Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. ~2 Timothy 2:15

About Me

I am a young man who is following God's call into pastoral ministry. I have been so blessed with the privileges which the Lord has granted me. I am blessed to serve the Mt. Joy congregation in Mt. Pleasant, PA. I am constantly humbled and amazed at what the Lord is doing in my life.

Monday, December 31, 2012

What To Say To Your Pastor At the End of The Sermon

So the worship service has come to an end and you are waiting in line to greet the pastor afterwards. You want to let him know how much you appreciated the sermon but don't quite know what to say. As a pastor, I can tell you that I have heard a variety of comments pertaining to my sermons. Some make me smile. Others bring a chuckle while a few leave me scratching my head. From "you were a little long-winded this morning" to a nine year old confessing "I got a good nap in during the sermon today." A fellow pastor shared with me that he was once told that he gave a "warm sermon," one that was "not too hot." Much of what people say on the way out the door to their pastor is not necessarily wrong or bad but might not be as helpful for their pastor and his faithful task of delivering God's Word as they realize. Perhaps more could be said for the sake of clarity. It is beneficial to give your pastor feedback, but clear communication of what you are trying to say helps him out even more. Let's look at some of the most common "sayings" that pastors hear on Sunday morning and what they may communicate.

"Good job"
To tell the pastor "good job" after the sermon with nothing else attached to it is very ambiguous. What did he do a "good job" at? Communicating the Word? Explaining a difficult passage? Speaking eloquently? Peaking your interest? Keeping you awake? Simply saying "good job" is not as clear to your pastor. Also, it may play on his pride. Trust me, pastors are just as prone to pride as anyone else in the congregation. It creeps up on us without warning! "Good job" emphasizes the work that the pastor has done and his skills and talents instead of directing him back to the very One whose grace he had to depend upon to labor at understanding the passage and communicate it effectively. It can easily lead him to begin patting himself on the back instead of giving glory to the God who actually deserves the credit.

"Thank you for sharing your heart"
Hearing this one actually scares me. Any pastor committed to what is called expository preaching; taking a passage and seeking to communicate each point the biblical author intended to make as he moves through the text verse by verse, does not want to hear this. It actually communicates to him that he has utterly failed in his task. He then didn't deliver God's Word that morning but his own thoughts. Though, unfortunately, there are too many pastors whose sermons result in the congregation learning more about themselves instead of God. But a pastor SHOULD be concerned with the congregation learning and applying what God has said to them in His Word instead of sharing his own thoughts or ponderings.

"Good message"
At a summer interim I served at while in seminary, I remember someone coming up to me after the service and saying this. I asked the person if they would thank the mailman for the letter their grandmother had written to them. They told me that they wouldn't because he did not write it. I then proceeded to tell them that I did not write the message I shared that morning but only desired to communicate what God had said in His Word. I served as the "mailman" in this case and they should be thanking the Author of the letter. He then told me, "Well, thank you for delivering the message." That I could better accept. Always make sure that you thank your pastor appropriately, and that for what he has actually done, recognizing it through the work of God's grace.

"I enjoyed it"
Alongside of "good job," this saying appears to be borrowed from the theater. After watching a play, it is customary to say "good job" to the actors and let them know that you "enjoyed" the performance. This comes very close to communicating that someone viewed the sermon as entertainment, something that they would enjoy as a football game (when their team wins of course!) or a movie. But the sermon should not be entertainment but be the communication of the Word of God to the people of God. Many times it should be convicting. You would not say with a big grin on your face, "I enjoyed the sermon this morning. God really pointed out to me a sin I need His grace to work on and it grieves my heart." Though in a sense we always should "enjoy" reading and hearing God's Word proclaimed because of our joy in the One that Scripture points us to, the Lord Jesus Christ. However, I don't think that is what many seem to be communicating in uttering these words after a sermon. Otherwise that should be said every Sunday if the preacher is doing his appointed task with excellence.

"Thank you for the message"
This is the remedy to the problematic "good message" saying examined above. It humbles the pastor to remind him that it was not "his" personal message that he delivered but God's and it appropriately thanks him for the role that He played in God's work of sanctification in His people's lives. This is one of the better things one can say to their pastor and coupled with one of the following can be very beneficial to him.

"I really needed to hear that today"
This serves as very encouraging to your pastor. It communicates to him that God has used him that morning to minister His Word. It allows him to rejoice in God's grace in doing His work through such a weak and frail vessel. It reminds him of the purpose and power of preaching.

"I have been praying for you for this morning"
The more I serve in pastoral ministry, the more I recognize just how much I need God's grace to serve Him and His Church. For the serious preacher who is concerned about understanding God's Word and communicating it effectively, the sermon occupies much more time than just the 30-40 minutes on Sunday morning. Personally, I probably average close to 15-20 hours a week for sermon preparation. It is always encouraging to your pastor for him to know that those in the congregation are praying for the Spirit's aid in his labor to proclaim the precious words of the Lord. Though make sure that you only say this if it is true; that you HAVE BEEN praying for him and his task of preaching.

"To God be the glory!"
Here is a cry of worship! I believe that it was P. T. Forsyth who once said something to the effect of, "To have someone say 'that was a great sermon' is a sign of utter failure. The proper response should be 'what a great God!' " In fact, God's intention with His Word is to spur His people to worship. Isaiah 55:11 is often quoted or prayed at most worship services but seldom does anyone actually focus on what God's desire for His Word that goes out of His mouth really is. They fail to read verse 12 which follows it and shows what God's purpose is. It is worship! For the people to go out rejoicing and all of creation praising God. For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. (I just discovered this insight myself from Paul David Tripp in his book, "Dangerous Calling.") This should be the same statement that is on the heart of the pastor as he prepares to preach, delivers the message, and steps down from the pulpit. Saying this to him on the way out the door will allow him to join you in worshiping the great God the Scriptures reveal.

"I would like to talk to you later about some things God pointed out to me with that sermon" or "I have some questions about something you said this morning."
A major goal of a pastor is to disciple the flock that God has entrusted to him. Comments like this provide him an opportunity to do just that. Most pastors would love to hear this and make the time to sit down with you to discuss what God is saying in His Word and how that applies to your life further. It may take a moment though for them to get over the shock of the statement first since they don't hear it so often.

So this coming Sunday, after being blessed with hearing God's Word rightly proclaimed, as you stand in line to shake the pastor's hand, here are some things to keep in mind if you are struggling with how to comment on his sermon. I am sure that several more sayings could be added. These are just the ones that have come to my mind in my "ponderings" the past few days. God bless!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Heroes or Humans?

When you think of the men and women portrayed in Scripture, what do you think of? What comes to mind when you picture Abraham, Moses, David, Mary, and Peter? Do you envision people who did the unthinkable, moved the unmovable, and had an unwavering faith that we can only imagine? Often we seem to focus on the successes of these men and women but forget about their many and varied flaws. We have taken these mere humans and turned them into heroes, thinking that they themselves are supernatural and never did any wrong. We place them on pedestals and view them as role models. We even sing songs such as "Dare to be a Daniel." In Sunday School, they are presented several times on the same plain as Jesus Himself. But the Bible presents no such picture of the men and women that can be found in its pages.

The Bible does not shy aware from showing these men and women in all of their glory, which often is not a very glorious picture. They all are described as sinners just as you and I are, with several flaws. For instance, although Abraham is known as the quintessential "man of faith," he often exhibited periods of lack of faith. In reading about him we see not only his faith but also his failure. Growing impatient towards God's deliverance of His promise to provide Abraham with an heir so that he would be the "father of many nations," he allows his wife to talk him into sleeping with her slave girl, Hagar (Genesis 16). Instead of waiting on God's timing, he took matters into his own hands. We also witness his fear. Twice he lies about his wife because of his fear of the king and Pharaoh (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18). He did not trust God to protect him in both cases. Had not God intervened, this could certainly had ruined His promise to Abraham to provide a child to him through Sarah. We are even given a hint that before God called him, he participated in the worship of other gods (Joshua 24:2). He was another wretch that God in His grace decided to save and include in His divine plan of redemption.

Many speak of how courageous of a leader Moses was and even point to him as an example of what a godly leader should look like. Yet we shouldn't forget that the one who led the people out of their Egyptian slavery wound up doing so because he ran out of excuses in the face of a God who was determined to use him for such a task. He recognized that he was nothing and not fit for the task (Exodus 3:11). He claimed that he would not know what to say to the people to distinguish Yahweh from the other so-called gods (v. 13). The people would not listen to him or believe him (4:1). He was not the greatest speaker (v. 10). Even after God dispels all of these by promising to be with Moses (3:12), instructing the saint on how to introduce Himself to the people (vv. 14-17), showing him the miraculous signs He intends to do through him (4:2-9), and promising to be his mouth (vv. 11-12), Moses still wants nothing to do with the job. Oh, my Lord, please send someone else (v. 13). He finally goes as God's gets angry and sends his brother to aid in his call (vv. 14-17). Don't forget also that this great leader actually did not retain the privilege of leading the people into the promised land of Canaan due to his disobedience at Meribah (Numbers 20:2-13).

Even David does not come across as the "hero" he is often painted to be when one looks at Scripture's record of his life. The great king after God's own heart was also a great sinner. The Bible does not hide the fact from us that he was guilty of adultery and murder in the case of Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah (2 Samuel 11). In fact, the author tells us at the end of the summary of the account that the thing that David had done displeased the LORD (2 Samuel 11:27). The king also finds himself in trouble after conducting a census against God's wishes (1 Chronicles 21:1-17). He certainly was not perfect and had his flaws.

The same can be seen with Mary and Peter. Mary identified herself as a sinner needing the Savior. She states, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior (Luke 1:47). (And that statement alone is enough to shoot down the claim of Catholicism that Mary was born sinless. Someone "sinless' would not need saving.) The Peter we witness boldly preaching in Acts in the face of persecution is the same Peter who was referred to as Satan by Jesus (Matthew 16:23), denied Jesus three times (Luke 22:54-62), and had to be confronted by Paul over his accommodating to the Judiazers sect (Galatians 2:11-14).

The only hero in the Bible is the Lord Jesus Christ. Every heroic deed stems from His work or points to His coming and purpose. All of the righteous things that people recorded in Scripture have done can only be attributed to God's work through them. In facing the Philistine giant Goliath, the young shepherd David acknowledged that it would be God who would deliver him from the enemy and not himself (1 Samuel 17:37, 46). The battle actually was the Lord's and David merely served as His vessel to accomplish His purpose. for the battle is the LORD's and He will give you into our hands (1 Samuel 17:47). All of these people's flaws reflects their natural sinfulness and any successes they had point us to the greater success of Christ in His atoning work on the cross. There is a real sense where God uses David to represent his greater son, Jesus, who defeats the one behind the giant Goliath; the sinister serpent Satan. David is not an example for us to defeat the "giants" in our lives but rather an encouragement to look away from ourselves and our strength to rely on the only One who has defeated the Giant who plaques us and can be our strength.

This truth that these Old Testament saints are only humans instead of heroes proves comforting to us. This means that if God can use such wayward sinners as they to accomplish His perfect plan and bring glory to Himself, then He can also use us. It also makes sure that we place our trust in the true hero of the Bible, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let's not "dare to be a sinful Daniel" but find security in the sinless Savior.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Responding to Christ's Birth

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. ~Luke 2:15-20

Can you imagine what it must have been like to be one of the shepherds who first received the announcement of the good news of Christ’s birth? You are standing there looking out for the sheep when suddenly a bright light appears and an angel tells you that the long awaited Messiah that you read about in Scripture has been born. The One that the prophet Isaiah said would come and be Immanuel, God with us, has arrived and is lying in a manger at this very moment (Isaiah 7:14). Luke gives us a picture of their response to this wonderful news in his gospel.

The first thing we notice about the shepherds after hearing the word about the Savior’s birth is their excitement. As soon as the angels depart back into heaven, they begin saying to themselves Let us go now as far as Bethlehem and see this word that had happened which the Lord has made known to us. They could not wait to seek out the newborn Christ. The group decides to go now and Luke describes them as going in a hurry to find the special Child. The impression is given that they left promptly after the angels. They could not wait to meet Jesus.

We also see the wonder that Christ’s birth brings. After arriving and beholding the infant Jesus, they relate the message of the angels that was given to them. We are told then that all who heard wondered concerning the things spoken by the shepherds to them (v. 18). The Greek word used here to indicate the response means wonder, marvel, be astonished. This serves as a common response to Jesus. Later Mary and Joseph are amazed at what Simeon says concerning their special Child (Luke 2:33). Those in the synagogue were amazed at Jesus’ words (4:22). The disciples were amazed at His calming of the winds and the waves (8:25). The crowds stood amazed at His exorcisms (9:43; 11:14). The scribes and Pharisees found themselves amazed at His answer to their tricky question (20:26). Peter marveled at the sight of the empty tomb (24:12) and the disciples could not believe because of their joy and amazement at viewing Jesus after His resurrection (24:41). Christ should always produce in us such amazement. Mary herself treasures what has been told about Christ, holding fast to it in her heart. We would do well to continually treasure Christ in our own hearts and constantly be thinking about Him.

Notice how the shepherds leave. They go back glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen just as had been told them (v. 20). Their encounter of Christ leads to worship. They give God glory for the Savior He has given and the work that He accomplishes through Him. Such a response of excitement, wonder, and worship we witness of the shepherds to Christ’s birth should be our response to Jesus today. We should excitedly come to Him, wonder at the majesty of Who He is, and glorify and praise God in His name on account of Him. As John Calvin points out, “If the cradle of Christ had such an effect upon them [the shepherds], as to make them rise from the stable and the manger to heaven, how much more powerful ought the death and resurrection of Christ to be in raising us to God?” We often talk about the wonder of Christmas, lets make sure that we never lose the wonder of Christ, regardless of the day of the year that it is.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee
Soli Deo Gloria!