Christian: Are You Ready For Exile Stage Two?

A friend of mine put me onto this article this morning, and I haven’t been able to let it go all day.

Much to consider. Much to pray through. Much to plan for.

At the risk of including a much abused verse, a deep and prayerful reading of Jeremiah 29:1-14 is sorely needed.

Stephen McAlpine

The Western church is about to enter stage two of its exile from the mainstream culture and the public square. And it will not be an easy time.

In case you missed it, Exile Stage One began a few decades or so ago, budding in the sexual revolution of the sixties before building up a head of steam some 20 years ago. Finally some Christians sat down to talk about it 15 or so years ago, and that set the ball, and the publishing companies rolling.

For those of us in ministry who were culture watchers, Exile Stage One was a heady time.  Only we never called it Exile Stage One. We simply called it “Exile”, and poured over biblical texts such as the exilic book of Daniel and its New Testament counterpart 1Peter.  After all no one ever called World War One “World War One” before World War Two came along…

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God-centered Preaching

I was reading through an extended interview between Trevin Wax and David Platt over at The Gospel Coalition website this afternoon. Among the many great insights, the following caught my attention.

Trevin Wax: How does God-centered preaching lead to passion for evangelism?

David Platt: The gospel begins and ends with God. He is the holy, just, and gracious Creator of the universe who has sent His Son, God in the flesh, to bear His wrath against sin on the cross and to show His power over sin in the resurrection so that everyone who believes in Christ will be reconciled to God forever. And this is the gospel that we proclaim in evangelism.

So how do we best lead and shepherd God’s people to evangelize? By giving them a grand understanding of God. In preaching, we unfold the character of God: His holiness, His justice, His grace, and all of His other breath-taking attributes. As we magnify His Word, people behold His glory. And they believe, deep within their minds and their hearts, that God is great and greatly to be praised. In the process, this becomes the ultimate motivation for evangelism. The more the people I pastor see God’s worth, the more they want to make His worth known in the world.

So week after week after week, as I stand before them with God’s Word, I want to show them God’s worth. As they hear His Word and they see His worth, they will lay down their lives to make the good news of God’s grace and glory known to the people around them and people groups around the world. God-centered, gospel-saturated preaching is great fuel for Christ-honoring, world-embracing evangelism.

“Lord, raise up God-centered, gospel-saturated preachers like this, so that we may have a renewed wave of Christ-honouring, world-embracing evangelism.”

Lessons from Battles of Misunderstanding

Today I want to make a few brief observations from my last post, Battles of Misunderstanding, based on the narrative of Joshua 22.

  1. Be careful of assumptions
    Not all actions will be as you see or perceive them. When Israel saw a great and imposing altar being constructed on the eastern banks of the Jordan, assumptions were made that almost led to a devastating civil war. Be careful of assumptions, they often lead to destruction.
  2. Be slow to act
    Every great leader knows that swift action is often vital, but not always. Wise leadership discerns the times and leads with caution, knowing that not everything will be as it seems, and that ‘swift’ is not always a measure of success. Pause – pray – seek counsel – go.
  3. Stand face to face
    Be wary of second-hand information. Phinehas took a delegation and found out for himself, voicing his concerns in person and hearing with his own ears the response. Swift actions, based on assumptions, built from second-hand sources, are a chefs-special reciepe for disaster. Whenever possible, seek personal clarification rather than second-hand interpretations.
  4. Allow candid discussion
    Phinehas clearly stated how he felt about the altar that had been built. He didn’t couch his words in pseudo-relational jargon in an attempt to leverage diplomacy for his own sake. The action that had caused offence was clearly identified and the attached emotions clearly shared. When scripture exhorts us to ‘speak the truth in love’, too often we either speak in love with no truth, or speak truth with no love. We must allow candid, but Christ honouring discussion to take place.
  5. Listen, and listen well
    Give the honour of listening well. Not listening with one ear while formulating your counter-attack, but true Spirit enriched listening. If, like me, you need extra help and grace in this dicipline, please read David Mathis’ excellent article, Six Lessons in Good Listening, over at the Desiring God site. Let me say it again, ‘listen, and listen well’.
  6. Prepare to be wrong
    You have been wrong before, and you will be wrong again. Maybe you are wrong now. When Israel realised that they had acted on false assumptions, almost plunging the nation into civil war, Phinehas was ready to be wrong. Rather than stubbernly persisting with your assumed righteous position, are you able to plan for the fact that you may be incorrect? That you may need to change your course of action? That you may need to humbly tell a brother, ‘I was wrong. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” Pray ernestly that God will deliver you from the crippling need to always be right, and foster a gentle spirit within you that is ready to accept that you will often be wrong.

Battles of Misunderstanding

Stand with me a while on a hilltop.

The morning sun is warm as it breaks over the distant line that stands between heaven and earth ready for its march across the cloudless sky. Pinching against your neck, the light throws your long shadow over the precipice that falls before you.

In the distance, on the other side of the river, the plains of Gilgal are shrouded in gloomy darkness and wisps of morning fog. You cannot see them, but they are there.

Word had reached you yesterday that the army had gathered at Shiloh, from where you had just been, and now once again returned to it’s old launching grounds; Yahweh’s army, Joshua’s forces, your brothers. They were gathering for some great battle, but no messenger had come to bring your orders. They were readying themselves for victory, but you would not share in it.

Why? For the last 35 years you had stood together with them, shoulder to shoulder you had routed your common enemies. Had you not bled with them, even for them? Who was it that was about to face the terrible wrath of the armies of the LORD? Surely they would be no more. Why had Joshua not called for you? Why had you been shamed like this?

The growing warmth of the sun on your back is no match for the growing heat of anger as it burns in your chest.

Continue reading

The Dangers of Entrepreneurship in Pastoral Ministry

Very impressed. Very, very impressed. And as a rule, I rarely use the word ‘very’.

Matt Svoboda

John Piper once wrote a book titled, “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.” It is fantastic and I recommend it for every pastor. It warns pastors of falling into the error of “professionalism.” Piper knew that falling into a spirit of professionalism as pastors could essentially destroy the essence of our calling as pastors.

A spirit of professionalism is still a danger to pastor ministry, but I think we are seeing a new wave: a spirit of entrepreneurship. While these two things are in many way inseparable, I think there is some important nuance between them.

Like with professionalism, not all aspects of an entrepreneurship are bad. In many ways it is quite helpful to have pastors that have some entrepreneur in them. The danger is in putting too much stock into entrepreneurship. A danger that can really dig against the true nature of calling and spiritual leadership 

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12 Months Later

Without doubt, one of the most significant events of 2013 was my trip to Minneapolis to attend the 2013 Desiring God Pastor’s Conference.

During those eventful days, I remember writing to a friend that I did not know how God will use this experience, however, I felt that this would turn out to be a reference point that I’d look back on in the future. So here I am, 12 months on, reflecting on how God has impacted my life through that brief week.

  1. The support I felt from my fellow Elders as they sacrificially sent me away, half way around the world, for a three day conference is almost more than I can express. This was their gift to me, yet in the residual effect, it was their gift to the church.
  2. Dedicated time away, steeped in the truth of God’s Word, was a refreshing tonic to my soul. Though I returned to Australia physically tired, I was spiritually awakened and joyfully anticipating the ministry effort required from me in the months ahead.
  3. The concentrated volume of God honouring, Christ exulting, Spirit driven, bible teaching; filled my heart and mind to overflowing proportions. I will never tire of hearing gifted men powerfully and faithfully proclaiming the life giving text of the Word of God.
  4. The resounding sound of thousands of worshipers as they poured out their heart before our shared Saviour. Corporate worship was a surprising experience that I had not anticipated on having the effect it did.
  5. Lots of free, high quality books are always welcome!
  6. Sweet Christian fellowship with godly men who share my heart for the ministry of the Word.
  7. I had the privilege of meeting some amazing men who have given their entire lives to advancing the cause of Christ. Though only brief, I was happy to meet and spend some time speaking with John Piper, who has had a profound impact on my spiritual growth over the last 5 years or so.
  8. Due to flight timing, I also enjoyed the generous hospitality of the Desiring God staff in their office at Minneapolis during the day following the conference. I’m thankful for the faithful service of the men and women who serve the church worldwide. Particular thanks goes out to Tyler Kenny, Tony Reinke and Jon Bloom, humble brothers in Christ and powerful ministers of the Gospel.

I guess over the years to come, my list of reflections will grow and I will hopefully see to a larger extent how God used this one experience to shape in me the likeness of His Son. So, though I’d return to the conference year after year if it were possible, I also know that God is continuing His work of sanctification in my life apart from ‘big’ experiences like the one just described. The ministry of the Word and the Spirit continues day in and day out, through the ordinary and mundane, so that on a coming day I will be able to join Paul in saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8, ESV)

To the praise of His glory.

There’s No Plan B

You’ve probably heard it said.

Maybe you’ve said it yourself.

I know I have.

When it comes to evangelism and the church – there’s no plan B!

Here’s why I’m rethinking this statement… Continue reading

Are You Frustrated?

Frustration is a curious experience.

I can either feel frustration as I see my own shortcomings, or I can experience it (often more intensely) due to other’s shortcomings.

Either way, Hans Kristensen from ‘Learning in the Grip of Grace’ has some sound advice.

Are You a Frustrated Church Leader? | Learning in the grip of grace.

Live for the Particular Glories of Jesus, Not a Smudge

I need to confess something.

My mind is a complex mess of abstraction.

I believe God made me this way. I was shaped in my mother’s womb to a design foreknown before the foundation of the earth had been laid. I conceptualize with abstract processes, and I’m comfortable with that. God has a good purpose in my peculiarities.

However, those that know me best would attest to the fact that my language and conversation is deeply shaped by a quest for definition and preciseness. This isn’t simply the sole opinion of outsiders – as I look into the mirror, I too see this trait.

How do the two co-exist?

I’m not sure.

But I know why they must co-exist.

Abstraction and precision must be unlikely room-mates for one foundational reason – for me to know my God. From this one foundational reason, springs a thousand others that drive me to live in the tension of my own existence.

An abstract view of God may leave room for the inexpressible realities of His glories, but is deficient in seeing, defining and expressing His revealed qualities as are given through His own Word.

The quest to precisely define all of God may help us in seeing and savouring His particular glories, but is deficient for the ability to bask in the wonder and majesty of His holiness – that unique and awesome ‘otherness‘ of God.

My default is abstraction. By God’s grace, He has caused me to learn, and hunger for, precision and definition. Without this hunger, I would slip into a deficient relationship with an abstract, smudged vision of God.

What’s your default position in how you view and relate to God?

Abstraction?

Precision and definition?

For further reading and consideration, follow the link over to Desiring God and read through John Piper’s reflections on this important topic.

Live for the Particular Glories of Jesus, Not a Smudge – Desiring God.

My Battle With Porn

It was my 13th birthday.

I was on a bus trip with a group of guys. I was sitting on the right-hand side, one row from the back.

I was the youngest.

There was a magazine.

I can still see that image.  In a split second it was seared into my conscience. Continue reading