|H.B. London Ministries|
|─ A Heart for Pastors ─|
|His name was Jack Roosevelt Robinson. He was born on January 31, 1919, to a family of Georgia sharecroppers and died on October 24, 1972, as one of the most famous Americans to ever live. In 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey approached “Jackie” Robinson — an all-around excellent, multisport athlete who happened to be African-American — about joining the Dodgers. Major League Baseball had not had an African-American player since 1889, when baseball became segregated. When Jackie first donned a Brooklyn Dodger uniform and started a game at first base on April 15, 1947, he pioneered the integration of professional athletics in America. By breaking the color barrier in baseball, the nation’s preeminent sport, he courageously challenged the deeply rooted custom of racial segregation in both the North and the South.
Robinson wasn’t the first black to play baseball — that was Moses Fleetwood Walker in 1884 — or even the best player in the Negro leagues — typically credited to Josh Gibson — but he was the first with the strength to withstand the pressure and remain, the first of an irreversible wave that changed the game, our nation, and the world forever. While his baseball career spanned the years from 1947 through 1956, it was the nature of Robinson’s character and his unquestionable talent that challenged the traditional basis of segregation.
Over ten seasons, all but the first positioned at second base, Robinson played in six World Series and contributed to the Dodgers’ 1955 World Championship. He was selected for six consecutive All-Star Games from 1949 to 1954, was the recipient of the very first MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949 — the first black player so honored. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
In 1997, 50 years after Jackie Robinson had erased the modern-day color barrier, Major League Baseball “universally” retired his uniform number, 42, across all major league teams. He was the first pro athlete in any sport to be so honored. Then, in 2004, the league proclaimed every April 15 to be “Jackie Robinson Day.” And, finally, in 2011, every MLB baseball player on every team wore No. 42 to honor Robinson, a tradition that continues through this week. (By the way, if you haven’t already done so, please make an effort to go see the new box-office leading movie about Robinson’s story, “42”. It is excellent!)
It should be noted that there were others who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Robinson. Mere weeks after Robinson made the jump to the Majors, many other black players followed, such as Larry Doby (the second African American in MLB and first in the American League) of the Cleveland Indians. And there was Dan Bankhead, a pitcher who played alongside Robinson on the Dodgers, as did catcher Roy Campanella and pitcher Don Newcombe a year or so later. Also notable were Hank Thompson (third black player) and Willard Brown of the St. Louis Browns, with Thompson soon moving to the New York Giants, where he played with Monte Irvin (fourth black player) and eventually Willie Mays in the first all-black outfield. Satchel Paige, the oldest rookie ever at 42, pitched for the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns. Also look up Sam Jethroe (fifth black player) of the Boston Braves and Luke Easter of the Indians.
Each of these young men and many others made a decision to be bold and courageous. They faced the challenges and trials that come with showing initiative. And they made a difference.
When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone in your assignment? If there is to be renewed attention on the church, its leaders must be strong and courageous. We need men and women who will take some risks, who will preach with great authority.
It seems that the church is often lulled into complacency. It appears we can turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the crises around us. Please don’t be guilty of that, my colleague. Equip yourself with facts and figures. Be compassionate — but never compromise on the critical issues. Refuse to tolerate sin in your leadership. Take a stand on cultural issues that might be unpopular. Refuse shortcuts. Maintain a high level of prayer and study. Serve as a servant-shepherd. And most important, never compromise your call.
You have been called, equipped, anointed, and assigned. You are God’s spokesperson and, in many ways, His only avenue to the people who desperately need to know how much He loves them.
I hope that we, as clergy around the world, are constantly motivated by the words of the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The world grows smaller, but the urgency is ever greater. Share God’s love, my colleague, both at home and wherever man is found. Do it with boldness and courage.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
|There have been a number of high-profile deaths in the past week. Among them were Britain’s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, movie critic Roger Ebert, and original Mouseketeer Annette Funicello. But the death that has the Christian community abuzz was that of Matthew Warren, the 27-year-old son of Pastor Rick Warren.
Matthew Warren took his own life late Friday at his Mission Viejo home. He had struggled with mental illness, deep depression, and suicidal thoughts throughout his life, Saddleback Valley Community Church said in a statement, after his body was found Friday night. “Despite the best health care available, this was an illness that was never fully controlled and the emotional pain resulted in his decision to take his life,” the church said. Tom Holladay, teaching pastor at Saddleback Church in Orange County, said Sunday the congregation would face the tragedy together, “as a church family.”
Rick Warren and his wife had enjoyed a fun Friday evening with their son. But their son then returned home to take his life in “a momentary wave of despair.” Warren posted a message on both Twitter and Facebook Sunday saying he was “overwhelmed” by the love and support the family had received after the apparent suicide of the youngest of his three children.
How do you help the sorrowful or depressed person? When was the last time you read Psalm 88? I’m telling you — that writer was a man who was really going through some rough water. I think you will agree that the psalmist suffered from mood swings.
From 5 to 12 percent of men suffer from clinical depression at some time in their lives, along with 10 to 25 percent of women. Those who do suffer depression will most likely not seek treatment, even though it is a treatable illness.
I have been, at one time or another, in that percentage of men who have suffered from depression. Many type-A personalities do. The sadness and darkness were miserable, and I have prayed for that veil of sadness to lift. I have carried on a schedule that was filled with smiles and joy on the outside while, on the inside, I was dying. When the veil lifted, it was wonderful.
As a pastor, you have probably counseled members of your congregation suffering from depression. My colleague, please do not overlook those under your care who live their lives in sadness.
But what about you? Are you floundering in the depths of depression? If so, what should you do?
The first steps to wellness are a physical examination by a physician, prayer with a colleague, and openness with your spouse. Don’t be too proud to admit that you need help and the support of others.
One of the most painful expressions from Scripture is found in Psalm 88:18: “The darkness is my closest friend.” I pray that never becomes your expression.
Here’s a list of scriptures that might help you yourself and/or other people touched by your ministry as you guide them back to wholeness:
“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
‘‘A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair” (2 Corinthians 4:8).
“We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield” (Psalm 33:20).
|Marriage, as we know it, and the wedding ceremony, as you perform it, are in jeopardy. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week in a historic legal battle over gay marriage — specifically reviewing the fate of Proposition 8, California’s 2008 voter-approved gay marriage ban, and the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The court must decide the two cases by the end of its term in June.
The consensus among legal experts is that the court leans toward invalidating the federal law, perhaps because it interferes with states’ traditional role in marriage laws by denying benefits to same-sex couples legally married in states that permit gay nuptials. And it appears inclined to avoid the main issue in the Proposition 8 case by finding that the measure’s sponsors do not have a legal right to defend the law, a procedural result that may leave lower court rulings intact and allow gay marriages in California.
The question I ask is, “What are you as a clergyperson doing to properly inform your congregation of the value of marriage and the danger it would pose to our nation if we just opened the door to same-sex unions or, for that matter, any combination of men and women — even polygamy?” Are you helping them stay informed on this important issue?
I am sure you have carefully read the text of the often-used marriage ceremony. If you have not, you should review it. Think deeply about the meaning and significance of phrases like these:
- “gathered in the sight of God” — He is a witness.
- “to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony” — The union is sacred, not careless or immoral.
- “instituted of God” — Marriage was not an idea of man or the media or any political party. It was God’s idea. We must, therefore, respect this honorable estate, not tamper with it.
We should never tolerate either unelected judges changing our societal values or politicians, for the sake of reelection, undermining God’s intent. Please hear me! You can make a difference. Stay abreast of what’s going on in our nation and your community, and encourage your people to get involved. You, as God’s anointed, have the authority and responsibility to take a bold and biblical stand on the marriage issue.
“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’” (Mark 10:6-8).
|The attention of the world will be on the Vatican this week — specifically on a humble, copper, two-meter (six-foot) high chimney that will pipe out puffs of smoke to tell the world if there’s a new pope. Black smoke means, “not yet.” White smoke means, “new pope elected.” The process that begins this week will mark the 10th time a new pope has been selected since 1900. It has occurred less than seven times during the lives of most of us reading this.
Roman Catholic cardinals will start their conclave Tuesday to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, who surprised the world last month when he announced his abdication, the first pontiff to do so in six centuries. He served as the 265th pope from 2005 to 2013.
A total of 115 cardinals will be locked in the Sistine Chapel early Tuesday after morning prayers and mass to take part in the elaborate ritual, which continues until one man receives a two-thirds majority, set at 77 votes. The cardinals have made it clear they want a quick conclave to make sure they can all return to their dioceses in time to lead Easter celebrations — the most important event in the Roman Catholic calendar.
The Sistine Chapel and its magnificent ceiling have been made off-limits to tourists. Two metal stoves have been installed in a far corner, away from the chapel’s altar and the area where the cardinals will write out their picks for the next pope on slips of paper. Once the ballots have been counted and bound together, they will be burned in a special iron stove, with the smoke escaping through a small chimney visible from St. Peter’s Square.
The ballots from an unsuccessful vote are burned along with a chemical compound to create black smoke — fumata nera. (Traditionally, wet straw and damp wood chips were used to produce the black smoke, but this was not completely reliable. So, in 2005, for the conclave that elected Benedict pope, the Vatican added a second stove that produces smoke from a chemical compound developed by the Vatican’s own technicians. The smoke from the burned ballots in the first stove and the colored smoke from the second stove are funneled together up one pipe that leads to the chimney and the outside world.) When a vote is successful, the ballots are burned alone, sending white smoke — fumata bianca — through the chimney and announcing to the world the election of a new pope.
The cardinals who enter the papal conclave on Tuesday will walk into the Sistine Chapel in single file, but beneath the orderly display, they are split into competing lineups and power blocs that will determine which man among them emerges as pope. The main divide pits the cardinals who work in the Vatican, the Romans, against the reformers, the cardinals who want the next pope to tackle what they see as the Vatican’s corruption, inefficiency, and reluctance to share power and information with bishops from around the world. This conclave is far more unpredictable and suspenseful than the last because the church landscape has shifted in the last eight years. The next pontiff must unite an increasingly globalized church paralyzed by scandal and mismanagement under the spotlight in a fast-moving media age.
How different is this situation than what we find in the Protestant church in our country? The American church has money. She has talent and exposure. She has massive buildings and gifted leadership. She knows how to get her message out better than ever before. She has variety and acceptance. She speaks nearly every language, and her story is in print virtually around the world. Men and women attend to her every need. It would seem that the church would say, “Oh, don’t bother. I have everything I need.” But, not so.
In reality, the church needs a cleansing. She is not as radiant as she should be. She is stained, wrinkled, and blemished. She desires to be holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27). She calls for her pastors to be faithful and bold, and to proclaim her message with clarity and passion. She cries for her members to love one another and cast aside those things that divide. She weeps over the multitudes around the world who know about her, but don’t really know her. She longs for a revival of the apathetic, and a stirring of the comfortable. Why? Because she is aware the time is short and, whether they know it or not, the people of the world desperately need her.
What can you give the church? Yourself — in a renewed commitment to her cause and her message. For God so loved the world ...
“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:15-16).
|I hope you are aware of and have begun watching the new mini-series, “The Bible,” that debuted Sunday evening on the History Channel. (Lifetime will air a repeat each week after a new episode appears on History.) Created and produced by Mark Burnett and his wife, actress Roma Downey, this five-week, 10-hour docudrama features an international cast as it explores some of the sacred text’s most significant episodes, including Noah’s journey in the ark, the Exodus, and the life of Jesus. It uses modern computer-generated graphics to bring new life to images like Moses parting the Red Sea on screen.
Instead of being all-encompassing, the producers tried to concentrate on a few major stories in depth and on characters who would emotionally engage the audience — especially a non-religious one. Downey and Burnett are attempting to portray an interconnected grand story rather than a series of disconnected “Bible stories.” In particular, it seems that they have selected some rather dramatic scenes from the Bible in which certain men and women come “face-to-face” with God — divine moments.
Our lives are filled with divine opportunities. What I mean is, there are times when you and I confront moments that only God could arrange. Think about it! Those are the times when you cross paths with a person or a situation that, as you reflect on it, could have happened only by divine appointment.
Once I was on a flight from Cincinnati to Chicago. It was scheduled to take 56 minutes. It took nearly five hours! It was one of the most frustrating days I have had in a long time. But during those five hours, I was seated next to a lady from the East Coast who was going through marital problems. During the long delay, she shared some heartbreaking information about her family. I mostly listened. She needed someone to hear her out. To be honest, I feel God had me on that plane for that lady. Maybe it was for more hours than I had wanted, but nevertheless, it was a divinely directed moment.
With so much pain in our world, and so many people needing to be helped to their feet, you as a Christian leader need to be even more aware of such divine moments. Those are the moments when God places you in the right place at the right time to represent Christ to someone who needs “a cup of cold water” in His name.
Many of my most meaningful ministry moments have occurred outside the pulpit and in the marketplace, where people live who may never enter the doors of a church. How about you?
So — be alert! Be available! Be sensitive! Be prepared! God has some divine appointments set for you. They may appear subtle at first, but, in eternal terms, are life-changing.
“Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
|By now, you have seen the reports and images of the spectacular multicar crash that occurred Saturday, February 23, on the final lap of the NASCAR Nationwide Series Drive4COPD 300 race, on the same Florida track where Sunday’s Daytona 500 was held. A massive 28-car pile-up sent flying debris into a packed crowd at Daytona International Speedway, injuring ten drivers and at least 33 fans, and leaving a 14-year-old boy and a 53-year-old man in critical condition. (Thankfully, both are now stable and out of danger.)
Twenty-year-old driver Kyle Larson’s car was catapulted from the crash, flying high into the catch fence, which separates the track from tens-of-thousands of fans. The entire front end was sheared off Larson’s car, and his burning engine wedged through a gaping hole in the fence. Chunks of debris from the car were thrown into the stands at speeds nearing 190 miles per hour, including a tire that cleared the top of the fence and landed midway up the spectator section closest to the track. A forklift had to be used to extract his engine from the fence.
One minute, racing fans were cheering excitedly as a close race was coming to an end. The next, people were screaming and running, calling for help or trying to assist those who had been hurt. Very unexpectedly, everything changed in a moment’s time.
I have been witness to many events that suddenly and forever changed the lives of those involved. One moment, life was normal — the next, it was not.
Suddenly! The world is complicated and, at times, laced with fear. Suddenly, a baby dies. Suddenly, a marriage is over. Suddenly, a job is lost. Suddenly, a diagnosis is made. Suddenly, a ministry ends.
Yet, on the other hand, suddenly can also be positive and liberating. Suddenly, a baby is born. Suddenly, a marriage is reconciled. Suddenly, there is good news. Suddenly, a ministry is given new hope.
How do we as clergy react to those moments in our personal and professional lives when we are confronted with the unexpected? Are we ever really prepared for such times?
I would suggest that one can better cope with “sudden moments” when one is living consistently close to the Lord. I would further suggest that the rain and the sunshine touch all of us. I am reminded that this world is fallen, and we are admonished to be thankful, regardless of the situation. I believe we can be assured that the circumstances of our lives — difficult or pleasant — in no way change how God feels about us. I also know life is tough and, often, the greater witness for our Lord is in times of adversity.
So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man [suddenly] do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6).
On Tuesday evening last week, President Barack Obama delivered his fourth State of the Union address to Congress and the nation. As expected (based on the elections last November), half of the country was thrilled and half of the country was disenchanted.
The State of the Union is the address presented by the President of the United States to a joint session of the United States Congress, typically delivered annually. The address not only reports on the condition of the nation, but also allows presidents to outline their legislative agenda (for which they need the cooperation of Congress) and their national priorities.
The practice arises from a command given to the president in the Constitution of the United States: “He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient” (Article II, Section 3). Although the language of the Constitution is not specific, by tradition, the president makes this report annually in late January or early February.
While not required to deliver a speech, every president since Woodrow Wilson has made at least one State of the Union report as a speech delivered before a joint session of Congress. Before that time, most presidents delivered the State of the Union as a written report. Since Franklin Roosevelt, the State of the Union has been given typically each January before a joint session of the United States Congress and is held in the House of Representatives chamber of the United States Capitol. When a presidential inauguration occurs in January, the date may be delayed until February.
What began as a communication between president and Congress has now become a communication between the president and the people of the United States. Since the advent of radio, and then television, the speech has been broadcast live on most networks, preempting scheduled programming. To reach the largest television audience, the speech, once given during the day, is now typically given in the evening, after 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
For many years, the speech was referred to as “the President’s Annual Message to Congress.” The actual term “State of the Union” first emerged in 1934 when Franklin D. Roosevelt used the phrase, becoming its generally accepted name since 1947.
So, how does all of this apply to you? Well, here’s my thought. Do you deliver a “state of our church” summary each year? If so, what does your message entail?
The Bible presents a template for us to consider. How does your congregation or organization measure up to the following?
Acts 2:43 — “Many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.”
Acts 2:44 — “All the believers were together and had everything in common.”
Acts 2:47 — “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 — “Respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.”
1 Thessalonians 5:19, 22 — “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. ... Avoid every kind of evil.”
Ephesians 5:27 — “Present [to Him] ... a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
Perhaps such an annual summary borders on the ideal in our fickle world, but the goal is worthy, don’t you agree? If you’ve never done so, I encourage you to give it a try. I believe it will bring greater unity to your congregation. May the state of your church and home be blessed!
Jesus Christ said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).
|We now know which two National Football League teams will face each other in Super Bowl XLVII on February 3 — the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers. The Super Bowl will also feature a headcoaching showdown of brothers, with Jim Harbaugh leading the 49ers and John Harbaugh in charge of the Ravens. The game marks only the second time brothers have faced each other in NFL history, with the previous game also including the Harbaughs on Thanksgiving night in 2011, when the Ravens defeated the 49ers by a score of 16-6.
Meanwhile, the National Hockey League finally started a shortened season this past weekend after a collective bargaining agreement was ultimately reached. It took 113 days. A total of 625 regular-season games were sacrificed, or over half the 2012-13 season.
And the National Basketball Association is already at its midseason, with more strong teams than ever in the race and more individual players standing out each night.
It’s a professional sports fan’s greatest time of the year. I love it!
There are many faith lessons to be learned from sports. Here is some advice from Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden.
Get in Shape: A team must be conditioned to perform at its peak.
POINT: This lesson speaks to you and those you serve. Have you put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6)? Have you prepared yourself to fight the good fight?
Learn the Fundamentals: Teams do not win because they can dunk the basketball. They win because they play defense, pass the ball, rebound the ball, and play their positions.
POINT: The fundamentals of the faith, such as prayer, Bible reading, stewardship, and a heart for the lost are essential if we are to mature as a body of believers.
Play as a Team: The game of basketball is a team sport. We hear repeatedly that there is no “I” in team.
POINT: This is especially true in the church. Pastors will come and go. The look of a congregation will change over the years. The one constant in a successful church is unity. The second chapter of Acts becomes our playbook.
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).
|We are just days away from our celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace, the Great Hope, the Compassionate Son of God. This is a time of year during which we usually “tap in” more deeply to the joy, hope, peace, love, and excitement that entered the world when Jesus Christ was born. Unfortunately, most of us are, instead, feeling somewhat emotionally overwhelmed by the meaningless murder of kindergarten children and their leaders in Newtown, Connecticut, last Friday.
Among the 28 who died in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School were six teachers — all women — and 20 children, ages 6 and 7. The two others who died in the shooting were the gunman and his mother. Of the children, eight were boys and 12 were girls. Wonderful things are being said about all of these innocent victims. Meanwhile, experts and everyone else are searching for a reason behind something so evil. And the weekend was filled with the opinions of those who were already politicizing the tragedy into one social issue or another, from gun control to mental illness.
Several hours before Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six adults at the school on Friday, a 36-year-old man a half-a-world away in China attacked 22 children at a primary school with a knife. Fortunately, none of those children died.
In the last five months, the media have brought shocking images into our homes of some of the more sensational and senseless tragedies: a school in Connecticut, a mall in Oregon, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a movie theater in Colorado, a murder/suicide in the NFL. There have been many others that most of us never heard about. Your colleagues join you today in deep sadness and recognition that this world is filled with evil, disasters, and pain. We can almost hear God weeping along with us.
The phrase, “I feel your pain,” has been bandied around a great deal. Politicians say it, churches promote it, and well-meaning people use it to identify with those around them who struggle with life’s harsh realities. The truth is that people do suffer pain from one source or another, and they need someone to understand.
Even we pastors know pain. But where do we go? What do we do when we hurt and no one seems to care? Let me make a few suggestions:
Turn to the Psalms. Read Psalm 103:2, 32:11, and 144:1-2 for starters.
Turn to music. Beautiful music has a way of reminding us that our situations are known to the Lord.
Turn to a friend. Find someone who “will not forsake you.”
Turn to God. Find comfort in His words: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
I don’t want to oversimplify the impact of evil and pain or throw out trite adages any more than you do. Please know that you’re doing a wonderful thing for Christ and the church. We are proud of you. We salute you, and we stand beside you — and so does He! There’s Someone to turn to when you really hurt and no one seems to care.
“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
|It seems to start earlier every year! In my community, we currently have two music-oriented major radio stations — one Christian, one secular — that began playing nothing but Christmas music 24 hours a day back before Halloween. There may be others about which I haven’t heard. This news has divided the population — most complaining that this is just too early in the year to go full-time Christmas and some who enjoy the music and wish it could be Christmas all year long.
I can understand the arguments on both sides. Those of you who follow me on this blog or elsewhere know that Christmas lights up my life every year. I love it! I love the pageantry and the fellowship and the parties and the good will. But I also love the heavenly reminders of who God is and what He provides to each one of us — peace, hope, love, joy, glory, salvation.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14, KJV). That, of course, was the message heralded by the angels some 2,000 years ago on the occasion of our Savior’s birth. Several years later, that same Jesus would himself speak of peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). His words were addressed to a group of His followers who were troubled, and rightly so.
Jesus told His disciples, as He tells each of us, that there is peace for those of us who love Him, seek Him, and obey Him. We experience this peace as we spend time with Him and surrender to His will in love. We find this peace as we become more intimately involved with the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
Peace is not the result of higher church attendance, a raise in compensation, a successful sermon, or an absence of bickering (even though all of these help a lot). That’s because the peace our Lord described is permanent and personal, not fleeting or conditional.
With the busy holiday season staunchly upon us, I trust this simple message finds you at peace. He is your peace. (Stop and read that again.)
“The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace” (Psalm 29:11).
Clergy Appreciation Month 2012 is almost over. I truly pray that your congregation has found a way to tangibly express its appreciation and honor for you. If it has, I hope you were able to receive it graciously and to “ponder it in your heart.” If your people did not do anything special for you and your family, please be comforted in knowing that you are in the majority. Don’t be discouraged. That kind of recognition is, unfortunately, still rare in our churches. And it certainly does not mean that you are not appreciated by them.
The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus from a prison cell in Rome. He was writing to a church located in and around the temple of the Roman goddess Diana. Ephesus was a pagan city devoted to idolatry. It must have been a very difficult assignment for the elders of the fledgling church there — not so unlike what many of you have been called to. I wonder how often any of their brothers and sisters went out of their way to let those pastors know how valued they were.
Whenever laypeople ask me why they should recognize your contribution to their lives and communities, I tell them, “God has entrusted to pastors and their families one of the most precious of assignments — the spiritual well-being of the flock. That’s why God instructed us to recognize His servants.” Sadly, many of them feel insecure and honestly do not know how to arrange a celebration that would be appropriate and meaningful for you. And far too many others still do not even realize that they should do something. But what always amazes me most is how many of you pray that they will not do anything.
The Bible says, “Give a bonus to leaders who do a good job, especially the ones who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17 MSG). Let me encourage you, my colleague. Allow your people encourage you. They need it, and so do you. Furthermore, always encourage and affirm the other pastors you know in your shared callings. We need to be supportive of each other in the ministry. It will lead to less competition and to greater cooperation and unity.
Finally, as I have said so often, you and your work and your sacrifices for your congregation are very much recognized by me and hundreds of others in pastoral caregiving ministries around the world. Many of us have stood in your shoes at one time. All of us believe in what you are doing, all the more so because we believe in the One who called you to do it. We appreciate you and pray for you without ceasing. Be encouraged!
Among Paul’s last words to the church at Ephesus were, “I am sending him [Tychicus] to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you” (Ephesians 6:22).
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P.S. Please be sure to encourage everyone in your congregation and community to vote next week.
In just two weeks, our nation’s citizens will be called upon to vote for the leaders and initiatives that reflect our values, consciences, and the direction in which we want our future to go. This will be one of those very significant elections that will have extremely long-lasting implications. We could literally be deciding how the next two or three generations will live. We could be choosing what kind of country this will be from this point forward. It will be historical.
During election years, you have the opportunity to exercise one of your most valued rights of citizenship — voting! I pray that you do, and that you encourage your congregation to do so as well. Help your people to understand the importance of voting and to do so with the wisdom, preparation, and values that Christ would expect.
With so many liberal and humanist groups flooding pastors and other leaders with intentional misinformation, it is important for pastors to know the activities they can legally undertake and those that could have an impact on their church’s tax-exempt status.
Under current guidelines, pastors and churches are allowed to address any issues or ballot measures specifically, examining them from a biblical viewpoint and presenting Godly counsel on how to vote. However, when acting as a representative of the church, a pastor must avoid openly favoring one candidate over another, or endorsing one candidate over another. Still, statements made that are clearly those of an individual citizen — and not of an official agent or representative of a nonprofit organization or church — are legal.
Make the most of voting guides that are widely circulated. Use your Sunday school classes as a forum for education on the issues. Speak from your pulpit on ballot measures that affect your schools, church families, and reverence for the sanctity of human life. Remind your people of the principles of Christ-like living that should guide them daily in their decisions and actions.
It is absolutely crucial that you fully participate in this responsibility of citizenship and vote, and that you urge your people to do the same. No American should abdicate his voice on how this country is shaped. Likewise, none of us leaves our relationship with God and His influence over how we think, speak, and live behind when we leave the church building. Make sure He is the guiding force in your role as a citizen.
Finally, it is critical that Christians pray for the coming presidential election. There is amazing power in united prayer. Pray with others whenever possible. The power of prayer can overcome any obstacle or ungodly influence and, indeed, do great things!
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Acts 17:30 — Pray for repentance for yourself and for our nation.
Psalm 32:6-7 — Pray that Christians will be motivated to pray faithfully for this election and that the Lord would deliver us from any wrong leaders.
Proverbs 16:13 — Pray that our nation will listen to the truth and not be led astray.
Psalm 125 — Pray that those who trust in the Lord will not be shaken.
Psalm 86:14-17 — Pray that the Lord would defeat those who have no regard for Him in this election.
2 Kings 13:16 — Pray that the Lord would put His hands on the man of His choice for president (and his team) and guide them in this election.
Luke 12:54-57 — Pray that God’s man and our nation will be discerning and do what is right.
Psalm 16:7-8 — Pray that the Lord would give wise counsel and guidance to His choice for president in this campaign.
Proverbs 1:5-6 — Pray that God’s man will listen with discernment, add to his knowledge, and receive wise counsel in this campaign.
John 16:33 — Pray that the man of God’s choice would be given wisdom and ability from the Lord to overcome any obstacle or difficulty during this campaign.
Philippians 4:13 — Pray that the Lord’s choice for president will have special strength and unusual ability from God.
Psalm 18:32-36 — Pray that the Lord would arm the man of His choice with strength; would guide him in battle (this election); and would sustain him and give him victory.
Hebrews 11:32-34 — Pray that God’s man could, through faith, persevere and maintain His courage throughout this election.
2 Corinthians 12:9 — Pray that the Lord would empower and enable His man in any area of weakness.
“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you” (Romans 13:3).
Syria, Libya, Egypt, Yemen. They are all mentioned in the news every night these days. The increasing unrest in the Middle East and northern Africa is a deep concern on everyone’s mind, it seems. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press stated this week: “About four-in-ten Americans (43%) have followed news about the attacks on U.S. embassies in the Middle East and the killing of an American ambassador very closely, making it by far the most closely followed foreign news story of the year.” As a pastor, I’m sure the situation in these troubled areas is not escaping your notice. What is going on in our world?
Not long before Jesus left His beloved disciples, He spoke straightforwardly to them. They were confused when He alluded to His departure. They just didn’t understand.
He said things like, “You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” He used the illustration of the pain associated with childbirth. He minced no words when reminding the disciples of certain sorrow (John 16:20-22). Yet, He held out hope.
I am grieved today. The world is so much smaller now, and when you watch the evening news or read the daily newspaper, you can’t help but be troubled by what you see and hear. There is so much hatred. But didn’t our Lord say it would be this way?
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Matthew 24:6).
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).
Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). But what if they have not believed? Does the fact that thousands of people every day are entering the gates of hell concern you?
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Jesus was honest with His followers because He wanted them to have peace in the midst of turmoil. I know we can’t save everyone, but we can be facilitators of peace — the peace that comes through knowing Jesus. Do you really believe that? If so, how is your passion expressed?
“In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
If you are a sports fan, this was a great weekend for you. There was the U.S. Open in tennis, both a men’s PGA and women’s LPGA golf tournament, a NASCAR race (is that really sports?), significant major league baseball games, and just about everything else. Oh, yes, and it was the first weekend of the new National Football League season.
From my perspective, there were two NFL games this weekend that seemed to most interest people. Although a lot of folks wanted to see how the careers of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III would start out, I think the two spotlight games were the Packers/49ers and the Broncos/Steelers. The Packers/49ers game featured two of the very best teams in the entire league, and it did not disappoint fans. “Stunned” is the only word I can think of for the look on the face of San Francisco kicker David Akers after he booted a 63-yard field goal attempt that hit the crossbar and bounced through the uprights, tying him with three others holding the NFL record for longest field goal. The 49ers held off a Packers final surge to win the game 30-22. Two great teams, two great quarterbacks — fun to watch.
The human interest story of the weekend, however, was the Broncos/Steelers game. First, it was a rematch of last season’s 2011 AFC Wild Card Playoff game that expanded the legacy of Tim Tebow, who threw an amazing pass caught in stride by Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime and run for an 80-yard touchdown. The Steelers must have been in “déjà vu” shock on Sunday night, therefore, when Demaryius Thomas caught a short pass and ran it 71 yards for Peyton Manning’s 400th career touchdown and first as a Bronco.
But the question on everyone’s mind was whether Peyton Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, could make a comeback from four neck surgeries. The four-time MVP, who moved from the Indianapolis Colts to the Denver Broncos back in March, had been away from football for 611 days (one year, eight months, and two days). The touchdown pass to Thomas put Manning in an elite class with only two other quarterbacks who have thrown 400 or more touchdowns in a career. And most observers agreed that what we saw was nearly the old Peyton Manning, who could command and maneuver an offense from the field like no one else.
The recovery of Peyton Manning did not come easy. Anyone who knows him speaks of his intense discipline, dedicated work ethic, and personal drive. He was surrounded by the best doctors and advisors available. He followed their instructions; he still does. He knows that something of value always carries a cost in obtaining it. He also knows that this next race is just beginning. As he said after the Sunday night victory, “It’s just one game.” There are many more to come. And he will press on.
The Apostle Paul often wrote about athletics, about running the race of life with focus, about reaching for the victory. But what if we win the race, only to discover it is the wrong race, or if we have the applause of people and it rings hollow? What if all we have to show for what we do is a room full of trophies that will in time decay?
Dr. Dobson tells a story about someone finding his prized college tennis trophy in the trash can. That is what the world can do to us — it can “trash our trophies.” In ministry, there are those times when we feel “down by three” and the odds are against us. We sometimes wonder if we should even play the next game, but we do because we are on the winning team. We have Calvary on our side, and “if God is for us, who can be against us?”
We have every reason to believe in ourselves. Yet, the problem we face, beyond a lack of confidence, is the tendency to listen to the naysayers. Don’t do that!
No one receives the victor’s crown unless he competes. Don’t ever quit, my colleague! Be intensely disciplined, with a dedicated work ethic, and a mighty personal drive. The smile of God validates that which has eternal value. That is the prize we should run for. And even if we do not come in first in men’s eyes, we do in our Father’s eyes. That’s what counts.
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
I have been disheartened by the news of so many huge, devastating fires that continue to burn in so many states. It can be terribly unsettling. And with the strange pattern of weather we have experienced for the past many months, lots of people are suffering and grieving over lost property and possessions because of heat, cold, floods, tornados, earthquakes, or storms. Not so much “the best of times,” but not yet “the worst of times” either.
I know of one couple who lost their home in the recent Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs. It was burned to the ground. Everything was gone except for a few items they were able to save during a brief 45-minute-or-so window when the firefighters allowed them to quickly return to their homes just hours before the worst part of the wildfire cascaded into their neighborhood. Even then, they thought the house would make it, so they did not retrieve as much as they might have.
They stayed in the basement of the home of some friends for a month. They now are renting a townhouse for the next year or more while the debris is cleared away and a replacement home can be designed and built.
The remarkable thing I noticed is how positive their attitude is today. Instead of bitterness over their tremendous loss, they are seeing the blessings of the little townhouse and its numerous amenities. They are grateful that they still have each other and their jobs. They also have wonderful memories. They have chosen to be positive and to move on — with God.
I remember the remarks of a wise colleague after I had been complaining about what I believed to be unfair treatment by a church member. He said, “It could have been a lot worse. If I were you, I would be thankful.” I have never forgotten those words: It could have been a lot worse.
You may have had it tough lately, but I urge you to be thankful, for it could have been worse. Sure, the attendance at church has not been all you had hoped for, but just think about how many have attended and been confronted with presence and message of the Holy Spirit. You probably should have been recognized more often for the things you did for your people, but think back to those who did affirm you. I would imagine there have been some lonely times, but what about those encouraging telephone calls that came at just the right time? And, for what it’s worth, I care very deeply about you and your family and your calling.
In ministry, we all look for the obvious, often at the expense of His grace and mercy. I know I do! His blessings come in many forms, even in difficult times when those without faith would only see the negative side. Keep your perspective. Know that He is God! Be thankful!
“Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done” (1 Chronicles 16:8).
An unbelievable event took place last week, although it was not covered much by most media outlets — other than social networks. An amazingly large number of people across this country stood together or sat in their cars on Wednesday in long, long lines waiting to buy chicken sandwiches, waffle fries, sweet tea, and other items on the menu of their local Chick-fil-A restaurants. Why would they do this?
Not everyone had the same reason. For most (I think), they were there to support the First Amendment right of Chick-fil-A’s president and CEO Dan Cathy to voice his opinion as a citizen. Most of the others were there as a statement of support for Cathy’s opinion itself that marriage should be reserved for the union of a man and a woman.
Interestingly, though, according to a Washington Times article by Martha M. Boltz, it doesn’t appear that Cathy actually said anything initially on the topic. The brouhaha was apparently ignited by a misquote, or actually a non-quote, made by Cathy several weeks ago. Supposedly reliable media folk took what they heard, extrapolated it into what they thought it meant, and the die was cast. And it’s still rolling.
Dan Cathy was at Colonial Baptist Church in North Carolina for a meeting. A number of ministers and others were meeting in the prayer room of the church. Rev. K. Allan Blume of the Baptist Press obtained an interview with Cathy, which he says lasted no more than 30 minutes. Blume and Cathy were discussing family values in general, how to run a Christian-oriented business in today’s world, and other similar subjects. The subject of gay (same-sex) marriage was not on the roster, nor did Cathy ever mention it. Rather, he explained his stand on the policy of his restaurants never opening on Sundays, noting that, “It’s been written in our leases since 1946. But as living standards changed and lifestyles changed, people came to be more active on Sundays.”
But the policy has not changed over the years, even as more restaurants went into malls, where the custom evolved into being open on Sunday, he said. “We’ve always put in our lease that we will be closed on Sundays. We’ve had a track record that we were generating more business in six days than the other tenants were generating in seven.”
Cathy also mentioned to Blume that his company tries to apply biblical principles in the workplace, and that family values are important. “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that,” he emphasized. “We operate as a family business ... our restaurants are typically led by families; [although] some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that.” It was a simple statement of fact; most CEOs and top corporate officers recognize the tremendous sacrifices made by their families, and Cathy was glad his team has strong families behind them.
There was nothing in the interview that could in any way be construed as hate for anyone or any group. After the interview appeared in the Baptist Press, it was reported by the Huffington Post (owned by America Online), which was among the first to insert the term “same-sex marriage,” which had theretofore not been mentioned. “Anti-gay” and “same-sex marriage” made for attention-getting headlines, and the rest of the mainstream media followed along. In fact, Cathy was never asked about same-sex marriage, and thus had no response.
When Brian Williams talked about the upcoming appreciation day that was ultimately held last week, he said that it was a result of Dan Cathy coming out “forcefully against same-sex marriage.” Where did NBC get that? Certainly not from the interview. This is how exaggerations, embellishments and statements designed to stir up one side or another become gospel.
There is a big difference between what Cathy said he believes in and what he said about running a million-dollar business. And to further the rabbit trail, pro-homosexual groups have taken the opportunity to also vociferously object to the recipients of Cathy’s charitable contributions.
* * * * *
Now, why have I taken so much space and time to share so many details of this story? Is this the version of the Chick-fil-A saga that you have heard? Is this the story your people have heard? Is this the story upon which all those people who provided Chick-fil-A with one of its most successful days in its history based their actions?
I doubt it. As I began my research for this blog, I discovered that it was very difficult to even find out what the facts were because nearly every article that was turned up by search engines was written by a homosexual activist and dealt with the feeble-minded people who opposed same-sex marriage. There was no balance. There was no objectivity.
I probably had more time this weekend to sift through the research than you do in a normal week. So, how can you be expected to be accurate and comprehensive as you talk about your church and its place in this culture? How do your people get the truth? The answer I stumbled upon many years ago is something I call “a social concern committee.” A social concern committee can be of great assistance to any pastor for understanding and addressing cultural issues.
In my first years as a pastor, I believed that openly opposing societal ills would create problems for me from people who felt uncomfortable with their pastor talking about “news” subjects. And I was right. I was hammered from all sides, and I became reluctant to speak my conscience. However, I eventually worked myself out of that corner and took stands on public policy. Had I not done so, I would have felt less than honest.
There were also many occasions when I felt lonely and exposed because it was difficult for me to know where I stood with those who mattered most to me — my congregants. Then it dawned on me that I should not stand alone, nor take the abuse for my well-intentioned convictions. That was the genesis of a social concern committee.
Every congregation has a nucleus of people who care deeply about the signs of the times. They are concerned when society begins to move in a direction that could be detrimental to the institution of the family, the church, and our children. Call them together around a cause and you will have the simple beginnings of a social concern committee.
A social concern committee can also be used as a research and information source for the whole church body. Committee members can attend meetings of the city council, school board, library board, and so on. They can gather pertinent information related to social issues. They can meet each month to discuss whether or not an issue is worthy of further action. They can make telephone calls and visits to the significant players in the community who influence policy matters. They can compile lists of names and telephone numbers of those who need to be contacted and whose opinions can be influenced by the public. They can write letters.
Further, they can provide pertinent material with issue-related information for those in the church body who need to become better informed. In short, the social concern committee is like Nehemiah on the wall — a watchman on behalf of the church and the community it serves.
You can’t be everywhere in the community and do everything in the church. So you need concerned individuals to act as your eyes and ears, collecting information, informing your congregation, being a liaison with the community, praying for you. It’s a wonderful way to get individuals involved and is a great help to any pastor.
Are you hesitant to form yet another committee in your church? Do you think you already have too many? Here are a few final thoughts about how a social concern committee can make your job easier.
First: It can provide you with a group of people to run point for you on issues about which you might be uncertain.
Second: It can give you a point of reference or serve as a resource reservoir. Members can do research on your behalf, in order to provide information that is accurate and not skewed by the liberal press. They can go to the source and ask hard questions. They can also stimulate interest within your congregation, which might be difficult for you to do.
Third: When you grow weary, they can hold your arms up, and when you are discouraged, they can be a Gideon’s army — not many, but very dedicated. In addition, they can prove to be a source of great prayer support.
Contrary to what many might say, I do not believe that everyone can be an activist. Nor do all in your church family have the gift of evangelism. But I do believe that everyone in your church can have a witness, just as I believe all in your church can have an opinion and a vote on social issues. You needn’t stand alone when, in front of you every week, there can be a small remnant of people exercising their passion for the cause of Christ in the interest of righteousness and godliness.
Think about it, and consider forming a social concern committee.
“May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17).
“Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:3-4).
“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).
To borrow a line, “The best-laid schemes of mice and men oft go awry.” It happens and, in many cases, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. Imperfect expectations!
As I have watched the beginning of the 2012 Olympic Games from London, I have been touched by the losers. So many of these young people have spent their entire lives practicing, working hard, and sacrificing for this one moment. They are as ready as they can be, yet something happens. Maybe something goes wrong in their performance that hasn’t before. Maybe someone else is just a little better on this particular day.
It used to be that those Olympians who had fallen short of their highest expectations could grieve and process their disappointment in quiet. However, with the technology we have today, the whole world is able to zoom in on the face of a teenager or twenty-something young person and watch the heartbreak that crosses their face and causes their body to tremble.
Very few of us live our lives as members of the clergy without disappointments and heartbreak. I think the question is, “What do you do when your dreams lie on the office floor like a scattered stack of newspapers?” I don’t have a fail-safe response, but one that I ask you to think about.
The sun will come up tomorrow. How you face the new day depends on how you finish this one. Consider the following suggestions:
- Confide in reliable people.
- Search your heart for any motivations that might appear selfish.
- Remember that, normally, your ministry does not rise or fall on one isolated event or circumstance.
- If you have made a mistake, apologize to the proper people or group.
- Don’t allow a perceived failure to drive a wedge between you and your family.
- Make your next move only after you have had some time to recover.
Bottom line: To those who love the Lord first and foremost, there will always be God’s way ... a better way. As Stan Toler and I said in The Minister’s Little Devotional Book, “He has chosen you to spread His Word! And whenever you do stumble, He will pick you up, brush you off, and set you back on track — brighter and smarter than when you started.”
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).
Be blessed today, whatever disappointments you may have to face.
As you know by now, there has been another tragedy in Colorado. Very early Friday morning, a gunman entered a theater in Aurora, Colorado, and began shooting at movie patrons. Twelve people were killed and 58 others were injured. The ages of those who died ranged from six years old to 51. During the attack, James Holmes, 24, allegedly set off gas canisters and used a semiautomatic rifle, a shotgun, and a pistol to open fire, police said. Holmes also booby-trapped his apartment with an array of complex incendiary and explosive devices, designed to kill anyone who entered.
Once again, our nation is stunned. Once again, people cannot understand how something like this can happen. Christians and non-Christians alike are seeking answers.
“Why does God allow bad things to happen?” you may be asking yourself (or others may be asking you). In the Focus on the Family booklet, Why, God? Why?, Dr. Dobson points out, “‘Why’ will have to remain unanswered for the time being. We have been given too few facts to explain all the heartache in an imperfect, fallen world.”
Do we believe God is obligated to explain Himself to us? Trying to analyze His omnipotence is, as C. S. Lewis described, like attempting to teach physics to a four-year-old. Dr. Dobson adds, “Unless the Lord chooses to explain Himself to us, which He does not often do, His motivation and purposes are beyond the reach of mortal man.”
Our role as clergy is not to construct answers to a complex question, though we often attempt to do so and feel inadequate when we cannot.
Our role is to comfort people, to point them to life over death, to remind them of the brevity and uncertainty of life, and to encourage them to live each day with purpose and thanksgiving — to prepare them for eternity.
You know how to do that. I encourage you, my colleague, to help your people be ready for eternity with the saving knowledge of Jesus and His gift of life everlasting to us. Please don’t beat yourself over things God does not yet want us to understand. Concentrate on that in which we have our hope.
“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8).
(I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.)
The Waldo Canyon Wildfire, which began June 23 on the western slopes of Colorado Springs, is now the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history. In just a few short days, it scorched 18,247 acres and caused the evacuation of more than 36,000 residents in the Colorado Springs area. It was responsible for killing two people, destroying 346 homes, and damaging 50 more. Miraculously, just two weeks after it started, the fire is now close to being fully contained.
As of July 3, the wildfire had generated a tab of $13 million for the various aspects and efforts of fighting it and had caused housing damages totaling $110 million.
At one point, thousands of firefighters found themselves working 20 hour shifts to help contain the fire, sleeping in makeshift camps on school lawns or on the roads themselves. Unbelievably, that number was reduced to just 117 by July 4.
If you search on the Internet, you will find photographs from this fire that will stagger you. It started as a single plume of smoke rising early Saturday afternoon against the mountainous backdrop. Then, on Tuesday night, with overwhelming quickness, it spread down a hill into a residential neighborhood and became a terrible threat to an entire community. There did not seem to be much hope at all that the firefighters and other agencies involved would be able to stop it or even slow it down before it became catastrophic for the whole city.
But American heroes once again showed their courage, ingenuity, toughness, and refusal to give in, even against such overwhelming odds. And they won.
As you drive through the area today, you can see a burn perimeter around a church that was saved. You see an empty field that was destroyed across the street from a residential neighborhood that still stands. You see one home that was burned to the ground beside six or seven that escaped harm. It is eerie and chilling.
Being overwhelmed is something we all experience at one time or another. How we handle it can tell a lot about us and our trust in the One who centers us.
I realize that, when it comes to the role you play in the pastorate, some of you are “underdogs and undersized.” Some people do not give you much of a chance, and you don’t play in the same league as the “big boys,” but every day you lace ’em up, get out on the playing field, and give it your all. That is why you are a winner. You do not sit around and whine about your situation, but you see every day as an opportunity to give God the glory and to be more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37). I salute you!
Yet, there are others of you who, for some reason, have underestimated your value. You have diminished the significance of your assignment. Let me tell you something important — where you are is where your challenge is. The battle is before you.
A lot of pastors I talk to have given up on the church, the culture, their goals, and even their own effectiveness as leaders in the church. Not me! We may go down to defeat in some battles, but if we do, those who defeat us will bleed before they win. And the Bible tells us that we will eventually win the war! That is why we are called “more than conquerors.” So, hold your head up, my colleague. Balance the good and the bad, and never forget who your leader is — and “what a mighty God we serve!” Be a hero.
“No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).
Colorado is on fire! Literally! The state is experiencing some of the worst fires in its history. The effects on the Colorado Springs vicinity alone are staggering. The size of the nearby Waldo Canyon fire, which erupted Saturday, is at 3,446 acres, fire officials said Monday morning, with still zero containment. There have been in excess of 13,000 homes and valuable infrastructures threatened by the fire, although not one has been lost.
“Today is going to be a tough day — tougher than yesterday,” fire information officer Greg Heule said at a briefing, referring to high temperatures predicted to reach 100 degrees on Monday and Tuesday, with no cloud cover, and with the possibility of winds reaching 30 mph on Monday. The National Weather Service in Pueblo predicts no rain for the next eight days, except for an isolated thunderstorm in the mountains on Wednesday, which could possibly reach Colorado Springs. Temperatures will gradually decrease to 90 by Saturday. If wind gusts do reach 30 mph or higher, helicopters will have to be grounded.
No new evacuation orders have been issued, so about 6,000 people remained evacuated from the mountains west of Colorado Springs. There are 450 firefighters on the scene. Highway 24 remains closed, likely throughout the day Monday, from Cave of the Winds to the Teller County line.
On Sunday night, officials said that a Type 1 National Team, described as the Navy Seals of firefighting, arrived in Colorado Springs and that the team has taken command. More firefighters also arrived from surrounding areas.
Smoke in the area remains a health risk. People with cardiac or respiratory issues are encouraged to stay indoors. The cause of the fire remains unknown.
In addition to the danger and damage in the mountains, the Pikes Peak region could lose “millions of dollars” a day in hotel rooms, meals, tourism, etc., says one local economist.
When you look at the magnitude of just this portion of the Colorado fires, and remember that it started with just a single spark, it can be mind-boggling. But the leader of the early Christian church, James, wisely once noted, “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:5-6).
Our speech is powerful: (a) Words do matter. (b) They have a way of following you. (c) When you get away from the truth, it is easy to preach heresy. We all need to put a lot of effort into controlling what we say.
“The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4).
Here’s a great passage for all of us: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
I have said a lot of things in my ministerial career that were damaging and uncalled for. Perhaps you have as well — but you need to know that the higher the profile, the greater the damage done. Paul said we are called to be an example “in speech” (1 Timothy 4:12).
Weigh your words very carefully, my colleague. They can be very powerful — for good or for evil.
“The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly” (Proverbs 15:2).
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