryan Green, a great Anglican evangelist in the Celtic tradition, once said that too many Christians remind him of the fellow who planted a small bush in a pot and watered it every day—and pulled it out of the soil every day to see if the roots were growing! (Of course, they were not.) The purpose of the spiritual life, after all, is not to reinforce the pride, self-preoccupation, and narcissism that are our original sin, but to become open enough to the Spirit to be pulled out of that selfcenteredness; to be reconciled to God, others, and creation; and to have the marvelous freedom of largely forgetting oneself for stretches of time—before regrouping in scheduled times of discipline.
  10. The main purpose in the life of Christian devotion is not so much to get blessed, get our needs met, become happier, or accomplish any of the other early goals that people usually have in mind when they begin praying. The main purpose is to become like Christ. As C. S. Lewis reminded us, the Holy Spirit wants to make us “little Christs.” Thomas á Kempis was right; it is about “the imitation of Christ.” In life’s ultimate paradox, as we become more like Christ—living by the will of God, reflecting the love of God—we become more like the people we were born to be and have really always wanted to be.

The Primacy of the Word of God in Preaching

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Paul’s last written charge to Timothy was culled down to these three words, “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). What Word?  Just a few verses prior, he outlined the nature of the Bible:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[a] may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Theologians use the term plenary verbal inspiration: All Scripture is inspired, breathed out by God!  But it is also profitable, making the man of God both complete (mature) and equipped for every good work.  Think on this just for a moment.

All Scripture. At this time, ‘all Scripture’ meant the Old Testament.  In Luke 24:13-35, Jesus has just risen from the dead and comes up upon two of His disciples, Cleopas and another unnamed disciple on the road to the town of Emmaus.  They were trying to process the events of Christ’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion–and the fact that the women disciples reported that His body was missing. Here’s Jesus’ response:

25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

The Old Testament was sufficient in showing the person and work of Jesus–every portion, every page. Granted, the New Testament brought a clarity to the message of the Old Testament, reminding us of what Augustine said centuries ago: “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.” Jesus tells us that everything that happened in the days prior was prophesied and verified in the Old Testament centuries before.

Later, the apostle Peter (and in all likelihood Paul) recognized that the New Testament writings (specifically, the writings of Paul) were included under the heading of Scripture:

15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16).

The implication is that Paul’s writings are (1) hard to understand, and (2) like the other Scriptures, ignorant and unstable people twist to their destruction.  Paul, an apostle, was given wisdom by the Holy Spirit to write to the church regarding matters that are considerable not just scriptural but Scripture itself.

Therefore, we as pastors preach all of the Bible, Old as well as New Testament, as Christian Scripture pointing to Christ.

Profitable.  

Profitable for what?  He lists four items: teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. Let’s flesh this out:

  • Teaching: not the act of teaching, but the content taught–teaching the teaching that is right.
  • Reproof: showing what is not right in our doctrine and our actions.
  • Correction: showing us by the Spirit and the Word how to get it right.
  • Training in righteousness: showing us how to stay right.

When you talk about profitable, this is as profitable as it gets. Our goal in preaching is not simply ‘information dump.’ Rather, our goal is to learn the Word so that we can help our people know God’s will and way, and to see where we line up.  Preaching must serve to help others know Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life, and by the Holy Spirit be convicted and counseled in the way of truth.

Scripture equips for every good work.

“… that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).

The Scripture is sufficient to bring the pastor/elder into full maturity. And more so, out of the overflow of his life, is equipped by the teaching and by living out that teaching to accomplish ‘every good work’ God has for him. Martin Luther once said, “What is asserted without the Scriptures or proven revelation may be held as an opinion, but need not be believed.”

Illustrations have their place (that will come later), but the exposition of Scripture is where all else springboards for the preacher and pastor.

The Primacy of Prayer in Preaching

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The apostle Peter mentioned prayer first, and for good reason. Preaching is a supernatural act!  We are not simply dumping information, we are praying for transformation through what God has said.  A.J. Gordon noted:

Our generation is rapidly losing its grip upon the supernatural; and as a consequence, the pulpit is rapidly dropping to the level of the platform. And this decline is due, more than anything else, to ignoring the Holy Spirit as the supreme inspirer of preaching. We would rather see a great orator in the pulpit, forgetting that the least expounder of the Word, when filled with the Spirit, is greater than he. (1)

While some look at the power of preaching coming from a certain type of personality, a certain twist of a phrase, being a stand-up comic that intersperses Scripture in from time to time, or other human-driven motives and methods, preaching is a supernatural act that needs bathing in prayer. D.L. Moody got it right:

I’d rather be able to pray than be a great preacher; Jesus never taught his disciples how to preach, but he did teach them how to pray.

How? Although each of these deserves a longer treatment, let’s quickly look at these four matters:

Through prayer, God invests in His people, especially His preachers.

Christ is the one who sends out His preachers to whom and where He sends.  In Matthew 10, Jesus sent out the twelve, “instructing them, ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”’” (Matthew 10:5b-7).  Later, Jesus tells them to “Go, make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) and that “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  It was here that the Holy Spirit came upon the 120 meeting in the upper room in Jerusalem, where they were given the Word and the languages to make that Word understood (Acts 2:1-4). By the Holy Spirit, men are called to preach and lead God’s people.

Through prayer, God illumines the Word.

In 1 Corinthians 2:9:10, Paul tells the Corinthian church:

But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

   nor the heart of man imagined,

what God has prepared for those who love him”—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

In verse 13, Paul goes deeper: And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

Through prayer, God opens up hearts to rescue His own.

Just a little later in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul explains the roles of preacher and Trinity:

5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).

The preacher plants and waters. “Oh, if we had a preacher who ___________, then many would come to Christ.”  How would we fill in that blank?  Was serious? Funny? Handsome? Young? Old?  These items are not mentioned as qualifications for the preacher, as if these items assisted God’s saving work.  The qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 suffice, and one who preaches “the gospel of grace” and one who does not “shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” and pays “careful attention to [themselves] and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:24, 27). By His strength, we stay faithful to what He has clearly called us to. By His Word, He opens up hearts to receive and grow in His Word.  

Jesus came to earth, “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), and how will this happen without a preacher sent (Romans 10:14-15)?  Preaching is a supernatural act in a natural world to bring the natural into the supernatural by Jesus.  Here my pastor, Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892):

To us, as ministers, the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential. Without Him our office is a mere name. . . . Unless we have the spirit of the prophets resting upon us, the mantle which we wear is nothing but a rough garment to deceive. We ought to be driven forth with abhorrence from the society of honest men for daring to speak in the name of the Lord if the Spirit of God rests not upon us. . . . If we have not the Spirit which Jesus promised, we cannot perform the commission which Jesus gave. (3)


(1) A.J. Gordon . Quoted in Greg Heisler, Spirit-Led Preaching (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2007), 7.

(2) Source unknown.

(3) C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954), 186-87.

Keeping in Step with the Spirit as Leaders

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22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:22-26, ESV).

God raises up leaders in a church that is an overflowing of their relationship to Jesus as hopeful, joyful disciples of Him. In the life of a believer and a leader, we must live as we are–followers of Jesus. The world (and the church, for that matter) watches who we are. The fruit of who we truly are comes out, either in the fruit of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) or in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24).  

How do we as leaders keep in step with the Spirit and avoid being “conceited, provoking one another, envying one another”?  In our relationship with Christ, we see these traits as follows:

Love

This word ‘agape’ is a type of love that is selfless and sacrificial, a love that loves to give of self rather than a ‘getting’ for self. This aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (as well as the “fruit of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-21) informs all of the other aspects.  In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, you see:

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[a] 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends.

Do we find ourselves aiming to love people the way God loves them (selflessly and sacrificially), or do we lead because we desire to be loved?  To be in control?  To have people sacrifice themselves for us?

Joy

Joy is fueled by contentment.  “Joy is the ability to take good cheer from the gospel.  It is not, therefore, a spontaneous response to some temporary pleasure. It does not depend on the circumstance at all. It is based rather on rejoicing in one’s eternal identity in Jesus Christ” (1)  Christian leaders must not go up and down based on circumstances such as numbers, flatterers, critics, and the like. Our contentment comes from the glorious, hopeful, joyful, majestic work that Christ accomplished on our behalf, the gospel.  The Holy Spirit takes hold, sealing our heart in the Christ who brings “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).

Is your joy fueled by the person and work of Jesus?  Do the cross and the empty tomb ground your contentment in Kingdom work?  What do numbers, flattery, and criticism (constructive or otherwise) do to you?

Peace

John MacArthur notes, “If joy speaks of the exhilaration of the heart that comes from being right with God, then peace refers to the tranquility of mind that comes from saving relationships” (2) Paul reminded the Corinthians church that we have been reconciled to God through the atoning work of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21), therefore we should have relationships marked by peace with others.

Are we peaceful in our relationships? Do we bring about a “tranquility of mind” to those areas we oversee? Or do we find ourselves stoking the fires of contention when someone disagrees with us?  

Patience

Hardships come in life, and especially in leadership. Paul addressed this to the Roman church:

2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

The ‘endurance’ piece in this hope-filled chain is dealing with patience, a dealing with adversity.  These hardships produce a Christ-like character, but that doesn’t happen without producing patience in the annoyances and persecution.

Ryken rightly said that “a patience person has a slow fuse.” Does that mark you as a Christian and leader? What triggers your impatience? Did you believe that, when you came into the Christian life and leadership, you would only face easy times and loving adulation? When did you realize that wasn’t the case?  How did you react?

Kindness

Kindness is not simply a one-and-done act every so often, but a consistent consideration that is part of the Christian’s personality. This continual readiness to help epitomizes a servant’s heart that seeks no kindness in return.  When a Christian is gripped by the grace of Christ, this grace is extended to others. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

What is your motivation to be kind? Do you see kindness as a weakness or a hindrance to getting things done, or are you willing to take a slower pace in getting things done if it means adding that extra bit of kindness in the process? Would others mark you as ‘kind’?  Why or why not?

Goodness

This term was a term used in Paul’s day to denote a moral excellence that overflows in a generosity.  Romans 5:5 tells us that, as believers, God pours out His love into our hearts by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those who are believers and, in turn, have received the Holy Spirit as all believers do, will in heart and mind have a ‘goodness’ that brings glory to God and benefits all around.

Do you have a generosity about you? Do people recognize the change God has brought about in you, taking you from self to Christ?  How has this shown in your thinking and your behavior? Do you keep everything above board, or do you believe that the ends justify the means?

Faithfulness

Our Christian life and leadership must be marked by being trustworthy. That trustworthiness comes from where our trust lies–in Christ and Christ alone. Our loyalty to God and to our brothers and sisters in Christ is imperative, both in good times and in troublesome times. God told the people of Israel:

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression of sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:6-7a).

As the Spirit resides in us, the faithfulness that God has can come to others as we serve as His conduit. Are we trustworthy?  Do we keep our promises and our word?  Do we make commitments to pray for and talk to others, then fail to follow through? May the faithfulness that God shows grip our hearts in demonstrating that faithfulness to others.

Gentleness

This is power under control (also known as meekness). Doris Akers wrote a song that was quite popular in days gone by known as Sweet, Sweet Spirit (3).  That sweet, sweet spirit that’s “in this place” when it comes to a church service starts with it being in the ‘place’ known as our hearts.

Do a sweetness and gentleness exude from us? Are we ones who come off as proud and in control of the room, or as ones who are humble?  Do we lose our temper and become angry when things do not go our way?

Self-Control

In a culture that’s out of control in all matters (eating, drinking, sex, etc.), Christians by the work of the Holy Spirit stay under control. While we are free in Christ, we are not free to use that freedom as a blank check to do as we wish.  Paul wrote to Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Conclusion

Be careful not to cherry-pick the fruit of the Spirit.  It’s one fruit.  Praise God for the areas in which fruit is borne. And pray to God that He would show you areas where you need His work to take place.  None of us are perfect, but the Spirit has called us to “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

God’s blessings on each of you as you see how Jesus is enough!


Endnotes:

(1) Philip Graham Ryken, Galatians: Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005), 233.

(2) John MacArthur, Galatians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1987), 66.

(3) Sweet, Sweet Spirit” by Doris Akers. https://hymnary.org/text/theres_a_sweet_sweet_spirit_in_this_plac?sort=tuneTitle

Communication Lessons from Abraham Lincoln

Doris Kearns Goodwin provided all Civil War lovers with a wonderful book entitled Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. As the title implies, Lincoln’s cabinet consisted of men who were running for president or were political rivals to Lincoln leading up to the 1860 presidential election. This book was the book that was the basis for the movie Lincoln (directed by Spielberg himself!).

As a pastor and preacher, I am always interested in how leaders communicate. For us, it’s always a work in progress. In reading this work, Goodwin relays the account of the beginnings of Lincoln’s rivalry with Stephen Douglas. At the time, the issue of slavery was bringing the Union to a tipping point. Western expansion of the United States brought the issue of whether to allow slavery into these new areas. The newly passed Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and allowed those new territories to decide for themselves if they would be slave or free—a doctrine known as popular sovereignty. Stephen Douglas was the main proponent of this doctrine. At the time, Lincoln was merely against westward expansion of slavery—a view that would increasing evolve into one who believed in emancipation. Nevertheless, Lincoln, a young newcomer to Illinois political scene stood toe-to-toe with the veteran Douglas at the Illinois State Fair in 1854, soon after the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In just a few short pages, Goodwin paints the picture of Lincoln’s communication skills, giving lessons to all of us who communicate.

  1. Preparation: “Before speaking out against the Nebraska Act, Lincoln spent many hours in the State Library, studying present and past congressional debates so that he could reach back into the stream of American history and tell a clear, reasoned, and compelling tale. He would express no opinion on anything, Herndon observed, until he knew his subject ‘inside and outside, upside and downside.’ Lincoln told Joshua Seed, ‘I am slow to learn and slow to forget that which I have learned. My mind is like a piece of steel, very hard to scratch any thing on it and almost impossible after you get it there to rub it out” (164).
  2. Conviction: “’He began in a slow and hesitating manner,’ Horace White noted. Yet minutes into his speech, ‘it was evident that he had mastered his subject, that he knew what he was going to say, and that he knew he was right’” (165).
  3. Connection to their history. “While Douglas simply asserted his points as self-evident, Lincoln embedded his argument in a narrative history, transporting his listeners back to their roots as a people, to the founding of the nation—a story that still retained its power to arouse strong emotion and thoughtful attention” (165). “In order to make his argument, Lincoln decided to begin with nothing less that an account of our common history, the powerful narrative of how slavery grew with our country, how its growth and expansion had been carefully contained by the founding fathers, and how on this fall night in 1854 the great story they were being told—the story of the Union—had come to such an impasse that the exemplary meaning, indeed, the continued existence of the story hung in the balance” (166).
  4. Clarity. “Many of his arguments were familiar to those who had followed the Senate debate and had read Chase’s ‘Appeal’; but the structure of the speech was so ‘clear and logical,’ the Illinois Daily Journal observed, the arrangement of the facts so ‘methodical,’ that the overall effect was strikingly original and ‘most effective’ (165).
  5. Ordinary language. “Instead of the ornate language so familiar to men like Webster, Lincoln used irony and humor, laced with workaday, homespun images to build an eloquent tower of logic. The proslavery argument that a vote for the Wilmot Proviso threatened the stability of the entire Union was reduced to absurdity by analogy—’because I may have refused to build an addition to my house, I thereby have decided to destroy the existing house!’ Such flashes of figurative language were always available to Lincoln to drive home a point, gracefully educating while entertaining—in a word, communicating an enormously complicated issue with wit, simplicity, and a massive power of moral persuasion” (166).

Responding with Grace to Everyone

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Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Col. 4:5-6).

It’s not just enough to know the gospel, and it’s not enough just to know that our friends, our relatives, our associates, and our neighbors need Jesus. But we must walk in wisdom amongst the outsiders. Our primary interaction with our FRANs (friends, relatives, associates, neighbors) should not be on social media, where it gives an illusion to connecting with people, but be among actual people.  And when you are, may your speech be fueled by the grace of which you were saved and by which others are saved.

“Seasoned with salt”?  Yes.  In Paul’s time, salt was actively working and moving and preserving.  When we speak, we speak with an active graciousness that is winsome.  We shouldn’t talk in a fearful, apologetic, overpowering, or a boring way.  We should speak in ways that are ready to answer, but in a way that compels, not repels.

 

Is Jesus Enough Even When the Answers Won’t Come?

We are in a chapter in our lives where we have a specific issue arising in our family, and are hoping for answers, but they just aren’t coming at this point. We consult experts, we pray, we search, we seek advice, but no answers yet. They haven’t come. Sure, experts and wanna-be experts speculate, but speculation doesn’t help nor cure.

Even the most spiritually mature struggle in this area. Questions arise as to how matters came to this point. It’s here I think of Job.

Though Job did all he was supposed to do, trials arose when his possessions, his family, and his health left him (Job 1-2). We know the reasons why: Satan sought to take away God’s primacy in Job’s heart by asking God to allow these devastations to happen. Yes, God established limits as far as taking Job’s life, but God not only allowed Satan to take his family and possessions and health, but to keep his wife and his friends around.

You see, his wife thought Job would be better off dead that to go through these issues: “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). Job did. “But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil/disaster?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10). The recognition of God’s sovereignty over all things must extend to, well, all things.

His friends served him no better. Now, for seven days, they done good (as my friends used to say) by just being with him. Job, feeling comfortable in telling them exactly what was on his mind, unloaded. He wished he had never been born (3:3-10). He laments that the wicked flourish, therefore why does he (Job 3:17-18). Basically, he is asking God, “Are you just? Where are you?”

This sets off a flurry from his friends, who spend the rest of the time trying to defend the goodness and the righteousness of God, and as a result, for Job to repent of sins he committed. Until he does, he will find no relief.

I’m reading Job in a whole new light right now and see the following:

  • Our ease in life does not equal God’s favor on my life; conversely, our discomfort and affliction in this life does not mean God’s favor is removed.
  • Friends and those close to us should not feel that their job is to ultimately find the solution or understand God’s plan. Sometimes, just keeping our ears open and our mouths shut is the very best way to show friendship.
  • We cannot discount the fact that there is another level of existence that we cannot see. Job, Daniel, and the book of Revelation show us that other drama in the spiritual realm is being enacted.
  • We must realize that when the answers do not come, we must cling to Christ more, not less.

And yet, another level of understanding what it means that Jesus is enough. This does not mean that He will keep trials from happening. But He will be with us always and strengthen us during the trials.

One person one said, “You don’t realize Jesus is all there is until Jesus is all you have.”

I know Jesus is enough, even when my heart aches and hurts to the degree it does right now. Contrary to what some may say, my best life will never be now in the best of circumstances–but my best life is in the life to come when all sorrows, tears, and pain will go (Revelation 21:4).

But He is enough.

He must be!