A Ministry Discussion with Jordan Jones, Pt. 1

I am beginning a series of posts based upon an email exchange with my friend who is also a pastor in Northern Kentucky, Jordan Jones. He oversees the youth ministry of his church, while I primarily oversee the Community Groups at mine. To see where God is at work in our churches and lives, we are discussing various aspects of our ministries. Part Two.

 CHRIS: Hey Jordan, since we’re both not too busy—you know, with you having three kids, pursuing doctoral studies, and working full-time, as well as me prepping for my first kid on the way, working full-time and looking for housing—I thought it would be a great opportunity to have an email exchange about our ministries. So let me kick this thing off:  Why do you do Youth Ministry? What gets you out of bed in the morning for ministry?

 JORDAN: Serving teenagers is certainly different than serving adults. One of the pros might be that teenagers generally still possess somewhat of a blank slate, which is ideal for those who are trying to influence them with the gospel. In that sense, you get to see results quicker in teens than in adults. Don’t get me wrong, teens come with lots of baggage, just like adults, but many times the said baggage hasn’t yet morphed into cold, hard bitterness. I’ve been asked the question, “What do you guys do to get the kids to come and keep coming?? For that, there is no secret formula. The answer is so very simple that it’s almost insulting–you MUST love them. I’m not talking about the feeling of love you have in your heart that they know nothing about; I’m talking about constantly and actively displaying love. This materializes by doing, doing, and more doing. It doesn’t present itself in the form of a huge worship band, tons of activities and games; rather, the purest exhibition of daily love is manifested in spending quality time with those to whom you minister. Whether by phone (text) or in person, you counsel them, pray with them, encourage them, AND laugh with them. Sure, they’ll listen to your Sunday night exposition of 2 Peter, and the more mature ones will actually grow from it, but the “meat and potatoes” of youth ministry is found in the gospel-centered exposition of life that takes place on the front-porch swing of the youth pastor’s house—it’s the 2am Scripture-infused text messages to reassure a sleepless heart that’s in turmoil. These things communicate love and create powerful, life-long bonds between believers. That’s why I do it. That’s why I get out of bed. That, and (insert obnoxious cliché coffee reference here).

CHRIS: So, as a follow up question: What has been the biggest surprise in doing Youth Ministry?

 JORDAN: The biggest surprise for me has been how much selflessness it takes. Pride and self-righteousness are instinctive, but it requires an entire re-wiring of your head to do ministry from a humble heart. Seeing trash in my yard or on the church lawn from teens or knowing something has broken in my house can ignite the pilot light of fury in me. Blame my red hair or my preacher’s kid status, but when I see a crushed soda can in my front yard my skull usually expands due to pressure. In those moments, though, God always manages to gently slap me across the face, which lets all of the frustration and hot air dissipate in a half second with this simple truth: None of this belongs to me. Nothing. Not even my own body. I am a steward of God’s manifold grace. I am to be a servant. I am to be selfless and give of myself for the sake of Christ Who, having nothing, gave everything. I’ll teach the teens about discipline and respecting others and their property, but I shall not let the status of my stuff or my pride interrupt the work of the gospel in their hearts. This physical stuff is all temporary. The working out of the gospel in teens’ hearts is what will have eternal results. This selfless aspect of ministry is manifested in how you deal with situations that arise with the youth. Privately, youth pastors can sometimes be short-fused and ready to swing the gavel of justice down on some rebellious teens, but grace is SO much louder than judgment. We don’t ignore sin—no, sir. We address it publicly in sermons and privately in confrontation, but I know from experience and Scripture that the self-righteous anger of a youth pastor availeth little. A selfless servant who operates out of grace is what we ought to be striving to be in youth ministry.

 

Learning to Shepherd From the Good Shepherd

Christ is the Good Shepherd. As the Good Shepherd, He is first and foremost our sacrificial Savior (John 10:11). But Christ is also an example to follow in learning how to care for God’s people. It is not surprising that pastors are commanded to “shepherd” God’s people, who are also liken to a “flock” of sheep (1 Peter 5:3). Jesus’ interaction with the crowds is very instructive for learning how to care for God’s people.

Mark 8:1-13

[1] About this time another large crowd had gathered, and the people ran out of food again. Jesus called his disciples and told them, [2] “I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. [3] If I send them home hungry, they will faint along the way. For some of them have come a long distance.”

[4] His disciples replied, “How are we supposed to find enough food to feed them out here in the wilderness?”

[5[ Jesus asked, “How much bread do you have?”

“Seven loaves,” they replied.

[6] So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to his disciples, who distributed the bread to the crowd. [7] A few small fish were found, too, so Jesus also blessed these and told the disciples to distribute them.

[8[ They ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. [9] There were about 4,000 people in the crowd that day, and Jesus sent them home after they had eaten. [10] Immediately after this, he got into a boat with his disciples and crossed over to the region of Dalmanutha.

Three things stand out to me in Jesus’ dealings with the people in the crowd in this story.

Jesus had compassion upon them (8:2)

Jesus says straight up: “I feel sorry for these people.” He has compassion upon them. He sees them in their hunger and cares for them. How much more, does Jesus have compassion upon us when He sees us in our broken and sinful mess? Jesus came to seek and save the lost. That’s us. I hope that I can have the same heart of compassion toward other people. May God work that into me more and more as I walk with Him. At its core, pastoral ministry is all about love. Love for God and love for other people. That is the motivation for doing the work of ministry.

Jesus knew their weaknesses/needs (8:2-3)

I love Jesus’ logic here because it is so practical: “They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. [3] If I send them home hungry, they will faint along the way. For some of them have come a long distance.” He recognizes that the crowd has been with Him for such a long time that when the people in the crowd leave, they may faint because they’re so hungry! He knows that they face a very practical problem: they don’t have any food. Again, knowing their needs flows from His love. You can spend all the time in the world with people, but if you don’t truly love them, you can become blind to their needs—even if they are right before your eyes. You can see them, but not truly “see” them. So being a faithful pastor means spending time with people so you know them. And also, actually paying attention to them so I know their needs!

Jesus gave them bread (8:4-10)

The rest of the story is Jesus feeding them with bread. This story doesn’t just show Jesus’ sheer compassion but also has overtones of Jesus as the God of the Exodus, providing bread for the people in the wilderness (Exodus 16). He is the Great Provider for His people. But also, reading the Gospels “thickly,” I also can’t help but see Jesus here as the true “bread of life.” So, as a pastor, I am to give “bread” to the people I minister to. But not literal, or physical, bread, but most importantly, I am to give them the gospel—the good news of Jesus as the bread of life. All who believe in Him will receive eternal life.

For Real?

Heaven Is For Real should be considered a work of fiction.

I know, I know. I’m a kill joy.

It’s just a book, not a theology book. But here’s the problem with it: God has already told us everything we need to know about heaven in His word, the Bible.

We shouldn’t be prying back the curtain of the afterlife when a God has already given us His divine perspective on it.

So I would discourage people from reading the book or seeing the movie. Why? Again, it’s claiming a near revelatory status about heaven. It will also shape your imagination about what heaven is like. The Bible is a better imagination shaper.

I also make the same point with reading Joel Osteen’s stuff: why waste your time with drivel? There are so many better resources out there you can choose.

Resources

Most importantly, the best resource is: Revelation 21-22 gives Christians a picture of the new creation

Here is a video by David Platt on Heaven is For Real.

A great book on heaven is aptly entitled, Heaven, by Randy Alcorn

 

Rhythms of Grace– A (Sort of) Review

Typical book reviews have their place. Author bio, summary, critical interaction. Cool. Got it. But I like to see how books “work”: how can the ideas, arguments, and concepts of the book be applied to real life. This is especially true for me when I consider theological works. Does it have a tangible effect on the way I do ministry?

I have to say that Mike Cosper’s book, Rhythms of Grace, is probably the best book on worship I have ever read. Cosper also co-wrote a good book called Faithmapping with fellow-pastor Daniel Montgomery. But Rhythms of Grace is even better than Faithmapping (but get Faithmapping too, it’s worth it!).

Why?

Because Cosper sorts out many difficult questions about worship in an easily accessible (and biblical) way.

Worship One, Two, Three

 The real pay-off chapter is called, “Worship One, Two, Three.” According to Cosper, there is one object and author of worship, two contexts for worship, and three audiences of worship (pp. 73-90).

Ultimately, God is the object and author of worship (This is a no-brainer, for worship of any other object and its idolatry). The two contexts of worship are Church Gathered and Church Scattered. The Bible shows the church gathering together for corporate worship (Hebrews 10:23-245), but also, the church “scatters” into the world where whole Christian life is to be done for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). The three audiences are God, the Church, and the World. God is the church’s audience. He is near and He hears. But we also sing and worship to each other during a worship service (Colossians 3:16). We teach and admonish one another with song! Finally, the watching world is also an audience for our worship. Just to go practical for a moment, let’s remember that our church services are public services. If we didn’t want unbelievers in our services, then why even advertise our service times? Just make it like a secret club with a secret password.

This framework helps cut through a lot of the confusion surrounding the worship debates in churches. For example, is worship to be done only a Sunday, or it is all of life? If it’s all of life, what’s the point of gathering? Is worship for believers only, or unbelievers as well? Remembering worship one, two, three can answer those is a biblical manner.

 You’ll find that many of the heated battles of the worship wars erupt when these categories get confused. For instance, the well-intentioned seeker-sensitive movement seems to have lost sight of the church as an audience in worship (and a crucial one). Those who would rather lie in bed and watch The Masters on Sunday have lost sight of the call to gather with God’s church. Those who compartmentalize their ‘church’ life from their hellish ‘secular’ life forget that they are living sacrifices, and all of life is an act of worship” (86).

The Application

As a pastor—and I’m not even a worship leader!—how does this apply to my ministry?

1) One Object: As I collaborate with the other pastors and the worship leaders, am I making sure God is the object our worship in our services? This means working with the worship leaders to disciple them and train them in understanding what the Scriptures teach about worship.

2) Two Contexts: As pastor of community in my church, am I devoting time to developing both contexts for church worship: gathered and scattered? As I preach and teach the congregation, am I teaching them the importance of both corporate gatherings and living all of life for God’s glory? Am I fostering too much individualism or too much collectivism?

3) Three Audiences: Am I focusing on the gospel in my preaching and teaching? The gospel has the power to edify believers and evangelize unbelievers (thanks Tim Keller!). Am I making my teaching clear? To transcend the believers-only vs. seeker-sensitive worship debate, shouldn’t churches at least be focusing on making the gospel clear no matter who’s present? I think we assume too easily that people who have been coming to the church for a long time can clearly articulate or even understand what we’re talking about on Sunday mornings. Even in my short time as a vocational pastor, I have found that even long-time Christians can be confused by the church lingo we use. The Reformers spent a lot of time trying to get the Bible, and to communicate, in the vernacular (“common language”) of the people. Are we?

 

Buy, Borrow, or By-Pass: Buy, buy, buy this book. It’s really one of my favorite books I’ve read in a long time. Any Christian, from pastor to congregant, could benefit from this book. It’s super clear, biblically faithful, and intensely practical.

 

The Delay of God’s Justice (Psalm 73)

It often doesn’t feel like God is a just Judge, right?

I mean, it often looks like the wicked triumph. It looks like evil gets its way. The prosperity of the wicked is exactly the issue that the author of Psalm 73 is grappling with. His faith is shaken: “But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling/My steps had almost slipped” (Ps. 73:2). The life of faith in the Bible is often described as a journey, as walking with God. And here the author says his feet almost slipped off the path: he almost lost his faith in God. Why? Because he envied the wicked! He saw their prosperity and success and he wanted it.

The Problem: The Success of the Wicked

[4] For there are no pains in their death,
And their body is fat.
[5] They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like mankind.
[6] Therefore pride is their necklace;
The (garment of violence covers them.
[7] Their eye bulges from fatness;
The imaginations of their heart run riot.
[8] They mock and wickedly speak of oppression;
They speak from on high.
[9] They have set their mouth against the heavens,
And their tongue parades through the earth.
[10] Therefore his people return to this place,
And waters of abundance are drunk by them.
[11] They say, “How does God know?
And is there knowledge with the Most High?”
[12] Behold, these are the wicked;
And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.

Two major descriptions of the wicked come to the forefront in these verse. The first is that they are “fat.” That might seem weird to us, but back in the ancient world, being skinny was not beautiful. If you were skinny, that meant you worked out in the field all day and didn’t have enough to eat. Being fat was beautiful back then, because it meant you were rich and didn’t need to labor in the field. You could just sit around in your palace or house all day and have servants wait on you. Being fat indicated a life of ease and comfort.

The second description is that the wicked are arrogant. They are “clothed” in arrogance, everything they do is for their own self-promotion. They also speak out against God; they pontificate as if they are truly knowledgeable about matters in which they no nothing. “Behold, these are the wicked: always at ease and they have increased in wealth.” The success and prosperity of the wicked causes the psalmist’s faith to be shaken. He wanted what they wanted, and the wicked seemed to get everything they wanted without God.

Not only does the success of the wicked cause the psalmist’s faith to be shaken, but it also affects him by making his faith seem pointless:

[13] Surely, I have cleansed my heart in vain,
And I washed my innocent hands [in vain].
[14] And I have been struck every day,
Punished every morning.
[15] If I say, “I will speak in this way”
Then, listen: I would have betrayed a generation of your sons.
[16] When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my eyes,

What benefit is there in following God, if the wicked win?  Why follow God when the bad people get all the good stuff anyways? “I have cleansed my heart in vain. And I washed my hands in innocence.” In his view, it is pointless to confess and repent of sin. Why should he care about dealing with sin, when the wicked triumph over the righteous. He also has kept his hand innocent in vain. The hands are often used to represent a person’s behavior. The metaphor pictures innocence as the water in which the psalmist has washed his hands. In other words, his behavior is totally “submersed” in innocence. He is blameless and righteous. But he also sees such blameless living as vanity, because the wicked who are not innocent are “winning.”

It’s easy to envy the wicked and think our faith is pointless. But the point of faith isn’t to be successful. The point of faith is to glorify God by enjoying Him! Some people say, “You know, I’ve tried the whole ‘Jesus thing’ before, but it didn’t really work for me.” And lurking behind that kind of thinking, is the idea that God owes us. He owes us success at work. He owes us a healed loved one. He owes us the kind of marriage we want. And when that doesn’t happen, we think God has failed. But God doesn’t owe us anything. If we got what God truly owed us, we’d all be punished for our sins. But God gives us grace in Christ Jesus. All the other stuff—a good marriage, success at a job—that may or may not happen. What we can be assured of is that God will forgive us our sins in Christ Jesus and promises us a glorious future with Him in the new creation

The Resolution: The Inevitable Justice of God

There is resolution for the psalmist.  Although the success of the wicked shakes his faith, and makes his faith seem pointless for a time, it is not forever. He comes to realize that the success of the wicked is temporary. God’s justice will be executed.

 [16] When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my eyes,
[17] Until I came to the sanctuary of God.
Then I understood their final destiny.
[18] Surely, You have set them upon a slippery place.
You caused them to fall into deception.
[19] Oh! How they will become a desolation in a moment!
They came to an end. They perished because of sudden calamity.
[20] Like a dream when you wake up,
When you wake up, O Lord, you will despise their form.
[21] When my heart was embittered
And my kidneys were pierced through,
[22] And I was stupid and did not know,
Then I was like an animal before You.

God will bring justice in His timing. That is what is important to remember. God will punish the wicked and vindicate the righteous in His timing, not ours. The truth is that God’s justice will come quickly when viewed from the perspective of eternity. Notice that it is God who sets the wicked “upon a slippery place.” He will bring down justice. He causes them to fall into ruin. This is not merely God’s passive judgment—a handing sinners over to their sin. This is God’s active justice, where He does, in fact, judge them.

Sometimes God’s justice comes swiftly. If you become addicted to meth, you will see terrifyingly real consequences in this lifetime. Some sins take a while for God’s full justice to be manifested. But this doesn’t mean that God won’t judge that sin. He will! There’s a great quote from the movie Inside Man about the inevitability of God’s justice: “The further you run from your sins, the more exhausted you are when they catch up to you. And they do. Certain. It will not fail.” But God is gracious to give people time and opportunity to repent:“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 2:9).

Notice, also, that the psalmist receives resolution to his struggle when he enters into the sanctuary of God to worship Him. In the Old Testament, God purposefully confined His glorious presence to the temple. Coming into the temple was the place for the Israelites to have “access” to God. It was the place of worship and atonement. It was also the place of corporate gathering. Once the psalmist entered the sanctuary, he then finally understood the final destiny of the wicked. When Jesus came, he fulfilled all those expectations of the OT. He is our temple. He is our sacrifice. When we come together as the people of God, we—the church—are now God’s sanctuary. And as we worship together and hear God’s Word together we can find assurance in our faith and answers to our questions.

This is especially important for those of you who struggle with doubt. Worship has a special function to reinforce our faith and give us insight into the truth. It’s a lot like witnessing, when you share your faith, you become convinced, “Hey, I actually believe this stuff!” So too, with worship, when you pour your heart out to God—and see others doing the same—then your faith is strengthened to believe in God’s justice. When we see God’s perspective on the matter, we know that He will one day bring down His justice.

Trust in God, He is a Just Judge. It may seem like evil has won the day, but it hasn’t, for God will bring His justice against all unrighteousness and wickedness.

Aligning Ourselves With God’s Mission (Mark 3:7-19)

Although Mark 3:7-19 may be easy to glide over because it contains healing stories which are prevalent in Mark’s gospel as well as a list of names, it is loaded with richness and applicability for the church today.

Mark 3:7-19

[7] Jesus withdrew to the sea with His disciples; and a great multitude from Galilee followed; and also from Judea, [8] and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and beyond the Jordan, and the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, a great number of people heard of all that He was doing and came to Him. [9] And He told His disciples that a boat should stand ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crowd Him; [10] for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him. [11] Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!” [12] And He earnestly warned them not to tell who He was. [13] And He went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. [14] And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, [15] and to have authority to cast out the demons. [16] And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), [17] and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder”); [18] and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot; [19] and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.

The passage shows us Jesus’ continue mission as God’s kingdom invades the kingdom of darkness. And I think that one of the ways the text speaks today is by challenging us to align ourselves with God’s mission. But how?

First, we need to understand who Jesus really is (3:7-12). It’s significant that the only voice we hear in the passage is that of demons declaring that Jesus is “the Son of God” (3:11). The demons rightly discern Jesus’ identity, but have no love for Him. The crowds, on the other hand, believe that Jesus is some kind of miracle worker and come to Him to be healed (3:7-8). Of course, Jesus does heal the crowds, but His mission is more than healing. His mission is the gospel, the “good news”: to bring about freedom from Satan, sin, and death through His death and resurrection (1:1, 10:45). So we must understand that Jesus is both the Suffering Servant who dies for His sins of His people (Mark 10:45), and the Glorious King (by virtue of His resurrection) who turns back the forces of Satan and sin.

Second, we need to become a disciple of Jesus (3:13-19). Notice that Jesus calls His disciples to Himself: “And He went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him” (3:13). Although it may be the case that Jesus is merely saying, “Hey guys, come up to the mountain with me,” I think the verse is saying more. There is a contrast between the crowds and Jesus’ disciples. Jesus does not call all the crowds to follow Him up to the mountain, but He does call His disciples. I think the text gives rise to the question, “Have I been summoned by Jesus? Have I been called as a disciple?” Our response in becoming a disciple is to believe and trust in Jesus.

Jesus also commissions His disciples with the task of preaching and exorcism (3:14-15). The disciples function as a “proto-church” in the Gospels for the Holy Spirit has not yet come down in Pentecost to begin the church in its fullness (Acts 2). But the same general commission still remains for the church: the church is tasked to preach the gospel to all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). But what about exorcism? I think that exorcisms were more prevalent in the Gospels because Jesus as the King was ushering in God’s kingdom to the earth. There was a very real clash between kingdoms. Today, the church also advances the kingdom of God through the preaching of the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit, not necessarily through exorcisms (though I don’t rule out the possibility of them being necessary from time to time).

Aligning ourselves with God’s mission, then, requires we rightly understand who Jesus is and also follow His way by becoming commissioned disciples as part of His church.

Were Old Covenant Believers Indwelt by the Holy Spirit?

Were old covenant believers indwelt by the Holy Spirit? No. They did not need to be. God dwelt in the temple. He was thereby with them. How did old covenant believers become and remain faithful? They became faithful by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, which in the OT is described more as ‘circumcision of the heart’ (cf. Jer. 9:25) than as ‘new birth from above’ (cf. John 3:3). They remained faithful not by the Spirit dwelling in them, but by the Spirit dwelling in the temple (Ps. 73:17), where they longed to be (Ps. 116:18–19). Further, the Spirit was active through Israel’s prophets (1 Pet.1:11). As the prophets proclaimed God’s word, the Spirit instructed and admonished God’s people (Neh. 9:20, 30). Under the old covenant, the Spirit gave life and was with the people as he dwelt in the temple. Under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life and dwells in God’s people; they are his temple.

–Jim Hamilton, “Were Old Covenant Believers Indwelt by Holy Spirit,” Themelios (2004), 12-22