Emulated, Not Exalted: Five Lessons from the Life of Mary, the Mother of Jesus

Mary is one we emulate in our witness, not exalt in our worship.  Whereas some take Mary too far in their veneration, we fail to take her life far enough in our observation.  What should we emulate from Mary’s life?

  1. Emulate Mary in her willingness to obey, regardless of the cost.  Unlike Zechariah who questioned the angel in doubt, even though he knew the promises of God, Mary submitted, saying, “Be it unto me, according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  She knew that, humanly speaking, her life would be a wreck.  How would she explain this to Joseph?  What would he say?  What will the authorities say?  Even with this, she obeyed–come what may.
  2. Emulate Mary in trusting God will keep His promises–and rejoice when He does!  Mary rejoiced that God kept His covenant promises given to Abraham, reinforced with David, and fulfilled in Christ (Luke 1:54-55).
  3. Emulate Mary in bring your questions and concerns to God–but do so in faith, not in doubt (see Zechariah’s mistake)?  Mary asked, “How can this be, since I am still a virgin?  Yes, Zechariah asked a similar question (“How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years?”–Luke 1:18), but Mary asked in faith, not in doubt.  God knows the motives of our hearts, but He is also big enough to take our questions in faith (see James 1:5-8).
  4. Emulate Mary in recognizing that age has little to do with God using you.  Mary was a young teenager, Elizabeth and Zechariah were elderly–God used them both.  What a shame to hear young people tell or be told they are too young to contribute to Kingdom work.  What a tragedy to hear elderly people say, “I’m too old to do things–let the younger people do this!”  I pray this is not code for, “I’m too old to be of use to God.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Paul told Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because he is young, but to set an example in life, in love, in faith, in speech, and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
  5. Emulate Mary in treasuring and pondering all that God teaches you and shows you in your heart.  John MacArthur once said that the back doors to a church are often used as giant erasers, erasing what people have learned from the Word of God in church.  Mary absorbed all she saw, pondering and treasuring them in her heart (Luke 2:19, 2:50).  She did not deny what she heard and saw, nor did she forget.  She treasured!

No, we should not exalt Mary in worship, but we should emulate her in her witness!

Come what may!

Church Leaders and the Case of the “Slows”: The Unfortunate Legacy of George B. McClellan

I recently told our student pastor at church that the Civil War can teach us every leadership lesson there is.  (I mean, how often can you bring up Ulysses S. Grant to make a point?  You’ll have to wait until next week for that one.  So much to glean from that dark chapter.)  But let’s look at another (in)famous Union general: George Brinton McClellan (1826-1885). 

If Ulysses S. Grant had been general-in-chief at the beginning of the Civil War rather than George McClellan, the war would have ended much sooner—at least that’s those of us who see their fighting patterns (or lack thereof).  First, General McClellan.

Ah, McClellan—the one who, after a number of minor wins in Western Virginia (before it became West Virginia) was put in charge of the Army of the Potomac.  After Irwin McDowell’s catastrophic loss at Bull Run in the summer of 1861, Lincoln realized that the army needed order and discipline.  Enter McClellan, who expertly organized that titanic army and made them ready for battle.

Except that McClellan seemed rather reluctant to fight—and he never ran out of reasons.  Some estimated he did not have the stomach for the carnage that would ensue.  Others began to wonder if he were treasonous, even a Confederate sympathizer in Union garb.  Lincoln noted once that McClellan had a case of the “slows.”  Another time, he says that, while McClellan was trained as an engineer, it must have been a “stationary engine.”  When visiting the Army of the Potomac, Lincoln looked out over the vast army.  He asked an associate, “What do you see here?”  “Mr. President, I see the Army of the Potomac.”  Lincoln’s response was classic: “You’re wrong—this is McClellan’s bodyguard.” 

McClellan bought his own press at the beginning.  “Savior of the Union.”  “A young Napoleon.”  Being 34 over the largest army in the world at the time would tempt one to believe the hype.  Yet, Lincoln twice relieved him.  Once for not moving, and another time for letting Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia outmaneuver and outfight him with an army significantly smaller than McClellan’s.

(Man, I love studying the Civil War!)

What’s the lesson?  We in churches can train and drill and drill and train.  We can talk about it, look the part, talk the talk.  But what good is the drilling if we’re not ready to engage in the fight. 

  • What good is it to take a class learning how to share your faith if you don’t take it out to share your faith?
  • What good is it to take a class on making hospital visits, if we don’t go visit the sick (Matthew 25:36-37)?
  • What good is it to take notes on a sermon about the sovereignty of God if we don’t apply it when things don’t go our way?

We train and drill for battle.  May God shake us from the “slows.”

(More on Grant next week!)

When Theological Knowledge Goes Bad on Us

History lessons are helpful. Theology lessons edify our learning about God. But has this captured your heart and not just your head?

In J.I. Packer’s seminal work Knowing God, he brings some questions before us that we would do well to heed:

What is my ultimate aim and object in occupying my mind with these things?

What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have it?

He goes on:

If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. The very greatness of the subject matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem to us crude and inadequate and dismiss them as very poor specimens.[1]

If you walk out of away Daniel 8 thinking, “Wow, God set up Alexander in order to set up the apostles to take the gospel with just the Greek language!” Or, “Wow God set up the Pax Romana in order for the gospel to be taken from territory to territory more easily!” Or, “Wow, God moved Caesar to set up a census to get Mary and Joseph to their home city, to fulfill prophecy from Micah 5:2, etc.”—and that it’s just facts of history or theology, you’re missing the point.  Yes, this is fascinating, to be sure–“intoxicating,” as Dr. Packer suggests.

First Corinthians 8:4 says, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Has simple knowledge about God come your way, or does should this knowledge lead somewhere? May I quote from Packer again about how we can turn knowledge about God into knowledge of God?

It is that we turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.[2]

Yes, I know God’s timing is perfect–in my head. I know He is working all things to a glorious end–in my head. But has it dug deep down that God’s sovereign, holy, perfect work is a reality with you, dear Christian? Do you realize that the lesson of Him sending His Son at the fullness of time means He will do His work in and through you in His time as well?

  1. Pray about what’s now. God has given commands, and if we love His Son, dear Christian, we will do what He says.  Pray about what God has clearly said in His collective Word, and that He gives you the strength to obey.
  2. Pray you’re ready for what’s next.  Do you know what’s next?  Neither do I.  But we know who knows what’s next.  Surrender to Him and His will today, and trust Him for tomorrow!
  3. Pray you understand God did what’s necessary.  We as Christians were sinners, lost and damned and going to hell.  But God did what was necessary in the fullness of time to rescue us!  By His grace!  For His glory!  But don’t just understand—embrace it!  Swim in the deep end of that pool and splash about!

That’s when theological knowledge goes good!

[1]J.I Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 21.

[2]Ibid., 23.

How Does a Young Pastor Minister to Senior Adults

To senior adults, I’m a young pastor—but I used to be much younger!  I’m 43 years old, having been in ministry since I was 20 as a music and youth pastor; and I’ve served as a senior/lead pastor since I was 31.  I’ve shared this before, but I’ve actually had people when I first started in senior pastoral ministry tell me they had a hard time staying at church because they felt a child was preaching to them.  Now that I’m in my 40s, I don’t get that I’m the age of my members’ grandchildren anymore, but their children?  Sure!  I wonder when the tipping point will come?  Probably when I start getting my AARP mail in a little over a decade (yikes!).

How does a young pastor minister adequately to those who are the age of parents and grandparents?

  1. Acknowledge and embrace your age.  Some will look down on you because of your youth—something that Timothy experienced (1 Timothy 4:12).   Like anything, you can allow your age to hold you hostage, thinking you have nothing to contribute.
  2. Age does not equal maturity.  John Piper once said that you can be spiritually pimply-face at 80 years of age.  Just because you are a young pastor does not mean you’re immature. Just because you are older does not mean your maturity is a given. Paul mentored Timothy and the church ordained him at a young age due to his maturity in the faith. But he lacked years, which caused him to operate in fear.
  3. Relish ministering to and with those older than you.  For the first few years of ministry for me, the only ones younger than I were in youth ministry.  I didn’t know anything about, well, anything.  While some let me know that I didn’t know much, others took me under their wing and show me the ropes (and how those ropes got under those wings, I’ll never know!). 
  4. Treat those older than you with respect, like fathers and mothers—especially when it comes to change.  Interestingly, Paul tells Timothy, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father.  Treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1-2).  Just because we are in the position of pastoral authority, does not give us the leverage to treat others with contempt, especially those who are older than us.  Condescension is unbecoming a young pastor.  Respect!  Encourage him as you would your dad.  Now there’s some perspective!
  5. God is ‘older’ that all of us put together—so preach, speak, think, and live His Word.  Pastors are to set an example in life, love, faith, speech, and purity (1 Timothy 4:12).  No matter your age, experiences, or the context in which God places you—preach His Word, in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2).  All Christians of all ages, whether they realize it or not, yearn for the Word.  All people need to hear the Word.  So preach the Word, love your people, respectfully lead in areas that need change, carefully and prayerfully lead them to remove those obstacles—but only as the Word makes clear. And go at the speed of God (thanks for that, Dave Howeth). 

What are some things you as pastors have learned in pastoring those older than you? 

How an Episode of Columbo Feeds Our Christian Walk

Thanks to ME-TV (Memorable Entertainment Television), our children now get to watch some clean, classic television with some really good storylines.  One of my favorite shows was Columbo.  Peter Falk played him to perfection.  He always had “one more thing” to ask a suspect before he left a scene.  He looked rather disheveled and unkempt, but the writing and his portrayal of this unorthodox detective was, in its day, must see TV.

Yet, what made this show distinct was this: they always showed the crime and ‘whodunnit’ in the first 5-7 minutes.  Usually, the audience is left guessing as to the murderer.  Here, we know how it will end, but we spend our time wondering how Columbo will solve the case.

In Scripture, we know ‘whodunnit’ and how it will end.  But we spend our time wondering how our Heavenly Father will work it all out.  Admittedly, this is where the analogy breaks down.  None of the offenses committed against humanity, and ultimately against Himself (Psalm 51:4), catch God by surprise.  We have no Plan A, B, C, or D’.  What we have is a God in heaven working it all out, with the mystery being how God will bring His perfect and ultimate plan to fruition. 

Like the show, we know God will make it happen. 

But unlike Columbo, God is never in the dark—even though we may be. 

Rest your head tonight knowing that God will bring all things to His decided ends!  And if you are in Christ, rest knowing that God holds all that is in the hollow of his hands (see Isaiah 40). 

Say to Archippus, Say to All of Us: Fulfill Your Ministry

On December 1st, I will celebrate (yes, celebrate) three years as lead pastor at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church.  This time of year always gets me thinking about where God has taken me in ministry.  When God called me into the ministry in 1992 (I was 20 1/2), I had no idea where that call would take me, but it sure came in interesting—often painful—stages to get me to where He’d have me.  The biggest place he’d have me venture is the path from significant pride to continued humbling.  It took a while to find God’s place for me—but if we humbly present ourselves to God, He will show us the ministry He’s called us to fulfill.

I learned painful but positive lessons over the years, mostly about myself.  Regardless of what arises in churches and in life, I have found that I am often my own worst enemy.  But thankfully, God is still working in me, saying to me as He said to Archippus, “Fulfill your ministry” (Colossians 4:17). 

A little history, if you will.

My Pleasureville Years.  From 1995-1998, I was a full-time seminary student at Southern Seminary and a part-time music minister at Pleasureville Baptist Church in Henry County, Kentucky.  I was a mostly-city boy in a farming community.  I’d learn Bach, Vivaldi, and Chopin by day, then try to lead worship and children’s choir on the weekends.  The conservatory-model training I had in college and seminary made the connection tough—I just didn’t know how to be non-academic in how I talked and led.  I was just about to get the hang of it by the time I left in March 1998.  I learned I had to speak the language of the people, not of academics. Fulfill your ministry by being clear and talking to your people, not at or over them. 

My Clewiston Years (1998-2001):  After I left seminary, I was called as Minister of Music and Youth at First Baptist Church, Clewiston, Florida.  This were pivotal, wonderful years for me.  We had a great mix of older and younger demographics.  I was 26, not only leading worship, but direction youth, adult, and senior adult choirs, overseeing preschool and children’s choirs, all the while being their youth pastor. 

My first six to nine months were some growing pains.  They were used to musicals, and I had never directed a musical.  My predecessor, Joe Glass, was very skilled at these things, and set the bar very high.  I didn’t know what I was doing.  It was then that God brought along Sean Scheffler, who knew how to direct dramas (and to throw a killer lock-in, by the way), so he began to direct while I directed the music—and it was a wonderful partnership.  It was there I learned that I didn’t have all the answers, but God would provide others in the church to help advance the Kingdom—thus helping them fulfill their ministry as well.

Halfway through my tenure there, God called me into the preaching ministry.  Having seen what struggles pastors went through, I did not embrace this.  Sure, I loved preaching (as green as I was), but I knew preaching wasn’t pastoring.  Could I lead and connect and love people—even those who disagreed with me?  It was there I realized that when God calls you to fulfill a ministry, he will relentlessly pursue you until you surrender.  So, in 2001 I surrendered.  I announced it with tears to my church that I adored in April 2001 with my last Sunday being  in June. 

My Cox’s Creek Year (2001-2002).  I served for seven months at a church back in Kentucky that was just a poor fit.  And sometimes, you just don’t know until you’re there.  I followed a youth pastor that was a rah-rah guy who had 70 kids at this little church on Wednesday nights.  I was just a rah guy.  When he left, most of them left.  They had expectations, I didn’t fulfill them.  But, remember, God called me to preach.  I ran, he pursued.  I was at that church, again, as a music and youth guy.  That wasn’t what God called me to do.   I realized that being outside of what God calls you to do is not obeying His call to fulfill ministry

My Highview Baptist Spring (2002).  After leaving that little church, I went and played piano at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville for a few months.  Had God called me into music ministry, this was a dream.  A band, 12 piece orchestra, 50 voice choir, and serving under a veteran music minister named Bob Johnson—it was wonderful.  It paid little, but it paid while I was looking for another ministry—but what?  As much as I loved it there and as much as I loved listening to Kevin Ezell and Hershael York preach, I was restless until I fulfill the ministry God laid on me.  I soon took another church.

My English Year.  At 30 years old, back at seminary finishing my MDiv, I took a church in Breckinridge County, Kentucky:  English Baptist Church.  A tiny, 25-30 member Baptist church surrounded by Mennonites.  What a great group of believers!  Our family of three drove 100 miles one way to preach and minister at that church over the weekends.  We conducted the first VBS there in four years; we had our first baptism there in at least three; we met a Lottie Moon goal of $500 with $575!  You might say like others did, “They could find a preacher anywhere—why should you go there?”  This was the ministry God called me to fulfill, and God had humbled me enough to say, “OK, Lord—where?  Here?  Yes, Lord—I will follow!” 

My Boone’s Creek Years (2003-2011):  This church, Boone’s Creek Baptist Church outside of Lexington, Kentucky, that’s 229 years old was the first church God called me to as a full-time pastor.  I was 31—a month shy of 32.  A child!  A child leading people old enough to be my grandparents.  I understand why Paul told Timothy not to have a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7).  I listened to my first sermons there.  Hoo, boy.  In finding my voice, I would try to be funny like Driscoll (but that came off goofy), passionate like Piper (but folks told me I sounded angry), thick like MacArthur (but I’d lose them because, well, I’m not MacArthur).  It wasn’t until 2005 that God gave me the voice He had for me. 

But all along the way, I tried to heed the advice of other pastors who said, “Preach the Word, love the people, don’t change much at the beginning.  Then they will trust you when change is needed down the road.”  And God gave me eight wonderful years.  We contributed to helping a church plant in Hazard, we took our first international missions trips—in this case, to Trinidad and Tobago.  But even more, I have friendships that will last a lifetime that I will always treasure.  When I left Boone’s Creek in 2011, I had a special called meeting with my deacons.  One of them named Leonard said something I’ll never forget:  “Bro. Matt, everything you did, you backed it up with the Word of God.  I’ll always be grateful and I’ll never forget.”  I realized that in fulfilling the ministry God gives, if you don’t love the people where they are and given them the Word where they are, you won’t be able to take them or the church where they need to be. 

My Colorado Years (2011-?): So, here I am at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in South Denver.  All of those lessons I’ve learned in previous chapters have come into play.  But even here, God is stirring and making me sense that this chapter will look markedly different from the previous ones.  Serving with people that are more and more buying in to reaching our neighbors and turning ARBC into a Great Commission missions hub is a venture I love leading and loving them through.  I’m serving with very Kingdom minded men on staff, in our association, and with our state convention.  I dream of setting up groups in our communities through our Sunday School and long to plant a church in an area that needs a gospel witness here.  I trust God’s Word and His Spirit will stir the spirit of our people, as He’s always promised to do.  I’m learning all over to seek His face and to fulfill the gospel ministry He’s given me and us at ARBC in Denver. 

To be continued…