Preach the Word! (and love the people)

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Six months ago I quit running every morning because I had gotten tired of my knees and ankles hurting 24 hours a day, seven days a week (they didn’t even stop hurting on the Lord’s Day). So for exercise I began riding a recumbent bicycle in my study. I still get my 30 minutes of cardio a day, and at least I don’t have to run in the heat, the cold, or the dark (during Daylight Savings Time); and, I don’t hurt all the time.

As I listen to my IPod (I am so 1990s) to keep my mind off of my heavy breathing, I look around my study and take in the portraits, photographs, and books. Today while doing that, my eyes fell on my Ordination Certificate. I looked at the date (August, 1981), the church (Morgan Mill Baptist Church), and the names of the ordination council. Names like Adams, Quarles, Nachtigall (Ted, but not Richard; Richard must have been playing hooky), Mayberry, and at the top of the list, Dr. A. J. Quinn. Dr. Quinn preached my ordination sermon, and it consisted of him quoting the first eight verses of 2 Timothy 4 by heart. I could not have been given better advice and direction for the years of ministry that lay before me:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”

Being a pastor is really a somewhat simple task. Preach the Word, and love the people. Yes, there are still difficult issues, troublesome people, long days, and long nights, but if one does those two things he will “fulfill his ministry” in the Lord.

 

 

Every Tribe and Language and People and Nation

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We had three young people visit our church this morning from the Netherlands (when I say “young,” I’m guessing mid-twenties). They were visiting Texas and in the next day or two would be flying back to their native land. As we attempted to communicate through their thick Dutch accents and my deep southeast Texas twang, I discovered that they belonged to a free Dutch Reformed denomination, and although I am a “Westminster guy,” we discovered that we all shared a love for the Heidelberg Catechism. Although separated by miles, cultures, countries, years (no one would guess that I am in my mid-twenties and I no longer have to ask for the senior discount, they know), and Confession of Faiths we joined together and sang of Christ’s Gospel, heard His Word preached, and shared the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It gave the four of us a glimpse of that future day when around God’s throne we will sing to our Lord and Savior, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:9-10)

But today, in time and space we sang Isaac Watt’s beautiful hymn about the love and sacrifice of a holy God for sinners:

Alas! and did my Saviour bleed,
And did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I!

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree!
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

Well might the sun in darkness hide,
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker, died
For man the creature’s sin.

Thus might I hide my blushing face
While his dear cross appears;
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt mine eyes in tears.

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away,
‘Tis all that I can do.

On Being a Pastor Part 2

sick-pastor

This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” (1 Timothy 3:1) The word translated “bishop” in this verse is a word in the Book of Acts that describes the church office of “pastor.” In my last post, I shared about some of the challenges that make the life of a pastor a difficult one. I wrote about people problems, task problems, emotional problems, and time problems, and because of this, pastors, whether Baptist or Presbyterian, can often be a rather whiney lot (there is also one Methodist pastor that I shared a funeral with in West Texas who moaned to me about how badly the Bishop was treating him, so my guess is this characteristic cuts across all denominations). All that being said, let me go on record after spending 35 years in the ministry that being a pastor in one of Christ’s churches is one of the greatest blessings that one can experience this side of heaven.

When one is a pastor he gets to make his living reading and studying the Word of God. Hours of every week (if a pastor is worth his salt) is spent in mining the treasures of God’s truth. He has the opportunity to dig into the languages of Scripture, to read the commentaries written by the servants of God of all the ages, and to seek to discover how to best communicate that truth to God’s people. Before a sermon is ever preached to God’s people, the pastor has preached it to himself again and again throughout the week.

When one is a pastor he has the opportunity to spend time planning the corporate worship of God’s people. He has the privilege of reading through many Psalms and hymns to discover which ones will help explain the text of Scripture that he will be preaching on that Sunday. “The Trinity Hymnal,” for example, consists of 742 hymns covering hundreds of years of Christian hymnody filled to the brim with Biblical truth. When one adds in “The Trinity Psalter” he also is blessed by the metrical versions of the Psalms that have spoken to God’s people for generations.

When one is a pastor he has the great privilege of baptizing new believers, and the children of believers, pointing people to the grace of Christ as their only hope in this life and the life to come. He has the privilege of breaking bread in front of the flock of God and speaking on behalf of our Lord, “This is my body which is given for you,” and to hold up the cup and say, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

When one is a pastor he gets to hear people share how Christ has changed their lives as they communicate their profession of faith, and then to hear them express their commitment to Christ as they take their membership vows. He has the privilege quite often to pray with his brothers and sisters in Christ during their times of joy, and sadness, and during their days of youth, and old age.

And, yes, while there are those who make life difficult for the pastor, there are many, many more that are a great blessing to him. To hear from people in the congregation share that they pray for you every day is a great comfort and encouragement during the challenging times. There are those who share materially, emotionally, and spiritually with their pastor to make his life in ministry easier.

A pastor even has some flexibility in his schedule so that even though there are times when he is absent from the his family during the evening, it is possible (as I often mentioned to my son) to make those 5 o’clock games when some fathers are unable to be there because they can’t get off work in time.

When the time came for me to retire (earlier than I had hoped because of family needs) I was saddened because I miss greatly the work that has filled most of my adult life. Oh, I don’t miss long session meetings, or the slings and arrows that often fly in the direction of spiritual leaders, but I do miss the many blessings that accompany ministering to the people of God. For I learned early in my life that “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.

On Being a Pastor (Part 1)

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This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” (1 Timothy 3:1) The word translated “bishop” in this verse is a word in the Book of Acts that describes the church office of “pastor.” There have been many articles written lately on the Internet describing how tough it is to be a pastor in the 21st century, and there is some truth to be found in that contention. As one who was ordained in August of 1981 and just recently retired, I can speak with some expertise on the subject.

The pastoral life has its challenges. To begin, there are always people (probably in any church one belongs to) that seem to have the “spiritual gift of criticism.” They criticize every decision that the pastor makes and make life truly miserable for him at times. I still remember a story that Dr. A. J. Quinn once told me about his days as an associational missionary when a young pastor pleaded with him to find him another church because of this lady who hounded him constantly as he tried to do his work in that small west Texas town. The good doctor responded by asking him how many in his church were like this woman. The young pastor said, “Only one. Just that Jezebel.” Dr. Quinn told him that he had better stay put because the next place that he serves may “have a church full of them.”

There is also the pressure of the calling. There are often eternal consequences to the things you do (Of course, I realize only God can change a heart, but the pastor “feels” the importance of the tasks he is called to do). He is called upon to open God’s Word week after week to feed Christ’s sheep with spiritual food (That amounts to approximately 150 sermons, Bible studies, etc. every year). Thankfully, God has given 66 books of the Bible full of heavenly truth. However, a diligent pastor will strive (and that is a good word to describe it) to make sure that he “rightly divides the Word of truth” as he explains, illustrates, and applies that Word to God’s people.

A pastor also feels emotional challenges as he ministers. He is there when the doctor comes out of surgery with bad news from the biopsy, he is there when church members and even people in the community die, he is there when husbands and wives are acting like the Hatfields and McCoys, he is there when the teenager is pushing every boundary that he can push, he is there when a child has been abused and seeks to help that child put the pieces of his life back together, and he is there when…well, I think you get the picture. No pastor feels comfortable when these events happen, but you are there to pray, and to be the Lord’s representative, because that is what you are called to do, and that is what those people need at that time. There are those who say you need to put some space between you and the people, but that is impossible when you are “weeping with those who weep.”

A pastor feels the pressure of time. When he is at home, he feels guilty because he is not out ministering to people, and when he is out ministering to people, he feels guilty because he is not home with his family. And, honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg. As one older pastor once told me when I was a young whippersnapper, “If you can do anything else other than pastor, do it.”

But, wait,” you may say, “you said that the one who desires to be a pastor desires a good thing.” Yes, being a pastor is not just a great responsibility, it is a great blessing. In my next blog post, [Deo Volente] I will speak of the many positive sides of being a pastor.