Finishing the Course

Over two years ago I ascended the small platform in a coffee shop that no longer exists to preach my last sermon to a group of young adults crammed into a trendy building to hear the gospel. It was the sermon that said, I have left it all on the field, I have given you what I know, now carry on and preach the gospel to each other and the waiting world.

The text of the night was Acts 20 and Paul’s final words to the elders of the church in Ephesus. Paul shows his resolve and I had tried my best to model my ministry after his, to preach nothing but Christ and him crucified. Oh to live this way!

Then this week a good friend who is sensing an increasing call to global missions shared how he was stirred by a sermon on Acts 20:24 and the Lord used it as a sweet reminder of the call to faithfulness.

Here are Paul’s words to the leaders of the church: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24 ESV).

Paul knows he is departing Asia headed for his final acts of ministry. Shortly after he will be taken as a prisoner to Rome where he will eventually be martyred. No fleeing, no scheming to avoid imprisonment. Just leaving it all on the field, preaching the gospel of grace. The thing of value for Paul is not his life, but the gospel.

He lived it. And countless others have as well. And oh that the Lord would empower me to live like this.

As we head into 2017 I don’t have a resolution but this is my prayer. That the trappings of life would be of little value and even my own life would not be what is precious but that I would spend this year, and the decades to come, so transformed by the gospel that I can preach nothing else. That I would so experience the grace and love of God in Christ that it flows to all around me for his glory.

Maybe you might want to pray this way too. That Jesus would be bigger in 2017 to you, that nothing else would take your attention and passion like your Savior. I think it is a prayer that he is pleased to answer.

We won’t be perfect, but by his grace we can keep at it, keep pushing in and living to finish the course he has given us. We have as our source and our hope his grace, now and forevermore.

“And now I commend you to God and the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)

 

The Pastor’s Prayer

Ever climbing. Ever strategizing. Ever studying. Ever worried about outcomes and growth and finances and hurting people. This is the life of a pastor. It is a good life. Rich with joy and the glory of the gospel. But this life is not about how well I can climb or what solutions I can devise. This is in fact God’s cause. And I rejoice to be in it.

Today I am thankful for the reminder from this prayer from the Valley of Vision.

“Sovereign God,

Thy cause, not my own, engages my heart, and I appeal to thee with greatest freedom to set up thy kingdom in every place where Satan reigns; Glorify thyself and I shall rejoice, for to bring honour to thy name is my sole desire.

I adore thee that thou are God, and long that others should know it, feel it, and rejoice in it. O that all men might love and praise thee, that thou mightest have all glory from the intelligent world!

Let sinners be brought to thee for thy dear name!

To the eye of reason everything respecting the conversion of others is as dark as midnight, But thou canst accomplish great things; the cause is thine, and it is to thy glory that men should be saved.

Lord, use me as thou wilt, do with me what thou wilt; but, O, promote thy cause, let thy kingdom come, let thy blessed interest be advanced in this world!

O do thou bring in great numbers to Jesus! Let me see that glorious day, and give me to grasp for multitudes of souls; let me be willing to die to that end; and while I live let me labour for thee to the utmost of my strength, spending time profitably in this work, both in health and in weakness.

It is thy cause and kingdom I long for, not my own. O, answer thou my request!”

Striving to be a great preacher…

Since I am new to ministry I am often trying to discern what is vitally important to ministry and in which areas I should be working to improve. For me there are many but one of importance is in teaching or preaching. Like most young guys out of seminary I know the pressure to be a great preacher. We want to be like our heroes and that often turns into a desire to “be” our heroes and we end up mimicking a celebrity pastor.  This is of no use. Even when we strive simply to honor the long-serving pastor we are learning under, we can tend to take on some of the characteristics that he is known for. We end up incapable of moving beyond his shadow and we never grow in our own abilities.

Gabriel Fluhrer has a great post on striving to be a “great” preacher (and by great he means a celebrity.) He sees our attempts to sound like other guys a lack of realization that we have our own voice and he calls young preachers to work diligently in the texts to honor God above man. “Striving for greatness before the world’s watching eyes usually means that there is a converse decline in our striving for greatness before the eyes of Him who tests the hearts of men. But if we are faithful to the text, we receive the Master’s smile, no matter who’s listening to or applauding us. Indeed, that is the one, supreme goal of the preacher’s life: knowing that Jesus knows him as a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. That’s how the Bible describes a truly great preacher.”

The post is worth a read if you are thinking of being a preacher.

I have felt great freedom to be myself and refine my skill. I have plenty of feedback and know I have a way to go but appreciate the opportunity to have my own voice.

From Washington to Washington…

One year ago on the 17th of June, the Shradars closed on our house and headed West on a journey to Portland where I would begin seminary. It has been a fascinating year of transition, new friendships, a church we love, challenging classes and part-time work. When we moved the objective was to get through school and then look for a ministry job and we were in no hurry.

Until last month.

A professor at school was approached by a pastor looking for a young adults director at a church in Eastern Washington and he could only think of me. After some prayer and discussion, Stacy and I decided to at least go through the process to learn from it but the process kept going and this last weekend we visited Bethel church in Richland, Washington.

The leadership, staff and members of the congregation we met were gracious and welcoming and the church is a healthy, vibrant community. It became clear as we worked through meetings and interviews that this might be the place God would have us put down some roots and be in ministry.

While there are still a few steps in the process and documents to sign, it looks like we will be moving to Richland and get to work in August. God has again shown his faithfulness and provision in our lives and I am eager to work alongside some amazing people at Bethel (and finish my studies at Western while in ministry!)

Please join us in praying for the transition (Stacy has posted some requests here) and I will work to keep you all up to date as we finalize the next chapter in our lives!