Kraig Lowell Pullam

My thoughts. My reflections. My journey…. On pastoring, preaching, leading & learning.

Archive for the category “Christian Living”

He’s Looking At You

Over the course of this past week, I have had the opportunity to fellowship with several Pastors and Leaders within Shiloh and in the city of Fort Worth. This has been a tall feat; but ultimately the rewards of such have outweighed and minimized the task altogether. But I must admit…the highlight of my week began on the 2nd Sunday. While in my office, talking to several church leaders before the start of Worship, the phone rang in my office. I answered!  Someone asked, “Hello, is the new Pastor of Shiloh preaching this morning?”  My response: “I believe he is. If he is not preaching, I’ve not received the memo!”  As it so happens, the person asking the question happened to be the assistant of one of my preaching heroes, Pastor Isadore Edwards. He is the Pastor Emeritus of the New Rising Star Baptist Church of Fort Worth; having served there as Pastor for over 40 years. He and my predecessor, Dr. Albert Emmit Chew, Jr. were very good friends. Interestingly, I’d learned a few weeks earlier that Pastor Chew helped to found New Rising Star, and was responsible for Pastor Edwards’ going there and serving as Pastor there. As I had heard around town…Pastor Edwards wanted to hear me preach; and had intentions of stopping by Shiloh to hear me. He wasted no time!  As service began, he came in with several preachers, sat on the front row and quietly listened in as I preached. 

My Sermon for the day came out of Romans 15:1-7. The title: Let’s Stay Together. 

For some reason, God has wasted no time leading me to deal with some very intense passages of scripture during the opening weeks of my time at Shiloh. This sermon was about unity and living in harmony as fellow-believers, amid our varying distinctions, preferences and ideologues.  I was on-edge regarding the message.  The presence of Pastor Edwards, I admit, intensified my internal tensions and prayers. 

Earlier in the week, I received a call from one of the deacons at New Rising Star, stating Pastor Edwards enjoyed the message, and his affirmation that I was a gifted student of God’s Word; and that he would like to have lunch. I was informed that Pastor Edwards, who is now 90, has good days and bad days; and that he may not talk much, but still has his memory and enjoys good fellowship. 

As we dined together, I had an interesting discourse with Pastor Edwards. 

I told him how pleased I was to have had him in service; and admitted to him I was nervous, after listing him as one of my favorite preachers growing up. That’s not hyperbole. He was, and still is!!!

Here’s what followed….

Him: Why were you nervous? Me: Because as I was preaching, I could look out right in front of me, and see you. Him: Can’t you see Jesus in front of you while you preach? Me: yessir, but I’m not looking at him physically. Him: You can believe He’s looking at YOU!

I was floored and speechless!  He got me!!!  Jesus is looking at me. 

Whether it is my character; my witness; my preaching or leading God’s Precious people; leading my family or my personal devotion – He is looking at me!!!

In the midst of his seasoned years and waning strength, God used Pastor Edwards, to reassure and afffirm His all-seeing eye is on me, as it was on Pastor Edwards’ old friend, Pastor Albert E. Chew, Jr. God knew exactly what I needed, when I needed it most; and I am grateful for the angels (messengers) He sends along the way, to remind me of His constant presence in my life and ministry. 

Enjoying the Process (Pastoring)

I began pastoring my first church in March of 2005. At 26 years of age, married with a 2-year old son, I had absolutely no idea what it took to pastor or lead a congregation. Because I had been preaching since the age of 15; and the youngest son of a pastor…I thought I knew. But Bible College and seminary training did not prepare me for what I would encounter at 26. The Lord blessed me to preach almost every Sunday for four years, where I served as the Minister of Christian Education. My pastor let me preach each Sunday to the people in his congregation during the early service there. But my four years of preaching did not quite prepare me for what I would experience in pastoral ministry. Too often we can make the mistake of thinking we can handle certain functions because it either looks easy, or it seems as if we have all of the appropriate answers for any given situation. Even now, Donald Trump’s rhetoric will change regarding some of his promises if he were to receive the vote of the American people and actually become the President of the United States. This same truth applies to Hillary Clinton as well. 

 

By far, pastoring has been one of the most difficult tasks in my own life. Being the husband of D’Ani seems easy. Being the father of Kai, Kaden and Karter….well, that’s another story. But I digress!

 

Going back to my first pastorate…it was a new church! The pressure of starting a new work (specifically, a ‘cold start’) is second to none. It is one thing to start a new church that is branching off from another congregation (either a split or from a sponsoring church), it is something altogether different to start from scratch. No money. No building. No sponsors. No members! Just….a dream…

 

As I reflect, I would have done quite a few things differently. If I had pastored my SECOND church FIRST, I would have saved myself some of the trials I faced along the way; and I would have become more appreciative of the things that come with a new ministry that you are forced to endure in the old. It being my first church, and the church I started…it became my baby. Consequently, I didn’t give away enough of the ministry to others. I carried the bulk of the burden, particularly financially, upon myself and my family. When the church struggled, it fell upon me and my family. This, of course, is the price we pay for ministry. The ultimate hurt is when the church does well; and some wonder why those who’ve sacrificed are benefactors of that blessing. Ultimately, I should have been doing better financially, already finished seminary and prepared to carry the finances of the church, with or without anything in return. Ultimately, I loved Cornerstone in a way that I will never adequately describe; and the people of Cornerstone loved me and my family in a way that cannot be put into words. Not a day passes that I don’t think about and have fond memories for, “My First Church.” 

 

In my second pastorate…I was at a different place in my life: 6 years later; over a decade-long marriage; 3 children…seminary degree complete; nice chaplaincy job in Houston. Things were better for us personally. I was learning so much in the chaplaincy about pastoral care, ministering to hurting people and specializing with those who were mentally ill, along with a specialization in AIDS/HIV patients…my preaching and my ministry to the people to whom I was pastoring was transformed. In a real sense, the issues I would encounter in my current pastorate paled in comparison to the many of the issues I’d faced in the hospital (at Ben Taub in Houston). AGAIN….I am certain I’ve made mistakes along the way. I often wonder how effective I’ve been as a bi-vocational and commuting pastor. I have often wondered how many more relationships I could have cultivated in the city and at my own church had I not been on the road, or been so busy in my travels. At other times, I am amazed at how God has blessed our congregation; and how far we’ve come spiritually and in many other ways, since my arrival over 5 years ago. The challenges I had in my first pastorate were different from the challenges in my current. My greatest challenge (as I reflect) has been being an agent of change. In an older congregation, especially Baptist…not everyone is welcoming toward change. This is just a reality. As strange as it seems…I knew this by the time I came into my congregation at Mt. Salem. I knew (as I do now) that change must be gradual; and that patience is a powerful virtue. For example, I waited an entire year before starting a praise team. When I eventually did, I didn’t call is a ‘praise team.’ I called it the “A.L. Randon Ensemble”, named after the longest-tenured pastor of our church. The term “praise team” can be threatening to some who know nothing but choirs in the “old church”. And, for the same demographic, ‘praise team’ and ‘praise dance’ are one and the same. 

 

Over the years, I’ve gradually implemented change….at a much slower rate than I either have wanted or anticipated. But the most important thing (atleast in my context and in light of our church’s history before I arrived) that the Holy Spirit impressed upon me was for UNITY to remain in our congregation. For this to occur, I could not and cannot have one generation competing against another. This would have brought in a busload of new, young people. Because of my experience, I know how to get that demographic in the building… But I will never forget my pastor telling me that much of pastoring is about the “managing of many personalities”. In this instance, it is not just about gaining new people; but about resisting the need to damage the faith of some mother in the church who has been apart of the same congregation for 50 years. Make no mistake…change MUST occur. And I am not suggesting that any given pastor should stunt their growth to cater to the midget-mindset of an individual who is centered on self and convenience. I am simply saying that pastors should be sensitive in not burning bridges to get to the next town. In this case, PEOPLE are our bridges! 

I know that my blog is long and it seems as if I am rambling. But there is a method to my madness. I do have a point. In a few weeks I will celebrate 38 years of life. My point is: ALL of this has been a part of my journey. I would not have been as sensitive to the feelings of others at Mt. Salem if I had not gone through some of the backlash of not consulting anyone and just moving, at my first church. I would have not been as prepared for the journey personally and in my own financial life for my second church, if I had not gone through some of the financial struggles in starting a church in my mid-20’s while in seminary, after leaving my job at a church to start that new work in ministry. 

 

Here’s my ultimate point: ENJOY THE PROCESS. And LEARN from the process. LEARN to manage WHERE YOU ARE with gratitude and humility. Don’t take for granted that God is at work. EVERY SINGLE THING has led me to where I am at this very moment. God has blessed me tremendously! 

 

Spiritually – I’m growing.

Domestically – I am married to the woman of my dreams, with 3 healthy boys who are active, smart and growing in their knowledge of Who Christ is.

Financially – I’m not a millionaire; but I have everything I need, and much of what I desire (I don’t desire much!)

 

Ultimately…I am enjoying the process! My encouragement to someone reading this blog is for you to enjoy the process as well. Stop listening to the voices of the enemy. I have this voice that likes to remind me of much I have not accomplished at 37. “You’ve done this and you’ve been there….BUT…”

Get this: I am where God wants me to be. My job is to do the BEST with what I am given; and to remain faithful; and to BLOOM where I am PLANTED. I am doing that; and I am grateful!!! This is my continual prayer for me, my family and for you. 

 

The Entitlement Cure

 
I’ve just finished reading John Townsend’s book “The Entitlement Cure”. After hearing and reading several stellar reviews, along with seeing the intriguing title, I wanted this book in hand. And while the subtitle sparked my interest more than the title, I knew I needed to read it…amid my difficulty in reading all things Townsend. I don’t know what it is; but I’ve always found the writings of John Townsend a chore and bore…to the extent of having to play music in the background not to fall asleep. Admittedly, I realize this is an unfair criticism; and something I would hate for anyone to say about my writing. After all, Townsend is a well-respected author and the co-mastermind behind New York Time’s bestselling “How People Grow”, a book I have used during my days of Christian Education in our Book Club. The fact is…Townsend is not a wordsmith. But getting beyond the style, there is substance couched in “The Entitlement Cure.” Therefore, I wouldn’t 1) Discard this book as irrelevant 2) Misdiagnose this book as a prompt of any political propaganda 3) Write off this volume as being unworthy of investment. 
“The Entitlement Cure” addresses a prevailing problem that now infiltrates every vital organ in relational life as we’ve come to know it. Whether it is in the church, marriage, home-life, work-environment…Townsend asserts that we are all infected by the disease of entitlement. In fact, entitlement is a byproduct (well, he shows how it pre-dates human creation) of man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. Townsend contends that entitlement is the belief that “….I am exempt from responsibility and I am owed special treatment…”, and that the problems in human society stem from this crippling disposition. In this volume, the author not only analyzes, but also speaks to both the culprit and enablers of the entitled on how to jettison this attitude of being special, being owed, refusing to take responsibility and blaming others.

Hitting at the core of the book, I realized I actually love Townsend’s style of writing! Addressing the relational patterns that drive entitlement (Chapter 2), he gives the practical markers of how we often feed the entitlement monster and thereby foster attitudes of entitlement (example: praising what takes no effort; praising what is required; praising what is not based on reality; etcetera). Unfolding five principles that can restore the problem ALL of us have with entitlement (some more than others.) While all five principles are of notable mention, I do think one of the components outlined by Townsend is how denial, perfectionism and narcissism attribute to the pressure, stress and emptiness that accompany their intended. Entitlement limits our good and our growth, according to the author. I do agree! 

One of the very central themes in this volume is Townsend’s description of feeling deserving to taking responsibility. He says that there is a right way to deserve and there is a wrong way to deserve; and explains how responsibility is not only right, but the practical ways to assume responsibility (Chapter 8). One of the things I like is Townsend’s conventional use of what he calls “NHT”. In short, this means “Next Hard Thing.” Townsend argues that our NHT is the choice we all need to make that moves us beyond the difficulty. In a real sense, what separates the good from the great, the best from all things average…is the ability and willingness to move past the proverbial areas of discomfort. According to the author, this requires 1) Carving out time 2) Going against the flow of life 3) Going against other’s expectations 4) Starting a ground zero (ie – “at the bottom”), etc. In this recourse, there are two (2) specific dynamics I would like to spotlight here in conclusion. One is saying when you are wrong (Chapter 13) and facing the pain that gets you somewhere (Chapter 14). I think that these two chapters and dynamics are key to understanding Townsend’s entire point. 

In summary, I would suggest this as a read for anyone who is looking to practically stop being an enabler to those who are highly entitled; and as a practical guide to taming the entitled monster who lives inside of us all. I give the book two thumbs up; and a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10. I would also suggest this as a great read for parents, couples and church leaders. 

 

My Take on Bill

 In 2010, I almost named my baby son Kosby Lowell. 

There you have it from the jump. Without secret or hesitation, like many, I grew up in the nineties on The Cosby Show.  Invariably, as with Seinfeld, The Bernie Mack Show or The Jamie Foxx Show, one could not dispatch the show from its namesake and lead figure. In fact, Bill Cosby was essentially one of the leading pioneers in this sort of autobiographical kind of satirical humor in PRIMETIME America; particularly crossing over to every culture, race and creed. Bill Cosby single-handedly, with his stellar cast, became a household name. I, like many, couldn’t wait for Thursday to arrive!!! In a real sense, Mr. Cosby personified a charicarization of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “American Dream”.  The Huxtables cleverly and compellingly enchanted America and persuaded the nation, possibly the world, that Malcolm’s “Nightmare” had diminished and Black America could live, work and dream as they pleased. 

Tragically , and often unfairly, segmented society will often trip on the paradigm and make the picture interchangeably synonymous with the person. In all fairness, The Cosby Show was an autobiographical reflection of Cosby’s own life. Camilla was Clair. Bill was Cliff. The four kids were his own son and three (3) daughters. But what if the story wasn’t about his own life at all?  Would his personal life taint a person’s sacred view of Cliff?  I do not know. What I do know is that this scathing truth prevails in Christendom, for sure. 
On the one hand, we cannot expel the message from the messenger. Conversely, the church can unfairly crown the Christian Leader with an unattainable standard that only Christ can comfortably reach. 

Since 2014, Cosby has been accused by over 50 women of either rape, drug facilitated sexual assault, sexual battery, child sexual abuse, and/or sexual misconduct, with the earliest alleged incidents taking place in the mid-1960s. After an October 2014 comedy routine by previously unknown comedian Hannibal Buress casually accusing Cosby of inappropriate sexual behavior went viral, earlier sexual assault allegations against Cosby became more public, prompting many female accusers to come forward. In the wake of the allegations, numerous organizations have severed ties with the comedian, and previously awarded honors and titles have been revoked. Cosby and his lawyers have repeatedly denied the allegations, calling the allegations discredited. Most of the acts alleged by his accusers fall outside the statutes of limitations for legal proceedings. Today,  December 30, 2015, numerous civil lawsuits against Cosby, as well as a single charge of aggravated indecent assault in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, remain pending.  He was arraigned today. 

I would like to make a few observations, as this is clearly not going away. 

1) As the husband to a woman I love, a mother I cherish, two goddaughter who I pray for daily and countless women to whom I minister, I am very sensitive to the cries of these woman. I am not naive enough to think that sexual harassment is mere fiction. Worse still, as with the “wardrobe malfunction” in 2004,  often the woman is villainized while the man is given a pass of fidelity. As with the woman caught in adultery in scripture (John 8:1-11), the brother is conspicuously excused and exempt. This is unfair and inequitable. 

2) As a man living in what Maya Angelou calls “these yet to be United States”, I cannot help but ask “Why now?”  Okay….I can hear someone shooting me down. 50 women? Speaking out since 2014? I’m just saying!

3) As a Christian who is a pastor, I think this should lead us to ask a few questions. Let’s face it…Leaders fail. Some fail more and more often than others. I often wonder if the church does a good job of 1) restoring those who’ve fallen 2) given enough thought to preserving the message and legacy of spiritual leaders after they have fallen from grace. 

Focusing on my last point, I have seen it go in both directions. There are churches that will turn a blind eye to a leader’s alleged (or confessed) in descretions. I know of a Bishop who was accused of several improprieties, and there seemed (it may have been done privately) to be no form of discipline, counseling, repentance, etc. on the other hand, I’ve seen draw it measures taken in churches where the leader is not only removed; but any semblance of trace of their ministry in that congregation is obliterated, stripped down, sanitized and thrown into the wilderness with the nameless creatures in the 2004 movie “The Village.”  

Is this right?  If Billy Graham is discovered to have been a murderer years ago, should all of his honors, medals, books, sermons be destroyed?  I can go on and on all day. But I will stop here and simply ask, at the end of this year, that we pray for spiritual leaders and their families. The stakes are high, and the Devil is busy!  

I am praying for Cosby, his accusers, those who admire him and are effected by his influence. I do not claim to know him personally; and would like to give him the benefit of the doubt, as I do the same for these accusers. But let us also consider the spiritual underpinnings of how this connects to the church and how we respond to someone who is accused, guilty, innocent or all of the above. 

Ultimately, God’s grace extends toward us all. What are your thoughts?  

Closure 

  Like time suspended,

A wound unmended-

You and I. 

We had no ending,

no said goodbye;

For all my life, 

I’ll wonder why.

The above poem was written by Lang Leav, gifted and noted author, in her own write. I believe her poem “Closure” echoes the sentiments of many who are wishing to tie up loose ends as 2015 comes to a screeching halt and takes its bow, and 2016 makes its grand entrance.  

Without giving a long discourse on closure; my hope and prayer is that God’s Holy Spirit would lead and prompt us to let it go and move on. I can think of some defining moments in my own life that could have potentially signatured my demise and downfall. From my own failures and disappointments to friends who I may have felt mistreated me, to relationships gone wrong, to church members who took advantage of the ministry provided to them and the like. However…God is the Author and Orchestrator of Divine Closure. And as a follower of Christ, we are never given the charge to make permanent responses to temporary issues. People, feelings and things should be granted the right of being funeralized, evicted and forgiven. 

We must be careful not to kill what God wants to live.  In like fashion, we should never attempt to resurrect what God wants to die. John 19:30 records the words of Christ as he is suspended on the Cross of Calvary between two theives and surrounded by an onlooking world gone wild, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

Often, the finish can be bitterly sour; but it is necessary. There is often a blessing packaged in departure and benediction. When closure is divine and a part of God’s ultimate intent, God will bring comfort and consolation. The greatest error is to wallow in the thought of what could’ve been. In 2015 there may have been missed opportunities, fractured relationships and closed doors. That spells bad news. Here’s the good news: God specializes in bringing NEW opportunities, cultivating NEW relationships and opening NEW doors!  

So I would encourage anyone to simply stop rehearsing the past that cannot be changed; quit crying over spilt milk; and stop re-writing closed chapters. Trust in the eternal truth that God GIVES to us more than He TAKES from us; and He will remain faithful when the tides change, chapters close and life happens. 

I am praying for you; and invite you to turn the corner, and head down the avenue called DIVINE CLOSURE!

My review of “Messy Grace” by Caleb Kaltenbach

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“Messy Grace”, written by Caleb Kaltenbach, is an honest insider’s look into a man’s life that grew up being raised by openly gay parents, who one day became a follower of Christ and a Pastor, struggling to embrace God’s truth while rendering grace. Moving from the use of scripture and autobiographical transparency, the author makes an attempt to skillfully (Chapters 1 to 6) fuse the love of God with the truth of God (Chapters 7 to 12) while juggling the tension that resides at the intersection of the two.

Working for a year closely connected as a Chaplain to the longest free-standing HIV clinic in Houston, I had the opportunity to interact with many in the LGBT community daily. As a result, I strongly believe that Kaltenbach is correct when he contends that many Christians fail to think critically or talk comfortably about the issue of homosexuality without and within the church context. In failing to approach the issue of homosexuality, we miss opportunities to dialogue and worse, hurt others in the process. Through his usage of story, imagery, example and painful transparency, Kaltenbach describes and unveils his personal history of his own mother and her partner, along with his father who would one day reveal his love for the same gender. What I do find intriguing is how vividly Kaltenbach describes his recollections of the seeming hatred and perceived venom directed at the gay community as he marched (as a child) alongside his mother and her partner in gay pride parades and generally in the gay community. He grew to simply believe all Christians hated anyone who wasn’t like them; and thus hated gay people. He also (some justifiably so) grew to believe that many hurts and prejudices were enacted and imposed by the Christian community, historically. As I look at even the Southern Baptist origin (of which I am a part) and how it originated (white Baptists in the south were opposed to the freeing of slaves; and wished to distinguish themselves from those in the north, who were against slavery) I must concur with many injustices done at the hands of “Christian” people and the “church.” But as with anything or religion that is extreme, this has its own limitations. After all, as the author points out, this doesn’t reflect the character of Christ.
The author seeks to persuade the reader to live in what he calls “the tension of grace and truth.” He clearly seems to suggest that those who are apart of Christianity already live in tension. But he invites all who are in the Judeo-Christian arena to explore Grace and Truth’s intersection; and live there.
The author contends that a real mark of spiritual maturity is how we treat someone who is different from us. And that we have tragically done a better job of wounding those who are different from than building them up. BUT…I like how Kaltenbach skillfully turns the tide in chapter 7 towards God’s truth. With rapidity, he stresses the fact that God’s truth must be balanced with God’s grace and love. God’s truth should not come at the alienation of God’s love; and neither should an emphasis on the love of God expunge the fact of God’s love towards messy people. The truth is – we are all messy.

 
I have two sides, when it comes to reading and reviewing this book. On the one hand, I am excited to see someone dealing with the issue of homosexuality, the church’s ignorance regarding the issue, same-gender attraction and confronting and loving others who struggle (or do not struggle) with same-sex attraction. On the other, the theologian in me kicks in…and I am uncomfortable with some of Kaltenbach’s assertions, views, perspectives and translations of scripture. But I realize he isn’t trying to just speak to the theologian; but to the charge at large and in general. I do believe him to be sincere; and that he makes an attempt to interpret God’s truth in light of the road he has traveled. He makes some very helpful steps to responding to those who “come out” and dealing with same-gender attraction in one’s own life or family.

Some of the weak points of the book are when he states that the best alternative for those who are gay be celibate or marry someone of the opposite sex. I see quite a few loopholes in this regard. For the sake of brevity and my lack of a plausible alternative; I will simply say this peeked my interest; and invite others to gather your own thoughts on the author’s assertions. But to address the practice of celibacy in short I will say that, in this sex-crazed culture (which Kaltenbach does address, I give him this), still having a non-sexual relationship with the person you are attracted to of the same sex, without a time-frame of ending the race…is an act waiting to happen. I’ll leave that there. To marry another person of the opposite sex when one is still gay, almost seems akin to “praying the gay away.” Again, in my view, this has fallacies. I would also add that this volume seems to deal with the perspective of the LBGT towards Christianity from one side of the aisle. Knowing quite a few persons in the LBGT, I can attest to the fact that this is not the view of all; and Kaltenbach does point this out.

 
I do think that every Christian reader and pastor should atleast skin through this volume; and it would help to purchase a copy of this book as a helpful resource to gain an understanding of someone who has lived on both sides of the proverbial aisle. On a scale of 1 to 10, it is a 6 when it comes to reading difficulty, 7 in Christian living and a 9 in practicality. All in all, I am glad I took some time to read this book during the course of this past week. After all, “Messy Grace” is a story about us all!

Valley of Vision

  

Each Monday, I try to return to this prayer. The roots of our longings often grow deeper, not on our mountains; but in our valleys. *Psalm 23:4*

The Valley of Vision

Lord, High and Holy, Meek and Lowly,

You have brought me to the valley of vision,

where I live in the depths but see you in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold your glory.

Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up,

that to be low is to be high,

that the broken heart is the healed heart,

that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,

that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,

that to have nothing is to possess all,

that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,

that to give is to receive,

that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter your stars shine;

Let me find your light in my darkness,

your life in my death,

your joy in my sorrow,

your grace in my sin,

your riches in my poverty,

your glory in my valley.

John MacArthur’s Parables (Review)

imageThis week I got my hands on a copy of John MacArthur’s most recent volume on “Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told.” As is MacArthur’s trademark, this particular work of his is candid in style and thorough in content.

Essentially, MacArthur’s work in this volume is threefold: 1) Clearly present factions in Christ’s immediate culture that sparked His use of parables and its purpose; debunking the common notions of why Jesus used this form of teaching. 2) Show how Christ’s key parables are fleshed out in parable, explanation, purpose, point, culture and application. 3) Contend that the parables are tools with which Christ used to teach and defend the truth as a teller of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.

The above summary, in and of itself, seems difficult and complex. That’s because it is. There is nothing simple about MacArthur, in MY view. As with his preaching, like an Agatha Christi novel, if you miss a page, you may miss his point. But he does a stellar job of asking and answering: 1) What is a parable? and 2) How can we interpret the parables of Christ efficiently, effectively and correctly?

It is critical to note that MacArthur deflates the notion that Jesus used parables to make his teaching easy for all. MacArthur points out that this is not true. Jesus “tells” the story to reveal a doctrinal and eternal truth to those who received Him for Who He claimed to be; and to conceal this truth from those who would reject as an outcome of His judgment. Jesus did not, however, exalt the telling of a story at the neglect of doctrinal teaching. In Christ’s approach to communicating truth, as well as in His use of parables, He did not pit narrative against proposition or the story against doctrine, as if they were somehow mutually exclusive. It is clear, according to the author, that Christ uses this for a “telling the story” to enlighten those who have a heart of acceptance towards the truths of God, having the opposite effect on those who oppose and reject Christ. I believe MacArthur does a masterful job of underscoring that the milestone of Christ’s use of parables was fundamentally the assault against Truth. It’s culprit? The “Pharisaical Sabbath-enforcement squad” of His day. In Chapter 1, MacArthur classically communicates many insightful benchmarks in Matthew chapter 12 that ultimately spur this revolutionary and innovative approach to Christ’s preaching and His communication of the mysteries of the Kingdom.

What follows is an approach to Christ’s most prominent parables in a practical, scholarly and insightful style that is only characteristic of vintage John MacArthur.

Now, for a bit of critique. I love John MacArthur and his writings. But in this book, you sort of have to get where he’s going to get what he’s saying. As a fledgling scholar with degrees in Biblical Studies and Biblical Languages, I love him. As an honest layman with a c-average, he is hard for me to follow, on the surface.  If you couldn’t tell (as could I), even my summary bordered on the realm of being difficult to understand without a church encyclopedia. That was simply me trying to break down MacArthur complexity, to no avail.  Simply put, MacArthur is no Lucado or Swindoll or even (in my view) as simple to understand as a John Piper, at times. Now don’t get me wrong…if you can get beyond the scholarly highlights in chapters 2 through 10, you will find a GOLD MINE of preaching material, doctrinal nuggets and teaching points that will live and work well for teachers and students alike. That being said, this book (in my personal view) is not an easy-read; and not one you can speed-read through. I see it best as a volume one should read through slowly; develop a mental (or literal) file that can be used as a reference for future use when dealing with parables and illustrating the subjects/teachings/doctrines of [Receiving the Word, Discipleship, Justice and Grace, Neighborly Love, Justification by Faith, Faithfulness, Wisdom, Heaven and Hell, Persistence in Prayer.]

All in all, I would suggest having this book on one’s shelf as a handy reference in understanding the why, what and “aha” of Christ’s use of parables, and MacArthur walking you through the parables themselves. I give this book a 3 out of 5 stars for the layman; a 4 out of 5 for the scholar.

Grit to Great (Review)

  

Guts. Resilience. Initiative. Tenacity. According to authors Linda Kaplan Thaler & Robin Koval, these four aforementioned components are the essential ingredients of GRIT. In a real sense, the requirements in acheiving a superior level of success and achievement consists of no secret ingredients or magical nuances. No. Thaler and Koval contend that all persons who have acheived recognition & accomplishment in their fields have applied the learned (not born with) art of resilience, sweat, character, lessons from failures, perseverance and hard work. 
How can you explain…

• Colin Powell as a C average student?

• Michael Jordan’s coach deciding he wasn’t a good match for his team?

• Steve Jobs maintaining a 2.65 average in high school; and getting fired from Apple in the mid 80’s?

• Bill Gates dropping out of school?

• Jerry Seinfeld getting booed off the stage during his first stand-up gig?

“Grit to Great” teaches that we can encourage others to become people of grit by providing support and guidance, but also helping them, like the Jordans, Jobs, Gates, Powells and Seinfelds of the world, to learn on their own and push beyond initial limitations and disappointments. I agree with the authors who assert that the self-esteem movement that began in the late 1960’s have resulted in a rightful assesment of worth, but an unhealthy perception that we all deserve a trophy. Eventually, this concept numbs the desire of others to strive to live on the cutting edge of greatness. As a pastor and spiritual leader, I operate under no false illusion. People matter; and they are important! But I contend with Thaler and Koval when (Chapter 2) they state that talent plays only a small part in comparison to stamina and resilience. 

If I may apply this to the Christian arena… Good churches become great churches not by pulpit personalities, talented singers or gifted acrobats; but by common people who are willing to remain vigilent, determined and intent upon seeing Christi’s vision for His church become ultimate reality. 

The greatest preachers are not the most intelligent, best-dressed or well-spoken. It is the one who digs deep into the truths of God’s Word; and diligently spares no expense to cut straight in the communication of it’s truth and application.

So it is in every arena of life, according to the authors of “Grit to Great”. Simply put, the authors say that talent will get you noticed, but it is GRIT that yields you a seat at the table. How is this done? : 1) Be an overpreparer 2) Get in the door 3) Go the extra mile! 

 Admittedly, the authors assess that moving from GRIT to GREAT will not happen overnight. It will require embracing moments of boredom and the celebration of small victories. One of the ways this is done, they say, is by debunking “WillPower”. They suggest that willpower is shortlived. Conversely, we should develop new habits for acheivement and put it on repeat. Ants don’t have a spoon; but they do have a strategy. In all that we do, whether it is writing, business ownership, church membership, parenting, in marriage m, friendship circles or anything else, it is important to utilize the resources that we have; adjust to every life-change and disappointment; learn to improvise; grow in your mindset and learn how to “fail forward.” 

There are many high points and new insightful challenges to our general paradigm of thinking. But one that stands out is how we have limited time in our days and lives. The authors point to the fact that the less we have in days, the more we are able to focus on what truly counts and really matters. We shouldn’t wait for the perfect moment to start walking. As we have often heard, God will give you more along the way than He does before you start. 

The most important component in grit to great for me is the essential piece of developing our character. As a Christian Leader, truth and character are vital if we would expect to stand before people as the visible images of an invisible God. Proverbs 28:6 says, “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.” 

And it is important that “character building” (the term the authors use) begin with the building of character within us a leaders and people willing to instill the type of character in ourselves and others that makes people willing to dedicate themselves to creating a better world.  

I highly recommend this book. Around 150 pages in length; it follows the format of Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” bestseller. While there are no cited scripture references, sermon illustrations (though there are a great number of illustrations and quotes that are helpful preaching nuggets), or Greek words…every pastor and preacher should have this book on their shelves. Please follow the link to order a copy or kindle of this book!

 

Sunday Reflections

iStock_000001476421XSmall-320x212God be praised for a great meeting in the tabernacle on the Lord’s day!

After taking a break away from our exposition through the Psalms, I picked up where we left off and continued with Psalm 14.

This 2-week intermission was partially feeling a pastoral need to deal with internal matters within our church; and partially a difficulty and challenge in wrapping my homiletical hat around the 14th Psalm. I love exegetical work! Admittedly…there is the continual challenge of formulating the meaning of the text into a well-crafted sermon that lives in the practical ears of parishioners.

All in all….I just threw myself to the proverbial sharks, not wanting to delay another week. I’m glad I did!

Here’s my outline:

Title: Running Away From the God You Need
Text: Psalm 14:1-7
C.I.T. : While the entire human race rebels against God, the righteous long to see His kingdom established on earth.

I. The Folly Of Trying to Make It Without God
a. The World is Insane (vs 1a)
b. The World is Immoral (vs 1b)
c. The World is Impotent (vss 2-3)

II. The Response of God to Man’s Foolery
a. What Men Do
i. They never learn (vs 4)
ii. They never rest (vs 5)
iii. They never win (vs 6)

b. What God Does (vss 4-5)
a. He looks
b. He finds

III. The Joy of Trusting in God’s Loving Protection
a. For their salvation (vs 7a)
b. For their restoration (vs 7b)
c. For their celebration (vs 7c)

God breathed upon the message and I am thankful to have made it through. My goal is to make it to Psalm 15, and take a break to concentrate on working through a book I am trying to put together, in a series of sermons. Currently it is a composition of around 200 pages of full-page sermons of about 20 sermons I need to seriously edit, footnote, re-write and try on our people. I am believing it will ultimately bless our congregation and, in turn, bless others. With prayerful plans to begin doctoral work in July of 2016, I am hoping to have this done by the Spring of next year. I need every single prayer I can get.

In other news… My Cowboys finally win a game, after 7 weeks of losing without Tony Romo. I don’t know what’s worse – losing 7 games; or losing 7 games after a great season last year. I celebrate this current win!

How was your Sunday? Please take a moment to share your thoughts, subscribe and share this blog with others if it is a blessing to you.

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