Prep-time Verses People-time

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

My greatest battle every week is over time spent between the study and with people.  I don’t know about you, but my week begins  on Monday morning and builds pressure until Sunday after I preach my last sermon.  Monday’s seem to consistently bring remorse over not studying the Word enough in preparing for the previous Sunday, or on the other end of the spectrum, feeling like I have not spent enough time out amongst the flock shepherding.  I don’t know that this tension can be resolved, but we must strike a balance in managing the tension between these two very importance responsibilities.

All of the Bible is important, but there is just something very relevant about Second Timothy for pastors.  Seriously, Paul is facing imminent death and these are his last words to the young pastor Timothy.  In the above passage Paul essentially charges Timothy in the presence of God to (1) preach the word and to (2) minister to people with patience.  I take this charge personally with great conviction and I would like to share how I try to apply this passage to my life from week to week.

Preaching the Word is priority number one for me.

I deeply believe it is the Word of God that changes lives.  The state of the pulpit worldwide is poor when it comes to preaching.  I don’t want to sound arrogant, or like my preaching is a finely oiled machine, but I attended a lot of church growing up and learned nothing from the Bible or about the Bible.  It wasn’t until I was an adult that I finally sat under men who taught the Bible with conviction and life did I come to know Jesus as Savior.  I was ultimately discipled in my walk with Christ through the expository preaching of these men.  This reality drives me each week to teach the Word faithfully, with clarity, and passionately.

Over the last few years, I have found some things that have been helpful for me in preparing to preach while shepherding the flock God has entrust to me:

1. Pray consistently about the message and text you are about to preach and teach.  I find myself constantly asking God, “What did this mean in context then?  What practical principles apply today? Lord, help me!”

2. Study, study, study.  You can not shortcut this step.  While this is not a post about how to study, I will say you need to study the language and grammar, the historical context, and the context of the text.  The text you are teaching on the next week and weeks ahead should so be in you that it invades your thought life almost nonstop throughout the week.  Without adequate study, you will not be able to handle the Word rightly.  This saying is so true, “Where there’s a mist in the pulpit, there’s a fog in the pew.”  The bottom line is you must understand the text through and through if you are going to teach others.

3.  Preach a book of the Bible at a time!  I am all about preaching in an expository manner as it provides spiritual food for those in your church.  It also helps that you don’t have to figure out what you are going to preach, you just have to figure out how to preach the text in front of you the coming week!  In many ways this frees up your time to focus on studying, rather than flipping through your Bible hoping you feel inspired to preach something.

4. Front load your studying in order to prepare for the inevitable crisis that will come.  Starting Sunday I start saturating my world with the Scripture I am about to preach on the following week.  Bible CD’s in my car, sermons from other men who have preached the text, Bibles and commentaries lying around all over my house.  Starting Sunday I intake as much of the text as I possibly can.  By front-loading my study I have it tinkering around in my mind and heart ultimately freeing me to respond and reach out to the people around me.

People should always be the priority!

I am chasing a deadline trying to get this post submitted.  “Stuff happened” last week that put me behind in the blogging category.  I have VBS this week and my routine is off kilter to say the least!  There are times when I want to shut off my cell phone, ignore my emails, and lock myself in my study all week long, but I don’t think this is what Jesus wants from me.  Because this week has required a lot of people time, I fear I am going to drop the ball on the las half of this post.

1.  Pastoring is about people.  My goal as a pastor is defined in Ephesians 4:11-13 and it is simple–to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.  When I look at the passage at the top of this list I am to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with great patience.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel comfortable reproving, rebuking, or exhorting total strangers, but I can do this with people I know and love.  I think the point is that we are to be deeply entrenched in the lives of those we serve.  It takes time…notice we are told to do these things with great patience, not with great frustration.

2.  Your life is the most powerful message you preach.  My philosophy as a pastor is to preach with transparency.  I air my dirty laundry on a regular basis.  This is intentional.  I am not up on a pedistal, but am walking this life as a “sinner saved by grace” just like everyone else in my church.  I love walking alongside the people God has called me to minister as it exposes my life with Jesus–my victories and struggles alike.  Paul the apostle preached a lot, but I think his life was his most powerful message.  My desire is to say the same thing to my people as Paul said to his, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NASB).  I think Paul could say this to them because his people knew him…just like I want mine to know me.

3. “Good things happen when you’re out.”  This a saying we had at my last church.  The point is simple.  When you are out in the community amongst your culture good things happen.  As a pastor you should know your culture and community around you.  It is all too easy for us to get sucked into our little Christian bubble and to loose connection with reality around us.  To guard myself from isolation am intentional about being out through a variety of avenues like the local Kiwanis, law enforcement chaplaincy, serving on the local cemetary board of directors, and meeting people from the church at Starbucks instead of my office.  It is hard to quantify the benefits that come to you, your preaching, your church, and your community when you as the pastor make time to be out amongst the community, but the fruit in my ministry from this has been great.

The tug-o-war where both sides must win.

We pastors do not punch in on time clocks.  For the most part we control how our time is used or wasted.  We must study to deliever sound relavant biblical messages that impact lives.  We must be out amongst the flock if we are indeed shepherds.  We must finish well with both these priorities.  I have shared what works for me for know.  I would love to hear what things work well for you in juggling these two priorities!




Guest Contributor – David Guzik “We gain far more in Christ than we lost in Adam”

This post is a response to a question that I posed to David Guzik. He graciously allowed me to post it as it was a great response.

I sent David a question based on something I saw tweeted that he had said.
“We gain far more in Christ than we lost in Adam.”

I asked David, “Is this true? Can you riff on this a bit for me?”

Here is David’s response-

Most of us think that the ideal world is the world of innocence, where sin or even have never been experienced. But God seems to place a greater value on the world of redemption.

Adam was certainly innocent, in the sense of not knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:22). But he was not righteous, in the sense of having fulfilled all of God’s law. Jesus came as the second Adam (Romans 5:12-21), and perfectly fulfilled the will and law of God with His obedient life. This positive righteousness of Jesus is credited to the believer by faith (Romans 3:21-22, Philippians 3:9). This is something greater in Jesus than Adam never had.

We also don’t have any evidence that Adam was regarded as an adopted son of God, but the believer is in Jesus (Ephesians 1:5, Galatians 4:5).

We are named kings and priests before God (Revelation 1:6, 5:10) – Adam never was.

We are part of a glorious community that Adam never knew, a community that will be consummated in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1-3). Man has never known a community unmarred by sin. Adam and Eve only knew a limited community, and community in a larger context only came long after the Fall. Here, in the New Jerusalem, we have something totally unique: a sinless, pure, community of righteousness, a holy city.

In Ephesians 1:9-12, Paul wrote of the mystery of His will that has been made known to us. What is it? That in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ. A critical aspect of God’s plan of the ages is to “sum up” or resolve everything in Jesus. In a sense, we could say that God glorifies Himself by allowing a problem and showing His wisdom in not only solving the problem, but in making the end result greater that the prior condition.

I see a wonderful consummation of all this in Revelation 21:5: Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

This is an authoritative announcement, coming from the throne of God itself: He who sat on the throne said. In this announcement, He says: “Behold, I make all things new.” This statement is in the present tense, “I am making everything new.” Revelation 21:5 marks the consummation of God’s work of renewal and redemption, having begun here and now in our present time.

The words “All things new” connect with the thinking behind God’s eternal plan – to allow sin and its destruction in order to do a greater work of making all things new. At this point in His plan of the ages, the plan is complete. All things are new.

Our instinct is to romantically consider innocence as man’s perfect state, and wish Adam would have never done what he did. But we fail to realize that redeemed man is greater than innocent man; that we gain more in Jesus than we ever lost in Adam. God’s perfect state is one of redemption, not innocence.

A few days later, David added this quotation to an email

Today I was reading some Spurgeon, and methinks I have a great quote from him about this very topic:
“You have been a gainer by Adam’s fall. You might almost say, as one of the fathers did, O beata culpa, ‘O happy fault,’ which put me into the position to be so richly endowed as now I am! Had you stood in Adam, you had never been able to call Jesus “Brother,” for there had been no need for him to become incarnate; you had never been washed in the precious blood, for then it had no need to be shed. Jesus has restored that to you which he took not away. He has not merely lifted you from the dunghill to set you among men, but to set you among princes, even the princes of his people. Think of the bright roll of promises, of the rich treasure of covenant provision, of all that you have already had and all that Christ has guaranteed to you of honor, and glory, and immortality, and will you not in the midst of the congregation praise the Lord?” (Jesus, the Example of Holy Praise)

Wow. I love that: You have been a gainer by Adam’s fall …. O beata culpa …. Jesus has restored that to you which he took not away.

No wonder that God had to tell John, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” John was probably so astounded by these words that he forgot to write – and must be told to do so.

That’s how it runs through my mind. To me, it is just plain glorious.


The Apologetics of Homosexuality

There is little doubt that Christianity and Homosexuality seem to be at odds with one another. The Christian belief that homosexuality is a sin and their refusal to advocate same-sex marriage has the Christian church dubbed zealots, bigots and homophobic by the homosexual camp. The rhetoric is loud and divisive on both sides. There is a massive chasm in both beliefs and mutual understanding. This makes a toxic environment to say the least. This toxicity begins to spill into the public forum with the debates, discussions and voting on the legality of same-sex marriage.

For a few decades now, Christians have congregated in churches and taught the Bible. Homosexuals formed like-minded communities and in like manner were built up in their beliefs. These two groups spent little time intersecting or interacting. But with the rise of the discussion about same sex marriage and its national exposure, these groups are now intersecting all the time. The problem seems to be that they aren’t interacting much. There is much bigotry on both sides of this very complex issue. What is most needed is mutual understanding. This short paper is an attempt at beginning a civil, although packed with emotions, dialogue on the discussion.

I am a pastor of a Christian church. I believe that the Bible is God’s word and that it is both inerrant (without the capacity for error) and infallible (without error). I believe that God says what He means, using human authors, and means what He says. Because of this, I believe, and the Bible clearly teaches, that homosexuality is an action that is in rebellion to the plans and purposes of God. In other words, it misses the mark of God’s view of perfection and it is properly termed a sin. I also have many, many friends who have same sex attractions. Some, because of their beliefs, have chosen not to act on those attractions and would say that they live lives of joy. Others, because of their beliefs, have chosen to act on those attractions and would say that they live lives of joy. These men and women are people whom I love and respect. We work hard, albeit uncomfortably at times, to maintain relationships although we disagree on fundamental things. There is love and mutual understanding. We love each other but we do not agree with each other on different things.

My goal is to write this out in such a way as it can be read in one sitting. So my aim is not to be exhaustive but to bring out the most basic questions. It is my hope to facilitate discussion and mutual understanding between the two groups. It is also my hope to give a nuanced view of why Christians view homosexuality as a sin and to propose a way to navigate the lack of civil rights afforded to those seeking government approval for same sex unions.

The Bible and Homosexuality

There are extensive writings about the Bible and homosexuality. From Genesis to Revelation, spanning the entire Old and New Testaments, homosexuality is portrayed as ‘a sin’ (an act that misses the mark of God stated perfection in how humanity should conduct itself). No one denies this. Many people seek to handle these verses in different ways but no one can deny that ‘homosexuality is a sin’ is in there. Whether in Genesis with the narrative of Sodom, in Leviticus with homosexuality capital punishment laws, or in the writings of Paul or the Revelation, the Bible says what it says. So I don’t think it is time worthy to go into each of these passages and discuss them because, at least for me, it is a foregone conclusion as to the Biblical teachings on the subject.

So what are we to do with such a teaching? Most often the attempt is to argue away the validity of the teaching based on personal experience or accusations of judgmentalism. So let’s look at each of the most basic arguments.

Argument #1 – The Natural Affections Argument

This argument looks something like this. “For as long as I can remember, I have always been attracted to people of the same sex”. In essence, the argument is that my natural affections have always pointed that way. Because this way comes naturally then it should not be a problem. This is also extended to the “I love this person”.

Biblically speaking, this argument is exactly the reason that Jesus came to the earth, died on a cross and rose again. The teachings of the New Testament make the case that our natural affections are by default in rebellion against God. Sin is the norm. Sexuality is morally neutral in a vacuum. Humans are sexual beings by nature (whether by design or evolution depending on your viewpoint). The problem is not sexuality but how a human heart handles sexuality. Homosexuality and heterosexual immorality are handled the same way in the Bible. So sexuality is not the problem. The problem is that if humanity’s default is be in rebellion against God then humans tend to handle their sexuality in a way that is in rebellion against God as well. So the Bible teaches our natural affections are exactly the problem. People are naturally selfish (ever see two two-year olds fight over one toy in a room full of playthings). Selfishness is a sin as well. No one teaches a child to be selfish. That comes naturally and is exactly the problem.

Argument #2 – The Judgment Argument

This argument looks something like this. “Who are YOU to tell me who I can and cannot love?” This is the natural affection argument is used in regards to someone’s ability to limit the activities of someone else. This is where laws come into play in this discussion (and we will look at that separately in a moment). But the idea here is that it is wrong and judgmental for someone to tell someone else how to live. There is both validity and absurdity in this argument. I will discuss in a moment the validity side of this argument because in a free country, as long as the country deems that no one is being hurt, you cannot tell someone who they can and cannot love. Again, more on that in a moment. But the absurdity side of the argument is this. Freedom with the absence of any constraints is anarchy (which is radically constraining). True freedom is not living with an absence of restraints but living only with enough restraints to let them be truly free. A simple example is this. If a family lived in a house where their backyard is adjacent to a major highway, would the parents just let their children go out and play anywhere they want? No, they would put a fence around their property. Their children are then free to go and play in the backyard and express their childhood curiosities. But, the parents made a judgment to limit their children’s freedom (by putting up a fence) so that their children can have true freedom (the ability to express themselves without being harmed). So true freedom is not the absence of all constraints but instead enough constraints that there be an absence of destruction.

Argument #3 – The Loving God Argument

This argument looks something like this. How can a loving God not allow people to express their love in a way that seems natural to them.
Now on the Christian side of the discussion, other than using the Bible teaches it argument, there is two major arguments.

Christian Argument #1 – Natural Law

This argument is simply that homosexuality is against nature. This point is argued in a few ways. 1) Men have penises and women have vaginas. Penises emit semen. Ovaries produce eggs. The semen meets the egg and fertilizes it. You get the picture. This biology works simply and effectively. 2) That if took every homosexual and put them on an island (which I would NEVER advocate), without the help of technology or partner swapping, there would only be the present generation and no additional generations. The act itself goes against the evolutionary impulse of natural selection. There are other nuances to this argument but you get the picture.

Christian Argument #2 – Spiritual Blindness

This argument is that humans do not know the extent of their errors until God’s Holy Spirit illuminates it in their hearts. This argument is not specific to homosexuality at all, but is general to all of humanity. Humanity does not know the extent of their depravity until God’s light shines into man’s darkness. For me, I didn’t realize how selfish and destructive my sexual relationships with women were until God’s Spirit revealed them to me. I was a ‘normal’ American teenager; enjoy all the excesses of collegiate life. I was just doing what everyone else was doing. But when God’s Spirit illuminated my heart, I realized how wrong I had been. My conversion only began the process of my realizing the extent of my spiritual blindness. All humans suffer from spiritual blindness and lack an authentic understanding of the spiritual, social, emotional and physical implications of our decisions.

Homosexuality, Religion and Politics

Now we come to what has brought this issue into the forefront – the intersection of homosexuality, religion and politics in the American public square. The touch point for this issue is same-sex marriage. Most often this is seen in light of the separation of church and state. Even the language shows how much America has changed since the writing of our constitution. Today it would have to be seen as the separation of faith and state (or else you could argue that you don’t have to separate mosque or synagogue and state). In essence, the government is not allowed to impose a state mandated faith belief on the people. We are all excited about this. The government can not impose itself on a person’s personal interiority.

Here’s the problem though. This has become more of a debate about traditional religion and the state. But so many moral judgments, from whatever camp it comes from, are faith-based beliefs. Sure, they may come from non-traditional sources but they cannot be scientifically verified. Even secularism is a faith-based belief. The reality is that no one divorces his or her ideas about morality from some sort of faith-based belief (even if it is the faith-based belief against having faith). So in essence, everyone brings his or her beliefs into the public square. Not just the religious but the irreligious as well. No one ever leaves his or her religious (traditional or nontraditional) beliefs outside of the public square. So any side of any argument is the seeking of people to legislate their faith-based assumption on the morality of any issue.

With that being said, we have a level playing field. All people argue the validity of their position from a position of faith, seeking to win over society to their way of evaluating and seeing the world. Because of this, we have a divided nation.


Initial Leadership For Your New Church – Part III



When the church you’ve planted becomes established and new leaders are being called to serve by the Holy Spirit you will need to start looking at leadership transitions.  In part three of this series I want provide a biblical basis for training local leadership, as well as address some practical issues that come up when transitioning from a non-local board to a primarily local board of elders.


There are some pastors who establish boards when they plant a church that are entirely comprised of senior pastors from other churches, who never decide to train up and empower men to be elders from within their local church.  While I would never say that’s a sin, I personally don’t believe that Scripture sets that example.  The Bible seems to encourage the training and placing of elders that rise up from within local congregations to serve as overseers over the local church. Paul told Timothy that it was part of his job as a lead pastor to evaluate the desires for leadership,[1] home-life and character,[2] teaching gifts,[3] spiritual maturity,[4] and reputation amongst non-Christians of the men in his local church for the purpose of establishing a local team of elders. He told Titus that it was his job as a lead pastor to do the same work of evaluating and establishing potential elders in the churches in Crete.[5] Paul was only calling these pastors to do what he had done in the churches he’d planted.[6]


I don’t think the example of the New Testament encourages us to have only outside elders helping us oversee the churches Jesus calls us to plant for the long-haul.  But that isn’t to say that you cannot have any outside elders after you’ve raised up some men locally.  In a sense, Paul was an outside elder to the churches he established after leaving guys like Timothy and Titus to lead and further establish leadership teams in some of those same churches.

At both churches where I’ve served as the lead pastor I have always had one long-term outside elder.  The main role of this elder is to be a man who can simply offer a fresh perspective in the event that the local guys are too at odds over something to be able to move forward. Thankfully I’ve never had to call on the services of these men to help deal with negative situations, but I’m glad they’re there.


When it does come time to begin replacing outside elders with local elders I would encourage you to replace them in order from least helpful to the most helpful.  That sounds rude, but it’s simply honest.  I discovered that while none of my outside accountability elders were totally unhelpful through the process of planting Refuge, not all of them were equally helpful.  You’ll discover who fills these roles over time.  Some guys might be less accessible or less insightful than others.  Make sure you replace them first with local guys while still keeping the extra helpful guys around.  Of course, as in all things, I would encourage you to soak your decisions in prayer in this area and not merely be pragmatic.


So how in the world do you go about identifying and training the men the Holy Spirit has called to be part of the local leadership team in your new church?  The fact is that identifying and training elders doesn’t happen by osmosis!  Pastor, God commands you to do the work of training up the men He will call into leadership in your church plant.  God’s exhortation to those of us who serve as lead pastors is seen in another command Paul gave to Timothy: “And the things that you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”[7]

That is a command of God to lead planters and pastors. What this means is that you need to prayerfully develop a system for evaluating the character, family life, gifts, calling, and theology of men before empowering them as your board.  It takes more time to do this with some men than others.[8]  There’s never a way to do this perfectly without making mistakes. You will simply have to be led by the Spirit, and be courageous as He guides you.


Recently I asked another local pastor I was out to lunch with if he had any main points of advice for a young guy like me who has been in ministry for a far shorter time than he has.  One of three valuable exhortations he gave me was this: “Figure out the things that only you can do, and do those.  Delegate and empower others to do the rest.”[9]  That’s really great practical wisdom.

I have the privilege of having one of my best friends as my assistant pastor.  Our relationship has proven the above pastor’s statement to be true over and over again.  As we work together we keep discovering that while we are both called to be pastors, the Lord has given us different kinds of giftedness as pastors.  My assistant pastor Jeremy is very priestly.  He loves meeting one on one with people and focusing on shepherding ministry.  I love to see and move people toward the big picture of what our church is supposed to be as Jesus leads us.  In some ways my gifts are more suited to working on the church while Jeremy’s are more suited for working in the church.

My encouragement to you would be to look for leaders who are biblically qualified to be pastors, but who have different emphases in their gift makeup.  If you are more of a visionary leader or a missiologist look for guys with a priestly heart who can help care for the personal needs of the people. Hire and empower to your weaknesses when it comes to creating your formal leadership team of local elders. Just like the wider church body, as you each fill your different but vital pastoral roles, your leadership of the church as a team will flow well and the people will be served well.  If you hire and empower guys who are just like you, critical needs in the ministry will probably not be met.


For whatever it’s worth, I would recommend that you as the lead planter start praying about crafting a sort of internship style system that will enable you to spend the needed time with prospective leaders, evaluating the necessary areas in their lives, and testing their call. The issue of training up local leaders is so important![10] Many things you do are important.  But if you allow meeting with people one-on-one, and all the other duties you have to prevent you from training up other elders, in the end you will end up burned out and the people won’t get the attention they need because there’s not enough leaders to help them as your church grows.[11]

At the time of this writing I am meeting with twelve men on Saturday mornings for an hour and a half each week.  On Saturdays we are praying together, learning theology, and practicing accountability.  During the week each man is serving in practical opportunities we’ve designed for them to be able to test their spiritual gifts and call from God. God has blessed it astronomically! You don’t have to be flashy.  You just need to be available to train God’s men and He will do the rest.  Pray for your initial team.  Pray for your replacement local team.

Kellen Criswell

Lead Pastor, Refuge Church

[1] 1 Tim. 3:1

[2] 1 Tim. 3:2-5

[3] 1 Tim. 3:2

[4] 1 Tim. 3:6

[5] Titus 1:5-9

[6] Acts 14:23

[7] 2 Tim. 2 NKJV

[8] 1 Tim. 5:22

[9] Roy Gruber is the senior
pastor of Washington Heights Church in South Ogden, Utah

[10] See Exodus 18 for an Old
Testament example.

[11] Exodus 18 and Acts 6


Helping God Move the Pile of Dirt

“for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”  Philippians 2:13

There was a huge pile of dirt up against the fence and I wanted to move it. I grabbed a shovel and started slingin’ dirt. As soon as a bunch of my kids saw me, they rushed out to ‘help’ dad. They gathered up their plastic shovels and buckets, sand toys…I think one even tried to get on the end of a pic.

I kept digging away, having to pause every once in a while because one of my well meaning children would be scooping up a blue plastic hand shovel full of dirt…and then dropping it down the baby’s diaper. My oldest son had found a bug in the dirt and was on his hands and knees, obstructing half of the pile.

Babies crying, siblings fighting, and dad getting frustrated. Mom comes to the rescue and scoops up the kids and takes them inside, away from a mad dad who can’t accomplish the work in front of him because of these kids.

“I’m not like that.”

“No, Lord, You’re not.”

“You’re like that, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Lord, I am.”

“I allow you to be involved in what I am doing and aren’t you glad I don’t get frustrated with you when you ‘help’ Me, Josh?”

“Yes, Lord…sorry, DAD. Help me not to be like that but to be more like You. Thanks for letting me ‘help’ You in the work that You are doing.”

The kids ended up coming back out after I asked them to forgive me for being a knucklehead, and as I was leveling the last of the soil. The father had accomplished the work. And the kids ran screaming into the house…

“Mom! Look what we did!”

I am continuously humbled that the Lord counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, His work. And I look forward to the Day when we all get to run Home screaming with a joy unspeakable, “Look what we did”, with that childlike simplicity…knowing the whole while, in our heart of hearts, that it was God working in us, both to will and to do, for His good pleasure.


Saturday Reflection – Biblical Shalom

“We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight, the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight. It’s a rich state of affairs where natural needs are satisfied and natural giftings are fruitfully employed all under the arch of God and in His love. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.” (Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, [Eerdmans, 1995] p. 10)


Inclining Ourselves to the Will of God

Col 1:9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding

Summertime means camping for a lot of families like ours. It also produces one of the funniest and most frustrating scenes in all of life, putting up a tent. If you are like me you have spent many hours trying to erect a contraption made out of nylon and plastic that your family is supposed to sleep in. There is an exact way to do it and I know every way how not to do it. We can often get frustrated when things don’t fit exactly and easily give up, often using God as a culprit as to why it didn’t pan out.

One thing I am often asked as a pastor is the question “What is the will of God for my life?” People desperately want to know what God wants them to do with their life. Usually people are in a desperate situation like a loss of job or a potential move and really need some discernment in their life. I often feel helpless in these situations but try my best to help them wade through the process by praying and showing them scripture.

The problem we run into is that we try to turn God’s will into our to do list. For those of us who are task driven this gives us great comfort when we can check off acts of obedience. When we are uncertain it can throw our whole day. Let me suggest to you that knowing the will of God has little to do with what we are to do with our life but instead how we are to please Him.

In Colossian 1:9 Paul is praying that the Colossians will be filled with the knowledge of His will. From our first look this sounds great, someone else is praying that we will know what to do with our life. That isn’t what Paul is praying for. He is praying that the Colossians will know what pleases God and brings him joy. That is what the word “will” means here.

If we go from that definition then this frees us in so many ways. It is no longer about me but about what is important to God. What pleases God? I can safely guess it has little to do with where I live or where I work but in how I live. The first and foremost thing that we can do to please God is to worship Him. By this I mean true worship where we give him verbal praise and submit under his authority. If we were to focus on this I believe everything else would fall into place.

Here is the difficulty: to be filled with the knowledge of what please God means that we must incline ourselves to His will (Josh 24:23). To incline means to stretch a piece of material over the framework of a tent. If you have ever put a tent up you know this isn’t easy. Tentmakers purposely make the fabric smaller than the frame so that you have to stretch it. This produces a tight fit and helps it stand better. If we are going to please God it means that we need to stretch our lives over God’s framework. We aren’t big enough to do that but God is able to stretch us so that we fit. If we are inflexible we run into problems. Brings new meaning to the phrase “being conformed to His image.”

So doing the will of God means that we must seek out those things that please God. This doesn’t come natural to us so we must allow Him to stretch us into that framework. When we do this we start to understand what God sees and are drawn towards the things on His heart. Incline your heart to the will of God today and discover the wonderful world of pleasing Him.


Taking Care of Loose Ends

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” 2 Timothy 2:3-4, NASB

God uses the picture of a soldier to teach spiritual truths to His followers throughout the Bible. This is especially true concerning Paul’s mentoring of the young pastor Timothy in the above passage.  Whenever I stumble across these illustrations I feel like I have a distinct advantage in uderstanding them after serving as a Navy SEAL for 12 years.   The phrase “good soldier of Christ Jesus” surges adrenaline through my veins as I realize the similarities my new life as a pastor has to my old life as a SEAL.  Pastoring is a serious endeavor not for the faint of heart.

“Get your loose ends taken care of boys” is a phase that would circulate my SEAL platoons in the months leading up to deployment.  As the day approached and the reality of combat was setting in, teammates were reminded to insure their personal lives were in order before we left.  Having  “loose ends taken care of” was a critical element to the success of the mission.  Having your bills paid and family relations in order are far less glamorous than tasks like making explosives, jumping out of planes and other job requirements of the SEAL, but the consequences of these areas being “loose” often resulted in dire consequences.  I believe this truth is the same in the pastoral ministry—whether you are a seasoned pastor or an aspiring church-planter or missionary.

I entered the vocational ministry full time a little over six years ago.  In this time, I have come to see that many pastors have “loose ends” that hinder, if not destroy, the work of the ministry they have been called to. I would like to suggest a two big items that every pastor, church-planter, or missionary should take care of before launching into the ministry and maintain with vigilance while in the ministry if they desire to
serve over the long haul.

Family life.

He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to  manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)”, 1 Timothy 3:4-5 NASB.  Please read that verse again.  What does your family have to do with your qualifications for serving as a pastor?  Everything! The pastor’s family is a main qualifier in determining if a man should be serving in the ministry, yet it seems that this area is neglected by many “gurus” in church growth, planting, etc. circles.

I went to a very good Bible College and Seminary and am grateful for the preparation I received, yet I don’t remember taking a single class on “Strengthening Your Family as a Pastor.”  It breaks my heart to see pastor after pastor fall out because they have neglected to shepherd their family along the way.  Men, we tow a hard road as pastors.  Please, invest in your family consistently.  You are your wife’s husband and pastor—she needs you.  You are your kid’s dad and pastor—they need you.

There is no substitute for time together.  I heard someone once say that, “Quality time comes with quantity of time.”  This is so true.  You must make a habit of scheduling family time daily, taking a day off every week, and planning annual get aways. The life of a pastor is unlike any other job.  We don’t really have “hours” as we are truly 24/7.  I am not sure how some pastors are able to keep regular office hours and respond to the many and diverse crisis’ that come within the life of the church.  I am thankful that my church supports me working out of home.  I have a detached office that gives me the ability to spend time with the family when I am on study breaks.  This time at home allows me to respond to the
variation of needs 24/7 without neglecting my family.

Men, take it to heart—if you house is in order, your ability to serve greatly increases.   Every family is different.  The ministry is a calling on the whole family.  Take the time to determine what works for your family and make midcourse corrections continually along the way.

Financial Freedom!

Jesus said it best, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13, NASB).  Paul continues this thread as he grooms the young pastor Timothy, “An  overseer, then, must be…free from the love of money” (1 Timothy 3:2, 3, NASB).

Are you familiar with this shout, “I’M DEBT FREE!!!”?  You should be.  I am a huge fan of Dave Ramsey’s message to Christians to get debt free, to live like no other so you can LIVE like no other.  Are you aware that most mission agencies will not consider a candidate for the mission field until they are debt free?  I think this should be policy for every pastor who wants to run the course well.

We live in a country where huge amounts of debt are normative—Christians are no different.  If you are in debt, I highly encourage you to make it a priority to get out of debt.  This is challenging, but the rewards of the freedom to serve are amazing when you are living without debt crushing down upon you.  The journey out of debt is a hard road that takes discipline and commitment to get to the end of.  Get a plan together through resources like Dave Ramsey’s books or others out there.

The Rewards Ahead!

We pastors entered this race with great intentions.  The course before us is not a sprint it is a marathon.  The author of Hebrews exhorts believers to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1b, NASB).  Is financial debt entangling and choking the life out of you?  Get rid of it.  Pay it off.  Stop charging and spend less than you make.  Have you left your family in the dust?  As a Navy SEAL instructor leading runs, I would often have to circle back and pick up the “stragglers” (those who couldn’t keep up).  You may have to circle back to your family.  You may owe your wife and kids an apology.  You may need to have a hard talk with your family about how you can give them more of your time.

If you’re like me, you get goose bumps reading Paul’s final words to Timothy to finish strong.  At the end of my life I want to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7, NASB).  Running this race free of debt is so much easier than running with debt weighting you down.  On my death bed I pray that my wife, kids, and future grandkids will be there as brothers and sisters in Christ running their race strong.  Who’s with me?