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8 Qualities to Develop Before Going into Ministry.

I am a young pastor. As a result, other young men look at me and ask about going into pastoral ministry. One of the common things people will ask is what they need to be good at before they start training to go into ministry. In my 17 years of ministry, I would say these are things that one needs to be good at before start training for church ministry. They are necessary disciplines BEFORE one starts trying to lead others. They are things God can teach you along the way, but they are best as disciplines you implement before the pressures of ministry are added. So, if you want to be in ministry, here’s my list. Every pastor has a list of things they look for in younger ministers… Take mine with a grain of salt… before I went into ministry I was pretty solid on 5 of these… the other three I have grown in. It might be that you follow the Lord and He grows you in these places as you work. But, when I am asked what qualities need to be in a young man before ministry, these are the ones that come to mind.

  1. Attend church. If you will not be disciplined to attend church before you are in leadership, then you probably are not ready to be in leadership. The fortitude to attend church when you’re not in leadership is the same fortitude that will enable you to persist among dry seasons and difficulties. Many young men think that they will be good leaders in church ministry, but then they refuse to discipline themselves to attend church with any regularity. If one will not discipline themselves to attend church when they are not in leadership, then it is highly unlikely that they will have the discipline to lead a congregation.
  2. Read your Bible. Ministry is the work of the study and teaching of the Word. So, you need to read the Bible. You don’t need to know the original languages before starting in ministry, though it is helpful. You don’t need to be able to preach wonderfully, though that is an advantage. You don’t even need to have large portions memorized! But, you do need a love for the Word of God. If you cannot discipline yourself to study and read the Word, then you will not discipline yourself to teach it. So, read it… every day.
  3. Worship well privately. Part of leading in ministry is leading other people to have a deep personal relationship with the Living God! As a manifestation of that relationship, there ought to be some sort of private worship that you regularly engage in. This private worship is what will save you in moments of despair in the ministry. It will be the balm necessary for you to press through difficult situations. This private worship is a pre-requisite for survival in your training. Every church has dry spells. We cannot always depend on the community to fuel our worship. We must learn to fuel our Spirits. Only then will we be able to lead others.
  4. Worship well corporately. One of the marks of Christianity is corporate worship. In Acts 2, the first church begins in corporate worship. Church History records corporate worship as an act that EVERY church engaged in regularly. Preaching, singing, prayer, and feasting all were weekly and normative in the church. The best people to worship with are those who are totally absorbed in worshiping the living God. I stood next to a young man who couldn’t sing well and was constantly bumping into the person next to him (me). At first, I was bothered and considered his zeal an impediment to my ability to worship. I grumbled quietly and moved a few inches. Suddenly I was bumped again. Slightly irritated I turned to look at him, determined to say something. As I turned I felt his arm wrap around my shoulders, eyes filled with tears, he was singing at the top of his lungs and I was drawn into the presence of the Living God! This young man worshiped with abandon and it was contagious. Immediately I forgot my shame and joined in the worship. Be like that before you try to lead others to be that way.
  5. Learn to be wrong. I am wrong often and I know it. I am comfortable with being wrong. I learned early to accept when I am wrong and move forward. I will seek to see the truth and, if someone presents a better case, I’ll gladly say I was wrong. As a pastor, you need to be able to be wrong. Churches will often prove you wrong. You’ll be wrong about people, passages, policy, and even Jesus. A good leader will recognize when they are wrong, apologize, and figure out how to move forward. If a pastor cannot admit when he is wrong, then he will not be able to lead people.
  6. Learn to be wrong, when you’re probably right. I distinctly remember being scolded by a person about something I said in a sermon. I was young and their statement was false. They accused me of something I had not said and misunderstood something I had said in the message. I apologized for what they heard me say and simply said, “That was not right of me, please forgive me.” I was pretty certain I hadn’t said what they accused me of so, afterward, I went back and listened to the sermon. Indeed, they were wrong. I had never said what they accused me of saying. However, they heard what they heard and as a leader, it is not mine to correct perception. My job is to help people move beyond perceived offense and model granting grace. If I had to be known as right or gracious, I’ll choose gracious. So, I’ll be happy to be wrong if it means I can model grace to those who believe themselves to be right even if they are wrong.
  7. Learn to listen. It is difficult to listen when you know things. Perhaps the first step in listening is recognizing that we don’t know everything. I have a dear brother who always says, “Better to stay silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.” The Proverbs put it this way, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Proverbs 17:28). Being silent and listen. Prove that you can learn before you start trying to teach.
  8. Learn grace extended. This is perhaps the chief and most helpful perspective I had before training for ministry. To read more about it go here.

Again, take these with a grain of salt, I learned many of these growing up. Some I still grow in. If you’re a pastor, what’s your list to give to young men who ask what they need to be before they go into ministry? Leave it in comments.

Brief Thoughts: Galatians 2:18-21 pt. 2

19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

“There is no more pointed statement that Paul’s above. He clearly shows that it is not by his own efforts that he is saved, but by the death of himself to the law and Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of the believer. Now when someone dies, so goes their life. Someone who is dead does not continue to live. They are dead. Further, Paul asserts that Christians are humiliated in conversion. They don’t just die but hang on a tree through Christ. Deut. 21:22-23 explains that anyone who hangs on a tree is cursed. So Paul’s statement of conversion is not evidently of glorious blessing, but of a cursed man who hung on a tree. “Crucified with Christ” is a phrase we put on tee shirts and sell as if it is something to be proud of. Yet, Christ was cursed. Thus in our conversion, we are asking to share in that curse. Trusting that His cursed state is enough to cover our cursing state. In believing in Christ we are seeking to know Him and be like Him in His suffering (Phil. 3:10). Believer, if you seek to live as a Christian, you must needs prepare to suffer and share in Christ’s suffering.

Crucifixion hurts. The removal of sin and the attempt to live holy is never quite as wonderful as we think. No, Christ’s call on our life is to take up our cross and die with Him (Mat. 16:24, Lk. 9:23). Suffer humiliation, be beaten, have everyone reject you, and be cursed. Further, it took effort for Christ to accomplish His end. Radical obedience and extreme effort are exemplified in Christ’s life. To live a holy life is to reject all efforts of synchronism (the blending of cultures/religions). To live a holy life is to be consumed by the singular message of Christ. To live and breathe His words. To pursue who Christ is and appropriate His work.

Crucifixion ends in death. It astonishes me how many of us want to say that our flesh has been crucified (Galatians 5:24) and yet, at some point, we convince ourselves that the flesh keeps coming down off the cross. Oh dear confused believer, if your flesh keeps coming down off the cross, then it was never crucified. Holiness in a Christian’s life is demanded, not requested. If you live a life ruled by the flesh then you have not been crucified and ought to question whether or not you have ever repented and believed. Paul was not overstating, the flesh is crucified and dead. The flesh no longer lives. So, if you have believed in Christ and have surrendered and have been drawn to Him. Stop living as if you still are of the flesh. The flesh is dead and believers do not walk by the flesh but by the spirit (Romans 8).

Not only are you to deny yourself worldly pleasures or sinful activities, you must also be conformed to the life of Christ. Worldly pleasures can be a blatant denial of God’s law, such as sexual immorality, and they can be self-glorifying religious activities. Both are equally disgusting to God. To be conformed to the life of Christ, one must strive to live as He did. We must do what the Father had admonished us to do. (Lev. 11:44) We must strive for holiness.

This is going to hurt. Self-denial is never a fun thing. And when it requires complete transparency and humility in addition, well, that’s just downright humiliating. Exposing all our flaws and waywardness.” (Excerpt from “Consumed” by J. Novis Elkins)

 

Galatians 2:17; Brief Thoughts

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!

No one is justified before God by the law (Romans 3:20). There is no way to be made righteous by the law. The law can identify unrighteousness, it can establish the need for righteousness, and it can even display and reveal the nature of God. But the Law cannot change the heart. The heart has been corrupted and is not righteous (Romans 3:1-10). Only through the work of Christ is any person able to be made righteous. Indeed, no work can make the heart of man different or changed (Jer. 13:23). All self-righteous attempts to secure salvation must be cast aside. Our pedigree, religious affiliations, and personal history must be surrendered in favor of Jesus’ righteousness.

There is no one holy. Not one person merits salvation or deserves to be acknowledged as better than another. It does not matter how great a person is in the eyes of the world, “no one is righteous” (Romans 3:10). This truth is the ultimate leveling ground. When a community understands that no merit or effort can establish righteousness and that each individual stands condemned by their own works before a holy God, then there is no basis for hierarchy or preferential treatment. This would be a tremendous community of which to be a part! Consider for a moment what it would be like if your community truly lived in this truth. When someone sins or breaks covenant with someone else, the response to that fracture would be one of healing, not judgment. It would be a community in which everyone could strive to live holy lives without fear of constant condemnation. It would be a community that lifts up those who struggle and carries burdens for one another. This is what the church is supposed to be like.

In order to be redeemed, a person must trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ – that Jesus lived a perfect life, died on the cross taking the punishment of my sin upon Himself, rose again conquering death and giving me life, and ascended into Heaven securing His victory and my future salvation. Paul asserts that we “endeavor to be justified in Christ” (v.17). The term here translated “endeavor” indicates an active pursuit of something. It is the same term used when Jesus says, “seek and you shall find” (Matt. 7:7). A Christian seeks to know God and does so with zeal in the pursuit of His glory. A believer strives to know and be known by Christ. It is for this purpose that we strive to prove our justification is in Him alone! When the adversary or the world tells us that we are sinful, we rest in the reality that Jesus is Savior and our sins have been forgiven in Him. In this way, our “endeavor” is simply an intentional effort to conform our minds to the reality of salvation.

The Judaizers, however, insisted on obedience to the Law in an effort to attain salvation. So the logic follows, assuming the Judaizers are correct, that fellowship with Gentiles as Paul and Barnabas did in Antioch would be an actual sin according to Jewish law and thereby make Christians into sinners. So, Paul asks the question – If our pursuit of Christ reveals that we are sinners according to the law, does that mean Christ is somehow in service to sin (v.17 – paraphrased)? Immediately Paul answers, “Certainly not!” In posing this question, Paul presents a polarity between the Jewish conception of salvation and the truth of Jesus Christ. The Law cannot justify anyone. Trusting in Christ is the only way by which a man can be saved. So, in order to be saved, one must turn from self-righteous attempts of legal perfection and trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ. Thus, by trusting in Christ, our need for His righteousness is revealed and grace abounds all the more!

Oh, friend, I do wish that you would trust in Jesus’ righteousness to save you. I see you striving to be good on your own. I watch your toil and struggle to know and be known. There is One King who can rescue and redeem. One Lord who can remove your sin and make you clean. Trust in Jesus now and be free.

Galatians 2:11-15; brief thoughts

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Conformity is a common unspoken demand of any society. When someone joins a community that community has a defining set of social norms. Sometimes those norms are explained and clearly articulated. More often those expectations are unspoken and are not so clearly defined. In order to truly integrate into the community, the adherent must submit to these demands in order to be considered a legitimate member.

As in any group, Christianity demands a conformity of sorts. The problem is that sin often corrupts our ability to discern the difference between what Christ demands and what we demand. As a result of sin, we demand that people conform to us. We have an unwritten expectation that people who come to share in Christ must behave and look as we do. They must submit to the same societal norms in which we have been immersed. When we insist on such an ethnocentric legalistic expression of Christianity, we miss the Gospel. The Gospel reaches across cultural and societal norms to establish life through the pursuit of God and His life! Indeed, Jesus does not require the Pharisees to surrender their religious customs of hand and foot washing when he goes to have a meal with them. Neither does Jesus require his fishing buddies and tax collecting friends behave as the Pharisees. He opens His arms to both groups and rescues any who will believe. He lays no additional law upon His followers.

In obedience to the Gospel, the early church opened her arms to anyone who would trust in Christ for righteousness. Peter and the disciples spoke a variety of tongues at Pentecost. They did not demand everyone learn Hebrew. God showed Peter that the Gentile, Cornelius, was admitted to the Kingdom, giving Peter a vision that defied the dietary restrictions of the Jew. He did not demand Cornelius become a Jew. Further, the model we have from Paul and the apostles at the Jerusalem counsel is one of reasoning together to understand overt Scriptural commands and exercising freedom where Scripture is silent.

Still, Peter and the apostles were just men and, even they, fall to hypocrisy at times. When Peter was worshiping with the gentile brothers at Antioch, there came a moment of such weakness. The “Circumcision party” came to join in the worship and Paul witnessed the shaming of the gospel message. Peter, desiring to be approved by these brothers, withdrew from the gentile believers.

Why did Peter withdraw? It is not common to see this particular apostle seek to accommodate the whims of men. He has a reputation as headstrong and often taking the leadership role. Perhaps Peter thought he could win over these Jews to the Gospel by showing himself to be disciplined in religious affection as they. Perhaps he was simply afraid that he would lose his prestige among the Jews, maybe even rationalizing that a loss of prestige for him would be the same as a loss for the gospel. Whatever his reasoning, Peter shows favoritism and Paul addresses him directly.

Paul’s response to Peter seems brazen and very confrontational. Indeed, Paul addresses Peter “to his face,” but he does so only because “he stood condemned!” Paul’s response to Peter was bold and forward for three obvious reasons. First, Peter was obviously in contradiction to the gospel and was in danger of God’s discipline. Paul states that Peter “stood condemned.” In saying this, Paul is framing the scene as one in which Peter is in danger of God’s intervention. He is guilty of wrongdoing and it is an act of mercy to confront him. Confronting Peter as an errant brother spares him from being disciplined as a disobedient son. Second, Peter was leading others away from gospel community. Gospel community includes ALL tribes, tongues, and nations. It is not restricted to Jewish people alone but includes gentiles as well. When Peter showed favoritism to the Jewish brothers, he was acting in contradiction to the gospel message itself. So Paul publically addressed Peter in an effort to clarify and defend the gospel witness as he states, “their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” Third, Paul is concerned with defending the reputation of his brothers in Christ. When Paul saw that Peter and the brothers were living in hypocrisy, he recognized a need to preserve them through a minor error that could have massive implications. Hypocrisy is a dangerous poison that can damage the testimony of even the most devout believer.

Through Paul’s example, we can see the proper way to confront one another in gospel community. As we strive to walk in gospel obedience together we must first check our motives. Paul confronts Peter because of a gospel motivation. He does not desire power, he seeks to honor the gospel and preserve his brother’s integrity. We must consider the implications of what is being confronted. Paul addresses Peter publically because multiple people were actually being addressed. He recognized that his true target was a large group of believing brothers who needed to be corrected. Finally, when we approach each other we must strive to pose the question, and not simply demand correction. Questions allow for introspection and self-examination. Paul challenges Peter and poses the question, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” His point is well made. Yet, in posing it as a question he leaves room for rebuttal. Pose your confrontation in the form of a question and you are offering grace to the person you are challenging.

Oh, that we would always confront one another with such grace!

Galatians 2:1-6; Brief Thoughts

2 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in – who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery – 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) – those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.

When the joy and delight of one’s life on centered on Christ, there will inevitably be those who desire to usurp that joy by laying restriction and rule atop of freedom. Indeed, those who do not know the freedom of Christ will either long for it, or they will seek to control it. Such was the case in the Galatian church. Those who had been given freedom in Christ Jesus were being instructed by others who had come to join in the community to lay aside that freedom for the sake of an appearance of holiness. This holiness was not genuine but was a legalistic and self-righteous attempt to achieve holiness through their own actions.

Their message was antithetical to Paul’s own commission. As he recounts in verse 2, Paul corroborated his preaching of the Gospel by setting it before the Jerusalem council so that he could make sure the Gospel he was teaching was correct (Acts 15). Fourteen years after beginning to preach the gospel, Paul sought to ensure that the gospel he was teaching was correct. Paul’s efforts to validate himself by seeking the wisdom of the apostles stands in stark contrast to those who demanded such legalism professed by those who were infiltrating the Galatian church. There are no arrogant demands that people submit to his message. Rather there is a humble submission to the message as it stands clear in Christianity.

Paul submits to the clear message of the gospel. Influence and prestige, once so highly esteemed in the life of Saul the Pharisee, were cast aside for the sake of truth. Paul does not bend to the influential or nor does he bend himself to become influential. As is often the case with the most influential people in Christian history, Paul is more concerned with the message than with his own honor and prestige.

Further, Paul does not slip in. Paul’s efforts to teach the gospel are extremely transparent. He lays his teaching out before the apostles with a brother, Barnabas, alongside to hold him accountable. He stands exposed, ready to be corrected. Those who would profess self-made righteousness do not present themselves so clearly. They hold back their message, crafting words in such a way as to hide their true meanings and agenda. This is not the way of Christ! Christians speak boldly the gospel and when we are wrong, we seek the admonition and correction of the community of faith.

Finally, Paul does not accept the voice of the famous. Take note, dear reader, there are no accolades or praises given to men and those in authority in this passage. As Paul recounts his experience it is as one who has sought truth within a community of gospel believing Christians. He does not slip in, he does not seek to control the faith of others, and he does not attempt to demand that others live by his own convictions. He simply and purely lays out the gospel with clarity and strength.

Sometimes it is difficult to recognize when false teachers attempt to slide in and usurp freedom. This passage gives us some characteristics to look out for.

  1. They force their morality on others. These legalists prize morality over truth. Paul offers a contrast in Titus, explaining that he was not required to get circumcised in Jerusalem (v.3). The gospel relies on Scripture and the conviction of the Holy Spirit in the heart of believers. Thus, those who follow Christ trust the Scripture to convict and call others to changed lives and particular morality.
  2. They slip in, unnoticed. False teachers are never obvious at first. It takes time for the revelation of falsehood to be revealed. More often than not, those who seek to rule over the church and deprive others of gospel life appear first as friends and even Godly leaders. Yet, time will reveal their deceptions and motives as contrary to the gospel.
  3. They prize influence over transparency and submission. Those who know not the redemption of Christ value their own authority and the fame and prestige of others to a higher degree than humble submission and honesty. These false brothers will speak with great admiration of those who have accomplished much with worldly success while disparaging the persistent ministry of faithful saints who bear much spiritual fruit with little material gain. They will quote famous false teachers and excuse overt sin or error if there is material success. They will appeal to positional authority instead of trusting the truth to defend them. They will cite their position as if it was given them by God and state that as their authority to make decisions.

When seeking to lead the church, we must be diligent to watch out for those who are false teachers.

Brief Thoughts: Galatians 1:21-24

21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

One of the most common character traits among great Christian leaders is a startling lack of desire for fame. There is a profound humility that accompanies the self-aware Christian. It is a humility born out of the understanding that man’s works and achievements cannot secure salvation. Paul certainly grasped the weighty truth that God alone must save. It is this truth that drives the bulk of his letter to the Galatians. Paul is not redeemed because he deserves redemption or has earned righteous covering. Rather, Paul is acutely aware that his own salvation is the result of grace extended from God’s hands to him. Likewise, any exaltation or honor for the work of the gospel after Paul’s conversion is due to Christ alone.

Reflecting on his journey in Christ, Paul explains that he was obscure and unknown in person to the Christian leaders for several years. He did not travel to Jerusalem and was not trying to advance politically. Indeed, in his former life of Judaism, Paul had attempted to make a name for himself, climbing the ranks of religious leadership. His Christian journey is marked by an attitude contrary to his former life. He seeks no fame nor accolade for himself. His testimony bears witness that he is concerned with the glory of God, not his own fame or fortune.

Beware of those who seek to make their own name great. Those supposed men of God who must have their names printed on everything are truly men who are seeking their own glory. A leader who seeks his own glory is not a leader worth following. Instead, seek to follow leaders who are obsessed with the glory of God and His kingdom. A Godly leader is one who will place the exaltation of Christ above his own prestige.

Paul seeks the glory of the Lord and early on in his ministry was privileged to be used by God to acclaim Jesus’ name and glory. Indeed, Paul recognizes that true joy is found not in fame or self-exaltation, but in lifting high the name of Jesus.

In Western Christianity, there is a pressure among teachers and preachers of the gospel to make their own names great. Marketing strategies, blogs, video curriculums, and the like are sold with particular teacher’s names attached and there is a particular glory that is often ascribed to these teachers. Consider Paul’s testimony in light of such a reality. He was not known to any of them personally, nor was he a famous teacher. Yet, the Lord used his testimony to further the Gospel and in this Paul found his value. “They only were hearing it said, ‘He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me” (v. 23-24).

If we desire to glorify God above ourselves there are a few things we can learn from Paul.

  1. Seek to grow in your knowledge of God in fervent, God-obsessed, self-obscurity. Paul begins his discipleship process among unknown saints. He joins the disciples in Arabia (1:17) and does not pursue any of the big names until three years into his growth as a Christian (1:18). Learn to cultivate a love for obscurity. In this modern age, obscurity can be a blessing. When everything is put online for the world to see, there is little room for error or mistake and there is less forgiveness than there is room.
  2. Train yourself to find value in God’s glory. As Paul reflects on his life, he finds his value in knowing that his past wickedness is used to glorify God. There is certainly shame over his past life, yet God has redeemed him and is using his former self-righteousness to exalt the Gospel.
  3. Think heavily about grace and strive to extend it to everyone. A cursory read of Paul’s life in the book of Acts will show that he became obsessed with grace. Recognizing that the law could not save and that his previous successes as a Pharisee meant very little in the Kingdom, Paul demonstrates that God saves whoever will come (John 6:37). There is no preference given to one group over another, only grace extended to every weary and repentant sinner. Even the apostle Paul had to learn to cultivate grace. Paul’s relationship with Barnabas certainly helped him learn to extend grace to his brothers and sisters in Christ as is exemplified in his reaction to John Mark and his apparent shift from early in his ministry to the place of 2 Timothy 4:11.

Learning to practice these three things will help to cultivate a vision for God’s glory over self-exaltation. In the long run, these will bring you much more joy in your Christian walk.

 

 

Galatians 1:18-20; Brief Thoughts

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.

Paul’s insistence that he was introduced to the Gospel through a supernatural encounter with Jesus as Lord can lead readers to believe that there was no discipleship in his life. However, a simple read through the book of Acts reveals Paul’s own journey as one that involved the community of faith and particular men who poured intertwined their lives with Paul, vouching for his character, encouraging his relational growth, and sitting with him while he wrestled with the deep truths of the gospel.

After his initial conversion, Paul was directed by Christ to go to Ananias in Damascus and there Paul recovered his sight and began to live among the saints as one of their number (Acts 9:10-22). Three years later, Paul travels to Jerusalem and spends 15 days learning from and with Peter and James. In Acts 9:26-31 Paul attempts to join the disciples and they avoid him because of his past persecutions. It is at this moment that one of the greatest disciple-makers in Scripture takes hold of Paul and begins to train him in the gospel. Barnabas begins to walk with Paul and teach him the way of Christ.

In Paul’s story, Barnabas serves as his mentor. Though Paul failed to connect with the disciples in Jerusalem, God provided a brave and bold brother who loved others deeply to disciple this stubborn scholar. Barnabas and Paul fought side by side to advance the gospel (Acts 13-15). Barnabas and Paul would eventually separate over Paul’s opinions about John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin. After years together, Barnabas and Paul continue the mission without each other. It is tempting to see the separation of Acts 15:36-41 as a failure of the disciple-making process. However, it is natural that leaders will eventually need to separate from one another and pursue their own specific assignments in the gospel ministry.

Paul had a miraculous conversion and certainly a radical and spontaneous transformation. However, this transformation was shaped and refined in community through careful discipleship. God gave Paul a community of faith that could help mold his ministry and empower him as a leader. Paul was so acutely aware of his community that he writes of them at the end of every letter, including those who are walking with him in the moment. In truth, Paul’s life before Christ was marked by a personal exaltation and a kind of lone-wolf fame. However, as a Christian, Paul is almost never alone. On the rare occasion that he is alone, God provides a convert.

Paul’s testimony in Galatians may lead young Christians to think that they do not need to be discipled or trained in the Gospel. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of Paul’s growth. Paul was poured into by other believers throughout his ministry. He had a brother who dedicated himself to serving alongside him in Barnabas. Barnabas taught Paul a great deal and Paul’s character changed as he walked with Barnabas. Then Silas walked with Paul and offered kinship. Oh, Christian, God has so much more for you than lone-ranger Christianity. He has formed a community in the Church that can and does help you grow. Don’t mistake Paul’s testimony for one that denies the influence of any community. Paul is simply reminding the Galatians that his own faith is just that – his own.

Paul’s faith is not from Peter or the Apostles. Indeed, as discussed above, Barnabas played a much more significant role in Paul’s growth than the other leaders of the Church. For three years Paul lived the faith out with brothers and sisters whose names we may never know. The point of his testimony in Galatians is not that he did not learn from anyone, but that his authority and understanding of salvation is not drawn from any man.

Paul understood what discipleship is. He recognized that the Holy Spirit is the teacher and we learn together from Him. His work and life are testaments to the truth that believers grow best in community.

So, to whom are you connected? What community are you growing with? Paul’s testimony is certainly not prescriptive for the average Christian. Indeed, everyone’s testimony is unique and individual. However, we can still learn from Paul’s journey. He needed Barnabas to walk with him. He needed the unnamed believers in Damascus to encourage and help give him a start. He needed Silas to walk with him in his later mission work. He needed Timothy and Titus to receive his discipleship. You need the community as well. There is no such thing as a Christian devoid of community. You need the body. To put this simply: go find a church and plugin.

Galatians 1:10; Brief Thoughts

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Many modern church leaders seek fame and publicity. They persist in ensuring that their names are known and exalted in this life. In effort to secure the praise of men, many compromise the message of the gospel. Some diminish the gospel by omitting difficult parts and others choose to emphasize one aspect at the cost of the whole gospel. Seeking the praise of men, these leaders steal the glory due to God and proudly place crowns on their own heads. These men are to be pitied and mourned over, they will one day answer to the God of glory, whom they have stolen from.

Paul was accused of such a theft. The men who accused Paul of this robbery of God’s glory were guilty of the very crime of which they claimed Paul was complicit. Seeking the praise of men, they postured themselves as holy leaders of the church. Still Paul, honestly presenting his own testimony, insists that he is not seeking the praise of men. Indeed, if Paul were seeking such accolade from mortal men, then the letter to the Galatians would never have been written. Such a testimony of Jesus’ glory and righteousness does not serve to make Paul great. Rather, as Paul will soon testify, his former success as a righteous Jewish Pharisee amounts to no value in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Any glory he once tried to attain for himself is now counted as nothing and has resulted in scorn and accusation from men, but will result in honor from God.

A man cannot be a servant of Christ if he strives for the praise of men. Further, it is the motive that determines the position. Paul states that he “would not be a servant of Christ, if [he was] still trying to please man.” If Paul’s motive is to please men, then he proves himself to be a servant of men and not of God. Likewise, those who profess Jesus as King and then serve motives to enhance their own glory are not serving Jesus, but their own self-interests. So, Paul calls into question the accusation itself. “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man?” The answer is obvious that Paul is not attempting to please men.

Paul will later explain that he has seen what it means to please men. He has stood among the apostles and rebuked them for showing deference to the Jews over the Gentiles believers. He has challenged Peter and defended the truth of Jesus in the face of radical hatred. Paul is acquainted with the reality of preference. He knows what it looks like and he has scorned it. He has surrendered prestige and honor for the sake of Christ.

Grace extends beyond me. If praise lands on me and not Christ, then I have cheapened grace. You see, if I matter more than Christ or if I am concerned about praise that I received, then I have brought the value of grace to my level. Here is a story that may serve as an example of what I mean:

I was once eating with an old friend from high school who was asking me about what I do for a living. My friend was of another religion. As a pastor, I have a few answers to this question, I reached into my bag-o-answers and said, “I spend a lot of time counseling people and helping them to live a full life. I walk alongside people whose marriages and lives are in turmoil and help them to understand a better way to live. I teach people what life is and help them to live it to the fullest.” My friend nodded sympathetically and said, “You are a great man who is really making a difference in this world.” At that moment I realized I had failed to exalt Christ. In my attempt to explain what I did, I soften the message of the gospel. I took the Gospel of salvation and explained it as if I was the message. Sorrow filled my heart the moment I heard him say this. The Gospel is so much greater than me. Though I may do some good things, Christ actually forgives sin and changes the souls of believers to give them life! He is the gospel, not me! Yet I had reduced the ministry of the gospel to my work! Needless to say, I no longer answer that way. Now my answer is, “I teach people about one true God, Jesus Christ!” It’s a much more awkward answer, but it is true.

When we seek the praises of men, we drag the Gospel down to the dirt and cover up the real message. Let the Gospel stand exalted in Heaven! That way it will save people and lift believers up to Heaven!

In evaluating our own understanding of grace and exaltation of the Gospel, there are some questions we can ask ourselves.

  1. When I am called by God to say or do something, am I pausing to consider the reactions of men?
  2. When Scripture is plain, am I softening what it says in order to make it more palatable to those around me?
  3. When I meet someone for the first time, am I honest and transparent about the gospel or am I attempting to please the other person?
  4. When I see injustice, do I answer with the gospel or do I hesitate because of the other people around me?

 

A New Book! Expressions: Church Poems

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This year, as resolutions swirled in my head and evaluations of the previous year set me into a constant state of pensive self-examination, I wanted to challenge myself to write and complete a book of poetry and art in one week. I knew the difficulty that it would entail and I knew the joy of completing the process.

2018 seemed like a marathon through the mud. As a pastor, I trudged a great deal and OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwas often fighting my own depression and difficulties as I helped to shoulder the burdens of others. It was a good year, but it was a long and exhausting year too. We came through it tired but victorious and ready to run some more.

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As I sat, laboring to understand and process 2018, I found a need to express. I needed to express my love for the church. I needed to express the wrestling with depression in a real and spiritual manner. I needed to express the “striving together” that is the church community. I needed to lay down on paper the weight of what my community has carried together. All the imperfections and struggle to understand grace.

All the pains and joys of community and weight of self. I needed to express them all. I needed to express the song of the church. So, I set out to draw a few sketches and lay down a few verses.

“Expressions” is the result. (Credit to Logan Doak for the title.)

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Expressions: Poems of the Church is available for $7 on Amazon.com and Lulu.com

 

I hope you will enjoy this work. It is short, 48 pages, and is a square shape. It is intended to be a book of pictures and poetry that you will pick up and read once in a while. The art is simple and quick sketches that were drawn in a week (with the exception of “Halos of the Church” and “Death to Life,” which were drawn in 2018 when processing some difficulties). I have endeavored to exalt Christ in the church through this work. Please use it for the gospel ministry.

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Two quick encouragements:

Challenge yourself. Challenge yourself to do something. Something difficult. Last year I was enjoying my morning coffee while I watched the birds flit and flutter on my porch. Inspired I wrote a short poem and then started drawing some pictures. At the same time, I was working through the book of Ephesians for my second published work. I challenged myself to write a short book, complete with artwork and be ready to publish it in a 7 day period. The result was “The Bird’s Psalm.” This year I wrote a little more… next year I will challenge myself to do the same.

Use your talents for the Kingdom of God. I am not a great artist, but I have some talent. I am not a great poet, but I can write a poem or two. I am not a great writer, but I can write stuff down in an organized form. The Lord has blessed me with some ability, it is my responsibility to use that for the Kingdom. What are your talents? Are you using them for the Kingdom? I hope you see through my work that you CAN do something for the Kingdom. I hope you will be inspired to do something… something worthwhile. Something for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:8-9; Brief thoughts

8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

The Gospel is simple. The Gospel is Jesus, come to earth, died for sins, rose up conquering death, and is coming back. It can be reduced to one profound and yet simple statement: Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. The profundity is discovered as the words are unpacked. The simplicity is that there is nothing else to do than believe this. If you could simply believe that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord, then you could have eternal life. Not merely life after this physical life, but much more! You can have life where death has reigned. Where the requirements of law and the bondage of sinfulness have restricted your own ability to love, you could have life and freedom from the dictates of the adversary. You could be free if you simply believe the gospel.

The gospel preached by Paul and his fellow-laborers to the Galatians churches was one of such magnificent simplicity. It requires nothing and costs everything. It is freedom and yet, if truly believe it, results in surrendering everything. Everything. All your good deeds and self-righteousness. All your worldly desires and self-interest. Everything. The gospel demands nothing, yet we are compelled to give everything out of a deep sense that joy is found in the surrender. So Paul called the Galatians to leave their legalism, their paganism, and their idolatrous attempts to find righteousness on their own. Yet, someone has come to teach them that they must submit again to a yoke of slavery to the law. These vile false teachers have taken the gospel and added the clause: you must obey the law. So their message became, in order to follow Christ you had to become Jewish first. They were teaching that one must be circumcised and obey the Law in order to be saved by Christ.

In righteous fury, Paul lovingly admonishes the Galatian believers telling them that anyone who would pervert the gospel ought to be cut off from the Kingdom of God. He uses the Greek word ‘Anathema’ meaning “cursed, cut-off,” or “banned from the camp.” This word implies damnation. The perversion of the gospel is so severe that it demands hell as punishment. Consider this illustration: You have labored for years to provide for your children. In love, you labored before their birth to give them everything they would need to live a lavish and comfortable life. You built them a home with a never-ending supply of food and delights. You serve them and raise them to see the wonderful gifts that you have for them. Then they come along and add locks on all the cabinets and refrigerator. They put requirements on their younger siblings. Requirements you did not impose. They say, “if you want to have Daddy’s love you must obey these rules that He did not impose and yet to which we hold.” Consider the gravity of such an offense. They have stolen your love for your children and turned it into something unrecognizable. They have perverted your love. So it is with the gospel and the Galatians. They have listened to a gospel that added locks to the open door. Paul is shattering the locks in this letter.

Take note of some specifics with regard to Paul’s words. Even if another gospel is proclaimed from heaven, it is not to be received! The power of the cross is so great that even the Heavens cannot proclaim another gospel. No angel, no heavenly being can change what God has done. Jesus is Savior and Lord and none can take that from Him. Second, not even Paul can change the gospel message. If Paul came and said, “that’s what I said, but now I’ve changed my mind,” then Paul would be wrong. Stick to the gospel that was taught at the beginning! Finally, if the new message contradicts the gospel of Jesus Christ, then it is to be rejected.

Three simple ways to recognize false gospels.

  1. Read the Bible and compare what you hear to what it says. Take the Bible for what it says and test all things by what it says (be like the Bereans, Acts 17:11).
  2. If the gospel message taught does not confess Jesus Christ came in the flesh and literally died and rose again, it is a false gospel (c.f. 1 John 4:1-6).
  3. If the gospel message is not evidenced by a life of love, then it is not the gospel (c.f. John 13:34-35).

There are certainly other ways to ensure that you will not be blown off course by false teaching, but none are so definite as knowing the scripture.