gospel

The Accidental Pastor

Harry S. TrumanI just finished an excellent biography of Harry S. Truman entitled The Accidental President, by A. J. Baime (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). I didn’t know that Truman was considered a highly unlikely candidate for Roosevelt’s Vice-President in 1944. Only two percent of Democratic voters favored him. People outside Missouri didn’t know much about Truman, and what they knew did not impress. He had run a haberdashery in Kansas City, but it went bankrupt. He hadn’t earned a college degree. He had applied for a license to practice law but changed his mind. Most of his business ventures had failed. Truman’s mother revealed that he didn’t even want the V-P job. “They pushed him into it,” she said. His partnership with the gambler Tom Pendergast put a cloud over Truman’s career in the U.S. Senate. His enemies long referred to him as “the senator from Pendergast.”

When FDR died suddenly in April, 1945, Truman was thrust into the highest office in the land, an office to which he had never aspired. “No man ever came to the Presidency of the United States under more difficult circumstances than does Harry S. Truman,” said a newspaper columnist at the time.

That’s why A. J. Baime calls Truman “the accidental president.” The whole nation was anxious about their new, unproven leader. Yet he successfully finished out Roosevelt’s term in office and went on to win a come-from-behind victory in the presidential election of 1948. Consider the accomplishments of the Truman presidency: the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan, the creation of the United Nations and the modern Department of Defense, recognition of the state of Israel, the Berlin Airlift, the formation of the CIA and NATO, and many other things. And of course, Truman’s presidency is noted for the Allied victories that ended the war with Germany and Japan.

Sometimes we in ministry feel like Harry S. Truman. We feel like “accidental pastors.” Not that we haven’t been called and equipped by God to do what we do. Not that our congregations haven’t affirmed our gifts and responded to our leadership. But often we go through seasons when we wonder, “What was I thinking? God, what were You thinking?! I can’t turn this ship around. I’m not sure I belong here. I can’t take all these people to the Promised Land.”

It’s at times like these that we have to remember some of Paul’s words:

What is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:5-7)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:30)

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me…. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

So to myself I say: I am a servant, not a celebrity. I’m a jar of clay. Sure I’m weak, and half the time I don’t know what I’m doing. But I’m no accident. I am who I am by God’s design. I am where I am by God’s appointment. So God, have your way in me and be glorified.

Today’s Words for the Weary

“You are a pardoned sinner, not under the law but under grace–freely, fully saved from the guilt of all your sins. There is none to condemn, God having justified you. He sees you in his Son, washed you in his blood, clothed you in his righteousness, and he embraces him and you, the head and the members, with the same affection.”

  • William Romaine (1714-1795), an Anglican priest, scholar, and author of the trilogy The Life, the Walk, and the Triumph of Faith

What pastors face today

The work of leading God’s people has always been, and by definition always will be, challenging. But today’s pastors face unique pressures. If you’re a church leader sinking under the weight of these pressures, Barnabas Ministries can help.

Barnabas Ministries is a network of people and resources that exists to “connect, encourage, inspire, and enable pastors” in their calling. Check out what they have to offer hpastoral-pressuresere.

On the Barnabas Ministries website is this helpful graphic taken from Pastors at Greater Risk by H. B. London. It gives you a sense of some of the daunting challenges pastors face today. To this list I would add:

– The celebrity culture in which we live, that denies the glory of the ordinary;

– The pastor’s own insecurities and need for approval;

– The financial problems plaguing our nation and members of the congregation;

– Opposition by Satan, who despises God, the church, church members and church leaders;

– And the increasing suspicion and hostility of the world, which is by nature allergic to God.

All these pressures, and more, demand that we be people who keep in step with the Spirit, fight the good fight of faith, have a set of close friends on whom we can rely, and live out of the Savior’s great love for us in the gospel.

Watch Out for the Yeast!

Title: “Watch Outyeast for the Yeast!”

Scripture text: Mark 8:14-21

Main point: Sin, left in the heart without repentance, grows bigger and hurts more people.

Preparation: In your “Bag of Wonders” hide a dinner yeast roll, some unleavened bread, and a package of baker’s yeast.

Opening question: Have you ever heard of yeast? (interact with the children’s answers)

Message: Yeast is something your mom or dad or grandmother or the baker in the grocery store uses to bake bread. And the Bible talks about yeast a good bit too. Let me show you what yeast does. (Pull the yeast roll and unleavened bread out of your Bag of Wonders.) Both of these are types of bread. But they are different, aren’t they? What’s the difference between them? (Children will say one is flat and one is big and puffy.) Do you know why this roll is big and puffy? It’s because of this. This is yeast. (Show the package of yeast.) Yeast is actually a fungus. It’s little microorganisms that cause bread dough to rise. When someone wants to bake bread, she mixes a little bit of yeast in with the flour, water, sugar, and salt. Then she takes the dough and puts it in a warm oven for a while. Slowly but surely, the yeast causes air bubbles to form inside the dough. The dough gets bigger and bigger and bigger. That’s what made this dinner roll so big and light and yummy. But this flat piece of bread did not have any yeast in it. So it stayed real flat.

The Bible talks about yeast. Usually when God talks about yeast in the Bible, it’s because he wants us to think about sin. Now just so you know, yeast is not bad. Yeast makes bread taste good. But in the Bible, yeast is often a symbol for sin. That’s because when you let sin stay in the heart, without confessing it to God or other people, it gets bigger and causes greater and greater damage. In Mark 8:14-21, Jesus told his disciples, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees!” He didn’t mean to watch out for the kind of yeast your mom uses to bake bread! He was talking about sins like hypocrisy and false teaching and lying and things like that. When you tell a lie, for example, it often leads to other lies. The more lies you tell, the more likely it is that you or someone else is going to get hurt.

Let me tell you a story about a little boy I’ll call Timothy. His dad took him fishing one Saturday, and Timothy caught a fish. It was a little fish about 6 inches long, but Timothy was proud of himself. On Monday when he wen
t to school, he told one of his friends he caught a fish that was a foot long. Later, he told another friend he caught a barracuda three feet long. Later that week, he told another friend he caught a shark! Still later he told someone he caught a whale! When his father found out what Timothy was telling people, he said, “Timothy, have you been lying? What’s this I hear about you catching a whale?!” Timothy was very sad. He realized he should have confessed his first lie, because his fish story got bigger and bigger as time went on.

Sin is like yeast. It makes problems grow and grow. Watch out for the yeast! Confess your sin as soon as you’re aware of it. Turn away from sin and repent. You know why it’s OK to tell God and other people about your sin? Because Jesus’ love is a lot bigger than your sin! Jesus died on the cross not only for the sins you’ve committed in the past, but the sins you’ll commit today, tomorrow, and in the future. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

On reading the Bible well

The widespread Biblical illiteracy of many Christians today is well documented. You may have heard about the Pew Forum’s 2010 “US Religious Knowledge Survey.” The average Christian respondent to the survey answered only half the questions correctly, including six out of twelve questions related to Christianity. A Gallup poll once found that only three out of five Christians could list the names of the four gospels, and only half knew Jesus was the one who preached the Sermon on the Mount.

So that’s a problem. But I’m just as concerned about those who “know” their Bibles inside and out but fail to read it correctly.

For example, take the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah tells the story of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in the 5th century B.C. I’ve read several commentaries and sermons about Nehemiah. They all point out many valuable lessons to be gleaned from Nehemiah’s story – his fervent prayer for the people of God in Chapter One, his visionary leadership, his courage in the face of opposition, and so on. That’s fine as far as it goes. But did God put the book of Nehemiah in the Bible so we could simply learn what a great man Nehemiah was and imitate his leadership style? If leadership principles are the main take-away from this book of the Old Testament, we could probably do better by picking out a few titles from the business section of the local Barnes & Noble.

No, God gave us the sixty-six books of the Bible to point us to Christ. The Bible is the unfolding story of God’s plan to make all things new and redeem his wayward people. Every book in the Bible is one more piece in that story. This means that a book like Nehemiah – while it gives us much wonderful and applicable information about faith, leadership, prayer, spiritual warfare, repentance, body life, etc. – is ultimately showing us our need of a Savior and revealing that God has provided a Redeemer to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Bold Nehemiah is a type of the Christ. His efforts to revitalize Jerusalem and make it a city of holiness, safety, and justice reflect the work of Jesus who left his place in heaven, came to our ruined planet, and is serving us still as our Prophet, Priest, and King. The restoration of Jerusalem – short-lived as it was – draws our hearts to a higher and much greater and eternal restoration to come – the new heavens and new earth.

To read the Bible well means to remember that it tells one story and points to one Hero, Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said that the Bible (or the Old Testament, at least) was about him. In John 5:39 he told the Pharisees, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” So you see, it’s possible to know the Bible well (like the Pharisees) and miss the point completely. I think of the many Christians who slavishly follow a Bible-reading plan, memorize gobs of Bible verses, and crush the competition at Bible sword drills but fail to see Christ on every page. I’m not knocking Bible reading and memorization plans. Would that more of us were diligent in such disciplines! What I’m urging us to do, to borrow Gordon Fee’s book title, is to read the Bible for all its worth.

As many others have said, the Bible is a love story in four parts, or a symphony in four movements: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation. As you read the Bible, think of those four great themes and see how one or more of them is reflected in the passage you’re reading. Also, ask questions of the text like these:

  • What does this passage reveal about God’s gracious provision of the work of Christ?
  • What does this passage reveal about human nature that requires the work of Christ?
  • What aspect of my brokenness do I see in this passage and what is God doing about it?

Unfortunately, the only question many Christians ask of the text is something like, “How does this passage apply to my life?” It’s a well-intentioned question, and one that should be asked at some point in the study process. But if that’s the only question you ask of a Bible passage, you’re probably just going to make new resolutions to try harder to “be like” Nehemiah or David or Paul or Abraham or Mary or Jesus or whoever you happen to be reading about.

Charles Spurgeon once told one of his students, “Don’t you know, young man, that from every town and every village and every hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London? So from every text in Scripture there is a road towards the great metropolis, Christ. And my dear brother, your business is, when you get to a text, to say, now what is the road to Christ?”

That’s a good rule to follow as you read the Bible. Ask of the passage, “Now what is the road to Christ?” It takes time and effort to read the Bible this way, but it’s the way that leads to gospel hope.