Limits liberate

God made us finite. We are not omni-knowing, omni-present, or omni-potent. These limitations are good news. They allow the Lord to be for us and for others. Here is how:

Zack Eswine, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being:

First, we can only be at one place at one time, which means that Jesus will teach most of us to live a local life.

We will resist and want to act like we are omnipresent. But he will patiently teach us that as human beings we cannot be, and this admission will glorify God.

Others will likewise resist Jesus and want you to be omnipresent. They will use his name to praise or critique you accordingly, but they too will have to learn that only Jesus can be with them wherever they are at all times. This fact is actually good news for them and for us. . . .

Second, we cannot do everything that needs to be done, which means that Jesus will teach us to live with the things that we can neither control nor fix.

We will want to resist Jesus and act as if we are omnipotent, but we will harm others and ourselves when we try.

Others will also resist Jesus. Using his name, they will praise or critique us according to their desire that we fix everything for them and that we do it immediately. But they will have to learn too that only Jesus can fix everything and that there are some things Jesus leaves unfixed for his glory. . . .

Third, we are unable to know everyone or everything, which means that Jesus will teach us to live with ignorance, our own and others’. In other words, we are not omniscient.

Jesus will require us to stop pretending that we are.

Others will resist Jesus and in his name praise us or critique us on the basis of their estimation of what we should know. They will have to learn that only Jesus knows everything they need; his invitation to faith and to trust in his knowing is a good one. . . .

Ask yourself this question: Which are you more tempted to pretend that you are: an everywhere-for-all, a fix-it-all, or a know-it-all? What do you feel you will lose if you stop pretending in these ways and entrust yourself to Jesus? . . .

Jesus invites everywhere-for-alls, fix-it-alls, and know-it-alls to the cross, the empty tomb, and the throne of his grace for their time of need.

—Zack Eswine, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 55-56.

HT: Crossway Blog via Justin Taylor

The Gospel of Joy

A sixteenth century pastor-theologian spoke of the Gospel this way:

In Scripture [the Gospel] signifies [preeminently] the glad and joyful message of the grace revealed to us in Christ, to teach us to despise the world and its transient riches and pleasures, and to desire with all our heart and to embrace this incomparable blessing when it is offered to us. The immoderate delight of irreligious men in the empty enjoyments of the world, who are not at all, or little, touched by a feeling for spiritual blessings, is innate in nearly all of us. Therefore, to correct this fault, God specially calls by the name Gospel the message which He commands to be proclaimed about Christ. For in this way He tells us that nowhere else can true and substantial happiness be obtained and that in Him we have in perfection all the parts of a blessed life.

Man of God

For preachers and pastors who communicates God’s Word, here’s a good reminder from Peter Leithart:

The educated clergy of yesteryear were tempted to think that good preaching communicated a weighty and comprehensive theological system. The soothing prophets of success and the multi-media stars of today are tempted to think that they have the technical mastery to get results. Despite the differences, the essence of the temptation in both cases is to forget the essence of preaching. All are tempted to forget that preaching can do what it is supposed to do only if the preacher is a man of God. And they are tempted to forget that being a man of God means being a man of the Word and prayer. A sermon is not entertainment, nor a dump of information about God, nor a theological lecture. It is an encounter with the living God, and a preacher can fulfill his vocation well only if he knows that God.

Classic writers on pastoral theology emphasized this again and again. Alan of Lille compared preparation for preaching to an ascent up the seven steps of Jacob’s ladder. A man is ready for preaching after he confesses and repents of sin, seeks God in prayer, lives a life of thanksgiving, studies the Scripture with care, consults with seasoned interpreters about difficulties, and learns to expound Scripture to others. A preacher must be a “perfect man” who has ascended “from the beginning of faith to full development.”

Luther was more straightforward in making a similar point. He complained that some pastors rely on “good books” for their sermons, but neglect the weightier matters: “They do not pray; they do not study; they do not read; they do not search the Scripture. It is just as if there were no need to read the Bible for their purpose.” Such preachers are “nothing but parrots and jackdaws.” Thomas Oden notes that all pastoral actions are dimensions of the priestly task of “interpreting humanity to God” and bringing God’s word to humanity.

Alan, Luther, and Oden are simply restating the New Testament’s central claim about pastoral ministry. Since the preacher holds an apostolic office, he is called to imitate the apostles, who were determined to “devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).

The pressures on this ancient discipline are enormous. One of the constant challenges of pastoral ministry arises from the sheer vastness of need that surrounds any pastor. As Eugene Peterson has often observed, pastors can camouflage their vocational failures under a frenzy of busyness—not least because church members notice busyness. A pastor devoted to prayer and the word looks like a withdrawn pastor, a pastor who doesn’t care much for his people, or any people for that matter. Parishioners may be more intrigued by a preacher who can speak in the latest slang, who quotes the hot bands, who jars them with obscenities from the pulpit than by a man who knows God deeply.

Preachers should believe that that God knows what people need better than people do. What builds the church is not a man who has acquired theological information, or a man who can keep the attention of a crowd. Theological information and rhetorical skill are important. But what a congregation finally needs is assurance that the man who speaks to them from the pulpit every week is capable of bringing God’s word because he is acquainted with the Father of Jesus Christ through the filling of their Spirit.