What Pastors Owe Their People

If you are a pastor, you cannot escape the unmistakeable call of spiritual leaders, in the New Testament to “feed the flock of God”:

  • Jesus commissioned Peter to do “feed my sheep”, no less than three times, in that famous scene on the shores of Galilee (John 21:15-19)
  • Jesus commissioned the disciples, in the Great Commission passage to “teach them all things I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:16)
  • Paul commissioned the Ephesian elders to “tend to the whole flock” pointing this example of his unwillingness to shrink from “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:17-28)
  • Peter urges church leaders to “feed the flock of God among you.”
  • Paul instructed Timothy, in his last letter, “these things you have learned from me, commit to faithful men” (2 Timothy 2:2). He also urged him to “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14; 6:20). He also  reminded Timothy of the usefulness of “all Scripture” as profitable for the spiritual well-being of God’s people (1 Timothy 3:16)
  • Paul, in a rebuke to the Corinthians, discusses the need for people to have both “milk” and “meat” in their spiritual diets (1 Corinthians 3:2)
  • The writer of Hebrews reminds us that a good teacher is able to both handle the deep things of God, but also teach them (Hebrews 5:11-12

Preaching styles do differ, but it’s hard to argue the unmistakeable responsibility of pastors to take the whole counsel of God and preach it faithfully. To not give our people spiritual food, to not share with them the “all the things I have commanded you” is to commit spiritual malpractice. It’s to intentionally leave our people spiritually malnourished. And yet there is a temptation for pastors–I remember facing this weekly as a pastor–to sort of skip over or nuance the very hard passages. Or, more popularly, to not preach through issues that are at the tip of the cultural spear. Issues like a biblical sexual ethic, the dignity of human life, greed, materialism, and the prosperity gospel. It’s just easier to say things like, “We just want to love on people and be all about grace every Sunday.” But my question is this: if a new convert wants to know what it looks like to live out the gospel, where will he find it if he can’t find it in his church? We live in confused times, where the way of Christ cannot be assumed in popular culture anymore. So churches who tailor their preaching and services exclusively to not offend those they are trying to reach with the gospel will starve God’s people. I find it troubling when pastors sort of nuance or skip over passages that are counter-cultural.

We should talk about grace. A lot. Over and over and over again. But unless people see their need for grace. Unless they are confronted with the good law of God, they won’t see the bigness of the mercy God offers. They’ll assume that God loves them because that’s what God should do. That’s the Jesus they’ve been sold by much of the evangelical church, a sort of hipster, friendly, easy to digest Jesus who really isn’t all that concerned with morality and righteousness.

And those who have been restored and forgiven, made new by the blood of the cross, will never find the freedom of a life with Christ–if we never have the courage to tell them what that life looks like. Real love, Paul tells the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6, is the courage tell them they are disobeying the call of the gospel. It’s to set a brother or sister aright.

Much of this can be done in community, in one-on-one gatherings, small group studies, phone conversations, reading of good books, car rides, late night talks, etc. But if God’s people never hear their pastor discuss these difficult things, things alien to a permissive moral culture, they won’t rise in importance. Pastors must feed their sheep the good spiritual food God intends for them.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

Nabeel Qureshi grew up in a Muslim home, but came to faith in Christ after a search for meaning and truth. He tells his conversion story in a new book,  Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters ChristianityI had the chance to interview Nabeel today for my weekly Leadership Journal blog. This is one of the questions I asked him:

What finally drove you to a point of decision between Islam and Christianity? What was holding you back—and what finally drove you forward?

The first thing that had to happen was that someone had to show me the truth about Christianity. Only when I saw the truth would I be able to assess whether I would follow it or not. David didn’t just tell me why he believed in the gospel, he showed me how we could be confident it is true and therefore everyone should believe it. The historical evidence he provided for Jesus’ death and resurrection, as well as Jesus’ claim to be God, made all the difference. When I contrasted the evidence for Christianity against the evidence for Islam I knew that intellectually there was no comparison. So I asked God to reveal himself to me in truth, through dreams and visions. All those things, combined with actually reading the Bible, are what drove me forward to the point of accepting Christ.

Read the entire interview here:

A word to husbands on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that sneaks up on you. Well, at least it sneaks up on me. The winter is rich with holidays for the Darling Family: Angela and I were married the week before Thanksgiving, two of our four children have December birthdays, and my birthday is in late January. It gets busy and  . . . expensive.

And I’m guessing I’m like most men. We do the Valentine’s thing sort of reluctantly. It’s a bit of an eye-rolling holiday. We feel we’re getting hosed by Hallmark. Think about it: Mother’s Day, Sweetest Day, Valentine’s Day, Anniversary. I’ve even heard some (very unwise) husbands (who apparently have a regular cot in their garages) say they ignore it and just “love their wife the entire year.”

My advice is to . . . not do that. Don’t do that at all. For one thing, your wife doesn’t want to be nor does she deserve to be the only wife on the block, in her small group, and in the office who sheepishly tells her friends that her husband “doesn’t do this holiday.” Man up, buy a card and some flowers or chocolate or whatever she likes and do it. Secondly, we should use this cultural moment as a divinely appointed opportunity to show our wives some love. After all, we are supposed to, as Paul instructs, love our wives as Christ loves His Church (Ephesians 5:22-23). You don’t very well do that by leaving the Mrs in the cold on Valentine’s Day. We need these prompts, even if created by Hallmark, to be reminded to show our wives just how we feel about them, to renew our commitment to loving them as we love no other human being on the earth. Yes, it is true that love is more than show displays of flowers and chocolate and candy and balloons and teddy bears. But loves is not less than that either. Verbal expressions of love, tangible gifts are important to communicate what we say we feel in our hearts. So we need to do this. We need to make our wives feel every bit the treasure they are. I admittedly struggle with this, to show Angela just how much I love, cherish, and respect her. Valentine’s Day is like a cultural slap upside the head to do what I should be doing more often.

So guys, let’s get it together. I’ll see you in the Hallmark aisle at Walgreen’s tonight.

The Last Week of Jesus

Even for those who know the Bible well, it can be difficult to piece together the final week of Jesus as it is chronicled across the four gospels. This is why I’m excited to see a brand-new book by one of my favorite people: Justin Taylor. Justin is a popular blogger at Between Two Worlds, a senior vice-president and
publisher for books at Crossway, and an author and scholar in his own right. He has teamed with Andreas Kostenberger on a book that is sure to be a terrific reference for Bible students: The Final Days of JesusToday I interviewed him for Leadership Journal. Here was one of my questions:

Did anything surprise you about the last week of Jesus?

On the one hand, the story is so familiar to many of us that there are no blockbuster surprises. But it’s one of those stories where there is always more to see in what we see. For example, it makes the doubt and skepticism of Thomas all the more poignant and ironic when we remember that he had already witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead not that long ago (cf. John 11:16).Or, as another example, take the two thieves on the cross who hung on either side of Jesus. If you only read only Luke 23:32, 39–43, you might get the impression that one starts off open to the gospel of grace, while the other is already hardened in his rejection. A close reading of Matthew 27:44 and Mark 15:32, however, demonstrates that both men started off by reviling Jesus, mocking him, wagging their heads, using their diminishing energies to hurl insults at the only man who could save them. But only one of them had his eyes opened to see himself as a sinner in need of a Savior.And as we vaguely recall the story, we tend only to remember him asking Jesus not to forget him in paradise. But if we read Luke 23:40–42 carefully, we see that this mocker turned seeker now had new spiritual eyes to see, and that in a very short while he really understood the heart of the gospel, that (1) the holiness of God was to be feared, (2) the sin in himself deserved condemnation, (3) the innocent one was being punished, (4) Jesus was the king, ruling from the cross, and (5) only Jesus could offer him mercy and eternal salvation.

Read the rest of the interview here:

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