Paul, Bonhoffer and Heritage

On Thursday, September 11, I was privileged to speak at the first seminary chapel of the year at Heritage.  The message I gave was one I’ve been preparing for weeks.  No, make Rick in chapelthat years.  Or perhaps decades.

Serving at Heritage is a calling that runs deep in my soul.  Thirty years ago I thought I would be headed to Brazil to train spiritual leaders.  Instead of heading south, God directed us north–to Canada.

Recent years have only increased my passion for the work of training up leaders for Christ’s Church and His global mission.  Dealing with cancer has added to my sense of urgency.  So has reading about another seminary–one you may never have heard of.

This summer I’ve been learning about the seminary that Dietrich Bonhoeffer started in theFinkenwalde years leading up to WWII.  Bonhoeffer was alarmed at the rise of Hitler and saw where things were headed.  He launched an underground seminary to train ministers who would stand firm and serve well in troubled times.

In many ways, I see storm clouds gathering over our part of the world.  Things will not get easier for those who stay faithful to God’s Word and the gospel message.

The message I gave at our first seminary chapel of the year was taken from 2 Timothy 3.  It lays out a crucial part of my vision for Heritage:  training men and women who will stand firm on God’s Word and serve well in difficult days.

Would you pray that God would strengthen us for this important mission.

You can listen to the sermon here:

 

 

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Off to a Great Start!

It’s been a wonderful week here at Heritage as we’ve launched a new school year.  ClassesStudents have started for both college and seminary.  The resident halls are full of life again.  There is a strong sense of energy and anticipation on campus—plus a little angst as students look over their upcoming assignments in the course syllabi.

For months, our faculty and staff have been preparing for this semester.  We’ve gathered each week over the summer to pray for the students who would study at Heritage this year.  We’ve sought get ready spiritually, academically and logistically.

Convocation 1On Tuesday, we had our Convocation Chapel.  It was a special time of worship, prayer and hearing from God’s Word.  Dr. Bob McGregor told how his time at Heritage Seminary had given him a deep passion for God’s Word.  He challenged us from John 17 to join the mission Christ has for His Church by centering our lives on the gospel and living it out together in the Church.

For this to be an impactful year at Heritage, we will need “the gracious hand of our God” on us (Ezra 8:22).  That’s why I’m asking you to join me in bringing these requests to God in prayer.

1. spiritual protection (“deliver us from the evil one”—Matt. 6:13)

2. educational impact (“let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly”—Col. 3:16)

3.  relational harmony (“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”—Eph. 4:3)

4.  financial provision (“And my God will meet all your needs”—Phil. 4:19)

We’re trusting God for great things this year because we have a God who can “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

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Bonhoeffer’s Teaching on Preaching

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you should change that.

Bonhoeffer’s Bon Metexample of standing for Christ under the Nazi regime will inspire fresh courage in you (I’d recommend Eric Metaxas’ book: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy).

A lesser-known part of Bonhoeffer’s ministry centers on the two years he headed up an underground seminary in Finkenwalde (1935-1937). During these years he trained future pastors—preparing them for ministry in a turbulent, hostile society.

Bon 14Some of his lectures from Finkenwalde are preserved in Volume 14 of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. I found his lecture on preaching to be fascinating. While I differ with some of his views (for example, he dismissed the need for sermon introductions, conclusions or applications), I’m convinced Bonhoeffer has much pastoral and homiletical wisdom to pass on to all who preach or teach God’s Word:

Here are a few of his insights that I found to be highlights:

On keeping the sermon tied to the text of Scripture:
“A sermon is discourse that is characterized as being a sermon on a given text. Because the sermon claims to be God’s word, it is bound to Scripture. The promise that it is God who is speaking derives solely from the sermon itself being commensurate with Scripture.” (14: 489)

On how to write out your sermons:
You should not write the sermon all at once. Stay with the chosen text . . . . Begin at latest on Tuesday, have it finished at latest on Friday. You must work on it at least twelve hours. A written sermon that is finished is not yet a finished sermon!” (14:488)

On getting free from your notes as a preacher:
“Memorize not words but connected lines of thought. For every section, note the first and last ideas, then the material between them. ” (14:488)

On the importance of Saturday night for Sunday sermons:
“By all means keep Saturday evening free . . . . Refuse basically all invitations within the congregation.” (14:488)

On effective sermon delivery:
“Monotony, lack of movement is false. Speak with the utmost truthfulness, naturalness, [and] simplicity; no senseless screaming to wake the congregation up! When speaking about the trumpets of the Last Judgment, no need to suggest that we ourselves are those trumpets. [Speak with] as much enthusiasm as possible for the subject matter. Genuine pathos! [Speak with] as much confidence and cheerfulness in the exclusive power of the word.” (14:505-6)

On how to tell when preaching is having a fruitful impact:
“The best sign of a good pastor is that the congregation reads the Bible.” (14:489)

On the value of a loyal, honest wife:
“Lucky the preacher who, since married loyalty is the best, finds in his spouse his own conscience, such that she has the courage for truth, precisely for the sake of love, and does not shrink . . . from criticizing and admonishing . . . . Thank God if you have a wife who genuinely can criticize you.” (14:502, footnote 82)

 

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A Tribute and a Challenge

We’re gearing up for the start of a new school year at Heritage; this coming Monday is move in day for our new college students.  My  prayer is that God will use our faculty and staff to help prepare these men and women for life and ministry.  My hope is that we will have the impact on them that Dr. Howard Hendricks had on me.

Dr. Hendricks (affectionately known as “Prof”) was a teacher at Dallas Seminary during Howard and Jeanmy years there.  Recently, I was invited to contribute an article to a book Dallas Seminary is producing to honour His life and legacy.  Writing the tribute not only gave me the chance to express my gratitude, it also provided the basis for a challenge I gave to our profs.  All of us who serve as teachers (in churches, classrooms, workplaces) have something to learn from Dr. Hendrick’s example.  Here’s the article I wrote:

________________

“You cannot impart what you do not possess.”

That’s a line I heard Dr. Hendricks say numerous times. It was one of his many memorable sayings; one of his quotable quotes.   I recently repeated it to the faculty and staff at Heritage College and Seminary.

As part of our preparation for the coming school year, our faculty and staff at Heritage gathered for a morning of prayer and instruction. As part of the challenge I gave our team that morning, I quoted Dr. Hendrick’s line: “You cannot impart what you do not possess.”

That line has special significance for all of us who are called to teach God’s truth. If we hope to impact the lives of those we teach, we must first be impacted by the truth ourselves. We must follow the pattern of Ezra who “devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel (Ezra 7:10). We must allow God’s Word to possess us before we seek to impart it to others.

One of the reasons Prof Hendricks impacted so many of us who sat in his classes was due to the fact that his life was so clearly marked by God’s Word. My first semester at Dallas, I took his class “Bible Study Methods.” By the time I arrived in 1980, he’d been teaching this course for decades. Although he had taught the course many times before, his enthusiasm for the material was still fresh. His passion for studying the Bible (observation, interpretation, application) was contagious.

I’m one of many who can say that Prof Hendricks shaped my love for God’s Word. In large part that’s true because he imparted what he possessed.

On the morning I spoke to the faculty and staff at Heritage, I also told them about a second saying I learned from Prof Hendricks. As I challenged all of us to give ourselves fully to the ministry to equipping students for life and ministry, I quoted Prof’s memorable line: “If you want them to bleed, you have to hemorrhage.”

That saying is a bit graphic, but it communicates an important point. Those of us who are teachers and preachers must come to our task with energy and passion. If we are anemic, our words will seem weak and sickly.   The apostle Paul put it in a succinct way when he wrote: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11).

One of the reasons Prof’s classes were so popular was that he was so energized as a teacher. He believed it was a sin to bore people with the Word of God and made sure his classes were never boring. It was almost impossible not to pay attention.

My desire for all of us who teach at Heritage College and Seminary is that we emulate the energy and passion for God’s Word that Prof Hendricks evidenced for over 50 years. As we follow his example of imparting what we possess and hemorrhaging enthusiasm for God’s Word, we’ll serve our students well—the way Prof Hendricks served so many of us.

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From Harvard to Heritage

One of the important stops on our journey to Heritage College and Seminary took place at Harvard. Several years back, our family visited Harvard University while we were in Boston. I’d never been to the campus before and didn’t expect to be so impacted by something I saw.

Here’s the story of “The Writing on the Wall”

Coming to serve at Heritage is the fulfillment of a long-term calling, but making the decision to come took months of prayer, conversation and counsel. In 
the midst of the deliberations, our family spent a weekend in Boston for our daughter’s graduation. After walking through the historic downtown, we took the train over to Harvard.

Established in 1636 by Puritan leaders, Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. I had never visited Harvard before and wanted to visit its historic grounds. As we came to the main entrance on Massachusetts Avenue, we paused to read a large plaque embedded on the red brick walls at the main gate. The plaque contains the words of the school’s founding fathers; it gives their original mission for Harvard:

After God had carried us safe to New England, and we had built our houses, provided necessaries for our Iivelihood, reared convenient places for God’s worship, and settled the Civil Government: One of the next things we longed for, and looked after was to advance learning, and perpetuate it to posterity, dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.wall

Reading these words left me feeling stunned, perhaps a bit like Belshazzar felt when he saw the writing appear on his palace walls (Daniel 5:5-6). I was struck by the foresight of the Puritan leaders who founded Harvard. They realized
the necessity of establishing a “Pastors’ College” to ensure the churches would have a continual supply of equipped pastors and leaders. They understood the mortality of their present leaders. They felt the urgency of developing future leaders. They dreaded the thought of leaving the churches in the hands of ill- equipped ministers “when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.”

I have not been able to get the “writing on the wall” out of my mind. I have a similar sense of urgency for training future spiritual leaders. Cancer has reminded me of my own mortality. I know the day is coming when I (and our “present ministers”) will lie in the dust. I dread what will happen to our churches, and the overall mission of reaching a lost world, if we fail to equip men and women to provide spiritual leadership in the coming years.

Several years ago, while I was still pastoring at the Met, I heard a sobering projection. Some denominational leaders estimate that within fifteen years, the number of qualified pastoral candidates will be dwarfed by the number of churches looking for pastoral leadership.

There is a growing need for godly, equipped spiritual leaders. And that’s just to maintain the churches we presently have. It doesn’t take into account the great need for church planting in Canada. According to Impact Canada, no single city or province in Canada has a greater percentage of churched people than a decade ago. When it comes to planting to new churches in Canada, we are not even keeping pace with the population growth.

Add to that the need for missionaries to take the gospel to the least-reached places in our world. The Joshua Project estimates that there are still almost 4,000 unreached people groups in our world. To put it another way, over 40% of the world’s population is virtually unreached.

Harvard is no longer focused on fulfilling the vision of its founders. Its mission has changed over the years. But the need for schools to carry on the vision of raising up qualified spiritual leaders for the Church and global missions is as pressing now as it has ever been.

At Heritage we have a clear vision and understanding of our mission: “Heritage College and Seminary exists to glorify God by partnering with churches in providing a biblically-based education, equipping people for life and ministry in the church and in the world.”

Our mission is not just posted on our walls, it’s written on our hearts.

This mission of training servants for Christ’s church was also written deeply on the heart of a man who impacted his entire country through his preaching and by starting a “Pastors’ College.” I’ll tell you some of his story in the next chapter.

IMG_0571This post is from the new booklet Heritage has recently produced entitled, A Priceless Heritage: A Personal Story, A Valuable School. The booklet tells some of the story of God’s leading us to serve at Heritage. It also explains Heritage’s valuable mission of training spiritual leaders to serve Christ’s church and His mission. If you’d like a copy of the booklet, you can request a copy by emailing my assistant Deanne Antoine (dantoine@heritage-theo.edu).

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Preaching Advice from the “Prince of Preachers”

When Wayne Gretzky talks about hockey, it’s a good idea to listen. When Colin Powell, writes about leadership, pay attention. And when Charles Spurgeon teaches on preaching, take notes.

I’m gearing up for another year of training preachers at Heritage. I have the joy of teaching Homiletics at the school, training those who will teach and preach in the years to come. My desire is to help them learn to preach “from the Scriptures to the heart.” So as part of my preparation, I’ve been spending time learning from a master preacher: Charles Spurgeon.

Spurgeon, who is often called “the prince of preachers”, was the pastor at the spurgeon 1Metropolitan Tabernacle in London from for almost forty years (1853 – 1892). Thousands came each week to listen as he skillfully and passionately preached God’s Word.

Not only was he a powerful preacher, Spurgeon was also a great teacher of preachers. He started a Pastors’ College to train other gospel ministers. What he taught his students over a century ago is still material I want to pass along to my students.

Here is some of Spurgeon’s advice to preachers as recorded in Tom Nettle’s new biography on Spurgeon (Living By Revealed Truth).

On Preaching as a High Calling
“Men of zeal and ability, if you love Jesus, make the ministry your aim; train your minds to it; exercise your soul toward it; and may God the Holy Spirit call you to it, that you also may preach the Word of reconciliation to the dying thousands.”

On Preaching after studying and soaking up Scripture:
“I always find that I can preach best when I can manage to lie a-soak in my text. I like to get a text and know its meaning and bearings, and so on; and then, after I have bathed in it, I delight to lie down in it and let it soak into me.”

“He who no longer sows in the study will no more reap in the pulpit.”

On Preaching the “Big Idea” of a passage of Scripture:
“. . . start a sermon with a great idea and from that moment the discourse forms itself without much labour to the preacher, for truth naturally consolidates and crystallizes itself around the main subject like sweet crystals around a string hung up in syrup”

On Preaching without a heavy reliance on notes:
“…the memory loves to be trusted, and the more fully it is relied upon the more does it respond to our confidence.”

On Preaching for long-lasting impact:
“I believe that the best, surest, and most permanent way to fill a place of worship is to preach the gospel, and to preach it in a natural, simple, interesting, earnest way.”

I’d ask you to pray for your pastor as he has the privilege and responsibility of preaching God’s Word. Please pray for me as I regularly preach God’s Word and seek to train students at Heritage to become faithful, earnest and courageous preachers.

 

 

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A Year with Jeremiah

This year I’ve been doing something new in my devotional reading.  I’m spending the whole year in the book of Jeremiah. Since there are 52 chapters in the book, I’m focusing attention on one chapter a week (it’s chapter 31 this week).

This has been a way more encouraging study than I expected.  Since Jeremiah is known asmichelangelo prophet Jeremiah the “weeping prophet,” I wasn’t exactly expecting all smiles and sunshine.  However, I was anticipating learning from a man who showed as much courage and tenacity as almost anyone in Scripture.

Jeremiah not only served God faithfully for over forty years, he lived through the darkest days of Israel’s history.  He was in Jerusalem during the horrific siege, capture and decimation of city by the Babylonian armies.  On top of all this, his own countrymen treated him worse than the Babylonians:  they resisted, ridiculed, attacked and imprisoned him.

Jeremiah’s life and his writings are impacting me powerfully.  I’m coming to know God in a deeper way.  I’m learning lessons about ministry faithfulness in difficult times.

I’ll pass along some of what God is teaching me through Jeremiah in this blog.  Occasionally, I’ll post an insight from Jeremiah’s book that has been especially challenging or comforting.

Jeremiah’s book begins with the story of his calling to ministry.  While the specifics are unique to him, there are elements of his calling that echo into our stories.  For example, Jeremiah is a testimony to the truth that God’s plans for our lives are put into play before we are born.  He sovereignly positions and prepares us to fit in to His larger purposes.  He did that for Jeremiah.  He does that for us as well.

At the national conference for the Associated Gospel Churches (AGC) this past June, I spoke about the lessons we can learn from Jeremiah’s calling.  Here’s the outline of the message that brings out the main ideas:

God’s call to ministry shows the sovereignty of His control (verses 1-8)

  • Over our family of origin
  • Over our genetic make up
  • Over our time and place in history
  • Over our inadequacies and inexperience

God’s call to ministry requires faithfulness to His Word (verses 9-16)

  • faithfulness involves an accurate understanding of God’s Word
  • faithfulness involves a courageous communication of God’s Word

God’s call to ministry includes a promise of His support (verses 17-19)

You can listen the sermon below.  Watch for future posts that come out of my “Year with Jeremiah.”

If you sense God may be calling you to vocational ministry, get in touch with us at Heritage!

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