Wednesday, February 27, 2008

So Still and So Restful

So still and so restful she lays,
Cold against mother’s breast
The warmth that was hers fading
Even as hot tears come to mother’s cheek.

Her life was brilliant and short
Like a shooting star streaking and burning~
Mother saw and wished and hoped
But could not keep her here

So mother holds her and remembers
The kicks and rolls and sickness
And joy and wonders why she went
So quickly and could not stay

So still and so restful she lays,
Mother’s shooting star that
Seared the joy of life into her heart
And has left her mark there forever

Update: My wife and our baby are doing well. I wrote this poem from going through this experience with others and not my own.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Calling out the Called

Last week, I sent an 'open letter' to the members of our church with the sole intent of calling out the men of our congregation who are interested in pastoral ministry. It is my sincere hope that several men of sound confession and character will join this fellowship. I'm going to post the contents of that letter here, and I'd love your thoughts and feedback concerning it. So far, I've had six men who have come forward with an interest in being involved in this. Here are the contents:

Looking for a Few Good Men

Unless I am greatly mistaken, this newsletter article will only immediately affect around six to eight men in our fellowship. In a newsletter that is mailed out to around 262 homes that seems like an inefficient use of space, but I do not believe that this is the case. Indeed, while this article may only immediately affect six to eight men, the impact, I hope, will influence the entire church for years to come. This article is dedicated to the men in our congregation whom God has called or will call out to do pastoral ministry in this body. I will talk briefly about the individual call to this great task, the responsibility of the church in this task, my personal mission in this task, and finally why I believe this is very important for our church.

First, I want to ‘demystify’ the call to pastoral ministry. Men, you are not looking for a burning bush or an angelic messenger from heaven in order to know that God is calling you to pastoral ministry. All you have to have is a good testimony, a blameless lifestyle, and a strong to desire to learn the Word of God and to teach it to others (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7). Unfortunately, many ‘pastors’ testify that when God called them to preach that they ran away, only to be forced in some sort of wrestling match of God to finally surrender to the ministry. While that makes for a great story, and while it may be true of some, the fact is that the man called by God will actually want to do pastoral ministry. If you have a desire to learn and to grow in order to teach others to learn and to grow, see me for further details.

Secondly, I want to let the church know what her responsibility is in this ‘calling out’ process. First, we are to be on the lookout for the type of man described in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Have you noticed a man who is blameless (not perfect) in his conduct? Is he able and eager to teach? Does he demonstrate loving affection toward his wife and children? Does he have a good reputation amongst those outside the church? Keep an eye on that man and encourage him to pursue the desire that God has placed in his heart. In Acts 13:2 we learn that the Holy Spirit spoke through the church to set Paul and Barnabas aside for their special work to which He called them. God still does that to men today in our midst. Look for them, encourage them, pray for them, and when one presents himself for service that you have had your eye on, rejoice! We are not to be pushy, simply encouraging. If you know someone like that, encourage them to come to the class I am about to talk about, and if you have questions or thoughts come and talk to me.

Thirdly, I want you to know that this desire I have is not just a ‘good idea’ I had while brainstorming in my office. It is, I believe, my direct responsibility to train men in this church for pastoral ministry. Paul wrote this to Timothy, and I believe that it applies to every pastor, “The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). If a men desires to do the work of ministry, if the church affirms that this man displays the characteristics described in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, then it will be my sacred duty to help such a man grow and learn and to be the best that he can be. To that end, we will meet every other Thursday evening. We will study the Bible, books by God gifted teachers, discuss, give reports, learn to teach, and generally hold one another accountable. It will require serious thought, personal cost to buy the books, time spent in study and prayer, and a sincere devotion to this body of Christ that is called “Mount Calvary Baptist Church.” In the period between each meeting, I will personally meet with any man willing one on one at least once to discuss any questions and for general fellowship.

Finally, I want everyone to think about why this is so important for our church. Wisdom should inform us that the more mature our leadership the better our church will weather future storms. Further, it is not God’s intention for this church to be built around the cult of personality of one man. The early church did not have the convenience of heading down to the local association and picking up resumes when their pastor was martyred, died, or called to missions. They had to rely on God to raise up leadership from amongst themselves, and because they sought out this leadership, when one man was removed from the picture the church could function without a hitch. While the oversight of the ministries of this church will be my responsibility as long as it pleases this church andthe Lord, I am more than happy to share the burden and rewards of ministry with others.

The immediate effects of this ministry will, perhaps, be minimal. In the long term, I believe the impact will be great. We will have men who will be better Sunday School teachers, men who will begin new ministries in this church, and hopefully, God will raise up men from inside our own fellowship to come on staff and serve in ministry. That may be years down the road, but it is a future that I am hoping for. I am praying for God to call out young men from our number to serve in ministry, and I am praying that he will call out older ones as well. Man, are you excited about this? Then join me, I need your help. Church, do you believe that God can do great things through the men of our church? Pray that He will call them out. The nations are waiting, the fields are ripe for harvesting; pray that God will send laborers into His fields from our number.

If you are interested, talk to me after church, call me in the office, or stop by and see me there. We will begin the first Thursday of March. I look forward to growing with you.

Calling out the Called,

Bro. Brad

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Searching for Help

Currently, I have the great pleasure of being the Senior Pastor of a church with two full-time vacancies. The bad side of that is that I am quite busy. The good side, which is far better, is that I get to be here for the hiring of the staff, and I have the opportunity to "tweek" the job descriptions. One of the positions that I am tweaking is going to be called "The Pastor to Families."

Originally, this position was called the "Minister to Children and Youth." I wanted to move away from the language of "minister" because I think that the word "pastor" more clearly defines the role. I changed the latter part from "Children and Youth" to "Families" because I want to send the clear message that this individual is a pastor for everyone. Our goal in this ministry will be to instruct children and students in godliness and doctrine, and to incorporate their parents into that process.

I have admonished both the committee and the church to consider someone that they would feel comfortable calling as their own pastor. He may be younger, and perhaps less experienced, but his character should be such that they would trust themselves to his model of maturity and to his knowledge of the Scriptures. If you cannot do that, then why on earth would you allow this individual to instruct and set the example for your children? Hopefully, we will find such a person...soon.

By the way, did I mention that we are looking for a Worship Pastor as well?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Musical Mayhem?

If you are interested in an analysis of Church Music, I highly recommend reading this article by Greg Gilbert.

HT: Joe Carter

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Providential Irony: A Puritan Reader Update

I'm supposed to be reading John Flavel's The Mystery of Providence this month. Oddly enough, I've misplaced the book, which could be a providence in itself. I don't know what to do now except begin the next book in the series and hope that it turns up. Bummer...I guess. Maybe I was supposed to be reading that other book now anyway....hmmm...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Training Pastors

I heard from a reliable source that Al Mohler was recently asked a question along the lines of, "Dr. Mohler, when do you think that seminaries should stop training young men for the ministry and the local church start doing the job." His response was, "Tomorrow morning." (Dr. Al Mohler is the president of Southern Seminary.) In saying this, I don't believe that Dr. Mohler meant that seminaries are unnecessary, but rather that the churches should not abdicate their role in the training of men for the ministry.

To that end, I have been struggling over a curriculm to begin at my church in order to train men for the ministry. I believe and know that there are men in this church who are gifted for that service. The studies will consist of Systematic Theology, preaching/teaching help, and studies in Biblical exegesis. All of these things go hand-in-hand. My problem is that there is so much to learn that I am having trouble breaking it down into mouthfuls. Should I go with a Systematic Theologies for teaching Systematic Theology, should I write something on my own? Should I look up particular articles considering subjects : i.e., atonement, Divinity of Christ, etc., and pass these out for study and discussion? How long should I spend on each, and where should we start?

I want to do this well, and so I would appreciate any thoughts you have on the matter.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Burning Our Noodle Part 4

Two nights ago, I was awakened at 4:30am by the sound of sirens that heralded the coming of devastation. While I tried to go back to sleep, my wife watched and listened intently to the news to see where the tornado was headed. By the grace of God, the storm passed us by unscathed, and yet not everyone was spared. As of today, the casualty count from that storm registers 55 persons, some entire families being wiped out by the dreadful storm.

I propose that there are generally two ways to view such catastrophes. One, we can believe that God was unable to stop the tornado from wreaking havoc and claiming lives, or two, we can believe that God was able to stop the tornado but did not choose to do so. Any Christian worthy of the name will believe the latter.

I want to take it a step further and ask this question: Is it possible that God ordains such disaster for the glory of His name and for the good of His people? I believe that it is not only possible, but that this is precisely the reason that things occur the way that they do. I truly believe that "for those who love God all things work together for good" (Rom. 8:28:). This may be hardest to swallow in the face of tragedy, but I believe that it is precisely then that these words are most precious. Consider this quote from one of my mentors, John Piper:

It's worth asking as a parenthesis here how a good God can be happy when the world is shot through with suffering and evil. It's a huge and hard question. Two things help me. One is that it doesn't help much to save God's reputation by saying that he is not really in charge. If someone had tried to comfort me in December 1974 when my mother was killed in a bus accident, by saying, "God didn't will this to happen; you can still trust him; he's good," I would have answered by saying, "My consolation does not come from thinking that God is so weak he can't divert the lumber on top a VW van." My God is sovereign. He took her in his appointed time; and I believe now and someday I will see that it was good. For I have learned in Jesus Christ that God is good. The biblical solution to the problem of evil is not to rob God of his sovereignty.

John Piper's mother died instantly when a piece of lumber came through the windshield of the bus and struck her. Could God not control the trajectory of the lumber? Could he not have altered the course of the bus? Certainly He could have, but He did not. Would you rather have a God who allows such things to purposely take place, or would you rather have the solace of knowing that even in the darkest night of tragedy that God is good, that He is close, and that He is working even this circumstance for your good and for His glory. Do you trust Him enough for that?

I sleep comfortably at night knowing that God holds the wind in His hand, that He commands the waves and the water, that not one sparrow falls to the ground outside of His sovereign notice, and that He has numbered my days and the days of my family. I trust Him with every detail, and I know that each has been sovereignly ordained to bring me into conformity to the likeness of His son and that all things are working together for my good and for His glory. I may not understand all things, but I know why all things happen. So the proper question for me in the face of tragedy is not, "Why did God let this happen?" Rather, it is, "Do you trust the Lord, even now, even when the pain is great and the grief a burden?" Joachim Neander, who died at only 30 years of age, expressed this truth aptly in the late 1600's in his great hymn, "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty." He wrote:
Praise to the Lord, who o'er all things so wonderously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen How they desires e'er have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

May God grant us the wisdom to see this truth in the difficulties of our past, and may He give us the wisdom to believe He will do the same in the future.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Burning our Noodle Part 3

I want to ramp things up again for the sake of our sanctification and return to our discussion of God's ordination of all things that come to pass. This is a most frightening thing for us humans, and it can make us feel insignificant and even "robotish" if not handled with care. After all, if God has already predetermined all things, what becomes of human responsibility and free will? While good and natural questions, such thoughts must be answered after we have established whether or not God has ordained things. If He hasn't, then the point is moot.

I want to further suggest that, upon reflection, we will all be much happier and the universe will make far better sense, and that we can have tremendous peace knowing that God is in control and does indeed ordain all things that come to pass. Consider the alternative! That God is not in control of all things, that certain things happen for no reason, and that terrible evil may be propagated without consequence or from which no good arises. That, beloved, is a horrid thought.

So let us examine a few passages that indicate that God has indeed ordained things, even evil things, so that He may receive the glory and that He might triumph over sin and the very evil that was committed. (I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Why would He ordain an evil simply to overcome it?" We'll deal with that in a later noodle burner dealing with human responsibility.) Here are some verses to consider, and do yourself a favor, actually read them and think about the implications before we move on:

Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete. (Gen. 15:13-16).

For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. (Acts 4:27-28)

Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48)

Studied over those few examples yet? If you are skimming and trying to get the gist of this, go back and read them! Now you're done? Good.

In the first example, we see that the time of Israel's captivity in Egypt was ordained of God. It would last exactly 400 years, and at the end of that 400 years, God would set them free. Their freedom would come at precisely the right time as well because that would mark the time when their inquity would be complete. We further see that Abraham was promised to have a full life and die in old age, which he did. Every day was numbered and determined by God, and although God does not will that His people be hated and abused, He ordained that very thing by the hand of the Egyptians.

In the second example, we see that it was determined before that Herod, Pilate, the Jews and the Gentiles would mock and crucify the Son of God. Bar none, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the most heinous atrocity ever perpetrated by man, yet we see that it was predetermined that this would take place, and that Herod and Pilate would play a part.

Finally, we see in the Acts passage that everyone who was "appointed" to eternal life believed the gospel. If we cannot discern the sovereignty of God in Acts 13:48, I am at a loss as to where we will find it! To these examples we could add many more, and if your curiousity is aroused over this I heartily recommend you avail yourself to this article by John Piper entitled, "Is God Less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be?". Let me quote from that article some examples he gives:

God often expresses his will to be one way, and then acts to bring about another state of affairs. God opposes hatred toward his people, yet ordained that his people be hated in Egypt (Genesis 12:3; Psalm 105:25 – "He turned their hearts to hate his people."). He hardens Pharaoh's heart, but commands him to let his people go (Exodus 4:21; 5:1; 8:1). He makes plain that it is sin for David to take a military census of his people, but he ordains that he do it (2 Samuel 24:1; 24:10). He opposes adultery, but ordains that Absalom should lie with his father's wives (Exodus 20:14; 2 Samuel 12:11). He forbids rebellion and insubordination against the king, but ordained that Jeroboam and the ten tribes should rebel against Rehoboam (Romans 13:1; 1 Samuel 15:23; 1 Kings 12:15-16). He opposes murder, but ordains the murder of his Son (Exodus 20:13; Acts 4:28). He desires all men to be saved, but effectually calls only some (1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Corinthians 1:26-30; 2 Timothy 2:26).

Tomorrow, God willing, I will continue this by drawing out why this truth of God's Sovereignty is a precious doctrine will bring peace into the suffering of life, especially in the face of unexpected tragedy. After that, we will deal with human responsibility in the face of Divine Sovereignty. I conclude this section with the quote from the 2nd London Baptist Confession of 1689:

God has decreed in Himself from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things which shall ever come to pass. Yet in such a way that God is neither the author of sin nor does He have fellowship with any in the committing of sins, nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Puritan Reading Challenge Continues!

For those of you who are keeping up, it is now February. I hope that you've finished Richard Sibbes' The Bruised Reed. I confess that I am a few pages short, but I will finish it within the week. It is my second time through the book, and I confess that it has blessed me more the second time through than the first.

The next book we'll read is John Flavel's The Mystery of Providence. I am stoked about it. Hopefully, it will help answer a couple of the "noodle burner" questions about God's orchestration of all things. Hang in there! Keep reading! And if you have a favorite quote from your reading of Sibbes, why don't you share it in the comment section?