Today’s blog is written for a couple of different purposes. First, it is a heads-up that several future blogs may reference or revolve around the newest edition to our family, baby Charlotte. Yes, if you are keeping score at home, she is nearly 6 weeks old and has yet to have so much as a mention in any of my Monday posts (until now). That is partly because I have displayed great restraint but mainly because I have some thoughts simmering in the crock-pot of my mind. They’ll soon be ready, and well, just know that you’ve been warned ahead of time. Secondly, I write because since her birth, really for months leading up to it, I have experienced a rejuvenated desire to write and record some of the little gospel glimpses that the Lord has shown me. It’s these pictures of His truth reflected in every day life that have stirred my heart in some new, invigorating ways. And it is this very thing that I want to discuss today.
Have you ever wondered how a preacher is to come up with something new to say each week? I have. Heck, I still do. Yes, the Bible is an inexhaustible, life-giving spring that will never run dry; one could teach on every verse of every page for the rest of his life and yet never plumb the depths of its fullness. However, despite the enormity of Scripture, its message is central throughout. Whether looking forward to Jesus’ coming in the OT, reflecting on His life, teachings, and church in the NT, Christ is what it is all about. Man has made a mess of things, but God has given us the remedy in His gospel. He is reconciling all things to Himself. He has been gracious to us from the Garden until now, and He forever will be. So wherever one digs into the Word, if he thoroughly excavates the text, he will ultimately discover God’s redemptive plan unfolding. All roads lead to a bloody cross and an empty tomb.
So how then is one to teach this week after week without seeming redundant? How can one deliver this message of hope sermon after sermon, without it starting to sound stale? How does the precious story of Jesus maintain its precious status? How can one keep from becoming too familiar with the gospel? How can Christ’s cross be powerfully proclaimed from the pulpit year after year and not become a mere repetition of church-goer clichés that have lost their significance? Searching for the answer to these questions is vital, not only to those in vocational ministry, but also to each and every believing soul! This Jesus that has saved us, is saving us, and will keep us safe until the end. This truth we have in our mind, but how might we keep such knowledge treasured within our heart?
So for me, the solution to this inquiry has come through seeing God’s grace in our fourth child (again, you’ve been warned that the blogs will be coming), through my Grandpa’s life of ministry (to be shared on another day), and most recently through my pastor, Dr. Phil Sallee. He has served as the lead pastor of New Beginnings Church for over 20 years now! In fact, we will be celebrating this milestone as a church family next Sunday. As I’ve reflected on what I know of Phil and how I’ve seen God at work in his life and ministry, I’ve come to a conclusion. For us to sidestep the enemy’s blindsiding blitz that forces our neglect of God’s glorious gospel, we must strive to seek this sweet gift working in our individual lives daily.
This means that we must not only focus on the challenges before us, we must also see God as instrumental in our past as well. This includes seeing the Lord’s guidance in each step of life. For my pastor, there was a reason it took 3 baptisms before he finally found a faith that was his own. It means there was a purpose for Phil growing up on Tulsa’s eastside at a time when it more closely resembled today’s suburban South Tulsa (Aka = it was not the same “East Tulsa” that our Middle School Family Pastor, Mike Krebs, grew up in). It means observing God’s hand in Phil’s enrollment to Tulsa University, where he would eventually meet his bride, to observing God’s providence that not only led his family to Colorado for a season, but later brought him back home after the death of his father so that he could help care for his mother and brother. Seeing the gospel at work each day involves trusting in God to be completely sufficient. When called to take on a church plant that had formed after a church-split, a group that had formally met in a funeral home, there would be no other way for Phil and his congregation to succeed outside of leaning upon Christ.
NBC has grown during Phil’s tenure and has changed worship gathering locations on several occasions, moving from the dress shop, to the Bixby high school commons / lunchroom area, to the HS auditorium, to the middle school gymnasium, to the HS gym, to a plot of land out west of town that hosts the current campus. Of course this came into being in not one, but through two separate building campaigns. Without personally witnessing God’s gospel at work, Phil, and really any pastor, would have been sunk with all the details and capital demands. Yet, the church has flourished under his leadership, I believe, because Phil has seen God’s sustaining grace through it all. He has observed the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of people.
How again can one proclaim the Savior’s story over and again without the message somehow growing tired? I contend that he must notice the gospel shadows in his very home. For Phil, he has articulated to me personally, as well as our local body, how his relationship with his only son has provided special and specific pictures of God’s love. He has perhaps never preached with as much passion as the seasons revolving around the wedding dates of his daughters, in which he performed both ceremonies. Phil’s enjoyment of his granddaughters and the faithful love and support of his wife have resulted in fresh stories to tell, new arrows that point to the God of the gospel (not suggesting that those stories have not been retold a time or two).
But Phil’s 20 years have not always been easy. Friends and loved ones have passed; NBC has not escaped its share of tragedy. Staff and congregants have come and gone. Some moved on with a blessing and mutual appreciation, yet on the way out, others took verbal jabs aimed at wounding a pastor that loved them. There may be no greater megaphone for God’s grace than to forgive those who would intentionally injure. I’m in no way claiming my pastor is perfect and without fault. None of us are. What I am saying is that 9 years of knowing this man coupled with 4+ years of serving alongside him in a full-time capacity have allowed me to see a lot. I’ve seen forgiveness extended when it was not easy. Why? I think it was only because of Phil’s awareness that he has been forgiven of so much more. If a man will daily see his own depravity and unfit status to preach, well, as some have said, he is finally at that point, on the path to being ready to preach. God has gifted Phil with this kind of spiritual introspection.
Being able to tell the old, old story in a variety of ways involves spending time in the Word – feeding on it, meditating and reflecting upon it, fleshing it out in life but also with a pen. Though I have not and will not read each blog (you guys are lucky if I even proofread my own), I know that weekly, Phil devotes a great amount of time to writing. He processes through what he is seeing and experiencing in life and Scripture and shares with us how it should turn our eyes heavenward. It is only in genuine exegetical exploration that one can find reasons for rejoicing in the Minor Prophets. You remember the Malachi series, right? Now we’re in Joel…Joel!!
I could go on and on with more examples, but then you might miss the point. How does a guy find something to say week after week? He learns to cling to the gospel daily. So then, what are you to take from this? Surely I’ve not spent an entire block of time talking up my pastor for the sake of his self-esteem. Surely there’s a lesson in this for me and you. Think for a moment, what stirs your affections for Jesus each day? How or in what ways does this happen? We must desire to master the art of seeking our Savior in all things. For when we see Him presently revealing His goodness in our lives, we can’t help but share such grace with others. When we see Him, we share Him and thank Him. This concept I’m describing involves more than what some preacher might find to say or blog about. If we are to have longevity and vitality in ministry, we must first find the gospel as active and growing in our own lives. What is true for Phil, is true for me and it is the same for you as well. Are you seeing what God is trying to show you today? Do you currently see His undeserved favor at play in your life?
As John Piper says, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” When He allows us to see these things, how do we respond? May we think on God’s grace that is made evident each day, and might the awareness of His merciful hand continue to change our lives. Oh that we’d live many, many years making His gospel known in ways that draw others unto Him, all while breathing life into our very souls.
Assoc. Pastor of Missions & Students