Archive for the ‘Life With Grace’ category

And now for a personal update

October 6, 2011

2011 has been one of the most eventful years of my life.

As someone who likes to plan and prepare things, I thought I had a good beat on where the Lord was leading me at the beginning of the year.  And yet I can say that the majority of my days this year have been overturned by God’s sovereignty in ways that continually reminded me that He is in control of my life, not me.  I feel like I have been living in James 4:13-16 and Proverbs 16:1-9 for the past eight months.  Let me explain.

In December of last year, I met with my fellow elders for our elders retreat during which time I presented them the need for me to dedicate more time to developing the church planting network I started, called PLNTD.  After much discussion and prayer, my fellow elders affirmed that call and encouraged me in the transition to move full-time into directing the network as it continues to be developed and launched.  Also during this time, the door for ministry in Haiti was wide open, and I was dedicating a significant amount of time organizing mission work, creating systems to fund orphans, and forging partnerships for theological education of Haitian pastors.  At the beginning of the year, it was clear that God was abundantly blessing the work locally and elsewhere.

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More Thoughts on Sermon Manuscripts

September 9, 2011

Since my last post, I have enjoyed considerable feedback on the use of a full manuscript in preaching. I thought I’d comment on some of the questions I’ve been asked, including practical inquiries.

1.  Preaching from a full MSS is not for everyone. But even if it is not for everyone, I would argue that it is a good and helpful exercise, especially for young and developing preachers.  It will be helpful in your thinking/processing, writing, and eventual delivery.  I don’t know if I will preach from a MSS for the rest of my life, but I certainly have found it challenging and helpful at this particularly developmental stage.

2.  Speaking of delivery, that seems to be the main drawback from using a full MSS in preaching.  That certainly is a challenge, but the opposite could also be the case.  Consider two comments from my last post:

I have been preaching for about 12 years now, and have only recently begun to manuscript. I resisted for a long time, fearing it would make my preaching wooden and dry. The truth is, it’s done the opposite. I’m finding myself saying things in fresh ways, rather than falling into the rut of saying the same things the same way. I’ve also found that it has brought so much clarity and focus – the process of manuscripting (and the editing!) has really helped me sharpen the content of my sermons. – Bill Streger

But the ironic thing is: For me, it’s works the other way. I use a full manuscript, because I can communicate more naturally, directly, passionately and engagingly WITH a full manuscript than without. I know it’s a personal thing, but if I have notes or nothing (yes, I’ve tried it), half my brain is worrying about whether I’ll forget something important, where I’m up to, etc., which means I can’t relax. With the “safety net” of a manuscipt, I can put all my thought power into what I’m saying, and all my energy into engaging with people. – Stephen Shead

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Preaching, Manuscripts, and Fraternal Critique

September 6, 2011

“Pharaoh, let my people go!”

That’s a joke my mother uses on occasion with my friends regarding my first sermon preached.  Admittedly, it was not that great, and I did preach everything I knew in the Bible in one sermon.

Prior to coming to Grace, I had eight years of Bible college and seminary training and six years ministering as a youth and college pastors in local churches.  With that training and experience, you would think I had a lot of practical training in preparing and delivering sermons.  But the fact of the matter is I had no formal training in college and one class in seminary in which I preached one 20 minute sermon.  Although I preached many times, I still felt woefully unprepared for the fundamental task of pastoral ministry.

Then I came to Grace and immediately began to be helped by my fellow pastor and churchman Tom Ascol.

The first thing he did was pay a lady to transcribe my first message at Grace word for word and spend two hours working through the 17-page document full of grammatical errors, pointless commentary, and incoherent argumentation.  It was one of the most grueling and embarrassing things I had ever done.  The scalpel (Tom’s red pen) dissected and performed surgery and fully exposed areas of incompetency in my preaching.  While it was almost unbearable, it was the best thing that could have ever happened to my preaching.  In fact, it was what I need 12 years ago that neither Bible college, seminary, or two church positions offered.

I have heard it said from experienced practitioners like Tim Keller and others that it takes a pastor five years or more than 200 sermons before he finds his voice/style and feels comfortable in his own skin.  In the day of podcasting and sermon downloading where church members can listen to the best preachers evangelicalism has to offer, the pressure to perform and excel in preaching is daunting.  If you can listen to Matt Chandler on Monday, David Platt on Tuesday, Mark Driscoll on Wednesday, John Piper on Thursday, and Mark Dever on Friday, then for the that church member, the young and inexperienced preacher on Sunday morning feels “karaoke”. Only a church stubbornly committed to making disciples, including disciples in the pulpit, can celebrate amateur preachers and pitting them against more polished, seasoned practitioners in the pulpit.

As one of those young and inexperienced preachers, one of the best gifts God has given me is men who are committed to making me a better preacher of the gospel.  Every sermon I preach is evaluated.  Everything is considered: thesis, exegesis, illustrations, application, eye contact, speech, grammar, length, etc.  In the beginning, I dreaded that one hour in our weekly elder meetings; however, as I sought to apply the fraternal criticism to my preaching, I began to anticipate those meetings, knowing I was benefiting from an experience in true pastoral training that many, if not most, in my generation are not afforded.  The opportunity to receive real, significant preaching instruction and help is a stewardship I hope not only benefits my hearers but also those I may have opportunity to help in the future.

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Grace Saturated Community

August 16, 2011

The more I dwell on the amazing grace of God, the more I realize how deeply I need to grow and be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 2:1; 2 Pet. 3:16).  I have been dwelling on it quite a bit lately as I have been preaching a mini-series on how the grace of God sets people free to experience generosity toward others, genuine love in community, and now this week empowerment for life of mission.

As I wrapped up my message, I tried to give some specific examples and points of application as to how grace builds and defines Christian community (as opposed to moral community that is often Christless).  Here’s some that came to mind based on my meditation last week on Luke 7:36-50.

A grace saturated community will . . .

* have a warm disposition to the very worst of sinners (while moral community often be cold and careful to avoid people with big “messes”)

* show no pressure to perform or pretend; you are set free from lying about yourself (while moral community often centers on religious performance and convincing one another we are better than we really are)

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Honoring a Faithful Shepherd

June 2, 2011

Last night, I had the privilege of joining my church family in honoring Tom Ascol on his 25th anniversary as pastor of Grace Baptist Church.  The evening was spent with members sharing stories and testimonies of how God has impacted their lives through Pastor Tom, and I began it with a few words about the call of a shepherd, explaining how he has led our church through the years.  I provide them below because I know many of my readers know Tom from his blog, articles, books, or role as director of Founders Ministries.  I’m fortunate to know him as a fellow pastor, father in the faith, and personal friend.  

Honoring a Faithful Shepherd:
Reflections on the Ministry of Tom Ascol
on His 25th Anniversary as Pastor of Grace Baptist Church

If you were alive in during biblical times, there is one vocation that every person in the community would be familiar with. That would be the work of a shepherd. It is widely understood that shepherds were in many ways considered to be heroic men, known for their independence, resourcefulness, adaptability in severe circumstances, courage amidst all kinds of opposition, and vigilance to their calling. Their work required of them an intense capacity for attentiveness, self-sacrifice, and compassion. As a result, shepherds were looked upon in Scripture as an icon of leadership, and no doubt one of the reasons why Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd and of whom Peter called the Chief Shepherd.

There are many ways to describe the work of a pastor, but none are more comprehensive and clear than that of a shepherd. When a pastor is faithful to the people he is called to lead, he images forth the shepherding ways of God. Indeed, God Himself said, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God” (Ezekiel 34:15). In the popular Shepherd Psalm, King David begins by saying, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). So in a very significant way, God communicates his heart and ways with His people as a shepherd. That alone should alert us to the significance of the work, given to those who are called to lead by “shepherding the flock of God” whom Jesus purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).

But what is it that encompasses the work of a faithful shepherd? Tonight, I want to briefly give you three aspects of a faithful shepherd in light of what this evening is all about. For 25 years, God has given us a pastor who has served this church as a faithful shepherd to the flock entrusted to his care, and tonight, I want to honor the man who has honored Christ and discharged his calling as a dedicated pastor, committed churchman, and stubborn herald of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of our beloved pastor, Tom Ascol, and though it pains him for us to draw any attention to him, we are going to do it anyway. It is fitting for us to honor and recognize what God has done in and through him.

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My Panera “Office”

March 21, 2011

I’ve enjoyed the feedback and discussion my recent post on the the places and purposes of my work.  I hope it was helpful for you.  Several of the questions were related to my work experience and environment at Panera.  So this morning, I decided to take a picture of my typical setup and show you what my “office” looks like.

For notes on the pictures, please click through to my Flickr page.

The Places and Purposes of My Work

March 18, 2011

Yesterday afternoon, I was discussing with a few guys on Twitter how and where we spend our time working. When I came to Grace nearly three years ago, there was no “office” space for me at the church building, which meant that I was to do the majority of my work either at home or somewhere in the community.  For me, this was a huge win because I’ve always struggled with the idea that a pastor’s ministry is to be confined to an enclosed office space.  That’s not to say it is entirely wrong; it’s just not who I am and how I try to function.

Over the past three years, I have gone back and forth try to determine where is the best place to work for accomplishing certain tasks. With two young boys (3 and 1), my home office is not the ideal place to work, so I have ended up as a patron at various coffee shops and eventually landed at a local Panera Bread where I spend most of my “office” time.

I’ve ministered in churches which have a rather strict policy for where and when a pastor works (“office hours”).  Needless to say, the confinement approach was less than appealing and effective, and fortunately for me I have the privilege of working on a pastoral team with a high level of flexibility and trust.  In any case, I thought I’d post what my typical work week looks like, including the places, times, and purposes of each.

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Life Offline

October 26, 2010

For the past 2.5 years, I have been serving as a pastor of Grace Baptist Church.  I have not blogged much about my church or my role as a pastor (other than the kingly administration stuff).  It has been an incredible journey so far, and I am loving being a church that is “reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God.”

Last week, we gave an elders report to our congregation for our annual members meeting.  This report is our reflection on the past year of ministry (specifically September 2009-September 2010).  God is doing some wonderful things through our church family, and I thought I’d share nine of them in bullet form here (for a detailed summary, go here).

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Parking the Great Commission

July 7, 2009

Sunday night, we parked the Great Commission.

It’s fourth of July weekend, lots of people traveling out of town on vacation, and with one of the biggest holidays of the year, the reasonable thing to do would be to alter the Sunday format to accommodate according to lowered expectations.

Not exactly.

About a month ago, I pitched the idea to take advantage of the 4th of July weekend by taking our church gathering to the biggest park in town and reach out to the community.  With the recent convention travels, VBS, and a busy June, very little time was allowed (one week to be exact!) to plan what I was calling “Worship @ the Park” (not to mention that half our staff would be en route overseas with a team to labor among an UPG).  For those of you who do not know, Grace is not a large church, so there was no cool signage, props, or video promotionals.  In fact, the fliers we passed out was made by yours truly with MS Word and an old Flickr photo. 🙂

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Where Extraordinary Grace and Celestial Joy Meet

June 28, 2009

Tonight, I participated in something that I have never been a part of in the 22 years that I have known Jesus Christ.  The reason for this is twofold: I have never been in a church before that took seriously the biblical practice of church discipline, and I have never been in a church where the pastor has faithful discharged his duties of gospel preaching and pastoral ministry for over two decades.  So what happened, you might ask?

In 1988, God saved a man named Steve who soon became a baptized member of Grace Baptist Church (where I serve).  A few years after his conversion, Steve fell into sin and came under the discipline of the church which he refused to accept.  As a result, the most severe decision a church body could ever make was practiced as Steve was excommunicated from the membership of Grace. For the next 14 years, Steve spent his life committing immoral acts, including drugs and alcohol.  At one point in his life, Steve said he spent an entire month in seclusion drinking alcohol with the jaded hopes that he could die in his own misery and insanity.

It was during this time that he found an old Bible as he was reminded of what Tom had told him when he first came to Christ, “Read the Gospel of John.”  After six months of prayer, Bible reading, and personal repentance, Steve emailed Tom because he struggled to believe that there would be a church who would accept him.  The first person he knew he could to turn to, the person whom he said he trusted the most, was the very person who 14 years ago committed the most severe act of discipline–his former pastor, Tom Ascol.

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5 P’s

April 16, 2009

Yesterday, I spent about an hour with Tom Ascol talking about the past ten months since I came on staff at Grace Baptist as an Associate Pastor.  At various points during this time, I intended to post some thoughts and reflections on things I’ve learned, challenges I’ve faced, and joys I’ve experienced transitioning from a seminary student working third-shift to a “full-time” minister in a local church (I think there are even some posts sitting in draft mode from several months ago!).

Some of my friends have encouraged me to talk more about what I am doing and learning in the ministry, so I thought I’d try to start doing that as I near my first year serving at Grace.  For starters, I want to mention a paradigm I created focusing on five “P’s” (I alliterate them to prove my true Baptist Identity for anyone checking my credentials).  Here they are with some of my thoughts.

1.  Preaching

The fundamental means of grace in the local church is the right preaching of the gospel.  With Tom preaching for the past 22 years strong, gospel-centered, expositional preaching, this is not a weak area of Grace.  However, preaching has been a weak area in my ministerial development, having done little in my seminary days.  When Tom was struck my lightning, I was thrown into the fire, from struggling to prepare for one sermon every two weeks to preaching Sunday morning and Sunday night as well as teaching an evangelism series to the adults and occasional Bible Study on Wednesday night.  Nevertheless, God used that to land me on my face with a sense of dependence and desperation I had not known.

Since June of last year, I think I’ve preached somewhere around 30 times, and every one of my messages have been critiqued by the elders as I have welcomed the constructive input to help me become a better communicator of God’s Word.  Various things like writing and preaching from a manuscript, length of message, pace and enunciation in delivery, thesis construction, coherence/clarity and simplicity, and pastoral application have all been addressed.  While I have a long way to go, I can honestly say that I have been tremendously helped by the feedback and follow-through of more experienced preachers who care enough to help me communicate the gospel message with passion, precision, and pastoral insight.

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