Best of Wives and Best of Women

In the final letter he wrote to his wife, Alexander Hamilton refers to her as, “best of wives and best of women.” I hate to call a founding father and American hero wrong, but I have found one even better. In proverbs 31 we can find the words, “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” Let me just say, the sum of my wife’s worth is far greater than any amount of wealth in this world. She is an example to all women and a blessing to anyone who meets her. Today is Lauren’s birthday, and I dedicate this blog to her.

1.Lauren is an excellent pastor’s wife. 

Behind every great pastor is an even better pastor’s wife. I have heard that phrase several times in my life, but now that I am in the midst of it, I see its truth all the more. Even before I was married, I spent much of my life watching my Grammy, and in my humble, biased, but accurate opinion, she is the best pastor’s wife that there ever was. In fact, the most important book in my library is The View of the Pastorate From a Pastor’s Wife, a book that my Grammy wrote for me when I began pastoring. I now have the privilege of being married to a woman who is following in her example. From both of them I have learned a valuable lesson; the importance of the pastor’s wife cannot be overstated!

It’s kind of like the turtle on the fence post, when you see him perched up there, you don’t think, “Wow! What a capable turtle,” but rather you think, “How did he get up there?” There has to be someone else involved for a turtle to accomplish that which he could never do alone. This is the case with the pastor and his wife. If ever I have success in ministry, rest assured that this turtle was put on that post, and the beautiful woman I call my wife had a lot to do with it.

2.  Lauren is an excellent mother.

When Wyatt was born, both Lauren and I had a steep learning curve. We had never experienced parenthood, and now this little life depended upon us for his very existence. Let’s just say that one of us fell a little behind while the other excelled beyond expectation. I couldn’t even put the diaper on correctly, but for some reason, Lauren parents like she has been doing so her whole life. I remember in the hospital, the doctors and nurses had to ask her several times, “Are you sure this is your first baby?” Her ability to care for our precious son amazed the entire hospital staff, she moved into motherhood with ease.

Every day I am witness to the miracle that is motherhood and it fills my soul with joy. I miss my mother terribly, and think of her often, but seeing my wife as she is mother to my son, brings me immense comfort like I have never found. If only Wyatt knew just how blessed he really is!

3. Lauren is an excellent woman.

The world is a better place because my wife is in it. I know that may seem slightly arrogant, but it is very much true. She simply adds value everywhere she goes. When she walks in the room, you can feel the tone of the room shift upward. Things are just different when Lauren is around. It is safe to say that people just cannot help but love Lauren.

She has recently taken a group of girls who are participating in the same ministry training program as me under her wing. She meets with them once a week to do a bible study in the neighborhood where we all live. Even before that, I saw these girls as they interacted with her. There is just something different about the way they look at her; they respect her.  One girl  even said she wanted to be Lauren when she grew up. Lauren is not just doing a bible study with these girls, she is adding value to our neighborhood and adding value to the experience these girls are having in this program. This happens everywhere we go, because Lauren is a great woman.

Lauren means so much more to me than words can express, and she will forever be the object of my hearts affection. I am greatly and undeservingly blessed to be married to such a woman. Lauren, you are the greatest of mothers, the greatest of wives, and the greatest of all women. Happy Birthday, I love you!

Forever Faithful,

Brayden L. Buss

 

 

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Salvation (A Poem)

I am not the most creative, artistic person in the world, but I do respect the value of art to speak beyond what words can express. The use of song, poetry, and even story can speak directly to a person’s heart. It is significant that so much of the Bible is dedicated to poetry. I see tremendous value in the use of song and poetry in sermons. Maybe preaching 3 point with a poem sermons isn’t such a bad idea!

Every great once in a while I get the desire to write something that is just a little more creative. I have written both songs and poems in the past, but I do not consider my ability in these disciplines to be of any great worth. I am however committed to it, partly because I enjoy it, but mostly because I know how powerful it can be in communication. I recently discovered the great Francis Thompson poem The Hound of Heaven, and it inspired me to reflect on my own salvation. In doing so, I wrote this poem.

I’m Saved

Amazing grace how sweet the sound

I once was lost, but now I’m found

These words to me so sweet so true

Where would I be if not for You

 

A life so young could wander far

With paths to shame and wounds that scar

But you o God did not leave me be

Despite my sin gave victory

 

You sought me out with endless love

Abandoned what you had above

On every nail the hammer rings,

The Cross is the salvation that He brings

 

Nothing did I do to earn

There’s not enough that I could learn

He called to me with grace so strong

He’s chosen me despite my wrong

 

The message to my heart did cut

And I could feel it deep in my gut

The call’s effect on me was made

Now I’m saved, I’m saved, I’m saved!

 

Leadership

I have been thinking a lot about leadership lately, and I am convinced that an organization rises and falls with its leader. As I heard recently, the organization even takes on the personality of its leader over time. A good leader makes for a good organization, and a bad leader can ruin even the best of organizations. This being the case, as a pastor I must do my best to become not just a good leader but a great leader. I am not just charged to lead any organization, I am called to shepherd the flock of God. The call to pastor is a call to lead.

I do not take this call lightly. I am not however a take charge kind of person, but that in no way means that I am not a leader. You don’t have to be this ultra demanding power figure that takes over every room he walks into to be a good leader. My Pawpaw told me just the other day that leadership was not just knowing where to go, but that it was knowing where to go and getting people to go with you. The leader is not a leader of principles and strategies, but of people. Therefore, being demanding and powerful is not necessary. However, what is necessary  is learning to get people to follow you. That takes more than brute force, that takes real skill. That is the leadership I am trying to learn, and in this process I have discovered a few things I wasn’t expecting to find.

1.When it comes down to it, leadership is about making decisions.

Over Christmas break my family and I were driving to the St. Louis Missouri area to visit Lauren’s parents. The trip was supposed to take about six hours, but it took more than ten. We hit the worst city wide traffic scenario in St. Louis history. The roads froze over in a matter of minutes, and it was right at rush hour. The major highways were backed up and they began to close. Some people, after a many hours, decided it was better to walk, so they abandoned their cars completely. We stopped counting how many wrecks we saw, because there were so many. Needless to say, I was stressed. I’m pretty sure I made more decisions in that journey than I have in my entire life. In fact, we had three different GPS systems going to ensure we got the best alternate routes when a road would close. Every few minutes I was given three different options for a possible new route, and I had to decide on the spot which one would be both fast and safe.It was quite the nightmare.

Those stressful moments taught me more about leadership than any classroom could. I was having to make decisions in real time that effected my whole family, and I made some good ones and some not so good ones. I began to realize that leadership was filled with those kinds of decisions. The leader listens to multiple opinions and views and then takes all that information into account to make his final decision. Despite the variety of voices a leader may hear, the decision falls on him. It comes to the point where he just has to decide what he believes is best. To be a good leader I have to learn to make good decisions.

2. When it comes down to it, the leader’s decisions impact EVERYONE. 

During those traumatic hours of driving I realized that with every wrong turn I made I was taking my entire family with me. Obviously they were in the car with me, but really think about it. If I made a turn onto a road that was more dangerous than the other options, I didn’t just put myself in a bad position, I put my entire family at risk. Not only that, but every minute our arrival time got later and later, making Lauren’s family have to push dinner time further and further back. Every turn I made was impacting the schedule of at least 8 people.

The pastor’s decisions impact a lot more than just 8 people, they impact the entire congregation and really the entire community. If he leads well, his church will be healthier, and they will begin to positively impact the community, but if he leads poorly the opposite is true. This further makes the case for good leadership in the pastorate, and it’s not just dinner schedules we are talking about here, it is the very work of the Lord our God.

3. When it comes down to it, blame falls on the leader. 

Believe it or not there were more voices in the car than just the annoying GPS system’s yelling in my ear. There was also the sweet but slightly frightening voice of my wife. Let’s just say that Nancy the navigator was not the only one in the car with an opinion about which routes were the best. A few times I made some driving decisions that did not turn out so well, and “recalculating” was not the only word I could hear. When it came down to it, blame fell on me.

Notice that when something goes wrong in our country the president is to blame like he really has anything to do with the day to day happenings of our lives, but nevertheless he is to blame, because he is the leader. Whether pastors like it or not, we are to blame when things don’t go well. Sometimes the blame is undeserved and misplaced, but regardless, it always comes our way. I have observed that good leaders don’t pass that blame to someone else, but they take it anyway. I want to be that kind of leader.

I have hundreds more leadership lessons to learn, and I hope that I soak them all in to be the best leader I can be. How can you become a better leader?

4 Myths of Expository Preaching

I am an apologist for expository preaching. I am not so devoted to it that I believe it is the only way, but I think it is the best way. I believe this because its safer and more effective. It is safer because I am spending much more time explaining what God has said than I am giving my opinion. It is more effective because people can find a blog or a talk that can give them 3 steps to a better life anywhere, but the church has a monopoly when it comes to the scriptures. “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV). No one and nothing else can offer what the scriptures can offer, so the best method of preaching is the one that stays closest to the Word. For as Paul instructed Timothy and my Pawpaw instructed me at my ordination, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2 ESV).

Here are 4 myths about expository sermons.

1.Expository sermons are boring

A seminary professor once said in class right before oral presentations “In my class you can be wrong, but don’t be boring.” Of course he was slightly joking, but in reality you can have the correct information and deliver it in such a way that you are no longer being faithful to that content. Being boring kills content! The preacher does not have a responsibility to entertain, but he does have a responsibility to not be boring. There is most certainly a line that should not be crossed, and the preacher is not to entertain at the expense of being faithful to the content. However, the message contained in the scriptures is worthy of a captivating presentation.

The preacher is probably the most guilty party when it comes to this issue. This is partly due to the fact that he is the one doing the most public speaking, giving him more opportunity to be boring. However there is no excuse for being consistently boring. Sure some topics are more boring than others, but the Gospel is not ever boring. The proclamation of the story of Jesus, which is what makes preaching preaching, should not and cannot be boring.

There is a very healthy movement in preaching right now that is seeking to correct some of the shortcomings that come with thematic/topical preaching. This expository preaching movement is one of the best moments to come through the seminaries and local churches in quite some time. There is just one problem, many of these sermons will bore you to tears in the name of being faithful to the scriptures. It is as if there has been a spiritualization of boring preaching, and the more boring you are the more faithful your sermon is. This however just does not make sense.

If the goal of the preacher is to get the message from the pulpit to the pew than he falls way short when he preaches boring sermons. It honestly doesn’t matter how good his exegesis is, if he cannot communicate that message to the people in his congregation than he has just wasted everyone’s time including his own. There is no doubt that expository preaching is the most effective way of communicating the Gospel and the most faithful way of preaching, but good exposition is not boring. Boring preaching is not faithful preaching. The expositor must be faithful in exegesis and in delivery.

2. Expository sermons lack structure

I often hear preachers say they don’t like to preach three point and a poem sermons, but rather they just like to “walk through the text.” I’m not really sure what is meant by that statement, but it sure does sound ultra spiritual. However, what comes out is not quite as “organic” as they might like. In fact, what usually happens is that this image inside the preacher’s head of this profound verse by verse teaching that will leave the people awing at his brilliant exposition becomes a jumbled up random mess of unorganized information.

I am obviously exaggerating, but expository preaching, even if you want to be more specific and say verse by verse teaching, doesn’t have to be unorganized. A little structure can drastically improve the sermon, and that is because the text has structure. The biblical writers were not random, the text has structure and brilliant structure at that. Look at the use of chiasm in Mark’s gospel, or the use of alliteration in Psalm 119. The scriptures are full of organizational and structural techniques that and not only genius but also beauty to the text. Therefore the sermon should have a structure, but that structure should be dictated by and reflective of the text.

Adding structure to the sermon will benefit both the preacher and the congregation. It will allow the preacher to stay organized. He may still chase rabbits, but the trails will be shorter. The congregation will appreciate a little structure to the message, because with structure the message can be received and remembered. On a side note, structure can also cut down on the whole boredom issue. Adding structure does not add that much more time to the preparation process. The expositor needs to be faithful in the study first and foremost and then organize what he has gleaned from his harvest there in order that it might be heard.

3. Expository sermons don’t address the needs of the people

You have heard it said that, “preaching should not just be educational but transformational.” I will add to that annoying cliche and say that peaching should be pastoral. I am not just a proponent of expository preaching, but I am a huge proponent of pastoral preaching. By this I mean that the preacher is not just seeking to teach his people new things in his sermon, but he is effectively shepherding his people from the pulpit. He is addressing their needs, and giving them hope to press on. His preaching must speak to a specific group at a specific place in time.

Another myth and misconception of expository preaching is that it fails to do what is described above. The criticism is that expository sermons can never do what topical sermons do, that is address a specific need in the congregation. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. For example, the preachers that preach the topic sermons are not only covering the same topics year after year, but they are only preaching from a select number of verses that they pull out for the corresponding topic. Beyond the fact that context is scarcely considered, in doing so they will only cover a very small amount of scripture. This leaves most of the divine word untouched along with the topics therein. The point is that topical sermons may cover a specific topic that someone or even most of the people are dealing with at that specific time, but overall the expository sermons are guaranteed to cover many more topics and meet the needs of the people all the more.

4. Expository sermons lack application

Have you ever been in that Sunday school class or small group that reads a scripture and then asks the group, “Now, what does that mean to you.” I am going to be blunt, this is where heresy is born. Asking, that question is completely fine, but it is NEVER the first question we ask, it is the last. Other methods of preaching teach people to only ask that question, they only hear about principles that make me a better person, so when they open the Bible at home that is exactly what they are going to look for. That being the case, what happens when a dear sister opens her Bible and begins to read the book of Leviticus? She will most likely become so frustrated that she shuts her Bible and waits for Sunday so the pastor can show her more about her life. There must be a better way.

The myth here is that expository preaching lacks practical application. This simply is not true, if what you are hearing does lack application than shame on the preacher not the method. The difference is this. A topical approach presents the scriptures in such a way to answer the question above, “what does this mean for me?” The expositional sermon answers the question, “what did this mean to them?” After proper study and explanation of the original intent of the biblical author, then there is a bridge built to the modern hearers. Only after all has been done to discover the original intent does the expositor ask the question, “what does this mean to me?” The result is not a dismissal of application, but a much more accurate application.

Take the story of David and Goliath for example, it is probably one of the most abused. One method of preaching will point to the giants in your life that you can conquer no matter how small you are. This may be cute and it may be what people want to hear, but I’m not sure that is the intention of the story. The expository preacher makes an alternative point of emphasis. He points to the fact that Israel was rescued from her enemies by the most unlikely of heroes. The application therefore is not, “what can I defeat in my life to make me better,” but rather it is, “God has sent his Son to be the unlikely hero you need.”

Also think of Philippians 4:13, you have seen in in football locker rooms and you have probably heard the sermon lifting you up by proclaiming all these things you can do. The expositor sees not just the verse but the entire passage, not just that passage but the whole letter to the church at Philippi, and not just the letter but the entire Bible. The application, when all is taken into account, is not that the individual Christian can win the football game or get out of debt, but the application is found in the fact that Paul just described his changing conditions in life. He talks about how he has been brought low and how he has abounded, how he has had plenty and how he has been hungry, how he has had abundance and how he has had need. After he says these things, it is then that he says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV). The application therefore cannot be what I previously stated, the application is, “No matter what comes your way, whether poverty or riches, hunger or plenty, sickness or health, you can find contentment in Christ; you can do all things in Him.” The expositor must not neglect application, and the preacher must ask the right questions in the right order. He must interpret first and apply second.

In conclusion, I do apologize if I offend others who practice or prefer a different method of preaching. I am not trying to be prideful by saying my way is right and your way is wrong, my intentions are only to dispel the myths associated with expository preaching. I am by nature a critical thinker, and I realize sometimes those thoughts can come across as negativity, but I assure you that is not my goal. I have many close friends who are faithful men of God and excellent preachers at that, and they practice a different method of preaching. I must admit, that on occasion I even practice a different method of preaching. However, I stand by my claim that expository preaching is the safest and most effective way of delivering the Word of God.

Return of the Blog

I have never really been a disciplined blogger, but I created this blog three years ago while I was the senior pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Henryetta, Oklahoma. A lot has changed since then: Lauren and I have moved across the country twice, changed jobs, and most importantly added the newest member to our family; baby Wyatt. We are now in Northwest Arkansas, where I am participating in a year long ministry training program at Cross Church called the Cross Church School of Ministry. While here, I have recently felt a desire to return to the blog. I have done so not because I think I have all these great ideas that need to be recorded so the general public can benefit from my expertise, but because I believe it will benefit my personal sanctification. Here are a few reasons why I believe this.

1. Blogging cultivates discipline.

This year I have challenged myself to become more disciplined. Oh how I hate the cliché of New Years resolutions, but I do see the season as one conducive for self reflection and goal setting. Thus, slightly contradicting my previous statement, I am starting to blog again. I am doing so to cultivate discipline in my life. Lauren recently asked me what my word for 2017 was going to be, and I quickly responded, “Discipline.”

In Paul’s letters to Titus and Timothy he gives qualifications for the pastor. In reading over these qualifications, I see the great importance of pastors being very disciplined men. Paul actually uses the word disciplined in his letter to Titus, “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined (Titus 1:7-8 ESV).” Blogging will force me to stick to a schedule, prepare regularly, and find worthwhile material, which will cultivate discipline in my life.

2. Blogging promotes thought.

I have always considered myself a thinker. I am perfectly content to just sit in a room with no noise or visual stimuli. Such times bring me great joy, because I am freed to think. The pursuit of thoughts and ideas is something I love, and regular blogging will force me to not just think, but to think well. Becoming a better thinker will allow me to love God with my mind.

One of the most important passages for the Old Testament Jews was Deuteronomy 6:4-5 which reads, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (ESV).” The New Testament also gives great import to this command. When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, he quotes the previously mentioned verse from Deuteronomy. The significance of loving God with your mind cannot be overstated, for it is stressed in both the Old and New Testaments. Therefore, I am committing to this blog to make myself a better thinker and lover of God.

3. Blogging requires study.

Along that same line, loving God with my mind should venture past my thoughts. Simply recording my own thoughts may have some minor benefit, but my mind is quite limited. As a result, this blog will require me to search out the thoughts of other smarter individuals.I am quite aware that I am not the only thinker out there, and it would be a great injustice to leave the thoughts of these men and women untouched. Discovering the thoughts of others, also known as study, will stretch my own abilities far beyond what they could ever be if left to my own capacity. Blogging forces me to study and exercise my mind all the more, making me a better human and a better Christian.

4. Blogging increases articulation.

I know for certain that I am called to be a pastor, and in that is evidenced by an overwhelming call to preach the Good News of Christ. I want to be the best possible preacher that I can be, and that in some ways involves being articulate. Of course Paul preached Christ and him crucified and nothing more, but that in no way means he just rambled on in some boring monologue. The very goal of preaching is to communicate, that is to get the message from the pulpit to the pew. It doesn’t matter how good I am at study, if I cannot get what I have gleaned from the study into the hearts of the people than I am not being faithful to the message. Good thoughts are only good if they can be clearly communicated. This blog will increase my ability to take my thoughts and study and put them into them minds and hearts of the people.

5. Blogging pursues sanctification. 

As previously stated, this blog is just as much for my own personal growth as it is for the benefit of others. To speak in theological terms, it is for my sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which the Christian becomes holier and consequently more like God. In other words, we are in the process of being restored to the image bearers we were truly meant to be. If I stick to the plan and do what I have set out to do, I will grow closer to God through this blogging exercise. It is my prayer that I will become more like God with every word that I type in this return of the blog.

To God Be The Glory,

Brayden L. Buss