Advice or Agreement?

In my years as a pastor, I have discovered one thing about those who seek my counsel. More often than not, those who come to me aren’t seeking my advice. Rather, they come seeking my agreement with their already formed plans. As a result, I’m often not told everything. There are times when further details emerge that were not divulged, which would have changed my counsel.

“The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17).

A Plan for Counseling

When people come to me for counsel regarding their struggles in life, I often follow a simple, three-fold plan that a wise pastor once taught me.

1. Help them see their sin in the situation.
2. Show how Christ is powerful to help them overcome the sin.
3. Pray with them, seeking the Holy Spirit’s help in their life.

Extemporaneous Preaching

Charles Spurgeon was one of the greatest preachers the world has ever known (1834-1892). He preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle to thousands. His sermon preparation was unique. Late Saturday evening, he would often go into his study and jot down a few notes for his sermon on Sunday morning. Sometimes they were but a few lines. At other times, they were more extensive, but rarely more than a page. What came out of his mouth was pure gold. I encourage you to read any of his thousands of published sermons to see what I mean.

I am quite the opposite of Spurgeon. I rarely preach on Sunday without a full manuscript of what I intend to say, having prepared for days. But, things changed for me this past Sunday. Due to various events that took place in our worship service, I ditched my prepared sermon and preached a sermon that I prepared in the pew as the service was going on.

My notes are here. You can listen to it here. I don’t know if I’ll try this one again. Spurgeon was much better than I am.

Speaking What God Says

One of the most interesting stories in the entire Bible is found in 2 Chronicles 18. It’s a story of two kings (Jehoshaphat and Ahab) attempting to discern the will of the LORD regarding a battle they may fight together. After all of the prophets tell the kings to go and fight, Jehoshaphat asks if there is prophet of the LORD. (Apparently, the other “prophets” weren’t prophets of the true God). Ahab identified one such prophet, Micaiah, but added, “I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me but always evil.” So, they summon Micaiah to come and prophesy for them.

As he is on his way, Micaiah is told of the words of the prophets, that they all have counseled him to go to war. He is encouraged to sing the same tune before the king. I love his response, “As the LORD lives, what my God says, that I will speak” (2 Chronicles 18:13). Such ought to be the perspective of every man of God. Pastors are called to speak what God says.

In every age there have been those who seek to put forth their own ideas, rather than speaking what God says. This is because there have been those in every age who want “to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). In every age, there are those who want nothing more than having their ears tickled (2 Timothy 4:3). There will always be “pastors” willing to fulfill this role.

The role of speaking what God says may be costly.

Back to Micaiah. When he entered the presence of the kings, he initially told the kings to go and fight. But Ahab, detecting that Micaiah wasn’t being up front with them demanded, “How many times must I adjure you to speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?” So, Micaiah went on to prophesy defeat. Humorously, we read Ahab complaining, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?”

Micaiah went on to prophesy that Ahab would be killed in battle. Ahab ordered that Micaiah be thrown in prison and given minimal rations until he returns (and thereby proves Micaiah to be wrong). Micaiah responds, “If you indeed return safely, the LORD has not spoken by me.” Ahab increased the drama by pleading to everyone around, “Listen, all you people.”

God stood by Micaiah’s words. Ahab was killed by “a certain man [who] drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel in a joint of the armor.” He died and never returned, thereby proving Micaiah to be a true prophet who spoke what God says. It may be hard, but in the end, it is really the only way.


Behind Closed Doors

I remember some good pastoral advice that I once received from another pastor friend. He told me, “Never be surprised what happens behind closed doors.” In other words, people may put on an appearance that all is well, when in fact, all is not well. It’s only when something happens that they are exposed.

An example of this came this week with the situation with Sam Hurd, former wide receiver with the Chicago Bears. He didn’t show up for team meetings on Thursday, so the team began inquiring as to what was wrong. They found out that he had been arrested by federal officials on Wednesday evening, who say that Hurd was setting up a drug-distribution network in the Chicago area.

Everyone in the organization was caught by surprise. The general manager, Jerry Angelo, said, “We’re all very, very shocked. … When we do our homework on players, we have a very sound and tested methodology that we go about researching all players. … So I can sit here and tell you with total transparency that we did everything we know how to do in terms of our research and there was nothing that we found that would create a flag or an alert or a real concern in Sam Hurd’s case.” The coach, Lovie Smith, said, “I’m in shock over it; never saw it coming. My dealings with Sam here have all been good. He’s a guy that showed up every day ready to go to work.” Brian Urlacher, the Bear’s middle linebacker, said, “He’s a good teammate. That’s what I know of him. He comes to work every day and works hard. Outside of here, I don’t know him very well. But he comes to work every day and practices hard and plays hard. That’s all I know of him. … He’s a friendly guy. He’s always been really friendly. He says ‘hi’ in the hallway every time you walk by him. I walk by him 10 times a day in the hallway and he still says ‘hi’ every time.”  Johnny Knox, a fellow wide-receiver, said, “He had a great character. The guy was always down-to-Earth, always laughing and made jokes with us all. I was surprised just as you all are.”

Hurd had hidden his activities very well. You never know what happens behind closed doors.

Advice to Future Pastors

I was recently asked by a seminary professor to give some advice for a group of men preparing for the ministry, paying particular attention to what I wish I had learned in seminary in preparation for ministry. He put me on a conference call with a handful of men that he was discipling. Initially, he gave me 10 minutes to give counsel to these men. Then, our time was opened up for a time of Q&A. As I’m currently preaching through 2 Timothy, I formed my initial thoughts from the book. Here’s what I said.

1. Ministry is discouraging. Paul told Timothy, “I am mindful of the sincere faith within you. … I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you” (2 Timothy 1:5-6). With these words, Paul was seeking to encourage his young disciple, who had lost heart for the ministry. Losing heart is easy, because there is much around you to discourage you.

2. Remember Jesus Christ. Paul told Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8). I have always found this verse to be a bit startling. Timothy was a close associate of the apostle Paul. He knew that preaching Jesus was his main thing. And yet, Paul still felt the need to remind him of this. And so, it’s a good reminder for those preparing for the ministry.

3. Ministry is difficult. Paul told Timothy, “Realize this, that in the last days, difficult times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1). He then proceeds to list various sorts of people who are antagonistic to the gospel of Christ. In the ministry, you will face opposition from all sides (from those who love their sin and from friends who don’t like what you say). It can take a toll on a marriage and on a family. Knowing this going into the ministry is helpful.

4. Sunday is coming. Paul told Timothy, “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). This is the task of a pastor: preaching and teaching all the time. One way that this manifests itself is in the worship service each Sunday. We are expected to bring a message, new and fresh, every week. It’s a grind. But, it’s a labor of love.

I wish that I had learned these things in seminary.

An Object of Love

There are many ways that you can show love to another. You can say so verbally or in a hand-written note. You can show love by spending time with others or giving gifts. Every several months, I receive a bag of Twizzlers licorice from a family in church. They know that I like these licorice sticks. Each time they give me a bag they are saying, “We love you.”

Perhaps there are people in your life who need some encouragement through subtle acts of love.

Go Labor On

Last week we hosted a Vacation Bible School at our church. It was very successful. Half of the children came from our church and half of the children came from the neighborhood. Many children heard about Jesus. It was very rewarding for all who were involved.

But, it did require quite a bit of work. The sets took hours to build. The drama team spent hours practicing. The teaching crew spent hours preparing. Those in charge of games and crafts and snacks all put in many hours as well. By the end of the week, many of us were exhausted.

Yet, someone told me on Sunday, “What a joy to exhaust yourself in God’s work.” This comment reminded me of Horatius Bonar’s hymn, …

Go, labor on: spend, and be spent,
Thy joy to do the Father’s will:
It is the way the Master went;
Should not the servant tread it still?

Your Mission Field

Jesus commanded us to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  This mandate ought to consume our minds.  However, we often miss the mission fields in our homes.  Rachel Jankovic has written a wonderful article entitled, “Motherhood as a Mission Field.”  Here are my two favorite quotes from her article.

– Everyone wants to save the world, but no one wants to help Mom with the dishes.

– Jim Elliot famously said, “He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Motherhood provides you with an opportunity to lay down the things that you cannot keep on behalf of the people that you cannot lose. They are eternal souls, they are your children, they are your mission field.