Archives For Leadership

St. Titus “The Tough”

Chris —  March 7, 2017 — Leave a comment

Spiritual leadership requires guts and grit. You have to be tough to lead. Consider the biblical example of Titus.

When I left the corporate world and went to seminary, I pictured spiritual leaders as clean cut guys in starched white shirts and blue suits. I understood that spiritual leadership wasn’t always easy. I knew that piety was essential. But I didn’t think much about the need for a spiritual leader to be a gladiator.

You might wonder how I missed what was so obvious in Scripture. Had I read about Moses? Or David? Or Jesus! Didn’t I know that Paul wrote to the Ephesians that we are in a spiritual war?

I would have said at the time I knew toughness was important. But I didn’t really know. The dusty world of the Biblical slingshots, Roman soldiers, and stonings seemed so far removed from our modern age.

Twenty six years later I’ve realized what I should have known all along: spiritual leaders are walking the way of the cross. The face of spiritual leadership looks a lot more like the image to the right of Wisconsin wrestler Isaac Jordan (from The Faces of College Wrestling) than that of a button-downed executive. To be a spiritual leader is to go to the front lines of a war. Figurative bruises and black eyes are sure to come. Bloody lips are part of the call.

And the more bruises I get as a leader, the more I can relate to the guts and grit of the biblical leader Titus. If I had deeply understood more about Titus when I began in spiritual leadership, I would not have been so surprised the first time I got flattened.

On the one hand, we know little about the first century church leader Titus. He is not mentioned in Acts. Some have speculated that Luke omitted Titus’s name because he and Luke were brothers: an intriguing theory, but only a guess.

Outside of Acts, Titus’s name appears 13 times in the New Testament (2 Cor 2:13, 7:6, 7:13, 7:14, 8:6, 8:16, 8:23, 12:18, Gal 2:1, 3, 2 Tim 4:10, Titus 1:4). From those passages, we can sketch a preliminary picture. Titus was Greek and one of Paul’s converts (Titus 1:4). He became one of Paul’s most trusted partners and maybe the toughest.

The case for Titus’s toughness is built by reflecting on four assignments entrusted to Titus by the Apostle Paul.

First, Titus represented uncircumcised Gentiles at the Council of Jerusalem.

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. . . But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Gal 2:1, 3

In 50 AD Paul received a special revelation from God that he should travel to Jerusalem for a meeting that was sure to be a showdown. The central question in view was the matter of circumcision. For more than 2,000 years the people of the living God were circumcised as a covenant sign of their relationship with God. Now, under the jurisdiction of the New Covenant, it was rightly argued that circumcision was not required (Gal 2:1-10). The matter was a tremendously contentious issue for the early church. For Titus to go — as something of the token uncircumcised Gentile — meant the authenticity of his faith would be scrutinized and questioned by articulate and combative Judaizers. 

Second, Titus was Paul’s messenger and intermediary with Corinth.

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. 2 Cor 8:16

Given its location, the church at Corinth was of strategic importance. Yet, it was full of problems (see 1, 2 Corinthians). The relationship between Paul and the church at Corinth was strained to say the least. Indeed, Paul had so severely rebuked the Corinthians that he wasn’t sure if they were up to another round of correction directly administered by him (2 Cor 2:1). Instead, Paul gave Titus the job of delivering Paul’s severe or sorrowful letter.

Titus delivery of Paul’s severe letter to the Corinthians couldn’t have been a pretty scene. The Corinthians expected that Paul would be arriving in person. Doubtless, those who supported Paul were disappointed to hear he wouldn’t be coming. On the other hand, Paul’s opponents seized on his absence to accuse Paul of breaking his word.

To make matters even more difficult, Titus’ role as messenger included the task of taking up a collection for other young churches (2 Cor 8-9). It takes a tough leader to relay the message of a rebuke while also leading a giving campaign.

Lest you think I’m exaggerating the difficulty of Titus’ assignment, notice, Paul was by no means sure that things would go well. He was so distressed about how things went for Titus that when Titus did not return as expected, Paul left a ministry opportunity and went looking for him in Macedonia (2 Cor 2:12-13). After hearing good news from Titus when he found him, Paul asked Titus to deliver 2 Corinthians.

Biblical scholars believe that Titus probably represented Paul to the Corinthians on three different occasions. And given that 1,2 Corinthians are in the New Testament today, our sense is that Titus was effective in his role. Even so, he took some body blows.

Third, Titus traveled with Paul for extended periods of time.

As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. 2 Cor 8:23

To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. Titus 1:4

As seen above, Titus was with Paul at the Council of Jerusalem (50 AD). He was a key intermediary with the church at Corinth (51-56 AD). We also know that Titus accompanied Paul to Crete (62-64 AD). Putting all of this together, it is also reasonable to assume that Titus was at Paul’s side (or representing Paul) for a large part of Paul’s ministry. Partnering with Paul was one of the toughest ministry assignments ever. Beatings, shipwrecks, or death were never far away. Yet, Titus persevered.

Fourth, Titus stayed behind in Crete to deal with troublemakers and appoint leaders.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—Titus 1:5

While the book of Acts does not document a missions visit by Paul to Crete, we know from Titus 1:5 that Paul and Titus visited Crete together. The traditional understanding is that Paul was released from his first imprisonment in Rome and he and Titus made a missions trip to Crete. The gospel took root in Crete. But, as we learn from the book of Titus, Crete was a notoriously difficult culture. If the gospel cause was to go further, someone needed to stay behind, appoint qualified leaders, and take on divisive leaders. Paul chose “Titus the tough” to silence the circumcision group in Crete and to deal with other difficulties.

Almost 2,000 years later we don’t know what Titus looked like when he traveled to Jerusalem, Corinth, and Crete. But of this we can be sure. He was a warrior. He has a black eye or two. And so do all leaders who make a difference. To be a spiritual leader is to be called into a battle.

See also:

Grit: What Athletics Have to Do With Academic Success

The Bible Project on Titus

 

Screenshot 2016-05-05 15.16.02 “Yesterday” — as seen in the picture to the right — our son Benjamin stepped onto the bus and started kindergarten. This weekend he graduates from high school. Below is what I pray Ben and his classmates remember.

Congratulations 2016 Graduate:

For over 20 years I have thought about what and refined reminders to give graduates on one page. Obviously, I can’t say everything. Rather, these are the essential truths I want to stress at this pivotal time.

  1. Know that following Christ is both right and best. Believing in Jesus is right because Jesus is the One true God. He deserves all glory. Putting our faith and trust in Jesus is best because Jesus came that we might have life more abundantly. If you have not done so already, give your life to the King. On the Cross, he paid the penalty for His people so that we could spend eternity together on the New Earth in his presence. The alternative to believing in Jesus is unthinkable.
  2. Be warned. Be sure. Get up. Be warned: the way of the sinner is hard. Don’t buy the lie that you can make wrong choices and not reap the consequences. Be sure you really are a Christian (2 Cor 13:5, James 2:17). The worst words that will ever be heard will be when many stand before Christ thinking they are Christians and find out that they will spend eternity in hell. Get up. When you stumble as a Christian, as you will, don’t let failure give way to failure. Keep on. Persevere.
  3. Remember that God makes bricks with a building in mind. Christians should be mortared together in local churches (1 Peter 2:5). Gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve together, local churches are called to subtly season and boldly light the darkness across the street and around the world. Don’t put church on hold for the next few years.
  4. Sharpen your wisdom saw with the Word. Wisdom is skill for living. It is the saw we use to cut our way through life. We need a sharp saw to make quality decisions. We sharpen our wisdom saws by memorizing and reading the Word and by hearing it preached. Be Word-centered! Rinse in Scripture. It is more precious than gold and sweeter than honey.
  5. Envision a beautiful bride walking down the aisle in a Christ-centered wedding. Most of you will marry. God’s plan for sex and marriage is breathtakingly beautiful. All of us, even those who remain single, must remember that the Church is the bride of Christ. Marriage and the gospel explain one another. We cannot allow unbelieving culture to corrupt our vision for Christ-centered weddings and homes.
  6. Think deeply about true answers. Many people go through life as zombies not thinking through the big questions like: Why am I here? What happens after death? How can I know joy and happiness? If we do not live in light of biblical answers, we will stumble through life and make poor decisions. Ultimately, those who do not think deeply about the meaning of life will spend eternity in hell apart from Christ.
  7. Be assured: the people of the Red Brick Church love you. Love didn’t evolve. Love wasn’t invented. Love is eternal because our triune God is eternally love: ever giving and self-giving. He loves us and tells us to love one another. And we do. We love you. When we get to the Heavenly City, we want to know you will be at our meeting spot: 5th tree, right side of the river, facing the throne. We will be there soon. Until then, I am a pastoral resource available to you!

In Him,

Pastor Chris Brauns

See also:

Following Christ is Right and Best!

What Scares Me Most As A Pastor

What Do Christians Mean When They Reference the Gospel or Good News?

A More Magnificent Mirror: For My Daughter and Her Groom

Why Is My Blog Title A Brick in the Valley?
5th Tree Back, Right Side, As You Face The Throne

My Study Window

Chris —  January 19, 2016 — 1 Comment

The Pastor's Window at the Red Brick Church in Stillman ValleyYou have a chance to look in my study window. This invitation goes out to anyone, regardless of whether or not you attend The Red Brick Church.  I will be available in my study 7:00PM – 8:15PM on 1/21, 28, 2/4, 11. This will be an opportunity to learn from hearing about areas I am currently studying and, if time permits, to discuss questions you bring up. You can find out a bit more if you watch the below video.

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The longer I serve as a pastor, the more I treasure opportunities to visit with our people. I so value those times when I just get to chat about all that is going on in our church. Some of our most helpful growth takes place when we talk informally.

God has given us all that we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him (2 Peter 1:3). We need times where I can build into the flock.

Yet — time is so limited!

One of the areas I wish that I had more opportunity to talk with people about is areas that I currently believe it is critical for me to study – – and, perhaps, write about at some point.

So I’m carving out some time.

If you’d like to be involved in informal discussions about where I am focusing my reading and studies, then come by for one or more Thursday nights in the last part of January and the first part of February. I expect only a handful of people. But that’s the fun part. And if we have more then we will adjust the dynamic accordingly. The goal isn’t so much to know what I am studying as it is to help you grow theologically. I am expecting a very enjoyable and profitable time.

The oft quotable F.D. Bruner interacting with Matthew 6:19-21 in Matthew: A Commentary. Volume 1: The Christbook, Matthew 1-12
writes (page 321):

Jesus does not quash ambition; he elevates it. The Christian is to be ambitious, passionate, acquisitive, enterprising — for the Father’s approval, for the “well done” of God’s Final Judgment. Thus Jesus’ ethic is not so much ascetic as athletic.

Also:

The moth is nature’s corrosion eating away, the rust time’s corrosions, and the thief humanity’s corrosions — and all three together represent the insecurity of life lived for accumulation.

Remembering Dr. and Mrs. Beals

Chris —  December 2, 2014 — 8 Comments

Screenshot 2014-12-02 19.41.55For those who knew Dr. Paul and Vivian Beals, it is easy to understand why Jesus said that Christians are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). Dr. and Mrs. Beals encouraged seminary students and their spouses for decades – – not only by teaching missiology but also through their warm example as a couple.

I learned today that Mrs. Beals is now in the presence of our King. In addition to remembering the Beals, this is again an occasion for me to be thankful for the opportunity I had to study at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.

Mrs. Beals was a lovely lady in every way. She had such a sweet smile. And we always knew that she was a partner in our education.

The Beals were missionaries for twelve years in the Central African Republic but I knew them through Dr. Beals’ role at the seminary.

One memory floats to the surface. Dr. Beals and Dr. Crawford (see my first seminary grade) usually arrived at the seminary early in the morning. They drove identical maroon Dodge-K cars and parked next to each other. I could see the parking lot from married student housing so it was easy to monitor their arrival time. Somehow the maroon K-cars may have been connected to the fact that both the Beals and Crawfords went to a church with vast quantities of purple. But I’m not sure of the connection. For the record, Dr. Turner’s car was/is cooler. He drove a Saab and arrived later. I have no idea what Dr. Hoch drove: something to haul books in. He also arrived later – – generally in a foul mood unless the synagogue was having its annual garage sale when he was giddy about the deals.

I digress. I had Dr. Beals for an early class with only guys in it. There weren’t a lot of sisters in the seminary at that time. As we got to class, Dr. Beals was handing missions handouts generated with an early Apple computer and a dot matrix printer. I need to fact check this, but I think the Beals started using a Mac before Steve Jobs. Anyway, in the midst of distributing the handouts Dr. Beals stopped and said with tears in his eyes, “Men, I need to tell you that my wife got up early today and typed these handouts for me.” He then collected himself and prayed and lectured.

Screenshot 2014-12-02 22.26.05We never learned the details of the back story, but apparently, Dr. Beals had been behind in his preparation so Mrs. Beals got up early to bail him out. I can’t imagine how early. Dr. Beals felt bad about how early she had to get up and it was a matter of honor to tell us about that she had done the work. I have no idea what the handouts were about. I would have to look at my notes to even see what class it was. But Dr. Beals talking so appreciatively about his wife made an impression.

On another occasion, we aspiring pastors had to plan a missions conference. I spent a great deal of time planning the conference paying careful attention to the theology and ministry plan behind each part of the program. Dr. Beals looked it over and pointed out that I had planned multiple meals and that it was not very sensitive to the women in the church. I got the impression that Mrs. Beals had given Dr. Beals some wisdom along the way about expectations for cooking and missions conferences.

The Beals smiled a lot. I remember that.

Such ordinary stories. So goes salt.

I post about the Beals now in the same spirit that Dr. Beals mentioned his wife getting up early. It’s a matter of honor.

Dr. and Mrs. Beals went through many health struggles in their final years and I am thankful that long stretch of road is now over. I can’t wait to see them on the other side. I hope they’ll swing by our family meeting place at the 5th Tree on the right side of the river. If not, I’ll look them up. We’ll all be there together: A People for His Name.

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From an earlier post

Dr. Paul Beals of Baptist Mid-Missions and GRTS

Dr. Paul Beals

One of my seminary professors, Dr. Paul Beals, was ushered into the presence of Christ on Tuesday, May 29. (See here). I am eternally thankful for the opportunity I had to study under men like Dr. Beals, Dr. Crawford, and Dr. Hoch, all of whom are now in the presence of Christ. Dr. Beals lived out the admonition of 2 Timothy 2:1-2 to entrust the Gospel to reliable men and women who will do the same.

I have often been asked how Jamie and I made the decision to leave the corporate world and go to seminary. I can never answer that question in a tidy way. It certainly was not that I didn’t enjoy my job and the people with whom I worked. But by the time we left for Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 1990 we were confident in every regard that God was in the decision.

Professors like Dr. Paul Beals quickly removed any remaining questions we might have had about the decision. Dr. and Mrs. Beal received us into the seminary family with open arms. I did not have Dr. Beals for any classes my first semester or two in seminary, but he made sure to meet as many of us as possible. And when I visited Dr. Beals’s church, both Dr. and Mrs. Beals went out of their way to greet Jamie and me. They made us feel at home and Dr. Beals was thrilled that I was from Iowa.

I had Theology of Local Church Missions with Dr. Beals in 1991 and I looked through my class notes this morning. It is amazing to reflect on how much of my approach to missions was shaped by Dr. Beals. His goal was to equip and prepare us to be deeply missions minded whether we were called into missions or served in pastoral ministry. As I pointed out in another post, he taught us that the Bible is a missionary book from cover to cover.

What also struck me as I looked through my material from Theology of Local Missions was all the personal attention Dr. Beals gave to students. Throughout my class material I saw small notes Dr. Beals had written:

“Thanks, Chris, for a thoughtful and thoroughgoing piece of work.”

Or,

“Thanks, Chris for following instructions with understanding.”

Of course, it wasn’t all good news. One personal note on a blue book exam read,

“Review this one, Chris, it needs a lot of strengthening.”

I wonder how many notes Dr. Beals wrote to students across the decades.

Dr. Beals stayed amazingly fresh in the classroom. He encouraged us to read books that only recently been published. He interacted with a wide range of books.

Dr. Beals work ethic and understanding of missiology were tremendous. But maybe what I remember the most was his sweet, humble enthusiasm. He would come to class excited to teach us. If Mrs. Beals had typed something for us to use in class, as a matter of honor he would say, “I need to acknowledge that my wife was the one who worked hard on this handout.” Whenever he saw my wife, Jamie, Dr. Beals would go out of his way to be sweet to her and encourage her and other seminary wives.

Dr. Beals was always so proud of his family. While he never would have talked to us about his accomplishments, he enjoyed telling us about his children’s accomplishments. Years later, Tim Beals became my agent. I am nearing the completion of the third book I have written with him as my agent, yet I hardly ever talk to him without thinking about his folks.

Since seminary, I have had the opportunity to be involved in many, many missions projects. By God’s grace, Dr. Beals influenced every single one of them. My heartfelt condolences go out to Mrs. Beals and the entire family. I praise the Lord for the gift of his servent, Dr. Paul Beals.

You can read more about Dr. Beals including what he was most proud of at http://www.funeralquestions.com/obits/pederson/memorial.asp?listing_id=184530

Watch this one and you’ll “wrestle” better today.

Perhaps, people who are talking past one another can agree that what we need right now are leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King brought together a number of elements that gave real hope. And hope is what we need. Feel free to ignore my analysis. But at the least watch the below video clip. Or, better yet, listen or read the entire speech Dr. King gave the night before he was murdered.  

Like most of our nation, last night and this morning ,my heart has been heavy for the situation in Ferguson, MO. I watched the story for hours.

It is frustrating to see how little real progress is being made. Nearly anything that be can said is inflammatory one way or another. Those interviewed talk past one another over and over again. People on all sides of the issue believe they have the moral high ground and so, they feel no obligation to listen.

But surely most of us can agree that it is a good time to reflect on Dr. King’s leadership. I am very aware that Dr. King was not a perfect leader. Spare us from pointing out his faults in the comments. But he was certainly used in incredible ways to lead forward in the Civil Rights Movement. He was especially effective at giving hope. Notice how he did this in his final speech (full audio here, full text here):

  • Dr. King applied Scripture to the context of his day. Whether or not we agree with all the applications he made, his audience certainly did. When Dr. King talked about the parable of the Good Samaritan and said, the Good Samaritan didn’t ask, “What will happen to me if I help?” He asked, “What will happen to him if I don’t help?” He challenged his audience that they  must stop to help the sanitation workers. He referenced Scripture over and over again.  Indeed, without biblical categories and thought, Dr. King could not have led the Civil Rights Movement and we cannot hope to find our way without the beacon of truth to guide us. 
  • Dr. King connected the story of the Civil Rights Movement to the biblical narrative. As soon as he said, “I have been to the mountaintop,” his audience immediately knew what he meant: (1) You have been in bondage just like the nation of Israel in Egypt. (2) I am a Moses-like leader. (3) The end is in sight. We can see the Promised Land. (4) You getting there is more important than me getting there. People are created to be a part of something larger than themselves and their time. Dr. King showed his followers how this was so.
  • Dr. King told the story of the progress of the Civil Rights Movement over and over again. In one of the most powerful segments of his speech, Dr. King reminded his audience that there was a time when African-Americans in Georgia started “standing up straight.” And then he said this:

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.

This paragraph reminded his audience that they were going some place – – that they had been going some place – – that they were through being ridden. One of the reasons that tempers are so high right now is because people on all sides of the issues feel that no progress is being made.

  • Dr. King modeled courage. He knew he might die. He thought it was probable. And he did die. When he told the story of being stabbed in New York, he did so to remind his audience what he had been risking. People have hope when they know that their leaders are willing to die for what they believe.
  • Dr. King saw the local churches and pastors as a direct part of the solution. If we are going to make progress, we need the leadership of our churches to help us do so. In his mountaintop speech, Dr. King challenged the pastors:

And you know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, “When God speaks who can but prophesy?” Again with Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,” and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.”

And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle for many years; he’s been to jail for struggling; he’s been kicked out of Vanderbilt University for this struggle, but he’s still going on, fighting for the rights of his people. Reverend Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles; I could just go right on down the list, but time will not permit. But I want to thank all of them. And I want you to thank them, because so often, preachers aren’t concerned about anything but themselves. And I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry.

It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

  • Dr. King gave very specific instructions about how they would protest. We’re going to march. We won’t be violent. We won’t let dogs, or water hoses, or mace stop us. We will ignore unconstitutional court injunctions. We will be arrested. We will be put in jail. It as the kind of protest that people could support without violating their consciences.

And so, Dr. King gave real hope. By reviewing the story of progress made, by connecting their story to the biblical story, by likening himself to Moses-like leadership, by showing that he was willing to die for this cause, by assuring them that they were on the mountaintop looking over into the Promised Land, Dr. King was saying, “We can get there; we will get there.” This is the sort of hope we need.

From Ezra and Nehemiah, we learn that when local churches move forward in ways that are: (1) Shaped by the Word (2) Drenched in Prayer (3) Accompanied by hard work, God’s people can expect to experience his good and strong hand of blessing. – – James Hamilton has written an accessible commentary on Ezra and Nehemiah that will bless you as you study these books.

Read through Ezra-Nehemiah and you are likely to notice the repeated refrain, “the hand of the Lord.” You can scan the texts below.

“THE HAND OF THE LORD” IN EZRA-NEHEMIAH

this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him. Ezra 7:6

 For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. Ezra 7:9

 and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty officers. I took courage, for the hand of the Lord my God was on me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me. Ezra 7:28

 And by the good hand of our God on us, they brought us a man of discretion, of the sons of Mahli the son of Levi, son of Israel, namely Sherebiah with his sons and kinsmen, Ezra 8:18

 For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” Ezra 8:22

Then we departed from the river Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way. Ezra 8:31

They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. Neh 1:10

 and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me. Neh 2:8

And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. Neh 2:18

Both Ezra and Nehemiah emphasize that their projects succeeded because God’s hand was on them.

So as a pastor, I am asking, “How can I experience the hand of the Lord”? To help me in my studies, I am reading a number of commentaries including James Hamilton’s commentary. I am only beginning, but so far I have identified the following points.

  • Ezra-Nehemiah were Word-centered and so aligned with God’s kingdom  purposes.

James Hamilton writes of Ezra:

Ezra 7: 6 tells us that not only did Ezra come from a significant ancestry, he was also godly and was seeking the kingdom of God: He was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses, which Yahweh, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he requested because the hand of Yahweh his God was on him. The phrase “skilled in the law of Moses” tells us that Ezra was swift in the Scriptures. He was nimble, quick with the Torah. He knew the contents of the Bible, understood the contents of the Bible, and brought the Bible to bear on pressing questions. There are at least two factors at work in any skill : natural aptitude and practice. The Lord had blessed Ezra with abilities, and Ezra had honed the abilities given to him to the point that he could be described as skilled. This means that Ezra had God-given capacities and that Ezra had studied.

Hamilton also highlights Nehemiah’s commitment’s and challenges ours:

In the midst of these responsibilities and duties, with all this influence, Nehemiah knows the Bible. Nehemiah’s supreme concern is for God’s kingdom. I doubt that Nehemiah would plead that he was too busy to study the Bible or pray. He wanted to study the Bible and pray, so he made time for it.

  • Ezra-Nehemiah soaked their ministries in prayer. Just read Nehemiah 1 and you will see the centrality of prayer in Nehemiah’s life.
  • Ezra-Nehemiah worked hard. In the end, so much of life and ministry comes down to hard work. If you read through Ezra and Nehemiah, you see that because God’s hand was on them – – they worked hard – – and because they worked hard – – God’s hand was on them.

Going into fall ministries, I am praying that our church will be Word-centered – – on our knees – – and working hard. Nothing is more worthwhile than working with God’s good and strong hand on our shoulder.

 

Chris and Jamie Brauns Children Late 2002I wouldn’t expect everyone from our church to read a new book by Barnabas Piper. There are so many books to read. But it would be great if many in our church would listen to this podcast of Barnabas being interviewed by Thom Rainer. It’s only 23 minutes long!

It has been over 11 years since the picture to the right was taken. In that amount of time, we’ve watched our children growing up as “PKs”. We are thankful for how it has gone – – but in some ways, we are just starting to learn about how challenging it is to be a pastor’s kid.

I am thankful that Barnabas Piper has written The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity. I am looking forward to learning from it.

As I mentioned above, Thom Rainer recently interviewed Barnabas regarding his book. You can listen here.

I was 10 for 10 on this list. Posts such as the one below are favorites on web sites these days. Usually, when I read such lists, I relate to about half of them. But Jeff Robinson’s experience is pretty consistent with my own.

During the unholy morning hours of June 6, 1944, U.S. Army paratroopers jumped from their airplanes into the occupied countryside of northern France, miles inland from the beaches at Normandy. My father was one of those soldiers. As a member of the rough and ready 101st Airborne, my dad had the best combat training available in the free world. He had studied in vivid detail the topographical features of the French countryside. Training had coached him on the deadly perils of anti-aircraft fire; the shock of jumping out of an airplane into the yawning darkness; the proper way to land, roll to avoid injury, gather, and engage the enemy; and how to handle hundreds of other battlefield eventualities. Dad had undergone enough drills on weapons and tactics that he could repeat the steps in his sleep for decades to come.

But June 6 was not a drill; it was war. He was not quite prepared for the relentless ferocity of the German machine guns, the exploding mortar shells, or the omnipresent and deadly Bouncing Betty mines. Basic training had given him wonderful training, but it could not have simulated the sights, sounds, smells, and overall horrors of war. Only one thing could acclimate him to the battlefield: war itself.

Ministry, likewise, is war. And only war can prepare you for the heat of battle. Will you fight, or will you run in the face of the menacing realities of ministry? Only the front lines of Christian ministry called the local church will answer that question for you.

My father’s son attended one of the finest theological seminaries in the world, the theological-ministerial equivalent of Army Ranger or Navy Seals school. They taught his boy great theology. By God’s grace, they lashed his heart and ministry to an inspired, inerrant Bible and centered his eyes on the story of redemption that beats intensely at the Bible’s heart. It was rigorous and wonderful preparation for war. But it was not war.

Two years ago, I left that great theological training camp. In the months since, it has been my privilege to serve as pastor of a wonderful, patient group of godly people in Birmingham, Alabama. Together we are learning the difference between life and ministry in theory and life and ministry in reality. I have learned much, and I have much more to learn. Here are 10 things no theological seminary, no matter how faithful and competent, could have prepared me for in real-world ministry:

1. Ministry is war.

There are two theaters of war in ministry: one within and another without. There is an ever-present enemy within, the flesh, which tempts us to run from the battle. I cannot take a minute off from this war, or I will surely perish.

There are also enemies on the outside seeking to defeat me by singing an alluring siren song. They tempt me with a peacetime mentality, a life of ease and earthly prosperity, far from the bad deacons meeting, the church member whose marriage is collapsing, and the family that thinks I am killing the church by teaching sound doctrine. . .

Read the rest of Ministry Means War: 10 Lessons Seminary Never Taught Me