What I Wish I’d Known: Reflections on Nearly 40 Years of Pastoral Ministry

What follows has been adapted from a brief talk I delivered to the Oklahoma chapter of The Gospel Coalition on October 2. Here are 10 things I wish I’d known when I first started out as a pastor.

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1. I wish I’d known that people who disagree with me on doctrines I hold dearly can often love God and pursue his glory with as much, and in some cases more, fervency than I do. The sort of intellectual pride that fuels such delusions can be devastating to ministry and will invariably undermine any efforts at broader Christian unity across denominational lines.

2. I wish I’d known about the inevitable frustration that comes when you put your trust in what you think are good reasons why people should remain loyal to your ministry and present in your church. I wish I’d been prepared for the feelings of betrayal and disillusionment that came when people in whom I’d personally invested so much love, time, and energy simply walked away, often with the most insubstantial and flimsiest of excuses.

3. I wish I’d known how deeply and incessantly many (most?) people suffer. Having been raised in a truly functional family in which everyone knew Christ and loved one another, I was largely oblivious to the pain endured by most people who’ve never known that blessing. For too many years I naively assumed that if I wasn’t hurting, neither were they. I wish I’d realized the pulpit isn’t a place to hide from the problems and pain of one’s congregation; it’s a place to address, commiserate with, and apply God’s Word to them.

4. I wish I’d known the life-changing truth of Zephaniah 3:17 long before Dennis Jernigan introduced me to it. I’m honored when people thank me for writing a particular book with comments such as “This was very helpful” or “You enabled me to see this truth in a new light,” or something similar. But of only one book, The Singing God, have people said, “This changed my life.” This isn’t some vain attempt to sell more books, but a reminder that most Christians (including pastors) are convinced God is either angry or disgusted with them, or both. I wish I’d known earlier how much he enjoys singing over them (and over me).

5. I wish I’d known how much people’s response to me would affect my wife. For many years I falsely assumed her skin was as thick as mine. Regardless of a woman’s personality, only rarely will she suffer less than him from criticism directed his way.

6. I wish I’d known how vital it is to understand yourself and to be both realistic and humble regarding what you find. Don’t be afraid to be an introvert or extrovert (or some mix of the two). Be willing to take steps to compensate for your weaknesses by surrounding yourself with people unlike you, who make up for your deficiencies and challenge you in healthy ways to be honest about what you can and cannot do.

7. I wish I’d known it’s possible to be a thoroughly biblical complementarian and to include women in virtually every area of ministry in the local church. In my early years in ministry, I was largely governed by the fear that to permit women into any form of ministry was to cross an imaginary biblical boundary—even though the Bible never imposes any such restriction on their involvement. I tended to make unwarranted applications by extrapolating from explicit principles something either absent or unneccesary. Aside from senior governmental authority in the local church (the role of elder) and the primary responsibility to expound and apply Scripture, is there anything the Bible clearly says is off-limits to females? Trust me, men, we need them far more than we know.

8. I wish I’d known it was okay to talk about money. Don’t be afraid to talk about money. Just be sure you’re humble and biblical and don’t do it with a view to a salary increase for yourself (unless you genuinely and desperately need one). For far too many years I allowed my disdain for prosperity gospel advocates to silence my voice on the importance of financial stewardship in Christian growth and maturity. I didn’t formulate a strategy for calling people to lifelong financial generosity without sounding self-serving.

9. I wish I’d known about the delusion of so-called confidentiality. Pity the man who puts his confidence in confidentiality. You can and must control the information that comes to you, but you can never control the information that comes from you. Once information is out and in the hands of others, never assume it will remain there, notwithstanding their most vigorous promises of silence. Be cautious and discerning about to whom you promise confidentiality, under which conditions (it’s rarely if ever unconditional), and in regard to what issues and/or individuals. “Sam, you don’t appear to have much trust in human nature, do you?” It’s not that I don’t trust human nature. I’m actually quite terrified of it! What I trust is Scripture’s teaching about human nature.

10. I wish I’d known about the destructive effects of insecurity in a pastor. This is less because I’ve struggled with it and more due to its effect I’ve seen in others. Why is insecurity so damaging?

• Insecurity makes it difficult to acknowledge and appreciate the accomplishments of others on staff (or in the congregation). In other words, the personally insecure pastor is often incapable of offering genuine encouragement to others. Their success becomes a threat to him, his authority, and his status in the eyes of the people. Thus if you’re insecure you likely won’t pray for others to flourish.

• Insecurity will lead a pastor to encourage and support and praise another pastor only insofar as the latter serves the former’s agenda and doesn’t detract from his image.

• An insecure pastor will likely resent the praise or affirmation other staff members receive from the people at large.

• For the insecure pastor, constructive criticism is not received well, but is perceived as a threat or outright rejection.

• Because the insecure pastor is incapable of acknowledging personal failure or lack of knowledge, he’s often unteachable. He will resist those who genuinely seek to help him or bring him information or insights he lacks. His spiritual growth is therefore stunted.

• The insecure pastor is typically heavy-handed in his dealings with others.

• The insecure pastor is often controlling and given to micromanagement.

• The insecure pastor rarely empowers or authorizes others to undertake tasks for which they’re especially qualified and gifted. He won’t release others but rather restrict them.

• The insecure pastor is often given to outbursts of anger.

• At its core, insecurity is the fruit of pride.

In summary, and at its core, insecurity results from not believing the gospel. The antidote to feelings of insecurity, then, is the rock-solid realization that one’s value and worth are in the hands of God, not others, and that our identity expresses who we are in Christ. Only as we deepen our grasp of his sacrificial love for us will we find the liberating confidence to affirm and support others without fearing their successes or threats.

Sam Storms is lead pastor for preaching and vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.


SUNDAY NT SERMON: Tim Keller “Politics of the King” – Ephesians

Series: The King and the Kingdom – Part 7

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Preached in Manhattan, NY on September 3, 1989

We’ve actually been studying Ephesians 2 for a few weeks now because it tells us so much about the church:

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. – Ephesians 2:14–22

What we’re doing these last few weeks of the summer in these messages is envisioning the church, getting a clear picture of what the Bible says the church ought to be. I want that picture to be so clear and bright that it burns a hole in your mind and ignites a passion in the core of your being to see that picture realized.

Recently, I read two different accounts of two individuals who lived in two different centuries, on two different continents, and yet the same thing happened to them both. They had lived all their lives in abject poverty. For one reason or another, both of them found someone died and left them a fortune. Millions. They were dressed, and it was brought to their attention now there were millions of dollars in the bank in their name, and each one of them said, “Ah, that’s great. Fine. I’ll get it when I need it,” and never drew a cent for the rest of their lives and continued to live in abject poverty.

Interesting stories. Maybe you’ve heard of one of them, and probably there are more cases than that. The reason that happened was not that they disbelieved it, but I believe, because after years and years of living on nickels and dimes and quarters, their imaginations couldn’t comprehend those figures. They knew there was something in there they could draw on when they had a need, but they really couldn’t get their imagination around it.

We’re exactly like that when it comes to the church. Exactly. Because the things the Bible says about the nature of the church are so magnificent they beggar the imagination, and without God’s help, our puny, shriveled little imaginations cannot get around it. So over the next three weeks, we’re going to take a look at Ephesians 2. For three weeks, we’re going to look at these verses I just read.

Many of you (those of you especially with a church background) have heard these things before. “The church is a holy temple. The church is the family of God. The church is one new man,” which means a new humanity. “The church is a colony of heaven. We’re citizens of heaven, and we’re a colony of heaven.” You’ve probably heard these things, right? They’re in the bank. They’re there to be drawn on, and we sit there, and we go, “Uh-huh,” and we live like beggars. Aren’t you tired of going around in rags yet?

Now Ephesians 2:13–22, is a bank account for a Christian, and all we’re going to look at this particular evening are the first few verses, especially verses 14–17, where it talks about the peace of the church. One of the things the church has is peace. It comes up three times: “For he himself is our peace …,” in verse 14; “In this one body, he reconciled both of them, and he made peace,” in verse 15; and in verse 17, “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.”

The teaching of this passage, in summary, is the church is a place of supernatural unity and solidarity, and that supernatural unity and solidarity is craved by the world. They’re dying for it, but only the church can realize it. That is what the teaching is. Now let’s break it down.

In these verses, Paul, first of all, explains there’s a major problem mankind has with peace, a major problem, and then he gives a solution. The problem he talks about by giving us a case. He’s a casuist here. He’s giving us a case study, and what he’s doing is he gives us one particular case of the great hostility that exists between man and man, between men and women, between labor and management, between races and races. In this one case, he gives the example of the hostility between Jew and Gentile, and he talks about how that has been solved by the church, so let’s take a look at that.

The problem Paul gives us … He gives us a good analysis of the problem, the hostility you see in verse 14. He says he “… has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,” and then secondly what Paul says is the answer, what brings peace, and that is he destroys the hostility through what? Verse 16: “… through the cross …”

Let’s look at the problem, then the solution. The problem: Paul points out the hostility, and you could make a great case that the problem of the human condition is the lack of peace. We live in a world of great strife and enmity. We pay billions of dollars to diplomats. Now I know there are some of these in the room: policeman, lawyers, social workers, arbitrators, mediators. What are you all out there to do? To keep us from killing each other. Guess what. You’re failing. You’re failing.

The only reason there is some peace in the world is because of what’s termed enlightened self-interest. The Bible gives us a great analysis of the cause of the hostility and the continual strife. Why is there war? Why is there terrorism? Why is there litigation? Why is there divorce? The Bible says the reason for the lack of peace in the world is the inherent selfishness and pride of every human being.

The only way the world is able to go about getting peace … It can get it in a partial way, in a sort of way. There’s a sort of peace that can be developed when selfish people find they can work for peace because working for peace helps them toward their goals. Enlightened self-interest. It’s a partial, and it keeps the world from being an absolutely unlivable place. When somebody sees it’s beneficial to their goals to work and live at peace with other people, then they’ll do it. So we do everything we can to set that up, and I’m glad we do.

Did you notice, for example, this week, ARCO came out with a new gasoline, which is far more pollution-free than has ever been produced? It was right on the front page of The New York Times. The ARCO spokesman admitted freely they could’ve been doing this years ago but he said they had no incentive. Well, you know what the incentive is. California has passed certain laws about emission control, and now they’re going to be penalized a terrific amount of money if they don’t produce the gas.

Suddenly (isn’t this incredible?), they’re working for peace, peace with the environment, peace with the environmentalists. Why? Because they said, “Now we have incentives.” Well, what that means is … Our selfishness has been coordinated, your selfishness and my selfishness. Now we can work together, because by working together we can both get what we want. Enlightened self-interest.

Some years ago, do you remember a really, really great ad campaign for why people should not drive recklessly, why people should drive cautiously and soberly? “The life you save may be your own.” Why is it that the ad people didn’t put up there on the billboards, “The life you save may be somebody else’s?” Well, because it’s just not as powerful an argument. “The life you save may be some other poor slob.” Okay. “The life you save may be your own.” Oh, well, all right. Ooh, wow. Okay.

Don’t you see? That’s the only way the world can create peace. It’s doomed in the end. It has to be, because it’s only temporary. Eventually, it’s not in your best interest to work for peace. At some point, if you’re trying to reach your goals, the most beneficial thing for your self-interest will be to push somebody aside to cheat, to stab, or just to walk away. Because it’s the selfishness which creates the strife and the enmity and the conflict, and you can only harness it so far. It’s the selfishness and the pride that creates it.

Now Paul, I said, gives us a case study of how that works. He could’ve chosen all sorts of conflicts we have, but he chose one, which is very, very well known, and one, of course, which we have plenty of still in the world today, the conflict between Jew and Gentile. He says something pretty interesting. He says he “… destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.”

What does that mean? One thing we do know is Jesus Christ never abolished the Ten Commandments. We know that because the Sermon on the Mount is all about the Ten Commandments. You know, Jesus says, “You’ve heard it said, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ but I say unto you, if you hate your brother, you have killed him, and if you ignore and are cold to your brother, you have killed him.”

What is Jesus doing? Is he saying, “Ah, you don’t need to follow the Ten Commandments anymore?” He’s saying, “Oh, my friends, the Ten Commandments are far more broad in their ramifications than you ever thought. It’s critical we live according to the commandments.” So Jesus did not abolish the Ten Commandments, no. The key is Paul is thinking of something else. He is thinking, I think, literally, of a partition, a real wall, a literal wall.

Yes, there are figurative walls between labor and management, and there are figurative walls between male and female and between black and white, but there was a real wall between the Jews and the Gentiles. It was a wall. It was a partition in the temple, and the people inside were the Jews, who had not just the Commandments but the regulations, the ceremonial laws, the clean and the unclean laws, all the regulations by which they kept themselves separate from the world.

The Gentiles, who did not have all those laws, who were uncircumcised, who ate unclean meat, and so on, they were on the outside. What Paul points out is the Commandments and the regulations created hostility. That’s not the reason God gave the regulations. Why did God make Israel a separate people? Why did he set them apart with all those regulations?

Not to create enmity, not to create separation, but to make Israel a holy nation who would attract the Gentiles to God. That’s why so many of the calls to worship we do here … the first thing, when I call you to worship … very often, I read it from the Psalms. These were the calls to worship at the temple. Very often, in the Psalms, you see calls to worship from temple that don’t just go, “Come worship all ye people.” What does it say? “Come worship all ye peoples.”

God expected Israel to be drawing all peoples to the worship of God. But what happened was the regulations were distorted and twisted by the pride and selfishness in our hearts. The Jewish people began to take those regulations, which were a gift, and instead of being humbled by them, they became proud, and they said, “Look at these Gentile dogs who eat the wrong food. Look at these unwashed pagans. Why should we have anything to do with them?”

Their gift became a source of pride, and instead of serving the Gentiles with their gift, they scorn them and look down their nose at them. The Gentiles say, “Well, who needs these stuck-up people?” So they became a dividing wall of hostility.

Listen. Let me say, very clearly, this is only one case. Tonight we are not picking on Jewish people because this is a universal principle. Every person who receives a gift, every strength you have, everything that is good about you, sin will twist it and turn it around and turn it into something that makes you look down your nose at other people.

I remember, for example, the school district in my hometown came up with this brilliant idea. They said, “Let’s take the smartest kids from all the different parts of the school district together, and we’ll put them in one class, because they can really, really study, and we can get them three and four years ahead in math and three and four years ahead in all these things.” They put them all together. They didn’t say, “You are the gifted class,” but everybody in that class knew they were pretty intelligent.

Twelve years later, they evaluated the program, and they stopped it. I remember reading the evaluation, and the reason for that was there was tremendous hostility created between that class and everybody else. The class developed a sense of, “Oh, we know who we are. We are the smart kids, and we know who you are. You’re the ones who couldn’t cut it and get into this class.” Of course, everybody else says, “They’re the snobby, smart kids, and we want nothing to do with them,” and there was violence because of that.

I’ve counseled, and I sure hope I don’t do a whole lot more of it, but I did a lot of marriage counseling when I was in Virginia because the nearest therapist was about 300 miles away from my town, so I did it. One of the things I found in this little blue-collar town was the women were more adaptable than the men, by and large.

Everybody got married at the age of 16 or 17, and then as time went on, the women were more adaptable. They learned. They grew. They took courses. Even though most of them were just high school graduates, they would take other courses, and they changed and grew, and their husbands didn’t.

Ten to fifteen years later, here’s what happened: For whatever reason (and I can’t document this), the women were more adaptable to their environment. They were more responsive. They were more receptive, and the husbands, it was harder for them to admit when they were wrong. This was a gift these women had.

I don’t know if it’s inherent to the female brain. I don’t know. I haven’t read that, but I do know these women, almost all of them, would get together and talk about it, and they turned it into a tremendous source of pride. They would constantly scorn their husbands about their male ego. The male ego … he can’t admit when he’s wrong. The male ego is rigid.

What happened was they turned their gift into pride. Everybody does it. All of us do it. The gifts God gives us become walls of hostility, barriers. Don’t you see? What does God do about it? What does Jesus say is the solution? The solution is in verses 15 and 16: “by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross …”

The answer to the problem, the inveterate problem, the problem that cannot be solved any other way is here were two people, two groups, Jew and Gentile, at each other’s throats. Jesus reconciled them to God and thus to each other through the cross. Now how does the cross do that? Here we go. The cross does it (and only the cross) because it eliminates boasting.

Have you seen that? One of the problems with the new translations are they get rid of that word boasting? There are a lot of places where Paul says, “No one will boast,” or, “I will boast in nothing.” In fact, my favorite verse, and the verse I need to read you right now, is Galatians 6:14, a very important verse.

He says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither Jew nor Gentile means anything but a new creation. Peace to all who follow this rule.” Did you hear that? He says, “I boast in nothing but the cross; therefore, Jew and Gentile mean nothing to me. I look at everyone differently, and peace comes to those who follow this rule.”

The cross eliminates boasting. The trouble with the word boast is what? When you think of boasting, what do you think of? You think of a braggart. You think of somebody at a party, huh? You think of the lady in the TV commercial where the lady says, “Now darling, enough about me. What do you think of my dress?” Do you remember that one? Yeah.

Anyway, you think of bragging. You think of somebody who’s always talking about their accomplishments. No. It’s a much deeper word than that. Many times this word boast is translated glory. “I will glory in nothing else but the cross.” You see, the word glory in the Bible means something of weight, and what Paul says here is, “There were many things I used to glory in.” Now what does that mean? “I used to boast in them. I used to glory.”

Does it mean I bragged about them at parties? No. Here’s what it means: To glory in something means to say, “This is what gives me weight. This thing is what makes me count. This thing is what gives me substance. It’s because of this that I am not chaff blown into the wind. I’m not smoke. I’m not an illusion. I’m not a holograph. It’s this thing that makes me real. It’s this thing that defines me. It’s this thing that makes me count.” Paul says that is eliminated by the cross, and only the cross can eliminate that.

He goes into more detail in another incredibly important passage where he gives, virtually, his life story in a few verses, and it’s in Philippians 3. It reads like this: “If any man has reasons to boast, I have more. Of the people of Israel …” He’s talking about himself. “[I was] of the people of Israel … a Hebrew of the Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”

Listen. “But whatever was to my profit, I now consider debit. For the sake of Christ, I consider them all as rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from obeying the law, but a righteousness that comes from God through faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.”

He makes a list. He says, “If anybody has things to glory in, I have more.” That list, he says, “I was a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” He’s talking about his family, pedigree, his social status. Then he says, “I was a Pharisee.” He was a scholar, “… as to knowledge, a Pharisee …” He was a scholar. His education was impeccable, all right? Ivy League, see?

Then thirdly, he says, “As to zeal, I persecuted the church.” That’s professional success as a rabbi, all right? Social status, educational excellence, professional success, and then he says, “… as to legal righteousness, faultless.” He says, “In every way, my moral record, all these things, I get glory in them. I looked at them, and they gave me weight. They made me feel like I count. I know who I am. I’m somebody.”

They gave him his identity. He says here, “In order to become a Christian, I had to stop glorying in any of them.” He didn’t just say, “It happened when I became a Christian.” He says, “That I might know Christ, I had to count them all as rubbish.” By the way, that is a euphemism, okay? That’s a euphemism because the Greek word means dung, excrement, urine, all those things that got the art banned in Washington, DC.

He says, “I had to count them as refuse. I stopped looking at them as being things I got my identity from.” Does that mean he threw his books away and stopped being a scholar? No. He enjoyed the fact he was a scholar. Did that mean he stopped being moral? Of course not. Did that mean he stopped being a member his family, stopped being a member of the tribe of Benjamin; he didn’t go to the Benjamin family reunions anymore? What did that mean? It meant they no longer were foundational to his identity. He no longer gloried in them.

Now my friends, when that happened, as a Jew, all the things he boasted in were knocked out, and that meant suddenly there was no difference between the Gentiles and him. It’s not just Jewish people who do that. Friends, every religion other than evangelical Christianity does the same thing. It says, “Here’s what you have to do. Go out and get it. Do it. When you succeed, then you know you count.”

I got an interesting little brochure. I won’t mention the church just in case … You know this is New York, and who knows? I might get sued, but there’s a place full of conflict. There’s not much peace here, you know, strife and litigation … But this particular church believes they can give you spiritual purification.

Here’s how their religion works: In the brochure, it says, “Come take our Purification Rundown. The rundown will return your energy and alertness to its natural, sparkling, clear, fresh state. The program is a strenuous one, but you can complete it by following the rules. The Purification Rundown is not concerned with the body. The aim of the Purification Rundown is freeing the individual spiritually. There are no medical recommendations or claims made for the program. The only claim is future spiritual improvement.”

On the back, there’s a testimony, and this person said, “After completing the rundown, I became vice president of marketing for an international cable company. I was able to complete all my work in just a few hours with my new energy level, and for the first time in years, I had evenings and weekends free.” Don’t you realize …? That’s crass. Of course, it’s crass. “Come. It’ll be hard work, but if you follow our religion you’ll reach all of your goals, and then you’ll feel so good about yourself.”

Of course, that’s crass, but friends, every religion, every philosophy outside of evangelical Christianity, whether you get an old one that’s been around for thousands of years or you make up your own, does the same thing. Can I give you a little more subtle personal example? When I was in college, I was very depressed at a period, and I went to a counselor, and the counselor said to me, “One of the things we have to do to help you in your depression is help your sense of self-esteem,” which, in other words, well, he says, “You’re not glorying in anything.”

Now he didn’t put it like that, of course, but that’s what he meant, and he said, “What are you good at?” I shudder to tell you this, because it was a long time ago, but at the time I was a trumpet player, and I said, “I’m a pretty good trumpet player.” He said, “Now I want you to do this: When you start to get depressed, I want you to imagine yourself playing a solo that brings down the house. Do that whenever you are feeling depressed,” and I tried it.

I can give you this testimony: In the short run, it does make you feel better, but then you’re on a treadmill. There are only two things that can happen to you; either you achieve what you imagine, and you build your identity on your gift, and next thing you know, you’re starting to look down your nose (just like Paul says here) at every other inartistic Philistine, every other boorish person who’s not like you.

If you really get successful, you can put yourself in a power bubble surrounded just by people who tell you how great things are. The only other alternative is you fail. Then what happens to you is you’re eaten up with envy and resentment all the rest of your life. In either sense, in either situation, peace is gone. You’re either eaten up with pride or you’re eaten up with envy and resentment. I’m speaking personally.

Paul says the gospel and the gospel alone, the cross and the cross alone, changes all that because what the cross does is it takes you and shows you all these things you’re glorying in, though good in themselves, are nothing before God. They cannot make you in even one iota acceptable to him. They are nothing before God, and compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, they’re less than nothing.

Years ago (I’ll use him as an illustration), there was a man named David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of my heroes, and I’ll quote him as often as I possibly can. He and C.S. Lewis, you’ll hear quotes all the time. Why not? They’re both dead, but they’re like my tutors, my friends, when I read them. Lloyd-Jones was a surgeon in London in the 20s, and he was a man of great standing and distinction. The trouble was, after he became a Christian, he discovered, to his consternation and everybody else’s, he was an incredibly good speaker, a tremendous preacher.

One of the best things you can do if you’re a Christian and a doctor is to be a great Christian doctor, and one of the worst things most Christian doctors could do would be to go out and try to preach. This man was clearly called to the ministry. He had to do it, and he did. He left being a surgeon and he went into the ministry. At that time he took a 90 percent cut in salary. His salary as a minister was one-tenth of what it was as a surgeon.

Some years after that happened, a reporter came to him, and the reporter said, “Dr. Lloyd-Jones, many people were intrigued when you made this choice. You gave up so much. There were so many things in your life you had to give up, and I’m sure there has been a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction doing what you’ve done, but I’ve come here to find out, on balance, after reflecting and weighing everything up, was it worth it?”

Lloyd-Jones growled at him in Welsh (because he was Welsh), and he says, “I gave up nothing. I received everything.” In other words, let me translate. He says, “My dear man, you don’t even understand the basic nature of Christianity. Christianity is not one way among many that can help you be happy. It’s not just a way that we have to say, ‘Will this help me really reach my goals in life?’ It’s a total reorientation.”

What Lloyd-Jones said is just what Paul said. He said, “All those things I used to glory in, all those things that used to be sources of pride for me, things through which I got my identity, I saw, compared to what I needed to be (acceptable before God), they were nothing. Compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, they were less than nothing, and so I gave them all up.” “I gave up nothing. I received everything.”

By the way, if there is anybody here tonight who has been thinking about committing your life fully to Jesus Christ … I’ll bet you some of you are sitting around saying, “Ah, but will it be worth it? I might have to give up so much.” Oh, you will have to give up some things. Of course, you have to give up some things. You’re weighing it up. My dear friends, you know what you’re weighing up? Good things in themselves, many of them, but compared to the surpassing worth of Jesus Christ, dust balls.

You won’t know this until you do it, until you give yourself to him. You are like a person sitting around saying, “I have millions in the bank, but I’m agonizing. Do I want to spend 25 cents on that stamp to send in my withdrawal request? Oh, I hate to do that.” You know, maybe a 25-cent stamp represents your life savings up to this point, but you have all that in the bank. “I gave up nothing. I received everything.”

The Bible says when a person is like that and when a person does that, there’s a fundamental change in their relationships to all other believers. Don’t you see why? Because now you have an identity which is deeper than your family identity. That doesn’t mean you stay out of your family, but now you have an identity deeper than your family, an identity deeper than your gender, an identity deeper than your race, an identity deeper than your culture.

Why do you think Jesus Christ can say, “You must hate your mother and father and love me?” He doesn’t mean you literally write poison-pen letters to your parents as soon as you become a Christian, but what he does mean is he says, “Now compared to what you feel about me, compared to your commitment to me, your commitment to your family is smaller.” Or put it this way: The Hatfields and the McCoys, remember them? They were fighting and shooting each other and killing each other for years and years back in the hinterland of West Virginia.

As a result, anybody who was a Hatfield, that defined them. If you were a Hatfield, you didn’t shoot at another Hatfield, and if you were a Hatfield, you shot at McCoy. That’s how your life was run. But if a Hatfield and a McCoy both became Christians, then those two people had far more in common with each other than they did with their own families. That is the nature of the gospel because that’s how radically different your identity is in Christ.

In a sense, everything I’m doing now, this passage, is a commentary on the claim I made last week. If you’re a Christian, you’re a Christian first and you’re an American second. If you’re a Christian, you’re a Christian first and you’re a white person or a black person second. If you’re a Christian, you’re a Christian first and you’re a ruling class or a poor person second. Don’t you see that?

Because the relationship you have in Christ is much more fundamental than any other relationship you have. That is absolutely the nature of the gospel. As a result, the unity and solidarity Christians can have is the sort of thing the world has been trying to get for years. It can’t get there because it doesn’t embrace the cross. The cross knocks down the sources of pride, the things that divide us, and unites us. Unites us completely.

Some of you have heard of Matthew Henry. He wrote a very famous commentary. He lived in the 1700s. It’s a very old commentary and a good favorite. His father’s name was Philip Henry. His father and mother were courting. They were dating, and unfortunately, Philip Henry was from the wrong side of the tracks. The girl he was dating, who was going to be Matthew Henry’s mother, was from Society Hill.

At one point, the parents of Matthew Henry’s mother came to her and said, “This Philip Henry who you’re dating, we’re concerned. We don’t know where he’s from. We don’t know who his parents are. We don’t know what part of the city he’s really from. We don’t know where he’s from.” She looked at them and said, “I don’t know where he’s from either, but I know where he’s going.”

You see, that’s all that matters. That’s why Paul can say, “… henceforth we know no man according to the flesh …,” which means, “I know longer think of people the same way.” Christians will find there’s more solidarity with other Christians of other races than they have with non-Christians of their own race. Christians will find there’s more solidarity between themselves and Christians of other families than they have with non-Christians of their own family, and so on, and so on.

The Greek word for church is ekklesia, called out, and you’re not called out of involvement with the world. You’re called out of the identity. That’s the reason why we can say you’re a Christian first and you’re white or you’re black second. You’re a Christian first and you’re this family or that family second. You’re a Christian a first and you’re rich or poor second. That’s the reason why the solidarity Christian can have should be, can be, unsurpassed.

We’re a new humanity. That’s what it means when it says, “The two have become one man.” What does that mean? It means there’s a new humanity, a new race. A new race. In conclusion, I want to just ask, “What are the implications of this?” I’ll give you two. Just two.

1. If this is true, don’t you see the church is not a nice place just to drop in on every so often?

Don’t you see the church is not a club? Do you begin to understand why there are these commands in the Bible who almost no one in this room, including me (because I’m new here), are obeying? I’m not sure I was obeying them in Philadelphia. The Bible says, “Confess your sins to each other …”

Here’s another one: “Exhort one another daily lest you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Do you have relationships that are so strong there’s somebody who understands you well enough to know day to day when you’re falling down on the job, so that person can encourage you and exhort you so you’re not hardened? Are you obeying that verse? Are you making provision to obey that verse?

“Exhort one another daily lest you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Confess your sins to one another. Welcome one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Submit to one another. The reason for this is the church is a place where you forge relationships that are full of accountability.

Do you know what real worldliness is, friends? To be conformed into the image of the world right now means you as Christians bring your Americanism in, and Americanism is, “I’m responsible for my own life. My problems are nobody else’s business. My sins are nobody else’s business because there is no relationship in which I can’t walk out if my needs aren’t being met.” That’s the American way today. That flies right in the face of everything we have been looking at.

An awful lot of Christians will come into the church … In fact, some of you might be considering … Well, you’re coming to listen to me. Because you want to know whether, if you have the need, you’d be willing to confess your sins to me. Okay … Only if you have the need, you know. Whether you would come and let me exhort you weekly, “… lest you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

You’re trying to figure out whether you want to just come to the place where you have one person who you’re doing that for occasionally. The Bible says you are still holding the church at arm’s length. You’re still refusing to come into the church. You’re still refusing to be truly committed because you’re not making provision for other believers to exhort you daily “… lest you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” If you don’t obey that verse, you will be hard. You have to be.

It’s not good enough just to come and to say, “Okay, the guy up front, I’ll listen to him. I’ll try to develop a relationship with him.” It’s not good enough. It’s not good enough. We have to be a church in which the truth is spoken in love, and my friends, it’s a church where people can walk up to you and say, “Excuse me. I’ve been praying about this for several weeks. I haven’t talked to anybody else about this. You can hit me. Maybe you will hit me later on. Possibly, we can still talk about. I’m trying my very best to do it right. Do you realize your temper is the talk of the whole office?”

Now you have to get ready. You duck. If you and that other person are a Christian, that’s the nature of the unity you have to have. That other person might hit you and later on come back and say, “Thank you.” Later on, you may find out, if the person hits you, they were right; you exaggerated. You didn’t act on proper information, but a church … That’s the church, a church where you’re forging ties that are as deep as the family.

What else does it mean when it says, “Hate your father and mother and love me?” It can’t mean you really hate your father and mother. It must mean you forge tremendously strong bonds with other believers in the church. Don’t forget, Jesus died on the cross to put you into the body. He didn’t die just to save little individual people to run around and go wherever they get blessed the most. He saved you to put you into the body and make you a new person with other people, okay?

By the way, if I was in New York, I’d probably be doing what a lot of you have been doing for years, but I’m trying to say, once you see what the Scripture says, and once you have opportunities, you need to make provision. You need to make provision. The other thing I just want to say is, keep this in mind. In Ephesians 1, Paul writes to the Ephesians, who he has never met, and he says, “I’ve heard you are true believers because of, one, your faith in Jesus Christ and, two, your love for all the saints.” Now those were the tests.

2. Your love for all the saints

Don’t you see? Some of you may say, “I know I’m a believer because I believe all the doctrines. I believe all the right things. I have faith in Jesus Christ.” But don’t forget the other test of whether you’re really a Christian. Do you love all the saints? All the saints.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to say one of the reasons he realized he had changed … After he became a Christian, he would sometimes wonder, “Have I really changed?” He suddenly realized something really weird had happened. You have to remember England (those of you who are from Britain realize this) is a lot more of a class-conscious society than we have here, though we have classes. Silly to say we don’t have classes, but Britain has that class-consciousness.

As he got into a church in a little mining community in Wales, he used to spend a lot visiting with what he called “old Welsh fisherwomen,” women with no formal schooling at all but who were godly women. He would sit down, and he would talk with them for hours by their hearth. Then he would go and spend time with his old friends, the people he went to Oxford with, the people he went to medical school with.

He suddenly realized one day, he says, “I enjoy, more, hours of fellowship with another Christian who is as opposite as these fisherwomen are to me than I do talking with my peers, the people who are of the same ilk, the same education with me.” He suddenly realized, “What could take a British ruling class person and do that?” Only the gospel, your love for all the saints.

There may be people in here who come in here and because of your gifts and your talents, you’ve always scorned the hoi polloi. Some of you may come here, you respectable types, and you’re not sure how you like to deal with these street types. Other people might come in here who have a kind of disrespectable background, and you’re afraid the respectable types won’t work. You might be the tough guy who kind of hates those artsy types.

My friends, I don’t care whether or not you believe all the doctrine. The way you know you’re a believer is you love all the saints, and you find that as you work for it. This is how I end … My weekly C.S. Lewis quote. He says, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal …” They’ll end, right?

“… and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

We should be treating each other as infinitely precious vessels, as if you were in a house and you picked up a vase and looked at it, and you said, “Oh, what is this?” Then somebody said, “Oh, that’s a 2,000-year-old vase from the Ming dynasty.” You would be in shock. Suddenly, fear and trembling would overtake you, and you would treat that vase as the precious thing that it is. There’s something infinitely more precious in the pew next to you tonight.

 About the Preacher

In 1989 Dr. Timothy J. Keller, his wife and three young sons moved to New York City to begin Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In 20 years it has grown to meeting for five services at three sites with a weekly attendance of over 5,000. Redeemer is notable not only for winning skeptical New Yorkers to faith, but also for partnering with other churches to do both mercy ministry and church planting.  Redeemer City to City is working to help establish hundreds of new multi-ethnic congregations throughout the city and other global cities in the next decades.

Dr. Tim Keller is the author of several phenomenal Christo-centric books including:

Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It (co-authored with Greg Forster and Collin Hanson (February or March, 2014).

Encounters with Jesus:Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. New York, Dutton (November 2013).

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York, Dutton (October 2013).

Judges For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (August 6, 2013).

Galatians For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (February 11, 2013).

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World. New York, Penguin Publishing, November, 2012.

Center ChurchDoing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, September, 2012.

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. New York: 10 Publishing, April 2012.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. New York: Riverhead Trade, August, 2012.

The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (editor and contributor). Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York, Dutton, 2011.

King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Retitled: Jesus the KIng: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God). New York, Dutton, 2011.

Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010.

The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, Dutton, 2009.

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Priorities of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, Riverhead Trade, 2009.

Heralds of the King: Christ Centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney (contributor). Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009.

The Prodigal God. New York, Dutton, 2008.

Worship By The Book (contributor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1997.

Right Field Is Really Messed Up! By Tony Evans

Series: Friday Humor #8

 baseball fielder cartoon

The humorous story is told of a baseball manager who decided to play a rookie in right field one day. The regular right fielder wasn’t happy about it and loudly made it known from the bench that it was a mistake to play the kid. Well, as it turned out the rookie was so nervous that he messed up big-time. He made a couple of errors and misjudged several other fly balls that could have been called errors. And each time he messed up, the veteran complained loudly on the bench. Finally, late in the game the manager replaced the rookie with the veteran, mostly to shut the veteran up. Sure enough, he muffed the first ball hit to him for an error. As he came off the field at the end of the inning, everyone on the bench got very quiet to hear what he would say. The manager was waiting for the veteran too, but before the manager could say anything, the man slammed his glove down in disgust and said, ‘Skip, that kid has right field so messed up nobody can play it!’

That’s the way many Christians feel about the teachings surrounding the great doctrine of salvation in Jesus Christ. They feel as if church ‘professionals’ have so mixed up and complicated the issues that no one can get them straight anymore. Too many pastors, teachers, and theologians have added to the problem by failing to communicate the wonder of the unspeakable gift of salvation in Christ in language the everyday person can relate to. As a result, this truth is far too misunderstood, underappreciated, and even abused. That’s unfortunate, because there are few teachings in the Bible more glorious than the truth that God has delivered us from His wrath and given us the guarantee of heaven in the salvation He has provided through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Anecdote above adapted from Tony Evans. Totally Saved: Understanding, Experiencing, and Enjoying the Greatness of Your Salvation (Kindle Locations 77-91). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition. 2003.

Book Review: The Strategy of Satan by Warren Wiersbe

Understanding and Overcoming Satan’s Tactics Primer

Review by David P. Craig

 Warren Wiersbe can always be trusted to be biblical, concise, clear, and give ample practical illustrations and applications to modern life. In this short primer on Satan’s tactics and our responses to his tactics the book may be broken down in the following three ways:

First, the writer shows how Satan is the ultimate deceiver, destroyer, ruler, and accuser. In each of the first four chapters Wiersbe gives an Old Testament example in each of these four areas in order to demonstrate Satan’s target, weapon, purpose, and then tactical defenses we can use against his deceptions, evil plans, feeding our pride, and his accusations towards us.

Secondly, the middle of the book is about increasing our faith in God, and how not to give Satan a foothold in our life so as not to paralyze and immobilize us in God’s work on earth. He focuses on the positive ways we can overcome the Evil One’s tactics by trusting and obeying Christ.

Thirdly, Wiersbe gives a masterful exposition of all the armor we have been given in the battle against Satan and demons from Ephesians 6, and how Satan attacks the family, and churches as a key strategy in his arsenal of tactics.

Overall, this book is thorough, biblically sound, and very useful in its many practical applications. I highly recommend this book – especially if you have never read anything on the wiles of the Enemy and how to overcome our greatest Adversary.

*Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary, Warren Wiersbe is the author of more than 100 books. Billy Graham calls him “one of the greatest Bible expositors of our generation.” Interestingly, Warren’s earliest works had nothing to do with scriptural interpretation. His interest was in magic, and his first published title was Action with Cards (1944).

“It was sort of imbecilic for a fifteen-year-old amateur magician to have the audacity to write a book and send it to one of the nation’s leading magic houses,” Warren says. But having a total of three books published by the L.L. Ireland Magic Company—before the age of 20—gave him a surge of confidence. In later years, he applied his confidence and writing talent to the Youth for Christ (YFC) ministry.

Warren wrote many articles and guidebooks for YFC over a three-year period, but not all his manuscripts were seen by the public eye. One effort in particular, The Life I Now Live, based on Galations 2:20, was never published. The reason, Warren explains with his characteristic humor, is simple: it was “a terrible book…Whenever I want to aggravate my wife, all I have to say is, ‘I think I’ll get out that Galations 2:20 manuscript and work on it.’” Fortunately, Warren’s good manuscripts far outnumbered the “terrible” ones, and he was eventually hired by Moody Press to write three books.

The much-sought-after author then moved on to writing books for Calvary Baptist Church. It was during his ten years at Calvary that Expository Outlines on the New Testament and Expository Outlines on the Old Testament took shape. These two works later became the foundation of Warren’s widely popular Bible studies known as the Be series, featuring such titles as Be Loyal (a study on Matthew) and Be Delivered (a study on Exodus). Several of these books have been translated into Spanish.

His next avenue of ministry was Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church, where he served for seven years. He wrote nearly 20 books at Moody before moving to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he and his wife, Betty, now live. Prior to relocating, he had been the senior pastor of Moody Church, a teacher at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a producer of the Back to the Bible radio program.

During all these years of ministry, Warren held many more posts and took part in other projects too numerous to mention. His accomplishments are extensive, and his catalog of biblical works is indeed impressive and far-reaching (many of his books have been translated into other languages). But Warren has no intention of slowing down any time soon, as he readily explains: “I don’t like it when people ask me how I’m enjoying my ‘retirement,’ because I’m still a very busy person who is not yet living on Social Security or a pension. Since my leaving Back to the Bible, at least a dozen books have been published, and the Lord willing, more are on the way.”

Wiersbe’s recent books include Your Next MiracleThe 20 Essential Qualities of a Child of GodThe Bumps are What You Climb OnClassic Sermons on the Fruit of the SpiritClassic Sermons on Jesus the ShepherdKey Words of the Christian LifeLonely PeopleA Gallery of GraceReal Peace: Freedom and Conscience in the Christian Life, and On Being a Leader for God.

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