|H.B. London Ministries|
|─ A Heart for Pastors ─|
It’s a really big world, isn’t it? I mean, when you think of the more than seven billion people who populate our planet and all the issues they deal with on a daily basis, it really gives you pause.
Like you, I can do only so much. But I am often reminded of the fact that probably two-thirds of the world’s population do not know Jesus, and the effort to change that figure is a real step of faith. How do we make a difference? One soul at a time.
I can’t say for sure, but I’ve heard that in North America, in a given year, one-half of our churches do not receive even one new member into their fellowship by a “profession of faith.” Could that be true? What is it like in your fellowship? Is anyone getting saved? Do we still even ask that question? Do we preach for conversion? Do we give people an opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior? Have we become so contemporary that the altar is too much of a threat to people? Does it make our church crowd uncomfortable?
Oh, I know times have changed, but have words like conviction, repentance, surrender, and confession lost their significance? It is at the foot of the cross that salvation is granted. Is anybody being saved in your world? I pray so!
The film, The Passion of the Christ, made an indelible impression on me. I walked away from it not wanting to talk to anyone. I wanted to be alone to reflect upon God’s love for me and the suffering our Lord endured to show that love. When Jesus died, He died with my name — your name, all names — on His lips. That’s the “whoever” in John 3:16.
I sometimes wonder if there is any urgency in our preaching anymore. This month could very well be an excellent time for intentional evangelism. Please, my colleague, give your people the opportunity to receive Christ. Sins must be forgiven. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
The fields are ripe for harvest — and the harvest is plentiful (John 4:35; Matthew 9:37). The time for evangelism is now. I cannot help but recall the account of Jesus as He went from village to village: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). We must not settle for anything less than a renewed interest in and an intense burden for the millions who are lost.
The danger: There is complacency among those who do believe. In 2004, less than one-half of all born-again Christians shared their faith with a nonbeliever. Do you consider that acceptable? We need to change some hearts!
Jesus said, ‘‘As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near’” (Matthew 10:7). Paul said, “By all means, save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22, KJV).
I do want to recognize that this is Clergy Appreciation Month. I hope your people are making a fuss over you and your family and your staff. You deserve it. But I imagine that most of your people are believers in the atoning death and resurrection of Christ — the most important message you could be instilling in them. And most of them are concerned and are praying for someone they know who does not believe in Jesus as their personal Savior. They pray for salvation and they look to you for help and an example. The most critical thing you could do as their pastor is to preach Christ crucified and risen again.
A report from the Southern Baptists some years back indicated that most of their pastors still gave an altar call or extended an invitation at the end of their sermons. I think it is still true. The purpose: for people to accept Christ or renew their commitment to Him. Do you use the altar area for such purposes?
I grew up in an environment where the altar area was used much like the “mourner’s bench” in Methodism. As a pastor, I used that area for evangelism, but also for times of emotional and physical healing. I don’t see that as much in today’s churches as I used to. I wonder why.
If we do not give people an opportunity to seek God in a safe and quiet place, at what point in their lives will they? Do you make an attempt to “close the deal,” so to speak, or just leave it up to chance? More people would turn to Christ if someone would just ask them to.
Personally, I think many people are frightened by the altar area. One way to overcome that is by using it as a place of prayer during the service — not only for those who are seeking, but for those who just need to feel closer to God and receive the support of a church family … as long as it is a safe place.
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3).
“God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God” (Psalm 53:2).
Let’s start with a little history and linguistics, just for fun.
An “aphorism” is an original thought, spoken or written in a laconic (concise) and memorable form. Aphorism literally means a “distinction” or “definition”. The term was first used in the Aphorisms of Hippocrates. The term was later applied to maxims of physical science, then statements of all kinds of philosophical, moral, or literary principles. In modern usage an aphorism is generally understood to be a concise statement containing a subjective truth or observation cleverly and pithily written. Thus, an aphorism is a noun meaning a terse saying embodying a general truth, or astute observation — a maxim.
The Ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself” (Greek: γνῶθι σεαυτόν, transliterated: gnōthi seauton; or also σαυτόν — sauton with the ε contracted) is one of the Delphic maxims and was inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, according to the Greek periegetic (travelogue) writer Pausanias (10.24.1). [Are you impressed?]
I’ve often wondered if you can be successful or joyful in life if you don’t know yourself. If you really don’t know yourself, how can you “to your own self be true”? How do you know your own identity?
One way is to remember that our lives in Christ are identifiable. People can see what our values are — how we face a crisis, the way we treat our families, how we relate to the awesome commands of God, and where our priorities are placed. So what would others say of you? “He is faithful! Moral! Full of integrity! Prayerful! Humble! Obedient! Devout! Committed to his family!” Or maybe a combination of these things?
Or would they describe you in less flattering terms? “He is arrogant. Prideful. Stubborn. Difficult.” Regardless, you have identifying characteristics and a “great cloud of witnesses.” My colleague — what identity will you leave behind?
I am moved by the one who wrote: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Let me ask you a very personal question. Have you ever awakened early on a Monday morning with the thought, “I wonder how long I can keep doing what I’m doing?” Have you ever scripted a resignation letter in your head, but never got around to writing it? How are you feeling about yourself and your assignment today?
In my work with pastors, I have found the following to be true:
(1) We need to see progress.
(2) We need to be allowed to dream new dreams.
(3) We need to be around positive people rather than negative thinkers.
(4) We need times of rest and restoration.
(5) We must have the support of our families.
(6) We need to be able to relate in a positive way to colleagues.
(7) We need periods of personal revival to see us through the dark times.
(8) We want to be seen as change agents.
The list could go on.
When you think about what we do, it becomes obvious that ministry is not for cowards. Are you able to fulfill the mandate of your call and, also, are you using your gifts effectively? I know it’s a lot to think about, but it is really vital if you are to know yourself and enjoy what God has called you to do.
“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).
|The news recently has been filled with horrible things. The Middle East is a mess once again, teetering on the brink of a regional war that would surely draw in numerous world powers. In our own United States, racial tensions have again produced demonstrations and stand-offs that have everyone crying, “Foul.” In our homes, family members continue to battle one another as if there weren’t greater enemies outside our walls. In our own hearts, we face very real struggles that continue to feel as if they will never end. We need peace, real peace, the peace of God that goes far beyond our own understanding.
I ponder the words of Jeremiah, who cried out, “‘Peace, peace’ ... when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6: 14). Why is peace so elusive? Why do we struggle so for it in our homes, churches, and among people who are determined to destroy one another?
Many years before Jesus came, the Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote that a child was to be born who would be called the Prince of Peace. Jesus would later say, “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).
We experience His peace as we commune with the Father and the Son in love. How many times have you prayed for peace with a hospital patient or someone who has lost a loved one? What were you praying? Probably that the situation might be surrendered to the One who loved them and had the answers to their suffering and sorrow; that as you prayed and they surrendered, there would be a lifting of heaviness, a realization that someone had entered their personal world with a divine presence.
May I offer a simple but heartfelt opinion? Peace, wherever it is sought, will never be the result of negotiations or pressure. It will happen because of men and women who actively seek peace and in whose hearts rage, anger, resentment, and revenge are forbidden. Outside the influence and motivation of the Prince of Peace, we will never find it. The Bible says, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
We become instruments of His peace as we pray the prayer of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy.”
In a world like ours, I doubt if peace among men will ever be a reality — especially in these last days — but personal peace is possible and attainable through our faith in Jesus Christ. We live in a fallen world controlled on the human level by sinful men. That combination rejects the peace that Jesus offers, but there is the promise of perfect peace. It comes by emptying our minds of fear, anxiety, and bitterness, and by allowing the presence of God to fill us where dismay and doubt exist.
In all our suffering, there is the assurance echoed in Hebrews 13:5, originally from Deuteronomy 31:6: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” That is the atmosphere of peace I am talking about. The assurance of His love, His presence, His direction, His understanding of your situation, and His willingness to become involved in your life as though you were the only one He had to care for. The challenge is in the surrendering, isn’t it? In the letting go.
As you preach and teach about peace, may you experience that same peace in your own life.
“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2).
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body, you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).
In so many ways, our hope for any kind of lasting peace begins with you and your relationship with your God. “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight” (Matthew 5:9, MSG).
For the past couple of decades, it seems that there has been a greater emphasis in our society on health than there was in the past. For example, there are a number of recent and current TV programs and specials featuring doctors and other experts promoting healthy eating, proper fitness, and general well-being. Then there are those countless cooking shows and contests on the various food-oriented networks that seem determined to wreck any healthy intentions we might have with some of the most amazing and delectable taste temptations anyone could imagine.
The church is similar. While there are a lot of folks promoting the concepts that we can utilize to get our churches healthy and to keep them healthy, there are others emphasizing the competitive aspects of church life that perhaps point us in the wrong directions. As pastors, which messages should we be listening to and incorporating into our congregations?
In his book, Excellent Protestant Congregations, author Paul Wilkes identifies 311 excellent congregations — of every type and style — determined from research over a two-year period. He lists the factors that he feels describe “excellent” churches:
Evidence of a “joyful spirit”
Awareness of members’ diversity
Welcoming attitude toward all in the church community
Emphasis on true spirituality and a deep personal relationship with God
Innovative and thoughtful worship
Collaborative decision making among pastor, leaders, and lay members
Awareness of Christian tradition
Scripture-based teaching and preaching
Confrontation of real problems with members and the church’s community
How does your church match up with Mr. Wilkes’ criteria? Do the results of the analysis concern you and your pastoral team? Would you add or remove anything from Wilkes’ list? Would you change anything in your church?
For several years now, as I have written and traveled across the country, I have been preaching a message of “church health.” I believe every body of believers can be healthy if they are willing to look honestly at themselves. The above guidelines might be a start! No matter how God leads you, my prayer for you is a healthy congregation.
May I, therefore, suggest a few guidelines of my own for assessing the health of a congregation of any size? Healthy churches are/have:
Biblically based. Do your congregation members have a clear understanding of what they believe, why they believe it, and substantial information to assist them in defending their faith?
Mutually concerned. Do your people genuinely care for one another? Is it obvious to others?
Socially connected. Church is fellowship as much as it is a formal worship service. Is there a sense of family among your people?
Community saturated. Are you aware of the day-to-day decisions that are made in your community that affect its school system, social programs, and overall moral climate? Are you and your congregation members actively involved?
Financially stable. The church that is fiscally responsible will be able to weather any situation. Study and use biblical principles.
A clearly understood vision. Every church needs to know who it is, what its calling is, and how it will be directed to meet the challenge of the future.
A positive outlook. See yourself as God sees you — full of potential and planted for a purpose.
I’m sure there are many other “good health indicators” for churches of any size, but I urge you to consider these, then add your own ideas to the mix. One thing I know: Christianity needs you to make your ministry meaningful and to help change the way pastors and laypeople alike look at the church of Jesus Christ.
“The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).
“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46).
Most of us, I trust, would agree that the Lord expects each of us who believes in and follows Him to live our lives differently than we did before we accepted Him, and differently than those around us who are non-believers. What He expects is a life of personal holiness, sacredness, perfection — just like He is.
Now, He also realizes that none of us is able to do that. He expects and would love to see us live exactly as He wishes, but He recognizes our sinful nature and limitations. He made us, after all. Even with Jesus standing in the gap for us — providing reconciliation for us failing Him — we are going to make mistakes until we eventually enter eternity.
That being said, however, He still expects each of us to try our best to be personally holy. Once we have done our best, He will make up for the rest. Oh, He is likely to tolerate an effort that is less than our best, but there are several parables and scriptures that would suggest He would not be pleased with anything short of everything we have to give. In other words, no “well dones.”
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:3-4).
A life of personal holiness is not easy. But it is important — for the Christian himself, for those he encounters today, and for those whose lives he might someday touch.
Even the best and the brightest of our colleagues often fall prey to the attacks of Satan. When that happens, precious lives are left in ruins, promising ministries are destroyed, and priceless future opportunities for sharing God’s love are lost. The cost is too high.
There is only one preventative course to take: Stay very close to our Lord. Admit to Him your weaknesses and surrender to Him your fears ... and then flee. Flee every form of evil, and take yourself out of harm’s way.
A message I once gave was titled “There Is an ‘I’ in Integrity.” The three points in the message were wrapped around three words: CHARACTER, INTEGRITY, and MOTIVATION. It is like a three-legged stool. You lose one leg, and the whole piece of furniture will collapse. For instance:
♦ CHARACTER — “Who you are.” We were created to be like God. Your character is composed of the attributes that determine who you are — in public and in private.
♦ INTEGRITY — “How you live.” There is a code of moral and ethical values that you accept and apply to your everyday life.
♦ MOTIVATION — “What influences you.” Why do you do what you do? Where do you find your value system? What are your priorities? Who do you attempt to please? Jesus made it very clear: We are to “love the Lord your God” with all of our being, and also love His creation.
Psalm 15 is a marvelous reminder of who God honors: “He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous” (Psalm 15:2).
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
|Summer is almost upon us. School will soon be out. The weather should be warm and compelling. Folks around the world will be taking vacations. How about you? Do you have anything planned?
I want to urge you, my colleague, to take advantage of this summer season to focus on your family. Give them the quality time they deserve. Build enduring memories for a lifetime. Bond with the various members of your family as never before. Use this summer to strengthen every aspect of your relationship with your family. Really love them.
A strong family requires more than a comfortable bank account, expensive house, respectable neighborhood, or top-notch schools. It exists only on a minister’s wish list until it is a lived-out relationship, characterized by love and hard work among those who occupy the same household. The primary impediments to a strong ministerial family are not church politics or other environmental disadvantages. Instead, impediments arise from the lack of lived-out love in the couple for each other and for their children.
Strengthening clergy families demands an intentional commitment to the abiding values of the home. Whatever the minister’s family has is contagious in the church, either good or bad. Society will be strengthened when the homes of spiritual leaders are improved. Here are some guidelines:
Consider the advantages of being a ministry family.
Strive to please the people who matter most.
Get your family in tune with God.
Feed faith to your children.
Refuse to blame common problems on the ministry.
View your family as a gift you give yourself.
You know how hectic our schedules as pastors can be. Several years ago, a leadership survey reported that 81 percent of ministers said insufficient time with their spouses was a major problem, by far the most common concern. Likewise, when I was serving at Focus on the Family, we would ask ministers about the greatest danger facing them and their families. The overwhelming answer was lack of time. This summer would be a great time to remedy that.
What would happen if you asked your spouse and children how they feel about your schedule? Do they ever feel they take second place to your profession? Find out whether your children think being a PK is a positive or negative experience.
Do you engage in activities that strengthen the bonds between you and your children? Why not surprise them when they get home from school today with a special activity together. Or, if your kids are grown, just give them a call and tell them how much they mean to you. Or, if you and your children have been at odds over something, use this day as an opportunity to clear the air.
Does your family know how you feel? I pray that, without a doubt, they realize you love them more than anything. And I pray they know it because of your actions, not just your words.
“Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect” (1 Timothy 3:2-5). In other words, if anyone does not know how to manage (and enjoy) his own family, how can he take care of (and enjoy) God’s church?
“I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths” (Proverbs 4:11).
Very early this morning (Tuesday, April 15, 2014), those of us in North and South America had the opportunity, weather permitting, to witness something amazing — a blood moon eclipse. The first total lunar eclipse of 2014 occurred during the overnight hours, between approximately 2:00 and 4:30 EDT, and was visible across the central and western regions of North America (the first one visible from North America since 2010), in South America, Hawaii, and parts of Alaska.
A lunar eclipse can occur only when the sun, Earth, and a full moon are aligned (in “syzygy”), with the Earth in the middle. As the moon orbits, it passes through the shadow of the Earth. In a partial lunar eclipse, the reflection of the sun on the unshaded portion of the moon is bright enough to hide the part of the moon in the Earth’s shadow. However, during a total lunar eclipse, the full moon loses all of its silvery brightness, allowing us to see the less-intense illumination caused by the refraction and scattering of sunlight through the edges of the Earth’s atmosphere into the shadow cone. (If the Earth had no atmosphere, the moon would be completely dark during an eclipse.) Parts of the sunlight’s spectrum are blocked or filtered out during this process, red being the remaining frequency under normal circumstances. This accounts for the usual appearance of a totally eclipsed moon as a copper-red orb. However, depending upon the amount of dust, sulfur dioxide, and clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere, the color of the reflected sunlight can change to yellow, orange, or brown. The results are identical to a sunrise or sunset, and the moon takes on a dusky “blood red” color — or blood moon.
This morning’s lunar eclipse was the first of four consecutive total eclipses of the moon between April 2014 and September 2015 in what scientists call a lunar eclipse “tetrad” series. The next total lunar eclipse will occur on Oct. 8 and is also expected to be visible from much of North America. There have been several tetrads in the last century: 1909-10, 1927-28, 1949-50, 1967-68, 1985-86, and 2003-04.
However, there have only been seven blood-red moons on both the first day of Passover and the first day of Sukkot in back-to-back years since the birth of Christ: 162-63, 795-96, 842-43, 860-61, 1492-93, 1949-50, and 1967-68. Today’s eclipse started the eighth, 2014-15.
So, is there a religious significance to today’s spectacle? Christians who draw a divine connection from the celestial show often cite the book of Acts, in which God says through Peter, “And I will show wonders in Heaven above and signs in the Earth beneath, ... the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord” (Acts 2:19-20). That passage echoes the prophecy of Joel 2:31.
Now, there is nothing particularly extraordinary about these holy days coinciding with a full moon. Jewish holy days are based upon a lunar calendar. Passover is always celebrated the first full moon after the vernal equinox and the Feast of Tabernacles is always the first full moon after the autumnal equinox.
Further, the Bible often speaks of astronomical signs indicating the End Times, but they tend to be ambiguous and non-specific. And Jesus discouraged Christians from setting timetables and questing after signs. “No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows,” Jesus says in Matthew 24:36.
And again, “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains’” (Mark 13:3-8).
The disciples must have been troubled by Jesus’ words. There wasn’t much good news in His message. We don’t hear much good news today, either, and people are troubled. As we look around us, we see so much uncertainty — spiritual wickedness in high places, war and rumors of wars on practically every continent, moral decay at every level, and a mind-set that seems to say, “What does it matter anyway?”
But are things hopeless? By no means! You see, Easter is the time of the year when we are reminded of who Jesus really is — that the One who turned our darkness to light 20 centuries ago is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). We need not hang our heads in defeat — there is One who has already secured our victory (1 Corinthians 15:57). We can look forward — and upward — to the One who is alive, who defeated sin and death and Satan ... and who lives and reigns forevermore. He is still the One! His name is Jesus!
Kenneth L. Waters, associate dean and professor of New Testament at Azusa Pacific University, warns us that, instead of looking to the heavens for signs of the future, Christians should focus on the hope and promise of the gospel message and seek to reflect Christ in word and deed.
And especially as we enter Holy Week and anticipate Easter, may each of us, my colleague, look within our own hearts for those shadows that keep us from enjoying the fullness of relationship with the Creator of the sun, the stars, and yes, the blood moons.
“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).
|Spring break is taking place during various weeks of this month — depending on one’s school, school district, or college institution. When I was young, the idea of spring break was much different than it is today. For most of us, our schools actually called it Easter break or Easter vacation, and it occurred the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. It was not the socially celebrated time to get away from home and party with friends and strangers like it seems to have become today. In fact, a lot of churches in those days planned youth camps during this week. Others did other special things. But, among a few of the “high church” denominations, the emphasis at this time of the year was on Lent.
Lent is the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting. The term comes from the Middle English lente — meaning “springtime” — and from the Old English lencten, and was akin to the Old High German lenzin — meaning “spring.” Its first known use was in the 13th century. The Latin term is Quadragesima (a translation of the original Greek Τεσσαρακοστή, Tessarakostē, or the "Fortieth" day before Easter).
The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial — linked to the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert preparing for His ministry. This event, along with its pious customs, has long been observed by Christians in the Anglican, Reformed, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic traditions. Today, some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season. During Lent, many believers commit themselves to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence. Many Christians also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional, to draw themselves nearer to God.
I believe that — for you, my colleague — the Lenten Season should be much more than planning for a big crowd and festive weekend. It should also be a time of personal preparation for your heart, your attitude, your message, and your relationship with the risen Christ. The apostle Paul wrote, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:2-5).
As a pastor, I used the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday to call my people to a time of personal examination. Every service, including midweek, had an Easter theme that would draw people along the road to Jerusalem, to the foot of the cross, and into the celebration of the empty tomb.
During the Lenten Season, I would ask our congregation:
Who among us has someone to forgive?
Who among us has a blockage that would keep the Holy Spirit from moving freely in his or her life?
Who among us has allowed his or her relationship with the risen Lord to stagnate?
What if, during this time of preparation, you guided your people to a new plateau of intimacy with Jesus? (Of course, it is nearly impossible to guide another to a place you haven’t been to or experienced yourself.) The celebration of Easter can hold great significance, especially to the new believer. I pray that your Easter activities will be underscored by the Spirit’s power.
“Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).
|As we all kick off a new year, there is an important issue that I haven’t addressed for quite some time. I think it’s time to do so.
Sexual addiction is a major problem in the ministry. While I was at Focus on the Family, we estimated that up to 20 percent of pastors have a problem with pornography. One day, one of our assistants in the Pastoral Ministries Department said that she had received five calls just that morning from pastors on the issue of pornography. Initially, I thought the callers were looking for counseling aids to help others, but I soon discovered that they themselves were hooked. One had been struggling for more than 20 years.
Unfortunately, whether you are a man or a woman, pornography may be a problem these days. With all of the benefits the Internet has brought us, it has also facilitated great temptations to view or act upon improper things. As we teach our early adolescents, “garbage in, garbage out.” What you ingest into your life will leave its mark. When you give in to temptation once, it is so much easier the next time. Fighting the lure of pornography is a major battle for many of us — probably most of us — but it is a battle we must win each and every day — for the sake of our ministries, for the sake of our marriages, for the sake of our souls.
My longtime friend and one of the great experts on this subject, Dr. Archibald Hart, has conducted extensive research which concludes that sex has become dehumanized. In many circles, it is no longer regarded as an act between loving, responsible couples. Sex has become a sport. And, as in all sports, there is a strong desire to improve one’s performance. Pornography is a sport, too, and ministers are not excluded from the game.
By dehumanizing and desensitizing us to improper sexual thoughts and actions, pornography destroys our ability to have relationships of integrity and trust. The fantasy game becomes our new reality. While we may think that nothing has changed, we lose certain desires for our spouses. We view our children differently. We see many of our relationships within the church and within society through a new filter. And, truth be told, the main person who is fooled and doesn’t see a difference is oneself.
How do we break the pattern of pornography? First, we must realize that we choose our behavior. The men I have counseled say they could never break the habit gradually. It had to be done cold turkey. The Sexual Man, Dr. Hart’s book, makes the following suggestions for the man who is faced with a pornography habit or any other sexual addiction:
Be honest with yourself and acknowledge that you have a problem.
Be accountable to another person. Tell someone else you can trust about your addiction.
Dispose of all the pornographic material you own. Don’t keep any of it. If you’re tempted to rent DVDs, don’t go near a video store of any kind. If you have Internet bookmarks or downloads, get rid of them ... now!
Be patient, and resist feeling defeated each time you fail. Your addiction took time to develop; it will take time to overcome.
Pray about your problem. Rely on God for deliverance and strength. God promises to make a difference in our lives. Allow Him to give you the special strength you need to overcome this battle. Be especially alert to His constant presence with you, and let His will be done.
If you still struggle, seek professional help from a counselor who specializes in sexual addiction. To speak to someone on Focus on the Family’s Pastoral Care Line, call 1-844-4PASTOR. To speak to a general counselor, or for a referral to a counselor in your area, call 1-800-AFAMILY. For a list of resources and other help, visit the Thriving Pastor web site.
One last thing. As difficult as it might be for some of us, our spouses must act as an enabler to healing. That means not only do we confess our challenges, but we give permission to our mates to ask us the difficult questions. If you are serious about resisting temptation, you need everyone’s help — especially those who love you the most.
“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).
|With the coming of the new year, you will hear a lot of people and the media talking about resolutions. There are many who resolve, who determine, who commit themselves to improve some area of their lives. Most fail, often by the end of this first month.
I don’t really make resolutions, although I probably go through something similar on a daily basis as I try to be everything Christ wants me to be. Instead, I find the beginning of a new year to be a natural time to dream of what the next 12 months might bring as I partner with God.
In The Heart of a Great Pastor, Neil Wiseman and I wrote, “Dreams are the raw materials of adventure and achievement. They stir people’s blood and make them believe that they can move mountains.”
Martin Luther King Jr.’s stirring “I Have a Dream” speech impacted human rights around the world. Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw’s visionary words still inspire the masses whenever they are quoted: “Some men see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’” Senator Ted Kennedy used those words in his eulogy to his slain brother Bobby. I have never forgotten them.
Think of some of the more famous dreamers from our distant and recent past. One list I found on the Internet includes some of the top entrepreneurs of our time who changed the world of business. It includes Steve Jobs (Apple), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Fred Smith (Federal Express), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google), Howard Schultz (Starbucks), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), John Mackey (Whole Foods), and Sam Walton (Wal-Mart).
On another site, some additional dreamers were listed: Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, Nelson Mandela, Jim Henson, William Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, Ben Carson, Mark Twain, Aristotle, Thomas Jefferson, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington Carver, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
And, of course, there are thousands of quotes from famous and lesser known people describing the importance of dreaming. Here are a few:
“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”
— T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph
“My own heroes are the dreamers, those men and women who tried to make the world a better place than when they found it, whether in small ways or great ones. Some succeeded, some failed, most had mixed results, ... but it is the effort that’s heroic, as I see it. Win or lose, I admire those who fight the good fight.”
— George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones series
“Without dreamers, no dream would ever be given reality, and we would live in a very small and shallow world. ... If you are a secret dreamer, it’s your time to announce yourself.”
— Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration
“Not much happens without a dream. And for something great to happen, there must be a great dream. Behind every great achievement is a dreamer of great dreams. Much more than a dreamer is required to bring it to reality; but the dream must be there first.”
— Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant As Leader
“Dreamers don’t fear change, challenge, commitment, and responsibility.”
— Euginia Herlihy, author of The Experiences of Life & Prayers
“Dreams have only one owner at a time. That’s why dreamers are lonely.”
— Erma Bombeck, author and syndicated columnist
“To all the other dreamers out there, don’t ever stop or let the world’s negativity disenchant you or your spirit. If you surround yourself with love and the right people, anything is possible.”
— Adam Green, American film director
“We grow great by dreams. All big men are dreamers. They see things in the soft haze of a spring day or in the red fire of a long winter’s evening. Some of us let these great dreams die, but others nourish and protect them; nurse them through bad days till they bring them to the sunshine and light which comes always to those who sincerely hope that their dreams will come true.”
— Woodrow T. Wilson, 28th President of the United States
“All successful people — men and women — are big dreamers. They imagine what their future could be, ideal in every respect, and then they work every day toward their distant vision, that goal or purpose.”
— Brian Tracy, American television host
Joe Darion’s lyrics from “Man of La Mancha” move us deeply and have added vitality to many sermons:
To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
I know that this seems to be overkill, but I want you to understand how important it is for you to dream. To stay in the fight, every pastor needs dreams for the congregation he serves. Sadly, this is not always the case. “My dream is dead; I can’t go on. Our church services feel like we are tossing prayers into a wishing well. Worship is empty.” Those despairing comments in a letter from a conscientious Midwest pastor are too common.
It’s alarming how many dreamers are reducing their kingdom commitments at a time when dreams and dreamers are needed most. The dreams Christ gives us for our lives and for our ministries can’t be allowed to die. Something must be done to revive them quickly.
Think of the possibilities. Think of the needs. Dream on, my colleague! Throughout this new year, dream on!
“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. ... Your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).
Is anyone watching you? There was a cautionary article a few months ago (Monday, June 17, 2013) in the Washington Times by Cheryl K. Chumley that made me sit up and take notice. Here are a few excerpts:
“It hardly gets more Orwellian than this. New technology would allow cable companies to peer directly into television watchers’ homes and monitor viewing habits and reactions to product advertisements. The technology would come via the cable box. ...
The technology includes cameras and microphones that are installed on DVRs or cable boxes and analyzes viewers’ responses, behaviors, and statements to various ads — and then provides advertisements that are targeted to the particular household. Specifically, the technology can monitor sleeping, eating, exercising, reading, and more.”
I don’t know if this article was founded in any real truth, or just printed to give us a scare and keep us alert. But there are moments when I wish I could spy on you and what is going on in your ministry because I miss some of those special occasions.
As a pastor to pastors, I must admit that this is the time of the year when I become a little bit envious of pastors and church leaders like you. No, I am not envious of the multiple board meetings you sit through or the financial balancing act you must perform. I would never be envious of your mood swings from Sunday to Sunday, predicated on the weather, church attendance, the perceived quality of your sermon, or a cantankerous sound system. I am not envious of the complicated expectations that require you to be all things to all people at all times. And I am sure Beverley is not envious of your spouse’s fish bowl existence or the many hours that will call you away from your family.
But I am a bit envious — in a righteous way — of your opportunities over the next few days as a pastor. I loved the busyness of the Christmas season. I didn’t resent the many hours of planning that went into the services from Thanksgiving to the New Year. The sights and sounds that accompanied these days energized me.
There was always that tired but happy feeling I had as I drove home from one of those blessed holiday events, thinking how thankful I was to be called “pastor.” What a treat it was to serve parishioners who prayed for my family and were filled with thanksgiving for the many ways God had touched their lives. It was a privilege to lead those wonderful folks from Thanksgiving to Christmas and into the New Year. How much better could it get?
I pray you feel this way as you read these words. Let there not be one utterance of the negative as you face the most beautiful time of the year. After all, there actually are a lot of people watching you and learning from you just how to relate to our Lord. Show them your best.
“Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. ... Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. ... Let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 105:1; 100:4; 34:3).
|As a pastor to pastors, I see a lot of pain and discouragement. One pastor said to me a while back, “If it were just a jungle out there, I could handle that, but it’s worse than a jungle!” He was probably having a pretty rough day, but the truth is there are many things in the ministry that take a toll on us — so much so that, if we are not careful, we can miss the blessings and overlook the joy.
Henri Nouwen writes in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son, “I am not accustomed to rejoicing in things that are small, hidden, and scarcely noticed by the people around me. ... I have become accustomed to living with sadness and so have lost the eyes to see the joy.”
Life will do that to us if we are not careful and, when it does, we will become calloused and cynical. If that ever happens, we need to step back, take a look at our motivation, and ask God to forgive us.
Have you taken a close look recently at what the early English colonists experienced before they famously sat down for that first Thanksgiving meal? Here’s a seasonally relevant refresher course, taken and edited from the history.com Web site:
The Pilgrims Before the Mayflower
In 1608, a small congregation of disgruntled English Protestants from the village of Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, left England and moved to Leyden, a town in Holland. These “Separatists” did not want to pledge allegiance to the Church of England — which they believed was nearly as corrupt and idolatrous as the Catholic Church it had replaced — any longer. (They were not the same as the Puritans, who had many of the same objections to the English church, but wanted to reform it from within.) The Separatists hoped that, in Holland, they would be free to worship as they liked
In fact, the Separatists (they called themselves “Saints”) did find religious freedom in Holland, but they also found a secular life that was more difficult to navigate than they’d anticipated. For one thing, Dutch craft guilds excluded the migrants, so they were relegated to menial, low-paying jobs. Even worse was Holland’s easygoing, cosmopolitan atmosphere, which proved alarmingly seductive to some of the Saints’ children. (These young people were “drawn away,” Separatist leader William Bradford wrote, “by evill [sic] example into extravagance and dangerous courses.”) For the strict, devout Separatists, this was the last straw. They decided to move again, this time to a place without government interference or worldly distraction: the “New World” across the Atlantic Ocean.
First, the Separatists returned to London to get organized. A prominent merchant agreed to advance the money for their journey. The Virginia Company gave them permission to establish a settlement, or “plantation,” on the East Coast between 38 and 41 degrees north latitude (roughly between the Chesapeake Bay and the mouth of the Hudson River). And the King of England gave them permission to leave the Church of England, “provided they carried themselves peaceably.”
In August 1620, a group of about 40 Saints joined a much larger group of (comparatively) secular colonists — “Strangers” to the Saints — and set sail from England on two merchant ships: the three-masted Mayflower and the Speedwell. The smaller Speedwell began to leak almost immediately, however, and the ships headed back to port. The travelers squeezed themselves and their belongings onto the Mayflower and set sail once again. Typically, the Mayflower’s cargo was wine and dry goods, but on this trip, the ship carried passengers: 102 of them, all hoping to start a new life on the other side of the Atlantic.
Because of the delay caused by the leaky Speedwell, the Mayflower had to cross the Atlantic at the height of storm season. As a result, the journey was horribly unpleasant. Many of the passengers were so seasick they could scarcely get up, and the waves were so rough that one “Stranger” was swept overboard and drowned. (It was “the just hand of God upon him,” Bradford wrote later, for the young sailor had been “a proud and very profane yonge man.”)
The Mayflower Compact
After two miserable months at sea, the ship finally reached the New World. After sending an exploring party ashore, the Mayflower landed in mid-December at what they would call Plymouth Harbor, on the western side of Cape Cod Bay. There, the Mayflower’s passengers found an abandoned Indian village and not much else. They also found that they were in the wrong place: Cape Cod was located at 42 degrees north latitude, well north of the Virginia Company’s territory. Technically, the Mayflower colonists had no right to be there at all. In order to establish themselves as a legitimate colony (“Plymouth,” named after the English port from which they had departed) under these dubious circumstances, 41 of the Saints and Strangers drafted and signed a document they called the Mayflower Compact. This Compact promised to create a “civil Body Politick” governed by elected officials and “just and equal laws.” It also swore allegiance to the English king.
The colonists spent the first winter, which only 53 passengers and half the crew survived, living onboard the Mayflower. During those next several months, the settlers ferried back and forth from shore to build their new storage and living quarters. The settlement’s first fort and watchtower was built on what is now known as Burial Hill. Once they moved ashore in March 1621, the colonists faced even more challenges. (The Mayflower sailed back to England in April.) As noted, during their first winter in America, more than half of the remaining Plymouth colonists died from malnutrition, disease, and exposure to the harsh New England weather. In fact, without the help of the area’s native people, it is likely that none of the colonists would have survived.
The native inhabitants of the region around Plymouth Colony were the various tribes of the Wampanoag people, who had lived there for some 10,000 years before the Europeans arrived. Soon after the Pilgrims built their settlement, they received an astonishing visit from an Abenaki Indian who greeted them in English. Several days later, he returned with another English-speaking Native American, Tisquantum, or Squanto. Squanto was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe (from present-day Massachusetts and Rhode Island) who had been seized by the explorer John Smith’s men in 1614-15. Meant for slavery, he somehow managed to escape to England, then returned to his native land to find most of his tribe had died of plague. In addition to interpreting and mediating between the colonial leaders and Native American chiefs (including Massasoit, chief of the Pokanoket), Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn, which became an important crop, as well as where to hunt beaver, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers, and avoid poisonous plants.
The First Thanksgiving
In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American’s “first Thanksgiving” — although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time — the festival lasted for three days. While no record exists of the historic banquet’s exact menu, the Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow wrote in his journal that Governor Bradford sent four men on a “fowling” mission in preparation for the event, and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer. Historians have suggested that many of the dishes were likely prepared using traditional Native American spices and cooking methods. Because the Pilgrims had no oven and the Mayflower’s sugar supply had dwindled by the fall of 1621, the meal did not feature pies, cakes, or other desserts, which have become a hallmark of contemporary celebrations, but rather included lobster, seal, and swans.
Eventually, the Plymouth colonists were absorbed into the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony. Still, the Mayflower Saints and their descendants remained convinced that they alone had been specially chosen by God to act as a beacon for Christians around the world. “As one small candle may light a thousand,” Bradford wrote, “so the light here kindled hath shone to many, yea in some sort to our whole nation.”
Bradford and the other Plymouth settlers were not originally known as Pilgrims, but as “Old Comers.” This changed after the discovery of a manuscript by Bradford in which he called the settlers who left Holland “saints” and “pilgrimes.” In 1820, at a bicentennial celebration of the colony’s founding, the orator Daniel Webster referred to “Pilgrim Fathers,” and the term stuck.
For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
The life of the pilgrims was not easy, but I think their faith in God allowed them to see the small blessings around them during those hard times. They knew how to be thankful for the small wonders that surround anyone who follows Christ.
The roads I travel take me to places where my brothers are struggling with the “what ifs” more than the “why nots.” They have permitted the naysayers and the joy suckers to influence their emotions and responses. They have overlooked their blessings.
My colleague, please be aware of God’s small wonders. Look around you with eyes open and heart ready to receive even the simplest pleasures. When you do, you will be a vessel of happiness to those you encounter.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
|Loneliness is, as Merriam-Webster defines it, “the quality or state of being without company.”
Wikipedia defines it as “a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship. Loneliness typically includes anxious feelings about a lack of connectedness or communality with other beings, both in the present and extending into the future. As such, loneliness can be felt even when surrounded by other people. The causes of loneliness are varied and include social, mental, emotional, and spiritual factors.”
You or I might define it as “the feeling of isolation and emptiness when faced with a task or situation.”
Believe me, I know that feeling — and so do you. I am sure, for example, that you have felt loneliness when, for some reason, a parishioner rejected your love and decided to walk away. As pastors, most of us have stood beside the bed of a terminally ill child or young adult and felt the burden of their mortality. We wanted to do something — anything — to change the outcome. But we could only stand by helplessly, watching and praying.
Then there are the times when loneliness occurs because of personal failure. We say the wrong thing. We do not fully count the cost of our decisions or actions. We attempt to mend a wound, but find out too late we can’t.
And, of course, we often experience loneliness as we make our own spiritual pilgrimages, frequently feeling estranged from the God we love so much. Our prayers seem hollow, the Word does not radiate, and our message to those around us is tepid at best.
There will be times of loneliness and isolation in your life, guaranteed. But God is always ready to fill the empty spaces in your heart. As the psalmist has written, “My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish” (Psalm 25:15-17).
So what do you do when you’re lonely? Here are some questions to contemplate:
Is this something you can share with a spiritual mentor or friend? There are times when we find solace in our own pain. We take an odd comfort in believing things are more difficult than we can handle. Often, by sharing our need with a trusted friend, a whole new perspective emerges.
“In my distress I called to the LORD; I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears” (2 Samuel 22:7).
|If you are close to being a part of my generation, you will remember a hit song called, “Heat Wave,” written by Irving Berlin for the 1933 musical As Thousands Cheer, and introduced in the show by Ethel Waters — who would later in life tour with Billy Graham on his crusades. The tune’s chorus began, “We’re having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave.” It was performed in lots of shows by lots of singers, perhaps most-famously by Marilyn Monroe. While that song was decidedly about something other than the weather, the beginning of its chorus certainly fits what much of the country has been experiencing this summer.
The Internet reports that excessive heat is the No. 1 weather killer in the United States, and that it’s at its most dangerous when it doesn’t cool down at night. The recent heat wave over California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico has produced temperatures hitting triple digits, with little relief at night. Hot weather has also been baking the rest of the far West, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and parts of Utah and Montana. And the lack of relief at night has been hazardous. Phoenix set a record for highest nighttime temperature at 91 degrees. Las Vegas went three days without getting below 90, according to readings at the airport.
What’s happening now is “a really big kink in the jet stream, about as big as you can see anytime, covering the whole western U.S.,” according to heat wave expert Ken Kunkel, a professor of atmospheric sciences at North Carolina State University. Normally, the jet stream moves in a general west-to-east direction, but when it slows and swings dramatically to the north or south, extreme weather can happen. Right now, to the west of the kink, in Arizona and Nevada, there’s a high pressure system just parked there with stagnant heat, Kunkel said. And to its east are cool — even record cool — temperatures in Texas.
If you aren’t in an air-conditioned place, “your body never has a chance to recover” at night, says Eli Jacks, chief of fire and public weather services at the National Weather Service. Normally the “feels-like” index — which factors in temperature and humidity — has to get to 80 degrees or below for your body to recover from the daytime heat, Jacks says. The lack of nighttime cooling is more dangerous than the 117 degree all-time record in Las Vegas, experts say.
On average, heat waves kill about 117 people a year, according to figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. However, those numbers are incomplete and only based on reports during periods of extreme heat. The much more comprehensive numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that on average 658 people die each year from too much heat.
The American Red Cross advises the following responses to heat waves:
During this most recent threat to our health, please be careful yourself and urge your church people to be wise. Our health is very important.
This is true even when we discuss churches. I’ve often said that it isn’t the size of one’s church that matters, it’s its health. So, what about the health of your church? Whether it is a spiritual heat wave or some other threat, may I suggest a few guidelines for assessing the health of a congregation of any size?
Biblically Based. Do your congregation members have a clear understanding of what they believe and substantial information to assist them in defending their faith? Is there a discipleship training program?
Mutually Concerned. Do your people genuinely care for one another? Is there a system in place that informs your congregation when people have needs, and a prayer chain to respond to those needs?
Socially Concerned. If you do not have a small group ministry, do you have a Sunday school program that provides adequate time for your people to break bread together? Church is fellowship as much as it is a formal worship service.
Community Saturated. Are you aware of the day-to-day decisions being made in your community that affect the school system, social programs, and the overall moral climate of the city you serve?
Financially Stable. The church that is fiscally responsible can weather any situation. Every pastor and governance board should insist on maintaining a certain dollar reserve, and do everything possible to avoid ministry paralysis through an unrealistic building or property debt. People must be taught by example to give and to give cheerfully.
Clearly Defined Vision. Every church needs to know who it is, what its calling is, and how it will be directed to meet the challenge of the future. If not, many small, and even larger, churches will simply exist to support an institution.
Positive Outlook. Please do not allow yourself to fall into a “poor me, small us” mentality. Small-mindedness is contagious. See yourself as God sees you — full of potential and planted for a purpose.
I’m sure there are many other good health indicators for churches of any size. I urge you to consider the ones I have listed, then add your own ideas to the mix. One thing I know, Christianity needs you to find a way to make your ministry meaningful and to help change the way pastors and laypeople alike look at the church of Jesus Christ. I am rooting for you!
“... and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27).
We will celebrate one of our greatest U.S. federal holidays this week — Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July. This highly patriotic day commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.
The actual legal decision for the Thirteen Colonies to separate from Great Britain occurred on July 2, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence that had been proposed in June by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. After voting for separation, Congress turned its attention to the Declaration of Independence, a statement explaining this decision, which had been prepared by a Committee of Five, with Thomas Jefferson as its principal author. Congress debated and revised the wording of the Declaration, finally approving it on July 4. A day earlier, John Adams had written to his wife Abigail:
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more. [Taken from Wikipedia.com]
There is another Independence Day that we should all be celebrating. It is the day on which God the Father provided forgiveness and freedom from our sins as well as eternal life and liberty from death to all of mankind. All a man has to do is believe that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the grave permanently restored the righteous relationship with the Creator that was lost when the world began.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).
A lot of us believe that a relationship with Jesus Christ is the only road to eternal life (John 14:6), but a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life a few years ago showed that 57 percent of evangelicals now believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. Amazing! That pretty well answers the question of why it is so difficult to preach absolutes, especially when the pulpit and the pew are not on the same page. It also points to the fact that a “feel good” message is much easier to preach than one based on a biblical foundation.
I choose to believe that our Lord Jesus Christ’s remains are not in a box or cave in Jerusalem with some of his so-called family members. I have chosen with the apostles “to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33). I pray you have, as well.
There was a time when evangelical church leaders, at least, were mostly on the same page, but, sadly, that does not appear to be the case anymore. I wonder where all of this will eventually lead. I think I know. The church will become more tolerant and forgiving where basic absolutes of the Scripture are concerned. In time, the church will be in chaos — and it will become impotent. I pray I am mistaken, but I fear I am not. “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil” (Proverbs 3:7).
The apostle Paul said it very well: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Corinthians 15:17) and “our preaching is useless” (1 Corinthians 15:14). How sad!
Question: Do you practice resurrection preaching? In a “feel good” world, it is not popular to mention sin and its consequences, and we can fail to do justice to the truth of our Lord’s resurrection. “He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:6). I pray that you will have courage to preach the Truth.
What a marvelous opportunity we have to underscore the reason for Christ’s life on earth — a sacrifice for all mankind — yet, without the resurrection, simply a life well-lived. Resurrection preaching can become a catalyst for resurrection living.
Proclaim the real truth that Jesus Christ “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).
|Two weeks ago, I talked to you about investing in men. I cited David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church, who says, ‘‘A lack of male participation is one of the surest predictors of church decline.” He goes on to say, “If you want a healthy church for the long term, attract men. This was Jesus’ strategy. It still works today.”
I believe it would be fair to say that most churches are more successful in their outreach to women. Their attendance records indicate more women attending and getting involved. For whatever reasons, women typically feel more comfortable as part of the church today than men do.
And, yet, an expert on reaching men, David Murrow, says, “If you want a healthy church for the long term, attract men.” Whether you consider the size of a congregation, the level of attendee involvement, or the depth of spiritual understanding and response as the measure of the success and health of a church, you will always find that participation by either an equal number of men and women or a majority of men is an indicator of its health.
Therefore, you need to be as focused on the men in your church families as you are on the women. Your messages and activities need to be relevant to men. So, for example, as you prepare your sermon this week, remember the emotional and spiritual condition of many of the men who’ll be sitting in your congregation.
Some of them will be dealing with a variety of issues, such as unemployment, pornography, unfaithfulness, a loveless marriage, or being a dad to another man’s children. Others will feel uncomfortable in God’s house because they have been pressured to be there. Some will be suffering from the “father wound” they have carried for years. Some will be on the fringe, close to walking away from the church entirely.
In many ways, you will be like a coach this Sunday. Through much prayer and study, you will be preparing your men and their families for life’s next “inning.” Please do not browbeat your men. Love them. Honor them. Work with them. Identify with them.
The Focus on the Family booklet, The Pastor’s Role in Establishing an Effective Men’s Ministry, notes:
Men need a safe place where they can discover that someone understands them and that they are not alone.
Men need a clear, compelling vision of biblical manhood that they can take hold of.
Men need time with other men to effectively process their manhood.
Men need practical how-to’s with which they can taste success. They need ways to implement, in a bite-sized manner, what they hear.
Men need male cheerleaders — other men to admire their efforts and cheer their successes.
Men need a sacred moment where they know they’ve become a man.
Men need a positive relationship with Jesus Christ.
There is great economy in a vital message to men. When you, pastor, make this a priority, you will find a new sense of purpose, exhilaration, and meaning about what you do.
“To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3).
|Colorado is on fire again! Several major wildfires burned throughout the state last week. The Black Forest Fire (just north of Colorado Springs) became the most destructive fire in the history of Colorado, surpassing the Waldo Canyon Fire (on the western slopes of Colorado Springs) that had claimed that record just a year ago this month. Another large fire destroyed 3,218 acres along with 48 of 52 commercial structures around the well-known Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. Others blazes surged rapidly in New Mexico, Oregon, and California.
As of this Monday, the fire in Black Forest (named for its thick growth of Ponderosa Pines) had burned an estimated 14,280 acres (some 22 square miles). At least 502 homes had been completely destroyed and another 17 had partial damage. Nearly 40,000 people and 4,000 to 5,000 homes and businesses were evacuated during the week, with thousands more in voluntary and pre-evacuation areas surrounding the blaze. (Our ministry headquarters was just five miles from the voluntary evacuation zone.)
Two people, who were away from home Tuesday when the plume first rose above Black Forest, returned home to gather belongings. Although they spoke to others from there twice on the phone, they sadly died in their garage with their car doors open, apparently on their way to escape. They were the only casualties of the disaster.
Remarkably, the fire was described as already 75 percent contained as of Monday. At that time, it had cost more than $5.6 million — including almost 1,200 firefighters, 103 engines, two bulldozers, 28 water tenders, four military helicopters that dropped nearly 890,000 gallons (or 1,300 bambi buckets) of water on the fire, and two of the nation’s 10 DC-10 air tankers (which hold 11,000 gallons of slurry — nearly four times what any other plane in the current fleet can carry — but are also the Forest Service’s priciest planes).The Forest Service also has eight Modular Airborne Firefighting System units (MAFS), which can be loaded into the back of military aircraft. Two such units were used on the Black Forest Fire. “I have never seen national resources deployed so quickly,” said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa on Friday morning.
While the lack of visible smoke and flames Monday gave some a false sense that the fire was over and done, Maketa said there were still hot spots burning. Thunderstorms on Sunday and Monday brought precipitation to the Black Forest Fire area, which aided firefighters in their mop-up efforts. But the storms also produced lightning that ignited new fires in the burn area, which were quickly suppressed by firefighters, according to Incident Commander Rich Harvey.
Investigators know the fire started on the southwest corner of the burn zone and literally exploded over a large area due to 100-degree heat, bone-dry vegetation, and heavy gusting winds from the southwest. They believe it was human-caused, although authorities are not ruling out the possibility of the blaze being started by lightning.
Also on Monday, as many restrictions were relaxed, more than 100 chaplains from across the Front Range were preparing to accompany newly homeless families on tours of the burn area over the next few days, said Jerome Nixon, a Colorado Springs Fire Department chaplain. This involvement demonstrates one of the most wonderful characteristics found among the Colorado Springs population (and, very likely, in yours, as well) — community support. Shelters sprang up immediately after the fire started to care for the needs of evacuees, their families, their pets and animals, etc. People all over town began offering their homes via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and numerous other channels. Food and local care organizations saw long lines of cars waiting to drop off supplies for both those in danger of losing their homes and possessions as well as first responders. Lines of cheering citizens greeted fire trucks as they rolled by. Everyone waved at the helicopters and DC-10s as they flew overhead. Churches and others opened their parking lots and fields for RVs and even their buildings for other temporary shelter and care.
Quite amazingly, several Waldo Canyon Fire survivors from last year held a picnic for Black Forest Fire evacuees Monday, which was attended by several TV stations who passed along the invitation, as well as one of our own ministry’s partners. That is the first time I have heard of this happening — survivors from a massive, very destructive wildfire less than a year before holding a picnic for survivors of another, even more destructive wildfire that occurred just a few miles away.
In other parts of the country, tremendous storms and flooding have left a path of destruction and despair for so many Americans. And other kinds of catastrophes and crises continue to plague state after state. This has been a very hard year of natural disasters for our nation. The results are varied. Some are stronger and more determined to face their tragedies and move forward. Others are crippled and at a loss as to where to go or what to do even tomorrow.
You have often stood beside brokenhearted church members and friends. You have done your best to console them and challenge them to look forward. What if you had not been there? What if, as the apostle Paul wrote, we had to live without hope? How empty! How futile life would be. But you have offered them hope. Thank you!
I think of you and the constant encounters you have with folks who just need to talk and share an honest need with someone who really cares about them. Your response should not be trite, but one that shows a sincere interest in assisting that person to emotional and spiritual wholeness.
As I sat down to write this note to you, this thought came to me: Who needs you today? Who in your circumference needs a phone call, an e-mail, a cup of coffee, an encouraging note, or a listening ear? Perhaps you need someone. Whatever the case, do something about it.
“When he saw [them], he had compassion on them, because they were ... helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
‘‘And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand” (Mark 1:41, KJV).
|Next Sunday is Father’s Day. You may see more fathers and husbands in attendance than usual. You may see more sons and daughters, too. Take hold of this opportunity. Make a fuss over them.
For the major part of my pastoral life, I invested huge amounts of time in men. Early on, I realized it was a ministry that would reap great dividends. When fathers and husbands become convinced that church and spiritual things have value, they become a pastor’s greatest asset.
I have a theory that many men are opting out of the church altogether, or living on the fringe of the fellowship. Statistics have shown that there is a decline of younger male leadership and involvement in church activity. Leon Podles writes, ‘‘A basic fear in men has resulted: church threatens their masculinity.” The Barna Research Group reports, “While 90 percent of men believe in God, only a third (or less) of them attend a church.” David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church, says, ‘‘A lack of male participation is one of the surest predictors of church decline.” He goes on to say, “If you want a healthy church for the long term, attract men. This was Jesus’ strategy. It still works today.”
That may not be the situation in your congregation, but the facts underscore the truth that, when men are involved in the church and committed to living a consistent Christ-like life, the congregation is healthier and families are more stable.
I further believe that the pastor cannot simply pass the responsibility of relevant men’s ministry on to someone else. You may not be required to head the endeavor, but you must be willing to participate. Further, keep in mind that a successful attempt to reach the men of your congregation cannot be limited to activity; it needs to reproduce leadership.
The words of Paul are essential: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).
How are you going to reach men? One word: Invest! As a pastor, you must make time to connect with your men in a nonthreatening way. They need to be able to trust you, confide in you, believe in you, and learn from you without intimidation. Please trust me on this one. It will transform your ministry.
Your investment will in time reap a bountiful harvest for the kingdom. Walking into the lives of other men with a masculine approach to Christ-like living will make a difference. Pastor — you hold the key! I can’t overstate how important it is that you invest in men.
Men need a challenge. Muslim men know they are locked in a battle between good and evil. We must encourage men in the body of Christ to step up and engage the evil one before we suffer one more defeat.
“Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat ... and followed him” (Matthew 4:21-22).
|Louella Parsons is credited as the first American movie columnist. In 1914, Parsons began writing the first gossip column in the United States for the Chicago Record Herald. A decade later, she had become a syndicated columnist in Hollywood with the Los Angeles Examiner. She was especially known for her uncanny ability to scoop her competitors with the juiciest stories and for knowing many of the secrets of celebrities. She possessed an uncanny gift for sensing scandal, and her dramatic scoops could make or break an actor’s career.
Parsons saw herself as the social and moral arbiter of Hollywood. Her judgments were considered the final word in many cases, and her disfavor was feared by many entertainers even more than that of movie critics. Eventually, Parson’s daily gossip column appeared in more than 400 newspapers, and was read by 20 million people around the world. She remained the unchallenged Queen of Hollywood until the arrival of Hedda Hopper on February 14, 1937, who displayed similar talents, and with whom she feuded viciously for years.
Aren’t you glad that neither Louella Parsons nor Hedda Hopper attend your church? Can you imagine the damage that could be done if someone like them were able to snoop out the skeletons in the closets of your congregation? How about in your own closets?
Many of us agree that if the gospel is weakened from the pulpit, if it is compromised in the life of the one who preaches, it will also be weakened in the lives of those who hear and respond to that preaching.
We are called to motivate, but we are also called to correct and rebuke. We are called to encourage and show great grace, but we are also called to address sin and provide an escape. It is my opinion (for what it’s worth) that, if we abandon hard truth in our own lives or in our proclamation of the gospel, “easy believism” will be the result. A full sanctuary is the dream of every pastor. I want that for you, but I am much more concerned about the fullness of your relationship with Christ.
I remember sitting in an airport with one of the godliest men I have ever met, Dr. Jerry Bridges. We were talking about our respective concern for moral purity within the clergy. He said, “If every pastor, before they took their text or began their message, would look their congregation in the eye and say sincerely, ‘It is well with my soul,’ it would result in greater credibility for all of us.” That would speak volumes, wouldn’t it? It would say, “I have been with my God, and as I stand before you, my heart is pure and my hands are clean.”
I wish all of us in the clergy would react positively to the call to live with integrity. So, just what is integrity? Let me define it for you with the help of Merriam-Webster: “firm adherence to a code of especially moral values ... INCORRUPTIBILITY.” It really speaks of a lifestyle — a code of conduct, if you will.
In the King James Version of the Bible, Paul uses the words corruptible and incorruptible in relation to athletes running a race. He tells us that the prize they receive will decay, but the crown we seek will “last forever.” Paul says he lives in such a way that, after he preaches, he will not be disqualified for the prize or, as the KJV says, become a “castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:25, 27).
As Paul wrote to Timothy, “Set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12), and “Keep yourself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22). Pretty straightforward.
Do you know what typically happens to the clergy I work with who find themselves in tough, compromising situations? They begin by “flirting” with the questionable, and it nearly always ends in moral shipwreck. Don’t let that happen to you. Guard your heart and soul, my colleague!
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” (Ephesians 5:3).
“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).
|We are living in a time in which it seems that one crisis follows another more quickly than ever before. There are numerous scandals rocking the White House, Congress, state governments, and even local politics. The weather has been brutal in recent months across the nation, with some especially horrific events occurring just within these past few weeks. Terrorism continues to poke up its ugly head here at home and around the world. Too many people are dying, of both natural and unnatural causes. Property is being destroyed in unimaginable ways. Relationships are failing. The economy is staggering. Unemployment is unprecedented. Disease and poverty are all around us.
Unless you have endured a natural catastrophe, visited the site of a devastated area, suddenly lost someone dear to you, or had your savings wiped out, it is impossible to know what those who have been affected by such disasters are going through.
This weekend, you will most likely stand before your people, many of whom have experienced or are in the midst of crises. What do you say to them? How do you help them cope with their fears? I’m sure you have thought about this, but one of your major responsibilities is to comfort and guide your people.
How should we, as Christian leaders, deal with any crisis? How do catastrophes affect the way we personally go about our day-to-day activities? How do we encourage our people?
Let me propose that you urge your congregation to ...
1. Avoid panic. Our faith is in God, not in money or things. We have all been in these tight spots before, and we will survive this challenge. Be patient.
2. Encourage one another. We, as believers in Christ, have a marvelous opportunity in times of crisis to show where our foundations are strongest.
3. Be wise. Make the best decisions you can to minimize losses. Keep your credit card debt low. Save instead of spend, and turn to trusted counsel.
4. Increase your faith practices. Don’t miss church. Sing, worship, pray, read, and assemble. Be in places where you will feel protected, not threatened. “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
5. Remember that God knows your situation. He cares. Do not fret. Paul writes, “May the Lord of Peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).
There is a great angst in our country right now. But our God is still in control. Your people may need a reminder this week.
“I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God!” (Deuteronomy 32:3).
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