Lessons in Ministry Love

Ernest Thompson Seton was an adventurer, artist, and writer who recorded his journey to northern Canada in his book The Arctic Prairies. He tells the story of an Algonquin woman whose village starved to death in winter. She and her infant son, the only survivors set out from the camp, hoping to reach another village where there might be food. Along the way she discovered a cache of supplies in a hollow tree, including a small bone fish hook. She had nothing to use for bait so she used her knife to slice a strip of flesh from her leg, baited her hook with it, and caught a fish. They ate, and she used pieces from the fish to catch more, and so they survived the winter.

A mother’s love compels her to do whatever is necessary for the good of her child. Genuine ministry is compelled by love. When we love others we will do them good, even at great personal cost. The model for our love is not a mother, but Jesus.

In John 13 we find Jesus teaching His disciples lessons in ministry love. Notice how John sets the scene in verse 1. Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. John summed up the disciples’ experience with Jesus this way: “He loved His own.” Then he added another word of eyewitness testimony:  “He loved them to the end.”

This prepositional phrase, “unto the end,” can designate time, meaning up to the point of his death, or his departure for heaven. He loved them to the end of His ministry in their presence.

The Greek phrase eis telos can also indicate completeness, to the full extent, or even extreme. Several translations reflect this meaning with the phrase, “to the uttermost.” He loved them completely. He showed them the full extent of His love. He loved them to the extreme.

This may be one of those instances where human language struggles to capture the fullness of divine truth, and one word or phrase contains nuances of meaning.

Jesus loved His disciples while He was with them; loved them to the very last hour of His natural life; loved them to such a degree He died on the cross in their behalf; loved them as He was dying, loved them until He was dead; loved them with His whole person and every ounce of His being; loved them after He rose from the dead, and loved them until He ascended to heaven, and as we now know, that was just the beginning, because neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Loving them to the uttermost led to the cross. But there were thousands of instances before that when Jesus showed them His love. And there was one, just before the cross, that John wanted to be sure to include. He recounted an event so deeply impressed on the minds and hearts of these disciples they would never forget it. After Jesus and the disciples had finished what we call The Last Supper, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. Love elevated Him to the cross in the place of supreme sacrifice. But love also put Him on the floor in a position of servitude.

Jesus did this not only to show love to His disciples, but to teach His disciples how to love. There are lessons here for us as well. Love is produced in us by the Holy Spirit. But Jesus gave us a model to follow.

The Divine Servant teaches us lessons in ministry love.

This is the introduction to a sermon I preached at the Refresh Pastors Conference in 2019. You can listen to the full message here.

They Said Yes!

Old TypewriterThis week I have been blessed with an answer to prayer and a major step in fulfilling one of my heart’s desires. Allow me to give thanks to God and share with followers and friends.

Two years ago I began using summer and Christmas breaks as well as early mornings during the school year to turn stacks of study notes and sermon outlines into a manuscript. Last October I submitted the result of my efforts to a publisher for consideration.

After six months of review by editors and a few revisions on my end, I received a letter this week which began, “We are excited about your book titled Growing Body. The topic of church growth from a biblical perspective is important, and your book will speak to that need . . . If you accept the terms of the contract, please add your electronic signature . . . “

My heart leaped. Praise God!

Months of editing, revision, and production still lie ahead. I’ve discovered that while writing is hard work I enjoy the process. I look forward to the finished product and the impact it will have.

I am grateful to God for giving me the vision and energy to write and to my wife for her support and encouragement. I am thankful for the opportunity to partner with JourneyForth Books.

Many thanks to JourneyForth Acquisitions Editor Nancy Lohr who, eight years ago, first encouraged me to turn a sermon series into a book and who is now walking me through the process. It took a while, but here we go!

2000 Sermons, 25 years, Some Observations (Part 1)

My filing system shows that I recently preached my 2000th sermon. This year I will complete 25 years of pastoral ministry. Praise God for His grace. I want to write down some of the things I have learned along the way. I think I’ll do it in 3-4 separate posts, including what I have learned about preaching, about ministry and churches, about people, and about God.

Here are some things I have learned about preaching, in no particular order.

Preparing and preaching a sermon is like having a baby. You labor over it for many hours, sometimes right up until the minute you start speaking, and then it is born. If you’ve prepared diligently, something good will come out. It isn’t always pretty, but it has potential :).

Trust the text. You don’t have to make up stuff to say. Let the text speak for itself. Explain what it means and apply it to life. If you are struggling with what to say in a sermon, keep digging in the text. Good stuff will come out of the text. Say it.

Don’t just repeat what you learned in seminary or have heard others say. Study out difficult passages, complicated theological points, and biblical positions on current issues.

The commentaries aren’t always right. Use them, but study for yourself and reach your own conclusions.

Most people need help applying truth to their lives. Include enough application to help people grow, not only in knowledge, but also in practice.

Don’t rush through important topics and difficult, profound truths. Give thorough attention to a text or topic. If necessary, turn one sermon into three, or extend a series. The truth deserves full treatment, and people need to understand it.

Shepherd the flock with the Word. Teach truth from Scripture in order to bring the immature to maturity, the weak to a place of strength. If a tragedy impacts the whole church, don’t ignore it in preaching. Take a Sunday and address it lovingly and compassionately with comfort and encouragement from God’s Word. If changes in church culture are needed, teach on the issues from the Word, then lead in a biblically-based direction.

Have an organized filing system for sermons. As years pass, you will benefit from being able to find previously preached material and from knowing what you preached at certain times.

Be as simple, clear, and practical as possible. Make the complex simple. Make the eternal understandable.

Preaching is communicating. Develop and grow in communication skills.

Be yourself. Don’t use other preachers’ material, other than brief summaries or quotes. Don’t mimic the manner or channel the personality of other preachers. Develop your own characteristic style, rhythm, and sense of humor. Be who God made you to be.

Use canned illustrations (the ones you find in a sermon illustration book or on a preaching website) sparingly. Look around you and use illustrations from your own life, the news, nature, and people you meet. Make up analogies that give insight to complicated truths. Jesus illustrated His teaching and preaching using the circumstances around Him and stories He made up. It’s fresh, engaging, and it works.

Don’t let your preaching be colored by frustration or anger at someone who has hurt you.

Be humble and transparent without telling all of your sins.

When you think your sermon was good, well, it might not have been that good. When you think your sermon was horrible, you will often hear from people how it was just what they needed.

“Keep your b*** in the chair until the hard work is done” (John MacArthur). In other words, study until you understand the text and have something to say about it. Put in the time. Don’t give up. Don’t get lazy. Don’t “wing it.” Fight off distractions. Do the hard work of preparation, for as many hours as it takes to be ready to explain and apply the text. (I can’t write that word out, my Mom might read this.)

Make your exegesis precise.

Make your exposition clear.

Make your delivery conversational yet passionate.

God uses the preaching of His Word to grow people. This growth happens over years of time. It is one of my greatest rewards to see years of expositional ministry bear fruit in peoples’ lives.

Pray. Pray for understanding. Pray for power. Pray for conversion. Pray for growth. Pray for fruit.

Preach Christ. Preach the Gospel. Preach truth. Preach grace.

Preach the Word.