Pastor’s Corner, February 2011

Last week Elizabeth and I had the privilege of attending the Desiring God Pastor’s Conference in Minneapolis, MN. The trip was a gift from a friend down in Baton Rouge, and it was the first time that Elizabeth and I have gone to a conference together, alone, since the Lord gave us children. So needless to say, we were thankful for the time together. It actually turned into our tenth anniversary trip as well, because we had to stay a day longer than we intended due to the Chicago airport’s being shut down by the blizzard/snow-cane/thundersnow (thanks for the new words, Jim Cantore!). But because our flight didn’t leave out until Thursday, we were able to attend Bethlehem Baptist Church, where John Piper pastors; that was a great treat.

For those of you unfamiliar with Desiring God Ministries and John Piper, let me encourage you to go spend some time on their website. There are all sorts of free audio/video/article resources, and his books drip with passion for God’s glory and the power of the gospel of Christ Jesus. The ministry of John Piper has had great significance in my own spiritual journey, as it has for so many around the world over the last twenty five years. One of the first theological books I read was Desiring God – I think it was during my first couple years of college. At some point during those years I became Reformed in my theological convictions, and as the Reformed community in Baton Rouge at that time was very tiny, for a short while I sincerely thought that I would never be able to get married, since I didn’t know any women who believed like I did. But during my sophomore year at LSU, I attended a Ligonier Conference at Independent Presbyterian Church, at which R. C. Sproul and John Piper were speaking. The conference was on God’s providence, and the church was filled with men and women; my faith in God’s sovereignty was strengthened, and my hopes for marriage were renewed. All that to say, in spite of the fact that we disagree on the doctrine of baptism (and I’m sure other things as well), John Piper has meant an incredible amount to me as I have grown in the Lord and in my sense of His call on my life to gospel ministry. So it was a privilege to be at his conference last week.

The conference was on prayer, a part of my spiritual life that has always been a struggle. Praying continually (I Thess. 5:18) has always been easier than devoting myself to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving (Col. 4:2). So it was good to be reminded of how important it is, especially as a pastor, to spend deliberate time in earnest prayer for myself, my family, the flock which has been entrusted to my care, and the nations. It’s so easy to worry or to think rather than to pray; but a prayerless Christian is a powerless Christian and a prideful Christian – powerless, because God’s ordinary way is to give in response to His people’s cries for help (see Luke 11:13; 18:1ff.; James 4:2), and prideful, because prayerlessness is at its root self-reliance and self-righteousness. How often do we live without conscious dependence upon God’s mercy and grace, crying out in desperation for Him to act on our behalf and on behalf of those we love? As your pastor, I feel my helplessness keenly. I cannot change you. My words alone cannot regenerate you or justify you or sanctify you. I cannot convince you to change your minds and your ways, to repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. I cannot make you love one another. I cannot create a hunger and thirst in your hearts for God, a passion for His word, a desire for the lost to know Him and His church to be built up. I can’t even do these things for my children, whom I see and talk to every day. And therefore I must pray. Prayer must attend all my preaching and teaching and counseling. I am utterly dependent on God, as Jehoshaphat put it in II Chron. 20:12, “We are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”

Apart from all that I learned in the area of prayer, something else particularly struck me: how important it is never to separate truth and godliness/piety, and how fundamental God-oriented affections/emotions are to true piety. The knowledge of the truth is according to godliness, says Paul in Titus 1:1, and yet it is so easy to make the acquisition of knowledge an end in and of itself. I saw a former seminary classmate from RTS at the conference, and he remarked to me how spiritually dry his seminary time was. I gave thanks to God as I recalled my four years in Jackson, for I can truly say that by His grace those four years were anything but dry for me. Part of the reason for that was that I had grown up around a superficial piety that didn’t care much about pursuing the knowledge of the truth; coming to RTS was a breath of fresh air, for I was finally around people who had “a mind for truth and a heart for God” (the motto of RTS). But the danger is always among us – particular us who are Presbyterian/Reformed – to be so committed to or intent on knowing the truth, that we forget about godliness and piety: we neglect love for and fear of and obedience to and passion for and desire for and delight in the God of truth, and we neglect to love and be patient toward and forgive and show compassion for our neighbors. The answer obviously isn’t to stop caring about the truth – the answer is to hold together what the Bible holds together, to be passionately committed to holding to the truth in love.

I wonder about us sometimes – have we lost our first love, like the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:4? Do we have a name that we are alive, but we are really dead, like the church of Sardis in Revelation 3:1? Are we lukewarm, complacent in our self-righteousness and self-reliance, like the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-17? Have we neglected private worship/Bible study/prayer/memorization and mediation upon God’s word? Have we neglected family worship, singing, reading God’s word, and singing with our spouses and children? Have we forsaken the assembling together of the saints for worship on Sunday mornings and evenings? Have we forsaken hospitality, and bold witnessing to the lost? Do we hide and tolerate sin in our life, like sexual immorality, drunkenness, covetous greed, hatred, bitterness, unforgiveness, gossip, selfishness? Ultimately, all these questions resolve themselves to this: Do we have a heart-felt passion to know God and to make Him known? Do we desire to glorify Him above all things, by gathering and growing His people in accordance with His word? Is God our chief delight and chief desire? If you see that the answer in your heart is “No,” then don’t do anything else until you cry out to Him for mercy in Jesus Christ; repent and believe the gospel, that Jesus Christ has given Himself for you to redeem you from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds and zealous for His glory (Tit. 2:11-14). Forget what lies behind and reach forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

May the Lord continue to sanctify us, transforming us in the whole man into the image of His beautiful Son.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Rebee Craig on February 13, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Caleb…….your faith and love of the scriptures is so evident! The things you wrote about here are a struggle for us all….thanks for reminding me!!!

    Renee

    Reply

  2. Posted by Jon Richards on February 14, 2011 at 7:55 am

    providence = i also attended Lig Conf w/ RC & Piper here in Atlanta, prob. ’95 or ’96…1st time hearing Piper, and like The Pied Piper, i’ve loved him ever since. and got to go w/ a guy from my Church to 1 of his Minn conf’s, which also had J.I. Packer, and Mark Dever…
    amazing, etc, etc ! we will have to talk more my next visit to cookeville,
    Jon R

    Reply

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