|H.B. London Ministries|
|─ A Heart for Pastors ─|
|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).
|“It’s as American as Mom and apple pie.” You have probably heard a number of such comparisons in your life, including those for baseball, hot dogs, and Chevrolets. But the standards in all of these associations are Mom and apple pie. Well, last Sunday was Mother’s Day, and I just discovered that Monday is/was National Apple Pie Day. Coincidence?
May 13, 2013, is National Apple Pie Day
Apple pie is the quintessential American dessert! However, apple pie wasn’t even invented in the U.S. Rather it was invented in Europe sometime during the 14th century. The first apple pie recipe was printed by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1381 in England. The ingredients in the recipe included apples, spices, figs, raisins, pears, saffron, and cofyn (a casing of pastry).
Dutch apple pie recipes date back to the late 15th century. These recipes were similar to the English recipes except they included a scoop of ice cream placed on top of the pie before it was served. This tradition — apple pie à la mode — was eventually brought to America, where most people continue to enjoy their apple pie topped with ice cream.
I also discovered that, even though apple pie dates back to 14th century Europe, it became a symbolic icon for America when WWII soldiers repeatedly voiced that they were fighting for “Mom and apple pie.”
I think people worldwide enjoy celebrating. And it seems we will celebrate just about anything. Note these “Reasons to Celebrate” that are also found on the punchbowl.com page mentioned above and a few others:
May 13 — National Apple Pie Day / National Fruit Cocktail Day / Frog Jumping Day / Tulip Day
May 14 — National Dance-Like-a-Chicken Day
May 16 — National Sea-Monkey Day
May 17 — National Bike-to-Work Day
May 18 — Armed Forces Day
May 19 — National Devil’s Food Cake Day
May 20 — Be a Millionaire Day
May 21 — National Strawberries and Cream Day
May 22 — National Vanilla Pudding Day
May 23 — World Turtle Day
May is National Hamburger Month, National Strawberry Month, and National Bike Month.
So, you see, we have a lot to celebrate today and every day!
William Purkey wrote, “Dance like no one is watching, love like you’ll never be hurt, sing like no one is listening, live like it’s heaven on earth.” I’m a bit unsure of the theology, but challenged by the words. Enjoy life!
Too many of us clergypersons are filled with worry and anxiety. Much of the way we live is on the defensive and, at times, we forget that this world is not the end, only a short stop along our eternal journey.
Our Lord told us there would be tribulation, but that we should not despair. He is in charge. Trust God! In spite of the chaos around us, we must face each day with hope and promise. Be positive! Job cried, “Why have you made me your target?” (Job 7:20), but later exclaimed, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). Do not despair! In Jeremiah, the Lord says, “For I know the plans I have for you ... plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
He has it all figured out. So, my colleague, in the Spirit of Christ — dance, love, sing, and live. Celebrate!
“Do not worry about your life. ... Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? ... Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:25, 27, 34).
|Without bringing me dreams
Of that wonderful mother of mine;
Of that wonderful mother of mine.
— Walter Goodwin (music) and Clyde Hager (lyrics), “That Wonderful Mother of Mine”
For most people, thoughts and memories of mothers produce some of the warmest, most intimate emotions possible. There is a special place in our hearts for mothers. If your mother is still living, honor her this Sunday. If your wife or daughter has had children, honor her this Mother’s Day. If you are a mother, we all praise you and ask for God’s blessings on you in this most honorable relationship and responsibility.
How did we come to celebrate Mother’s Day in the United States? According to Wikipedia, the first attempts to establish a “Mother’s Day” in the U.S. came from women’s peace groups, where a common early activity was the meeting of groupings of mothers whose sons had fought or died on opposite sides of the American Civil War.
In 1868, Ann Jarvis — mother of Anna Jarvis — created a committee to establish a “Mother’s Friendship Day”, the purpose of which was “to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War.” Jarvis — who had previously organized “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to improve sanitation and health for both Union and Confederate encampments undergoing a typhoid outbreak — wanted to expand this into an annual memorial for mothers, but she died in 1905 before the celebration became popular. Her daughter, however, would continue her mother’s efforts.
Various observances honoring mothers existed in America during the 1870s and the 1880s, but these never had resonance beyond the local level. These included Julia Ward Howe’s attempts in the 1870s to establish a “Mother’s Day for Peace”, the Protestant school celebrations that included “Children’s Day” amongst others, and the traditional festival of “Mothering Sunday”. But Anna Jarvis always claimed that the creation was hers alone.
In its present form, Mother’s Day is credited to Anna Jarvis following the death of her mother, Ann Jarvis, on May 9, 1905. A small service was held on May 12, 1907, in the Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where Anna’s mother had been teaching Sunday school. But the first “official” service was on May 10, 1908, in the same church. Jarvis wanted to accomplish her mother's dream of making a celebration for all mothers, although the idea did not take off until she enlisted the services of wealthy Philadelphia merchant John Wanamaker, who celebrated it on May 8, 1910, in Bethany Temple Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Penn., of which he was the founder. The next year the day was reported to be widely celebrated in New York.
Jarvis then campaigned to establish Mother’s Day first as a U.S. national holiday and then later as an international holiday. The holiday was declared officially by the state of West Virginia in 1910, and the rest of states followed quickly. In 1912, Anna Jarvis trademarked the phrases “second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day”, and created the Mother’s Day International Association. She specifically noted that “Mother’s” should “be a singular possessive, for each family to honour their mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.”
On May 8, 1914, the U.S. Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day and requesting a proclamation. On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring the first national Mother’s Day as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war. In 1934, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved a stamp commemorating the holiday. The Grafton church, where the first celebration was held, is now the International Mother’s Day Shrine and is a National Historic Landmark.
Carnations have come to represent Mother’s Day since Anna Jarvis delivered 500 of them at the first celebration in 1908. Many religious services held later adopted the custom of giving away carnations. This also started the custom of wearing a carnation on Mother’s Day. The founder, Anna Jarvis, chose the carnation because it was the favorite flower of her mother.
The commercialization of the American holiday began very early and, only nine years after the first official Mother’s Day, had become so rampant that Anna Jarvis herself became a major opponent of what the holiday had become, spending all her inheritance and the rest of her life fighting what she saw as an abuse of the celebration.
However, Mother’s Day is now one of the most commercially successful American occasions, having become the most popular day of the year to dine out at a restaurant in the United States and generating a significant portion of the U.S. jewelry industry’s annual revenue, from custom gifts like mother’s rings. Americans spend approximately $2.6 billion on flowers, $1.53 billion on pampering gifts — like spa treatments — and another $68 million on greeting cards. Mother’s Day is also the biggest holiday for long-distance telephone calls. Moreover, churchgoing is also popular on Mother’s Day, yielding the highest church attendance after Christmas Eve and Easter. Many worshipers celebrate the day with carnations, colored if the mother is living and white if she is dead.
A pastor’s wife once told me what she would like most from her family. Do you know what it was? A love note! That’s right — a love note! I encourage you, my colleague, to take a moment to write your thoughts to the wonderful wife and mother who contributes so much to your ministry and life. Let her know how you feel. Let your children, in their own words, also express to their mom just how much they love her and why.
Caution: In your worship service will be many women whose experience is painful — abortions, broken marriages, prodigal children, widowhood, infertility. So be prayerful and sensitive as you approach your Mother’s Day sermon. Let the Lord guide your words and your message so that you don’t cause more pain to those who may be hurting. There are so many challenges we face as the clergy in setting the proper feel and putting the right emphasis on Mother’s Day. But you can do it.
Paul wrote to Timothy, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother ... and in your mother ... and ... now lives in you” (2 Timothy 1:5).
|I’m exhausted! This was a busy weekend. I pushed myself to the limits. I’m worn out. I’m tired, but in a good way. I really need some rest. How about you?
Getting a good night’s sleep could be one of the smartest health priorities you can embrace. Too little or poor sleep can affect your cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, and nervous systems. Between 50 and 70 million Americans suffer from a chronic sleep disorder, such as insomnia or sleep apnea.
According to news.yahoo.com, research has shown:
o Insufficient sleep appears to tip hunger hormones out of whack.
o Leptin, which suppresses appetite, is lowered, and ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, gets a boost.
o When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re more apt to make bad food choices, resulting in a diet higher in cholesterol and saturated fat. Women are especially affected.
o Those getting five or fewer hours of sleep each night are 2.5 times more likely to be diabetic.
o Women who sleep five or fewer hours per night are 45 percent more likely to have heart attacks.
o Blood pressure may also increase as a consequence of insufficient sleep.
o Nearly 20 percent of serious car-crash injuries involve a sleepy driver, and that’s independent of alcohol use.
o Older folks who wake up at night and are drowsy during the day are more likely to fall due to being off balance.
o Adults, adolescents, and middle-schoolers plagued by lack of sleep report more symptoms of depression and lower self-esteem. Also, more behavior problems are seen in these kids.
o There is approximately a 15 percent greater risk of dying for those who routinely get five hours or less of sleep per night.
It should be obvious by now that sleep is important for all of us. Are you getting enough sleep?
“I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me” (Psalm 3:5).
|The news lately should make us all clearly aware that evil exists in this world. Often, even seemingly good people do terrible things. We need to be in constant prayer for those around us, near and far. But how about you? Could you soon be that good person who makes a serious mistake? What can you do to protect yourself?
Each of us is just one decision away from failure, and none of us is immune to temptations and weaknesses. I am no paragon of virtue, so I built several habits into my life as a pastor that helped me stay accountable:
During my three decades as a pastor, I found a man in each ministry who was willing to enter into a covenant with me. Like Jonathan did with David, this friend “made a covenant ... because he loved [me] as himself” (1 Samuel 18:3). We promised each other to meet once a week, pray for one another by name every time we prayed, and ask each other the big questions.
The third point of accountability was Beverley, my wife. She asked me the big questions. She also addressed little weaknesses or concerns along the way that were potentially dangerous to us and to my ministry.
As you probably noticed, being accountable means asking ourselves some hard questions, searching our hearts, and being honest with ourselves and our Lord. It requires taking the time to think deeply about where we are in our spiritual walk.
Here are the hard questions someone should ask you regularly, according to Chuck Swindoll:
Have you been with a member of the opposite sex anywhere lately that might be seen as compromising?
Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity?
Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material?
Have you spent adequate time in Bible study and prayer?
Have you given priority time to your family?
Have you fulfilled the mandate of your calling?
Have you just lied to me?
I deal every day with members of the clergy and their families who are facing their own dilemmas — forced terminations, unrealistic expectations, false accusations, moral failures, doubtful calling, mistakes in judgment, and spouses who just do not want to be in the ministry any longer. The list seems endless.
There are those at Focus on the Family who are still available for pastors and their families. They listen to these folks when they call. They may offer advice, if it is requested. They pray with them. Just call the Pastoral Care Line at (877) 233-4455.
Each person must face his own issues in his own way. Asking yourself the hard questions can help you gauge where you are in your walk with the Lord and where you need to pay extra attention. Have an accountability friend ask you the hard questions often and answer honestly. They may just spare you and your family some pain.
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13).
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
|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).
|On Easter Sunday, the women visited the tomb (Luke 24:1-8), the disciples gathered (John 20:2-10), and the resurrected Lord appeared (Matthew 28:5-10). He is risen!
Next Sunday is Easter. Resurrection Day! We have the silence of a Saturday to contemplate its meaning and, then, like a sunrise or the beauty of a freshly blooming garden, it is Easter!
In truth, there is a time for everything. Solomon’s words ring loudly to all of us this Easter season: “A time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2). That one phrase sums up the human predicament. We will all, in His time, move from this world into eternity.
Yet, what about the afterlife? Is that not one of the major messages of Easter? What if we gain the whole world in life, but lose our souls in death? To the believer in Christ, “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). Paul wrote, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. ... If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied. ... But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19-20).
It is estimated that 40 percent of those who will sit in your sanctuary on Easter do not have a personal relationship with the resurrected Lord. You have an unprecedented opportunity to offer life to those who live in death: “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). What a privilege to show these lost souls the way to eternal life! Your people need to remember that Easter was and is for them.
“The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.” Now I have told you’” (Matthew 28:5-7).
|Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, the Christian celebration that commemorates the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-9), when palm branches were placed in His path to honor Him. It marks the beginning of a busy week — typically referred to as Passion Week or Holy Week — before His arrest on Maundy Thursday, His crucifixion on Good Friday, and His resurrection on Easter Sunday.
So much of who Jesus was, as well as the nature of man, was revealed in the course of that one week. Jesus cleansed the temple for the second time, then disputed with the Pharisees regarding His authority. He gave His Olivet Discourse on the end times and taught many things, including the signs of His second coming. He ate His Last Supper with His disciples in the upper room, then went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray as He waited for His hour to come. It was here that Jesus, having been betrayed by Judas, was arrested and taken to several sham trials before the chief priests, Pontius Pilate, and Herod. (Click here for a PDF timeline of the week.)
While the week ended in dark tragedy for Him, the mood of the people on Palm Sunday was joyful and triumphant. They could hardly contain their excitement. It was a day of victory and celebration.
What will it take to ignite the church and our people? What will it take to experience a Palm Sunday kind of excitement in which our congregations are truly filled with praise and our lives are vibrant with enthusiasm about the resurrection reality?
You can be a catalyst if, during the next several days, your messages are bold and your joy contagious. Challenge your people to lift “Holy Hurrahs” and give God credit for all things. Urge them to give witness to the power of their faith and to live with a sense of victory in a world of sorrow.
In short, you hold the key, my colleague! Through your very countenance, you can let your flock see how blessed you feel to have an Easter message to deliver and eternal hope to anticipate.
“As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!’” (Romans 10:15, KJV).
|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).
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