Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Some Sage Wisdom for Fellow Pastors
For the past 20 years I have served in the ministry, I have gleaned most (second to the Bible!) from the writings of Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) as a wise counselor, exhorter, and friend to fellow pastors. One of my favorite books by Spurgeon is An All-Round Ministry (published by Banner of Truth Trust). This book is compiled of Spurgeon's Presidential Addresses at the Annual Conference of the Pastor's College that Spurgeon had founded in 1855. These lectures by Spurgeon are convicting, comforting and quite humorous in certain places. So to any fellow pastors who read this blog, I hope you enjoy the following excerpts from An All-Round Ministry:
When to leave a church?
"I am afraid that there are some ministers who get into a pulpit, intending to stick there. There is no moving them, and they never move the people. It is sometimes remarked to me, 'Some of your men move about a good deal.' 'Yes,' I reply, 'many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.' I like the self-sacrifice of a man who feels that he can move, and will move when he can do more good elsewhere. Never move or stay for selfish reasons, but hold yourself at your great Captain's beck and call.
An old Scotch minister, as he was riding along, saw, according to his own description, something coming which greatly alarmed him. It was a gispy riding aloft upon an ass which he had loaded high with faggots. The beast, which the minister was riding, was alarmed as well as its rider, set its feet down very firmly, and put its ears back, after the manner of amiable horses! 'And,' said the minister in describing it, 'I prepared myself for a fall, so that I fell somewhat more easily.' 'But,' said a friend, 'I should have got off.' That idea had never crossed the worthy man's mind.
So it is with some ministers, they prepare themselves to be dismissed by their people, but never propose to remove of their own will. It is within my knowledge that a brother, not of our Conference, said to his people, when they were in a most earnest manner endeavoring to get rid of him, 'It was the Spirit of God that brought me here, and I shall never go till the Spirit of God leads me to go away, and that will be a very long while.' The last sentence cast suspicion on all that preceded it, for, surely, he could not foretell what the mind of the Spirit might be. Stay or move, brethren; go to Africa, or America, or Australia...only do accomplish your mission, and glorify God. Be holy, be gracious, be prayerful, be disinterested, be like the Lord Jesus; thus only will your lives be consistent with the gospel you are called to preach."
Be simple and clear in your gospel preaching
"Sometimes, young men are fascinated by some famous preacher whose style is grandiose, sublime, or involved. They see the thing done very splendidly, and as they look on, they marvel, and by degrees they think they will try that style, too; and so they put on the seven-league boots, large enough for them to live in, and the result is ridiculous, nay, worse than that, it is spiritually useless. When a man tries to do the magnificent, with elaborate sentences and pompous diction, and grandeur of manner, it must and will come to nought...Speak from your heart, and never mind about eloquence. Do not speak after the manner of the orator; speak as a lover of souls, and then you will have real eloquence...What you have to do is to be the means of saving souls, and look you well to that."
Be always found faithful despite the size of your ministry
"Remember, dear brother, if you give your whole soul to the charge committed to you, it does not matter much about its appearing to be a somewhat small and insignificant affair, for as much skill may be displayed in the manufacture of a very tiny watch as in the construction of the town clock; in fact, a minute article may become the object of greater wonder than another of larger dimensions. Quality is a far more precious thing than quantity...We must never think, because the particular work we have in hand seems to be insignificant, that therefore we cannot do it, or should not do it, thoroughly well. We need Divine help to preach aright to a congregation of one. If a thing is worth doing at all, it is worth doing well...Many a minister has acheived fame, and, what is far better, has brought glory to God, in a congregation which could be counted by units, while another has presided over a large church, and though at first there was a great blast of trumpets, it has ended in the silence and sadness of utter failure. Know your work, and bend over it, throwing your heart and soul into it; for, be it great or small, you will have to praise God to all eternity if you are found faithful in it."
Be masters of the Bible
"Our main business is to study the Scriptures. The smith's main business is to shoe horses; let him see that he knows how to do it, for should he be able to belt an angel with a girdle of gold, he will fail as a smith if he cannot make and fix a horseshoe. It is a small matter that you should be able to write the most brilliant poetry, - as possibly you could, - unless you can preach a good and telling sermon, which will have the effect of comforting saints and convincing sinners. Study the Bible, dear brethren, through and through, with all helps that you can possibly obtain.
Be well instructed in theology, and do not regard the sneers of those who rail at it because they are ignorant of it. Many preachers are not theologians, and hence the mistakes which they make. It cannot do any hurt to the most lively evangelist to be also a sound theologian, and it may often be the means of saving him from gross blunders. Nowadays, we hear men tear a single sentence of Scripture from its connection, and cry, 'Eureka! Eureka!' as if they had found a new truth; and yet they have not discovered a diamond, but only a piece of broken glass. Had they been able to compare spiritual things with spiritual, had they understood the analogy of the faith, and had they been aquainted with the holy learning of the great Bible students of past ages, they would not have been quite so fast in vaunting their marvellous knowledge. Let us be thoroughly well acquainted with the great docrines of the Word of God, and let us be mighty in expounding the Scriptures. I am sure that no preaching will last so long, or build up a church so well, as the expository...I cannot too earnestly assure you that, if your ministries are to be lastingly useful, you must be expositors. For this purpose, you must understand the Word yourselves, and be able so to comment upon it that the people may be built up by the Word. Be masters of your Bibles, brethren; whatever other works you have not searched, be at home with the writings of the prophets and apostles. 'Let the Word of God dwell in you richly.' "

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Led By the Spirit: The Normal Christian Life
One great reality of the Christian life is that of being "led by the Spirit of God" (see Rom.8:14; Gal.5:18). To say this another way: if you are a Christian, then you are someone whose life experience is led by the Spirit of God. This of course implies that if there is no such leading of the Holy Spirit in your life, then you cannot be a Christian.
Now making such a bold proposition like this obviously raises questions of practical concern. And there are two questions that I want to consider in particular: first, what does it mean to be led by the Spirit of God? To begin with, we must understand what it does not mean. It does not mean anything that has to do with fanaticism, auto-suggestion, or hearing fictitous imaginary inward voices. Furthermore, it does not refer to anything which contradicts the clear testimony of God's written Word. No one can claim to be led by the Spirit whose words or actions are in direct opposition to the teaching, the commands, and the history recorded in God's Word. In fact, if any of our words or actions are not in conformity and obedience to the Word of God, then we cannot claim under any circumstances to be led by the Holy Spirit.
So what does it mean then to be led by the Spirit of God? To be led by the Spirit of God is to be guided, directed, and governed by His divine power, persuasion, and providence. This means of course that there is a general and particular leading which the Holy Spirit is always exercising in the life of a Christian. First of all, the Spirit's leading is "general" in the sense that we are always under the Spirit's sovereign control in sustaining and governing the affairs of our life. So, for instance, the only reason we can be promised in Romans 8:28 that "all things" are working together for our good is because the Holy Spirit as God (in relation to the Father and the Son who are each equally God), is bringing all events and circumstances to fulfill His divine purpose for our lives (see also Eph.1:11).
Second of all, the Spirit's leading is also "particular" - whereby He empowers, illuminates, and persuades us in the life-long process called "sanctification" (I Thess.5:23). In this respect, the Holy Spirit's leading can be grieved (Eph.4:30) and quenched (I Thess.5:19) by Christians who fall into sin and disobedience. Thus when we read in Romans 8:14 that all Christians are "led by the Spirit of God", we must understand that this is not a forced, mechanical kind of leading which never takes into account the personal responsibility of the Christian to trust and obey. As John Owen (1616-1683) once wrote concerning the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer:
"[The Holy Spirit] does not so work in us that it is not still an act of our obedience. The Holy Spirit so works in us and upon us, as we are able to be wrought in and upon, and yet He preserves our own liberty and free obedience. He works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures. He works in us and with us, not against us or without us, so that His assistance is an encouragement as to the accomplishing of the work."
So then, as we are led by the Spirit of God, it is not without our own responsibility to be obedient to what God has called us to do. However, on the flip-side of this truth we must remember: it is only by the Spirit and under His divine influence and power that our obedience to God is effectively carried out (Rom.8:13; Gal.5:16; Eph.5:18). We cannot trust and obey God without the Holy Spirit's leading in our life!
But with this humble admission we must now face our second, and more practical question: how do we know when we are being led by the Spirit of God? Let me offer six ways that we can discern biblically if and when we can honestly say, "I am being led by the Spirit of God." First, we are being led by the Spirit when we are in pursuit of holiness and not in pursuit of sin. Lest we forget, the Spirit of God is most commonly referred to as the Holy Spirit - which tells us much about His charecter. Moreover, as God Himself (co-equal with the Father and the Son), the Holy Spirit cannot sin and is thus completely without sin. He is opposed to sin (Gal.5:17). So the only direction the Holy Spirit will lead us is away from sin and to be at war with sin (Rom.8:13; Gal.5:16) - but never will the Spirit lead a Christian into sin. Indeed, let none of us dare excuse any of our sinful actions as being what the Holy Spirit "led me" to do! When we sin as Christians we have grieved the Spirit not followed Him.
Secondly, to be led by the Spirit is to be led into the truth of God's Word with understanding and delight. The Holy Spirit is also called "the Spirit of truth" (Jn.16:13) whom Jesus promises, "will guide you into all truth." Not only that, but the Holy Spirit in that guidance, will also bring to the believer "illumination" (Eph.1:18), so that he can understand the Word of God (I Jn.2:20,21). Therefore, if we are being led by the Spirit of God then the Word of God will not be a closed book but an opened book; whereby we will have an understanding, hunger and thirst which will saturate our hearts and minds in the Holy Scriptures. Moreover, this dynamic of the Spirit's leading will create a growing desire to obey God's Word. We will say with the psalmist, "Make me walk in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it" (Psa.119:35).
Thirdly, to be led by the Spirit is to be fueled with passion and power to exalt Jesus Christ as His witnesses. Here is a sure test to know if you are being led by the Spirit of God: does your life, by word and deed, make much of Jesus Christ? When we are under the leading of the Holy Spirit, we will be a people who spread the truth and glory of Jesus Christ to others with joy and eagerness (Acts 1:8; cf. Jn.16:14). Furthermore, by the Spirit's leading we will be jealous to guard and defend the truthfulness of who Christ is as God incarnate (I Jn.4:1-6). Fourthly, to be led by the Spirit is to be led into a great love for the Church. To say this another way: to be led by the Spirit is to have a great love and desire to be in the fellowship of God's people. This is a hugely important point regarding how the Holy Spirit leads every believer in Christ. Since He places us into the body of Christ at the moment of conversion (see I Cor.12:12,13), then there is nothing more "normal" and expected for a Christian than to congregate with other Christians in both worship and service to Christ.
Look at Acts 2:42, for instance. One of the clearest and initial signs of the Spirit's work in the early church was that these new believers "devoted themselves to...fellowship." This does not mean they had frequent "potluck" dinners. Rather, it means they took great interest and love in one another for each other's spiritual welfare (e.g., Heb.3:12-14; 10:24-25). But to demonstrate such a loving interest in fellow believers meant that they made the time to be together. They did not forsake their gathered assemblies. In fact, those who choose to have no part of any church and yet claim to be led by the Spirit - are deceiving themselves! Worse yet, they are also calling into question their own claim to be a Christian (see I Jn.3:14).
Fifthly, to be led by the Spirit is to have an increasing awareness of sin within. Since the Holy Spirit leads us to be at war with indwelling sin (Rom.8:13); then He is going to likewise lead us to be more aware of all sin that remains in our members (Rom.7:14-25). Those people however who claim to be Spirit-led but never give admission to the guilt of their own sin nor have godly sorrow over their sin as being against God - these people are neither led by the Spirit nor are they even saved (see I Jn.1:8,10)! A true Christian is someone who agonizes over indwelling sin, makes every effort to kill its remaining influence, and seeks to live in such a way that the holiness of God is faithfully represented in their thoughts, words, and deeds. This is the only path which the Holy Spirit will lead God's people in relation to sin. The presence of sin will be mourned over, confessed and mortified in our lives if we are under the leading of the Spirit of God.
Finally, to be led by the Spirit is to have a greater manifestation of the Spirit's fruit in one's personal life. Galatians 5:16-23 sets forth this great proof of a Spirit-led life: when we are walking by the Spirit (v.16) we will increase in the fruit which the Holy Spirit produces - namely - the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In other words, by the Spirit's leading in the lives of God's people, there will be an increase in the character and conduct of godliness and righteousness. In short, a Spirit-led life is a life growing to be more like Jesus. And this above all, is the normal Christian life!

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