Drawing Near

A Pastoral Perspective on Biblical, Theological, & Cultural Issues | The Personal Website of James B. Law, Ph.D.

Yearly Archive: 2015

Wednesday

23

December 2015

0

COMMENTS

Though He Was Rich, Yet For Our Sake He Became Poor

Written by , Posted in Devotional

Birth of ChristIn this Christmas season, once again the question of the ages is, “Who was the baby in the manger?” If he was in fact God in human flesh, and his life was lived in the monumental way in which it was lived, what are we supposed to do with that information? The Apostle John wrote his gospel to answer that question:“so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31,32).

God took on human flesh and dwelt among us and his glory was seen by a multitude of witnesses. The brief life of Jesus Christ was captured in four inspired and authoritative books named for the authors who penned them: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. From these four perspectives, we receive a composite of the life and work of Jesus Christ. These accounts were written not so we would remain neutral on the question of Jesus, but for the expressed purpose that we might believe that he was the long awaited Messiah, and that by believing we might have salvation and hope in his name.

Some years ago Philip Yancey, in his book The Jesus I Never Knew, contrasted the humility that characterized Jesus’ royal visit to planet earth with the prestigious image associated with world rulers today. Yancey wrote:

Queen Elizabeth II had recently visited the United States, and reporters delighted in spelling out the logistics involved: her four thousand pounds of luggage included two outfits for every occasion, a mourning outfit in case someone died, forty pints of plasma, and white kid-leather toilet seat covers. She brought along her own hairdresser, two valets, and a host of other attendants. A brief visit of royalty to a foreign country can easily cost twenty million dollars…

In meek contrast, God’s visit to earth took place in an animal shelter with no attendants present and nowhere to lay the newborn king but a feed trough. Indeed, the event that divided history, and even our calendars, into two parts may have had more animal than human witnesses. A mule could have stepped on him. (more…)

Monday

14

December 2015

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COMMENTS

Healthy Relationships in Church Life

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Leadership

Healthy Relationships in the BodyTimothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp  have written a helpful book entitled Relationships: A Mess Worth Making.  In one of their chapters, they ask the question, “Why bother?” Of course, they are asking “why bother” with relationships at all in light of how they are often painful and troubling. Lane and Tripp argue strongly, and biblically, that instead of calling for a détente on all relationships, we should see them from this perspective:

God wants to bring us to the end of ourselves so that we would see our need for a relationship with him as well as with others. Every painful thing we experience in relationships is meant to remind us of our need for him. And every good thing we experience is meant to be a metaphor of what we can only find in him. 

I mentioned in the first post of this series (Here) that there have been pains and struggles in the pastorate. Not only have I had to deal regularly with my own sinful attitudes and tendencies, which makes life hard, but I have had to work through painful relationships in the course of living my life as a Christian.

God’s plan is not to avoid problems, but to work through them by his grace and for his glory. The relationships in a local church become the training ground for all believers to learn to love as Christ loves us (Ephesians 4:31,32).  We are prone to speak in generalities about loving others. We prefer to love people from afar where they can’t mess up our comforts and preferences. Truth be known, the following describes us well,

To dwell above with the saints we love, Oh that will be glory;

But to dwell below with the saints we know, Well, that is another story! (more…)

Monday

23

November 2015

0

COMMENTS

Spiritual Sweat

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional, Leadership, Uncategorized

Image of spiritual sweatFrom the age of five until I was twenty-two, I spent most of my time either on a ball field or in a gymnasium.  Through my youth, I was involved in hundreds of practices and games.  Athletics was very much at the center of my life, and from those experiences I learned the importance of commitment, teamwork, and discipline.

When I came to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 20, I discovered that what was true in athletics was also true in living the Christian life, namely that to live for Christ is a call to discipline and training.  I knew that I could never work to earn salvation or even to contribute to it, for salvation comes by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8,9). I understood that God would not love me more if I prayed more, or gave more, or went to church more.  However, as I read the Bible, I discovered straightforward commands and disciplines that believers were to embrace into their lives. If I was going to grow in my walk with Christ, then I needed biblical intake on a daily basis. I needed daily times of God-connecting prayer. I needed personal and corporate worship. I needed to share my faith regularly. I needed to give of my time, money, and resources for Kingdom advancement. I needed to serve others and be united in a local body of believers.

In this fourth post on pastoral reflections, I come to I Timothy 4 which underscores the need for every believer to embrace spiritual discipline as a means of grace to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. In this chapter, the Apostle Paul gives a directive to Timothy, which comes to every believer. The Christian life is described in athletic terms as the New Testament describes a race (Hebrews 12:1-3) and a battle (2 Timothy 4:7; Ephesians 6:10-17).  For this contest, followers of Jesus Christ are called to “discipline themselves for the purpose of godliness” (I Timothy 4:7). (more…)

Monday

9

November 2015

2

COMMENTS

Spiritual Leadership

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Leadership

Spiritual Leadership-LionThis is the third installment of articles that are pastoral reflections on twenty-two years with the same congregation. I am following a series of themes that emerge from Paul’s pastoral letter of First Timothy and have found this New Testament letter to be crucial in forging my ministry philosophy as well as our church’s practice.

From Gospel centrality (I Timothy 1) and the priority of prayer (I Timothy 2), we move to spiritual leadership (I Timothy 3). Charles Spurgeon once said, “The most suicidal thing a church can do is compromise on leadership.” By “compromise” Spurgeon was referring to the biblical character qualities outlined in Scripture as they apply to those who would serve as pastors and deacons.

The selection of spiritual leaders is one of the most vital tasks facing a local congregation. Sadly, the criteria considered for such an all-important decision is anything but the character of the man under consideration. Often in a superficial assessment, the church notices things like popularity, or personality, or familiarity, or one’s reputation in the business community or financial status.

Interestingly in I Timothy 3, the apostle Paul speaks of none of these as qualifications for service as a pastor or deacon in the church of Jesus Christ. Instead, he provides a list of character qualities that serve as a guide for every church in the calling of spiritual leaders.

The reason spiritual leadership comes to mind in this reflection is because no church can function properly on the spiritual gifts of a single pastor, and no church can thrive for long with a leadership that undercuts the witness of the church. (more…)

Friday

9

October 2015

0

COMMENTS

The Priority of Prayer

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional, Leadership

Christian kneeling in prayerSome years back, I had a friend who was serving on the pastor search committee of her church. She shared with me her discouragement with the whole search process as she bemoaned the fact that the team commissioned by the church for this very important assignment seemed devoid of any commitment to pray. When she expressed her burden that the committee spend a season in prayer, one member said, “We don’t really need to pray, one pastor is just as good as another.”  Her heart sunk, and needless to say, the search process did not go well, and the church was hindered by poor leadership.

In reading I Timothy, we find a crucial blueprint for establishing pastoral ministry in a local church. The apostle Paul had placed Timothy, his young protégé in Gospel work, in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was a spiritual war zone (Ephesians 6:10-20), and Timothy was commissioned to establish sound doctrine with this goal in mind, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (I Timothy 1:5)

With Gospel centrality and biblical authority as the foundation for church life, Paul establishes the priority of prayer in I Timothy 2 as a matter of first importance. Notice the language, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.” (I Timothy 2:1)

Timothy received seasoned counsel that would be essential to fulfilling his ministry. Namely, he was to make prayer the priority of his life and lead the congregation to embrace a commitment to prayer—-about everything and for everyone.

The terms Paul uses in v. 1 range from general prayer to specific petitions. Paul was describing the type of prayer that becomes the aroma for every gathering of God’s people. Prayer that is specific as a local church prays for every subdivision, apartment complex, trailer park, law enforcement personnel, elected official, local school, and business. Prayer that manifests concern for others and for their struggles and needs that we see every day. Prayer that seeks Christ for the global triumph of the Gospel in an Acts 1:8 concentric all the way to the unreached people groups of this world.  (more…)

Thursday

24

September 2015

0

COMMENTS

Gospel Centrality

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Leadership, Theology

I mentioned in my last post that I would be sharing a series of articles on pastoral convictions that have been forged in the context of local church ministry. In my case, a twenty-two year journey with the same congregation.

These brief articles will be based on the book of I Timothy where the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy on how to fulfill faithful ministry in a local body. In what seems to be his purpose statement, Paul wrote to his spiritual son,

“I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”                                                                                  ~I Timothy 3:14-15

Paul explained to Timothy that he desired to come for a personal visit, but that he was writing in case that didn’t work out. He wanted Timothy to have specific instruction and guidance on how to lead a local church, specifically, “how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God.”

In reading the New Testament, clearly the Church is not a civic club but a redeemed family with an eternal purpose. In God’s redemptive plan, the local church is the hope of the world because of the message that is to be proclaimed through the ministry of God’s word and the lives of God’s people.  (more…)

Tuesday

15

September 2015

2

COMMENTS

Reflections on 22 Years With the Same Congregation

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Leadership

Today I pass my 22nd year pastoring the same congregation. This is really an answer to prayers offered long ago as Gwynne and I walked around our seminary campus. As we were finishing our time of ministry preparation and seeking God’s direction, we asked the Lord to lead us to a place where we could invest our lives with a people and where we could grow together in the obedience of faith.  First Baptist Church Gonzales (FBCG) has been an answer to that prayer.

Serving as a pastor of a local congregation has been a rich and fulfilling experience that has brought me great joy and a sense of God’s pleasure. I have never been bored, and the call to rise each morning and get to the task at hand has never been in question for me.

As John Piper quipped, in his work, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, “God loves a cheerful pastor.” Piper’s adaptation of 2 Corinthians 9:7 has been like a well-driven nail into my thoughts and attitudes about local church ministry that has served me well. At this point in my journey, I am more energized than I can ever remember for Christ to receive his rightful glory in his church and among the nations.

However, there have been times in ministry where I have wanted to quit, times that were not joyful, but excruciating. That feeling could be articulated as an impulse to move to Montana and work at McDonalds. Those moments have always been short-lived for me, and I have come to see that the pain in ministry has been God’s sanctifying hand chastening and conforming me into the image of his Son (Romans 8:28-30). (more…)

Sunday

30

August 2015

0

COMMENTS

Reflections on Katrina Ten Years Later

Written by , Posted in Devotional, Faith & Culture, Uncategorized

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On Sunday, August 28th 2005, the First Baptist Church Gonzales, La.  gathered for worship with a foreboding outlook on the next 24 hours. As we closed the worship service, I addressed the congregation by stating the obvious, namely that the radar and forecast were troubling, and that we should make final decisions regarding the storm. My last comment was one leading to a closing prayer for God’s protection and provision, I shared with our church that Katrina promises to be a future pseudonym for disaster, and I am confident that it will change south Louisiana in a very profound way. I challenged our people that with such destruction coming our way, we could count on unprecedented opportunities for ministry.

For five hours on Monday, August 29, Hurricane Katrina battered the major Gulf Coast cities, and when all was said and done there were 1833 deaths and $108 billion dollars in damages.  Douglas Brinkley in his comprehensive and impressive chronicle, The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast,  writes, “The storm-surge flooding, which submerged a half million homes, creating the largest domestic refugee crisis since the Civil War. Eighty percent of New Orleans was under water, as debris and sewage coursed through the streets, and whole towns in southeastern Louisiana ceased to exist.”

Gonzales, being some 60 miles west of New Orleans along the route of Interstate 10, would escape the higher winds and the devastating flooding of our friends in New Orleans.  By being one of the first major exits on I-10 west out of New Orleans, Gonzales became a city of refugee for many fleeing Katrina. (more…)

Friday

21

August 2015

1

COMMENTS

Life is Short, Don’t Have an Affair

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Faith & Culture

One can only imagine the panic Tuesday’s revelation brought throughout the world when hackers announced that they were going to post online the client data from Ashley Madison, a web company that facilitates adulterous connections globally. This data leak is now available for download and includes: full names, street addresses, email addresses, and financial information of some 37 million users.

Make no mistake about it, the fallout will be devastating to millions of families, and serves to remind us of the dangerous secret lives that are being lived out in epic proportions on the Internet. We could rightly call this week’s Ashley Madison debacle a category 5 with regard to moral storms, and its effects most certainly will be catastrophic.

The explosion of Internet immorality into multi-billion dollar business seems to have come together like a perfect storm as spiritual decline coupled with the jettisoning of biblical truth merged with the rapid advance of the Internet.
(more…)

Thursday

20

August 2015

0

COMMENTS

The Harvest is Past, the Summer is Ended, and We Are Not Saved

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional

From the rhythm of the seasons, the ending of summer is a reminder of our need to be right with God. When August comes, I often am reminded of this statement found in the prophecy of Jeremiah,

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”       ~Jeremiah 8:20

These words were actually spoken by the people in a moment of anguish. It was a proverb expressing that their God-given opportunity to repent was now over. It was a statement of great despair and loss.

Throughout their history, Israel’s greatest enemies were not the Philistines or the Assyrians or the Babylonians. Israel’s greatest enemies were the false prophets who stood in the gates and told the people what they wanted to hear.

However, Jeremiah was not cut from that cloth of duplicity. By contrast, Jeremiah’s preaching was a ‘downer’ for the hard-hearted nation of Judah. When Jeremiah confronted the sins of his people he was persecuted. When he called the nation to repent, he was brought into the cross-hairs of their distain and ridicule.

Jeremiah’s one-tracked message to repent and return to the Lord was grating on the nerves of many. I mean, really, how many times do you need to hear about your sins? How many times do you need to hear that you must repent and turn to the Lord? But faithful prophets don’t custom craft their messages to please the people. (more…)