Monthly Archives: April 2012

Jesus the Pastor

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
— John 16:12

These words of Christ really ministered to me last week in my study time. The immediate context is this: Jesus has resurrected and he is issuing warnings and promises to his disciples. He is consoling them about his soon departure, saying he is going to send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. He’s going to keep speaking to them, only now through the Holy Spirit, primarily through the Spirit-inspired new covenant Scriptures.

But I love Jesus’ pastoral heart. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Jesus is patient with his people. He plods. He knows how to hand out bread day by day. He doesn’t overcook his sermons like us dumb pastors, thinking we’ve got to hit everybody with everything all at once. He does not “turn on the firehose.” He does not inundate. Of course, Jesus has the benefit of omniscience — he knows how things will play out tomorrow — and we do not. But he is so gentle in this moment.

These words remind me that Jesus is committed to giving me all that I need at the times I need it. It has been said that all our knowledge of God at any given moment is merely a thimble of water compared to the ocean of water available. And yet the thimble is a daily supply, more than enough, just …

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Gospel Renaissance in a Megachurch – Pastors I Admire: Steve Benninger

Starting a new series today that will run every Monday. Details at the bottom of the post.

Steve Benninger is the lead pastor of New Life Church in Gahanna, Ohio (just outside of Columbus) and a recent friend of mine. I admire Steve tremendously, not just because he loves Jesus so much but because he’s one of the few men who have at great strain and risk sought to lead a rather large church in a rather new direction, toward gospel-centrality. (It reminds me a bit of Joe Coffey’s story.) I will let him tell that story in our interview below, but if for this tremendous pastoral work alone, Steve is a jewel among men. He is also one of the most pastoral pastors I’ve ever met (and this characteristic will be a common thread among all the men I’m featuring in this series), if you catch my meaning. He is patient, kind, gentle, and yet rock-solid in the gospel of Jesus Christ. For these reasons and more, I wish I was more like Steve. I think you will be blessed by his story.

Where did you grow up and how did you come to faith in Christ?

I was born and raised in Southern California back in the wild 1960’s. However, my parents were from Iowa so I was also raised with strong midwestern, Depression-era values. As a result I grew up as a kind of ‘cultural misfit.’ Also, our family attended a fairly legalistic Baptist church, which …

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“This is the Thankful Glass that Mends the Lookers Eyes”

Had to find my copy of George Herbert’s poems today to check a citation in a manuscript, and as often happens when I open up this collection of beauties, I couldn’t put it down without reading beyond my duty. Here’s one of my favorites called “The Holy Scriptures”:


OH Book! infinite sweetnesse! let my heart
Suck ev’ry letter, and a hony gain,
Precious for any grief in any part;
To cleare the breast, to mollifie all pain.

Thou art all health, health thriving till it make
A full eternitie: thou art a masse
Of strange delights, where we may wish & take.
Ladies, look here; this is the thankfull glasse,

That mends the lookers eyes: this is the well
That washes what it shows. Who can indeare
Thy praise too much? thou art heav’ns Lidger here,
Working against the states of death and hell.

Thou art joyes handsell: heav’n lies flat in thee,
Subject to ev’ry mounters bended …

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“Never Closer to the Bare Bones of Christianity”: Updike on the New England Churches

The late, great John Updike waxes poetic on his personal history with — and the collective personality of — the New England church world:

“Like Mr. Mutrux, I came late to New England. The first regional church of which I had experience was Harvard’s Memorial Chapel, that splendid but slightly cold reproduction of the Colonial manner, with its immaculate box pews and huge dark choir screen. Attending, I would sit back on the left-hand side near a small bronze plaque that seemed to me the epitome of New England fair-mindedness: opposite the great wall covered with the names of Harvard alumni killed fighting for the Allies, the plaque gave the names of four German graduates . . . Harvard has not forgotten her sons.

“Returning some years later to live north of Boston, I would attend the Congregational church in Ipswich, a handsome, town-dominating example of “carpenter Gothic” exactly contemporaneous with the First Parish Church in Brunswick, Maine, and like it, tipped wooden pinnacles and walled with boards and battens. The interior posed a delicate white-painted heaven of shapely roof trussing; the light came through tall pointed windows of old gray-glass lozenge panes. Some winter mornings, hardly a dozen of us showed up, while the minister shouted across the empty pews and the groaning furnace in the basement sent up odorous warmth through the cast-iron grates and the wind leaned on the crackling panes. I have never felt closer to the bare bones of Christianity than on those bleak and drafty Sunday …

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The Mess and Order of a Gospel-Centered Church

When a church is faithful to preach the gospel and demonstrate the gospel’s implications, it will usually find that it attracts and is attracted to the kind of people Jesus attracted and was attracted to. People who are, shall we say, rough around the edges.

The gospel well preached and applied will make ministry messy. Things will change. I often think of it like the beating of a rug — you’re gonna get a lot of dust in the air. There will be a thick cloud. The gospel stirs stuff up.

But our God is not an author of confusion. So as things get messy, while the gospel is creating a safe space for sins, hurts, and struggles to rise to the surface, it is outlining that space really well. The same gospel that exposes mess creates order.

How? In a gospel-centered church, one will find that:

There are leaders who are humble and confident and grace-ready.
There are church members grace-ready.
There are opportunities for counsel
There are opportunities for discipleship.
There is biblical church governance, church membership, and church discipline.

A safe space is not an amorphous, undefined space. The gospel brings junk up and then sorts junk out.

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God Doesn’t Need Your Help

The fear of man lays a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.

— Proverbs 29:25

We make equivocations about direct biblical teaching when we are embarrassed by it, when we fear rejection because of it. We think the Bible isn’t very good PR for Jesus, so we want to help it out a little bit. A.W. Tozer in Knowledge of the Holy:

Almighty God, just because he is almighty, needs no support.

The picture of a nervous, ingratiating God fawning over men to win their favor is not a pleasant one; yet if we look at the popular conception of God that is precisely what we see.

Twentieth-century Christianity has put God on charity. So lofty is our opinion of ourselves that we find it quite easy, not to say enjoyable, to believe that we are necessary to God . . .

I fear that thousands of younger persons enter Christian service from no higher motive than to help deliver God from the embarrassing situation His love has gotten Him into and His limited abilities seem unable to get Him out of.

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The Challenges in Church Replanting in New England

New England is now the least-churched, least-reached area of the United States, making it America’s most needy mission field. Yet missional church planters are not flocking here. There are likely some good reasons for that.

And I am loathe to ascribe it to lack of interest, necessarily, because every week I receive emails from men who feel called to minister in New England. Most of these do not believe they are called or gifted to plant churches. (I sympathize, because I am neither called nor gifted to be a church planter either.) So they ask about existing churches needing pastors. Are there churches here in need of pastors?

Yes. There are many dying or dwindling churches, and some just plateaued congregations dawdling around, that are in desperate need of gospel-centered shepherding. My church, for instance, has commissioned 4 of our men to provide pulpit supply for a growing number of churches in our area who are without a preacher. One of our guys was recently asked by two churches in the same town to be their regular preacher each week. And whenever I bring up the need for church planting in New England, I will hear from a few cautioning corners that the “real” need in New England is for pastors to take over existing churches. Just last week at the T4G Conference I received a message from a guy who was told by one of the exhibitors there that New England doesn’t need church …

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Pinckney’s Practices for Pummeling Pastoral Pride

Pastor David Pinckney’s talk on “Battling the Arrogant Soul” given at an Acts 29 Northeast Regional Conference last year had many excellent moments, but I really liked three practical tips he gave pastors to help them squash pride and cultivate humility.

1. Take out the trash.

Literally, David said. Take out your trash. Don’t give it to your assistant or custodian. Take it out yourself. It can be cathartic. And humbling. Don’t be above doing this and prove you’re not by actually doing it.

2. Visit nursing homes.

This will not increase your attendance, David said, but do it anyway. And don’t make it a program or a project. Don’t worry about telling anybody you’re doing this. Just go visit. Many folks in nursing home don’t get visits once a week, and some don’t even get visits once a month.

3. Adopt prayer positions.

David was not trying to endorse mysticism, here; he’s saying that we should literally get on our knees to pray. Or better — on our faces. When no one can see. David said we should be intimately familiar with the smell of the carpet in our office. (He said taking out the trash can enhance that experience.)

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Don’t Guilt Trip the Gospel

It’s the supreme art of the devil to turn the gospel into law.
— Martin Luther

I was visiting a local church in our town outside of Nashville, TN once on their first day in a new building. It was also the someteenth anniversary of their launch. The place was packed and the expectations were high. At the close of the message, a fellow took to the keyboard to play a invitational hymn and the preacher began to entreat anybody who felt moved by the message to come forward. I hadn’t experienced a public invitation in many years and it took me right back to the church services of my childhood. So I was not surprised when, after reaching the end of the hymn and seeing nobody approach the altar, the keyboardist was instructed to keep playing. The hard sell began. Still nobody budged.

The church had baptisms scheduled at their old location (I can’t remember why they couldn’t do them at their new place), so the preacher excused himself to make his way there. But instead of ending the invitation he handed the microphone off to another pastor to keep it going. It struck me that they weren’t going to stop until somebody came forward. What really got me was that in the middle of this tagged-in preacher’s special pleading, he emphatically said to us, “People, Jesus died.” Nothing wrong with saying that of course. It’s part of the simple gospel announcement. But the tone with which he said it communicated this: …

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Christian Suffering and Christ on the Cross

2 Corinthians 4:6-12

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

This is a beautiful, confounding passage. The image at work is the frailty of a clay vessel concealing a priceless treasure (“the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”). It is something eternally valuable placed inside something with an expiration date. We are dime store piggy banks holding within us the Hope Diamond. What Paul is getting at with this imagery is that when the jar is broken, as in suffering, the treasure becomes visible.

When we suffer, we show what we’re really made of.

The purpose of suffering for the believer, then, is to reveal this light of Christ, to reveal the image …

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