Feet: Jacked up or Beautiful?

You don’t want to be in the car when my boys take off their socks and shoes. In fact, they are now forbidden from doing such a thing ever since our last road trip this past May. There’s not enough “Febreze” in the world to mask the odor that emits from their feet. Praise the Lord they can clip their own toe nails now.

Not that mine are any better. I’m only allowed to do my own pedicure outside, and preferably just prior to getting in to the shower. And I can’t even consider touching another person in my family with my feet.

Evidently, the boys got their nasty feet naturally.

Not everyone’s feet are as jacked up as the men on the Tims Team, but when is the last time you looked at your feet and thought, “Now THOSE are beautiful”? Even the most perfect pedicure can’t change what we all know to be true: feet are funky.

Thankfully, God has a way of redeeming our feet beyond their unpleasant physical form.

Consider Romans 10:14-15.

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

How does God redeem our feet? By associating them with the degree to which we go and share the gospel with others. The feet of those who go with the good news of the gospel of grace have beautiful, beautiful feet.

Trim your nails and wash between your toes all you want. But if you want to have beautiful feet, share the gospel.

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Preach the Word

It’s never been easy to be a pastor. If you’re pastorate has always been easy, then it’s arguably not a true pastorate. Maybe It’s more like a country club.

While the manifestations of what makes a pastorate hard now are different than what made a pastorate hard in Timothy’s time, things have not changed in principle. There are still evil people and impostors (2 Timothy 3:13), and there are still pastors who try to do things on their own without wise counsel or encouragement (2 Timothy 3:10-11). There are lots of nice-sounding alternatives to the truth faith (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

It’s in light of these realities that Paul affirms the authenticity of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-16) and then commands him to do one thing: PREACH IT. Not dance it. Not sing it. PREACH IT.

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2

Paul gives this charge with a spirit of urgency. This is due not only because of the environment that Timothy ministers in (see list above), but also because of the urgency associated with Jesus’ imminent return. When we take a look at the realities around us and the certainty of what lies ahead of us, there is only one option for the preacher: PREACH THE WORD.

But how? “With complete patience and teaching.” Says D. A. Carson, “Paul’s view of the ministry demands a focus on the long haul, on personal patience, on great care with the substance of what is preached. This is not simply a job to be done, a job by which to support yourself and your family. This demands strong Christian character traits and a mind devoted to thinking through and implementing all that is embraced by “careful instruction.”

And to what end? “Reprove. Rebuke. Exhort.” “Entertain” is curiously missing from this list. Not to say that a sermon should be void of joy or enthusiasm, but its end must not be the pursuit of man’s accolades; rather, it must be the change of men’s lives.

So PREACH THE WORD. Be ready at a moment’s notice to speak the truth of the gospel in to others’ lives.

PREACH THE WORD.

Stricter Judgment: Approaching a Pastor so His Final Judgment Goes Well

In my last post, I wrote about four or five things to listen for in your pastor’s sermon so that you can have the assurance he is taking his responsibility seriously. He is, after all, facing a stricter judgment in eternity for his role as a teacher, and should be held accountable for his sake, not to mention yours and the church’s.

But how do you approach a pastor about this?

Fortunately, we have very clear instruction from Jesus about speaking to our brothers and sisters in love in Matthew 18:15-17.

There is a Gospel-centered remedy for your dilemma, rooted in Jesus’ command that Christians love one another. Follow these four steps from Matthew 18:15-17.

  1. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Note five things:
    1. Be as certain as you can that you’ve been sinned against.
    2. You are responsible for going (no exceptions are given).
    3. You are responsible for showing your brother his fault(s) (nothing more or less).
    4. Your brother is responsible to listen.
    5. If he rightfully repents, you have “gained a brother.”
  2. “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” If you believe the Scripture is clear that you’ve been sinned against, yet your brother does not listen/repent, bring one or two others along in order to “establish” evidence. You may find in this meeting that the evidence falls against you. You were not sinned against. You misunderstood him, or had false information. If this is the case, rejoice! You may find that your concerns are validated: your brother has sinned against you. And hopefully, he will listen/repent with this larger audience that is for him and for the truth so that you can gain your brother (more about how pastors can and should respond in the next post).
  3. “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” There are lots of ways an individual congregation might practice this. Above all, remember: the goal is for your pastor to listen.
  4. “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Jesus is not saying to remove someone from the congregation, but to essentially give someone the “cold shoulder.” There can be no real fellowship with such a brother when a united congregation affirms that sin needs to be repented of and the brother stubbornly won’t. There is an implied hope in the passage that a “cold shoulder” will help the brother repent and be restored. This is in keeping with Paul’s wisdom in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11. Forgiveness and restoration is the goal, but sometimes the “cold shoulder” has to get us there.

These four steps are admittedly difficult, and the latter is especially difficult to apply to a preaching pastor! It’s in situations like these where church polity/governance plays a huge role, and there are no clear answers. But

  • The presumed pastor will no doubt be tempted to double down on his pride and resist the loving overtures of the one he has sinned against. He may use this opportunity to slander or otherwise further wound this brother that has come to him. How easy it is for pride to swell!
  • It requires no humility for such a pastor to share his concerns with others who will likely sympathize with his hurt than it is for him to explore the Scriptures and personally and privately address his brother with a loving spirit. How easy it is to excuse or diminish our responsibility to biblically deal with interpersonal conflict!
  • Such a pastor may find that he was mistaken, and who wants to go through a process like this only to find they were wrong? Does it not feel better to think that we are right than to be right with others? How easy it is to value self-esteem more than the Gospel!
  • Congregations, regardless of the church’s leadership and official processes that may or may not be present to deal with such things, generally don’t find pleasure in serving as a judge between brothers. How easy it is to talk about things privately elsewhere than in the congregational forum Jesus calls for!

Yet we must consider what happens if we don’t follow these Gospel-centered steps.

  • A brother is not gained. Put another way, a relationship is broken.
  • Gossip, murmuring and grumbling persist in the body (James 5:9).
  • The “unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace” are disrupted in the congregation (Ephesians 4:3).
  • Division and quarreling grow in the church family (1 Corinthians 1:12).
  • Christian maturity is stunted in the fellowship (1 Corinthians 3:1-4).

The choice is clear.

  • If we follow the Gospel-centered process Jesus gave us, the worst-case scenario is that one person receives a “cold shoulder” from the congregation in the hopes that he will one day repent. And even in this scenario, involved individuals in the congregation are forced to examine themselves and heed the warnings of practicing the sin being address and the pride that comes with it. Yes, it’s more difficult and looks different when this person is a teaching pastor, but the principles still hold.
  • If we follow the way of the flesh, much of the church becomes divided and its growth is stunted. Phone calls, emails, parking lot meetings and the like distract a church from its mission and eat away at fellowship in the church.

People are people. There will be sin in the church. The question is this: will you choose to believe the Gospel when it comes to interpersonal conflicts, or will you choose the destructive way of the flesh?

Next post: how to be a pastor that hears and receives this feedback well.

Stricter Judgment: What to Listen for When You’re Listening to Preachers and Teachers

In my last post, I posed the following question: What would happen If we Christians were to hold preachers and Bible teachers as accountable as we do unbelieving film directors? In continuing that conversation, I want to equip readers to know what to look or listen for in a Sunday school lesson or sermon so they can know that those in authority over them are seeking to be faithful to the text. This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope you’ll find it helpful.


“A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.”

This is the fun way Dr. Bruce Winter taught me to think through each passage of the Bible. The meaning of any given text for us today is found in the meaning of any given text for its original readers. So as we listen to a sermon, we want to be confident that the interpretation and meaning of the text being taught for us today would make sense to the original readers 2000-4000 years ago. Without this guiding principle, a preacher can make just about any verse mean whatever he wants. Is your pastor teaching you the historical and literary contexts of the passages you are studying? He doesn’t have to give a history lesson or a lesson on the literary forms of the Bible each Sunday, but if the “take away” wouldn’t work for the original hearers, something could be amiss in the sermon, and inevitably something will go wrong with you.

Is the sermon mostly about what man has done, can do, or should do … or is it mostly about who God is and what He has done?

In other words, would you classify the sermon as legalistic and pragmatic, or as God-centered and grace-oriented? The Bible is unapologetically God-centered and grace-oriented. Man is notoriously man-centered and works-oriented. What is the dominant theme of the message you are hearing? The implications of this are far-reaching.

Is the sermon his, and if it’s not, is he telling you that?

There are so many books, websites and services these days that pastors can quickly become lazy plagiarists. Granted, there’s nothing new in the Bible, and no pastor should be saying something new! But at the same time, authenticity and credibility are important aspects of a healthy teaching ministry. One sermon series I look back on with joy is one that came directly from a book I read. I held the book up from the pulpit each week and said, “I hope you will read this, but I know many probably will not, so I’m preaching this book for the next month.” Even though the text of the messages was not mine, the sermons were credible and authentic because God had done a work in my life in part through that book and I was honest with my congregation about it and the source. This is in stark contrast to the time I preached to a group of college students. The sermon was original, but one illustration was not, though I passed it off as though it was. One godly student humbly approached me afterward and called me out, for which I am grateful.

Is the preacher/teacher prepared?

Paul was not exactly known for his public speaking skills, but he knew the gospel and was always ready to share. The preaching and teaching of God’s Word, as we’ve seen, is eternally important … even cosmically important (“Through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 3:7-10). Don’t expect your pastor to be Apollos (or “insert your favorite preacher’s name here”), but if you find yourself wondering if he consistently spends time doing other things … even things at are good or related to their pastoral ministry … at the expense of preparing to preach, then there may be a problem. The preaching and teaching of God’s Word is a high priority … if not the chief priority … of a pastor. Are they prepared?

Context. Legalism. Pragmatism. Authenticity. Preparation. These are five ways to humbly and prayerfully scrutinize your teaching pastor in an aim to help him stand strong under the judgment coming his way. In my next post, we’ll talk about how to approach a pastor in a biblical way.

But for today, what others would you add to this list?

Where’s the Power in Preaching?

This preaching pastor has a lot of longings when it comes to his preaching.  To mention a few:

  • I want it to accurately reflect the truth of the text I’m walking through.
  • I want its content to show the simplicity, mystery, and glory of God and the Gospel.
  • I want the sermon to find its way to the Gospel.
  • I want it to be engaging, never boring.
  • I want it to change the world of its listeners, if not the world at large (I realize how naive this sounds, but the Bible gives me no other choice but to desire this).

Two things I’ve read and listened to this week on preaching and communicating have me in a battle with pragmatism (“do these things to make the effectiveness of your sermon better”) and hyper-spirituality (“don’t worry about how you structure your sermon … God will take care of it.”).  Another way of framing this tension is this:  where does the pursuit of excellence in one’s calling cross the line from faith into pragmatism?

The first thing I listened to was at Vitamin Z’s blog.  In the video below, Nancy Duarte explains that all great speeches have a specific shape or pattern.  They alternate between “this is what is” and “this is what could be” (plus other things, but that’s the gist).

It challenged me to revisit my sermon this past week and see if it was possible to explain John 10:7-11 with this structure.  I found it very challenging, not only due to the fact that it was well outside my traditional paradigm for writing sermons, but also because the text isn’t written with that pattern.  How does a pastor expound on a passage in a manner contrary to the passage’s own pattern?  Do not the literary forms of the Bible matter, and therefore dictate the structure of the sermon?

And yet, is that any excuse to be boring or pay no attention to such pragmatic insights?  Just because Paul often came across as boring is no excuse for me to pay no attention to my structure and delivery, right?

Consider this quote from Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology” (p. 82):

“Throughout the history of the church the greatest preachers have been those who have recognized that they have no authority in themselves and have seen their task as being to explain the words of Scripture and apply them clearly to the lives of their hearers. Their preaching has drawn its power not from the proclamation of their own Christian experiences or the experiences of others, nor from their own opinions, creative ideas, or rhetorical skills, but from God’s powerful word. Essentially they stood in the pulpit, pointed to the biblical text, and said in effect to the congregation, “This is what this verse means. Do you see that meaning here as well? Then you must believe it and obey it with all your heart, for God himself, your Creator and your Lord, is saying this to you today!” Only the written words of Scripture can give this kind of authority to preaching.”

Grudem asserts that the power of preaching is not found in rhetorical skills … “lofty speeches or wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:1).  I wonder what Nancy Duarte would say to this?!

Perhaps the preacher’s goal should be to faithfully explain the truth and right application of God’s Word and let God change the world.  I believe he would do a disservice to the reality of the truth he preaches if he did it in a boring way and/or relied upon the pragmatic aspects of sermon preparation to make sure it’s not boring.

You Can’t Fix Everybody

From William Still’s “The Work of the Pastor” …

Some meddling ministers want to sort out everybody.  God is not so optimistic (that the pastor sort out everybody). There are some who will die with mixed-up personalities, and they may be true believers. (In some ways perhaps I am that, and have on hope of ever sorting myself out.  Indeed, my salvation is to live with my oddities and partly put up with them, and partly rise above them to show that grace is better employed wrestling resignedly, realistically, cheerfully with our problems than demanding from God heavenly solutions on earth.)  Don’t try to do the impossible. Know your limitations, and know what God is seeking to do in the world and what part in it He wants you to play.