Pastor Matt Chandler’s recent seizure and surgery are beginning to have a profound effect on many people. Chandler was already an incredibly influential speaker/pastor/writer, and now through his incredible testimony in the midst of suffering, his Godly influence is spreading.
Learning from his mentor John Piper, Matt has spoken of the privilege of suffering while the world watches and written of “not wasting his tumor.” The video before his surgery can be found here.
When it comes down to it, Chandler and Piper are Godly men who realize that God ordains all things ultimately to bring Himself glory.
While watching from a distance, I have found the entire ordeal inspiring, encouraging, and convicting. Rightfully so, there are a host of questions that should arise from even the smallest interaction with these guys and their teachings. Each should challenge and convict and hopefully more people will walk closer to God in the midst of suffering instead of wandering further away.
Following are a list of helpful questions to ask as you consider your own heart in the midst of suffering:
• What areas of my life am I bitter about?
• Where am I mad at God?
• What good might God intend through this difficult circumstance?
• How is my suffering small compared to the suffering of so many?
• What things should I be more thankful for?
• Am I waiting on anything from God before I will serve God?
This article appears at the Raleigh Examiner. Read it there and help me earn a penny.
Psalm 122: 6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. 7 May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” 8 For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.” 9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your prosperity.
The expression “glorious burden” describes the privilege that those in places of authority have to seek the good of those under their care.
Pastors have this as they shepherd and preach to their people.
Parents have this as they raise and teach their children.
Teachers have this. Politicians have this.
Essentially, all who have the privilege to care have this.
In reading David’s prayer in Psalm 122, you see a clear love for His people. He wanted their security. He wanted their peace. He wanted families to be safe. He wanted the prosperity of all of the people of God.
Today, each and every one of us bear this same glorious burden. It is neglected at times as we seek our good above others under our care, but we must always right ourselves to the heart of Jesus.
Hebrews 12:1b And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Our perseverance in loving and caring for others comes from Jesus’ love and care to joyfully endure the cross for our sake. So then…
Pastors, pray for the ongoing needs of your people asking God for mercy at every turn.
Parents, pray for the safety and godliness of your children in a world where both are rare.
Spouses, pray for each other as the road of lifeline companionship is fraught with obstacles.
Business Owners, pray for your employees to serve with dignity in an environment that you have created that enables it.
Teachers, pray for learning and appreciation in what you teach.
Children, pray for you parents and their perseverance in the long road of caring for you.
Pray for all who you love and even your enemies that they may be blessed.
With multiple seminary graduations around the corner in the Washington/Richmond/etc., my mind returned to 11 years ago when I was preparing to walk up to the podium and receive my sheepskin. I was fortunate enough to have a ministerial call in hand the day I graduated, so I knew where I was going, to whom I was going to minister, and I even had a sense of how much money I was going to make.
My oh my, how times have changed.
Most of the seminary grads I know are presently without a formal call meaning, that they do not have a secure job in the ministry. At best, some of them have part-time youth or part-time music positions. I even know a couple of grads who have multiple part-time ministry positions. It would appear the day of giving newly graduated seminary students full-time, full pay ministry jobs has come and gone.
So, what to do? Let me offer a few practical suggestions.
Don’t mistakenly view seminary as the end of the struggle and your first job as the opportunity to exhale. Ministry is never easy even if you do receive full-time pay. Many of you have worked multiple jobs, put off having children, missed family events, and experienced a host of other sacrifices in the past 3 (or more) years to get to this point. The temptation is to think that now that you have graduated, you can exhale, get one job, and that life will smooth out a bit for you. Wonderful though that might sound, that view of ministry is idealistic and even a bit naïve. The freedom to eat pizza and laugh with your spouse or friend (and a host of other freedoms) without the worry of someone calling you on the phone with an emergency shouldn’t be taken for granted. The ministry is the most joyful, rewarding vocation of them all, but it will not be the period of your life where you all of a sudden get to exhale and take it easy. More thank likely, it will be the time where every aspect of you (physical, mental, spiritual, etc) will be demanded. More than likely, these same things will be demanded of your family to some extent. A fulltime ministry position may help alleviate your financial situation (maybe), but that doesn’t mean it will be the panacea for your ills.
The most practical advice I can give any seminary graduate is to find a paying job with benefits along the lines of a Starbucks or something similar. Starbucks offers benefits with an insanely low hourly commitment coupled with a decent wage. If you are applying for a part-time position and can express a willingness to work said job until a full-time ministry position opens, you will instantly become one of the more attractive candidates. Scripturally, we call this “tentmaking” as Paul provided for his income by making tents on the side, and worldwide, more pastors probably do this than receive full-time wages from their ministry. Coupling part-time ministry with another job allows for a larger mission field and offers the opportunity for your brain to think practically about ministry in the day to day. It also gives a church’s committee the opportunity to see your willingness to sacrifice, your maturity, and your heart in a way that they cannot in a candidate who is not willing to tent-make.
Personally, the years I have spent tentmaking benefited me greatly. They have taught me patience as I waited for the church to grow. They provided an avenue by which I could relate better to the people to whom I was ministering. They also guarded my heart against any sense of entitlement that my degree or ordination might tempt me towards. I view the days of working another job as a day for my heart and brain to be challenged in a way that full-time ministry cannot. I generally return refreshed and renewed.
And most importantly, I suggest you make the Gospel both your humility and your confidence. The wonderful truth that Christ has provided you with all the qualification before God that you will ever need should humble you to no end. You could never qualify for such status before God as a Christian much less as a pastor without the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That heart attitude will also be your confidence. Knowing that you are loved and accepted as the Father loves Christ (John 17) gives you the confidence to do the work of ministry (in whatever form that God provides) without the fear of rejection or failure. All that needs to be accomplished has been accomplished on your behalf before day one of your ministry whether it be full or part-time.
Congrats to you and to your families for making it to this point. I pray great things for you as you seek to know and understand God’s will for you in future ministry.
I have been blessed with an amazing father and father figures throughout my years. And while every man sits under the influence of his father (good or bad), I know that I would not be who I am without their influence, and by God’s grace, I am thankful. But in less than a 4 year period of time, my father, my mentor, and my father in law have all passed.
I have written much since Thom Duncan passed in 2012. Truly a great, talented, Godly man, “Sam,” as I affectionately called him, was amazing. An accomplished pianist, interior designer, floral designer, teacher, and pastor, Sam had more gifts than most collections of people could hope for in a span of generations. When he died, I could not remember 5 arguments between us, though the few that came to mind were memorable. I was corrected by him countlessly, but the arguments were either rare or have faded from memory. In an amusing re-telling, one of our more serious conflicts was resolved by theologian RC Sproul when I convince RC to say hello to my dad from the PCA General Assembly floor from a cell phone. Sam was an amazing father in that he wanted so many things for me but allowed me to pursue them at my own pace and with little meddling. When I was ordained as a pastor, it was one of the happiest days of his life. At his passing, I could only look back and reflect on his unwavering love and approval of me despite my many sins and flaws.
In 2013, my mentor, Terry Traylor, passed. He was the closest to Superman as any man that I ever met. Wise beyond his years, respected by nearly everyone he knew, and ridiculously strong (physically and spiritually). While I wouldn’t have been a Christian without my father, I definitively know that I would not have been a pastor had not Terry confidently said, “I think you should be a church planter. Let’s get you into seminary.” Terry gave me ear anytime I needed despite his insane schedule. He gave me wisdom, often without even realizing that he was giving it (and without me even realizing I was receiving it). Like my dad, I had few conflicts with Terry, though the few were epic. Unlike my dad, his death was sudden. 24 hours prior to his passing, I had a lunch and a bull session with Terry that was filled with his usual big laughs and big wisdom. At his funeral, all I could do was confess that I didn’t deserve a father figure like him. Even in death, Terry displayed grace.
And on New Year’s Day of this year, my father in law, Jack, passed. Now, Jack and I knew how to fight, but we also respected and loved each other. While Sam and Terry entrusted me with mission, Jack entrusted me with his daughter, my wife, Amy. Because of that, I have to think Jack had more faith in me than the others. There were times we wanted to strangle each other, and on Christmas Day, I literally had to chest compress him back to life after a heart attack. But just like Sam and Terry, I know that I would not be a pastor without Jack’s influence. Soon after meeting, he encouraged the bible study I was leading to come under his church’s accountability. He asked me to lead worship in singing at his church alongside Amy. He loaned me countless books, and I do not have a number of the John MacArthur tapes he gave me. Even his funeral inspired me. I walked away thinking, “I want to be more Godly.” His passing hurts as it turns the page onto yet another stage of my life, as well as my wife’s. She could easily write, “I am a fatherless daughter,” as she shared similar relationships with all 3 men.
So, at the young age of 45, my formative mentors have passed. Others are beginning to take their place, and I am growing into the role of being father figures for younger men. To my dread, I pray that I can father the young men who marry my daughters.
But my true comfort is this verse from Galatians:
Galatians 4: 6 Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
No believer in Jesus is fatherless. In fact, the fatherhood of the Christian is inseparable and more intimate than any earthly relationship. Our faithful brother, Jesus, has made us children of God, and the Spirit of God moves in our heart (my heart) to cause me to cry out, “Abba Father!” – the most intimate name of God of all. And now, because of that inseparable security, we live not as slaves to sin or this world, but as heirs to God.
Thank you Sam, Terry, and Jack. I know that I am the man that I am and that I am set on a course that is far more joyous and great than any other that I would have chosen.
A year ago, Mars Hill Pastor, Mark Driscoll, resigned over allegations ranging from misappropriation of funds to the verbal abuse of his staff and church members. Critics of his brash, confrontational approach felt justified.
A few months ago, Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, resigned in an admission that he had an affair. Critics of his free Gospel felt justified.
We live in dangerous times. The danger is not merely that our leaders or heroes continue to fall and fail us – that has never been a surprise in Christendom. No, the dangerous times are that these failures cause critics to pat themselves on the back, and as a result, many drop their guard. Dropping one’s guard is an invitation to a knockout blow.
Focusing on other’s failures always lessens the personal vigilance needed to protect our own soul – you know, that whole speck and log business that Jesus talked about (Matthew 7:5). Simply, how we view these men’s failures will teach us more about us than them.
Pray that God would guard your heart from sin. Pray that prayer for your family. Pray that prayer for church leaders, whether they be your church’s or someone else’s. As 1 Timothy 2 commands us:
1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior
Finally, let’s pray for the honor of Christ to be lifted up and restored, as in many people’s minds, our vigilance against cultural sin seems misguided when our own house is out of order. Lessons of truth and grace are hard right now, but they are the only lessons we had in the first place.
What value would there ever be in any book whose introduction is longer than the story itself? Well, believe it or not, this is not a marketing ploy. I pray this book is engaging and affecting to the soul. It is succinct purposefully to make a point.
And ironically, this sentence took me more time than some of my prior books (that may not be a good thing). But this all came together while thinking through several recent, revealing events (more on that in a minute).
When you read this sentence, you will discover that it is themed around a hurtful father. Thankfully, I can say that theme is not my story, but it is much of my life. As a pastor, there is almost no greater wound that I see must be addressed than the family wound. So many people spend their days with the echo of their father’s mocking words in their ears or the memory of his disapproving glance in their minds. Men and women, even children, are so often driven by a need to either disprove their father or to disdain him, and so much wreckage lies between.
These truths became heightened in the past few months, and ultimately moved me to start writing, after watching two very different cultural tent poles.
My wife loves “Gilmore Girls”, and I joined her recently on a Netflix binge. In the series, Lorelai Gilmore works to establish a life in the attempt to distance herself from her disapproving mother and father. All the while, there are hints that she would love a random, “Well done.”
In one poignant scene, she returns home with her ex-boyfriend (the father of her daughter) for dinner with her and his parents. Awkwardness and pleasantries abound until his parents accuse Lorelai of ruining their son’s life and derailing his chances of going to college. Finally, Lorelai’s father stands up to defend her. This appears to be the moment in which Lorelai has dreamed.
Afterwards, there is a powerful scene where she goes to thank him, but this moment hurts her all the more. He wasn’t defending her. He was defending the family name. She defeatedly slinks out of the room knowing that she will never win her father’s approval.
Oddly enough, the other cultural tent pole that spurred my thinking came by watching “Christmas Vacation”. In one famous scene, Clark Griswold spends the day decorating the house so that they can have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since…well, you know the line.
So, as Clark prepares to turn on the Christmas lights, he brings the entire family out to see his creation. He plugs it in, and nothing happens. There is a wonderful clanging symbol of side-effect in the background that perfectly summarizes his feelings.
Clark’s father-in-law, Art, responds by saying, “I hope you kids see what a silly waste of resources this was.” Clark is crushed. Yet, he is not going to give up.
Finally, Clark gets the house to light once his wife realizes that they needed to flip a light switch. The entire neighborhood dims as Clark’s home takes off in light.
Clark is proud.
Clark is triumphant.
However, Art comments that the lights don’t blink. Clark resigns with a, “Thanks for noticing.”
Seeing these images pushed me to attempt to articulate the pain of many.
Thankfully, this is not every person’s story, but a Father’s words are powerful. His words of affection are restorative. His words of pain are damning, and the efforts to heal the lack may take a lifetime.
That healing is my joy to proclaim as the Gospel of Jesus declares an ending from the Heavenly Father of, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Those words are desperately needed and hopefully attractive. I hope you search them out after this reading.
Ah, the stubbled father who thinly hides behind the humor of personal arrows and laughs at the wounded’s cry for dignity, delegating it to sensitivity.
A Final Word…
As I was wrapping this project up, I began the Amazon research necessary to have it published. I then discovered that there is a wonderful movement surrounding the single sentence expression. I found there brave men and women seeking to articulate what is or what has been in their hearts.
This tiny tome is not part of those works as it was created in complete ignorance of those efforts, but it is a contribution of sorts as I hope it is a collection of words with which many will resonate.
Ultimately, I pray this sentence is redemptive in that it will free up someone to understand their own heart and move towards reconciliation either earthly or heavenly.
As of late, I have tried to expand my listening habits to take in pastors who I have typically neglected. This list includes pastors of some of the megas who don’t usually show up on my “theologically sound” list but do show up on the, “Let’s grow big list.” My motivation hasn’t been to try to jump into the megachurch arena but merely to know more about what is happening in our church cultures.
I don’t include their names here as I am not trying to take folks down but only learn. My goals have not been to throw stones or even to disparage. It appears that God is doing great things in churches that don’t run their sermons through a theological or confessional grid. There are pastors gifted with incredible speaking skills. There are pastors who have much to teach all of us.
And there are some who almost none of that matters. To my ears, their sermons scream, “Run away.”
So, please allow me to run through some personal pros and cons that I have gathered lately. I offer them as lessons that I have learned, and in the reading, you have the choice to throw out either the baby or the bath water.
Every congregation needs hope. No matter the text, no matter the passage, and no matter the church venue. Hope is significant to the scriptures and significant to the human heart. The pastors of the churches I have heard do a great job of offering hope.
Every congregation needs to be engaged. These pastors do a great job at engaging their folks. Preaching is different than teaching. Lectures are not preaching. If folks feel like they are listening to the pastoral equivalent of someone reading a dictionary (ala a list of facts to be assimilated), they will checkout mentally. Their growth may very well be limited to the Biblical equivalent of a Fantasy Football League team. You know a lot, but to what purpose?
A sermon that preaches change without addressing sin and repentance is just empty motivation speaking. If the primary point of the pastor’s message is about your missing out on God’s blessing and your living at a higher level, but all the talk skips the issue of sin, be wary. Believe me, I’ve been to the dour faced, “All we talk about is sin,” depressing churches. That is not what I’m talking about. Repentance is walking in one direction and then turning and walking in another. That is how the scriptures define change, and offering grace in the face of sin to motivate and sustain is true change. Not doing that is rah rah pep talk. It only motivates for a season.
A Christian sermon must ultimately be about and point to Christ to be Christian. Casual references to Christ are only casually Christian. If Christ is unnecessary for a sermon, then anyone from any religion could preach it.
If the music starts in the background 5-10 minutes before the sermon ends and then rises to when the pastor gets to the frenetic, high energy climax of his sermon, you should feel emotionally manipulated. That is just classic, emotional, crowd manipulation. The Stones, Zep, Kiss, etc perfected that technique years earlier. It might work in terms of crowd reaction, but be prepared for the drive home/post sermon emotional crash.
And so, I’ll listen to a few more sermons in the next few weeks. As a disclaimer, I am not saying that only the pastors of the megas are guilty of these cons. Many pastors are. For example, I know the music starts early in tons of churches. I just don’t trust why they do. This was simply an exercise and a collection of observations of my own in the past few weeks.
Sunday, August 3rd, will be the final worship service for Sovereign King Church in Garner, NC.
Much like many of you, I wept when I heard the news.
Unfortunately, ministries, churches, and pastors come and go. As one friend reminded me, “Everything in this world has a lifespan.” And though death, endings, and even graduations are something we grow comfortable with, they are never pain-free. While numbers vary, some estimate that between 3,000 and 4,000 churches close their doors each year. The question I wrestle with (and I imagine others do as well) is, “How is the death of a church redeemed?”
Towards that end, individual stories make up the end of a church. This is my portion of SK’s.
Redeemer Church and Eastern Carolina Presbytery sent me and my family to Garner in 2005 with the commission of an evangelist to do what is called scratch planting. Scratch planting, also known as parachute planting, is when you move onto the field without anyone previously committing to help start a church. You start from scratch after you parachute onto the field.
We launched quickly with coffee shop bible studies, blogging, and community service. Soon, we gathered 20 or so people together and huddled with Christ our Comfort, PCA (now Christ the King) as they replanted. The 40 to 50 of us gathered each week in the old YMCA building (also now non-existent) on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, NC. Eventually from those humble beginnings, SK grew to a consistent 70-80 in worship with vibrant chaplain ministries to the police and EMS in addition to service ministries to a local women’s shelter.
In hearing that, one might ask, “Well, what happened?”
There is no scandalous story here. There is no corrupt tale of money-laundering or sordid affairs. It appears that through God’s providence, things have just come to an end. People moved on to new jobs. Some preferred a different music style. Vibrancy of ministries became lukewarm. Things just came to an end.
I can’t speak to the philosophy of ministry presently at SK as I left to plant Evident Grace Fellowship in Spotsylvania, Va. nearly two years ago, but I know that their pastor, their elders, their families, and all the congregation have been faithful. Perhaps, and hopefully, many of them will add their voice of thanks to what has God has done in Garner through Sovereign King because there is so much to celebrate…
Relationships with Christ deepened.
The homeless found Christ, education, employment, and even marriage.
Broken marriages were restored.
A young man and his family suffered a tragic car crash and were loved and served.
Police officers came to know Christ.
Children in the church made professions of faith and took their first Lords Suppers.
And most significantly, the saving faith of Jesus Christ was raised and defended in the marketplace of ideas in that small town.
This apparent death is not a useless, hallow shoveling of dirt on the casket of yet another church. In Christ, all death is redeemed. Some of those redemptions may not be seen immediately, but in God’s grace, many of them will be apparent (even in this lifetime).
I’ve been a pastor in some sense for over 10 years now. Redeemer Church sent me out to plant Sovereign King. I left Sovereign King to plant Evident Grace. Most of our children will leave their home church to prayerfully worship and work at another when they become adults.
The death of Christ and His glorious resurrection mean that the curse of death and ending is redeemed with continuity and eternity.
While SK won’t be gathering in its present form each Sunday in Garner, the pastor, elders, and members will be sent as missionaries to points on the compass that aren’t even known at this point. And that truly is the hope of this applied resurrection. As another friend reminded me, the worship of Jesus is never restricted to a specific address. Out of the death of this church, countless others will arise, and Christ will be glorified…now in even more places each Sunday.
In death, it is right to mourn, but that mourning is not pointless, nor is it morose. It need not be comforted with platitudes and moronic, thoughtless expressions. Christ is risen, and His church and His people are risen with Him. His fame goes forward.
God did so much for His glory in His people’s heart and in the town of Garner. He still will beyond SK. His name is forever praised in the heart of many, and the legacy of Sovereign King is one drenched in the hopeful Gospel of Jesus resurrection.
I hope other people add to this story. So much needs to be shared and even learned from it because where Christ is lifted up, you will find His people. Where you find His people, you will find the hope of the resurrection. Those stories deserve to be told.
And I can’t wait to learn what happens next.
Back in the mid-80’s, I would listen to a show on the local college radio station called “Chainsaw Rock”. Anytime a song came on that I wanted, I would record it on a cassette tape, so I would always have these rough mix tapes full of 80’s metal lying around.
I remember driving the station wagon with Mom as we were making the last delivery of the day which typically was delivering flowers to the hospital.
One day, my mix tape was running through whatever songs I had recorded, and I was singing along. Mom was doing something with her purse when all of a sudden, I heard her lowly sing, “I wanna be somebody, be somebody too.”
Nothing wrong with those lyrics, huh? The funny part was that Mom was singing along with me to a song written by the band WASP. WASP was a disgusting band that threw raw chunks of meat into the crowd and the lead singer drank blood out of a skull. Whatever the shock factor, they were for it.
Here was this four foot, ten inch, pastor’s wife with a cute little bun on top of her head singing along to one of the bands that launched the whole PMRC censorship battle with Tipper Gore.
“I wanna be somebody.”
I decided not to embarrass her, but instead, I just looked over and said, “I love you, Mom. You are awesome.” She looked back, and said, “I love you, too.”
After that, she stopped singing, but every now and then, I would catch her humming along.
“I wanna be somebody.”
“Memoir” will be available on September 17th in multiple formats:
Every now and then, companies will make them available ahead of time. Click and see. Thanks.
I’m thankful that I know a bunch of Godly, Gospel-grounded, and bright pastors. I also have the privilege of bumping into some incredibly wise and astute folks in my congregation and in the day to day. You guys have a lot to say, but beyond Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, very few people get to hear your wisdom.
Since, I have been publishing for the last year or two, I wanted to encourage and enable lots of folks to join me in writing and publishing beyond social media.
Don’t get me wrong; social media is strong, but the larger population often misses out on your practical wisdom because of their lack of access to it.
To bridge the gap, I’ve published a little $.99 book, 5 Steps to Publishing Your Own Books.
The goal is to encourage and promote my wise and gifted friends to begin publishing books easily and more often. This book will walk you through how you can go from manuscript to publication to promotion. And as you do, lots of folks (including me) will benefit from your efforts.
You can find 5 Steps in two formats: