Truth that Transforms: A Holy God

This is the third message in the series Silent No More: “A Holy God.” The study is from Isaiah 58. This sermon also looks at Isaiah 6 and Matthew 5:48.

Posted in Holiness | Tagged ,

Hero of a Hundred Fights: Standing in the Gap

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“So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30).

The Painting is by Joseph Mallord William Turner. It is called “The Hero of a Hundred Fights” (c.1800-10, reworked and exhibited 1847). It may be seen at Tate Gallery, London. The scene is that of a foundry at work and the eye is drawn to the burst of light. The painting was first displayed next to a painting of Noah and created some commotion in the art world for distracting from Noah’s rainbow. Yet the foundry painting was done as Turner captured the image of the common men who worked at the “breaking away of the mould at the casting of M.C Wyatt’s bronze equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington which had occurred in September 1845…” (Tate Gallery).

There is always a need for an artist to look beneath the heroes that everyone sees to discover the heroes that few see and remind us of all of them. The storytellers and artists stand in the gap as well as the unseen heroes.

There is also a need for men and women of prayer to stand in the gap. We see the Wellingtons of faith and can acknowledge them. Yet they who are faithful and true will quickly tell you that they are dependent upon the foundry of prayer where the casting of Providence is poured and the bright light of destiny is secured. They must have saints who will stand in the gap if they are to stand in the crowds. Only a fool would preach without prayer.

How are you answering God’s call to stand in the gap for the Body of Christ today?

Posted in Bible, Biblical, Christian leadership | Tagged ,

Leadership and Leaders

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There are many who are called to positions of leadership. Yet leadership is not about a title. It is not about gaining a consensus. Leadership is about burden, conviction, a fire burning deeply, a holy discontentment, a righteous indignation. There are many other ways to say it. Leaders lead by a burden that is lifted by a conception of what life looks like when the burden is lifted. That conception is called vision. Vision then gives life to mission. Values guide the way. All other strategies and plans are tactical consequences of burden, vision, and values. Leaders spend time surrounding themselves with capable people who believe in the burden, vision, and values that causes you to “burn alive.” They get so close to you that they, too, “catch on fire” themselves. Yet their job is to then help you figure out “how” to decode the burden, interpret the vision, and inculcate the values among others. Your job is then three-fold: (1) keep living, embodying, modeling, and proclaiming the burden, vision, and values, which you cannot help but do if it is authentic, but which you can be diverted from if your superior (s) and/or team underestimate the absolute necessity of that up-front modeling role, and desire that you join them as a “tactician;” and (2) entrust the critical and time consuming “how to” land the vision job to a trusted staff of lieutenants, resource officers, a cabinet, or whatever you call them—and (3) always “inspect what you expect” from these important people. And you  are inspecting for what? You are expecting and therefore inspecting your key resource staff for what you live for: the burden, vision, mission, and values. All questions about their tactical assistance and expertise in carrying out their assigned part of the plan must relate to those four areas. One other thing: be careful that they don’t confuse their roles. They bear the sacred responsibility for tactically implementing the vision of the visionary. They are not there to add to your vision, or adjust it, or replace it. If so, they have become visionaries deserving, or not, of their own mission. Again, they are in leadership but they are not the leader. This is not to diminish their own personal burdens and visions. The question is, “Has their passion matured or has God’s timing arrived to allow for a multiplication of leadership. Or, is their calling yet to remain in a supporting role? A supporting role is most critical. If you could ask Roosevelt how important Eisenhower was I think you know the answer! All are critical to success on a leadership team. Yet it remains: there can be but one in a singular enterprise. Competing visions lead to conflict and division in the most severe cases and inefficiencies and misunderstandings in even minor episodes. There is no shame in recognizing the emergence of genuine burden within an organization for senior leadership. To the contrary, that is a mark of growth, a sign of health. A member of the leadership team may also have become misguided, defeated, misunderstood, or isolated and will need encouragement to be redirected to pursue their tactical goals. Finally, there may be genuine usurpers who no longer share your burden, and thus lack your same vision; perhaps, then, no longer committed to the mission, or even at odds with your values. If this is discovered you will help these people by directly but pastorally clarifying the question. If your inquiry reveals any authentic diversion, they must be helped to transition out of the team. If the burden is that great, then the vision and thus the mission and tactical plans will be that important. A parting need not be acrimonious. Indeed, a leader may show genuine honor to another who has diverted from the vision due to changes in views or honest disagreements that can’t be reconciled. The spoiler may be malicious. Often, though, it is a matter of honest disagreement. Since most of us will disagree with ourselves from time to time we can be patient and charitable who disagree with us. Yet there will come a time when the burden will once again “appear” before, summoning you to give account for your handling of the mission that leads to the fulcrum to lift the burden: the vision. You will have to “inspect what you expect” and if what you find in your staff’s work is not in harmony with the greater mission leading to the vision that lifts the burden, then Christian leaders must act with firm and godly resolve to return balance and forward movement.

Recently, the passing of the former Prime Minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher, allowed us to pause and reconsider just how rare and impacting undiluted leadership can be. The type of leadership that I have suggested was summed up with characteristic beauty by Peggy Noonan in her reflections:

“She [Margaret Thatcher] said once to her aides: ‘I don’t need to be told what, I need to be told how.’ Meaning I have a vision, you have to tell me how we can implement it. That stayed in my mind. Politics now, in England as well as America, is dominated by politicians who are technicians. They always know how to do it. They just don’t know what to do.” —Peggy Noonan (The Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2013)

The same can be said about many in Christian leadership. We have a lot who study the “how” of leadership. What we need are those who are convicted by the “what” of burden.

Yet I have seen a new generation of leaders arising. I have heard from those who are broken over the need for revival and will not rest until the Church in the West is awakened to her need to pray and witness and seek holiness of life. I have sat in the living rooms of pastors who prayed, burning with a fire of compassion for small, forgotten, rural communities of North America, who cringe every time they hear that the city is the only place to be. I personally know women whose hearts are torn out by the sight of Muslim women living in chains and they have chosen to go and live among them.

Some of these people sense the burden and are in a struggle of prayer to see the vision—the new heaven and new earth motif of how life could be “if only…” Others know the burden, have “seen” the vision, but are wondering about the “pathway” to the Promised Land—the Mission. Some have not clarified what values are mission essential and what values are not. And some never will. Yet the world will always wait for that one who has the fire in the bones who says, “Don’t tell me what, help me with the how. I have felt the what. I have seen it. I live for it. I would die for it. I need help in getting there.” All of these things must be and then comes the dream.

We need those people now more that ever. For those are leaders. Those are the ones who have understood the depth of pain of the prophet Jeremiah when he spoke as one imprisoned by God and whose only hope was found in proclaiming His Word,

“There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9).

 

 

Posted in Christian, Christian Gospel, Christian leaders, Christian leadership, Christian ministry, leaders, Leadership, Leading, Michael Milton, Reformed faith | Tagged , , ,

Praying for Denver and Our Nation

Once again we are awakened with chilling news of a great tragedy that has beset our country. The shooting at the cinema in Aurora, Colorado has left us all horrified at the sheer brutality and utter disregard for life that led to this massacre of our fellow citizens. Our prayers go to the Lord Jesus Christ for His ministry to the families and friends in the community and in the greater Denver area. In a real way, such an event touches the whole nation and reminds us again of our vulnerability, not only from outside enemies but also from those unstable and troubled souls in our midst. May God have mercy upon our nation and call our hearts to come together in prayer and know again that our security is only in Christ.

Such an event reminds me of why Reformed Theological Seminary exists. We are here to not only prepare pastors to “take every thought captive” for Christ, but also to produce shepherds and counselors and other gospel servants who will be there to minister healing from the Bible to hurting people in times like these. May God strengthen the local pastors, counselors, and government authorities who seek to bring comfort to the grieving and justice for the victims.

Mae and I cut off the television this morning and listened to this rendition of “The Prayer” from Charlotte Church and Josh Groban. It led us to our own prayers. I share it with you this morning.

Commending us all to Christ and to the Word of his grace and praying for our nation and for the people of Colorado, I am

Yours faithfully

Mike Milton

Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer

The James M. Baird Jr. Chair of Pastoral Theology

REFORMED THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

Posted in Pastoral Theology, RTS | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Praying for Denver and Our Nation

Once again we are awakened with chilling news of a great tragedy that has beset our country. The shooting at the cinema in Aurora, Colorado has left us all horrified at the sheer brutality and utter disregard for life that led to this massacre of our fellow citizens. Our prayers go to the Lord Jesus Christ for His ministry to the families and friends in the community and in the greater Denver area. In a real way, such an event touches the whole nation and reminds us again of our vulnerability, not only from outside enemies but also from those unstable and troubled souls in our midst. May God have mercy upon our nation and call our hearts to come together in prayer and know again that our security is only in Christ.

Such an event reminds me of why Reformed Theological Seminary exists. We are here to not only prepare pastors to “take every thought captive” for Christ, but also to produce shepherds and counselors and other gospel servants who will be there to minister healing from the Bible to hurting people in times like these. May God strengthen the local pastors, counselors, and government authorities who seek to bring comfort to the grieving and justice for the victims.

Mae and I cut off the television this morning and listened to this rendition of “The Prayer” from Charlotte Church and Josh Groban. It led us to our own prayers. I share it with you this morning.

Commending us all to Christ and to the Word of his grace and praying for our nation and for the people of Colorado, I am

Yours faithfully

Mike Milton

Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer

The James M. Baird Jr. Chair of Pastoral Theology

REFORMED THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

Posted in Reformed faith

Praying for Denver and Our Nation

Once again we are awakened with chilling news of a great tragedy that has beset our country. The shooting at the cinema in Aurora, Colorado has left us all horrified at the sheer brutality and utter disregard for life that led to this massacre of our fellow citizens. Our prayers go to the Lord Jesus Christ for His ministry to the families and friends in the community and in the greater Denver area. In a real way, such an event touches the whole nation and reminds us again of our vulnerability, not only from outside enemies but also from those unstable and troubled souls in our midst. May God have mercy upon our nation and call our hearts to come together in prayer and know again that our security is only in Christ.

Such an event reminds me of why Reformed Theological Seminary exists. We are here to not only prepare pastors to “take every thought captive” for Christ, but also to produce shepherds and counselors and other gospel servants who will be there to minister healing from the Bible to hurting people in times like these. May God strengthen the local pastors, counselors, and government authorities who seek to bring comfort to the grieving and justice for the victims.

Mae and I cut off the television this morning and listened to this rendition of “The Prayer” from Charlotte Church and Josh Groban. It led us to our own prayers. I share it with you this morning.

Commending us all to Christ and to the Word of his grace and praying for our nation and for the people of Colorado, I am

Yours faithfully

Mike Milton

Posted in Reformed faith

Me and My Shadow

My Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Fred, when he was a p...

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Do you remember that catchy, ridiculous and wonderful little song by Harry Nielson called “Me and My Arrow?” if you do you are likely paying too much attention to the social security debates in Washington (but that, as they say, is another story). I like Nielson’s song and am thinking about that and the gift of God‘s creation this lovely Saturday morning as Shadow, our 15 year old Cardigan Welsh Corgi and I go for our weekly visit. Where do we go? While ardent Starbucks fan, I herby admit that I take a morning off on Saturdays to have a medium Duncan Donuts brew. More importantly, for Shadow, she gets the greatest treat in her week: a munchkin, you know, DD’s name for a plain, old donut hole! Ok. It is not the best for her, but Shadow is of “riper years” and I doubt one every week or so will do anything but make her happy.

When the Lord gave Adam animals and gave him the joy of naming them, it had to be fun. They do provide such joy don’t they? But Saturday came and man was still lonely. And you know who came next! Well, it is Saturday. I am writing in the parking lot of Lowe’s, where I am to get some pine bark mulch. Mrs. Milton is waiting for me to come home. So, me and my Shadow need to stop reflecting on the next best thing in creation, and get home to the tip top!

But I am still singing to myself, old Gal: “Me and My Shadow, straight up and narrow…wherever we go, everyone knows it’s me and my Shadow…”

Posted in Animal stories, creation | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Moving: from mikemilton.org to michaelmilton.org

“For everything there is a season, and la time for every matter under heaven…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3.1, 7 ESV).

With the roll out of our new RTS page, my own homepage and blogs has shifted from mikemilton.org tohttp://michaelmilton.org

I hope you will make your bookmarks and come on over. If you subscribe, then typing in mikemilton.org will redirect to michaelmilton.org

The archives are now loaded and all older posts are there. There are also new links and resources.

Thank you for your continued interest in reading and hopefully praying and sharing from this “theological reflection on faith, life and more.”

Links:

BLOG: http://michaelmilton.org

RTS: http://rts.edu

FAITH FOR LIVING: http://michaelmilton.org/faithforliving/

MUSIC: http://michaelmilton.org/music/

BOOKS: http://michaelmilton.org/books/

SERMON ARCHIVES: http://michaelmilton.org/sermon-archives/

PUBLICATIONS: http://www.rts.edu/site/chancellor/miltonpublications.aspx

The Lord bless you and keep you in every season of life.

Yours Faithfully,

Michael Milton

Chancellor/CEO Elect
Reformed Theological Seminary
Posted in Reformed faith

Meditations on Roses, Dante and Psalm 40, while sick and rocking on the front porch of “the Rest Home for Confederate Soldiers”

Barbara Bush, Pope John Paul II, and Olympiad are bursting forth in magnificent color before my very eyes. I sit on our front porch, seeing my reflection in the iPad screen where I also barely see the words I am writing, because of glare, and feel jealous of the hybrid roses in their first spring bloom. The effects of the winter pruning and the Mill’s Magic rose food are fantastic. I had pruned these hybrids down to their root after allowing the remaining chlorophyll from last year to settle back down into the unseen places where life began. They were cut with severe grace and then given strong food to begin the seasonal passage to where they are this day: alive, strong, colorful, pleasing to the eye, helpful for the rest of the garden as they “do their bit” to tie it all together.

I am jealous of them because I feel anything but alive and strong and colorful. I am surely not pleasing to the eye. I just told my wife, who has now become my nurse, that I look and feel like an old man sitting on the front porch of the Rest Home for Confederate Soldiers. My khakis feel baggy, my eyes appear dark, and countenance seems to be fixed on something, perhaps a foggy battle that happened long ago when I was younger. I am writing out of this condition so guess I am not dead. I just feel like it. I have been diagnosed with neurocardiogenic syncope. This condition of low heart rate, loss of energy, and propensity to either faint or get close to it, apparently stalked me for years, with panther-like stealth, before suddenly leaping out of nowhere to maul me without mercy. Wounded and seeking recovery, I have read the words of the Psalmist and understood them better than I ever have,

“…may those who love your salvation always say, ‘The LORD be exalted!’ Yet I am poor and needy; may the LORD think of me” (Psalm 40.16,17).

“Yet I am poor and needy…” Me? I, who could preach twelve sermons in a week, work on three books at a time, write an article, and “be there” for my son, my wife, and our students, am now needing a nap of three hours to get through a day? Oh yes, “I ampoor and needy; may the LORD think of me!”  I am jealous of John Paul II and Barbara  Bush, who pontificate with fragrant confidence and laugh in the North Carolina breeze with cultured elegance while I shrink from life like I am in a different season. And I am. I have not been this sick in my life. The attempts to regulate the condition have not yet succeeded. I suppose that I am being pruned. But there is no Mills Magic rose food to perk me up, though the physician has tried several cures. But if I am a man of faith then whatever chlorophyll of authentic religion that is remaining will surely return to the root source of my life and strengthen my soul for whatever lies ahead. I don’t want to sound like I am dying. I don’t think I am. I just feel like it. And I must use this time, an out-of-season time, to rediscover the source of my faith in Christ.

One thing is happening to me in this time is that I am humbled by a power that is greater than my will. I was scheduled to be at a gathering with the leaders of our seminary. A significant milestone in the succession plan to become the next chancellor of our seminary was to occur at this meeting. Yet I am grounded by the doctor. No flying. No driving for now. “Could we rewrite the script beginning at the place where I give the speech at the Hilton Hotel” joked President Reagan near death at the ER at George Washington University hospital. And I say, ” Could we rewrite the script beginning just before I got that fever on Christmas Eve?” But no. The gavel of Providence has been pounded and the deed is done. The bullet seems to be lodged and must be removed. I cannot be with my colleagues now. I find it exhausting to imagine that, at this moment, I could even join in by telephone and participate in any kind of truly meaningful conversation. I can take three hours to write these words, with great difficulty, and then I will be ready for bed. “Grounded” I say. So what does one do?

My son, who is discovering himself and his gifts and his freedom to question his old man, at seventeen, and who has been a kind and patient attendant to me as well, spoke to me, “Dad, we can thank God for our sicknesses too. Do you believe that?” He was kindly testing me, reminding me, and really encouraging me from the sermons he had heard from his father’s lips about how “God sanctifies our sorrows.” My son was like Jesus asking Martha about the resurrection at the tomb of Lazarus, “Do you believe this?” Faith had to be affirmed before mystery then and now. I smiled and replied to my son, “I do.” So I have set out, in my syncope-sick mind, to find out the meaning of my affirmation. I gather enough energy to rock in the chair on the front porch (how great are our small successes when we are beset by unyielding weaknesses) and turn again to Psalm 40; but I miss it and end up in Psalm 41 (all for the better):

“The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health” (Psalm 41.3).

The answer is altogether clear and altogether mysterious. The answer is that the processes of life and dormancy and rebirth are outside of my control. It is the Lord who oversees the severe grace of pruning. It is the work of the LORD, that covenant name of God employed by the Psalmist, providing freely what He requires from me, and He is my only hope. I am where I am because of a fallen world inflicting its cruel vengeance upon my sinful flesh, so filled with the nature of Adam. Yet in Christ who is redeeming all of creation is also using that which would destroy me to bring about a new leaf; and perhaps even a new bloom.

I have had time to read in this time. I ordinarily whiz with ease through three or four books a week as well as endless emails and journal articles and newspapers. Now I read three or four lines a day and wonder at the structure of the sentences, as a child’s curious eye might follow a single ant in an ant farm teaming with millions of the little creatures. The blessing in the bane is that I now see nuances I likely missed in healthier days. It was so, just now, when I read Dante’s Paradiso, book one, line a 24-25:

“O holy power, if you but lend me of yourself enough that I may show the merest shadow of the blessed kingdom stamped within my mind, you shall find me at the foot of your beloved tree, crowning myself with the very leaves of which my theme and you make me worthy.”

Oh “blessed kingdom stamped within my mind,” I have missed you before. Oh “beloved tree” how I have longed to return to that cross in the deepest part of my soul!

I thus content myself on our front porch, sickly before the resplendent hybrid roses, that there is a power at work within me so that I shall also bloom. I (and the doctors) expect that this illness slowing me down will be regulated and I will bloom forth again soon with renewed energy. Yet the out-of-season dormancy has led me to see that there shall come a most severe pruning of that which is seen in order to discover that which is unseen. I am saying that this condition is but a taste of a time known only to God when I shall be gone from view in this world yet shine like the sun in another. I write the Wednesday after Easter and so I cannot but thank this covenant God of Psalms 40 and 41 for the Mediator of a better Covenant, our Lord Jesus Christ, who has risen from the grave, blooming out of season and thereby re-ordering the old seasons with new ones that has never been seen before. The “Eighth Day,” is now my hope. So tired am I of this weakness and yet so pleased with its lessons I find myself crying out with my heart, though my preaching voice is muted,

“I desire to do your will, O my God; Your law is within my heart.  I do not [want] to conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly” (from Psalm 40.8,9).

Here, then, my jealousy of the strutting roses finds infused contentment: that I shall bloom again according to the same providence that has attended my pruning. John Paul II, Barbara Bush and Olympiad are lovely in their spring debutant ball; but soon I shall join them again as Christ who creates their beauty also sends His redemptive sap through my parts and I rise to proclaim in the assembly, in the seminary, and in my heart,

“You are my help and my deliver” (Psalm 40.17);

Yet I also recite the final line,

“O my God, do not delay.”

Here then is my answer. Here then is my lesson. Here then is my hope, now and forevermore. Soon I will rise, I pray, from this porch, and this affliction, to join brothers in the battle. But for now, I ponder the glory of the resurrection in a body of sickness, before the roses in bloom, in a rocking chair, like some old withering soldier, with a heart rate too low, but with a Christ who is in full control of all of His creation. Amen.


Posted in Charlotte, Christian, Christian faith, Christian ministers, Christianity, Christians, neurocardiogenic syncope, Preacher, Preaching on Aging, Presbyterian Church in America, Psalm 40, Psalm 41, Reformed faith, Reformed Theological Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary Charlotte Mike Milton, Reformed Theological Seminary Charlotte NC, Reformed Theology, Reformed Worldview, Suffering, Suffering and the Gospel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I am the Living Legacy of My Fathers in the Faith

Two of my old seminary professors are sick; quite sick, apparently. I am thinking of their influence in my life. I first learned to read from the original New Testament text from one of them. I first learned to think about the depth of the knowledge and love and the revealed interior life of the Triune God from the other. Even more, I learned how to be a pastor from both of them. They were not practical theology professors, but in their illustrations and applications in their respective lectures, they invariably related their subjects to their experiences in the pastorate. When I was ordained as an evangelist in the Heartland Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America, they were both there to lay hands upon me. So today I am thinking of Drs. George W. Knight III and Robert L. Reymond, Sr. May they both know the healing of Christ in this season of life. May they know that their labors are not in vain, for they have multiplied ministry to the degree that many others through me have come to know the Christ whom they taught and exalted. And I am only one of thousands of students, and thus hundreds of thousands of souls who have been blessed by their ministries. And that makes me think that you who read this have fathers in the faith, and mothers too as I think of my Aunt Eva, who taught you the Word. Remember them in your prayers. Honor them with your heart. And take what you have received and give it away to the world. How did the writer to the Hebrews put it?

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13.7 ESV).

The late, great singer/songwriter, Dan Fogelberg, wrote a song for his father, Lawrence Fogelberg, a high school band leader and he called it “The Leader of the Band.” In it he wrote a line that sticks in my head,

“I am the living legacy of the leader of the band.”

Well, that is the way I feel about my teachers in the faith from seminary. I think it is that way for all of us as we do what the Bible says and “remember” our leaders who spoke the Word into our lives. One day, like me, I am sure you will come to say, “I am just the living legacy of my fathers in the faith.”

Posted in Heroes, III, Professors, Sr. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,