Wednesday, March 28, 2007


In seminary, they do their best to prepare you for the ministry. At PRTS (Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary) they did their best to prepare us for the different temptations, trials, struggles, and ups and downs of the ministry. We were often told of the struggles and dangers of pride, prayerlessness, depression, greed, sexual temptation, sadness, loneliness, and laziness that constantly crop up in the ministry. But even though PRTS focused on these trials and struggles more then most seminaries, the curriculum still missed something.

Martin Luther has a marvelous summary of what makes a minister and what his work is:

"Three things make a divine: meditation, prayer, and temptation. And three things must be done by the minister of the word: search the Bible, pray seriously, and always remain a learner."
Brother Luther is profound in his simplicity, and puts his finger on pulse of the person and work of the minister, but he missed something.

What both my seminary training and brother Luther missed the Lord taught me other ways. What was missing? Pain.

Pain is a part of our life here until glory, and pain is part of the ministry.

The Lord first taught me about pain, especially the emotional variety, as I was growing up. For reasons that are my own, I often had a lot of pain growing up, like most of us do. No matter what I tried, in whatever situation it would arise in, I could not avoid the pain. I learned that pain was something that could not always be avoided and that it would usually pass. Pain was simply a fact that had to be lived with and dealt with, and by God's grace it can be lived with and dealt with. In my late teens, I came up with a phrase that kind of encapsulated what I felt the Christian approach to emotional pain should be: "Don't play the pain game."

When I was somewhere around seventeen or eighteen, I noticed a tendency and desire I had to make choices in life out of the principle of avoiding emotional pain. When it came to a particular decision, one of the major factors that would aid me in making my choice was "Well, which one hurts less?" When I realized I was doing this, it seemed like I was playing a game with pain - some sort of emotional chase, tag, or hide-and-seek. I found myself choosing to avoid pain even though there were crystal-clear Biblical, rational, or practical reasons to choose something that would cause emotional pain. I also began to notice that many other people "played the pain game" in life.

I would come across children who were abused, homeless alcoholics, doctors, and established business men who all made important choices in life out of the desire to avoid pain. Race, gender, class, and ethnicity made no difference. People often did not make decisions based on what the Biblical, or rational, or practical thing to do was, but rather based their decisions on what would cause them the least amount of emotional pain.

From that point on, I resolved not to let pain be a factor in my decision making. I would do what was right according to the Bible, reasoned necessity, and what was practical; pain was not to be a factor in the decision.

The second place I learned about pain was from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Never was there a man who so unswervingly refused to play the pain game. He was faced with choice after choice in His life on earth that meant doing the right thing, the will of His Father, and the increase of His own pain and suffering for doing so. He did what was right and pleasing to His Father regardless of the pain, even though it meant the torment and humiliation of dying on a cross. Biblical support for this can be found in Isaiah 53, and I recommend James Durham's sermons if you would like an exhaustive treatment of the subject.

The Lord taught me a right approach to pain in my teens, and we see it portrayed par excellence in the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, but I never self-consciously and specifically associated it with the work of the ministry. The Lord used the men of the Westminster Assembly to show that to me.

The men of the Westminster Assembly in 1648 - 1649 put together the Westminster Confession and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms (the Presbyterian Equivalent to the Dutch Reformed Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dort). However, they also drew up a document called The Directory for the Public Worship of God. The Directory is a marvelous document (all the churches in the supposed "Presbyterian" and "Reformed" churches fighting amongst themselves and within themselves should consult it) that outlines the basics of Biblical public worship.

Part of public worship is the minister's work in preaching the Word. The Directory not only has guidance on the task of sermon preparation and preaching, but also how the minister is to "perform his whole ministry."

The first thing the directory states about the work of the ministry is that it is to be done: "Painfully, not doing the work of the negligent." What an amazing way to begin a job description: do this job so it hurts.

Why does doing the work of the ministry hurt?
Because the people do not understand? No.
Because the work is difficult? No.
Because the Lord does not grant strength? No.
The ministry hurts because doing the work of the ministry requires mortification of the flesh. It requires putting sin to death. It requires sacrificing even legitimate and lawful desires and maintaining a whole-hearted dedication to the work. As Thomas Boston put it in regards to his own struggles in the ministry, it means I must "put the knife to the throat of my own affections." It requires that we sacrifice, as our Lord did, everything to follow the will of our Heavenly Father.

It is true that such mortification and dedication is required of every Christian, but if the minister falls in these things, the people will also suffer. They will feel the effects of his backsliding, and he will be held doubly accountable for it before the Lord (Ezekiel 33:1-6). The pastor cannot feed the sheep if he is not feeding himself. He cannot comfort the people if he has not embraced the comfort of the Lord (2 Corinthians 1:3-6). He cannot minister the Word in public or in private if he has not felt its weight as of a hammer or been burned by it as by a fire (Jeremiah 23:29).

Pain is part of life and it is part of the ministry. By the grace of God, sin dies, pain tolerance increases, and there are times of rest in the battle - but the pain does not go away.

I am reminded of arm pounding in my old Karate class from many years ago (arm pounding is a blocking, coordinating, and conditioning exercise). When Sensei first taught us arm pounding, we objected and said, "Won't that hurt?" He responded simply, "That's the point." After our first round of arm pounding, Mr. Brian, one of the other instructors, asked what I thought of arm pounding. I told him it was fun but painful. He said, "Yeah, but it is a good pain."

The pain of mortification is a good pain. It is good for me, and I trust and pray it will be good for the souls the Lord Jesus has entrusted to my care. It is not easy, but it is a good pain.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Dear friends and family,

I am sorry I have not been more timely with my postings. I hope you enjoy some random pictures and experiences here in Tasmania since I last posted.

Martha's Birthday

Here I am at a birthday party some people from our church held for Martha, even though, sadly, she was not there. I would include some more pictures of the rest of the group, but I am not sure how they would like having pictures of themselves in party gear up on the Web.

I, as usual, have my eyes closed.

Here is the Cake!
This is an Australian White Chocolate Mud Cake. They are delicious and are not too expensive when you pick them up on discount at " Woolies" (otherwise known as Woolworth's, a major chain grocery store).

There was much good food there ranging from nuts and apples (which I brought!) to potato chips, cake, and various other sweets.

Australians appreciate chocolates, sweets, and lollies (candies) just as much as the Dutch, but theirs are made with no almond paste and are not so ritualistically a part of Sabbath worship.

Around My Yard (warning: spider ahead)

Here are a few pics of some things in and around our home.

I actually found this guy in our living room. He is one of the most interesting spiders I have come across here in Tassie and especially in our home. So far I have only found Daddy Long Legs (of various sizes) and smallish jumping spiders.

This guy was about 2 1/2" across or so, but most of that was legs, as you can see.

He was also one of the more intelligent spiders I have encountered. He was easily caught, but once caught he performed an almost systematic evaluation of his cage, tried various methods of escape, and keenly noticed any change at all in his situation. Plus, he just looked cool.

Our Lemon Tree!!!!!!!!!!

The lemon is my favorite plant growing in our yard. He is robust, tough, healthy, and produces one of the few fruits I enjoy year round.

From this picture you cannot see any of his lemons, but they are there. I have picked several since I have been here and I have given several away as well.

There is a second lemon tree in the yard to the right of this one (from the view shown here). It is quite a bit smaller, but he is growing and will soon an object of my delight like the tree pictured here.

Here is a genuine Australian mail box. They are slightly different from the ones in the States and Canada.

The top piece that is flipped up is half a tube with a bottom, where advertisements and fliers are inserted. The actual "box" part is quite well designed. There is a slot in the front of the box, not visible in the picture, where the mail is inserted. The bottom of the tube functions as the top/cover and keeps the mail dry in the rain. The mail is retrieved from the box by flipping up the top piece so the mail can be removed. There is even a little window on the back bottom of the box so one can see if there is any mail or not. There is no mail pick up from homes, however, and consequently all mail must be brought to a Post box, but one is never that far away.

Allow me to close this post with this picture of one of the many flowers from our garden. The natural beauty of this flower is found all throughout Tasmania. It is amazing how quickly you can become accustomed to the breath-taking.

Lord willing, there will be more posts coming soon, friends. Until then, the Lord bless you all.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Post-Ordination Reflection

Dear friends & family,

Many different ministers have reported different experiences at their ordination. Some felt a strong sense of the Holy Spirit's presence. Some felt a great sense of strengthening and equipping. Others have felt a great sense of their high calling following the Lord Jesus who went before. Some felt the acknowledgment, encouragement, and support of their brethren and fellow office bearers. Some have felt nothing in particular. These experiences, feelings, and impressions are wonderful and each of them valid in its own way; the Holy Spirit does not mandate any particular working of feeling or experience for ordination (and for much of the Christian life, other then misery, deliverance, and gratitude). My experience was different from any of these, but it is indeed mine and I am thankful for it.

I did not want to pray for any specific feeling or experience that might come along with my ordination, but I certainly did make my ordination and all that it signifies a matter of prayer. Ordination is the public confirmation of the Church that a man has indeed been called by Christ to His ministry. It is not the Church that determines if a man is called, but the Church does recognize the work and voice of her Lord in the calling of a man. I wanted to keep this objective focus as much as possible because I found that it put the emphasis squarely on my relationship to my Lord, where it must be. My work in the ministry is ultimately about being faithful to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and only from there, in a derivative fashion, to the souls of the SPC Launceston and the souls of the people of Tasmania.

How I felt should not have been surprising to me, but it was. Rather then experiencing some of the things I mentioned above, I was struck by my own sinfulness and my inability to perform the very task I was being ordained to and confirmed in. It was if the Lord was saying in the ordination and installation that I was the man He had chosen to labor in this place, and at the same time reinforcing to me that I am not able to do this work. At first I found this disconcerting, but upon reflection it was truly a blessing from the Lord.

The blessed perspective that if I am to serve the Lord here in Tasmania it must be all of Him is the best and only way for me to proceed in the ministry. This is true for several reasons:

1. All flesh is as grass (Isa 40:6) and without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).

2. This must be my constant perspective if I am to be kept from pride.

3. The fact that I cannot do it but the Lord can is truly my only sound source of strength. All of the work of the ministry, and every aspect of a believer's life, must be in Him (Gal 2:20).

4. My own ability and the sufficiency of the Lord is what gave me strength during my internship in Chilliwack and the months I spent in the Reformed Church of Yelville.

5. It is the right attitude for me to have in my marriage to my Lord and it will be my right attitude in my marriage to Martha in due time, DV.

6. The Lord has done me a tremendous favor in showing me my sinfulness so that I may mortify them now at the beginning of my ministry and marriage and not have to discover them later in the ministry and in my relationship with Martha. I must fearfully say that there is no way I will not ever sin and fail in my ministry or my marriage, but by the grace of God I will not sin and fail as much.

Reasons could be multiplied, but I trust the point is clear. I may not have had the "traditional" ordination experience, but it is mine and I know it has been given to me from my Lord.

I once again request you keep Martha and I in your prayers, especially that the Lord would make us both more and more in the image of His Son so we can serve the people of Tasmania, and one another, in a way that pleases Him.

Love through Christ,

The most beautiful view in Tasmania. Returning in August, DV.