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leper

The hope we offer people is more than a set of strategies. Our hope is Christ! In him alone do lost, confused, angry, hurt, and discouraged people find what they need to be and do what God intends. We are not gurus. We are nothing more than instruments in the hands of a powerful Redeemer. The hope and help we offer is always focused on him. The most important encounter in ministry is not the person’s encouter with us, but his encouter with Christ. Our job is simply to set up that encounter, so that God would help people seek his forgiveness, comfort, restoration, strength, and wisdom.

Paul David Tripp, Instruments In The Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2002), 138.

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Worship

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)
he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh,
how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:11-14)

I remember a few weeks back when accusations were pounding my mind. I saw my weakness and sins so clearly. The voice said to me that there was no way that one as sinful as I could every hope to minister to others. Whether it was the struggle over sins I have had for years or new sins I saw in myself the voice seemed to be speaking truth. How could one who had so many problems be presentable to a holy God for service?

Thankfully the Lord spoke Hebrews 9 to His people. I came across this section in the midst of this trial and was so encouraged. For here the Lord makes clear that the the foundational purity for our service to God does not come through us but by the sacrifice of Christ. He was sacrificed to “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

According to the section Jesus came as the Great High Priest of the New Covenant. One of the roles of the priest was to purify people and things so that they could stand before a holy God. Yet, in the Old Covenant they only had the blood of goats and calves to do it. very temporal in its effect. Yet, Christ, when he came as High Priest, gave the blood of God himself. His blood gives security which last eternally! The sacrifice of Christ on the cross makes a purchase which lasts forever. And so think, if the blood of goats and calves made one pure before God, how strong, deep, and lasting is the purity which Christ’s blood gives!? Thus, the arthur of Hebrews declares that because of Christ our consciences are purified from dead works. And now we can serve the living God.

The Christian’s works are not dead before God. To be dead is to be useless. At one point our works were useless to God. Outside of Christ there is no acceptable sacrifice. But now dead works are cleansed away. We can be useful to the sovereign God of the universe!

We can serve Him. The purity for service comes from the blood of Christ. In Him and through him sinners can offer up acceptable services to God. How wonderful this is. The level of the believer’s sin can be so deep that there is no tracing. Very pure actions can still be tainted with wrong motives in the midst of good motives. But what makes these actions pleasing to God is not the perfection of the believer but the perfection of the sacrifice which has been given for him.

How does this affect us as believer’s in Jesus?

1. We are freed from guilt to serve our God. The Lord is not waiting for us to be perfect in our service. For our imperfect offerings come to the Father through the perfect mediation of Christ. You can step out and serve in the little or big ways not worrying if God will take notice or not. He does! Our works are alive to God through Christ. Serve boldly!

2. Our works are real. The small acts of talking to the unpopular or different person. The hospitality shown to believers and unbelievers. The street preaching of the gospel that does not bare any immediate fruit are not dead! They are alive! We are cleansed from dead works and by Christ our offerings are real. We serve the living God and He is pleased!

3. We are freed to worship. When we come to worship we do not tally up our obedience to see if we can stand before Him. We confess our sins and trust in the perfect atonement of Christ. Our service of worship is purified before the Lord because we offer our praises through the perfect worship of Christ. We do not have to have everything right in our lives and with our worship practices. Because the believer is clothed in the righteousness of Christ he can worship before a holy God. And it will be accepted!

4. We can be patient with the imperfection of others. The Lord is patient with His people. He has cleansed them by Christ and yet is working to conform them in person from one degree of glory to the next. If this is the Lord’s attitude it should be ours as well. We can still love the brethren when worship and service is not perfect. Just because we see problems in some areas does not mean that God is not pleased and things must change instantly. Our perfection is in Christ and not in a local body having every line perfectly straight. Imperfect sinners can serve the living God because of their trust in Christ.

Balancing Note:

In know that one can take these points in very unbiblical directions. In no way am I say that personal holiness does not matter in service and that one does not have to be qualified to be an elder. Nor am I suggesting that one cannot hurt others by unbiblical and foolish actions being called service. Neither would a say that a church can sin as much as they want and/or teach heresy and God does not care.

What I am trying to do, as the arthur of Hebrews is doing, is putting the gospel as the foundation of service. As Paul said in Romans 6 if the gospel has gripped one’s heart they do not want to sin. They do not want heresy preach and they want to be truly loving and helping in their deeds of service. What the gospel does is give the building where these things can grow and flourish. So let the grace of Christ train you “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 3:12)

antique-books-at-a-library

As one who loves books this is a great word from Peter Adam,

A good test of love of people for those who like books is this: when you buy the next book, is it because you would love to have the book, or because you love your people and want to use this book to help in your preparation to serve them?

-Peter Adam, Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Preaching (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 1996), 164.

Honestly, I have not shopped with this intent enough. But I need too!

…we really should try not to make such figures [Christian sport stars and celebrities] into those to whom we look for leadership and guidance. That role should be fulfilled by the elders in your local church and the experienced saints whom you know personally and with whom you have an actual relationship. Tim Tebow has, as far as I know, been called by no-one to be a teacher in the church. Certainly his example has inspired and encouraged many; and there is nothing wrong with that. But we must remember that being an inspiring example is one thing; being someone to whom we look for Christian leadership is quite another. The latter is really the role of those who have received the external call from a congregation and who have thus been proven to have the biblical qualifications for leadership and who are also formally accountable to the church.

Carl Trueman

Although the English word “minister” today carries connotations of dignity and authority in both the ecclesiastical and the political spheres, its Greek antecedent typically referred to a household servant who waited on the master, his family, and their guests at meals. The mindset appropriate to a servant’s place was concern for others and their needs, not preoccupation with one’s own personal fulfillment, rights, or recognition. In other cultures and communities, the perks of religious leadership may be wealth, honor, and influence. The power to guide others’ lives, to have others listen to you, respect you, foloow your adivce, and do your bidding is very alluring. In the community ruled by Jesus, however, accepted assumptions about leaders and followers are reversed: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be a slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44)

-Dennis E Johnson, His We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2007), 93.

Many Preachers have thought they were preaching Christ when, like Charles Sheldon, they pointed to him as a stellar example to be followed. It is possible to preach about Jesus, and even mention grace in the process, and yet be preaching law, calling people to reform themselves with a little help from their heavenly Friend. Such a message breeds either self-deluded complacency or self-contemptuous despair

Preaching Christ as Paul preached Christ, however, is preaching grace as the sole source and rationale of salvation and transformation from start to finish: grace that imparts life to the spiritually dead, grace that imputes Christ’s righteousness to the guilty, grace that instills the Spirit’s power in those otherwise impotent to want or to do good, grace that holds fast the feeble and fainting, securing pilgrims’ arrival at their destination in glory. Grace points hearers to the sovereign, saving initiative and intervention of God to do for guilty and paralyzed sinners what we could never do for ourselves, not even with heavenly help.

-Dennis E Johnson, His We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2007), 81.

The Twelve were like the rest of us; they were selected from the unworthy and the unqualified. They were, like Elijah, men “with a nature like ours” (James 5:17). They did not rise to the highest usefulness because they were somehow different from us. Their transformation into vessels of honor was solely the work of the Potter.

Many Christians become discouraged and disheartened when their spiritual life and witness suffer because of sin or failure. We tend to think we’re worthless nobodies—and left to ourselves, that would be true! But worthless nobodies are just the kind of people God uses, because that is all He has to work with.

Satan may even attempt to convince us that our shortcomings render us useless to God and to His church. But Christ’s choice of the apostles testifies to the fact that God can use the unworthy and the unqualified. He can use nobodies. They turned the world upside down, these twelve (Acts 17:6). It was not because they had extraordinary talents, unusual intellectual abilities, powerful political influence, or some special social status. They turned the world upside down because God worked in them to do it.

-John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group), 11.

Wednesday morning of Together for the Gospel,  we were encouraged to rely on the transforming power of the gospel by Thabiti Anyabwile. Thabiti laid out, during his message, nine marks by which we can ask if we are confident in the power of the gospel. What follows is what I was able to write down in my notes.

  1. We would position ourselves to be around the worst of sinners so that gospel proclaiming opportunities would arise
    • Because the power of the gospel resides in the God who saves sinners there is no class of “more savible” than others. The gospel can penetrate the most lifeless person we can imagine.
  2. We should share the gospel slowly and clearly.
    • We are not about quick tricks to get people to say a prayer. We are simply called to release the gospel and then trust it will have its effect.
  3. We would redirect our fears from man to God.
    • God is sovereign, not man. God is the one who reigns, not man. He is the one we should aim to please, not man.
  4. We would endeavor to proclaim the gospel every Sunday.
    • The gospel should be made clear in every service on Sunday so that both unbelievers and believers may look upon Christ. God has only one story that is told through the bible—the gospel.
  5. We would be careful with new converts and evangelism by not making a conversions like Paul’s standard.
    • Our trust is not in methods or means but in the gospel.
  6. Study the gospel in deep ways.
  7. Preach to open eyes not just to impart information.
  8. Ask,”Is my confidence  in myself or in the gospel?”
  9. We want people to look to the message and not the messenger (1 Cor. 2:5).

A minister must be learned, on pain of being utterly incompetent for his work. But before and above being learned, a minister must be godly.

Nothing could be more fatal, however, than to set these two things over against one another. Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soldiers should have both legs. Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. “What!” is the appropriate response, “than ten hours over your books, on your knees?” Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God?

You are students of theology; and, just because you are students of theology, it is understood that you are religious men—especially religious men,to whom the cultivation of your religious life is a matter of the profoundest concern—of such concern that you will wish above all things to be warned of the dangers that may assail your religious life, and be pointed to the means by which you may strengthen and enlarge it.

In your case there can be no “either—or” here—either a student or a man of God. You must be both.

-Benjamin B. Warfield, The Religious Life of Theological Students, 182-183

I love such stories and lessons past on by Brian Croft. It lets me peer into the difficulty and richness of unspectacular, faithful ministry. Faithfulness is not found in the glitter of having a name on a book (though some are called to be faithful in having that). Christ exalting ministry is in the sacrificial service to God’s children where we point them to Christ by word and deed. And this kind of service will mainly go unseen by the watching world. But it is ministry of service which God loves to see.

In this story Brian relates lessons from comforting a 90 year member before he becomes a widower.

 This is why, dear brothers and fellow pastors, these moments are what we as pastors live for.  Not to preach to large crowds or make a name for ourselves, but to look for and seize these precious moments to care for our people in their greatest times of need.

You can read it here.

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