Pastor, be a Christian First

When I was 21, about to enter my senior year of college, I came home to Oregon for the summer to work construction and save money for my final year. My undergraduate major was biblical studies, with an emphasis in biblical languages, and my career track was pretty set in my mind. I sensed a strong call to be a preacher, and I had been receiving escalating affirmation from those around me toward that end. I figured it would be a good idea to seek some sort of ministerial credentialing, so I applied for a “license to preach” from the church network with which my home church was affiliated.

The process was pretty straight-forward. I took a few tests, filled out paperwork, and submitted recommendation forms from a number of people who could attest to my character and sense of calling. The final aspect of the process was a credentialing interview. I was told I needed to travel to Dallas to interview with a semi-retired pastor who was now a leader in the church network. I was kind of excited at the prospect of checking out the home city of the Mavericks and Cowboys, but then I found out that my interview was in Dallas, Oregon not Dallas, Texas.

The interview was pretty basic. He asked me a number of questions about my personal life, my sense of calling, and my education. He grilled me a bit on a few technical questions that I missed on the test, in the area related to church and denominational governance. It was a good dialogue, and my respect for this wise and experienced pastor grew the longer we talked. I began to feel confident that I would make it through unscathed when he asked me a question I had no idea how to answer.

“So Andrew, we’re almost through here, but I want to ask you something about preaching.”

He could probably see me shift in my chair, as I grew more attentive and my heart rate picked up.

“You like to preach?”

“Yes sir. I love it. I really believe I’m called to preach.”

“That’s great Andrew. I just have one question for you. Do you think it is necessary to read and study your Bible outside of preparing to preach it? And if so, why?”

…….[blank look]……[furrowed brow]……[tilted head]…..[squinted eyes]……

“Uhhhhh……Yeah?”

When answering an interview question that you have no clue about, always move your head in what could either be a nod of approval or a shake of disapproval, and then phrase positive or negative responses (vaguely) as interrogatives. Don’t make it obvious, but once you see your interviewer give away his/her desired answer, commit!

I really had no idea what he wanted to hear. And frankly, I didn’t have the life experience to know there was a difference between studying the Bible to preach it and just plain studying it. After a few seconds that felt like a few minutes I recovered:

“Well, I haven’t really had a ton of opportunities to preach yet, and I’ve never been in a full-time pastoral role in that regard, but I read and study my Bible everyday, and I would think that the necessity of that wouldn’t change once I regularly preach.”

Over the course of this answer his quizzical gaze gradually softened into approval. I thought, “Phew…nailed it.”

Although it didn’t take long to figure out the appropriate answer to that question in an interview process, it has taken a number of years to see how important this topic is.

You see, I think the reason he asked me this question was because he saw a young guy who loved to preach. His concern wasn’t that I’d make it as a preacher, but that I would make it as a Christian preacher. He wanted to be assured that I would live my life as a faithful Christian.

What that wise old pastor knew is something I have been learning every day since. I must be a Christian first. I must be growing more disciplined in reading my Bible, prayer, giving, loving others, and serving, not as a means to an end but as a response to the grace of Jesus in my life. The life-long lessons that every Christian learns, pastors must learn as well.

Pastor, be a Christian first.

[This post is a part of a larger series titled For You Know That We Who Preach. If you would like, you can catch up with Part 1 and Part 2.]

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For You Know That We Who Preach… (Part 2)

Part 1 is here.

This Sunday I’ll be preaching Romans 4:1-8. As I was studying this text yesterday I came upon some great content from John Stott, in his book The Message of Romans, regarding a short phrase in the text. I won’t be able to go into detail on this phrase on Sunday, hence this blog.

At the beginning of verse 3, as Paul is proving his point about salvation coming by faith (as opposed to works), he says “For what does Scripture say?”

He is making an argument here, and he does so by calling the attention of his readers to the voice of Scripture.

The implications of this are huge. He says “What does Scripture say?”

He could have said:

“What did Scripture say?”
“What is written down in Scripture?”
“What do the Scriptures teach?”
“What does God say as taught in the Scriptures?”

But instead he phrased it: “What does Scripture say?”

Here are four reasons why this is important. These reasons motivate us to preach expositionally at LifePoint week to week.

1) God inspired Scripture to speak to us through it.

Stott says:
“First, the singular form (‘the Scripture’), like our ‘the Bible’, indicates that Paul recognizes the existence of this entity, not just a library of books but a unified body of inspired writings.”[1]

So, the Bible is unified. The Bible is complete. The Bible exists as a whole and integrated witness to us of the truth of God.

2) The words of Scripture are God’s words.

Notice that Paul didn’t say, “What does God say through Scripture?” The way this is phrased shows us that Paul considered the words of Scripture to be God’s words, totally and legitimately. Think about it: he says “What does Scripture say?” Can a book really talk? He is using personification here; ascribing personal attributes to the collection of writings we call “the Bible” or “the Scriptures.” He is clearly showing that the words of Scripture are literally God’s words. When the Scriptures speak, God speaks.

3) The words of Scripture are alive, the means through which we hear God’s word today.

Paul didn’t phrase this question in the past tense. He didn’t say “What was written” or “what did the Scriptures state.” He said, “What does it say?” Stott concludes: “In asking what it ‘says’, the apostle indicates that through the written text the living voice of God may be heard.”[2]

4) The words of Scripture are the supreme and final authority on the matter.

Remember the context here. Paul is talking about an issue of indomitable importance to his readers (including us). This passage concerns the issue of salvation. Where does Paul turn for the authoritative word on how we are saved? The Scripture. The issue is put to rest when the words of God speak to it. This is why he says “What does Scripture say?”

Since God inspired Scripture to speak through it to us,
Since the words of Scripture are God’s words,
Since the words of Scripture are alive, the means through which we hear God speak today,
Since Scripture is the supreme and final authority on all matters that pertain to life and truth,
We must preach Scripture.

[1] The Message of Romans, pg. 112.

[2] Ibid

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All Sons and Daughters @ LifePoint

We are 6 days away from hosting one of my favorite bands, All Sons and Daughters, for a night of worship at LifePoint. The live event is next Tuesday, July 22, @ 7pm. You can purchase tickets here. If you attend church in 21st century America you are probably familiar with many of their songs. Here’s a sample:

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Christians Didn’t Name Themselves (by Brent Kimball)

I am in the book of Acts in my Bible reading. It is a book that always seems fresh to me. To take in the account of the first generation of believers and observe how they lived out the gospel is remarkable. To see how the gospel spread from Jerusalem to the world is amazing.

Chapter 11 includes the account of how the message of Jesus extended to the Gentiles in Antioch. Toward the end of the chapter the author includes this statement, “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”[1] It is widely believed that this was a label placed on those who followed Jesus by those who didn’t. In other words; Christians didn’t name themselves.

Why did the people in Antioch call the believers “Christians?” When you read through these verses it is pretty clear. First, these believers undertook Christ’s mission. What began in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension progressively, over several years, spread to larger and larger circles of influence. It was from Antioch that the good news of Jesus Christ went viral. Second, we can see that God honored his message. When the gospel of Jesus Christ was declared, grace from God was distributed and people’s lives were changed. They were honoring God and God was honoring them. Lastly, they were recognized for who they belonged to. The believers in Antioch told everyone about Jesus; what he was like, what his message was, and what he had done on their behalf.  The people of Antioch listened to the message and they observed the lives of the believers. It was their conclusion that these people were Christians. Did you catch that? They were called Christians by those around them because they acted like Jesus.

As followers of Jesus, let’s live in such a way that others label us Christian.

[1] Acts 11:26

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Camp Time (By Courtney Huskisson)

It’s Camp Time!!

Camp is certainly one of our biggest highlights of the year for youth ministry. Each year we load up two buses with 130+ students and staff, make our way to the beach, and pray for sunshine and an epic round of Ultimate Octupus (yes, with a real, dead octopus).

We play games. We throw water balloons. We run around in the dark with glowsticks. However, don’t let that fool you. Camp is special because it is one weekend of the year where students from various backgrounds get to experience what it’s like to learn and live out the gospel together in a community.

Our teenagers are growing up as a part of a generation where very little is expected from our them. However, we know what happens when God gets a hold of a young heart. When God gets a hold of a young heart, they start pursuing what matters in life. When God gets a hold of a young heart, their gospel influence spans out like wildfire among their peers at school. When God gets a hold of a young heart, you see a 12th grader encouraging a 6th grader in their faith, you see a young girl stop gossiping and bullying, and you see teenagers who want more than the low standards expected of them.

When you send a group of youth to camp, you don’t send them to just play games, you send them into an opportunity for God to transform their hearts as they are launched into this world for His mission.

This is what we mean when we say, ‘It’s Camp Time’.

To sign up a teenager near you for REV Summer Camp, click here.

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Why Church Membership Matters (by Sam Cassese)

You can be a member of pretty much anything these days.

  • Costco (the samples had me at ‘hello!’)
  • The local gym (their winning…).
  • Just the other day I received an email invitation to join the Dollar Shave Club and “shave time and shave money.
  • Facebook groups, museums, PTA’s, sports teams, music groups, museums, book clubs, pen clubs, Country clubs, you name it – you can be a member!

Yet in some places, church membership is hardly ever mentioned. Some of you just pulled up Google and said, “Is that really a thing??” Some of you thought it was reserved for the few who want the ability to vote.  Even some pastors I know relish the fact that a low percentage of their regular attendance are “official members.”

That’s not LifePoint. This Sunday we are welcoming 18 new members into membership and it’s a big deal.

I know, I know, “Why?” As long as I show up, give, and get involved isn’t that enough? Can’t I just do all the things members do without making it “official?”

Long story short… No.

Here are three quick reasons (of several) why these 18 people felt “that” wasn’t enough and why we think it’s a big deal.

1. It’s a Statement

Membership at LifePoint is the way people say to each other and to the leadership, “I’m here, heart and soul, committed to the mission.”  People come and go at LifePoint- it’s just the way it is. But when people become members, they are closing the back door.  They are done, “leaving their options open”. “Sam, that sounds territorial.”  Trust me- it’s not.  We don’t force people to be in our church over others. Instead the reason we admonish people to quit dating churches is that we need to be connected in a local context and committed to a spiritual family, wherever that is.

2. It’s a Request

When people become members they sign a covenant, asking their leaders and fellow members to hold them accountable to living for Jesus. Everyone wants accountability.  But these 18 people have taken practical steps to make that happen. They have shed anonymity and are giving others access into their lives, while agreeing to do the same for others. Needless to say, we as leaders exercise a different level of accountability, oversight, and leadership toward someone who has made such a request.

3. It’s a Contribution

By becoming members, these people are making the step from “that” to “my”, from “they” to “we.” By becoming members these 18 people have said that just showing up is not enough for them.  They believe in the mission and they are here to contribute. They are here to use the gifts that God has given them to help build up the body to maturity, and to make disciples of all nations.

If you’d like to hear more, or become a member at LifePoint, sign-up for Starting Point.

 

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For You Know That We Who Preach…

“First Peter ends next week right?”
“Yeah.”
“What are you going to preach next?”
“I’m thinking 1 Thessalonians…maybe.”
“How did you decide on that?”

This was part of a conversation I had with my Dad this last Sunday. I’m not quite sure how I answered that final question. As I tried to explain exactly how the process of determining what to preach unfolds, I began to realize that I don’t think I have ever fully articulated it before, even in my own mind. That is the subject of this blog.

Here is the 5-step process I have come up with to answer the question “How do you decide what to preach?”

1) Make sure you’re burning real wood.
2) Keep the fire stoked, and always be about the business of gathering more wood.
3) When you see smoke, search for the fire.
4) When you find the fire, jump in.
5) If it is burning in you, preach it.

1) Make sure you’re burning real wood.

You know those fake fireplaces? They have plastic logs, some creative lights, and even some material that waves around appearing to be a flame. As you examine them closely it becomes evident that the “fire” is just a mirage. There is a switch on the wall that you can flip on and off which controls the heat. It’s not a fireplace; it’s more like a glorified space heater. It’s safe for children. It’s economical. It’s contained. Preaching can be like this. It can have the appearance of fire, but no one is really in danger of getting burned.

How do you make sure you’re using real wood in your preaching?

I think the key is starting with the text of Scripture.

This first step is vital to the entire process. We preach expositionally at LifePoint, which means we start with the text of Scripture, pull out what is there, and the ideas contained therein produce the content of our sermons.

Haddon Robinson’s definition of expositional preaching is helpful here:

Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers.[1]

Starting with the text means we don’t start with an “idea” or “concept” when we’re planning a series or a sermon, instead we start with a passage (or book) of Scripture. We also work hard to start with a “clean slate” as much as possible, going straight to the text first instead of saying “Hey, we want to preach on this, what is a text that will support that?” We start with the question “What does the text say?” before we determine the theme, topic, or creative concept of our sermons or sermon series’.

2) Keep the fire stoked, and always be about the business of gathering more wood.

I try to remain a couple of steps ahead at all times. This means having a good idea of the preaching direction 6 months to a year out. Before 1 Peter we spent 56 straight weeks in Mark’s gospel. About halfway through Mark we started praying about 1 Peter, and 4 months before Exile started, I started in-depth study and memorization of the letter.

3) When you see smoke, search for the fire.  

Most of the “wood gathering” I do occurs through daily devotional reading, Scripture memorization, or teaching leadership lessons from different texts. Sometimes I keep tripping over specific logs in the forest before I stop and start to examine them. Meaning, certain texts or books of the Bible will keep coming up while I’m counseling people, or in my reading (of Scripture and other books). There come certain points where I say, “You know what, maybe it’s time to pick this log up and carry it for a while.” This is searching for the fire as you see and smell the smoke.

4) When you find the fire, jump in.

Once I get an idea that a certain book of Scripture may be the next place we should be headed as a church, I dive in with both feet. This means memorization, study, reading a couple of books/commentaries, etc. Our LifePoint App has a “listening to the Bible” feature where it will read the Bible to you, so I often listen over and over to the book while I’m working around the house. A couple years ago I cut down 4 fruit trees in my backyard while listening to the gospel of Mark 3 or 4 times one Saturday.

5) If it is burning in you, preach it.

All Scripture burns, it is the word of God, a God who describes himself as “a consuming fire.” But in my experience preaching, some books of the Bible and some specific texts burn hotter in me at different times. As I remain about the business of constantly gathering wood, as I search for fire, and I jump in when I find it, sometimes that fire burns hot, as if it is “shut up in my bones” (Jeremiah 20:9). When it burns that way, I know it is time to let it out.

When I was praying through and studying 1 Peter, late 2013, the content was so clearly resonating with where we were at as a church. The more I studied, the heavier the burden grew.

At LifePoint I work through all of these steps in collaboration with my fellow elders and pastoral staff. After deciding on the next book we want to tackle, we’ll get the preaching and creative teams together to brand it, figure out the passage breakdowns, and get to the business of nailing out illustrations and concepts.

I am currently at Step 4 in regards to 1 Thessalonians. It’s getting warmer…

[1] Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching, p. 21.

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