Archive for the ‘Ministry’ Category

How to Be a Pilgrim

October 5, 2009

I am so thankful to God for the years I spent in the youth group at First Baptist Church of Atlanta, Texas.  It was particularly when I was in the sixth grade that I first began to understand that the claims of Christ over my life are total and absolute.  Thus, my Christian faith cannot be tucked away in a private area of my life.  It must shape everything I do and think.  God knows I needed to hear that message at that particular time, and my life has never been the same.

But at the same time I was also introduced to textbook American evangelical activism.  I don’t mean that my youth group meetings were political rallies (we didn’t discuss politics).  I mean that, under the instruction of my youth minister, I dove headfirst into the “transform the world for Christ” mentality.  It has taken me years to recover from it, and I am still in process. 

Of course, a lot of good came out of that teaching.  I became more attuned to the public claims of the Christian faith.  I grew strong and bold (at least more so than I had been before) in personal evangelism.  I developed leadership abilities that have carried me through years of ministry.  I certainly don’t want to suggest that everything I learned in this regard was wrong or of no value to me.

But I also got entrenched in evangelical triumphalism.  I overestimated my own (and the church’s) ability to “build” God’s Kingdom on earth (as though that is something any human hands could do!).  I dreamed big dreams, and more often than not I ended up with big disappointments.  I still wrestle with the ramifications of those dreams today.  And in some cases I have had to smash those dreams because they were nothing more than sugar-coated idols.   

This article by Michael Horton strikes me as one full of biblical and theological wisdom.  Please read it for insight into the relationship between the “already” dimension of the Kingdom of God, the “not yet” dimension of the Kingdom, and the church’s role in between. 

Does God expect me to go out and change the world?  Probably not.  Imagine how few people in the history of the human race can claim to have done such a thing.  We are not all, as Christians, called to be world changers.  But we are all called to be pilgrims, wayfarers on the road to glory who may not pull off a global makeover, but if we faithfully worship, pray, love, and work, day in and day out, as the New Testament calls us to do, we may just end up leaving this place a little better than we found it.  Evangelical triumphalism may not be satisfied with that idea, but if I read the New Testament correctly, it seems that God is.  And that’s so much the worse for evangelical triumphalism.

At the command of God the Father and at just the right moment, the Lord Jesus will bring the consummation of the Kingdom.  It is not yours or mine to build.  Maybe if we lowered our expectations a bit about who we are and what we are capable of doing, we might just find that there is a depth of joy and contentment to be found in living a life of simple faithfulness.  Sure, every once in a while a Paul, an Augustine, a Luther comes along and turns the world on its head, but in between those unusual moments in history, millions of faithful believers pass out of this world unnoticed by the earthly multitudes even while they are welcomed as heroes among the hosts of Heaven.  If I can be one of them, then that will be enough for me.

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Thank You, Corn Creek Baptist Church

July 20, 2009

Yesterday, standing in the pulpit at Corn Creek Baptist Church, the place where I have stood and preached hundreds of times, I gave one final sermon to the congregation that I have served since late 2003.  Taking Romans 5:6-11 as my text, I proclaimed the love of God for the ungodly revealed in the cross.  After that we shared communion together, had a traditional Baptist potluck, and then said our goodbyes.  My ministry there is now finished.

I thank God for Corn Creek Baptist Church: for its history, its heritage, and most of all, its people.  When I first came to the church as a young seminarian, I felt a bit like I was out of my element.  I’m not the kind of person you would typically associate with a tiny, rural congregation in the middle of nowhere in northern Kentucky.  But early on I convinced myself that I could love these people because God loved them.  And I convinced myself that I could love this place because God had sanctified it to his name.  And through the years, through the experiences, through the ups and downs, through the frustrations and triumphs, I have grown to love this church as I have loved no other church in my life.

Pastoral ministry has made me a better person.  It has humbled me.  It has made me more dependent on God.  It has caused me to love the gospel more.  It has forced me to see the ubiquity of grace in this world.  It has shown me the beauty of the “little places” that I previously ignored.  It has brought me face-to-face with death and with the process of dying.  It has taught me more of what it means to love others.  I will be forever grateful to God that I had the opportunity to become who I am today in large part because a small church in northern Kentucky decided to open itself up to a young seminarian. 

Yesterday after church I came home and mowed my lawn.  Ministry and mowing will always be linked together in my mind because of an illustration that Albert Mohler once gave at a preaching conference that I attended.  He said that when you mow a lawn, you can look at the finished product and enjoy your accomplishment.  But ministry is different.  When you serve a church, you never reach the point where you can sit back and say, “Now, look at that.  Everything has been accomplished.  My work is done.”

After mowing the lawn yesterday, I felt the satisfaction of an accomplished task.  And then I couldn’t help but notice the irony.  Only a few hours before concluding a finished task in my yard, I had concluded an unifinished task in Trimble County, Kentucky.  I had ended my part of the work at a church where the work will continue to go on, day-by-day, year-by-year, until Jesus comes to make his bride spotless.  I don’t have a finished product to show for the last six years.  Nor do I have, at present, a report card from Heaven telling me how I did.  I must go on now, leaving that matter to the day when the fire will test each man’s work.

So thank you, Corn Creek Baptist Church.  One day, sooner than we know, we will all be together again.  And this time it will be forever.

A Tribute to John Calvin

July 10, 2009

John Calvin was born on July 10th, 1509, exactly five-hundred years ago today.  I thought about writing a personal word of tribute expressing my deep appreciation for the influence his work has wielded over the church, over the world, and over myself, but I have found that I cannot say anything better than Kevin DeYoung has already said it.  Here’s a brief excerpt before you go to his page to read it all (I have made one slight alteration to smooth out a typo):

Strive for relevance in your day, and you may make a difference for a few years. Anchor yourself in what is eternal and you may influence the world for another five centuries.

With empty fads and cultural accomodation rampant in our churches today, we could really use a message like that.

Free Bible Commentaries Online!

April 14, 2009

I have added a new link to freebiblecommentaries.org, a ministry of Dr. Bob Utley, formerly of East Texas Baptist University.

In my years at ETBU I took Dr. Utley (whom I know as “Dr. Bob”) for four classes: Old Testament Survey II, Hermeneutics I, Hermeneutics II, and Preaching.  I also had the privilege of traveling with him to Brazil for an evangelistic crusade in 2002.  He is truly a man of God.  His passion for the Bible, for the gospel, for the church, and for the lost is evident in everything that he does.  A few years ago he resigned from university teaching in order to put all of his energy into teaching ordinary church members how to interpret the Bible for themselves. 

I recommend his commentaries to you.  They are something of a unique genre, in that they are more interactive than most commentaries.  They provide a wealth of helpful information (as commentaries should), but they are self-consciously designed to teach readers the skill of Bible interpretation as opposed to dependence on commentaries.  Dr. Bob’s passion is not to tell you what you should think about the Bible; it is to teach you how to come to your own sound conclusions about what the Bible teaches. 

This website is a gift to the church.  I encourage you all to bookmark it and refer to it often.

The Problem with Open Membership: Where I Disagree with John Piper, Part 2

November 25, 2008

[Please see part 1 for the context of this discussion.]

Like John Bunyan before him, John Piper favors a policy of open membership at his church, a policy by which true believers who were baptized as infants and who cannot submit to believer’s baptism in good conscience (because they consider their infant baptism scripturally valid) would be allowed to join the church without being scripturally baptized.  I understand Piper’s theological and practical reasoning on this, and I think he has a good intention behind it, namely, to move some active attenders at his church into a membership status so that they can come under the full care and discipline of the church.  Nevertheless, I disagree with the policy for the following reasons:

(1) Even on its own terms, the policy is inconsistent.  Piper argues that the requirements for membership in any local church should be the same requirements for membership in the universal church.  But this is manifestly impossible.  The vast majority of Christians (or, to use Piper’s terminology, members of the universal church) cannot join Bethlehem Baptist Church simply because they cannot, for geographical and circumstantial reasons, involve themselves in the life of that local body.  If I lived in the Minneapolis area, Bethlehem would be a likely place where I would seek church membership.  But I live in Louisville, and for that reason membership at Bethlehem Baptist Church is a closed option for me.  So what Piper evidently means when he argues that the requirements for membership in any local church should be the same as the requirements for membership in the universal church is actually this: the requirements for membership in any local church must be the same as the requirements for membership in the universal church plus a commitment to be involved in the corporate life of that particular local church.  In many cases (if it is a healthy church), that commitment will be formalized by a church covenant, the terms of which any person must agree to abide by in order to join and maintain membership in that local church.  But obviously, signing the church covenant at Bethlehem Baptist Church is not a biblical requirement for salvation (membership in the universal church), so we have at least one additional requirement here that eliminates the vast majority of believers from membership at Bethlehem Baptist, simply because, as a local church, Bethlehem Baptist must be truly local, that is, restricted in time and space to a particular body of people.  Therefore, I find the argument that moves from universal church membership to local church membership to be lacking at this point.  It simply does not work.

(2) The previous observation creates a category of thought by which we can determine that membership in any local church involves particular commitments that not all true believers can make.  I cannot commit to the terms of Bethlehem Baptist Church’s covenant, if for no other reason because I cannot be physically present with that church on a regular basis.  Membership is not open to me unless I make significant personal changes.  I submit that baptism falls into the same category.  There may be true believers who are not scripturally baptized, and if we as Baptists restrict them from membership for that reason we have not done anything essentially different from restricting those who cannot commit to the church covenant for other reasons, though they may still be true believers.

(3) The foregoing observations lead me to conclude that it is simply wrong to equate denial of membership with excommunication.  The Baptist church that excludes evangelical Presbyterians from its membership over the question of baptism is not saying that these evangelical Presbyterians cannot be viewed as true believers until they repent.  It is saying, rather, that due to differences over a significant ecclesiological matter, there can be no institutional unity so long as these differences persist.  To take myself as an example once again, Bethlehem Baptist Church would not allow me to join so long as I live in Louisville, but that does not mean they view me the same way they would view an excommunicated member.  Granted, living in Louisville and having a faulty view of baptism are different matters (Scripture addresses one but not the other), but at least we have a category by which to understand that not allowing someone to join a church does not mean we automatically treat them as unbelievers.

(4) An open membership policy would lessen the significance of baptism considerably.  It would create a category of church members who are, by the church’s own definition, unbaptized.  There are several problems with this situation:

a. The New Testament knows nothing of an unbaptized believer/church member.  Granted, the particular situation we are facing today (where whole denominations hold to a faulty view of baptism) is not in view in the New Testament.  But simply because unbiblical anomalies exist does not mean that we should perpetuate them in our own practice.  As people of the book, we must do our best to conform our ecclesiology to Scripture.  Piper has done this very well at Bethlehem in other areas, leading to important changes that have conformed the church’s practice more to the pattern of Scripture.  I believe the open membership policy would represent a departure from that pattern in Piper’s ministry. 

b. If we will permit one category of unbaptized people to join our churches (namely, those baptized as infants and who cannot submit in good conscience to believer’s baptism), then what is to stop us from allowing other categories of unbaptized people to join, say, those who are professing believers but who believe baptism simply doesn’t matter, or those who are too shy to identify themselves publicly with Christ through baptism?  Could an open membership policy inadvertently decrease a church’s valuing of baptism to the degree that baptism simply ceases to be a requirement at all but something more like an option that some will take and others will refuse?  I fear that, after two or three generations of this kind of policy, when the rigorous theological thinking of those who originally instituted the policy has passed into history, it will be difficult to stop that kind of practical slide into a nullification of baptism as a necessary ecclesiastical rite. 

c. And that is why I always try to defer to tradition on difficult issues like this one.  In this discussion, there is an important point that must not be missed: Throughout the history of the church, baptism (however it has been understood) has been universally acknowledged as an entrance requirement for church membership.  Whether we are talking about Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Wesleyans, or Baptists, one thing they all share in common is that they have all agreed that baptism is a prerequisite to church membership.  Granted, they disagree on the proper subjects, mode, and meaning of baptism, but no church tradition (with the exception of radical groups like the Quakers) has ever made it a policy to accept the unbaptized as members.  And yet, this is what Piper proposes that Bethlehem should do in at least some situations, according to his own understanding of baptism.  I think there is a reason such a view is virtually unprecedented (with the exception of John Bunyan and perhaps a few other leaders and churches scattered here and there throughout history).  That reason is that the church throughout history has, by virtual unanimity, acknowledged the initiatory character of baptism and has guarded it from devaluation.  Before we decide to turn against the virtual consensus of tradition, we should have overwhelmingly good theological reasons to do so.  I believe Piper’s arguments lack that kind of warrant on this issue. 

Therefore, I would oppose the institution of an open membership policy at any Baptist church.  I know that in some situations that may put some groups in a difficult situation.  But I believe a major revision to a church’s membership policy that devalues baptism would create even bigger problems.  For this reason, I do not see open membership as the answer.

The Problem with Open Membership: Where I Disagree with John Piper, Part 1

November 24, 2008

Those who know me or who have read my blog for any length of time know how indebted I am to the ministry and teachings of John Piper.  I have read most of his books, quite a few of his sermons and articles, and I have heard him speak at conferences multiple times.  He is a tremendous gift to the church.  He is everything a pastor-theologian should be: rigorously biblical, deeply theological, and passionate for the glory of God in all things. 

But I do disagree with him from time to time, and this post and the following one will address one area of disagreement, namely, Piper’s proposal that his church, Bethlehem Baptist Church of Minneapolis, adopt an open membership policy (links to various articles and sermons can be found here).  Bethlehem has not, to this point, adopted the policy, but it looks like it will come up for a vote at some point.  I do not consider myself an advisor to Bethlehem Baptist Church on this issue, but as a Baptist I do believe it is important for all Baptist churches to think through carefully the terms of their membership policies.  In this post my purpose is to explain Piper’s position, followed by a critique in the following post.

Piper and all of the elders at Bethlehem Baptist agree that scriptural baptism is for professing believers only.  They do not recognize infant baptism as a true baptism in any sense.  The current proposal of open membership does not change that fact.  That Bethlehem would either start baptizing infants or recognize infant baptism as legitimate is not on the table at all. 

What is on the table is the possibility of allowing professing believers to join the church as members who were baptized as infants and who cannot in good conscience submit to another baptism because they recognize their own infant baptism as valid.  In other words, the church would not recognize infant baptism as legitimate, but it would, under this proposal, soften its baptism requirement in order to open membership to those who do not agree with the church’s position on baptism.  It is, therefore, more of a practical than a theological proposal.  A few years ago I spoke to a former member of Bethlehem about this, and he said that the policy would allow the church have a covenantal relationship with a number of Reformed believers who are regular attenders but who have not, to this point, joined the church because of their views on baptism.  In other words, the policy would allow these active attenders to become members under the care and discipline of the church without changing their settled convictions on the question of baptism.

As I said, the issue is primarily practical, but there is a theological component involved in Piper’s argument for the open membership proposal.  According to Dr. Piper, the requirements for membership in a local church should be the same as requirements for membership in the universal church.  If we recognize evangelical Presbyterian believers as true believers who belong to the universal church, according to Piper, then we should allow them to join Baptist churches without being baptized (according to our definition of baptism).  Very few Baptists would say that a gospel-believing Presbyterian is not a true believer just because he has not been scripturally baptized.  If that is the case, argues Piper, then we cannot exclude him from membership on that basis.  To exclude a true believer from fellowship in a local church is on par with excommunication, and differences over the nature of baptism should not lead to such radical action against true believers. 

However, the proposal on the table at Bethlehem Baptist does specify that, while membership would be open to professing believers who have not been baptized, teaching in the church would not open up to them.  The teaching ministries of the church will only be carried out by those who have been baptized as believers and who uphold the baptism of believers only as the only scriptural baptism. 

I hope I have represented the position fairly.  In the next post I will explain why I disagree with it.

Together for the Gospel 2008

April 19, 2008

This week I had the privilege of attending the Together for the Gospel 2008 conference in Louisville.  It was wonderful.  I got to spend some time with my younger brother, Andrew, who flew in from Texas.  I met Kevin DeYoung (whose name tag Andrew happened to spot on an elevator), one of the authors of the new book Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), a book that I read a few weeks ago and found very helpful.  I sang rich hymns about the gospel with 5,500 brothers and sisters, often moving me to tears.  Andrew and I got a picture made with John Piper.  We also got about 15 free, theologically substantive books.  And I heard some wonderful teaching, preaching, and discussion.

Ligon Duncan gave the first address by stressing the importance of systematic theology for the church and for preaching.  Thabiti Anyabwile deconstructed the idea of biologically determined race and argued, based on theological truths from Scripture, for a new way of relating to people whose skin is a different color from ours (more on that address in a future post).  I missed John MacArthur’s message on total inability (I was in class at the time), but I heard that it was wonderful.  I did get to hear the panel discussion with MacArthur afterward.  Mark Dever spoke on contemporary attempts to improve the gospel, and he exhorted us to ensure that we never try to do such a thing.  Instead, he called us to be clear on what the gospel is and to keep it distinct from legitimate implications that may flow from it, lest we generate confusion and ultimately lead people away from the gospel.

R. C. Sproul delivered what may be the best sermon I have ever heard in my life.  It was on the curse motif of the atonement, based on Galatians 3:10-14 but drawing from the blessing/curse teachings of Genesis 3, Deuteronomy 28ff., and Numbers 6 (the Aaronic blessing), as well as from the Day of Atonement ritual of Leviticus 16.  Unable to stand for a long period of time due to his health, Dr. Sproul preached sitting down from the depths of his soul and vividly communicated to us the horror and wonder of the cross.  I will never forget that message. 

Albert Mohler followed Sproul’s sermon with an address on contemporary rejections of the doctrine of penal substitution, and he (as always) brought clarity and strong biblical-theological reasoning to the discussion.  John Piper passionately exhorted us to embrace a radical ministry of suffering as we look to the ultimate reward, namely, Christ himself.  By treasuring Christ above all, he said, and enduring suffering and loss for his sake, we show the world his glory and value in a way that would not be shown were we never to experience suffering in his service.  C. J. Mahaney ended with a call to pastors to shepherd their flocks joyfully, exhorting us from Philippians 1 to pursue ministry with gratitude, faith in God’s promises for the future, and deep affection for those under our care.  In between these sessions were panel discussions with the four leaders of T4G (Mohler, Dever, Duncan, and Mahaney) together with whatever speaker had previously given his address. 

This week was a refreshing oasis.  It was like church camp for Calvinist pastors, only without goofy recreation time, goofy youth speakers, or goofy music.  No, I take that back.  Very little of it was like church camp.  It was much too rich for that kind of an analogy.  This week I saw 5,500 brothers and sisters of mine who are passionate for the gospel of Jesus Christ celebrating that passion together and drawing energy to go back to their churches in order to proclaim that gospel more faithfully.  Gatherings like these give me great hope for the future of the church.

More to come later.  I want to share with you first some of the things Thabiti Anyabwile argued about the concepts of race and ethnicity.  And I also plan to write a series of posts on the gospel based on thoughts provoked by this conference.   

The Priesthood of Believers and the Ministry of Confession

March 20, 2008

I think it is time for Protestants to revive the ancient practice of confession.  What I am referring to here is the practice of confessing one’s sins to another person.  But let me be absolutely clear about what I don’t mean.  I don’t mean that we should elevate one person to the status of priest, recognize him as one qualified to dispense grace through the sacrament of penance, and then depend on him to provide us with absolution when we confess our sins to him.  What I am here arguing is miles away from the Roman Catholic sacrament.

Yet historically, Protestants have been a confessing people (in more senses than one!).  Martin Luther retained the practice of confession in his theology and practice, even calling it a third sacrament in some places (though I disagree with him on that point).  Liturgies that have come out of churches of the Reformation have included a corporate confession of sins followed by an assurance of pardon.  But as Western society turned more toward the primacy of the individual and lost a robust understanding of the church, the practice of confession was one of the many unfortunate casualties (not to mention church discipline, biblical church membership, and a host of other things). 

I am tremendously thankful for my Baptist heritage.  I am thankful that I grew up in a tradition that upheld the biblical doctrine of the priesthood of believers.  Yet I fear that this biblical teaching has been distorted and misused far too often (along with the biblical teachings of soul competency and religious liberty).  Some people use the doctrine of the priesthood of believers to defend an unbiblical individualism that essentially cuts off the believer from any kind of accountability to the church.  But this is not what the doctrine means.

That we can approach God’s throne through our sole Mediator, Jesus Christ, and confess our sins with the assurance of forgiveness through his atoning work, I hold as a precious truth.  But that this aspect of our priesthood before God eliminates any need to confess to one another, I dispute.  Confession of sins to others is commanded in Scripture (James 5:16), so we must not think that it compromises the biblical teachings of the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement or the priesthood of all believers.  We don’t confess our sins to a brother in order that he himself may forgive us (that is, unless we sinned against him specifically).  We confess for other reasons.

Confession of our sins to a brother in the church brings our sins out of the darkness and into the light.  In most cases, there is no need to make one’s sins public knowledge.  But that does not mean that one should remain alone with his sins.  In the loving fellowship of the church, everyone should have at least one person with whom he can be open to make known his failures, his weaknesses, his frailties.  In some cases, confession may take place in small groups.  Whatever the mechanism, confession helps to break the power of sin by disabling its ability to remain hidden.  Sin that remains hidden has great potential to grow and fester, eventually poisoning one’s life and community.  Do not be alone with your sin.  Enlist someone you know and love (of the same sex, unless it is your spouse) to be your partner in bringing your secret sins to light.  Once they have been brought before another person (or perhaps two or three others), let them then evaporate.    

But isn’t this embarrassing?  Yes, it is, but only because of our pride.  We are only embarrassed to be open about our sins with others if we value too much the false understanding we think they have of us.  We want them to place us on  pedastal and believe (quite falsely) that we never struggle, that we never fail, that we have attained a level of spiritual maturity that is far beyond us.  But if we truly believed the good news that we are justified, that is, declared righteous before God, by faith in Christ alone and not because of who we are or what we have done, then we would have greater freedom to be sinners with one another.  I don’t mean that in the sense of gathering together for the purpose of sinning.  I mean it in the sense of being open and honest about who we are and how we have failed.  No one should be more aware of his sins than a Christian.  No community should be more aware of its sins than a church.  Why, then, do we express shock when it is discovered that the church is full of sinners?  Instead of pretending to be above it all, let us be open with one another as sinners, so that we may rejoice even more in the grace of God given to us in Christ.  I can be open with my brother about my own failings because I do not seek to justify myself.  I trust in the God who justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5).  If I leave off trying to justify myself before others and simply rest in the glorious truth that I am justified in Christ alone, exposing my sins will no longer threaten to undo me. 

And let us speak the promise of the gospel to one another.  If I confess my sins to a brother, I want him to assure me that God has forgiven me in Christ.  I want him, as a priest before God, to speak the promises of God to me, especially the promise of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  And I want to be the one who speaks that promise to my brother when he confesses his sins to me.  What exactly is the nature of this spoken word?  Does it effect forgiveness?  Does God forgive only through the mechanism of the spoken human word?  No!  The words of promise that we speak to each other do not force God to act.  They simply declare that he has already acted.  This is what Jesus meant when he gave the power of the keys first to Peter (Matthew 16:19) and then to the church as a whole (Matthew 18:18).  The Holman Christian Standard Bible represents a good rendering of the Greek: “I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.”  God pronounces us forgiven in Christ, and he has empowered his church to proclaim his heavenly verdict on earth when a repentant sinner seeks forgiveness on the basis of Christ’s atoning death.  I want my brother to be the agent of proclamation of that decision to me, and I in turn to him.  To hear the Word of God spoken through the lips of another is to hear God speaking. 

I submit that this is part of what it means for us to be priests before God.  Our priesthood does not render confession unnecessary.  On the contrary, it demands that we act as priests to one another, not in the Roman Catholic sense, but in the robust Protestant sense of declaring the promise of God to one another.  Seek out a brother or a sister whom you love dearly and whom you trust, and never be alone with your sin again. 

After Four Years in the Pastorate

November 8, 2007

Ministry (like life in general) certainly has challenges.  My previous post indicated that.  But I don’t want to give the impression that the only thing wonderful about my life in the ministry is that I’m getting closer to Heaven with each passing day.  There are many wonderful things that happen along the way as well.

In recent days I have prayed for a church member and seen him healed of cancer.  Our church is getting ready to baptize a young woman who only a few months ago was not on speaking terms with God.  The situation mentioned in the last post has improved considerably, and there are signs that all parties involved are getting a new start.  Every week I have the privilege of digging deeply into a passage of Scripture in preparation for my sermon, and God constantly opens himself up to me in wonderful ways, making me more aware of his grace.  The leaves of northern Kentucky are colorful this time of year, and I can step outside and admire them any time I want.  Some of my best friends are well over fifty years old.  People leave tomatoes on our porch (not that I’m crazy about tomatoes, but there is something wonderful about living in a community where vegetables are homegrown and spread around).  Life truly is great here.

I have heard too many ministers whine (whether in person or on the internet) about their situations.  So many of us succumb to cyncism, despair, and loneliness.  We have not eyes to see the beauty, the wonder, of what we have.  There will always be days, even seasons, of misery.  But I have found that simply sticking around, showing up, and faithfully doing what God has called you to do will eventually lead to a break in the clouds.  And then you have enough light to see what you could not see before: that all around you the signs of grace have always been there.  They’re like mustard seeds, so easy to miss at first, but so difficult to ignore later. 

One More Day…

November 2, 2007

“Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.”

I hate that song.  Not because it doesn’t express some truth, but because of what it obscures.  A generation raised on that kind of “Zippity Doo Dah” theology will abandon the faith en masse once the real world exposes the depth its naivete.  Every day with Jesus is not sweeter than the day before.  Some days are sweet, and some days are wretched and miserable.

Last year a semi-elderly couple joined my church.  I love them to death.  They have been faithful church members and have shown me strong support in prayer and in encouragement.  Shortly after they joined, the husband told me he felt like God led him to our church in part so that he could show me the real world.  In the last year, I have seen it. 

I saw it tonight. 

I saw it through a video phone in a local jail where a man whom I baptized back in March sat, explaining to me why he was not to blame for his predicament and telling me he was done with his pregnant wife.  There’s a lot more that I could say, but I’ll leave it at that.

In ministry, we don’t get to say, “I didn’t sign up for this.”  We don’t get to say that because we did sign up for it.  We didn’t sign up for “Mr. Blue Bird’s on my shoulder” twenty-four seven.  We signed up for deathbeds and broken marriages and betrayals and jail visits and looking at human depravity up close and seeing reflections of ourselves.  We signed up for disappointment and despondency and emotional exhaustion and loneliness. 

We signed up for the cross.

The very message we proclaim is that somewhere in all of the blood, sweat, dirt, pain, and messiness of the cross, love happens.  When you’re walking with a slab of wood on your back to the place of execution, every day is not sweeter than the day before.  But radical love has a price.  We signed up for that.  We said we were willing to pay that price.  Why, then, do we whine and complain when we are asked to pay it?  It is much better to look past the shame of the cross to the hope that is to come and then to let ourselves be nailed up there with Jesus for the joy set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2).

So instead of singing “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before,” I much prefer the words of a Third Day song:

It’s all right, it’s okay, I won’t worry about tomorrow, for it brings me one more day closer than I was to You.

Maybe, at the end of some days, there’s only one positive thing to say: this day brought me one more day closer to Heaven, closer to the Savior who looked at the mess I had made and loved me nonetheless.  As long as I can say that, I know I’ll be all right.