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The Biggest Story

Aug 12, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

A number of years ago I did something different for my evening sermon. It was the week before Christmas and instead of preaching through the next verses of whatever book I was in, I wrote a story. I read the sermon that Sunday night like I was reading to my kids. I told them to imagine it was Christmas Eve and they were nestled in front of the fireplace listening to the good news about the baby Jesus. I did my best to make that sermon a beautiful story about the Greatest Story ever told.

I didn’t have any pictures.

It was a dream of mine that someday the story would find its way in a book and find itself decorated with stunning illustrations. To tell you the truth, the reality is better than the dream.

Normally, when I have a new book coming out I try to be pretty nonchalant about it: “Here’s the book. Here’s the information. Here’s how you can get it if you’re interested. Talk to you later.” But I feel like I can be a bit more unguarded with this book, because it’s not just my book. I could not be more pleased with the job Don Clark did illustrating The Biggest Story. The process was longer than you might think. First, Crossway asked me write a bit more and give the rest of the biblical storyline after Christmas. Good idea. Then we massaged the words and made new edits. And then some more. Up until the last minute. When you write a children’s book you don’t use many words, so you feel much more of the weight of getting them right.

Along the way, I worked with Crossway to find the right illustrator. The folks at Crossway were fantastic, always patient, always creative, always coming up with new options. I had in my mind an idea of what I wanted the book to look like, and more than that I had a good sense of what I didn’t want the book to look like. So we kept looking and looking. Eventually we came to Don. Amazing. His illustrations are bright and captivating for a child, yet full of theological care and artistic sophistication for an adult to enjoy.

Take a look at a few sample pages below. The colors are vibrant without being gawdy. The people look like ancient people–not so abstract as to be unrecognizable, and not so cartoonish as to look silly. My favorite illustration may be the greenish-gray one with the tiny grace-soaked ark floating in an angry flood of God’s wrath. I’d hang that one up on the wall just as a conversation piece. Even the chapter title pages are exquisite. If you look carefully through the whole book, you’ll pick up on a number of recurring themes and images. You may also notice that the face of Christ is not depicted (except a few eyeballs as a baby). This is owing both to Presbyterian convictions and to an aesthetic sense that the story is told more powerfully, more dramatically, and more effectively when the artist depicts God in evocative images (ala Revelation) rather than in a concrete rendering.

 

eden

12sons

ark

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david-goliath

It really is a tremendous book, not because of me but because of Don’s great work and because of the effort from a lot of folks at Crossway. I already gave away my one copy, so I can’t wait to get my hands on some more. WTS Books is running a special sale on the book today and tomorrow. You may also pre-order a copy from Amazon.

Finally, check out the promo video below. I had nothing to do with it, which is probably why it is so cool.

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Monday Morning Humor

Aug 10, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

I hope your Monday goes better than this.

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The Smell of Babies Burning

Aug 07, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

245491-fetus-ultrasoundBefore David Daleiden founded the Center for Medical Progress and gained national attention for releasing a series of videos exposing the barbarity of Planned Parenthood, he wrote a jarring piece with Jon Shields entitled “Mugged by Ultrasound: Why So Many Abortion Workers Have Turned Pro-Life.”

The brief article is a gut-wrenching, disturbing, graphic account of the emotional trauma abortion wrecks on those who perform them. For example, in 2008, Dr. Lisa Harris explained what happened while she, 18-weeks pregnant at the time, performed an abortion on an 18-week-old fetus. She felt her own baby kick at the same time she ripped off a fetal leg with her forceps. This prompted a visceral response.

Instantly, tears were streaming from my eyes—without me—meaning my conscious brain—even being aware of what was going on. I felt as if my response had come entirely from my body, bypassing my usual cognitive processing completely. A message seemed to travel from my hand and my uterus to my tear ducts. It was an overwhelming feeling—a brutally visceral response—heartfelt and unmediated by my training or my feminist pro-choice politics. It was one of the more raw moments in my life.

Tragically, Dr. Harris is still in the abortion business, or at least she was five years ago when the article was first published.

Paul Jarret is not. He quit after 23 abortions. “As I brought out the rib cage, I looked and saw a tiny, beating heart,” he would recall, reflecting on aborting a 14-week-old fetus. “And when I found the head of the baby, I looked squarely in the face of another human being—a human being that I just killed.”

Judith Fetrow and Kathy Spark, both former abortion workers, converted to the pro-life cause after seeing the disposal of fetal remains as medical waste. Daleiden and Shields explain:

Handling fetal remains can be especially difficult in late-term clinics. Until George Tiller was assassinated by a pro-life radical last summer, his clinic in Wichita specialized in third-trimester abortions. To handle the large volume of biological waste Tiller had a crematorium on the premises. One day when hauling a heavy container of fetal waste, Tiller asked his secretary, Luhra Tivis, to assist him. She found the experience devastating. The “most horrible thing,” Tivis later recounted, was that she “could smell those babies burning.” Tivis, a former NOW activist, soon left her secretarial position at the clinic to volunteer for Operation Rescue, a radical pro-life organization.

Many abortion providers have been converted by ultrasound technology. The most famous example is Bernard Nathanson, cofounder of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, the original NARAL. By his own reckoning Nathanson performed more than 60,000 abortions, including one on his own child. But over time he began to fear he was involved in a great evil. Ultrasound images pushed him over the edge. “When he finally left his profession for pro-life activism, he produced The Silent Scream (1984), a documentary of an ultrasound abortion that showed the fetus scrambling vainly to escape dismemberment.”

Sadly, countless abortion workers keep on perpetuating the great evil, even if it means suppressing the truth they literally feel in their bones:

Pro-choice advocates like to point out that abortion has existed in all times and places. Yet that observation tends to obscure the radicalism of the present abortion regime in the United States. Until very recently, no one in the history of the world has had the routine job of killing well-developed fetuses quite so up close and personal. It is an experiment that was bound to stir pro-life sentiments even in the hearts of those staunchly devoted to abortion rights.  Ultrasound and D&E [dilation and evacuation] bring workers closer to the beings they destroy. Hern and Corrigan concluded their study by noting that D&E leaves “no possibility of denying an act of destruction.” As they wrote, “It is before one’s eyes. The sensations of dismemberment run through the forceps like an electric current.”

Read the whole thing and pray for abortion workers.

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The Sound of Silence

Aug 05, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.

I assume Simon and Garfunkel weren’t talking about church services, but sometimes I wonder. Despite the Scriptural injunction to “admonish one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16) and the command to “address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19), it still is all too common to find churches that just don’t sing. I don’t mean there’s no music whatsoever. There’s usually plenty of music. Often lots of planning, lots of preparation, lots of time in the service devoted to singing. But congregational singing? Only “whispered in the sounds of silence.”

This is almost an absolute rule: if you look around your congregation and people are barely singing, there is something wrong with your worship services.

I say almost an absolute rule because I suppose you could be church planting among unreached peoples and could have an exploratory service filled with non-Christians. But even for the best missionaries and evangelists, most people in the weekly worship service are Christians, even if they are baby disciples or new converts. So for 99% of us, the rule is absolute: the sound of worship on Sunday morning should be loud with the sound of the congregation singing.

I guess our congregation must sing fairly well, because I often notice in other churches–actually, my kids notice first–that hardly anyone is singing. If this is a problem in your church, there may be several reasons why.

1. The music is too loud. Yup, I’m not even 40 and I think churches often have the volume turned up to high. People are less likely to sing if they can’t hear themselves, or anyone else near them, singing. Cranking the band (or the organ) up to 11 tells the congregation “You’re not needed this morning.”

2. The music is poor. Not all music is created equally. Some tunes are catchy, easy to sing, and powerfully support good lyrics. Other tunes are too hard, too bland, too syncopated, too high, or repetitive to be used to good effect.

3. The music is played poorly. People have a difficult time singing with confidence if the musical leadership is not competent. They might choose the wrong instrumentation (e.g., drums for a lilting hymn or the saxophone for a triumphant anthem). Or the guitar may inadvertently switch a 3/4 song into 4/4 because he can’t figure out a different strumming pattern. And sometimes there is just too little energy, too little consistency, or too little sound (yes, the music can be too soft) to encourage congregational singing.

4. The aesthetics are not communal. Ideally, the sanctuary is laid out so that people can see other people. We are supposed to be singing, at least in part, to each other. Even if you can’t rearrange your pews, you can think about other factors. For example, the worship leader having a special moment with the Lord may not actually be helping anyone else to have a special moment. Likewise, turning the lights nearly off encourages a privatized experience.

5. You are using too many new songs. One new song a month is pushing it for the most skilled and change-appreciative congregation. Two or three songs in one week is terribly unwise.

6. The people are not taught to sing. Many churches would do well to provide remedial instruction in reading music, using a hymnal, and understanding one or two things about music composition and instrumentation. More importantly, congregations need to know the spiritual reasons why we sing and why they should sing (even if they are not musically gifted).

7. The worship leader has become a master over the congregation not a servant. I would never hire a music leader who thought the band, the organ, the choir, or his new song was more important the people singing heartfelt, biblical praises to God. It’s a service of worship, not a concert, a performance, or a showcase for your musical talents.

8. The service is not planned well. This can take many forms–too many songs in a row, too disjointed, too much standing, too much sitting, no attention to flow or dynamics.

9. The people are spiritually immature. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Like I said at the beginning, maybe you have a congregation of new converts. People have to start somewhere. But if week after week, month after month, and year after year, the congregation barely sings, it may be a sign that in their hearts they have nothing much to sing about.

10. The church leadership doesn’t care. If the pastor and worship leader are focused on numbers alone, or simply on the excellence of the band, the choir, or the organ, and not on the participation of the people, it’s no wonder Sunday morning is filled with the sound of congregational silence. We can do better. The Bible tells us to, and God will be pleased when we do. As will the congregation when they experience the joy of singing so as to be heard.

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Monday Morning Humor

Aug 03, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

This one has been around the block a few times already, but my kids never tire of it.

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Some Thoughts on Life–What We Are and What We Were

Jul 30, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

What shall we call the unborn in the womb?

If the entity is a living thing, is it not a life? If your person began as a single cell, how can that fertilized egg be something other than a human being? Isn’t it more accurate to say you were an embryo than that you simply came from one?

So when does a human being have a right to life?

Shall we say size matters? Is the unborn child too small to deserve our protection? Are big people more valuable than little people? Are men more human than woman? Do offensive linemen have more rights than jockeys? Is the life in the womb of no account because you can’t hold him in our arms, or put him in your hands, or because you can only see her on a screen?

Shall we make intellectual development and mental capacity the measure of our worth? Are three year-old children less valuable than thirteen year olds? Is the unborn child less than fully human because he cannot speak or count or be self-aware? Does the cooing infant in the crib have to smile or shake your hand or recite the alphabet before she deserves another day? If an expression of basic mental acuity is necessary to be a full-fledged member of the human community, what shall we do with the comatose, the very old, the severally mentally impaired, or the fifty year-old mom with Alzheimer’s? And what about all of us who sleep?

Shall we deny the unborn child’s right to life because of where he lives? Does environment give us value or take it away? Are we worth less inside than outside? Can we be justly killed when we swim under water? Does where we are determine who we are? Does the eight inch journey down the birth canal make us human? Does this change of scenery turn “its” into persons? Is love a condition of location?

Shall we reserve human dignity only for those humans who are not dependent on others? Do we deserve to live only when we can live on our own? Is the four-month old fetus less than human because she needs her mom for life? Is the four-month old infant less than human when she still needs that same mom for life? What if you depend on dialysis or insulin or a breathing apparatus? Is value a product of fully-functioning vitality? Is independence a prerequisite for human identity? Are we worth only what we can think, accomplish, and do on our own?

If the unborn life is human life, what can justify snuffing it out? Would it be right to take the life of your child on his first birthday because he came to you through sad and tragic circumstances? Would you push an 18 month old into traffic because she makes our life difficult? Does a three year-old deserve to die because we think we deserve a choice?

What do you deserve now? What are your rights as a human person? Did you have those same rights five years ago? What about before you could drive? Or when you used training wheels? Were you less than fully human when you played in the sandbox? When you wore a bib? When you nursed at your mother’s breast? When your dad cut your cord? When you tumbled in that watery mess and kicked against that funny wall? When your heart pounded on the monitor for the first time? When you grew your first fingernails? When you grew your first cells?

What shall we call the child in the womb? A fetus? A mystery? A mistake? A potential sale? What if science and Scripture and commonsense would have us call it a person? What if the unborn child, the messy infant, the wobbly toddler, the rambunctious teenager, the college freshman, the blushing bride, the first-time mother, the working woman, the proud grammy, and the demented old friend differ not in kind but only in degree? Where in the progression does our humanity begin and end? Where does life become valuable? When are we worth something? When do human rights become our rights? What if the famous Dr. was right and a person’s a person no matter how small?

Why celebrate the right to kill what you used to be?

How can we tear apart the life of the little one who is what we all were?

Note: I posted a version of this piece several years ago. In light of the recent revelations regarding Planned Parenthood’s practice of selling “fetal tissue,” I thought the article might be worth another look.

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One Simple Way to Encourage Your Pastor

Jul 28, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

discouraged-pastor-500x337I decided to write this post now, while I still have four weeks left in my summer study leave, so that it can be seen that I am making general comments about pastoral ministry and not scheming for more compliments from my people. I serve a great church, and nothing in this short piece should be read as a surreptitious complaint.

Caveats in place, here is one simple and very important thing you can do to encourage your pastor: tell him you are grateful for his preaching.

I’m not talking about stroking your pastor’s ego just to make him (or you) feel good. I’m not talking about perfunctory praise. And I’m not talking about idle flattery. Don’t tell your pastor anything you don’t really mean.

But if your pastor’s sermon helped you see more of Jesus, or helped you turn from sin, or helped you understand the Bible better, or helped you be a better spouse, or helped you trust God in the midst of suffering, or stirred your affections for the things of glory, tell him. It doesn’t have to be every week or even every month. But when appropriate, and when legitimate, tell him. It can be a short as a two sentence email or a ten second conversation at the door. Just say something like, “I continue to grow as a Christian because of your preaching.” Or, “Last week’s message really spoke to me.” Or, “I’ve learned so much about the Bible during this last sermon series.” A little bit of encouragement will go a lot farther than you think.

I don’t say this because pastors have the hardest job on the planet. In a lot of ways, it’s the most privileged job on the planet. We get paid (most of us) to study the Bible, tell people about Jesus, pray with people in difficult situations, and, in general, do the kinds of things other Christians try to do when they aren’t working a normal job. But being a pastor is unique in that every week our work–and really our heart and soul–is put on display for everyone to see, savor, or sleep through. It’s natural that a pastor would wonder from time to time (and more so as time goes on), “How am I doing?”

Most often, I don’t think the question rattles around the pastor’s head because of narcissism, low self-esteem, or selfish ambition. I think most pastors genuinely have no idea if they are making any difference in the lives of their people. Sure, there are dramatic conversions here or there, and certain members are persistently cheerful and encouraging. But overall, I think ministers spend a lot of time quietly wondering if they are just whistling in the dark.

Maybe some of them (some of us) are. No doubt, there are men in the ministry who could better serve the kingdom doing something else. And yet, I imagine the majority of pastors shouldn’t leave the pastorate. They are working hard. They are using whatever two or five or ten talents they’ve been given. They still love God, love his people, and love the Bible. But they aren’t sure they are really making a difference. That’s why I think so many pastors look at budgets and buildings and bums in the pew. It’s quantifiable. It’s measurable. It’s something to reassure the wavering pastoral heart: “Look, you are not wasting your time (and theirs!).”

So sometime this month–if there is something worth commending in your pastor’s sermon–go ahead and commend it.

To him. Personally. Gladly. From your heart.

Don’t worry about his head getting too big. The Lord knows how to keep his pastors humble so you can worry about keeping your pastor going. Who knows what season of doubt your minister may be enduring? Who knows what discouragement constantly plagues him? Who knows how close he may be to leaving the ministry (by quiet resignation or by public scandal)?

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, thinking about these things” (Phil. 3:8). And if your pastor’s sermon–even once in a great while–falls into the category of “these things,” give thanks to God. And consider letting your pastor know that you did.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jul 27, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Consistently makes my whole family laugh, even if we’ve seen it a hundred times.

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Ten Proposed Commandments for Christian Parenting

Jul 24, 2015 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Parenting is one of the greatest joys and responsibilities in this life. Few things produce greater humility or furnish greater rewards. Though I feel inadequate for the task, I love being a Daddy (I am hoping they never get too “grownup” for Daddy and start calling me Dad or Father)! I continue to receive “on the job training,” but here are a few commandments I long to live by as I continue to labor in this wonderful vineyard called Christian parenting (maybe you would have some “commandments” to add below).

1. Thou shall not worship thy children or their future

                We live for the glory of God and seek to parent in light of our highest calling. As much as we love our children, we do not live for them.

2. Thou shall not expect or portray thyself as a perfect Christian family

                We and our children are sinners in need of grace. We do not expect perfection from ourselves, we dare not expect it from our children.

3. Thou shall not exchange the Christian faith for mere moralism in thy children

                We desire children living moral lives, but not by a bare morality. We labor and pray to see their lives reflecting a heart renewed by the love of Christ.

4. Thou shall not be impatient with thy sons and daughters (or even their teenage friends)

                We want to show the same long-suffering and patience to our children the Lord graciously extends to us (as much as we can). Irritation, anger, and a quick temper crouch at our door and we endeavor to keep them at bay.

5. Thou shall lead thy children in regular family worship and journey to the house of the Lord weekly

                We are Christian parents and worship is the heartbeat of the Christian. Thus, worship occupies a central place in our Christian parenting. Day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out, year in and year out, we aspire to place our children in the way of the means of grace (Word, sacraments, and prayer) and involve them in the greatest of all earthly (and heavenly) pleasures: worshiping the Triune God of the universe.

6. Thou shall enjoy thy children and be demonstrative in showing affectionate love to them

                We desire that our children always know the treasure they are and are at rest in the assurance of our love. They are a gift from above (James 1:17) and we rejoice in thanksgiving for them.

7. Thou shall nurture thy marriage for the good of thy children     

                (For those parents who are married) We know our marriage serves as the cornerstone of our Christian family. We dare not see it askew, failing, or lacking vitality, for its health or sickness will be reflected in our parenting.

8. Thou shall seek the Lord with all thy heart, soul, mind, and strength knowing it is the foundation of Christian parenting

                We recognize that Christian parenting cannot be separated from our life in Christ. The overflow of a filled cup benefits what is below.

9. Thou shall not depend upon thy own strength, but that of Christ’s in parenting

                We believe that apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15). We desire to sow seeds bearing eternal fruit and so must rely upon the Eternal Gardner.

10. Thou shall ultimately entrust thy children to the care of thy Heavenly Father

                We love our children and desire their good, but have not the power to secure it. But we know One who does and He is our Father, who loves us and desires our good. And we can trust Him; He knows how to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7).

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The Pastor’s Personal Holiness

Jul 23, 2015 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Robert Murray McCheyne famously said, “The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.”

Now, before the critiques are lobbed at McCheyne for having too-high a view of pastors, let’s be clear, McCheyne is not implying he is more important than Christ. This is the same man who said, “Our soul should be a mirror of Christ; we should reflect every feature: for every grace in Christ there should be a counterpart in us” and “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.” Rather, by stating the importance of the pastor’s personal holiness, he is echoing Paul in 1 Timothy 4 when he says, “Keep a close watch on your life and doctrine. Persist in this, for so by doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Needed words for the pastor in our day. Needed words for the pastor in every age. Nothing is more essential to a pastor’s calling or the ministry he extends to others than his own personal holiness.

As I reflect over the past decade of watching fellow brothers in the pastorate fail morally, the threats seem to come in four primary categories. Dear pastor, be on-guard against each.

Neglect of the Calling: The pastorate is not an occupation; it is a calling—a calling to serve the Lord by serving His people. As John Piper helpfully said, “Brothers, we are not professionals.” In fact, the pastor serves as the chief-servant of his little flock. He may receive a salary from the church, but He is employed from above. His calling is not primarily a job meant to secure income. He does not labor, so he may receive. Rather, the pastor’s calling is one of giving–a life poured out as a drink offering for the sake of others (2 Timothy 4:6). He does not angle for advancement. He does not perform. He does not simply aim to produce. Rather, he seeks by his whole life to serve and love others in the name of Christ. Such service requires heart, mind, and soul engagement. Therefore, he guards against going through the motions whether in worship, counseling, teaching, or even administration. Pastors, you may never just punch the time clock. Every service we render is to be motivated by love for His people. Be happy to decrease that He might increase (John 3:30). Seek to serve and not be served (Matthew 20:28) for the good of the church and the glory of Christ. Seek to be a pastor pursuing holiness by refusing to become a professional.

Neglect of the Body: The pastorate demands all of a man. I have watched a myriad of men leave the pastorate not for a want of love for the people or adequate gifting but out of sheer exhaustion. The conflicts took their toll, the hours became too much, the pressures too great. And when the body is tired, whether physically or emotionally, it is a ready playing field for sin. Our body and soul are united; neither should be neglected. Pastors, observe the Sabbath, take all your vacation days, and ask your elders for an annual study leave. Take regular prayer retreats. Keep stoking the fires of your own affections for Christ as you grant your body adequate rest. Find a friend to confide in and to wrestle through pastorally emotional things. Seek to be a pastor pursuing holiness by combating exhaustion and erecting a double-guard when exhaustion does indeed descend.

Neglect of the Family: The pastorate can be a blessing and a trial for the average family. There are many benefits for our wives and children. There are also some hardships, which too often the pastor multiplies. Let us be clear, the pastorate does not provide an excuse for the man neglecting his family. Rather, the pastorate reinforces the need for him to adequately love and care for his family. The demands of being a pastor never outweigh the demands of the pastor’s wife and children. Their bodies, hearts, and souls persist as his first charge. Pastors, be home most nights of the week. Play catch in the backyard. Eat dinner together. Lead your wife and children in family worship (How can one expect to lead the family of God in worship if he doesn’t lead his own home in worship?). Listen to them and seek to shepherd their hearts. Tend to their needs and struggles. Cry with them. Laugh with them. How sad it is when a pastor’s family becomes disillusioned with the church, because he was too enamored with it. Seek to be a pastor pursuing holiness by tending to your family with diligence and love.

Neglect of the Soul: Neglecting to tend the garden of his own soul threatens the pastor’s personal holiness more than anything else. He busies himself with planting the Word and pruning weeds in the lives of others, but his own soul receives little care. He is too busy. The work is too hard. Others are worse off. And in his own heart, worldliness creeps in, pride pitches its tent, lust grabs a hold, and righteousness flees. The small sins which once had a foothold, now control. His sermon preparation no longer stirs him, his sermons become performances, his ministry becomes sheer duty, and his life begins to disintegrate. Oh dear pastors, examine your heart daily. Seek to root out sin and fan the flames of righteousness. Never teach or preach anything that does not first move your heart. Seek out brothers in the Lord who, like Philemon, refresh your soul (Philemon 1:7). Find authors who stir your mind. Practice daily prayer, Scripture reading, and memorization for your own personal life in Christ. Pray that the Lord would give you a true view of self, so pride would have no seat, lust would have no allure, greed would find no ground, and slothfulness cannot lounge. Even as you seek to see others conformed to the image of Christ more and more, so you must labor to see it realized in your own life as well. Seek to be a pastor pursuing holiness by tending to the garden of your own soul.

Pastors, our need for personal holiness cannot be overestimated. You have a holy calling, to perform a holy service, to the holy bride of Christ, for the glory of a holy God. Pursue holiness. “Toil” and “struggle” to do so, “with all his energy that he powerfully works within” you (Colossians 1:29). In so doing, “you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).

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