Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Pastoral Ministry (page 1 of 5)

A Faithful Servant

Today the world learned of the passing of Warren W. Wiersbe—man of God, student of the Bible, devoted family man, prolific author, and gifted Bible teacher.

I first became aware of Warren Wiersbe as I was trimming azalea bushes just outside Columbia, South Carolina in the early 1980’s. I worked on the grounds crew at a large condominium complex while working my way through seminary. While I worked I listened to Dr. Wiersbe teach the Bible on the Back to the Bible broadcast. I was amazed. He fed me and made me more hungry. He opened the Scriptures in a way I had scarcely heard before, and he did so day after day. The depth of his Bible knowledge was impressive; the depth of his heart commitment to the Lord was infectious.

After graduation from seminary a couple of years later I became a pastor and began teaching and preaching the Bible myself. Dr. Wiersbe’s books were an enormous help to me.

In the early 1990’s I had the privilege of sitting under Dr. Wiersbe’s instruction in a Doctor of Ministry class he taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His insights on the role of imagination in preaching lit up my mind and heart and sent me out with fresh desire to be faithful to the Scriptures and powerful in the Spirit.

But one day during class Dr. Wiersbe gave us all a fright. As we regathered after a lunch break Dr. Wiersbe, standing at the front of the class, suddenly fell strangely silent and his eyes glazed over. Very quickly we realized something was wrong. Those closest to him in the front row rushed to his side and helped him land gently as he collapsed to the floor. Paramedics soon arrived and they wheeled Dr. Wiersbe out, strapped on a gurney. We prayed fervently for him. And we worried that perhaps the entire Bible-believing world would lay upon us the death of the beloved Dr.!

We were relieved when he returned to the classroom within a couple of days reporting that a drop in his blood sugar had been the culprit. We breathed a sigh of relief and lifted a prayer of thanks to the Lord our healer. Dr. Wiersbe completed a wonderful week of learning for us all.

Then in the early 2000’s God began to open a publishing ministry for me. My publishers wanted me to get endorsements from famous authors who could recommend my books. I’m not famous. I don’t know anyone famous. But I asked myself whom would I most desire to offer an endorsement for my book(s) if it were possible. Warren Wiersbe was the immediate response within my heart. But he didn’t know me. I was just one of hundreds of students he had instructed over the years in various seminaries. But I ventured a letter and Dr. Wiersbe graciously responded with an offer to consider my book. He wrote the following for my book Song of the Satisfied Soul:

There is always room on the shelf for another exposition of Psalm 23, especially when it is as balanced and practical as this one. The author allows the text to speak for itself as he reveals the richness of the believer’s relationship to Jesus Christ. The ideal book for a pastor or other care-giver to share with those needing encouragement.

Later he offered another endorsement for my commentary The Pastoral Epistles for Pastors:

I heartily welcome and endorse this encyclopedic study of Paul’s Pastoral Epistles. For years we have had Eugene Stock’s Practical Truths from the Pastoral Epistles and W. Edward Chadwick’s The Pastoral Teaching of St. Paul: His Ministerial Ideals, but this volume goes beyond them in exposition and application. The beginning pastor and the seasoned minister will both discover in these pages enlightenment, encouragement and a new sense of wonder and privilege of being a servant of God. You can live in this book for the rest of your life and have a more fruitful and rewarding ministry!

I found Dr. Warren Wiersbe to be a gracious, kind man. He was a man of great conviction and strength. He was a ravenous student of the Scriptures and he lived out a lifetime of faithful ministry for the Lord. I am just one of a vast multitude who has been profoundly blessed by this godly man. I give praise to the Lord for the grace He has poured into my life through him.

And, oddly enough, I discovered today that Warren Wiersbe was the same age as my father. They were both born in 1929, just months apart from one another. My father passed away nine days before Dr. Wiersbe did. I just conducted my father’s funeral three days ago.

It reminds me that a faithful generation is passing off the scene and the responsibility to live wisely and well for the honor of the Lord is upon me and my generation in a new and unique way. May the God who empowered these two faithful men also empower me to faithfully serve and honor Him for however long I have left on this earth.

Coming Soon!

The third volume of the “… for Pastors” commentaries is almost ready for release. Please pray God will superintend the final processes and use this volume for His glory.

Here are some endorsements:

  • “John Kitchen’s Philippians for Pastors is thoroughly done, theologically informed, exegetically sound, and hermeneutically thoughtful. Suggestions for digging deeper and ministry maxims are sprinkled throughout the text. This commentary will make a fine addition to the library of any pastor or serious student of the Bible.” George Gianoulis, Professor Emeritus of Greek and New Testament, Crown College
  • “Dr. Kitchen’s outstanding Philippians commentary balances sound exegesis with practical pastoral insights and applications. Any pastor seeking to faithfully proclaim and apply the truth of Philippians will find this commentary extremely valuable.” Steven F. Pace, Senior Pastor, New Hope Baptist Church, Lancaster, SC
  • “There are easier things to find than a busy pastor conversant with the Greek New Testament. But rarer still is that pastor who not only can make his way through the original language but can comfortably weigh interpretive options and teach others. Usually, one needs to buy both an upper middle-level exegetical commentary, and a pastoral exposition, breathing a warmer devotional tone. Surprisingly, John Kitchen has managed to bring both together in this new commentary.” Matthew Fisher, Lecturer in Biblical Theology, St. Petersburg Christian University, St. Petersburg, Russia

Maintenance Men

“Without a vision for how to challenge the status quo as the pioneers in church history did, ministers become mere maintenance men, and a clergyman can’t be a maintenance man.” — J.I. Packer (J.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life, Leland Ryken, p.361)

Strength and Courage

Four times in Joshua chapter one Joshua is told, “Be strong and courageous” (1:6, 7, 9, 18). This follows up on his being told this twice previously (Deut. 31:7, 23). Joshua was given this command directly by God Himself (Deut. 31:23; Josh. 1:6, 7), by Moses (Deut. 31:7), and by the people he was to lead (Josh. 1:18). Not only was the leader, Joshua, given this command, the people themselves were as well (Deut. 31:6). Both leader and people are commanded by God to “Be strong and courageous.” This command would continue to be echoed down through his leadership of these people (Josh. 10:25) and at critical times in the life of the nation after them (1 Chron. 22:13; 28:20; 2 Chron. 32:7).

This same command comes down us today and with the same weight of divine demand behind it. What does it mean for us to “Be strong and courageous”?

On the face of it the command “Be strong” is not only not encouraging, but almost a mocking, taunting, demeaning imperative. What is required of us is more than is within us. The challenges that stand before us are bigger than what we can gather up from within ourselves. In the face of challenges so daunting and a personal condition so depraved, the command to “Be strong” is not only futile, but mean-spirited … unless, of course the command is accompanied by a promise. And in this case, that is exactly what we have. Accompanying this command is the thrice-given promise of God’s abiding presence (Joshua 1:5, 9, 17).

Thus, to live out the command to “Be strong” is to live out of an alien power. We must come into the experience of something more than what we can reach down and do with additional effort.

In New Testament terms this means living in the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s personal presence and power. We are not left the option of assessing our options and choosing our way based upon what is within us or what we are able to do by the power of redoubled efforts. We are to “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Eph. 6:10). If we rely upon our own ingenuity, our own wisdom, our own strength, we will achieve only what is humanly possible. But if we truly come into a fresh experience of the infilling of God’s Spirit, there won’t be enough time to tell the stories of what He will do through us.

Similarly, to be commanded “Be … courageous” is, without divine enablement, a mocking of our naturally fearful state. By itself it amounts to little more than whistling in the dark. But with the promise of His presence and the provision of His Holy Spirit, being courageous is simply living out an alien purpose. No longer are we able to make our choices out of fear, comfort or passivity. Timidity, discomfort and a shrinking spirit must give way—not to something from within ourselves, not from some dredged up daring, but from the knowledge that we have been given a divine task and resourced with divine presence and power … and so we simply step forward, confronting fear, comfort, passivity, timidity and that shrinking spirit and simply do what God calls us to do.

We are “strong and courageous” as we intentionally view our lives (and the circumstances and people and relationship that fill them) as under a purpose that is not dredged up from within us, but which is laid down upon us from above … and when we choose to live for that purpose (rather than our own desires/wishes/whims) by the strength of God’s indwelling presence within us.

So hear it from God. Hear it from me. Hear it from one another. Hear it again and again and again, until it becomes the drumbeat by which you march through life: “Be strong and courageous”!

Preaching in Pain

In 1 Kings 18 we have the marvelous account of Elijah’s mighty encounter with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. What a victory! What a vindication of the Lord’s name!

In 1 Kings 19 we have Elijah’s breakdown. He is threatened by Jezebel and flees for his life.

On day #1 of his depressed flight, he prays, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (19:4)

On day #41 of the same distraught struggle (v.8) Elijah has reached Mt. Horeb and prays, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (v.10)

At least the prophet is no longer asking God to kill him! But he isn’t much better off—full of self-pity, myopia, and wounded pride.

So here’s my question: If Elijah had been a local church pastor, what would have done on those intervening five Sundays?

What would he have preached on those Sundays? Could he have preached on those Sundays? With what spirit would he have done so?

The average senior pastor has to preach at least every seven days, if not multiple times a week. He doesn’t have the time or the freedom to process freely some of life’s harder issues without needing to stand before God’s people as “the man of God.”

How is the pastor to keep pastoring when in the way of Elijah?

Here are a few questions to continue our exploration of this difficult topic:

  • How authentic is a pastor to be in the pulpit?
    • To what degree and at what depth is a pastor to publicly acknowledge or share his own struggles—be they personal, spiritual, emotional, mental, relational or otherwise?
  • What is the precise calling of the preacher/prophet?
    • When does one’s personal struggle disqualify one from fulfilling a responsibility to faithfully preach the word of God?
    • Is a pastor in the midst of a personal crisis being faithful when he chooses to forge ahead in expounding the word to his people without dragging those struggles into the pulpit? Or is he being hypocritical in failing to acknowledge his own struggles and appearing to be something that he, in that moment, is not?
  • What role do the preacher’s emotions play in his faithfulness as a preacher? What about his doubts? His depression?
    • Are they irrelevant and to be ignored so he can be faithful to God and His Word?
    • Are they signally relevant and to be at least acknowledge publicly lest he be hypocritical and phony?

Paul could say to Timothy, “Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me!” (2 Timothy 3:10)

How could Timothy have “followed” Paul’s “faith” and “patience” and “perseverance” and “persecutions and sufferings” without being witness to his struggle as well? And how could he have been witness to how “out of them all the Lord rescued” Paul?

How does the local church pastor “preach the word” and “be ready in season and out of season” to do so when those seasons include things like Elijah faced? (2 Timothy 4:2)

There are few easy answers here, but it would seem that wisdom is found somewhere in the tension of holding these two points together:

  • If I am struggling significantly, someone needs to know. That is not the same as everyone needing to know. In my struggles I need the fellowship of solid, mature believers. But the exhibitionism of “telling all, all the time, to everyone” is helpful neither to me nor my people.
  • My people need to see me struggling in faith. What I show them needs to be a model of how they too can handle honestly and authentically their challenges as those living yielded to God and under the authority of His Word.

I’m sure there is a great deal more to be said on this topic. Please feel free to weigh in and share your thoughts.

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