Pastor, Get Off Your Butt and Exercise

by Chad Ashby

When I took my first pastorate, the comment I heard most frequently was, “You’re too skinny to be Southern Baptist.  We’ll do something about that.”  The sad thing is that pastors have a reputation for being some of the worse offenders when it comes to physical health.  Long hours sitting at a desk and attendance at too many free pastors’ lunches and prayer breakfasts work against vocational ministers. From the deep recesses of their studies they cry, “I’m called to the ministry of the Word and to prayer!  Both are sedentary.  Being out of shape–or even obese–is just an occupational hazard.”

Really?

Do pastors get to pass Go and collect $200 when it comes to exercise?  Are these excuses really valid?  Below are five reasons pastors–and all Christians–should include exercise as a regular part of their weekly activities.

1. It Builds Mental Toughness.

When writing to the young pastor Timothy, Paul says, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

Now, some would say, “See, Paul says we should focus on training for godliness, not training for physical health.” Not so!  True, Paul does say the greater good is training for godliness because it lasts for eternity.  However, he asserts bodily training “is of some value.”  Godliness and physical health are not either/or.  Just because training for godliness is more important does not mean exercise is unimportant.  When dealing with greater and lesser goods, Jesus said, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:23).

In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul describes his relationship with his physical body: “But I beat my body and make it my slave, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”  Exercise is a very practical way of telling your flesh who is boss.  When your lungs are crying out for you to quit at Mile 3 and you choose to push through for two more miles, you are building a mental toughness that bears fruit in all areas of life.

When ministry gets discouraging, or members are complaining, or obstacles keep piling up, you will be better prepared to navigate these difficulties because of the miles spent toiling in the extremes of summer heat and chillingly dark winter.

2. It Sets an Example.

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).  As pastors, we are to live our lives as an example to brothers and sisters in the faith.  Paul’s exhortation essentially encompasses all of life.

A pastor who chooses not to make exercise a priority is setting an example, consciously or unconsciously, to the rest of his congregation about the value of our bodies.  Exercise is all about self-denial.  Jesus, Paul, the prophets, and the apostles all knew a thing or two about that.  A pastor who chooses to exercise sets an example to his congregation that self-denial is an all-of-life attitude, not just a “spiritual” attitude.

3. Jim Elliot Syndrome.

I trust you are familiar with Jim Elliot, the famous missionary who was martyred in Ecuador in 1956.  Perhaps what you didn’t know about Jim was that he was preparing for his missionary expeditions all the way back in college–by joining the wrestling team.  Here’s why: “I wrestle solely for the strength and co-ordination of muscle tone that the body receives while working out, with the ultimate end that of presenting a more useful body as a living sacrifice” (p. 16, Through Gates of Splendor).

Jim knew he wanted to be a missionary, and he realized regular exercise would better fit him for that ministry.  Pastors, missionaries, heck, all Christians have a lot of daily demands.  If we are going to be able service God will all of our might, to offer up our bodies as living sacrifices, we need to condition them for the work.  If you don’t practice, how will you succeed come game time?  The demands of ministry will destroy you if you do not prepare both physically and spiritually for the rigorous gauntlet of Christian life.

4. It Aids Unconscious Communication.

I have a close friend who weighed over 300 lbs. less than three years ago.  As a youth minister, his ministry was going okay.  However, he came to a point where he realized, “I’m asking these kids to exercise self-control in their lives when it comes to sex, school, and other things, but look at me!  Why would they listen to a guy who clearly has no self-control?”

Three years later, he is on a regimented diet, he runs dozens of miles a week, and he does extensive weighlifting.  He has dropped 150 lbs.  Why?  So that his kids will be impressed with his physique?  No.  He realized that his appearance was undermining his message–whether he liked it or not.  I believe God will reward this man’s ministry for the hard work and discipline he put in for the sake of his work in God’s Kingdom.

5. It Provides Ministry Opportunities.

A physically fit pastor opens doors that were previously closed.  He can meet non-Christians at the gym and build relationships for sharing the gospel.  He can run for 40 minutes with a ministry partner, church member, or non-Christian and use it as a time for mutual encouragement and discipleship.  The time you spend exercising shouldn’t be seen as time lost.  You can exercise and do ministry at the same time.  It just takes intentionality and discipline.

A healthy pastor can become all things to all people–he can sit with the elderly, and he can keep up with the younger generation.  For all believers, physical health is not about being able to post exercise times on Facebook, having more attractive selfies, or impressing the ladies at church.  It’s about treating your body as a gift–a gift that God expects you to maximize for his Kingdom’s sake.

-Chad Ashby, http://chadashby.com/2014/05/14/pastor-get-off-your-butt-and-exercise/

How Many People Go To Your Church?

by Tim Challies

“So how many people go to your church? This is question nearly every pastor faces at just about every conference he attends. I’ve written about the question before but, having spent the week at Together for the Gospel, and having been part of many conversations, it seems like a good time to revisit it. It usually doesn’t take long for a conversation with a pastor to progress to that point. For the pastor this can be a moment of pride or humility, freedom or shame. And somehow it is a question that always seems to come up. And it comes up for those who are not pastors as well; you begin to talk about your church and the other person inevitably asks that same question. So how many people?

I’d like to make the same two-part proposal I made a few years back: Let’s stop asking, “How many people go to your church?” And when someone asks us that question, let’s not feel obliged to give a direct answer. …”

“…I wonder, what would happen if we found better questions to ask and better ways to answer them. Instead of going to the easy question of, “How many people go to your church?” why don’t we ask things like this:

  • How have you seen the Lord working in the lives of the people in your church?
  • What evidences of the Lord’s grace has your church experienced in the last few months?
  • What are you excited about in your church right now?
  • Who are you excited about in your church right now?
  • What has the Lord been teaching you?
  • Who have you been discipling recently? Tell me about some of the future leaders at your church.

When asked, “How many people go to your church?” why don’t we consider answering something like this:

  • As many as the Lord has determined we can care for at this time.
  • Enough that we are actively working toward planting a church.
  • I don’t know, but let me tell you about a few of them…

-Tim Challies, read the full article here: http://www.challies.com/articles/how-many-people-go-to-your-church

The Bittersweet Blessing of a Missionary’s Parents

by J.D. Greear

“The more our vision of church planting catches on around the Summit, the more young people are going to find themselves in an all-too-common dilemma—feeling God’s call to missions while facing parents who are opposed to the idea. I still remember the difficult conversation I had with my parents soon after I graduated college; thankfully, they gave me their heartfelt, if sorrowful, blessing.

One of our key staff members recently went through a situation like this. He felt the prodding of God to join our mission team in Serbia, but his mother wasn’t thrilled about it. Seeing the two of them work through this together has been an encouraging process for both of them, as well as for those of us watching.

The following is a summary of their conversation (shared with their permission), and a reminder—for parents and children alike—that Christ is worth it.”

Daniel,

The Lord has used your spiritual journey over the past several months to show me how much I’ve struggled with letting go of my children. It’s easy to imagine you always being nearby, especially since many of my friends have grown adult children who live close to them. The prospect of you leaving the country for a couple years really heightened that entire struggle.

More than anything, I want you to do God’s will. But I also need you to have certainty that this is exactly what God is calling you to do. Of course I don’t want to worry about you for two years. What mother would? But I also feel the Spirit telling me that this isn’t about me. It’s about faithfulness to God and sacrifice for the Great Commission. So as difficult as this is for your dad and me, you have our blessing.

Mom

—–

Mom,

Thanks for challenging me last night. You were absolutely right that I need to find confidence in the Lord that this is what Christ is calling me to do. That reminder really humbled me and made me seek the Lord more intensely. Is this what Christ wants me to do, or am I doing this from my own ambitions and ideas?

After praying this morning, the Lord gave me a few verses to put my confidence in that this is what Christ is calling me to do.

Matthew 9:35-38, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Christ’s desire is to send out laborers into the harvest field.

Hebrews 13:12-13, “Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore, let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach that he endured. For hear [sic] we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” If we obey Jesus by going outside the camp, he has promised to be there waiting for us.

John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” Jesus left home, the true home, in order to preach peace to me. How could I not leave “home” and go preach peace to Serbians?

To be honest, I’ve been struggling with timidity about this decision—not because it doesn’t seem like Christ is calling me to do it, but just because of personal weakness. I realize it’s a decision that Jesus has given me, a choice I have to make. Having that kind of responsibility can make me want to shrink back in timidity and not make a decision. But as I was praying, I remember Christ, who at the cross, like Abraham, “went out into the void, not knowing where he was going.” Christ left home, suffered for me, so that I could live. I feel compelled by this love to do the same for others. He’s allowed me to experience the greatest joy—knowing Christ. And if I can help people know Christ too, I think the Lord would be honored, and I’d be happy to know that my life has counted. That’s my confidence.

Thank you for your investment in my life. The Lord has really brought to mind all of those times growing up when you told me to lift up my head, not be discouraged, and run the race for the prize. Yesterday, I felt the Lord saying that to me: “Run your race.” Thank you for training me to persevere, knowing that Christ is always with me. He’s done that for me here in Durham, which means I can have confidence he will do the same for me in Serbia. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Love you mom!

Daniel

—–

Daniel,

Thank you, son. I needed this to hear your confidence. Please know how very proud I am of you and humbled by your obedience. All I truly want for you is total obedience to God’s call on your life.

I will grow through this journey with you on my knees and in prayer every day.

I have been listening to Henry Blackaby’s CD on Experiencing God where he said that sometimes obedience brings crisis into your life . . . and the lives of others around you.

He noted that Jesus’ obedience was conflict not only for him but also for his mother.  I wept thinking about Mary’s broken heart as she witnessed her son’s sacrifice. This humbled me. It puts life into perspective, that it is not about the individual or a mother’s wants.  It is about the greater call, the greater picture.

I love you and celebrate your call.

I love you very much.

Mom

-Posted by J.D. Greear at http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2014/03/the-sorrowful-blessing-of-a-missionarys-parents.html

Sound the Alarm! Let the Watchman Cry!

Sound the alarm! Let the watchman cry!
Up! for the day of the Lord is nigh;
Who will escape from the wrath to come?
Who have a place in the soul’s bright home?

Sound the alarm, watchman! Sound the alarm!
For the Lord will come with a conqu’ring arm;
And the hosts of sin, as their ranks advance,
Shall wither and fall at His glance.

Sound the alarm! Let the cry go forth,
Swift as the wind, o’er the realms of earth;
Flee to the rock where the soul may hide!
Flee to the rock! in its cleft abide!

Sound the alarm on the mountain’s brow!
Plead with the lost by the wayside now:
Warn them to come and the truth embrace;
Urge them to come and be saved by grace.

Sound the alarm in the youthful ear;
Sound it aloud that the old may hear;
Blow ye the trump while the day-beams last!
Blow ye the trump till the light is past!

-Fanny J. Crosby, in Good as Gold, by Robert Lowry & W. H. Doane (New York: Bigow & Main, 1880).

The Secret of Effective Service

Someone once asked George Müller:

“What is the secret of your service for God?”

Müller answered, “There was a day when I died, utterly died, died to George Müller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will – died to the world, its approval or censure – died to the approval or blame of even my brethren and friends – and since then I have studied to show myself approved only unto God”

On the first evening of a summer holiday Müller asked, “What opportunity is there here for service for the Lord?”

His companion answered, “But you have just come from continuous work. Isn’t this a time for rest?”

Muller replied, “Now that I am free from my usual labors, I must be occupied in some other way in the service of God; to glorify Him is the object of my life.”

-George Müller, as recorded in Delighted in God by Roger Steer (Christian Focus Publications, 1997), 227.

Prayer Enroute to the Mission Field

Lord, remember my relatives, friends, and flock at home. I have separated myself from
them; but Thou art in the midst of them. Cast the skirt over all my sins among them, and may nothing be remembered but what may be in some way useful to them. Lord, teach me to pray. Oh that I might live in the secret place, and put prayers into Thy golden censer, O Lord! And now, when I enter on a new sphere, oh that I might be strangely humbled, purified, guided! Lord, leave me not under the known or unknown dominion of any of my sins. Thou wilt subdue our corruptions. I ask deliverance from self-seeking. Take Thy right place, O Lord, and be all in all. Let self be growingly eclipsed and forgotten. Let me decrease, and do Thou increase. Let me learn to rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep. I feel that the serpent’s brood are in me; let me watch and pray. There is no more condemnation to Christ’s dear ones, who walk not after the flesh. . . . I see that I am entering a scene of trial and a place of the shadow of death. Help me to watch and strive. Save from sloth, from merely enduring life, instead of living to Thy glory.

Lord, help me. Thou knowest my heart. Search and try, and lead me in the way everlasting. O my Savior! a little, helpless, foolish child, I now implicitly commit myself to Thee. I know that, by Thy grace in the past, I have been brought hitherto. O my Lord! I cast myself on Thee. Leave me not, forsake me not, forget me not. Let me never misconstrue or judge hardly of Thy dealings. May I trust, and hope, and rejoice. Seek and find Thy servant. Let Thy strong hand be my help. Graciously use me, bless me; make me willing to learn, and willing to teach; willing to be led, and willing to lead. I am uttering all my words before Thee. Thou knowest how stripped and bare I am. I have no idol to bring and kill save this indwelling corruption ; and I do think I should like that it were slain; and that, in a new, strange simplicity and godly sincerity, I might serve and honor Thee henceforth. This inner war now lies specially before me. I expect in this new land to be hedged up by outward circumstances. But just so much the more may I fight against the evil that is within. O my Lord! to Thee I look, on Thee I wait. May my character be transparent, and my life blameless, holy, earnest. I commit myself wholly and eternally to Thee. I am well pleased with Thy person, offices, benefits, cross, rod, and all Thy ways. Those whom I have ever truly loved have been Thy people, and anything worth the name of joy has been found in Thy service. I love to praise Thee, and to hear Thee praised. Lord, help me! . . .

The men are busy cleaning the cabin. It is the end of a voyage, and the preparation for a new one. I accept the lesson. O my Lord! sprinkle me with hyssop; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Give me the peace, the softness, the joy of Thy forgiven, gentle, hopeful children. Bless me in my meeting with friends to-night. I have no plans, yet Thou knowest my foolish heart. Oh, how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee!

-John Milne, enroute to India, 1853. As recorded in The Life of John Milne by Horatius Bonar, Banner of Truth Trust, 178-179.

Missionary Embarkation Hymn

Already lies my childhood’s home behind me,
Though still I linger on my native ground ;

And here must soon be loosed the ties that bind me,
When moves yon ship, now by her anchor bound.

Friends of my home ! then fare-ye-well, I leave you ;
The sail is spread, the hoisted flag I see ;

Think, when in prayer, of me, nor let it grieve you ;
Mourn not, — remember who has gone with me.’

Missionary Embarkation Hymn (German). As recorded in The Life of John Milne by Horatius Bonar, Banner of Truth Trust, 169.

3 lessons from Brainerd’s death

Brainerd sick horse

By Jesse Johnson

“David Brainerd died 265 years ago. [October 9th] was the anniversary of his home going.

Brainerd’s life ended when he was only 29 years old. He was not exactly famous when he died; he was expelled from Yale for declaring that an empty chair had more evidence of grace than the seminary president (the original Clint Eastwood!), and then spent the rest of his life serving the Lord in anonymity among the Indians.

Because he did not have a seminary degree, Brainerd refused to pastor a church. In the 1700’s a pastor was expected to have been to seminary, and despite the fact that some churches wanted him, Brainerd was reluctant to participate in what he viewed as the downgrade of the pastoral office by pastoring without a degree. Instead, he learned Indian dialects, translated a few Psalms into one language, and planted a “Christian community” in another.

He literally rode himself to death.

Crisscrossing the New England woods, he spent himself out discipling the Indian converts to Christ. In the 1700’s the United States was a backwoods, forgotten, and remote place. It was far removed from the world’s limelight, and Brainerd removed himself further still. When he died in Jonathan Edward’s parsonage, Brainerd had a handful of disciples, and fewer friends. Outside of the Edward’s home, those who knew him were skeptical of him.

But inside the Edwards’ home, his life had eternal implications. God used his diary (published posthumously) to spark a new wave of missionary fervor. Edward’s daughter Jeshua fell in love with Brainerd, and they perhaps even married. She caught his tuberculosis, and died a few months after he did.

Yet the most direct impact of his life is seen in Edwards himself. When the church in North Hampton voted Edwards out, he had to leave his parsonage—as well as his daughter’s grave—behind. Already regarded as the foremost theologian of his day, and already famous for his notable preaching, Edwards could have gone to London, or Boston, Oxford or Yale. Instead, he followed Brainerd’s example, and went to serve among the Indians.

Yesterday I marked the anniversary of his death by reading a biography of Brainerd by John Piper.Then I crossed a busy street to Starbucks. There was a traffic accident—nobody was seriously hurt, and the police arrived in 5 minutes. I chose from the three different kinds of coffee, then prepared for a staff meeting—I get to work along side eleven other pastors, all of us paid generously by our congregation.

I answered email, and watched a DVD with Wyane Grudem, Al Mohler, and Voddie Bauchum on marriage. The whole time, I had a sort of surreal felling. I kept trying to imagine what life for Edwards was like before Brainerd knocked on his door, entered his life, then left the world bringing his daughter with him.

I realize that through the providence of God, my feet are not in the Americas of the 1700’s. I can imagine all I want, but I have no idea what life was like then. I have DVD’s with leading theologians at my fingertips, while Brainerd clutched only a diary and a Bible, so he wouldn’t weigh down his horse.

At the end of the day, these are my lessons from Brainerd’s example. They are the best I can do, removed from his life by 265 years.

1) In the earthly sense, we simply don’t suffer like Brainerd/Edwards, et. al. The sacrifices pastors made then were simply different than now. My greatest trial yesterday was that my car’s battery died. I could have walked to church and instead a neighbor gave me a ride. That is not quite suffering for Jesus.

2) We are not sinning by not suffering. It’s not my fault that I live in 2012 and not 1747. It’s not my fault that my congregation loves me, while Brainerd was expelled. It is not a sin to not suffer. I feel willing to suffer, but I know it is easy to feel that way when the sky is clear. God’s providence has placed me in a country with blessings like Starbucks, police, and a plurality of pastors. My ministry mirrors Brainerd’s gospel, but not his afflictions.

3) Even the slightest complaining from me is totally and wholly out of bounds. Brainerd left Yale for Indians and death. Edwards left a thriving ministry for suffering on the frontier. The Apostle Peter left everything in this world to follow the Lord. As John Piper writes, “Jesus was not impressed with Peter’s sacrifice.” Our Lord left heaven to come to earth—and he did so without complaining. We can bite our tongues when we make 21st century kinds of sacrifices, and we can be thankful for the era of human history in which we live.”

-Jesse Johnson,  http://thecripplegate.com/3-lessons-from-brainerds-death/

Recommit Yourselves to What You Were Ordained to Do

by Andrew Purves

“To ministers let me say this as strongly as I can. Preach Christ, preach Christ, preach Christ. Get out of your offices and get into your studies. Quit playing office manager and program director, quit staffing committees, and even right now recommit yourselves to what you were ordained to do, namely the ministry of the Word and sacraments. Pick up good theology books again: hard books, classical texts, great theologians. Claim the energy and time to study for days and days at a time. Disappear for long hours because you are reading Athanasius on the person of Jesus Christ or Wesley on sanctification or Augustine on the Trinity or Calvin on the Christian life or Andrew Murray on the priesthood of Christ. Then you will have something to say that’s worth hearing.

Remember that exegesis is for preaching and teaching; it has no other use. So get out those tough commentaries and struggle in depth with the texts. Let most of what you do be dominated by the demands of the sermon as if your whole life and reason for being is to preach Christ, because it is. Claim a new authority for the pulpit, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, over you and your people. Commit yourself again to ever more deeply becoming a careful preacher of Christ. Don’t preach to grow your congregation; preach to bear witness to what the Lord is doing, and let him grow your church. Dwell in him, abide in him, come to know him ever more deeply and convertedly. Tell the people what he has to say to them, what he is doing among them and within them, and what it is he wants them to share in. He is up to something in your neighborhood, if you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. Develop a christological hermeneutic for all you do and say. Why? Because there is no other name, that’s why.”

(via Wesley Hill) -Andrew Purves, The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering Our Ambitions to the Service of Christ (IVP, 2007), 44-45.

Ministry: It’s Not About You

by Mark Lauterbach

“Of all the silly notions of ministry making the rounds, there is none sillier than the self-important notion that our leadership is what makes the difference.

This idea is rooted in a culture that prizes technique above character, and skill above godliness.  The idea is not rooted in Scripture.

The “leadership model” of ministry is rooted in the American success model.  That is why we read the books of the successful, and believe there are techniques that secure success.  We apply that to the Christian realm.  Don’t we tend to honor the men who have large churches?  Don’t we hang around them for tips on how we can nurture a larger church?  or how we can be the kind of leaders they are?

It is true, God uses us as we lead.  But where in the Bible do we get a focus on the leadership gifts of men?  More still, what do we find where there are exceptional men?  We find what seems to be failures.

  • Moses failed to bring the people into the land.
  • Joshua failed to take the whole land.
  • David experienced years of hardship from Saul, then years of suffering for his own folly.
  • Jeremiah preached for decades with little fruit.
  • The Lord of glory himself spoke as no man had ever spoken, walked with God in perfect obedience, worked wonders and signs — and was rejected by all, abandoned by his friends, and died a pauper.
  • Paul was a “master builder” (1 Cor 3) but two of the churches where he spent the most time had the most problems (Corinth and Ephesus).  As a matter of fact, here is the fruit of his exceptional skill: moral compromise, doctrinal defection, apostasy, and division.

Yes, we lead.  But our leadership does not guarantee results. There is no redeeming power in our leadership.

We are called to be faithful where God plants us.  God sees success differently.  The first will be last and the last first.  We are servants, mere earthen vessels, clay pots, brown paper bags.

Even secular history tells is that there have been great leaders with great ideas who were rejected in their time. It also tells of men of average ability who prospered through no exceptional quality of their own.

In my early years as a Christian, I knew a man who got it right.  He was the man who started our college fellowship.  He was 80 when I met him.  He was single by choice, lived in a tiny apartment, ate the simplest foods, and was as uncool as they come.  But he persisted in doing the right things for years.

For forty years he had met students and told them about Christ.  There were dozens of men and women who were brought to faith through this man whom no one knew.

He would not talk about himself or what he had done.  Sometimes, when we heard of a leader in business or politics or education that was his son in the faith, he would change the subject.  he would tell us to keep our eyes on the Lord.

One day, we asked him to talk about the most fruitful years of ministry he had enjoyed.  Certain classes of graduates had gone on into missions or leadership in significant ways.  We inquired: What group of students did he look back on with particular joy?  What year of ministry was the most successful?

His answer I will not forget: “I can’t tell you because their race is not over.”

Let’s quit celebrating great leaders, and instead, celebrate long term faithfulness.  It’s not your ministry and it’s not about you.”

by Mark Lauterbach, http://gcsandiego.org/gospeldrivenlife/?p=968