Distress Drives Prayer

David was anointed king of Israel in I Samuel 16. David was not given the throne until II Samuel 5-6. During the intervening period he had spears thrown at him, was chased around the wilderness by a deranged King Saul, was forced to flee from his best friend who ended up dying in battle, had one of his cities overrun by the Amalekites, and had to pretend to be mad to escape Achish King of Gath. Why did the Lord put David through all of this? Why didn’t God move him from the hills of Bethlehem straight to the throne in Jerusalem? The answer is found in II Samuel 22:5-7.

II Samuel 22 is David’s song of victory after God had delivered him from all his enemies, including King Saul. Here are verses 5-6

For the waves of death encompassed me, the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. 

The question we all ask when bad things happen to us is why. Why does God allow the waves of death to encompass David? Why does God allow Saul to pursue him all over the Israel countryside? Why did my child get cancer? Why did I lose my job? Why did that relationship collapse? Why does my boss hate me? Why does God allow bad things to happen to us?

There are many reasons, but the primary reason bad things happen is to drive us to God. The reason God brought David through verses 5-6 is so that David would end up at verse 7:

In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I called. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry came to his ears. 

The Lord wanted David to trust him and cry out to him. We are such self-sufficient creatures and so easily distracted from God that he has to use affliction, pain, grief, hardship, and misery to drive us to him. Without hardship would we ever pray with the zeal and fervor that God demands and deserves? I doubt it. Do we feel our weakness when life is easy and comfortable? No. Does our trust and dependence upon the Lord grow in times of ease? Rarely.

Moses warns of this in Deuteronomy 8. Israel is about to enter the promise land. For forty years they have depended upon God day by day (Deut. 8:1-5). He provided them with manna, kept them safe, made sure their clothes did not wear out, and gave them quail and water. Now they are about to enter a land flowing with milk and honey. A land with houses they did not build and wells they did not dig where they will eat bread without scarcity (Deut. 8:7-10) This sounds like a paradise, which it was. But paradise came with a warning:

Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 

When all is well we stop trusting in the Lord. Our hearts become proud. We forget we are creatures dependent on Him for daily bread. We start trusting in ourselves and believing that our own hand delivered us. God sent David around the wilderness so David would trust Him and cry out to him.

He does the same for us.  God brings distress into our lives to drive us to Him.We look at hardships, even little ones like flat tires and broken arms, as annoyances and irritations. We just need to get through them. They are like a parenthesis in our lives or a bad commercial that we endure until we get to the main show. But suffering and hardship are central to our walk with God.  In many ways, they are the main show. They are not extras or irritations, but blessings sent by God to drive us to our knees. Suffering breaks our illusion that we are strong and in control.  Without distress our prayer lives would be cliche and cold.  Without hardship we would miss God himself because we would be too self-centered to run to him.

My exhortation is simple.  The Lord wants us on our knees trusting Him because that is the best place for us to be. Without suffering we would never get there. We must learn to see difficulties, hardship, pain, distress, and suffering no matter how big or small as God’s gift to us so that we might learn to cry out to Him.

Sermon Notes: I Chronicles 29:1-9

Sermon Notes: I Chronicles 29:1-9
October 11th, 2015
Generosity Defined:  Free, cheerful, sacrificial giving
Free means we give because we want to. We are not being forced or coerced. Also we are not giving to get. 
Cheerful means our hearts are in it.
Sacrificial means it hurts and that is what makes free and cheerful so hard. It is not difficult to give when we it doesn’t hurt. It is not difficult to give when there is no sacrifice involved. 
We give generously because God’s house is great (vs. 1).
It is a great work.  It is not a work for man, but a work for God. 
 We give generously because we love God’s house (vs. 3).
 ESV Devotion/ NKJV-Affection
David has a love for God’s house. You could translate this as David had his pleasure set on God’s house. Often our failure to give generously and freely comes from our failure to love God’s house.  We love ourselves and our houses a lot. We love our comfort and ease. But our affections are not set on God’s house and God’s people. Notice how different David’s attitude is towards God’s house than ours is. Psalm 26:8, 27:4, 84:1, 10, and Psalm 122:1-9.
Why does David love God’s house so much? Because the Lord is there. It is His dwelling place. And because the people of God are there.
 The Church is not perfect. Our church is far from perfect. Yet the Lord is here and we are called to love her and support her. But this devotion cannot be just a heart devotion. There must be tangible proof of that devotion and it comes in the form of energy, money, and time.
We give generously beyond our own homes and needs (vs. 3).
There is an excess of giving towards God’s house from David. What this means is the priority is on building the Kingdom and building up the people of God.
People did not give from the extras. They did not give the leftovers.  They gave gold, silver, bronze, iron and precious stones. Proverbs 3:9-10
 God’s Kingdom is greater than our little kingdoms therefore we are to give generously to ti.   
We give generously as a sign of our consecration to the Lord (vs. 5).
Where we put our money is a sign of where our devotion is.  Where our money goes is a sign of where our heart is.
We give generously because it produces more generous givers. (David gives the people follow.)
Generous leaders create a generous people. 
Men are you generous in your homes? Ladies are you generous with your families?
            Illustration: Grandma Bethel’s cooking.
Do you give willingly and cheerfully? One way you can tell you are giving generously is that those you give to give to others and not back to you. There is a type of giving that expects a return. I give to my children so they give back to me. But what you should be looking for is I give to my children and my children give to God and others. If you give to your children so they give back to you that is not generosity. 
Jesus was generous. He gives gifts to men (Ephesians 4:7-11).  God pours out upon his kindness.
We give generously because it brings joy. (vs. 9)

There are few more joyous occasions than when people give generously to a work. A few months back some friends of mine wanted to record some Psalms. They did not have the money so they started a Kickstarter fund. Over several weeks the money they needed came in. But a lot more did as well.  It was great to see these men who are trying to raise up wonderful music for the church be given to generously. 

We often think that giving generously will steal our joy. But it works the other way. Free, cheerful, sacrificial giving for God’s house brings us great joy. 

Book Review: On Being a Pastor

On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and WorkOn Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work by Derek J. Prime
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I almost gave this five stars. It is one of the best introductions to ministry in the 21st Century that I have read. Several things set this book apart from others.

First, you have two men from two different eras giving practical advice on shepherding. You get a lot of “I did it this way.” Followed by the other man saying, “But I did this way.” By setting the book up this way the reader gets a lot of specifics, but none of them are presented as “this is the way it has to be done.” The reader is thus left to sift, sort, and apply what he can to his own situation. Tons of practical suggestions without setting down a bunch of laws.

Second, they cover a lot of ground. There are your typical chapters on preaching and prayer. But there are also chapters on leadership, delegation, family, two chapters on pastoral care, and a wonderful closing chapter on the perils of ministry. The delegation chapter was one of the most practical in the book with a lot of food for thought on a subject commonly ignored in books on ministry.

Third, the entire book focuses on the holiness of the minister. From how to handle interaction with women to mistakes to Bible reading to prayer to visitation the reader is reminded that pastors must be holy.

The only weak chapter was the one on worship. The best chapter was the one on prayer.

I would highly recommend this book for all ministers, elders, and ministers in training.

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Book Review: Planting, Watering, Growing

Planting, Watering, Growing: Planting Confessionally Reformed Churches in the 21st CenturyPlanting, Watering, Growing: Planting Confessionally Reformed Churches in the 21st Century by Daniel R. Hyde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very helpful book for those who want to plant ordinary means of grace churches, churches that are centered around worship, sacraments, preaching, teaching, hospitality, long term covenantal growth, and evangelism. There is a lot of good advice in the book on how to start church plant and when not to, how a church plant should interact with the mother church and the denomination, the priority of doctrine and preaching, how to properly contextualize, how to make the church plant welcoming, what should be looked for in a church planter, etc.

They are also willing to recommend books outside the reformed tradition, such as those from the Acts29 Network or those from more seeker sensitive models.

There are of course, places I disagree. My main disagreement was the need to go over the confessions before membership.The sample list of questions for new members (p. 185-86) is daunting. My view is that a person professes faith in Christ, is baptized, and then can become a member. After that there should be systematic teaching in whatever confession the church plant adheres to. I do not think there needs to be a long process for membership. But even here the writers reminded me of the need for systematic instruction of the saints in doctrine. I would just do it post-membership.

Though my church plant is eight years old and on solid ground there are still many ideas from this book that I will try to implement at some point in the future. The book is a worthwhile read for all in the reformed tradition who want to plant churches or want to be involved in churches that are evangelical, reformed, and Biblically sensitive to the surrounding culture.

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Why John Calvin Does Not Sound Like Modern Systematic Theologians

If you read John Calvin’s Institutes and compare it modern systematic theologies (and commentaries) you will immediately notice one striking difference: Calvin preaches. Most moderns do not. They look at all the data, examine all the secondary literature, and then eventually come to a conclusion that sounds more like the outcome of a science experiment instead of arriving at a great truth about God and his world. Why is this? Why does Calvin preach in everything, his Institutes, his commentaries, his polemics, and even his letters? Why are modern men so afraid to preach? Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson in their little book, The Pastor Theologian,  think it is the current division between the academy and the pastorate that is in part to blame. They want to see a return to what they call an “ecclesial theologian.” Here is their description of an ecclesial theologian. I have put a few explanatory remarks in brackets. All italics are their’s. All bold is mine.

An ecclesial theologian is a theologian who bears shepherding responsibility for a congregation and who is thus situated in the native social location [local church] that theology is chiefly called to serve; and the ecclesial theologian is a pastor who writes theological scholarship in conversation with other theologians with an eye to the needs of the ecclesial community [local church and beyond]…the pastor as ecclesial theologian is first and foremost a local church pastor who views the pastoral vocation from a theological vantage point…the theological contributions of the ecclesial theologian spring from the overflow of the shepherding responsibilities that he carries for his local congregation… Yet the ecclesial theologian is more than a theologically astute congregational leader. The ecclesial theologian is a theologian in the fullest sense of the term-one who provides theological leadership to God’s ecclesia [the whole church, not just local]…The ecclesial theologian represents a return to the days when pastors wrote theology that was richly theological, deeply biblical, historically informed, explicitly pastoral, and prophetic.

I am not fond of all the terminology the authors use, but the concept is a good one.  For most of church history the best theologians were pastors who used their local context to hammer out the truths of God’s word. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, etc. were men who preached regularly and were involved intimately in the local church. And even those who were in the academy were often so intimately tied to the church that they were de-facto pastors. Today that is not the case.  Pastors are rarely considered or expected to be theologians. There are a few exceptions. John Piper and his rebuttal of N.T. Wright come to mind. But what was the last book on theology written by a local church pastor that garnered national attention and acclaim? This has had the double of effect of not just removing theology from pastoring, but also removing preaching from theology.

The authors follow the paragraph above with this quote about Calvin:

John Calvin and his Institutes come to mind here. Calvin’s work is a fair bit different than the average modern theology text. But it is not  different because it is “lighter” or “easier to read” or “pitched to a less informed audience.” It is different in that it is framed according to Calvin’s pastoral context, does not feel such a need to plumb the nearly endless depths of secondary literature.., is not afraid to be explicitly theological and confessional, interacts with the great thinkers of the past who have helped shape orthodox thought, and-most significantly-because it prophetically calls the church to take action. We cannot dismiss the academic training that informed and undergirded Calvin’s theological insights. But neither can we dismiss the way his pastoral duties at Geneva shaped his overall theology. Calvin did not change the world because he was successful academician…He changed the world because he wrote as a robust, theologically informed, intelligent, prophetic pastor who understood-as a matter of vocation-what it was to have the weight of souls upon his shoulders. The ecclesial theologian, then, is a pastor who writes theological scholarship that is self-consciously “churchy” and explicitly Christian, and whose agenda is driven by the questions that emerge from the grind and angst of the parish context. 

Calvin, of course, was gifted in ways not many pastors are. But we should pray for the day when pastors are putting out major works of theology again. When they write books on the atonement, the Trinity, the covenant, Sacraments, Old Testament law and eschatology and all of these are written in the pastoral voice for the sheep. When it is not the professors only who are known as theologians, but pastors who are also church theologians can be found across the country.