4 Posts from March 2009

The Battle Belongs to the Lord, Part 1

During the months ahead you can expect that your courage will be tested. It is a constant battle for us as pastors. You’ll face a wall you don’t think you can get over, a battle you don’t think you can win, or an obstacle you don’t think you can get beyond.

You’ve probably thought about that battle today. It may have robbed you of sleep last night or preoccupied your thoughts in random moments. Your “opponent” may be someone in your community, in your congregation, or among your elders or deacons. It may be a battle with pride, or anger, or some habit, or perhaps a secret addiction. Whatever the challenge, the battle you face right now looks impossible to overcome.

You may be right. You may not ever be able to win this battle because you’re fighting the wrong way, using the wrong strategy.

You and I were raised to match strength for strength. If the opponent is strong, we must be stronger. If he is smart, we must be smarter. The only way to win is through intimidation. You must crush or control your opponent and the situation.

All of this is true, of course, unless you’re going to fight God’s way. God’s strategy is altogether different. God specializes in impossible situations. (See Matthew 19:26 and Luke 1:37.) When you are overwhelmed, outnumbered, outmanned, outmuscled, or outsmarted, God steps in, because only He is qualified to be the specialist who can lead you to victory. Only He does it His way.

The courageous Joshua faced a battle that he knew he couldn’t win. God’s charge to him was to go and take the land. “I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.” God said, “Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:5–6). I wonder if (in a weak moment, all alone) Joshua thought, Conquer the mighty city of Jericho? No way! Can’t be done. Not by power, not by intimidation. Not by cunning strategy. This is a wall we cannot bring down. You have read about his impossible situation in Joshua 6. You may have even preached it.

All our lives, we’ve been singing, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho.” But the song is wrong. Joshua didn’t fight the battle. He marched and shouted just as God told him to, and the walls fell down. But there was no fight to get over the walls! Joshua listened for the trumpet blast, like the other people in the army, and simply stood back and watched God’s miraculous intervention. The odds were against them, and they couldn’t possibly do battle against their fierce enemy all alone. Their only hope of victory was obeying God . . . and the walls around the city fell flat.

From where did such a strategy come? I’ll share that with you next time . . . as well as a few lessons we pastors can learn. But this week is a good time for us to consider: Am I trying to fight this battle in my own strength or in God’s?


A Matter of Obedience, Part 2

Years ago a church I pastored had a “Statement of Commitment” that explained in concise terms the seriousness of our responsibilities—and the holiness of our roles—as Christian leaders. I want to share it with you.

As you read the words, take the opportunity to reaffirm your commitment to the Lord and to His work. Let me urge you to read it aloud, if you’re able to do that right now.

  • I recognize that the Lord, my God, is responsible for my appointment to this place of leadership. I will therefore be His representative, listening to His Word, and obeying His voice as I fulfill my responsibilities.
  • Over all other suggestions and advice, I will seek to hear the counsel of Almighty God (as it is revealed in the Scriptures) in every major decision connected with my involvement in this ministry.
  • I will take refuge in and rely on the Spirit of God rather than my own flesh and skill or that of any other person. I will make every effort to carry out the leadership of this position under the full control of the Holy Spirit.
  • With my whole heart, I will fear the Lord Jesus Christ, my God, and acknowledge Him as the sovereign Head of this church . . . deserving of my unreserved faithfulness, submission, diligence, and commitment. I will honor His name.
  • Realizing the strong tendency to compromise with this commitment, I openly declare my dependency on God and my need for others in His family. As a servant of the Lord of the body, His church, I will guard against every temptation from the enemies of godly leadership—
authoritarianism    greed    hypocrisy    rationalization
exclusiveness        sensuality    pride    unaccountability

—and I will fulfill my responsibilities for the greater glory and praise of my Master, Jesus Christ, whom I love and willingly obey.

Does this represent your commitment as a pastor? If it does, I join you in saying, “Amen!” I am sold out to the work of the ministry—whether lonely or surrounded by friends, misunderstood or affirmed, exhausted or energized, resented or respected, all alone with my books in the study or holding forth with my Bible in the pulpit, under the gun or relaxed in the sun. God has called me to lead and that’s exactly what I must do, like it or not, in season or out of season. For me, there are no other options.

It’s a matter of obedience.


A Matter of Obedience, Part 1

Leading can be awfully lonely and terribly frustrating.

I haven’t always believed that. The fact is, when I was a starry-eyed seminary student getting started back in 1959 (can it really have been fifty years ago?), I had this crazy idea that a leader lived a charmed life. Especially a spiritual leader. My fantasy included contented people everywhere smiling and grateful, plenty of time to think, study, and do relaxed research, few interruptions, quick ‘n’ simple building projects, no financial woes, short counseling sessions with folks who were eager and happy to adjust their lives according to Scripture, untold energy, few committees, sermons that virtually jumped out of the text and into my notes, unchallenged respect, loud applause, and unending harmony. No conflicts. No confrontations . . . no kidding!

You’re smiling. I told you it was a fantasy.

It’s amazing what more than four decades can do to a wastebasket full of theories. Today I would tell anyone thinking about becoming a spiritual leader to think again. It’s not that they’re not needed; goodness knows, this old ornery planet of depraved humanity can always use a few more leaders who are Christian to the core. The problem is, it’s a lonelier task than it used to be.

Part of that is expected. Nobody who speaks for God can spend all his or her time being with people. Furthermore, solitude is a healthy and needed discipline. But there are some things you have to decide on and deal with that take a lot of the fun out of leading. And no matter on which side you land, there’s always the other side. And the frustrations can be downright maddening.

It helps me to return regularly to my “call”—to that time when I first understood that God was calling me into Christian ministry. Thousands of miles away from home, riveted on a tiny island in the South Pacific for well over a year, I distinctly remember this inner surge of assurance that I would be neither fulfilled nor happy doing anything other than ministry.

It meant changing careers and going on to graduate school. No matter. It meant retooling my mental machinery for a lifetime of study. No matter. It meant living my life under the always curious and sometimes demanding scrutiny of the public eye, and if necessary, being willing to go to the wall for the sake of the gospel. No matter. God had spoken to my heart, and there was no turning back. It was a matter of obedience.

I will spend the rest of my years overwhelmed at His grace in calling me—me, of all unlikely people—to work in His vineyard. The loneliness and the frustrations notwithstanding, I absolutely love it. To tell the truth, I’m having the time of my life!

But that doesn’t mean I don’t take Him seriously. I’ll share that part with you next time.


Expository Preaching: A Definition

You may remember the answer a young preacher gave when asked to describe his preaching style. The nervous pastor rose to his feet, swallowed hard, and replied: “There are two types of preaching: the first is topical . . . and the second is . . . suppository!”

As a pastor, you know better than most how tough it is to state in succinct and precise terms what we mean by “expository preaching.” I was recently asked to provide a definition. Not an easy assignment! I checked about five fairly reliable sources and found that their definitions were either too long, too convoluted, or just plain inaccurate! So, I decided to start from scratch and hammer out one on my own. Two hours later, I came up with this:

Expository preaching is the proclamation of holy Scripture delivered for the purpose of enabling others to understand what God has written, why that is important, and how it relates to one’s personal life.
  • Understanding what God has written requires the expositor to be accurate in both preparation and delivery of the Scriptures, so that the Bible is allowed to speak for itself.
  • Understanding why God’s Word is important calls for the expositor to be passionate in communicating the truth, so that the one receiving the message is compelled to listen and eager to respond.
  • Understanding how that message relates to life means that the expositor uses terms that are clear, delivers the message in ways that connect with needs, and applies it so specifically the hearer realizes the relevance of God’s Word and the necessity of aligning his/her life to it.

There’s nothing inspired about this definition. But I did find that the process of thinking through it reignited my passion for expository preaching.

Let me urge you to do some original work in the Scriptures, to mull through the biblical mandates of a pastor, and to craft your own working definition. I believe the process will help you as a preacher . . . and also provide a standard to evaluate your messages.