Autopsy of a Nearly Deceased Pastor and 20 years of pastoring one church

img_0969

By God’s good grace and because of his love for the local church and his gospel, God has chosen to give our church a 20 year celebration of a pastor/church relationship. This past Sunday Grace Community Church of Yorkville, IL gave me some books – the ones stacked on the bottom. Now, to be honest, when they were given to me gift-wrapped, upon opening them I felt bummed because I had read nearly all of them and still owned several copies to boot. But, when asked to open the book to its entry page: “Wow!!” Each book has been signed by its author with a word of congratulations to me for surviving 20 years at the same church – and these guys are just a few of my heroes of the faith (of course, the one on the bottom is not signed by its author:).

But as you can see the title to this post is a play off of the top left book: “Autopsy of a Deceased Church.” Last week, I had the privilege to spend nearly an hour on the phone with the author, Thom Rainer. I conveyed to him that he could have written his book by watching our church for the past 20 years. I expressed my appreciation for his timely book (2014) that helped our church avoid what he has observed too many times: churches are dying at an alarming rate in America and almost always due to the same diseases. One of the unfortunate consequences is a short tenure for the pastor – and that often harms, not helps the church (short pastoral tenures is a red flag for a church – it may be on its way to its own funeral). As Thom asked more questions about our history, I expressed to him that when I read his book that I thought he should write a book called, “Autopsy of a Nearly Deceased Pastor”; a couple of times I nearly gave up pastoring because of “cartel members” in the church. Yes, that’s Mark Devine’s and Darren Patrick’s description, not mine (top book on the right, “Replant: how a dying church can grow again”. But if the shoe fits, wear it!

I thank the Lord for a loving church . . .

  • that loves the gospel of God told-out in the person and work of Jesus Christ;
  • who sees a covenant made with his people in the scriptures, carried along by a single story-line that is all about Jesus Christ “saving his people from their sins”;
  • who expects expository preaching through books of the bible on Sunday morning;
  • who enjoys a blend of some of the best old and new songs with a variety of music genres, avoiding the segregation of its members by putting the old folk with the organ in one service, and the young folk with the Fender amps in another;
  • whose liturgy includes confession of sin with rejoicing in the forgiveness from Christ on Sunday morning;
  • that seeks to not idolize the past with its man-made traditions;
  • that seeks to engage and work with the community instead of enticing them to come to church or get saved before we mingle with them;
  • that seeks to put its money on the street, not in its pocket;
  • that does not allow personal preferences to become holy cows;
  • that seeks to fellowship with each other, pray with each other, encourage each other – all in a variety of venues not always held on church property;
  • seeks to share the gospel with the lost the way Jesus and the early church did – in the everyday encounters that we already have with dozens of people each day;
  • finally, though not exhaustively, that has chosen to love me and my family through thick and thin – much like a marriage, “to death do us part”. Thank you for your words, cards and gifts. I’m so blessed.

Our church continues to struggle in many ways. But the struggle is also part of what it means to follow a crucified, publicly disgraced, counter-culture risen Savior. And Jesus is worth every bit of it.

 

Heroes of the Faith – Bryan Chapell and John Piper

IMAG1103

I had the overdue pleasure of catching up with Bryan Chapell at the Desiring God Conference in Minneapolis, MN. Bryan was the President and homiletics prof. of Covenant Theological Seminary for many years – I have not seen Bryan since I graduated in 1996. John Piper invited him to speak to the pastors this year – what a blessing. To take a trip down memory lane, I took my nearly 20 yr old seminary t-shirt for a photo-op with Bryan.

Bryan is a hero of the faith for me because of his love for Christ and his gospel. Bryan’s book, Christ Centered Preaching, is a standard textbook in seminaries across America – this book demonstrates his love for pastors, teaching us how to preach Christ. This is partly what drew me to CTS. I am so thankful for this man.

IMAG1108

A pic with two of the six men who attended the conference¬†with me. And of course, one of my greatest heroes of the faith – John Piper. As always, this year’s conference did not disappoint. Worshipful and majestic singing; passionate, expository Christ Centered Preaching from Romans 1, 5, and 6; refreshing fellowship; renewed love for Christ and his Church; and with the theme of the conference, a deeper understanding of our sin so that we may know how abundant God’s grace is to us through our Lord Jesus Christ.

One take away from the conference.

Lust is not so much an addiction – it’s the result of a trading down for a smaller treasure. If you were sitting at your computer at the height of your temptation, and you were about to click open that porn site, would you still click it open if someone genuinely offered you One Million Dollars not to? Tax free, unmarked, not stolen – $1,000,000 to turn away from porn at that moment? Would you take your hand of the mouse and take the money? Or,

If ISIS stormed your home, and holding a sword to the throat of your loved one, threatening to sever her head, saying, “If you look at that porn site I will remove her head” – would you feel your Lust as an Un-conquerable Addiction, or would you take your hand away to spare the life of your friend?

The reason why so many of our sins run wild is not so much because they are addictions, but rather a flawed belief system based upon what is most valuable. You would take the money and turn away because you value money more than porn at that moment. You would save the life of your friend because you valued her more than lust, at that moment. What was once an “addiction” is now understood as a treasuring of something more valuable to you than lust. Is this biblical?

1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 says this:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you abstain from sexual immorality (that is, all forms of sexual activity outside of a married man and woman relationship); that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”

Do you see it? You control lust by knowing God. If you knew how pleasurable and satisfying and valuable it is to know the Lord, you would turn away from a lesser pleasure, like lust. It’s a matter of what you know and what you believe. Do you believe that if you turned away from clicking on the porn, that the life of your friend would be worth it? Yes or No? Likewise – Do you believe that if you turned away from clicking on the porn, that the knowing of who God is for you in that moment would be worth it? Yes or No? Which means, the more you grow in your knowledge of who God is for you in Jesus Christ, the power of your addictions become impotent compared with the exquisite pleasure of knowing Christ. The way to kill sin is to know a superior pleasure – The Crucified and Risen Lord!