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.
How can listening to your feet improve running and your relationship with God?
On a recent mid-week run, I was cruising along listening to my favorite podcast. There was the typical fatigue that mid-week anything brings, but this run was more difficult. Something else was going on. What was it?
In a rare moment of silence during my 1.5x speed podcast, I heard it. The balls of my feet were striking the ground, not propelling me. The way my feet were landing was actually fighting each step I took (that is a good way to get shin splints btw). The correction for this is easy: correct your posture, swing your arms like pendulums, and elongate your step. The next thing I knew, I was running confidently, faster, and with less fatigue.
I would never have discovered these things had I not listened to my feet.
This is true spiritually as well. In our relationship with God, lows are common, but we often don’t know the source. And just like my running with podcasts, there are too many distractions for us to actually know the cause of those lows.
Recently, I enjoyed leading 7 couples of church officers, future church officers, and their families in a roundtable Q&A about life in church leadership. We talked about time demands, family demands, church stresses, and unspoken expectations from church members. In the evening, my lovely wife helped me process the conversations. She highlighted that I missed stressing the joys of Gospel partnership and instead, over-emphasized the challenges. As is typical, she was right.
How did I miss that? I love preaching the Gospel. The Gospel is the basis solution for everything we do and the drive of my ministry. The answer? I hadn’t taken time for silence to hear what was going on in my own heart. Upon reflection, and in a bit of silence, I realized that I was struggling with ministerial disappointment and with my expectations with God. That struggle affected the tone of my leadership in that conversation.
So, whether in running or relationships (with God or family), listen to your feet. Where are you dragging them and where are you stumbling? That time to listen will teach you much about your heart and will teach you where to make changes.
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.
The thought is that as Evident Grace grows in communication, we will grow in loving and serving one another, and we will grow in learning how to love and serve our community.
This is what we want as we see our sermons and bible studies talked about and applied in our lives. This is what we want as we learn how to help each other serve our neighbors. This is what we want as we grow in serving our community as a church. So towards those ends, we have established a few new avenues for us to communicate with each other.
We have a created a physical church directory that you can pick up on any Sunday worship.
We have updated our website http://www.evidentgrace.com with a ton of new information.
Audio of our sermons is now available in two places: at http://evidentgrace.com/worship/sermons/ and at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/evident-grace-fellowship/id873994915?mt=2http://evidentgrace.libsyn.com/rss
Our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/evidentgracefellowship is continually updated.
You can now follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/EGFellowship
And we have launched the Table Project which is an online home to enable person to person communication. If you would like to be part of the Table project. Send a request from https://evidentgrace.tableproject.org/
Our goal is that these things will help us get to know each other and learn how to serve.
We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, and God went so far to insure that we become like Christ that He mapped out the whole plan for you to His glory. This is an incredible hope for us to trust in, but sometimes, it feels ephemeral and far off.
I enter in this lightly, but let me attempt an illustration.
Most everyone loves going to the beach, but going to the beach as a parent is not like what it was when I was in college. In college, all it would take was a couple of folks saying, “Hey, you want to go to the beach today?” 15 minutes later, we were on the road.
But now, with kids, it takes coordination with the NSA, FBI, and Homeland security to get out the door. You have to pack bathing suits, towels, sunscreen, flip flops, paddle balls, umbrellas, coolers, juice boxes, food, and pretty much every other device imaginable. And why do parents do all of that? Pretty much so the kids can have hours of fun and you as a parent can enjoy the beach for about 30 minutes. Maybe you are able to get a couple of cool pictures to post on Facebook and Instagram, but even that is not guaranteed.
That’s a shadow of what God has done for you. Just as God chose you before “let there was light” was even declared, God also prepared beforehand that you would grow in good works and obedience. Your obedience is just as sure as your salvation because God prepared for it.
The good news is that God never tires and He always enjoys the good works of His children. Parents often wonder, “Why are we doing this” when they apply the tenth layer of sunscreen. But your obedience is planned by a never tiring Father, your growth is secured by the work of Jesus, and your growth are essential elements of the masterpiece that God is creating in His children’s lives.
So, today, as you grow weary in wanting to mature in Christ, as you are tempted to give up, remind yourself that God has already made plans to grow you. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus provide for both a sure forgiveness and a sure maturity for you.
There will be struggles, and there will be setbacks, but the Gospel of what Jesus has done, provides hope.
Icy days move me to reflection (and apparently, random reflection).
This coming Monday, January 13th, will be one year ago that my family moved to Va. We packed up, crashed with some friends, and asked, “Hey, who wants to help plant a church?”
At that point, we had acquaintances here, but no deep friendships. Now, we have deep friendships and a growing congregation.
But even more than what is going on in the Duncan household, God is moving among us in the Spotsylvania area. Honest, gospel conversations are happening each day.
Jesus is being spoken to people who don’t know Him.
Jesus is being spoken to people who want to know Him better.
Jesus is being spoken to those who know Him well but crave for more.
And Jesus is being spoken in places in which we are unaware.
Like my buddy, Andy Stager, says, “Gardens aren’t launched; they are planted.” As it goes, Evident Grace is gradually growing and continually being planted. Right now, we are in the work of planning, pruning, seeding, and reseeding. We pray for growth and flourishment to honor Christ.
All of this makes me dizzier than the seizures I’ve worked through in the last year, but the big difference is that this dizziness is a lot more enjoyable.
I’ve been challenged a lot lately towards this end: Preach Christ and not Evident Grace. Invite people to Christ and not just to a worship service. That is a good reminder and an obvious challenge of faith. I know it is a good and right one though.
So, thanks for the icy rambling. Just like driving in this weather, I write them carefully and hope to arrive at my destination without too much damage. I hope the same for you.
At Evident Grace, we value that the best way to understand a book of the Bible is to walk line by line through it. This is called understanding a book exegetically or from my perspective, it is called exegetical preaching. Every now and then, that means we look at some pretty strange verses, but this will give you a deeper understanding of the book and that will keep me honest as I can’t just skip around to whatever verse I want.
Also, if we are going to fully grasp whatever any book of the Bible is attempting to communicate, we need to know a bit of the book’s background. So, if you don’t mind, let me tell you a bit of the history of Ephesians.
The Apostle Paul wrote this while sitting in a Roman prison somewhere between 60 and 64AD. The sole reason that Paul was in jail was that he preached salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ and that Jesus was king. The local governments didn’t care who you worshiped but that person couldn’t be the king of the entire world. That title was reserved for Caesar.
So as Paul sat in a nasty jail, he wrote this letter to the church in Ephesus. Paul had visited them earlier in his life, but since that visit, the church grew a great deal. So, some of those receiving this letter would have known Paul really well, while others would never have had the chance to hear him or interact with him.
With all of that in mind, as we read and study this book, we should notice two themes. The first theme is that Christ has repaired the broken relationship between the sinful world and God. That repair is permanent and ultimate and accomplished. The second theme is that now, Christ has created a worshiping community, the church, that is made up of all kinds of people, not just Jews, but all races.
And the wonderful thing is that this letter is written to this church out of affection and care. Paul is not writing it out of a need for rebuke against a specific sinful teaching or against some incorrect belief or doctrine. That’s rare these days but would have been even more rare in Ephesus. Ephesus was a city full of heresy and even occult practices, but this church seemed to be free of those things for the most part.
So Paul is going to get started here reminding the Ephesians of how their relationship with God began, and then he wants to build on that understanding. On that point, I think Evident Grace can relate. For the past year, we have attempted to build a foundation of the gospel at Evident Grace, and now, I hope we can build on it.
In 2014, Evident Grace is going to continue to build on the foundation of the gospel. We are going to build on the gospel in our worship services. And I hope that through our Evident Grace groups, kafasoto and Bushiban groups, we can build on the gospel there as well.
So let’s look at the foundational teaching that Paul explains and pray that God will remind us of those things as we study the book of Ephesians. And the first foundational gospel teaching that Paul gives us is the wonderful truth that God adopts us out of sin to be His child, and He does those things for His glory. So with that in mind, it is going to be no surprise that we hope to pursue this Big Idea: Our security is that God has adopted us for His glory by His will.
Having said that, please join us this Sunday. We meet at 10:30am at the comedy club above Liberty Lanes. You can find directions here. Please come as you are, and we look forward to meeting you.
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:
If Samson were alive today, he would have a million Twitter followers, tweet things like “great #honey last night what a blast lol”, and the world would love him. That is, the world would love him until he made every mistake under the sun and TMZ started covering him.
With those things in mind, one must wonder what relevancy does Samson still hold?
Is he a picture of what believers can be when they trust from the Lord and turn from their idols?
Is he a picture of what will happen if men pursue their lusts and thus an antitype of say, Joseph?
Is he a foreshadowing of Christ?
Unfortunately, many practical devotional writings pull Samson out of context and teach purely an exemplary exegesis that treats Samson as a model that can be followed or avoided. For example, Henry Blackaby in his Experiencing God devotional uses Samson’s life as a pattern to be followed when we have lost spiritual power. Relating to Samson, he says, “Those around you who have relied upon your strength are discovering that you are not as helpful as you once were.” To remedy this, he encourages, “If you walk with God in this manner, you will grow in spiritual strength (like Samson) and be used mightily by Him.”
Another example is Steven Lawson’s Men Who Win. He talks of the great victories that God has brought, “Samson slew the Philistines. David fought Goliath,” but warns, “Our battles are just as real. The Canaanites outnumber us. The Goliaths are waiting for us to grow weary and falter. The Delilahs are lying.”
Truly, whenever we see a biblical character succumbing to sin, the believer should be on guard lest he fall. Whenever we see a biblical character achieve victory, we should rejoice that God is gracious. But these kinds of examples miss the point of Samson, nearly completely.
The takeaway is that God moves, enlivens, empowers, and delivers despite the sinfulness of His people.
With these thoughts in mind, please check out “A Once and Future Samson” available as both a Kindle Single and PDF download. It is a simple, concise, and hopeful look at God’s work among even the worst of us.