Reflections on 20 years of ministry

This past week marks 20 years since I was officially set aside for the Gospel ministry. I can remember vividly both the weight and exhilaration of my ordination service. I had already been getting my feet wet serving as an interim pastor for a church and previously as a youth pastor in my home church. Now, I was being publicly affirmed by both my home church and the church where I had been preaching for the past several months.

My ordination council consisted of a large group of men from my home church and pastors from our Baptist association who had observed my progress in ministry. Before the worship service, I sat in the front of a room before these men and was asked in-depth questions about my personal life and doctrine.  Some questions were preplanned, some were random. There weren’t any issues with my answers to the questions as the men in the room affirmed my calling. I was embraced with hugs by everyone in the room.

We emerged to enter the worship service in the sanctuary that was filled with many people who had an influence on my life. The pastor who had baptized me as a teenager was there, my Sunday School teacher who had patiently taught me as a child was there, my college minister was there.

Most surprising of all, my father who was not a Christian was there. I can remember the day beside my parent’s garden that I told him that God was calling me to be a minister of the gospel. Knowing what little my dad knew about leading churches as an outside observer, he warned me that this was going to be a “tough row to hoe.” Dad tried to dissuade me, but he eventually accepted that his son was going to do a hard thing.

The church that day was filled with the worship of many voices that I had known most of my life. My pastor Larry Redding gave me the charge to preach the gospel in a sermon that was etched in my mind.

However, the most unforgettable part of the service was when I knelt down at a chair in the front with my fiancée Amy standing by my side as men of the ordination counsel came forward one by one to lay hands on me as they prayed over me. This took a considerable amount of time in itself.

Then, the line began to fill with others as my pastor gave the invitation for anyone to come forward and say a short prayer or encouragement.

What happened next was not what I expected.

There were somber words, like the one from an old man in the church who must have thought I had too much fun as a youth pastor. He said, “son, now we’re getting down to serious business.”

There was a man who knelt down in front of me whispering as he choked up that his marriage was in trouble, asking if I would pray for him.

Then, there was an inebriated woman with an alcohol problem (with the strong smell of alcohol on her breath) who embraced me and began sobbing as she asked me to pray for her.

I look back and think about what a strange, glorious evening that was. A lot like ministry itself, you never know for sure the next thing that will come out of someone’s mouth. You never know when someone’s going to bear their soul to you. You never know who will show a side of themselves that anyone rarely sees.

For these past 20 years, there have been shocking moments, there have been glorious moments, and there have been excruciatingly tearful moments. Every experience has caused my wife Amy and I to rely upon the Holy Spirit for resources beyond ourselves.

That’s ministry under the guiding hand of a sovereign God, who knows what we need before we even ask. He supplies the grace to sinners like me to point other sinners where grace may found, in Christ alone.


Where did we get the title?

We are looking forward to hosting a prayer gathering of local churches at Woodlawn Baptist Church on Sunday evening, October 28th that we are calling, “A Humble Attempt to Unite in Prayer.”  The name of the meeting is inspired by the treatise written by Jonathan Edwards in January of 1748.  It was entitled: An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer, For the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.   Edwards made an urgent appeal encouraging gatherings for extraordinary prayer, known as “concerts of prayer.” According to this plan, Christians of all denominations the world over who seek fervent piety, know the power of godliness, and believe gospel truth, should agree in a friendly resolution to meet on an appointed day to pray specifically for revival and the extension of the earthly kingdom of Christ.

The invitation was widely received and implemented by Christians of all denominations.

The concept of a concert of prayer originated in 1744 in Scotland.  A group of ministers covenanted to be given weekly to “united extraordinary supplications to the God of all grace…earnestly praying to Him that He would appear in His glory…by an abundant effusion of His Holy Spirit… to revive true religion in all parts of Christendom…and fill the whole earth with His glorying.” This practice spread throughout Great Britain, and a memorial [open letter] printed in 1746 inviting others to join in these praying societies found its way to New England.

The English Particular Baptist John Sutcliff, who reprinted Edwards’s Humble Attempt in 1789, described this union in prayer in the following words:

“In the present imperfect state, we may reasonably expect a diversity of sentiments upon religious matters…Yet all should remember, that there are but two parties in the world, each engaged in opposite causes; the cause of God and of Satan; of holiness and sin; of heaven and hell. The advancement of the one, and the downfall of the other, must appear exceedingly desirable to every real friend of God and man….O for thousands upon thousands, divided into small bands in their respective cities, towns, villages, and neighbourhood, all met at the same time, and in pursuit of one end, offering up their united prayers, like so many ascending clouds of incense before the Most High!”

In the years immediately following this reprint, a small group of Baptist pastors joined in these concerts of prayer, which was the beginning of the modern missions movement.

By assembling this gathering, we by no means believe that we can somehow replicate what God has done in previous generations.  We do, however, hope to imitate the example of faithful men who have fervently sought God’s favor for the advancement of His kingdom for His glory.

The Attributes of God: The Love of God

We continued our study of God’s attributes this past Wednesday night.  Our attention was focused on God’s love, meaning that God eternally gives of Himself to others:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1John 4:7-11

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

In his book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, D.A. Carson gives five distinguishable ways the Bible speaks of the love of God:

(1) The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father.

This intra-Trinitarian love of God not only marks off Christian monotheism from all other monotheisms, but is bound up in surprising ways with revelation and redemption.

(2) God’s providential love over all that he has made.

“God creates everything, and before there is a whiff of sin, he pronounces all that he has made to be “good” (Gen. 1). This is the product of a loving Creator. The Lord Jesus depicts a world in which God clothes the grass of the fields with the glory of wildflowers seen by no human being, perhaps, but seen by God. The lion roars and hauls down its prey, but it is God who feeds the animal. The birds of the air find food, but that is the result of God’s loving providence, and not a sparrow falls from the sky apart from the sanction of the Almighty (Matt. 6).”

(3) God’s salvific stance toward his fallen world.

“God so loved the world that he gave his Son (John 3:16).” “… In John’s vocabulary, world is primarily the moral order in willful and culpable rebellion against God. In John 3:16 God’s love in sending the Lord Jesus is to be admired not because it is extended to so big a thing as the world, but to so bad a thing; not to so many people, as to such wicked people. Nevertheless elsewhere John can speak of “the whole world” (1 John 2:2), thus bringing bigness and badness together”

(4) God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect.

“The elect may be the entire nation of Israel or the church as a body or individuals. In each case, God sets his affection on his chosen ones in a way in which he does not set his affection on others.”

The people of Israel are told, “The LORD did not set his affection On you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut. 7:7-8; cf. 4:37).

(5) Finally, God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way—conditioned, that is, on obedience. 

“It is part of the relational structure of knowing God; it does not have to do with how we become true followers of the living God, but with our relationship with him once we do know him. “Keep yourselves in God’s love,” Jude exhorts his readers (v. 21), leaving the unmistakable impression that someone might not keep himself or herself in the love of God. Clearly this is not God’s providential love; it is pretty difficult to escape that. Nor is this God’s yearning love, reflecting his salvific stance toward our fallen race. Nor is it his eternal, elective love.”

We see this command for obedience by Christ Himself: “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”  John 15:9

D.A. Carson sums up obedience this way: “Christian faithfulness entails our responsibility to grow in our grasp of what it means to confess that God is love.”

There are two ways that we can imitate this communicable attribute of God’s love:

1. By loving God in return. “Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37

2. By loving others. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1John 4:11

The Attributes of God: The Mercy of God

This past Wednesday in our continuing study of the attributes of God, we considered the mercy of God.  This distinct attribute God manifests as He continues to reveal Himself to man throughout the scriptures:

“And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” Exodus 34:6

“The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.” Psalm 103:8

Wayne Grudem gives the distinction between God’s mercy and grace:

God’s grace means God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment.

God’s mercy means God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress.

There are many times where grace and mercy will be mentioned together in the scriptures, but they are distinctive words in describing what God is doing.  The Lord proclaims,

“I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Exodus 33:19

God chooses to manifest His mercy by His own initiative and all of us, Christian or non-Christian can experience it in several ways.  A. W. Pink  describes a threefold distinction of God’s mercy:

“First, there is a general mercy of God, which is extended not only to all men, believers and unbelievers alike, but also to the entire creation: “His tender mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:9): “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25). God has upon the brute creation in their needs, and supplies them with suitable provision.”

“Second, there is a special mercy of God, which is exercised toward the children of men, helping and succouring them, notwithstanding their sins. To them also He communicates all the necessities of life: “for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45).

“Third, there is a sovereign mercy which is reserved for the heirs of salvation, which is communicated to them in a covenant way, through the Mediator.” -Pink, Attributes of God

The general and special mercies shown toward those who continue to reject Christ and His sacrifice for their sins are temporary.  Yet, those who trust in Christ experience sovereign mercy and the promises of the New Covenant, which are eternal.

“not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,” Titus 3:5

All that we receive for salvation is “according to His mercy” which Christ accomplished on the cross for own sins.  It is all flows from the attribute of His mercy.

Boston on Manfishing


Among other reasons, they are so because as the water is the natural element of fish, so sin is the proper and natural element for an unconverted soul. Take the fish out of the water, it cannot live; and take from a natural man his idols, he is ready to say with Micah, Ye have taken away my gods, and what have I more? The young man in the gospel could not be persuaded to seek after treasure in heaven, and lay by the world. It is in sin that the only delight of natural men is; but in holiness they have no more delight than a fish upon the earth, or a sow in a palace.

Oh, the woeful case of a natural man! Bless the Lord, O my soul, that when that was thy element as well as that of others, yet Christ took thee in his net, held thee, and would not let thee go, and put another principle in thee, so that now it is heavy for thee to wade, far more to swim in these waters.

Continuing on the next page:

As fish in the water love deep places and wells, and are most frequently found there, so wicked men have a great love to carnal security, and have no will to strive against the stream. Fish love deep places best, where there is least noise. Oh, how careful are natural men to keep all quiet, that there may be nothing to disturb them in their rest in sin! They love to be secure, which is their destruction. O my soul, beware of carnal security, of being secure, though plunged over head and ears in sin.

Thomas Boston, The Art of Manfishing, pp. 10, 11

Spurgeon on Society & Soul-Winning

Christian men and women, nothing but the gospel can sweep away the social evil. Vices are like vipers, and only the voice of Jesus can drive them out of the land. The gospel is the great besom with which to cleanse the filthiness of this city, and nothing else will avail. Will you not, for God’s sake, whose name is every day profaned, seek to save some? If you will enlarge your thoughts, and take in all the great cities of the Continent; ay, further still, take all the idolaters of China and Hindostan, the worshippers of the false prophet and antichrist, what a mass of provocation have we here! What a smoke in Jehovah’s nose must this false worship be! How He must often put His hand to the hilt of His sword as though He would say, “Ah! I will ease Me of Mine adversaries.” But He bears it patiently. Let us not become indifferent to His longsuffering, but day and night let us cry unto Him, and daily let us labour for Him, if by any means we may save some for His glory’s sake.

Charles Spurgeon, The Soul Winner or How to Lead Sinners to the Saviour

The Testimony of a Church

There is something that all Christian testimonies have in common:  Christ did something for us that we couldn’t do for ourselves.  I love this church’s collective testimony.  It says things that ought to be in the content of the testimony of every believer.