Preach the Word and Love the People

I will never forget a conversation I had with one of my seminary professors shortly before I graduated. I had already accepted a call to serve as pastor of a small rural church in Ohio and was eager to hear what he (a former pastor) had to say. I asked him, “what advice he would give to me, a young pastor, just starting off in ministry?” The simplicity of his answer blew me away – “Preach the Word and love the people.” Of course, he went on to say more, but that was a good summary of his advice.

Now, I need to tell you a little about my professor. He had earned two PhD’s, pastored a very large church, and was clearly a brilliant man. I guess when I asked him that question I was expecting more, something a little deeper and more profound. But now having spent 10 years in ministry, I see the wisdom of his answer. All too often, we pastors are tempted to jump on the latest bandwagon…..to follow the latest fad…..to employ the latest “grow your church quick” scheme. We forget that these fads are a lot like shooting stars. They come, they go, and before too long people forget about them.

My professor knew that pastoral ministry is really simpler that we think. It is not about always trying to be on the “cutting edge” and using all the latest church growth gimmicks. Rather, pastoring is all about being faithful to God’s call. And what has God called us to do? Well, you could summarize it in this way. “Preach the Word and love the people.” In the future, if a young pastor ever asks me for advice heading into ministry, I would answer in much the same way as my professor did. And while I have not always been successful in following this, his advice has been a great reminder to me to “keep the main thing the main thing” and to not let distractions get in the way.

Brothers, may we be faithful to our Master and Lord! Pray continually that God would give you a special love for your people and that He would equip you to preach the gospel and “rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

2 Timothy 4:1-2: 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.

1 Peter 5:1-4: So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed:shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

The Call of God

I have always been fascinated by the bible passages where the call of God is given directly to His chosen servant. Let me give you a few examples.

Moses:

“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt. But Moses said to God, Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt? He said, But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:10-12).

Joshua:

“No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Joshua 1:5-7).

Jeremiah:

“Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations. Then I said, Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth. But the Lord said to me, Do not say I am only a youth; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord. Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, Behold I have put my words in your mouth. See I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and break down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:4-10).

Ezekiel:

“And he said to me, Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you. And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, Thus says the Lord God. And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Nor be dismayed by their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 2:1-7).

The First Disciples:

“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-22).

Paul:

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? And he said, Who are you, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:1-6).

Some Reflections……

The world looks for strategies and programs; God looks for a man.

A few years ago, I heard a sermon by John MacArthur on the prophet Jeremiah. In reference to the call of Jeremiah, MacArthur explained, “When there is a crisis, people look for a program. But God looks for a man.” Is it not true that we constantly look for some magical program to take our church to the next level? We think, if only we could find the right program or curriculum, our church would grow and thrive. But more than programs and strategic planning, God is looking for men and women of faith. When God says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” God is looking for people like Isaiah who say, “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). First and foremost, there must be a willingness to obey the call of God.

The “call” is not based on the skills/abilities/gifts of the man.

Jesus didn’t pick the 12 disciples because they were the most gifted men he could find. They were just ordinary men with an extraordinary calling. I am sure they were skilled in their various trades and occupations, but no one would have suggested they would change the world. Yet in only a few decades, that’s exactly what happened. “The gospel….which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister” (Colossians 1:23). How remarkable that this ordinary cast of characters took the gospel all over the known world in such a short time. What this demonstrates is the power of God. As Paul explains, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

The “called” often feel weak and inadequate for the task at hand.

Moses thought he was a poor communicator (Exodus 4:10) and Jeremiah thought he was too young (Jeremiah 1:6). What is ironic is that God knew these men better than they knew themselves. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” he said to Jeremiah. God was aware of weaknesses they had no clue about, but none of that mattered. If God had truly called them as His chosen instruments, He would certainly equip them for the task at hand. We might also add that too much pride and confidence in one’s own abilities is actually a hindrance to fulfilling God’s plans. Pride has a tendency to produce self-reliance and not God-dependence. That’s why Paul says, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Faith and courage were required for the assignment.

It’s safe to say that Joshua never forgot God’s instructions to him, “be strong and very courageous” (Joshua 1:7). Joshua would face giants as he led the Israelites in the conquest of Canaan. Their enemies would not simply hand over the land without a fight and therefore, strength and courage would be absolutely essential to victory. This is true for every man of God. I love how God tells Jeremiah, “But you, dress yourself for work; arise and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them” (Jeremiah 1:17). In other words, it’s almost as if God is saying, “if you don’t trust me, I will humiliate you before the people.” Jesus said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Success was not always guaranteed.

Those of you who are familiar with the ministry of Jeremiah will know that it was not a great success. He was not a prophet who witnessed revival after revival in response to his preaching. But we also know that Jeremiah was faithful and obedient to God. Popularity was not something he enjoyed throughout his life, but he faithfully delivered the Word of God, so there is a sense in which he was successful. Think of all the missionaries around the world who have labored for years on end with few converts to show for their work. Does that mean they were failures? Of course not! The prophet of God is responsible to speak the words of God and then leave the results up to Him. “And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear” (Ezekiel 2:7).

The guidebook for the man of God – the Word of God.

Every year, thousands of new books are published. In my personally library, I have well over 1000 books and have access to thousands more on the internet. Indeed, as King Solomon reminds us, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). What is amazing about this verse is that it was written 3000 years ago, long before the publishing industry flooded the world with books. But for the man of God, it is needful to master only one book – God’s book. As God told Joshua, “Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7). Paul adds to this in saying, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In short, God’s Word is sufficient!

Those “called” could always count on the presence of God.

God told Moses, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). God told Joshua, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you” (Joshua 1:5). God told Jeremiah, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:8). And just as the Spirit of God entered into Ezekiel (2:2), so too did Jesus give his disciples the Holy Spirit (John 20:22) before he left them.

Certainly, much more could be said, but as I close, let me leave you with the words of the great apostle, to his young apprentice Timothy. “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 6:11-14).

 

The Preacher’s Prayer

Week in and week out, the preacher has a tough job. In fact, it is an impossible job apart from work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, preaching, from start to finish (even after the sermon has been preached), must be done in prayer. I have been in pastoral ministry for about 10 years now and the more I preach, the more I realize the vital place of prayer when it comes to the preaching task. The preacher is completely dependent upon God. As Jesus said, “apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This is true of everything, including preaching.

But what should the preacher pray? Last year I stumbled upon a podcast from an outstanding preacher by the name of Steve Lawson. I have adapted it slightly, but he recommends praying the following prayers as you prepare to preach the Word.

  1. Lord, prepare my heart before you. May I submit myself to the teaching of this passage of Scripture.
  2. Lord help me to be disciplined and diligent as I prepare and craft this sermon. Help me to give myself to this task wholeheartedly.
  3. Lord help me to see the riches contained in this text of Scripture.
  4. Lord, help me come to the right interpretation of the text. Help me to be taught by the Holy Spirit of God.
  5. Lord, help me in the organization and construction of this sermon. Help me to pull together the various parts of this passage so that it might be clear and understandable.
  6. Lord, press this message to our hearts (both me and my listeners) and ignite a passion in our souls. Help us internalize this message and apply it to our lives.
  7. Lord, grant me an effective delivery and the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit.
  8. Lord, help my hearers to be attentive and receptive to the message. Help them to fight off distractions that they might clearly hear your Word.
  9. Lord, may this message accomplish your eternal purposes. Thank you for the promise that your Word will not return void and will accomplish all your purposes (Isaiah 55:11).

 

 

 

Billy Graham’s Biggest Regret

As the tributes have poured in from all over the world following the death of the renowned evangelist Billy Graham, I remembered back to an interview he did with Greta Van Sustern a few years ago. In one of the questions, Sustern asked Graham, “If you were to do things over again, would you do things differently? Graham responded by saying he would study more, pray more, travel less, and praise the Lord more. This is yet another example of the humility which characterized his life.

Way back in 1977, Graham said something similar: One of my great regrets is that I have not studied enough. I wish I had studied more and preached less. People have pressured me into speaking to groups when I should have been studying and preparing. Donald Barnhouse said that if he knew the Lord was coming in three years, he would spend two of them studying and one preaching. I’m trying to make it up. (Christianity Today, September 23, 1977)

What a great reminder for young preachers like myself. Few (if any) will have the kind of platform Graham enjoyed over his long ministry, but we have all been called, in the words of the apostle Paul, to “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

You can watch the interview here and here

Bible Verses for Pastoral Visitation

An important aspect of pastoral ministry is that of visitation. Pastoral visitation will be done in a number of different contexts, but whatever the venue and whatever the situation, pastors need to be ready to minister the Word to those in need, especially when it comes to visiting and ministering to the sick. In his helpful book The Pastor’s Ministry, Brian Croft encourages pastors to have “a large store of passages laid up in memory and ready for use.” He goes on to list and categorize several different Scripture passages that can be used depending on the situation. They include the following:

  • Passages of comfort: Psalms 23; 28; 34; 46; 62; 145; Hebrews 4:14 – 16
  • Succinct gospel passages: John 11:25 – 26; Romans 5:6 – 11; 2 Corinthians 5:17 – 21; Ephesians 2:1 – 10
  • Passages dealing with the purpose of suffering for the believer: 2 Corinthians 12:7 – 9; James 1:2 – 4; 1 Peter 1:6 – 7; 4:12 – 19
  • Passages related to the reality and hope of eternity with Christ: John 10:27 – 30; 14:1 – 3; Philippians 1:21 – 23; 1 Peter 1:3 – 5

I would add just a few more: 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, Isaiah 40:28-31, James 5:14-20, Psalm 139:1-16, and Colossians 1:15-20

Obviously, the Word of God is vast and deep and you will no doubt find many more relevant passages, but this list does provide a good start. The important thing is to come prepared to minister to the Word of God to those in need.

Acts 20:17-20: 17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Celebrating the New Birth

 

August is a big month for our family when it comes to birthdays. Our 3 oldest were born in August and it also happens to be Steph’s birthday. The kids are already telling us what they want even though we still have another 6 months before our big birthday month comes around again.

I got to thinking…..why are birthdays such a big deal? Most people and most cultures all over the world tend to recognize and celebrate the day of our birth – but why? I think it is because we recognize that life is special and that each year (even each day) is a gift – something we can be thankful for. As Christians we know that God is the giver of life and that remarkably, He numbers our days (Psalm 139:16).

 

If you are like most people in terms of recognizing and celebrating birthdays, that’s awesome! Keep it up. But I also want to remind you that if you are a Christian, that means you have another birthday that is infinitely more important. The Bible says that believers have been “born again to a living hope!” (1 Peter 1:3). Perhaps you don’t know the exact day of your salvation, but if you are truly in Christ, then you, my friend, have reason to celebrate! I live and minister in Pennsylvania and as most of you are aware the Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl last Sunday night. People here in Pennsylvania got pretty excited about it. People in Philly got really excited about it! To be sure, it was a great game, but in the whole scheme of things, it’s not that important. 50 years from now few people will remember or care that the Eagles won the Super bowl. In contrast to that, the new birth is truly worth celebrating. Consider the following verses:

 

“my soul will rejoice in the Lord, exulting in his salvation.” Psalm 35:9

“This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:9

“I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk 3:18

“do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20

“Just so, I (Jesus) tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents that over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7

 

Salvation, as you can see, is a big deal. One day these mortal bodies of ours will die and be no more. There will be no more birthday parties, no more birthday cakes, and no more opening birthday gifts. But if you have been “born again” (see John 3:3) that means you have been forgiven of your sins, justified before God, granted eternal life, and been given the indwelling Holy Spirit. More than that, you have fellowship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ – you are a friend of God! If you want a reason to celebrate…..then celebrate the new life you have in Christ. Praise God for sending us a Savior and praise God for the miracle of salvation!

 

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7

 

Why You Should Attend a Simeon Trust Workshop on Biblical Exposition

By Pastor Isaac Stuart

I had the privilege of attending a Simeon Trust workshop this past November in Youngstown, Ohio. I had never heard about the Charles Simeon Trust until Dan Stegeman told me about this workshop on expository preaching last summer. I believe whole heartedly in expository preaching for two reasons. First, it combats the Biblical illiteracy problem we have in the American church. Secondly, along the same lines, it addresses the bad theology that is prevalent in the church as well (i.e. the thinking that “God helps those who helps themselves” and much more). Expository preaching helps people understand the Bible and helps build their thinking and their lives upon God’s Word. I found the Simeon Trust workshop helped equip me even more as a young expositor.

In the teaching times, I was reminded of some very important tools that help in expository preaching. In one of these tools, called the “melodic line,” you look at your passage of Scripture from the perspective of the whole book. Another important reminder was how the entire Bible points to Jesus and the Gospel and how I need to think about how the passage, no matter where it is located, points to Jesus. But the biggest thing I took away from this workshop was during the small group times, where we looked at a particular book of the Bible and applied the principles we learned to that book. In Youngstown, we looked at the book of Judges. As we worked through different passages in that book, I came to a new appreciation for the book of Judges and I saw how a pastor would be able to preach through some of the harder sections of Scripture.

If I had to sum up the Simeon Trust workshop in a few words, I would echo what one of the leaders called these workshops, “A preaching tune-up.” Just as our cars need a tune-up to run well, we as pastors need a tune-up in our preaching to make sure that we are effectively communicating the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ. In order to do this, we need to make sure that we are not adding to Scripture or taking away from Scripture, but that we are holding to Scripture and allowing God to work through His Word to change people’s lives. I would encourage you to consider going to a Simeon Trust workshop. You will not be disappointed and you will be reminded of the great task we have as pastors to faithfully teach God’s Word to those God has entrusted to our care.