Category Archives: Spiritual Leadership

Extending Grace: God Comforting Through Us

God comforts His people, by the power of His Spirit, through His people.

2 Corinthians 1:3-11

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

 

God’s Preparation of Hudson Taylor

“Years afterwards, when responsible himself for the guidance of many missionaries, it was easy to see that the trials of those early days were all needed. He was pioneering a way in China, little as he or anyone else could imagine it, for hundreds who were to follow. Every burden must be his, every testing real as only experience can make it. As iron is tempered to steel, his heart must be stronger and more patient than others, through having loved and suffered more. He who was to encourage thousands in a life of childlike trust, must himself learn yet deeper lessons of a Father’s loving care. So difficulties were permitted to gather about him, especially at the first when impressions are deep and lasting, difficulties attended by many a deliverance which made them a lifelong blessing.”[1]

 Adolphe Monod:

“It is through the anguish of temptation that you will learn, like your Savior, to some day sympathize with the weaknesses of others and to help those who are tempted [Hebrews 4:14-5:3].”[1]

May the Spirit of Christ, the Great Comforter, fulfill His ministry to others through us as willing channels of His healing, comforting, and edifying grace. May He strengthen their hearts and sustain their faith through our example and loving presence. And, may He continue giving us grace so that we might perpetually extend His grace to others and be a source of comfort to them.

________

[1] Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), 50.

[2] Adolphe Monod, Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness: Sharing Christ’s Victory, trans. Canstance Walker (Vestavia Hills: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2010), 38.

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Pastoral Ministry

Charles Bridges on the bittersweet beauty (and difficulty) of pastoral ministry:

“With all my discouragements and sinful despondency; in my better moments, I can think of no other work worth doing compared with [pastoral ministry]. Had I a thousand lives to live, I would willingly spend them in it: and had I as many sons, I should gladly devote them to it.”[1]

William Still on the heart of a pastor:

“My whole concern in my work of trying to make pastors (and I have ‘made’ too few, although I have had many men [pass] through my hands) is that they become men of God; then, the pastoral work will look after itself. It will still have to be done. But the man of God is made for that.”[2]

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[1] Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry: With An Inquiry Into the Causes of Its Inefficiency (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1997), 23.

[2] William Still, The Work of the Pastor (Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2001), 15.

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Encouraging the Servant-Hearted

May you take time this week to offer a word of God-centered encouragement and gratitude to the servants in your life who regularly seek to refresh the hearts of God’s people!! Here’s an example from the Apostle Paul:

Philemon 1:4-7 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

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Sacrificing for God’s Glory among the Nations

David Platt, “Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death Defying Missions” (Together for the Gospel 2012)

This message is one of the best (and most inspiring) sermons on mission that I have ever heard (Rev. 5). It is a “must-listen” (not exaggerating) and worth making time to hear. It provoked me to much awe and heart-searching before God, and confirmed many burdens that the Lord has been laying upon my heart. I trust that it will do the same for you, regardless of your role in this most holy endeavor. Grace and peace… Warning: It may ruin your life in the most soul-stirring way possible, and result in radical desires for God-glorifying life and service. (Audio)

Here’s a similar message that John Piper preached several years ago: “Doing Missions When Dying Is Gain”.

 

 

Ligon Duncan, “The Underestimated God: God’s Ruthless, Compassionate Grace in the Pursuit of His Own Glory and His Minister’s Joy,” (Together for the Gospel 2012)

This message struck me, as well. It targeted the heart of God’s servants and how our Master often exposes those things that we treasure (and long for) above or beside Him (2Kings 19). Duncan reflected on how God often withholds the fulfillment of good things, even godly desires, from His people in order to increase their joy in Him. There is much pain and suffering in the service of God, but that was the experience of our Savior and should be expected by all who would follow after Him. Those who walk by faith while entrusting themselves to God’s provision and timing will find an inexpressible joy that softens the hardships that crush our hearts. May you find comfort and strength (as I did) from God’s word as you hear it preached in this message. It’s worth your time.

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God-sized Ambitions

“Ambitions for God,

if they are to be worthy,

can never be modest.” John Stott

J. Hudson Taylor: “…to move man, 

through God, by prayer alone.”

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Spiritual Pride

Jonathan Edwards:

“Spiritual pride is very apt to suspect others, whereas a humble saint is most jealous of himself.  He is so suspicious of nothing in the world as he is of his own heart.  The spiritually proud person is apt to find fault with other saints . . . and to be quick to discern and take note of their deficiencies.  But the eminently humble Christian has so much to do at home, and sees so much evil in his own heart, and is so concerned about it, that he is not apt to be very busy with others’ hearts.”

HT: Ray Ortlund, Jr.

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Ministry: Glorifying God or Glorifying Self?

Ministry provides an interesting opportunity for believers to glorify themselves while appearing to serve God and His people. It’s amazing how subtle the pride and selfishness of our hearts can actually be. Finding our identity in anything or anyone other than God and His gospel work (on our behalf, for HIS glory not ours)–is idolatry, no matter how you slice it.

Robert Barnes, pastor of Dayspring Church, wrote a very insightful, self-evaluation about his tendency to glorify self rather than God:

“…My preaching and writing isn’t much better. Too often, communication is my way to demonstrate what the world should have understood already–that I am extremely smart and spiritual and worthy of being paid and admired. The words I’ve been called to write and speak often speak of humility, of God-sized truths that transcend our tiny space and time, and yet I see in my heart–and on the page–me writing words to glorify… ME!” [1]

The impetus for serving, teaching, preaching, or writing may be “self” rather than God; and yet God is merciful in glorifying Himself and providing our good even in the midst of our sin. Christ is the antidote for the poison of self, as the cross shows us God’s hatred for sin and His love for the sinner. He unleashed His wrath for our self-pity, self-entitlement, self-justification, and self-admiration upon His own beloved Son in order that we might be forgiven, by faith in Him. Talk about a self-less display of love and grace!! God glorifies Himself, even in the midst of our selfishness. Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote: “For every look at self, take ten [no, a thousand] looks at Christ.” Treasuring Christ helps us to glorify God by proclaiming HIS worth (not our own)!! May we learn to use our spiritual gifts (that He gave us) to magnify His greatness, not our own.

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[1] Robert Barnes, “To Whom Be the Glory?” (You can read the entire article here!)

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The Church’s Fallen Soldiers and Wounded Warriors

A Sobering Account: Fallen Men–One Out of Every Ten

Here is an extended excerpt from Steve Farrar, recounting the dangers of spiritual leadership:

John Bisagno was twenty-one, he was very excited. He was getting ready to graduate from college and marry the love of his life. He had also decided to go into full-time ministry. He was very optimistic about his future. One night, he was having dinner at his fiancee’s home. After dinner, he went outside on the porch with his future father-in-law, Dr. Paul Beck. Dr. Beck had been in ministry since he was John’s age. As they were talking about John’s future plans and dreams, Dr. Beck gave him some advice, “As you go into ministry, John, make sure you stay close to Christ every day.”

Young John replied, “Yes, sir. I know that’s important.” His future father-in-law continued: “You’re just getting started in this race. And it’s a very long race. You won’t hit the finish line until you’re in your seventies or eighties. The finish line is a long way off, John. But the goal of this race is to finish strong. And that the last thing that Satan wants you to do. That’s why you have to keep your heart close to Christ every day. It’s been my experience that for every ten men who start strong with Christ in their twenties, only one out of those ten will finish strong.”

That shocked John Bisagno. The staggering statistic left him in unbelief. “That cant’ be, just one out of ten?” “Unfortunately, John, that has been my experience. Some men are taken out by the love of money, others are taken out by theological liberalism, and many more are taken out by sexual immorality. Satan knows how to lay a trap and set an ambush. He knows every man’s weaknesses. That’s why it’s been my experience that only one out of ten will finish strong.”

John was blown away by the remarks of the older man. He was so stunned that he went home and started thinking about his friends. They were all in their early twenties and all had bright futures. They were all fully committed followers of Jesus Christ. He took out his Bible and wrote down the names of twenty four of his friends [those pursuing vocational ministry]. He knew these guys. The idea that all of them wouldn’t finish strong was unthinkable. Maybe Satan would pick off a few, but surely most of them would stick. These guys would be willing to die for Christ, if necessary.

I [Steve Farrar] heard John tell this story a number of years ago. It got very quiet in the room when he began to tell the rest of the story. “As the years have gone by, from time to time I have gotten a letter or telephone call. And sadly, I have turned to the page in the back of my Bible and had to put a line through a name. I would always do that with such great sadness. The years have gone by and I am now fifty-three years old. Of the original twenty-four names in the back of my Bible, there are just three of us left.”[1]

The Christian life, especially the ministry-focused life, is full of spiritual pitfalls. This is a spiritual war and there will be casualties. The previous account is sobering–it illustrates the subtle dander that is reserved fro those who take spiritual leadership lightly, approach situations flippantly, or fail to recognize their vulnerability and complete inadequacy apart from the singular source of power and protection–the Spirit of Jesus Christ. May we cling to Christ and plead with Him to “guard our hearts and minds” by the power of His grace and love!!

For further reading, see: “The Almost Inevitable Ruin of Every Minister… And How to Avoid It” by Don Whitney

[1] Steve Farrar, Finishing Strong (Sisters: Multnomah Publishers, 1995).

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Guarding the Heart…

Charles Bridges, from his commentary on Proverbs, on the topic of “Guarding the Heart”:

“Let it be closely garrisoned. Let the sentinel never be sleeping at its post… If the citadel be taken, the whole town must surrender. If the heart be seized, the whole man–the affections, desires, motives, pursuits–will all be yielded up. The heart is the vital part of the body. A wound here is instant death. Thus–spiritually as well as naturally–out of the heart are the issues of life. It is the great vital spring of the soul, the fountain of actions, the center and seat of principle, both of sin and holiness (Matthew 12:34-35). The natural heart is a fountain of poison (Matthew 15:19). The purified heart is a well of living water (John 4:14). As is the fountain, so must be the streams. As in the heart, so must be the mouth, the eyes, the feet. Therefore, above all things keep thine heart. Guard the fountain, lest the waters be poisoned… Many have been the bitter moments from the neglect of this guard. All keeping is vain, if the heart be not kept.”[1]

Sobering words… “All keeping is vain, if the heart be not kept”!!!

[1] Charles Bridges, Proverbs (Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), 53.

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Filed under Application, Sanctification, Spiritual Leadership

Thirty Years to Nothing

Upon his thirtieth birthday (December 1827), Charles Hodge wrote the following:

This night thirty years ago I was born. Thirty years of love and mercy. Thirty years of sin. Thirty years and nothing done. Oh my God, from my soul I pray thee, grant me thy Holy Spirit that if permitted yet longer to live, it may be to more purpose,–that my time may be better improved in working out my own salvation and the salvation of my fellow-men.[1]

God was gracious to Mr. Hodge in giving him many more years of life and Christian ministry. He completed many more years of teaching at Princeton Seminary, composed three volumes of Systematic Theology and commentaries on Ephesians and 1,2 Corinthians. Even more, he invested in the lives of many through his regular teaching, preaching, and mentoring ministry. He did much for the gospel because he was a recipient of God’s grace, and he regularly recalled the depth of his own depravity and the magnitude of the Savior’s mercy and love. Yet, it’s striking that much of Hodge’s focus was on his own sinfulness in light of God’s indescribable love and mercy. All things come to nothing apart from God’s sovereign kindness toward helpless, undeserving sinners. I am 27 years old, and I understand much of what the eminent Mr. Hodge has written, for my heart resembles that of his, upon his 30th birthday. At times, it feels as though I’ve spent 27 years squandering God’s grace toward me… that reality brings me great sadness and stirs up a resolve to invest wisely in the next 27, should the Lord provide such continued mercy.

May we never forget that which we’ve been given–for it is only in this vein that we shall be keen enough to ask for more grace that we might know more of Christ’s person and bear more fruit through the ongoing work of His Spirit! 

______

[1] David Calhoun, Princeton Seminary: Faith and Learning (1812-1868) (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), 121.

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The Picture of A Godly Man

Have you ever been convicted by a “table of contents” page?

The first time that I opened Thomas Watson’s The Godly Man’s Picture, I was challenged about my own heart and life in relation to Christ and reflecting His character. Check out the way that Watson describes the characteristics of a godly man in his chapter headings. They are worth reflecting upon and asking God to instill such gracious traits into our lives.

A Man of Knowledge

A Man moved by Faith

A Man fired with Love

A Man like God

A Man careful about the worship of God

A Man who serves God not Men

A Man who Prizes Christ

A Man who Weeps

A Man who loves the Word

A Man who has the Spirit of God residing in Him

A Man of Humility

A Man of Prayer

A Man of Sincerity

A Heavenly Man

A Zealous Man

A Thankful Man

A Man who loves the Saints

A Man who does not indulge Himself in any Sin

A Man who is good in His Relationships

A Man who does Spiritual Things in a Spiritual Manner

A Man thoroughly trained in Religion [the Things of God]

A Man who walks with God

A Man who strives to be an Instrument for Making Others Godly

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The Measure of A Man

When God intends to greatly use a man, He often anoints him through great suffering. The forging process strengthens, sharpens, and often refines the instrument for a most effective work.  As 1 Peter 1:3-9 informs us, hardship proves our faith genuine and results in much glory, praise, and honor being given to the Savior on our account. In this vein, I’d like to share a poem about God’s process of molding a man for Himself:

“When God wants to drill a man

And thrill a man

And skill a man,

When God wants to mold a man

To play the noblest part;

When He yearns with all His heart

To create so great and bold a man

That all the world shall be amazed,

Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects

Whom He royally elects!

How He hammers him and hurts him,

And with mighty blows converts him

Into trial shapes of clay which

Only God understands;

While his tortured heart is crying

And he lifts beseeching hands!

How He bends but never breaks

When his good He undertakes;

How He uses whom He chooses

And with every purpose fuses him;

By every act induces him

To try His splendour out–

God knows what He’s about!”

Author Unknown[1]

Robert Murry M’Cheyne, the late Scottish preacher, who died at the age of 29 before which the great Scottish revival took place (seemingly in large measure as a result of his faithful life and preaching ministry) said, “It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus.  A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.” May God raise up a generation of holy men and women who penetrate this dark world with the piercing light of Christ.

[1] J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 150-151.

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Spiritual Leadership

Samuel Brengle (1860–1936) served for many years within the leadership of the Salvation Army.  While I don’t entirely endorse his theology, I deeply appreciate his insightful (and challenging) thoughts on spiritual leadership:

“[Spiritual leadership] is not won by promotion, but by many prayers and tears. It is attained by confession of sin, and much heart-searching and humbling before God; by self-surrender, a courageous sacrifice of every idol, a bold uncomplaining embrace of the cross, and by an eternal, unfaltering looking unto Jesus crucified. It is not gained by seeking great things for ourselves, but like Paul, by counting those things that are gain to us as loss for Christ. This is a great price, but it must be paid by the leader who would not be merely a nominal but a real spiritual leader of men, a leader whose power is recognized and felt in heaven, on earth, and in hell.”*

May God raise up a generation of unusual leaders who fit the profile that Brengle has described. I humbly pray that God would make me such a man as I daily aspire to die to self and live for Christ. May He humble me by growing my hatred for sin and my hunger for holiness. May I taste no greater satisfaction than my Savior!

*Samuel Brengle, The Soul-Winner’s Secret, as quoted by J. Oswald Sanders in Spiritual Leadership, 11.

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