Signs of Life

Signs of Life” is a forty day devotional by Dr. David Jeremiah. In the book we are given daily examples of the signs of life that should be found in an authentic Christian. It is a powerful study which reminds us that Christianity is not just about attending church. Christians are a new creation, a new life, a bright light, and an example of Jesus to the rest of the world. “Signs of Life” gives us explicit reminders of what this new Christian life is supposed to look like. After all, most people can tell when someone is physically alive or dead; so doesn’t it stand to reason that they can tell when a person is showing signs of the Christian life or not?

Each day the book starts out with a short thought. Day seven begins with these words, “We don’t stay on earth forever; but after we’re gone, our imprint remains.” Then, on day thirteen we read, “If you were a walking advertisement for the Lord, what would people learn about Him?” These two thoughts together can be very convicting depending on what it is you are advertising every day. Are we a commercial for Jesus Christ which demonstrates the reality of this new life? Is our new life influencing others toward Christ? How large of an imprint are we leaving? Will those who come behind us find us faithful?

Sunday morning we will be looking at the life of a man who left a giant-sized imprint on the landscape of his time. In fact, his advertisement for Christ was so large that we are still following his example today.

Saul of Tarsus was a man who hated the blasphemous, demon-possessed, false teacher Jesus of Nazareth. His hatred was so great, he set out to find, arrest, try, convict, and then kill anyone who would not recant their faith in the man who had died by hanging on the cross.

I would like to invite you to Living Oaks Baptist Church as we look at this man’s life. We will see why he had such a passionate determination to destroy the followers of the Way. Then we will witness the miracle of his life being turned completely around. What could possibly make so drastic a change in someone’s life? Be sure to attend LOBC at 10:45 tomorrow morning to find the answer.

How To Measure a Pastor

How do you measure the success of a pastor? Should a pastor be measured by buildings, budgets, or backsides? Should his pedigree or accomplishments be the yardstick for his worth? How do you determine if a pastor is successful?

You can find the answer to these questions in Paul Tripp’s post “The Recipe for a Successful Pastor.” Pastors may accomplish great measurable feats; however, if they do not proceed from a heart of brokenness, love, and the pursuit of holiness then they are nothing more than worldly accomplishments.

Tripp writes:

I am convinced that many of the problems in pastoral culture result from an unbiblical definition of the essential ingredients of ministry success. Sure, most candidate profiles expect a “vibrant walk with the Lord,” but these words are often weakened by a process that asks few questions in this area and makes grand assumptions. We’re really interested in knowledge (right theology), skill (good preacher), ministry philosophy (will build the church), and experience (isn’t cutting his pastoral teeth in this new place of ministry). I have heard church leaders, in moments of pastoral crisis, say many times, “We didn’t know the man we hired.”

What does knowing the man entail? It means knowing the true condition of his heart—as far as such is possible. What does he really love, and what does he despise? What are his hopes, dreams, and fears? What are the deep desires that fuel and shape the way he does ministry? What anxieties have the potential to derail or paralyze him? How accurate is his view of himself? How open is he to confrontation, critique, and encouragement? How committed is he to his own sanctification?

How open is he about his own temptations, weaknesses, and failures? How ready is he to listen to and defer to the wisdom of others? Is pastoral ministry a community project to him? Does he have a tender, nurturing heart? Is he warm and hospitable, a shepherd and champion to those who are suffering? What character qualities would his wife and children use to describe him? Does he sit under his own preaching? Is his heart broken and his conscience regularly grieved as he looks at himself in the mirror of the Word? How robust, consistent, joyful, and vibrant is his devotional life?

Does his ministry to others flow out of the vibrancy of his devotional communion with the Lord? Does he hold himself to high standards, or does he settle for mediocrity? Is he sensitive to the experience and needs of those who minister alongside him? Does he embody the love and grace of the Redeemer? Does he overlook minor offenses? Is he ready and willing to forgive? Is he critical and judgmental? How does the public pastor differ from the private husband and dad? Does he take care of his physical self? Does he numb himself with too much social media or television? How would he fill in this blank: “If only I had ________”? How successful has he been in pastoring the congregation that is his family?

True Condition of the Pastor’s Heart

A pastor’s ministry is never just shaped by his experience, knowledge, and skill. It is also always shaped by the true condition of his heart. In fact, if his heart is not in the right place, knowledge and skill can make him dangerous.

Pastors often struggle to find living, humble, needy, celebratory, worshipful, meditative communion with Christ. It is as if Jesus has left the building. There is all kinds of ministry knowledge and skill, but it seems divorced from a living communion with a living and ever-present Christ. All this activity, knowledge, and skill seems to be fueled by something else. Ministry becomes shockingly impersonal. Then it’s about theological content, exegetical rightness, ecclesiastical commitments, and institutional advancement. It’s about preparing for the next sermon, getting the next meeting agenda straight, and filling the requisite leadership openings. It’s about budgets, strategic plans, and ministry partnerships.

None of these things is wrong in itself. Many of them are essential. But they must never be ends in themselves. They must never be the engine that propels the vehicle. They must all express something deeper in the pastor’s heart.

The pastor must be enthralled by, in awe of, and in love with his Redeemer so that everything he thinks, desires, chooses, decides, says, and does is propelled by love for Christ and the security of rest in the love of Christ. He must be regularly exposed by, humbled by, assured by, and given rest by the grace of his Redeemer. His heart needs to be tenderized day after day by his communion with Christ so that he becomes a loving, patient, forgiving, encouraging, and giving servant-leader. His meditation on Christ, his presence, his promises, and his provisions must not be overwhelmed by his meditation on how to make his ministry work.

Protection Against All Other Loves

Only love for Christ can defend the heart of the pastor against all other loves that have the potential to kidnap his ministry. Only worship of Christ has the power to protect him from all the seductive idols of ministry that will whisper in his ear. Only the glory of the risen Christ will guard him against the self-glory that tempts all and destroys the ministry of so many.

Only Christ can turn an arrogant, “bring on the world” seminary graduate into a patient, humble giver of grace. Only deep gratitude for a suffering Savior can make a man willing to suffer in ministry. Only in brokenness before your own sin can you give grace to fellow rebels among whom God has called you to minister. Only when your identity is firmly rooted in Christ will you find freedom from seeking to get your identity out of your ministry.

We must be careful how we define ministry readiness and spiritual maturity. There is a danger in thinking that the well-educated and well-trained seminary graduate is ministry ready or to mistake ministry knowledge, busyness, and skill with personal spiritual maturity. Maturity is a vertical thing that will have a wide variety of horizontal expressions. Maturity is about relationship to God that results in wise and humble living. Maturity of love for Christ expresses itself in love for other.

Thankfulness for the grace of Christ expresses itself in grace to others. Gratitude for the patience and forgiveness of Christ enables you to be patient and forgiving of others. Your daily experience of the rescue of the gospel gives you a passion for people experiencing the same rescue. This is the soil in which true ministry success grows.

The Power of the Negative

As leaders, there are times we have to make difficult decisions on how to address the mistakes, weaknesses, or shortcomings of others. After taking time to pray and think through the situation, we still find ourselves struggling with how to approach the other person in just the right way. We want them to know how important they are; however, their actions are hurting others and must be dealt with.

The Power of the Negative” is a post which Dr. Thom Rainer calls attention to our need to have a healthy balance when using negative reinforcement.

Rainer writes:

I often turn to Brad Waggoner for leadership advice and wisdom. He serves as executive vice president of LifeWay and, previously, as dean of a graduate school of leadership. He provides me a gentle reminder from time to time on, to use his words, “the power of the negative.”

Indeed I often have to remind myself of this leadership principle.

Understanding the Principle

The principle is simple but profound: Negative reinforcement has 20 times or more power than positive reinforcement.  At first glance, a leader may conclude that speaking and leading negatively is the best path since it is so powerful. To the contrary, unless used wisely, negative words and leadership can demoralize, demotivate, and destroy because of its very power.

While there is a place for negative leadership, it must be used with the greatest of care and discernment.

Examples for All of Us

We all experience the power of the negative, either as givers or recipients. See if you can identify with any of these examples:

  • You speak or preach somewhere and you get twenty compliments and one criticism. Upon which one do you dwell?
  • A husband in anger tells his wife that he is tired of her. Though he has given her over a dozen compliments that week, which one does she remember?
  • A child receives accolades for her good grades that semester. But the dad, upon discovering the child has her first failing grade, tells her “you won’t amount to anything in life at the pace you are going.” Which of the father’s words stick with the child for years if not a lifetime?
  • One coworker points out problems in another coworker’s area. Though the praises have been equal to the criticisms, which have the greatest power?
  • A CEO who has provided mostly steady leadership for a few years has an anger meltdown in front of his direct reports. What facet of his leadership is remembered the most?

A Time to Tear Down, A Time to Build Up

The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us clearly that there are times to be negative and times to be positive (3:3). Indeed there are times for a prophetic voice, a corrective voice, and an admonishing voice. The problem is that the writer of Ecclesiastes does not give us specific instruction on timing and frequency.

Many of us are tempted to exercise the power of the negative too frequently. When we are negative about some other person and event, we are able to look away from ourselves and our own weaknesses and failures. It’s easier to the point the finger of accusation at someone other than ourselves.

Further the power of the negative can be tempting because we often get attention when we do so. I can point to one example clearly on this blog. The article that has received the most views was a negative article I wrote on Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. I am convinced and convicted that the article was appropriate and timely. But I must ever keep in mind the power that negativity has.

The Power of the Negative and Discernment

The Apostle Paul said these words to a church 2,000 years ago, and they still apply to us today: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, HCSB). There are indeed times when a prophetic or negative word is in order. There are moments in any leader’s lives, whether a parent, pastor, or president, that the power of the negative should be exercised.

But it should be exercised with wisdom and discernment.

It would seem that the preponderance of our leadership should be one of building up and encouraging. Such leadership can change a family for the good. It can change an organization for the good.

And it might just change the world for good.

Way To Go Bubba!

In recent years we have heard a lot of athletes talking about their faith in Christ. Last week after winning the Masters golf tournament Bubba Watson gave the following interview with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association:

Bubba Watson, first-time winner of a Masters Tournament who earned his green jacket on Easter Sunday, recently spoke about tweeting for God, the PGA Bible study he took part in and his newly adopted son.

Watson, 33, spoke with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association after winning the 2012 Masters Tournament on Sunday. The golfer who tearfully thanked his “Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” after the big win, said he utilises his Twitter account to spread his Christian faith.

Watson describes himself on his Twitter page as “Christian. Husband. Daddy. Pro Golfer”. The Christian golfer said he has lost at least 100 followers for tweeting biblical messages.

When Watson receives negative backlash for his biblical tweets, he responds with messages like “I will pray for u and ur family.” The golfer also quoted one of his favorite Christian rappers, Lecrae, saying he would like his followers to see God through him.

“Lecrae said it the best,” Watson told the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. “He doesn’t want to be a celebrity. He doesn’t want to be a superstar. He just wants to be the middle man for you to see God through him.”

Watson maintained his Christian principles during the golf tournament by engaging in an hour-long Bible study with fellow golfers each week. He described the importance of being able to connect with both God and his peers.

“For me it’s a way to get back connected with the Bible and with God and Jesus. Now you know other people you can talk to, ask questions to, tell them what you’re thinking, tell them what’s going on in your life,” Watson said. “Getting more in the Word and realising that golf is just an avenue for Jesus to use me to reach as many people as I can.”

Watson, who recently adopted a one-month-old baby boy named Caleb with his former WNBA playing wife Angie Ball, also described his first church experience. According to Watson, twin girls from his neighbourhood convinced him to attend.

“The girls asked me to go to church,” Watson said. “And after a few times going I realised this is what I wanted to do. This is truth here. And I gave myself to the Lord.”

After he began dating Ball, the couple decided to live for Christ. Watson decided to get baptised with his wife in 2004 as a student at the University of Georgia.

“We wanted to be Christ followers,” Watson said. “We wanted to do the right thing. We started turning to the Lord for our decisions.”

The professional golfer, who said he has never taken a lesson, said he was grateful for the people around him and the opportunity to live his life for Christ.

“I’ve really got a good team around me trying to help me succeed,” Watson said. “Not just in golf, but off the golf course, to be a light for Jesus.”