Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Out of Pocket

I missed last week's post, and I apologize for that. But I will admit that I had a very good reason for missing last week: I was on vacation. My wife and I visited our family last weekend, and got the chance to rent the 1966 Stingray Corvette you see above. After that we went to Tablerock to enjoy some time away from home in a quiet and somewhat cloistered location.

This vacation was one I sorely needed, and was different from the vacations that we have had for the past five years in that there was no work involved at all. Usually our vacations are the few days we have after a conference, or a class, or a series of tests, or something like that. But for this vacation there was only one thing to do: absolutely nothing.

Included in that absolutely nothing was a lack of internet access, so there was no e-mail, blogs, blogging, or anything else. When I got back yesterday I checked to see who had dropped in during my absence, and to my surprise I found that the week that I didn't post, I had the most visitors that I have had in a long time. Maybe I should abstain from writing for a while, it might improve my readership :) No such luck though, Monday I will finish my "Books to Read Again and Again" series with a wonderful short book that provoked a great paradigm shift in my theology a few years ago.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Books Worth Reading Again and Again Vol. 3

Heroes of the Faith: Billy Sunday

I first read this book just before my seminary graduation. While this series of biographies were originally written for younger readers, I found that there was still much that an older seminarian could learn from them. I had just received the call to come and pastor my current church in Eldon, and after three years of classes on ministry, I was on fire ready to get on the field and do ministry. However, this book tempered that determination, and taught me a lesson that I now deeply cherish – that one can be a great success in ministry, and yet be a failure in the important things in life.

I’ll wager that most people who stop by this blog are already aware of Billy Sunday, he was in many ways the Billy Graham of his day. He was known coast to coast as America’s pastor, he could be heard on the radio, you could read any one of his many sermons, or you could see him yourself at one of him many crusades held any where at any time. In many ways, he was the quintessential "always on" minister that many people think all pastors should be, but such a fervent schedule takes its toll on both the individual and the family.

It is the very last chapter of this book that stays with me. It begins with Billy enraged at the thought that prohibition was going to be overturned. One statement in particular hit me; he says, "God sends America a stock market crash to let us know we’ve sinned as a nation. We’re all looking at the bottom of the barrel. But do we repent? Of course not!" This statement is to me very ironic, as it was Mr. Sunday himself who could not read the writing on the wall. While on one of his speaking tours campaigning for prohibition, his daughter Helen died from "disease and depression." After her funeral, Billy told his wife that he couldn’t go on preaching. His wife Nell offered to cancel the rest of his engagements, but he just kept on going. Because of that, he wasn’t there when the rest of his children needed him the most. Paul, George, and Billy Jr. went into a tailspin of failed businesses, multiple failed marriages, trouble with the law, alcoholism, and morphine addiction. Mr. Sunday was always worried about his kids, but instead of putting his preaching schedule on hold to help them, he just simply sent money to bail them out of jail & support their failing businesses. His absence ultimately led to their untimely deaths, one by suicide, and the rest by poor choices. Mr. Sunday was too busy trying to save America to worry about his family, apparently he never preached on 1 Timothy 5:8.

This was for me a wake up call. When I first came to Eldon, one of the first things I did was remind my church that my first ministry was my family. And that they were going to have to be willing to take a backseat to my son – the first to be born to a pastor of this church in about 65 years. That one could be a success in ministry, but be a failure in the eyes of the Lord, because he neglected his family. And so while I do push myself through the week, this book reminds me that there are times that require us to stop, and focus on what is important. So, I take time for my family. For instance, today I write this post from my home. Today there will be no office hours, and today I will skip the evangelistic visits I do on Monday evenings. Why? Because right now I have a 10-month-old playing behind me who has a double ear infection, and who is hurting because of the antibiotics we have to give him. So today I practice the lessons learned through the life of Billy Sunday. I stop and minister to my son. Thanks to Billy Sunday’s life I know that ultimately, my success in ministry will not come from the number of people I baptize, or how big our primary worship average gets, or even how many changed lives are present at my funeral. Ultimately, my life will be judged by the life my son lives in my wake – so that will be my focus.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Books Worth Reading Again and Again Vol. 2

Revival’s Golden Key, by Ray Comfort

Last week, we began looking at books that I honestly cannot help but go back to time after time after time. These are the books that have inspired me, educated me, edified me, and in some cases, have caused me to seriously reconsider major aspects of my life.
Today I want to look at a book I first read right before I went to seminary about four years ago.

Today as I take it down from my bookshelves, I remember how long it’s been since I read it last. Today, I would probably pass by it in the bookstore. The cover pictures are very cheesy, the reference to "end time believers" smells of hyper-dispensationalism, and on the back is an endorsement from Ted Haggard. Admittedly, this endorsement came from before his incident, but still.

But four years ago I guess I didn’t have the same preconceived notions I now have. As my wife and I were packing our apartment getting ready for the move, I came across this book. I had no idea where it came from, but it looked interesting, so that evening I sat down to start reading it, and simply could not put it down. This book has in many ways completely changed the way that I go about witnessing to people, and Comfort’s "The Way of the Master" method became the foundation for my "Eternal L.I.F.E witnessing rubric.

The main thrust of this book is the use of the law in witnessing. Before, I would talk about Christ and salvation, and how people needed Christ in their lives, but no one seemed that interested. After reading this book I came to understand why. Comfort notes that telling people they need Jesus is an empty statement to the lost if they don’t understand that they have broken God’s law, are condemned, and domed to face his wrath. However, once the sinner understands the seriousness of sin, and that they cannot make themselves clean before God, only then will they understand what we mean when we say that we need Jesus to save us. Or, as Scottish evangelist Robbie Flockhart used to say:

"You must preach the Law, for the gospel is a silken thread, and you cannot get it into the hearts of men unless you have made a way for it with a sharp needle; the sharp needle of the Law will pull the silken thread of the gospel after it."

There must be plowing before there is sowing if there is to be reaping after the sowing.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Books Worth Reading Again and Again

The Reformed Pastor, by Richard Baxter

My wife makes fun of me that she always knows what my favorites are, because I keep going back to them again and again. Yes, I wear my favorite gym shorts almost daily (but they’re washed regularly, so its kosher), yes when I eat out its usually at one of just a hand full of resturants, and yes I watch my favorite movies so much that I can usually quote them line for line.
Just yesterday I ordered a few books that will put the number of volumes in my personal library to just shy of 1,000. Yet despite everything that is on my to read list, I still find myself going back and rereading several books that have impacted me in some important way. One of those books is The Reformed Pastor, by Richard Baxter. Frankly it is my opinion that outside of the Bible, this should be a pastor’s most read book. Today, I would like to share with you from this book concerning a pastor’s oversight of themselves.

"Let us consider, What it is to take heed to ourselves.

I. See that the work of saving grace be thoroughly wrought in your own souls. Take heed to yourselves, lest you be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others, and be strangers to the effectual working of that gospel which you preach; and lest, while you proclaim to the world the necessity of a Saviour, your own hearts should neglect him, and you should miss of an interest in him and his saving benefits…

But, besides this general course of watchfulness, methinks a minister should take some special pains with his heart, before he is to go to the congregation: if it be then cold, how is he likely to warm the hearts of his hearers? Therefore, go then specially to God for life: read some rousing, awakening book, or meditate on the weight of the subject of which you are to speak, and on the great necessity of your people's souls, that you may go in the zeal of the Lord into his house. Maintain, in this manner, the life of grace in yourselves, that it may appear in all your sermons from the pulpit, - that every one who comes cold to the assembly, may have some warmth imparted to him before he depart…

4. Take heed to yourselves, lest you live in those sins which you preach against in others, and lest you be guilty of that which daily you condemn…

0 brethren! it is easier to chide at sin, than to overcome it…

1. Take heed to yourselves, for you have a heaven to win or lose, and souls that must be happy or miserable for ever· and therefore it concerneth you to begin at home, and to' take heed to yourselves as well as to others…
2. Take heed to yourselves, for you have a depraved nature, and sinful inclinations, as well as others…
3. Take heed to yourselves, because the tempter will more ply you with his temptations than other men. If you will be the leaders against the prince of darkness, he will spare you no further than God restraineth him…
Take heed, therefore, brethren, for the enemy hath a special eye upon you. You shall have his most subtle insinuations, and incessant solicitations, and violent assaults. As wise and learned as you are, take heed to yourselves, lest he outwit you. The devil is a greater scholar than you, and a nimbler disputant: he can transform himself into an angel of light to deceive: he will get within you, and trip up your heels before you are aware: he will play the juggler with you undiscerned, and cheat you of your faIth or innocency, and you shall not know that you have lost it; nay, he will make you believe it is multiplied or increased, when It is lost…
4. Take heed to yourselves, because there are many eyes upon you, and there will be many to observe your falls…
Why, if one of you that is a leader of the flock, should be ensnared but once into some scandalous crime, there is scarcely a man or woman that seeketh diligently after their salvation, within the hearing of it, but, besides the grief of their hearts for your sin, are likely to have it cast in their teeth by the ungodly about them, however much they may detest it, and lament it. The ungodly husband will tell his wife, and the ungodly parents will tell -their children, and ungodly neighbours and fellow-servants will be telling one another of it, saying, 'These are your godly preachers! See what comes of all your stir. What better are you than others? You are even all alike.'…
5· Take heed to yourselves, for your sins have more heinous aggravations than other men's. It was a saying of king Alphonsus, that 'a great man cannot commit a small sin;'
(A) You are more likely than others to sin against knowledge, because you have more than they; at least, you sin against more light, or means of knowledge.
(B) Your sins have more hypocrisy in them than other men's, by how much the more you have spoken against them…
6. Take heed to yourselves, because such great works as ours require greater grace than other men's."

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