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Beset with Weakness

Recently my family and I took a two week vacation together. It was great. There were many things I took away from spending back to back weeks out of the routine of day to day ministry related tasks: meetings, sermons, phone calls, etc. Much of what the Lord showed me during my time away has leaked out in a few different areas, including the current sermon series our church is going through in Luke’s gospel. The overall picture is this: we’re busy and vacations aren’t the answer, Jesus is. I found that when I stopped the “activity” of ministry for two solid weeks several things bubbled to the surface of my heart, and they weren’t that great. They were however, a mercy from God. I was reminded again how needy I am (daily, hourly, moment by moment) for the sustaining grace and presence of Jesus in my life. No matter how busy I am in the things of life and ministry, there’s one thing that can never be dropped or marginalized in my life.

Then I started thinking about pastors in general. I thought about the somewhat strange dynamic of standing in front of people each week, needing to be the one who’s excited and encouraging and full of the Spirit, no matter how your week’s been. And I thought about the pressure (often self-imposed) that we put on ourselves to seem “super-spiritual” on Sundays and how silly that can be. Then, as I was reading in Hebrews the Lord blessed me with a picture of pastoral ministry (sort of). In Hebrews 5, the author is contrasting the high priest in Israel with Jesus (the true, eternal high priest). Now, the high priests weren’t pastors per se, but there were similar dynamics at work. So in his comparison the author points out how the high priests had to offer sacrifices, not just for the people, but for themselves. Why? They were sinners too. Verse two puts it beautifully:

He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. (Hebrews 5:2 ESV)

Here’s the picture–the man serving others in sacrificing animals for a covering over their sin, is in their same boat. He’s just as needy of the sacrifice as they are. I think this a very helpful picture for us pastors to observe and emulate. We come each Sunday to be with people who are struggling and needy and discouraged and confused and looking for answers. We don’t come to them as the answer, but our job is to point them to Jesus; because we too are beset with weakness. We too are in need of a thriving walk with Him. That doesn’t come any more naturally to pastors than non-pastors, just so you know. So, pastors we can be gentle and honest with people because we all need the same Jesus. We’re all looking to Him to come through in the end on our behalf.

I was reminded again that the best thing I can give my church and my family is a man who is pursuing Jesus  more than anything else. He’s the one who’s perfect, not me. His holiness has earned salvation, not mine. He’s our boast, our reward. So even though we’re pastors, we too are beset with weakness. Let’s bring that weakness to Jesus and ask Him to show His strength through us. Amen.


–Travis Cardwell


What Does Greek Have to do With the Gospel?

Bill Mounce is a hoss. He is a stud. He is the man. He knows Greek–he writes text books that I read in seminary and that I still look at often when I’m puzzled over a word. But his study is not purely academic. His desire is not to encourage Bible geeks, but to feed our understanding of God and the gospel. Studly.

Every Monday, you can visit this blog for a series called Monday’s with Mounce. Here he takes something that he’s learning and shares it with a growing audience of readers. . . Here’s his take on the series, which I highly recommend you subscribe to:

HT: Koinonia

Thank You Kevin!!

I never win free stuff. . .until last week. Kevin De Young and WTS books gave away 40 copies of The Good News We Almost Forgot and I got one!

This is new incentive to read it for sure!

Thanks Kevin and WTS!

Kevin DeYoung on Congregational Prayer

13 Good thoughts here:

1. Prepare. Some traditions use set prayers. Others rely on extemporaneous prayers. Both have their place. But I believe what our congregations need most are studied prayers. These prayers may or may not be read, but will be thought through ahead of time. Public prayer is often boring because little thought is put into it. There’s no training for it, no effort put it into it. An hour or two is not too long to spend in preparing a long, pastoral prayer.

2. Use forms with freedom. Learn from The Valley of Vision or Hughes Oliphant Old or the Book of Common Prayer. But suit their prayers to your own purposes. The Didache, after laying down set prayers for Communion, also allows “the prophets to give thanks however they wish.”

3. Pray Scripture. Don’t just ask God for what we want. Let him teach us what we should want.

4. Don’t footnote. Spurgeon: “It is not necessary in prayer to string a selection of texts of Scripture together, and quote David, and Daniel, and Job, and Paul, and Peter, and every other body, under the title of ‘thy servant of old.’” The Lord already knows who said everything so don’t tell him again in your prayers.

5. Leave the preaching for the sermon. Don’t exhort. Don’t explain texts. Don’t unpack complex theology. Spurgeon again: “Long prayers either consist of repetitions, or else of unnecessary explanations which God does not require; or else they degenerate into downright preachings, so that there is no difference between the praying and the preaching, except that in the one the minister has his eyes shut, and in the other he keeps them open. It is not necessary in prayer to rehearse the Westminster Assembly’s Catechism.”

6. Share some details of congregational life, but not all. A good shepherd will often mention by name various sheep that need special care. But don’t try to cover every engagement in the last three months or surreptitiously announce the youth retreat in your prayer (“Lord, be with our young people gathering this Friday at 5:00pm with their Bibles and a sleeping bag…”). Spurgeon one more time: “As I have said before, there is no need to make the public prayer a gazette of the week’s events, or a register of the births, deaths, and marriages of your people, but the general moments that have taken place in the congregation should be noted by the minister’s careful heart.”

7. Pray so that others can follow you easily. The goal is edification (1 Cor. 14:17). So don’t let your sentences get too long, too flowery, too ornate. If you write out your prayers, write for the ear not for the eye. On the other hand, don’t use distracting colloquialisms like, “Lord, you’re so sweet.”

8. Keep it relatively brief. Better to be too short than too long. Five minutes is plenty in most North American churches. Seven to ten minutes is possible is you are experienced and have trained your people well.

9. Remember you are praying with and on behalf of others. Use “we” and “our” (like in the Lord’s Prayer). This is not the time to confess your personal sins or recount your personal experiences.

10. Order your prayer. Make sure there is a flow and direction. Don’t get too wordy. Keep a good pace. It often makes sense to work from the inside out, praying first for concerns of the congregation and then moving out to the community, the global church, and the world.

11. Beware of verbal ticks. For example: popping your p’s, smacking your lips, sighing, ums, mindless repetition of the divine name, unnecessary use of the word “just” and “like,” an over-reliance on the phrase “we pray” or “we would pray” instead of simply praying.

12. Show proper reverence, confidence, and emotion. Pray like you mean it, like God is God, and as if he really hears us.

13. Pray before you pray. Ask God for help as you prepare. Ask him for humility and grace as you go up to pray.

A New Kind of Whole Foods, by Brian McLaren, via Jim Hamilton

Jim Hamilton has written a very interesting parable that you must read. What would it look like if Brian McLaren were advocating for a new kind of Whole Foods Store (instead of a New Kind of Christianity)?

Here’s a snip:

Brian McLaren decided to open his own Whole Foods store. He started small, and the business grew. After a struggle through the early years, he had his own storefront with the sign in the parking lot and everything: Whole Foods.

More and more, though, people complained about the high prices, and they were a little disappointed that while the food was supposed to be healthy, it just didn’t taste as good as what they were used to eating. McLaren wrestled with the problems of price, access, taste, and image, and after much turmoil he began to move toward a solution that he was sure would address the issues.

The change didn’t happen all at once, and McLaren didn’t announce what he had decided to do. In fact, there are some indications that this was, we might say, an organic development, a slow transformation. Once it had happened, though, the results are clear for all to see.

Though the sign out front still says Whole Foods, things are very different within. Instead of all that expensive, healthy, tasteless food, inside you can buy what looks and tastes just like fast food burgers and fries. In fact, Brian’s stuff is just like McDonald’s! And now the shelves of the store are stocked with things that people really want to eat, things that people can afford, things that are easier for McLaren to acquire and market, and things that taste just like what we used to eat when we didn’t bother about health food at all. Perfect! Affordable prices and food that tastes great—healthy to boot.

Brian even lets people smoke in his Whole Foods store. Here is a new kind of Whole Foods store we can love. Can you imagine? Here is a place where you can smoke and not feel guilty about needing a nicotine fix, a place you don’t have to worry about having an expensive, destructive addiction.

Brian understands and teaches that people are born with a proclivity to addiction. Some people are hard wired to love cigarettes, and those people who are against smoking just weren’t born with the same kinds of inclinations.

Trust me, it just gets better. Read the whole thing here. Also, be sure to check out the panel discussion on McLaren’s new book at SBTS on Thursday involving Drs. Mohler, Ware, Wellum, Wills and Hamilton.

From the Tilt-a-Whirl to the Trellis–Books thus far in 2010

It’s February. I’ve been reading some and wanted to share a couple of thoughts on a couple of books…

1. Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl, N.D. Wilson–Fantastic! You know you’ve read a good book when you’re disappointed when you are finished. I wanted to read more! Wilson is a great writer. This is G.K. Chesterton meets C.S. Lewis with some of my generation’s blunt rhetoric sprinkled in for good measure. This is a fun book to read! (N.D. Wilson’s children’s books are now on my list to read with my 11 year old).

2. Leading on Empty, Wayne Cordeiro–This is a book written by a well known pastor who burned out. He found himself one day crying uncontrollably on the side of the road, due to depression and being overwhelmed by the ministry. I’m not there, but this book is a great resource for pastors, or anyone who needs to get, what Cordeiro calls the 5% of the things in your life that matter most in order. I’ve taken away from this a regular routine of silence and solitude.

3. Lots of Commentaries on Acts–It was sad to put them away…but I’m sure I’ll return to them one day 😦

Currently Reading:

The Trellis and the Vine, Marshall and Payne
100 Cupboards, N.D. Wilson
The Hermeneutical Spiral, Osborne
Lots of Commentaries on Hosea

It’s Been A While…

It has been a little while since I have consistently posted at Mercy Swimming. So let me update you on what’s been rattling around in my heart and mind over the past few weeks:

Things I’m Excited About…I’m excited about a lot, so I’d better list…

New Preaching Series–It’s been three weeks since I finished a (year and a half long) series through the book of Acts, called “The Church Unstoppable.” You can listen to those sermons here. Two weeks ago we began a journey through the book of Hosea entitled, “Love Defined.” So far it’s been a joy for me to see this amazing picture of redemption, forgiveness, judgement and love. Join us on Sundays or listen here. May God prosper His word among us!

Upcoming Conferences/Events–Yes, I am excited about Together for the Gospel 2010, April 13-15th. If you have not already visited their website you should…and you ought to take the time to watch the video tours of several of the main speaker’s personal libraries. It will make you want more books, so guard yourself from temptation.

I’m also very excited about the annual gathering of Southern Baptists in Orlando this summer. Why? That brings me to my next point…

The Great Commission Resurgence–There’s something happening in the SBC. Last summer, the gathered assembly commissioned the President to appoint a committee (Great Commission Task Force) to evaluate and present ways in which the SBC can more effectively fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus. Their initial report is now available here. Pray for the SBC, and the decisions to by made and affirmed this June.

By the way, the SBC Pastor’s Conference has an amazing line up! Can’t wait to sit under these great brothers as they minister the Word to us this summer.

Danny Akin; Francis Chan; Matt Chandler;
Tony Evans; Steve Gaines; David Landrith;
CJ Mahaney; Al Mohler; Russell Moore;
David Platt; Andy Stanley; David Uth;
Ken Whitten; Ravi Zacharias;

A New, Much Anticipated Biblical Theology–Dr. Jim Hamilton’s Biblical Theology is due out this October! You can visit this blog to see a preview including the beautiful cover! Can’t wait to get my hands on this baby (probably both hands at 480 pages!).

A New President at Wheaton–I am so excited to hear the Dr. Phillip Ryken will be the next President at Wheaton College. I feel deeply for his church, however. You can see the deep emotion and sadness when a pastor has to leave his flock in his address here. All the info about this exciting news can be found here.

Pick the Next Redeemer Institutes–Finally, I’m excited about the upcoming Redeemer Institutes, that YOU CAN PICK!! That’s right, you can give three to five suggestions for our upcoming Institutes this Spring and Fall. All the information is here. If you’re not a facebook user, you can leave your suggestions on my blog and I’ll consider them for sure.

I apologize if you feel like you’ve just taken a gulp form the fire hydrant. Hopefully I’ll be a more consistent blogger in the future so I can do this in smaller chunks. Thanks for reading and swimming in mercy with me!

Busy or Unbelieving?

What don’t we pray more? What is at the root of our prayerlessness? Kevin De Young answers:

Here is my favorite paragraph:

You don’t need to work and work at discipline nearly as much as you need faith. You don’t need an ordered life to enable prayer, you need a messy life to drive you to prayer. You don’t need to have everything in order before you can pray. You need to know you’re disordered so you will pray. You don’t need your life to be fixed up. You need a broken heart. You need to think to yourself: “Tomorrow is another day that I need God. I need to know him. I need forgiveness. I need help. I need protection. I need deliverance. I need patience. I need courage. Therefore, I need prayer.”

Read the whole thing here.

(HT: KD)


7 Ways to Fight Discouragement in the Pastorate

Matt Schmucker recently posted a list shared by Eric Schumacher on a conference call in which I had the honor of participating. Thank you Eric for serving us so well!

1) Meditate on Scripture, particularly on the Gospel, and pray. You will find in the Scriptures multiple examples of people in worse situations than those you are facing, situations in which your God worked in remarkable ways for his glory and their good. Meditate particularly on the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation. It is only through the Gospel that there is hope for the circumstances and the sinners (including yourself) that are discouraging you.

2) Talk with mature Christian brothers who will both comfort and correct you. Some brothers will agree with and feed your discouragement. Others will brush it off and tell you to get over it. Find a brother who will listen and give you Gospel-encouragement, which may often include helping you to see and address where sin contributes to your discouragement.

3) Share your struggles with the church. I recently shared some struggles with depression and discouragement with my congregation. I was surprised at how many people said, “I didn’t know you were depressed!” and “We had no idea you were struggling!” and “I realized again that I need to be praying for my pastor.” If a church member were discouraged, part of my prescribed medicine would be to share their struggles with the church so that they can be prayed for and so that we can bear one another’s burdens. I sometimes forget that even pastors need the church.

4) Read Ed Welch. Everything I’m reading by him is helpful, particularly Depression and Running Scared.

5) Sing. There are so many good songs, ancient and modern, that call us to reflect on the hope of the Gospel. Pick some and sing until Satan must flee.

6) Walk outside. Spurgeon said that a good help during a minister’s “fainting fits” is a walk by the sea. Handiwork displays the skill of handyman. Be out amongst God’s creation and remember again his skill and wisdom.

7) Enjoy activities outside the church. Believe it or not, there is more to life than the situation that has you discouraged. You have a family and friends that love you. There are activities that God has made you to enjoy. They are gifts of grace. Spend time with them and in them, with your mind focused on them, and the discouraging things will seem smaller.

(HT: Church Matters)


The Spoons that Stir Our Souls

What is it that stirs your affections for Christ? How easy is it to forget about his beauty and holiness?

I was recently helped by a post by Matt Chandler on this topic called Inspirations. He basically made two lists: one listed all the things that caused him to neglect Jesus and the other listed those things that stirred his affections for Jesus. Here they are:

What, when I’m doing it, when I’m around it or dwelling on it creates in me a greater hunger for, passion for and worship of Christ and His mission?

1. Early mornings and hot coffee
2. The writings of John Owen (at the time it was The Mortification of Sin)
3. Listening to Lauren sing
4. Walks through graveyards (I know this is weird but it reminded me of mortality)
5. The book of Hebrews
6. Robust dialogue on ecclesiology or missiology
7. Sermons by John Piper
8. Angst-filled music

What, when I was doing it or spending time around it created in me an unhealthy love for this world?

1. Watching too much TV and spending too much time online
2. Staying up late for no reason
3. Following sports too closely
4. Being physically lazy
5. Empty conversations (talking for hours about nothing)
6. Idleness

Read the whole thing.

So, what about you…what about me? I think this is a very helpful topic for you to ponder for the next few days. Make your own list and update it regularly as you move on to new ways to enjoy Christ…and as you fall into new habits of neglecting him.

Hoping for a fresh stirring in my own life and in yours…