Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hospital visits

Some pastors loathe the hospital. I have come to find it one of the most precious places on earth to shepherd God's people. No one is there by choice. Yet those who end up there need the tender touch and compassionate words of a shepherd. This is one of those golden opportunities to live out 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8:

"But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us."

Hospital visits are deeply humbling moments when we love and treat our flock with dignity, supply the medicine of God's Word, and try to keep our wits and a good sense of humor. Just last week, as I visited a church member in a continuing care facility, the patient next to her kept interjecting into our conversation. She seemed a bit eccentric and kept asking me how to operate her cell phone. Finally, I checked her minutes and discovered she had used them all up. But as I ended the visit, I was able to include the roommate in our prayer time.

I often try to put the patient at ease by talking about the weather, about life, about my family, and about recent church events. I ask how their family is doing, about some of their fond memories, and pleasant conversation points with the outside world. What I avoid is excessive talk about their health or discussing current political events (they're probably hearing about those things all day on their TV anyway).

Toward the end of the visit, before I pray, I often like to ask if I can read a passage of Scripture as an encouragement to them. Brian Croft in his blog today gives four categories and samples of Scriptures which are very helpful:
  • Passages of comfort (Ps. 23, 28, 34, 46, 62, 145; Heb. 4:14–16)
  • Succinct gospel passages (John 11:25–26, Rom. 5:6–11, Eph. 2:1–10, 2 Cor. 5:17–21)
  • Passages dealing with the purpose of suffering for the believer (2 Cor. 12:7–9, James 1:2–4, 1 Pet. 1:6–7, 1 Pet. 4:12–19)
  • Passages related to the reality and hope of eternity with Christ (John 10:27–30, John 14:1–3, Phil. 1:21–23, 1 Pet. 1:3–5)
Finding time for hospital visits and house calls to shut-ins is a challenge in an already busy schedule, but we dare not forget our sheep who are quietly suffering. And I find it is all worth it when I hear those words, "Thank you, pastor, for coming by today."

Related posts:

Monday, March 29, 2010

Yo-yo man

Dylan took a lot of interest yesterday in a couple yo-yos we have at the house. As he held the string high up in the air and watched the yo-yo spin around, he would say with excitement, "Look Daddy, a trick!" Maybe he will be the next yo-yo man.

Here's a great act by the Smothers Brothers going back to the 1980s. Feel the yo.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Faith in the Famine

The last couple Sundays, we've been meeting some of the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament. (These men, of course, are not considered "minor" because they are any less important than the Major Prophets, but because their books are much shorter. The terms "minor" and "major" were foreign in the Hebrew Bible and Septuagint, and didn't arrive on the scene until Augustine and the Latin church.)

Two weeks ago, we were introduced to Haggai and Zechariah, a "tag team" commissioned by God around 520 BC to spur on Israel and its leaders to rebuild the temple after the Babylonian exile. We were reminded that joyful obedience to the commands of God comes "not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit" (Zech. 4:6).

Then, last Sunday, we turned over to the prophet Habakkuk, who ministered almost a century earlier, before the temple had been destroyed. When Habakkuk grieved over the sin of Israel (Hab. 1:1-4), God told him He was going to use Babylon to discipline His people (Hab. 1:5-11). This came as a total shock to Habakkuk, who couldn't imagine how a holy God could possibly allow an even more wicked people to "swallow up" God's chosen people (Hab. 1:12-2:3)! God then reassured Habakkuk that the righteous would endure by faith (Hab. 2:4), and that Babylon too would be severely humbled -- as soon as they completed God's assignment (Hab. 2:5-20). Habakkuk closes the short book with a song describing God's glorious appearance (Hab. 3:1-15) and a commitment to trust in God no matter what (Hab. 3:16-19).

Last Sunday, we focused on the final four verses of the book. We noticed three points:
  1. The prophet's fear (Hab. 3:16). Habakkuk staggered as he saw the vision of God (vv. 1-15) and considered the full weight of the judgment that was about to land upon Judah. But he resolved to wait quietly for whatever trials the Lord had prepared.
  2. The nation's famine (Hab. 3:17). God was about to devastate Israel not only with an invading army, but with a severe famine. Things would gradually worsen as figs, grapes, olives, grain, flocks, and cattle all died. Habakkuk paints a bleak picture, but doesn't stop to worry. He immediately takes these concerns and says, in spite of it all, "I will trust in God!"
  3. The prophet's faith (Hab. 3:18-19). Here we have a dramatic shift in tone, to one of triumph, victory, safety, and joy. God becomes the focus, rather than Habakkuk's circumstances. Just like a deer or a bighorn sheep, we are kept safe in dangerous places. We can "rejoice in the God of our salvation" even in life's darkest moments.
Questions for thought and discussion:
  • The name "Habakkuk" means "one who embraces." Why is that significant in this book?
  • Have you ever "trembled" inwardly like Habakkuk (3:16)? When?
  • What are your greatest fears in life?
  • What are your greatest physical, financial, and spiritual difficulties?
  • Try re-writing verses 17-18 in your own words, inserting trials that you have or could face
The last two week's sermons have been uploaded to our  podcast site and are available for free download.

Photo credit: brtsergio

What is the Gospel?

I first learned about the upcoming release of What Is the Gospel? in January at the Truth & Life Conference. From the moment I heard of it, I have been intrigued and highly anticipating it. And from the sound of its endorsements, it's going to even exceed my expectations.

D.A. Carson says, “Read it, then buy a box of them for generous distribution.” But perhaps the best summary that expresses why I was immediately interested is written by J.D. Greer:

“‘Gospel-centeredness’ has become the new, vogue term for pastors and churches. Greg Gilbert does a masterful job in this book explaining what that gospel actually is. He shows us that many well-meaning churches have distorted the gospel through false teaching, and others have abandoned the gospel because of embarrassment or simply neglect. This is a profound analysis of the gospel, expressed in a poignant, relevant way. I am very grateful for Greg’s prophetic call to return to the straightforward message of the cross.”

To watch a short video, read a sample, or learn more about the book, click on Justin Taylor's blog here. Or, just go ahead and click here to buy one now (or a whole boxload, as Carson recommends).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

First SBC open forum

Today was our first SBC regional forum. Walter Price, Bret Capranica, and I piled into a car together and drove down to East Clairmont Baptist Church in San Diego. There we met up with Blake Withers and several Southern California pastors (and one high school student).

There was no real agenda; just a time to chat about the state convention and learn how we can cooperate more effectively. As our state president Walter Price has said many times, "There are some things we can do better together than we can do separately." In particular, the way we cooperate in missions, education, and compassion (i.e. disaster relief) seem to be worth preserving. But how do we get the next generation on board? What excites them about our convention? What turns them off? These are the kind of questions we're trying to answer.

Several good thoughts came out of today's meeting. We definitely need a more robust church planting strategy, including better training, funding, oversight, and support. We also see major room for improvement in communication, social networking, and online resources.

Several like the idea of associations and state conventions serving the local church more as "clearing houses" of information and resources. These entities do not need to be manufacturers as much as conduits that will connect people and resources together.

Clearly, no one in the younger generation is going to "buy in" to a program simply because it's got the SBC label. The days of brand loyalty are gone. Now, pastors are consumers. SBC programs are like dishes at the buffet table. Each program will be weighed on its own merits. Some are chosen, while others are overlooked.

Our next regional forum will be in Fresno on May 18, followed by meetings in L.A. on July 22, and both Sacramento and San Francisco on September 16.

If you have any interest in the Southern Baptist Convention and would like to join the conversation, please join us for one of these meetings.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

New blog for pastors

I picked up with great excitement two little ministry books by Brian Croft at Shepherds Conference last month. One is Visit the Sick: Ministering God's Grace in Times of Illness. The other is Test, Train, Affirm, and Send Into Ministry: Recovering the Local Church's Responsibility in the External Call.

And today, I just realized Brian also has a blog called Practical Shepherding. There is some great, practical stuff here for pastors. Here's an excerpt from Brian's opening post back in January...
Why another blog?  For the same reason I write the books I write: To address issues of pastoral ministry that are largely neglected in the younger generations of pastors being raised up today.   The problem isn’t a lack of opportunity to be taught and develop biblical and theological convictions, but applying those convictions to the daily grind of pastoral ministry and many of the “outside the box” scenarios that local church pastors face on a daily basis.  Lord willing, this blog will act as a voice to serve to that end.   I pray it will serve both pastors in the “trenches” of this glorious work as well as those aspiring to this call to shepherd the redeemed.
Welcome to the blogosphere, Brian. May God bless this new endeavor and your desire to equip pastors for ministry.

Friday, March 19, 2010

IMB to give more emphasis to theological training

The International Mission Board is setting up an advisory team of four men to help oversees church plants with theological training. This is an excellent direction to move in. Churches are so often planted overseas without adequate follow-up, discipleship, and equipping of leaders. More emphasis on sound doctrine is always a good thing.

Here's an excerpt from the news release:
What happens all too often is that we come in and we blow the Gospel out there … and pop the question really quickly, ‘Will you trust Jesus?’ And the person may respond, but that DNA from the beginning is unhealthy. … We don’t want to see that believer or church fall away.”
Arnett has witnessed firsthand how dangerous a lack of theological training can be. While teaching at a seminary in Togo, West Africa, he started a church with a national Baptist partner. But Arnett didn’t realize this man, who was leading the new church, was mixing the Gospel with elements of African traditional religion — the worship of spirits in nature and of ancestors.
 You can read the whole IMB article here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Which came first -- the love or the forgiveness?

I recently received this question about Luke 7:47 from a student in our Greek class,
I know this is a bit beyond where we're at but its there away to tell from the Greek if her love or being forgiven came first? "Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."

There are a few questions that may help us answer this question:

1. What are the verb tenses? Do these tip us off to the timing?
2. What is the meaning of the conjunction "for"?
3. What seems to be the logic of Jesus' statement?

To answer question 1, we would definitely be getting ahead of ourselves in our Greek class, but the short answer is - there is nothing I can see that dictates that love came after or before the forgiveness. "Loved" is a simple, aorist verb that is undefined in time; it is just a generic past tense idea.

Regarding question 2, the Greek word is "oti" (or "hoti" with the rough breathing mark). Mounce defines this conjunction as "that, since, because." This might suggest the woman was forgiven BECAUSE she loved God so much. Most translations simply say "for."

However, notice these two translations:
Holman Christian Standard Bible Luke 7:47 Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; THAT'S WHY she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.

NET Bible Luke 7:47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven, THUS she loved much; but the one who is forgiven little loves little.

These two translations see her love as the RESULT rather than the CAUSE. This is one legitimate use of "hoti." Daniel Wallace in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics says this about result conjunctions: "This use gives the outcome or consequence of an action. The focus is on the outcome of the action rather than on its intention. Major conjunctions used this way are: ὥστε, ὡς, ὅτι, and less frequently, ἵνα. This use can be translated that, so that, or with the result that. By far the most common is ὥστε."

When we come to question 3 (Jesus' logic), I think the idea clearly is that the woman kissed and anointed Jesus' feet BECAUSE she loved Him so much, and she loved Him so much BECAUSE she knew her many sins had been forgiven by God.

Thus, from both a logical and a grammatical standpoint, it seems best to see love as the result to forgiveness. May all of us be equally grateful to Christ for the forgiveness He bought for us with His blood.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Preparing for worship

Several folks have suggested we take the final few minutes before our Sunday service to quietly prepare our hearts for worship. I really like this idea, and here’s why.

Bob Kauflin, in his book Worship Matters, says,
In the Bible, when various people encountered God’s presence, they were never flippant or casual. At Mount Sinai the Israelites ‘were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off’ (Ex. 20:18). Seeing God’s throne, Isaiah cried out, ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’ (Is. 6:5). When John encountered the risen Christ in his vision of heaven, he ‘fell at his feet as though dead’ (Rev. 1:17).

Reverence is essential to worship. Because ‘our God is a consuming fire,’ we are to ‘offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe’ (Heb. 12:28-29).

It’s not natural on Sunday morning to approach the Lord with reverence and awe. We won't do it if we slip in late or let our minds are passive. Sleeping in, rushing about, scarfing down breakfast, getting ourselves and the kids ready, finalizing ministry plans, driving to church. All of these can distract us from approaching the Lord with reverence and awe. I’m convinced that Satan doubles his efforts on Sunday mornings to get us anxious and flustered – anything to keep our minds off Christ.

So, to better prepare our hearts before the Lord, we encourage you starting this Sunday to take the final minutes before our service to focus and quietly prepare yourself for worship. You may find it helpful to open your Bible, bow your head, and use the A-C-T-S method of prayer: A – adoration and praise to God through Christ. C – confession of your sin before Him. T – thanksgiving for who God is, His past acts, and His future promises. S – supplication for the Spirit to bless our worship leaders, our order of service, and all attenders this morning.

So join us this Sunday in the sanctuary. Anticipate the great privilege we have of encountering God’s presence. Please do enjoy great fellowship with your church family before and after the service. But at 10:25, let’s all do our best to be in our seats, preparing our hearts to encounter a holy God.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Quotes from the 2010 Shepherds' Conference, Part 2

Yesterday, I posted some of my favorite quotes from last week's Shepherd's Conference. Here are the rest...

"Don't just teach principles to apply. Teach the Savior we are to follow" -- Carey Hardy

"Preaching is calling people to live out who you are" -- Carey Hardy

" The more heavenly minded we are, the more earthly good we can be" -- Carey Hardy

"Legalism is a cheap substitute for true spirituality" -- Carey Hardy

"The greater we want to be used by God, the greater we must be willing to suffer for Him" -- Steve Lawson

"The taller we stand, the more we will draw the enemy's fire" -- Steve Lawson

"I believe in the devil, because I did battle with him this morning...Even the devil is God's devil. God will draw a straight line with a crooked stick" -- Martin Luther, quoted by Steve Lawson

"Job doesn't need to understand why. He only needs to understand who." -- Steve Lawson

"I make the sovereignty of God the pillow on which I lay my head at night" -- Charles Spurgeon quoted by Steve Lawson

"The greatest demonstration of the compassion of God is the incarnation of Christ" -- John MacArthur

"The funeral is not the end of our responsibility to bear people's grief" -- John MacArthur

"Jesus could not be defiled. He was like a rainbow in a dump" -- John MacArthur

"How does this bring us (1) to God in Christ (2) together? These two questions could be asked for every element of a worship service." -- Andy Snider

And lastly, though I don't have any pithy "quotes" from Michael Vlach, his lecture on dispensationalism was clear and compelling, and one of the highlights of the conference for me.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Quotes from the 2010 Shepherds' Conference

Here's part 1 of some of my favorite quotes from the main sessions and breakout seminars of last week's Shepherds' Conference:

"God embraces those who separate themselves [from the world]" -- John MacArthur

"God chose a foolish message, method, and messengers to demolish all human pride" -- Tom Pennington

"Preachers, you can't be clever, and Christ be mighty to save" -- James Denny, quoted by Tom Pennington

"Do not think that Jesus did the same thing on the cross for all those who are in hell as for all those who are in heaven...Unless we're universalists, we all believe in limited atonement. The only question is whether we limit it, or God limits it" -- John MacArthur

"Christ's aim is not to keep His soldiers from danger, but to equip them for it" -- Rick Holland

"Hypocrisy is hiding your sins from the faithful, or hiding your faith from sinners" -- Rick Holland

"Hell is truth learned too late" -- cited by Rick Holland

"Satan is not the captain of hell. He is the chief captive of hell" -- Rick Holland

"There are no little people, no little places, and no little sermons" -- Al Mohler

"There is only one 'faith.' Theology is not lego bricks we can tear apart and put together when we get tired" -- Phil Johnson

Today's evangelicals favor feminine themes. 'Let's talk about our emotional hurts. Our personal relationships. Our felt needs. We're hurting people.' And the church has begun to look weak and effeminate, frightened, sissified, like a bunch of fops and milksops. And we're supposed to be soldiers. We are told relentlessly that we have to be "always agreeable no matter what," you know? Seeker sensitive. Gender neutral. Effervescent. Transparent. Sentimental. And delicate in everything we say and do. Those sound like rules for figure skaters, not warriors." -- Phil Johnson

Part 2 of this post will appear on Friday.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Volunteers needed for Haiti trips in April

This has just been announced by California Southern Baptist Disaster Relief...
We want to put together two more teams to serve in Haiti.
First Team:  Medical team: 2 MDs, 2 RNs, 1 pharmacist, one chaplain (CISM), and 2 others (LVNs, paramedics, or more RNs)
Dates needed:   April 14-20

Second Team:
  Demolition: (Does not need DR training) 5 strong men (be able to swing a sledge with no problem), 1 chaplain (CISM), 1 EMT or nurse. This team must go in totally self-contained (tent for rainy weather, sleep bag or sheets, heater meals and snacks, Water bottle, hand towel for showering under a bucket, two changes of clothes, and heavy work boots. It is to plan to go back-packing for 7 days. Don Hargis will be the team leader for this team
Dates needed:  April 17-24. 

To volunteer for one of these teams, please contact Judi Cook, our Off-site coordinator by e-mailing

Jerry Rankin on our priorities

Jerry Rankin, retiring president of the International Missions Board, shares some very candid thoughts on the convoluted priorities and cooperation of Southern Baptists.

Many denominational events and programs have grown aimless and ineffective. Cooperation has become an end in itself, rather than a means to some greater, transcendent end. Rankin writes...
Cooperation is about us; it is self-centered, self-promoting and maintaining everything every entity is doing without any concern for priorities or results. The Great Commission is not about us, our programs and sustaining what we have always done; it is about others. It is about a lost world. It is about consolidating our resources and focusing our energies to proclaim the gospel to those who have never heard, to win the lost and see the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of our Lord.
As I listen to Rankin's heart, I honestly don't think he is ranting. I think he is grappling with the reality that we live in a lost world, where three people are dying every second, and most are going straight to hell without Christ. Rankin is genuinely heartbroken over the lost, and putting our petty denominational bickering into perspective.

I wholeheartedly agree that cooperation is not an end in itself. It is a means to promote something of value. Something exhilarating. Something transcendent. Something Christ Himself commanded us to do while on this earth: to fulfill the Great Commission.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

De-cluttering your life, your ministry, and your file cabinet

Ever wonder if you should keep that old bank statement? Tax return? Employment application? Insurance policy?

The Getting Things Done blog has made a helpful list of how long to hold on to paperwork. This could be a valuable reference for both family and church records.

Happy shredding!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Shepherds Conference Day 3

Shepherd's Conference is going great. Phil Johnson just preached on 1 Corinthians 16, "Be alert. Stand fast in the faith. Act like men. Be strong." He was really on fire this morning, full of passion and wit in the true style of Spurgeon, challenging all of us to be men of character.

I've had a chance this week to catch up with many college, seminary, and Placerita Baptist friends, and to make some new friends from places like Chico, Texas, and Mexico. A recurring theme for me has been to keep Christ at the very center of my ministry and worship. My life and ministry are all by His strength, because of His sacrifice, and for His supreme glory.

Later I will share later some of my favorite quotes from the conference.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Church activities may be hindering your prayer life

I drove to Santa Clarita today and will be attending Shepherd's Conference on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, so my blogging schedule will be lighter than normal.

MacArthur, Mohler, Lawson, Pennington, Holland, and Johnson are all scheduled to speak as keynotes this year. Add to that some great breakout sessions, great food, and great fellowship, and you've got the makings of an all around great conference. This is one of my favorite times of the year to be spiritually fed and refreshed.

I recently started reading through E.M. Bounds' book The Weapon of Prayer and discovered this quote which is a good reminder for all of us...
The Apostles were as dependent upon prayer as other folks. Sacred work,—Church activities—may so engage and absorb us as to hinder praying, and when this is the case, evil results always follow. It is better to let the work go by default than to let the praying go by neglect. Whatever affects the intensity of our praying affects the value of our work. “Too busy to pray” is not only the keynote to backsliding, but it mars even the work done. Nothing is well done without prayer for the simple reason that it leaves God out of the account. It is so easy to be seduced by the good to the neglect of the best, until both the good and the best perish. How easily may men, even leaders in Zion, be led by the insidious wiles of Satan to cut short our praying in the interests of the work! How easy to neglect prayer or abbreviate our praying simply by the plea that we have Church work on our hands. Satan has effectively disarmed us when he can keep us too busy doing things to stop and pray.

This is certainly no excuse to be uninvolved at church! But it is a reminder never to let church activity crowd out prayer.

New Blog

Today I'm closing up shop and launching a new blog called Pinch of Clay. You can visit it by clicking here . Please stop by and...