Counsel or Confirmation?

Counsel

As a pastor of a church, I do a fair bit of counseling. Not a lot, but enough. I have observed a bit of a pattern. Some who seek counsel from me are not are really seeking counsel. They are seeking something else. They are seeking confirmation.

In other words, people come to me with their plans all set. If I agree with them, then all is well. However, if I tell them something that they don’t want to hear, they easily ignore my counsel and go on with their own plans anyway. They may even seek out someone else who will tell them what they want to hear.

Now, it could be that I give bad counsel in these cases. Or, it could be that they have itching ears, wanting to hear what will “suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). The Lord knows.

Against this backdrop, it is very encouraging when those who are teachable come to me for counsel. When I can help them on their journey, it is very satisfying. I’m glad to help.

No Cultural Barrier

Our oldest daughter is in Mexico this summer, helping some missionary friends. She is having a great time. For the next few weeks, she is helping with Vacation Bible School for children. We received the above picture from our friends with the caption, “No Cultural Barriers to Love.” How true that is.

Using Talents

We hosted a Vacation Bible School at our church this week. In order to do this, many have contributed their talents. I am especially thankful for two men in our church who have given leadership to this year’s event, Andy and Ryan. I have affectionately called them “the dynamic duo.”

Andy has been the M. C. of everything, pulling everything together and making our assembly times interesting with his puppet, Congo (his alter-ego). Ryan has done a great job at leading the music and being Andy’s sidekick. Ryan has also written some special songs to help learn the memory verses. Here is a link to them (with words, chord charts and mp3’s). Feel free to use them as you want.

Serving Children

This week at church we have hosted a Vacation Bible School.  It’s a great opportunity for many children (especially those who don’t attend a church of any kind) to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I am especially thankful for all of the young people who help pull it off.  The youth of our church are involved in the music, the drama, the teaching, the snacks, the games, the nursery, the crafts, and overall, just plain looking after the scores of children who have come this year. The children of our church are serving the children at Vacation Bible School.

 

Effective Ministry

Early in my ministry at Rock Valley Bible Church, I read a book with a pastor from another church in town. The book was entitled, “An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times” by John Angell James.  Although the book was written in the mid-eighteen hundreds, it still carries much wisdom for today.

He quoted a sentence from the British Quarterly Review:  “No ministry will be really effective, whatever may be its intelligence, which is not a ministry of strong faith, true spirituality, and deep earnestness.”  James then wrote, …

I wish this golden sentence could be inscribed in characters of light over every professor’s chair, over every student’s desk, and over every preacher’s pulpit.  Condensed into that one short paragraph is every thing that needs be said on this subject. I feel that every syllable I have to write would be superfluous, if all our pastors, students, and tutors, would let that one sentence take full occupation of their hearts, possess their whole souls, and regulate their conduct (John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times, [Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1993], 28).

I followed his advice. I printed out his sentence. I taped it in front of my desk. It has remained their for a decade to remind me of what it takes to have a truly effective ministry. May the Lord grant strength to follow its counsel.

Aiming for the Heart

Preachers are constantly evaluating their goals in preaching. Am I attempting to communicate truth? Am I attempting to touch on the emotions? What sort of response am I seeking?

When Paul gave his aim, he said that he aimed for the heart. “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). Paul wanted his hearers to love with purity. He wanted his hearers to have a conscience which doesn’t condemn. And he wanted a faith that was sincere.

Paul mentioned the desires of his opponents. They aimed for the head. They spend their time “[paying] attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation” (1 Timothy 1:4). Paul’s opponents were seeking to stir the imaginations of the people away from simple truth that could easily be applied to speculations that were interesting to think about. But, they ended up in little application.

What should a preacher aim for? The heart.

Do I need to fix the problem?

As a pastor I often deal with people whose lives are messed up. People come to me with marital problem. People come to me with family problems. People come to me with financial problems. People come to me with relational problems. It’s a delight to attempt to help these people. But, I often fall into the trap that I need to “fix” their problem. Many of the problems are deep and complex and have existed for years. Sometimes, a “solution” isn’t often even possible.

The book of Habakkuk provides a great model for helping people with their problems. The short book begins with Habakkuk voicing his complaint to the Lord, who appears to be indifferent to the sin that is all around. God responds by saying that things are going to get worse. The Chaldeans were coming to destroy the people of Judah. Habakkuk’s problem wasn’t solved. In fact, it was made worse. And yet, Habakkuk leaves the book in better shape than he entered, because, in the end, he is trusting in the Lord.  He says, …

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

In other words, Habakkuk is ready to trust in the Lord, even if everything in his life crumbles around him, which actually happened in 586 B. C. with the Babylonian invasion.

Back to the counseling question. I may not be able to fix the problems that people bring to me. But, I can direct them to what will help them through the trials: faith in God. To this end I will labor.