5 Things I Learned in Canada Last Week

So last week my wife and I came back from a week of preaching and teaching and fellowship on Prince Edward Island in Atlantic Canada. I was honored to be one of the speakers at The Gospel Coalition, Atlantic Canada. We had an absolutely lovely time up there and I wanted to share with you about some of our experiences:

1) It’s an honor to be invited to share God’s Word with any audience. I hope this feeling never wears off, but every time I’m asked to preach somewhere, I feel a tremendous privilege. To hold in our hands the very precious words of the living God and to be used by the Spirit of God to teach His people is a gift of grace. For someone to trust me to handle the Word before their people is a job I try not to take lightly. All pastors and Christian speakers should realize that nobody owes them a platform or a pulpit or a speaking engagement. These are opportunities God graces us with as a generous Heavenly Father.

2) God’s creation never ceases to amaze. PEI is a beautiful slice of earth, with it’s beautiful stretches of farmland and rolling hills and forests. I was most captivated by the red sands and cliffs on the Atlantic shore. It’s no wonder that Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables and many other books, considered this, her homeland, a window into Heaven. Angela and I had a conversation with a PhD student from Chicago who was studying in PEI and he admitted to us that the stunning beauty makes him doubt that all of this could have simply happened. We, of course, told him of our faith in the Designer, the Triune God who spoke this beauty into existence. So, in the 21st Century, the Heavens are still declaring the glory of God, are they not?

3) The gospel has the power to unite people into a special family. It’s pretty remarkable, but after five days together with our hosts at the conference, the wonderful Grace Baptist Church of Charlottetown. Angela and I said often last week about how much we loved these good people and how much it seemed as if we’d known each other for a long time. We came to serve through preaching and teaching and conversations, but we came away far more refreshed than what we gave out. The music, the preaching from the other men, the conversations, the fellowship, the food, the hospitality–all revived and refreshed our souls. What a gift it is to be among God’s people united by grace.

4) Hospitality is a gospel-empowered gift to others. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a more generous, hospitable group of folks like the people at Grace Baptist. Steven Bray, Dan Thomson, Jeff Eastwood, Jim Newsome, and Jason Biech are a passionate team of elders leading this church to love the gospel more. And this love for the gospel was poured out in the way they cared for everyone who attended the conference. Jim and his wife, Betty housed us in their beautiful Bed and Breakfast. They drove us, fed us, and took care of every need with a spirit of grace and love.

5) Modesty is an underrated gift for a pastor. I saved this one for last, because it’s the best. By modestly I mean humility and grace. I had the chance to get to know two pastors, Mike Bulmore and Paul Martin. I had known of these men, but had never spent significant time with them. Mike is the Senior Pastor of Crossway Community Church in Bristol, Wisconsin, just a few minutes across the “Cheddar Curtain” from where we live in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Angela and I really got to know Mike on this trip. We flew out to PEI together (three flights, including a harrowing near-miss of a flight from Toronto to Charlottetown), we rode from our guest house to the conference together, we sat on panels together, we ate together. You really get to know a man when you spend that much time with him. Mike was as gracious and fun and willing to engage important discussions as any pastor I’ve met. He was genuinely interested in our lives and shared about some of his own experiences in ministry and family.

Paul Martin was much the same way. Paul is the Senior Pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto. I had known Paul only for being “Tim Challies’ pastor.” But spending this much time with him, driving, speaking, eating, etc, I came away with a wonderful respect and genuine friendship. We laughed together, shared stories, and just enjoyed the camaraderie. Paul also shared one of the most moving messages on the dignity of human life that I have ever heard, drawing from his own experience as the father of a disabled son.

From both Paul and Mike I saw a wonderful example of faithful, biblical pastoral ministry. Both are modest, mature, kind, and wise. Neither exhibit an ego nor took themselves too seriously, though they take the ministry seriously. It’s no wonder that among pastoral qualities listed in many New Testament passages is the idea of sobriety, maturity, a sort of balance and grace. From Paul and Mike I saw that demonstrated in action. With such an emphasis on platform, celebrity, and visibility in the evangelical world, these two pastors were examples of modest, faithful, humble ministry.

Bottom Line: We had a great time of ministry and built lifelong friendships. To God be the glory.

Relationships of Worship and Delight

This week I had the privilege of interviewing Gary Thomas, the author of several books, including, Sacred Marriage, Sacred Parenting, and others. My wife and I have been personally blessed by Gary’s work and we have used them in our ministry.

I asked Gary about communicating a biblical model of marriage in a culture that has largely rejected it:

How can church leaders communicate that model of marriage in a winsome way?

First, of course, we need to “communicate it” through our lives. The consequences of pastoral failure in marriage can be severe; I’ve seen entire youth groups turn away from or at least grown significantly colder toward God as a result of a pastor’s fall.

Second, we have to show the joys of spiritual partnership. Selfishness gets boring, so trying to build marriages on self-centered ends wont work; its a short-term fix.Creating a sense of spiritual purpose, partnership, and connecting marriage more closely to worship should become a part of who we are and what we do before its something we say and talk about. But once we are living it out, let’s be bold. I tell young people, “How does Hugh Heffner know that sleeping with hundreds of women is more fulfilling than sleeping with one woman thousands of times? He’s never done it Gods way and doesn’t know what he’s talking about! Instead, he gets in a pathetic, selfish relationship with a woman who could be his great-granddaughter, and I’m so supposed to listen to him about the pleasures of eros? No thank you!”

I think young people respect it when we push back and say that, in the end, Gods way is the best way. We don’t have to be ashamed, because Gods way really IS the best way! Sadly, many Christians DO punt on their long-term sexual intimacy in marriage, and it shows. We need to cultivate relationships of worship and delight so that we can speak boldly out of worship and delight.

Read the entire interview here: 

Guest Post: 5 Ways to Minister to Someone With Dementia

All this week I’m preaching at TGC Atlantic Canada, so I’m featuring some guest posts. Today is Dave Jenkins. Dave is a Christian, husband to Sarah, freelance writer, avid golfer, and the Director of Servants of Grace Ministries. You can follow him on twitter @DaveJJenkins or read more of his work at http://servantsofgrace.org

Since graduating seminary in May 2012 with my Mdiv, a lot has happened in my life. At the top of that list is the return of my father into my life after a long absence. I discovered that Dad has frontal temporal dementia, which is leading to a gradual erosion of his normal, day to day functions, such as dressing himself. In my care for Dad, God has taught me some important lessons. I thought I’d share them with you today:

First, understand that the person who has a disease is still a person created in the image of God. While my dad’s brain and the rest of his body are dying and he will one day, unless God miraculously heals him, die from his dementia, he is still a person and deserves to be treated with love and value. There have been times when I marveled at my dad’s ability to remember things even from his childhood. While he is dying he is not dead and thus still has a God-given purpose to know and make known the Gospel. As my dad understands more of his identity in Christ, I’ve observed how God has been working in his life to make him aware of his strengths, weaknesses and limitations.

Second, minister through the tears. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read letters from my dad and broken out in tears. Knowing that your dad or loved one is going to die and what they are going to die from isn’t easy. Thankfully, during the majority of these times my wife has been home which has helped to not only calm me down but also to bring a measure of comfort knowing she understands what I’m going through. Jesus promised to send the Comforter to minister to us. God uses broken people to deliver the amazing message of the grace of God. Being broken isn’t a sign of weakness, but a mark of spiritual maturity.

Third, be compassionate. My dad struggles with anxiety and has deep fears about his dementia. Recently my dad told me, “I face deep fears and anxieties from dementia” and “It is hard to pray, pour these thoughts out to God. It hurts too much.” As I read those words God filled my heart and mind with compassion and I was able to point Him to Jesus. I noted in my reply letter to him, “Dad I can’t imagine how hard it is for you, but I do know as you said in your letter that Jesus prayed in the Garden “knowing He faced death.”

I went on to tell my dad, “I don’t know what is going to happen in the future. I don’t know what is going to happen with your dementia other than I know that is it an awful disease. Here’s the thing though: Our God is amazing and can do above and beyond what we expect. I know His peace passes all understanding and that He is always praying and interceding for His people (you and I, and all of His people) before His throne. When I struggle with anxiety, I rehearse what God has done and is doing in my life. In other words I try to focus on the positive things happening in my life without minimizing the reality of painful, difficult or hard situations. My focus isn’t on myself but on Jesus. Jesus helps us to face the reality of our lives and stay focused on Him.” I continued explaining that, “One day all things will be made new and yet as a family we are facing your dementia together by the grace of God. While it’s understandable that you are facing fear and anxiety about your dementia I encourage you to look to Jesus. Read the Psalms and notice how David cried out to God in the midst of his pain and struggles. Now read Matthew 11:28-30. Jesus says His yoke is easy, which means He can carry all your burdens. Since Jesus is our peace, the Holy Spirit grants to us His peace which surpasses all understanding. As a son of King Jesus you are entitled to all the rights and benefits of your adoption as a son of the King, and the grace of God superabounds towards you. This truth will help you and encourage you to rest in Jesus.”

Fourth, give them the Gospel. In my letter to my dad I shared with him, “When you face fear, guilt and shame look to Jesus. He is the solution and answer to our greatest struggles because He experienced all of our pain and struggles and yet never sinned. When we look to Jesus we look to One who knows us through and through and yet is unlike us because He is holy. Jesus is more than just our example, He is our Savior, Lord, King, Priest, Mediator and Intercessor.”

Finally, be real. Ministering to my dad is causing me to be real. It would be easy for me to compartmentalize the pain and to shove it down, but that would also be unhealthy. Rather than being anxious about my dad’s future, I’ve resolved to trust God. This doesn’t make it any easier but it does make it bearable because our God has big shoulders that we can lean upon. His promises are our bedrock and the foundation for why we can be real.

While I’m five hundred miles away from my dad, I’m very encouraged by the work of God’s grace in his life. Whether you are ministering to those with severe illness or a disease understand that God uses ordinary people for extraordinary purposes, so join Him in His unfolding story of redemption right where you are by being teachable, humble and available as an instrument to know and make known the glorious news of the Gospel.

 

Healing Generational Divides

There is so much conversation lately about Millennials and the Church. Seems every blogger has addressed this subject from one angle or another. After reading the blogs and counter-blogs, it seems to me that the crux of the matter involves two things: a) a vast exaggeration of what generations think of each other, as if everyone born in a certain time period automatically approaches their faith the same way and b) the inability or unwillingness of various people groups, generations, to listen to each other well.

The former has been addressed at length already. But I’m not sure the latter problem–listening–is discussed enough. As a thirty-something, I’m right at the edge of Generation X and looking behind me at Millennials. I consider myself a Millennial in many respects, though I disagree with some of the characterization of this generation and even the overuse of the term.

What worries me the most about this conversation, as a pastor, is the sense of tribalism, this idea of “my generation is going to stick together and fight for our rights in church life” that goes against the ethos of body life in Christ. The Church should be multi-generational. Young listening to old, old listening to young, all followers of Christ working out their salvation in fear and trembling. So, at the risk of adding another tired voice to the pile of opinions on this subject, I offer five ways that generations (Millenials, Gen-X’ers, Boomers, Busters, and any other group not given a clever name) can listen and grow in Christ together:

1) Younger Leaders Should Find Several Older Leaders as Mentors

For youngish leaders like me, we should recognize our wisdom deficit. We have much to learn from wise, older leaders who have gone before us. I’m grateful to have in my life several older pastors who pour into me wisdom and knowledge and, at times, rebuke. I love to drink from the rich fountain of their experiences. Not only do I come away with workable ideas for my ow leadership, I recognize the value of the way a previous generation dealt with issues. I learn the stories.

The best way to set up a relationship like this is to simply ask. You’d be surprised how many seasoned pastors or lay leaders would love to sit down for coffee and chat. You don’t need a curriculum or a structure, just a couple hours of uninterrupted time together. The way I do it is simple. If there is someone I’d love to learn from, I call or email and say something like, “Hey, I’d love to go out for coffee or lunch or something and pick your brain on some things.” Easy. You don’t even have to say the word, “mentor.” I have found that the most valuable wisdom I’ve gleaned is through casual conversations, by me asking probing questions about a person’s life and ministry. What’s surprising is that you will find older and younger generations have a lot more in common than you think.

2) Younger leaders would benefit from some humility. This will go down hard for some millennials, but it needs to be said. We need to dial down the hubris a bit. Part of the reason older generations don’t listen is because we’ve come out swinging, making demands and acting as if we’re the first generation to finally “nail it” when it comes to Christian ministry. I’m saying that mostly as a criticism of my own self.

The truth is this: like our parents, we are sinners. And in twenty years, some other rising generation will come and offer as substantive of a critique of our methods as we do of our parents. What’s more, making demands puts people on the defensive, it shuts down conversation, it is antithetical to the kind of rich body life Christ envisions for His church.

I realize that this can be reversed, that at times older generations have led with a sort of top-down structure. Still, let’s not emulate what we don’t like by making the same demands of those who may not agree with us. As God puts us in greater positions of power and influence, let’s wear it well. Let’s be “clothed with humility” (Colossians 3:12). Let’s offer respect and dignity to the leaders who have gone before. Let’s offer the same forbearance of their (seemingly) out of date methods as we desire for our own blind spots. Sometimes I think the Church chases relevance and youth so quickly, we make older generations feel useless, as if all their hard work and effort are in vain. Instead, let’s respect the previous generation even as we seek to improve or update the ministry model.

3) Older Generations Should Realize How Much They Have to Give

Most long-time, experienced Christian leaders I’ve met are extremely gracious, open, and willing to mentor the next generation. But there are some who have not aged well and whose attitude toward the younger set is one of disdain. Part of this might simply be fueled by the feeling of being put out to pasture or it may just be the hard reality of being passed by as the “next big thing.” I don’t know, but if I could say something to every single gray-headed Christian leader, it would be this: we need you. Your wisdom, your insight, your faithfulness poured into us so that we might carry the baton of leadership in our generation.

Thankfully I’ve been exposed to some of the most gracious, humble, godly leaders who are eager to both listen to and advise the next generation. I’m friends with some pretty well-known pastors in my area who surprise me when they ask me advice on certain things. It reflects a certain humility and willingness to change and grow.

It seems there are two ways to age as a Christian leader. You can age well, as most of the leaders I’ve seen do. Or you can age poorly, getting more prickly, less teachable, more dismissive along the way. I had a conversation earlier this year with a long-time ministry leader who shocked my by his arrogance. He dismissed, with a smirk, nearly everything I was doing at my church, in my writing ministry, and in my educational endeavors. I left feeling like a total failure. Needless to say, I’m not going to be seeking him out for advice anytime soon. Thankfully, leaders like this are rare. But if I could humble give a word to older generations: age well. Realize how much you have to give to my generation. There are those of us who are eager to seek out your wisdom and your grace. We’re ready to learn and be shaped.

4) All generations should read to get a better grasp of history. I’m a bit biased toward history, I guess, so forgive me. But one of the things that plagues our debates, I think, is a thin grasp of both world history and church history. By this I mean God’s sovereign hand over all of history in building His Church and establishing His kingdom. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with young people, gripped by the alarmism of “this is as bad as its ever been” in the church and in the world. And ironically I’ve heard older generations say the same thing, “In all my years, I’ve never . . . ” I think this happens because people have their view of the world shaped by Twitter and the Drudge Report and the flashing neon signs of “breaking news” all over. But settling down and reading, appreciating and absorbing history reminds us that we are not the first generation to face significant challenges. Our challenges may not be as severe as those faced by previous peoples. What’s more, church history connects our generation to a rich, 2,000 year history of God’s work among His people. We’re reminded that we’re not the first generation to wrestle with faith and politics, in the world and yet not of it, social gospel versus proclamation, etc. We’ll also be humbled to know that perhaps we are not the best and brightest and most innovative, like we think we are.

Here’s the other thing history gives us: hope. Read the biographies of men like Moody, Luther, Tozer, Augustine, Graham, Mueller. Read about leaders like Eisenhower, Washington, Lincoln, King, etc. You’ll see how God works through flawed people to bring about His purpose. Every time I finish a biography of a great leader, I come away with hope and humility. The same God who was active in previous generations is alive and active today. He isn’t depressed by what depresses us and isn’t waiting with white-knuckles for our clever new machinations.

5) All generations could work on building unity. I wish I could declare a moratorium on attacks against the Church by the Church. The market is rich for evangelicals to write a book, pen a blog post, preach a sermon on “The problem with the Church.” There is a place for self-criticism, but that is ground so well-covered as to be saturated. We forget that, for all of its flaws, for all of its warts and blind spots, the Church is the bride of Christ. Jesus loves the church. You cannot separate the groom from His bride. He won’t let you.

Rather than building a platform by shooting at one part of the church from our own fortified positions, we should promote unity: gospel unity. That means a Church that is intergenerational, multi-ethnic, diverse. There is a place for defending the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). But that’s not the same as standing up for preferences in a way that alienates those who think differently. Unity begins by respecting other generations, by listening, by avoiding the sort of over-heated blog posts that drive traffic, but also drive unnecessary wedges. Yes, you will go to Church on Sunday and worship with someone who probably thinks differently than you do about politics, music, and the precise meaning of all the bowl judgements in Revelations, but that’s okay. That’s even good. This is how you practice love, forbearance, and grace in community.

I don’t want to build a Church that looks just like me, but a Church that looks just like Jesus.

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