Monday, November 5, 2012

Sunday Night Slump

Another weekend gone by.  As all good coaches or ministers we reexamine the game plan of the day.  What worked.  What didn't.  What can we use again.  What needs fixed.  Who needs encouragement. Who needs some direction.  Where can we improve.

Somewhere between nine on Sunday evening and ten on Monday morning most pastors are letting these and many other issues weigh us down.  Some of us look at that resignation we keep hidden in the drawer of our desk, to see if we should add any new reason for changing teams.  Others of us may search the want ads, just to see if there is a better job in some other field.

We can be honest, ministry is not all glamor and thanks.  Sometimes it is only one issue that is on the horizon, or one email that just arrived today.  Stress builds up, and we begin to question why we do what we do?

The reality is that we know tomorrow is another day.  In most cases the issues we face would be no different if we were in a different town, or a different ministry.  We know that God remains in control, even when our heart is heavy with concern over our current situation.

I find in these weary times it is best to do a few important things:
  1. Pray for strength, and pour out your heart to God.  After all Christ knew the stress of ministering and not getting through, and the pain of rejection and opposition. Be sure to listen in prayer too.  God often can guide us to a better mindset.
  2. Along with prayer I find writing in my journal gets the thoughts out of my head, and helps with stress.
  3. Never make any decisions, especially those that can wait.  It is likely in a day or two we will have a different mindset and view.
  4. Talk to a friend.  Too often as pastors we do not have the adequate support systems we need.  I call a pastor friend every Sunday night.  We share the joys and woes of the day.  We know the other is praying, and that helps to know we are not in this alone.
  5. Find positive work to start the week.  (Here pastors differ.  Some prefer rest on Monday, while others like myself feel that it is best to work through the slump.)  I tend to schedule more positive visits when possible, or work on things that can bring joy.  Sometimes we plan worship on Monday, and there is joy in going over worship music.
  6. Take a walk.  Sometimes the exercise will help with the stress.  Sometimes the change of scenery will give you a more peaceful feeling.
There are probably other things that could help.  However, the main goal is to remind yourself God is still with you, you are not alone, and know all things shall pass in their time.  We all know the stress can eat away at you, but in peace and strength we can carry on.

-Keep on your journey with Jesus.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Choosing Discipline

I think the word "discipline" brings to mind a sort of drudgery to the mind of many of us.  We think it is hard work, pain, or doing with out in life.  We have too often looked at discipline in the eyes of a punishment we are trying to avoid.  I wonder if we would learn to choose discipline, true discipline how much more blessed life would be.

The athlete who compete goes into training, and training takes great discipline. There is the choice to get up and go through an exercise routine daily, in order to be ready to compete.  A musician or an artists also train and practice for hours, days, and years before becoming good at what they do.  Nothing in life comes to us with out some sort of training.  We should not think that the closer walk with God would be any different.

Much of what I see with discipline is simply how we choose to live each moment and day.  Will we spend time with God in prayer?  Will we choose time in Scripture over watching the T.V.?  Will we choose meditation upon God's Word, over reading the latest novel?  Life is filled with choices: who will I spend time with today?  What will I eat?  Where will I spend my time?  Discipline is practicing and choosing the Godly over the worldly.  It may take time, but the rewards of blessings and guidance in all things await us.

Keep on your journey with Christ today.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Does What we Say Ever Sink In?

I read of Jesus on the boat with the disciples or standing at the foot of the mountain, and wondering if the disciples will ever grow in their own faith and trust in God.  I think for every leader and teacher we hope that others will grasp what it is we are trying to pass on.  Unfortunately the results we are hoping and praying for in others seems to miss the mark time and time again.  We are left wondering how effective we are, and sometimes it becomes discouraging.

We must remember that people may be listening, and growing in ways that we are not seeing right at this moment.  I remember how amazed I was the first time I heard the fact that most trees have a larger root system than the branches we see above the ground.  We can learn from this fact of nature that what is seen is often smaller than what is going on under the surface.  We may see someone go from attending a service or study once in a few months to one day seeing them coming almost each week.  The change going on in the heart has likely been greater than we will ever know.

I knew a man who thought going to church or any Bible study was irrelevant to life.  He was under the impression that all the churches of America wanted was the money of those who attended.  He came to a Bible study,  once or twice with a friend and remained skeptical.  Several weeks later he came again, with questions, and seeking some encouragement of others.  Over three years a transformation took place in his life.  He not only became a regular in the Bible study, but starting to be a regular in church services.  Then he began to see needs and volunteering to help in the church.  There were many who questioned how holy or religious the man really was.  Then the man started to show his insight from personal Bible study and prayer.  He started to trust God and began to share how important trust in God, and in the church really was.

I think we sometimes get wrapped up in results in our churches so much that we miss the slow and steady changes going on right around us.  Not everyone is going to have a lightning changing event, as Paul did on the Damascus road.  We may preach and teach the truth of God for months or years before the first signs of real spiritual growth becomes evident in someone's life.  It isn't always the numbers that should matter, but the changes God is making in the lives of those we are called to care for.  Often our own lives will be transformed along the way as well.

Keep teaching, preaching, and reaching with God's truth.  Then let Him worry about how fast the crop of the heart and soul grows.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Are We Defeating Ourselves?

Are we opening ourselves up to failure or defeat?  I have been reviewing some of my old journals, and it pains me to say I have allowed myself to be defeated at times.  Satan may be fighting us in life.  However, the greatest power we have to overcome is ourselves.  It is easy to get off track.  We have dreams, vision, ideas, and plans.  We work to see these through, and when several of these hopes seemed dashed by our futile attempts we get discouraged.

In speaking with other pastors I find that depression over our ministries seems always near the door.  We can admit that Satan is fighting us, and this is a tool.  Yet, we also must come to the point of realizing God is bigger than the issues at hand.  We also must realize that we alone can do very little.  We must have the anointing of God in us.  We also must be bringing others along into the work and witness for the Lord.

I will admit, especially in the smaller church, it is easier to say 'I'll just do it myself.'  We are to be a community, and we must bring the people within our community with us in the journey.  I am in the process of trying to relearn this in my own life.  It is not easy to trust that things will not be dropped, but I am constantly reminding myself that just because some may fail to follow through, others will shine.

Christ called people to follow Him, and we know the 12 and some others followed closely right to His return to heaven.  It was those few committed people who transformed the world by carrying the message into the world.  May we learn from Christ to keep calling others along the journey of ministry, and transform the communities we live in.

Remember God's Spirit empowers us, but we have to be open and listening to the Spirit's moving in our lives.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Change in the Will of God, or my will?

I have been recently studying through the call for a king in 1 Samuel.  It is very common for us to become unsatisfied with where life is, or how we feel things are.  We demand a change.  What I am coming to question is how much change is really God's will, and how much is the will of our own desire.

A man meets the pastor for a cup of coffee and some advise.  While sharing with the pastor the man says that he feels God is telling him to take a new job across the country.  There is prospect of more money, a bigger house, and other benefits of such an opportunity.  It is only a few years latter that we hear from the family and the man is working 60 hours a week, and rarely sees his family.  They have stopped going to church, because of job demands. We are left to wonder if that man really was in God's will or seeking his own glory or blessing.

The same thing happens in churches sometimes.  Ideas are presented by an eager minister or church leader.  He or she may say that it is God's desire to build a new building, or start a new mission work.  They present the ideas to a church hungry to be a part of God's will, and to do something for the Lord.  Soon the church finds itself racked in debt, or setting themselves down a road that causes difficulty.  Only in looking back may the church leader or local church think that a little more prayer and openness to the spirit may have been needed.

I think many of us in ministry face the challenge of keeping balance in our leadership.  There are times we are satisfied to work the plan God has placed us in, and there are other times that we feel change is needed.  The issue is not  that change is bad.   We must take more time to be sure we are following God's leading and not our own natural tendency toward self-promotion, personal power, and or selfish gain.

Let us not like Israel demand ourselves a king, if God is our true King.  Let us remember who's kingdom we are representing.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Saying Your Sorry

It is one of the hardest things for anyone to do, to say "I'm sorry".  Yet, in saying we are sorry we release the power of healing into relationships.  There are times in churches when the church should stop and say they are sorry.  Kenneth Quick has a couple of great books, "Healing the Heart of Your Church", and "Body Aches" that deal with this subject.

For biblical understanding of saying we are sorry for past mistakes or weakness in a church we can look at the way people like Daniel.  When Daniel was challenged in reading Jeremiah (Daniel 9), and realizing the 70 years of exile was soon to come to an end, he didn't rejoice.  Instead Daniel remembered why the people of Israel had been exiled to begin with.  He prayed for forgiveness of the past of his people. 

We can only release God's power to move upon us, as His people, if we have sat at His feet and examined ourselves in His love, His Word, and His Will.  I encourage you to take time to look at your own life.  Look at the ministry history of your church.  Give it all to Christ, and let Him free you to be the potential He has in mind for you.

Keep on the Journey with Christ today,

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Beyond the Corporate Church to Peoples Hearts

We live in a time of great change in our world. Many of us grew up in a society that promoted gaining wealth and power above all. It promoted the idea that bigger is better. Unfortunately this infiltrated into the realm of church and religion. The church is often a decade or more behind the society that we are trying to reach for Christ, and I worry that we are setting ourselves up for a tough road, with this regard. I am not saying we need smaller churches necessarily, but I think we need to reevaluate why and how we do ministry.

I have seen a great push in the past twenty years of ministry to local churches and denominations to be run as corporation. The business end of things often weighs against the spiritual and the care of people. Many meetings surround the care of buildings, properties, paychecks, and other business. We can all admit that there is a need of good business sense, but our priority in ministry is and must be The Gospel, and care of people. Peter, when being reinstated by Christ was not called to be a CEO, he was called to feed Christ's sheep.

While many in churches across America promote the "business model" of ministry, society in America is becoming fed up with Big Business. While many may want to simply set aside the people who spent much of last year protesting against corporate America, I think we in the church need to wake up and listen. People are not interested in being a number on our rolls. They are not desiring another place that wants their money. They are not seeking to be an unknown part of a huge conglomeration. They don't need more pressure to grow the corporation.

What people desire is to be heard, to be listened to in their greatest times of need. They desire someone to love them no matter what their past has been. They want to be a part of something that has sincere life changing meaning. The want and need a Savior who can help them through when the going get tough. They want honesty, truth, and hope.

We will always have business to care for in the church, but our priority must be Christ Crucified and Risen, and Loving People. We are not called to become "big business", but "broken hearted" for Christ. May we as leaders learn to follow Christ into the mission before us.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Taking Time For Transparent Reflection

How often do you take time away, just between you and God? When you are alone with God, are you as open and transparent with yourself as you should be?

I believe, as ministers we often get too busy with ministry and forget to take the needed time alone with God that we need. In Scripture, we see Jesus getting away to the mountains, we see prophets like Elijah and Moses led into extended times with God alone. It seems that through such times alone, God moves to change and mold their lives for the mission ahead.

I was recently reading through Isaiah 6, the call of Isaiah. It seems that Isaiah was spending one of those times alone with God, when God began to call him. In response to God's presence surrounding him Isaiah goes into a time of deep confession. Isaiah says, "Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips" (Is. 6:4). This revelation is so important for Isaiah to be cleansed and prepared for the call God is giving him. God then cleanses Isaiah through touching him with the burning coal.

Ministers often build walls to protect their own psyche, which prevents them from being transparent before their congregations. We are pressured to live up to standards that seem nearly impossible, by some who we serve. In Protestant circles the church often leaves little room for true open confession and encouragement for anyone, but this is especially true of the minister. I wonder how often we forget to be transparent with God and ourselves, because we are pressured in such ways in our world?

God desires us to be fully transparent in His presence on a regular basis. When is the last time you opened yourself up to what God may want to cleanse you from? When is the last time you sincerely examined your life before the Lord? Are pressures of daily work and ministry preventing you from serious times of reflection with God?

We live in world where the fall of ministers to burnout, stress, loss of focus, and moral failure is rampant. Maybe it is time that we get serious with our own spiritual walk with the Lord. God desires our souls far above the ministries we are doing. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 9 that he "made my body a slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be qualified" (1 Cor. 9:26). Have we kept ourselves in control and spent the time needed with God to face the challenges of carrying the Gospel into our world? Let us strive to be all that God wants us to be in following Him.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Minster: Prophet, Priest, or King

There is a discussion that has been going on through out Christian history, about how each of the roles of prophet, priest, and king works in Christ. There is little doubt that Christ fulfills each of these roles in His life, ministry, sacrifice, resurrection, and eternal life. A further question that often surrounds the prophet, priest, and king conversation, comes to those of us who are called to minister to others in the body of Christ. Theologians, church administration teachers, and others discuss such roles in the life of a minister from time to time. I have often seen where each plays its role, but I was reminded in my thoughts today of just how important this question is to our ministry to others. I put forth a disclaimer here that I use these terms prophet, priest, and king from the traditional discussion with use of the biblical text; however, it applies to any and all pastoral leader male or female. I think that any leader no matter of gender must come to understand our responsibility in leading well.

Our church recently went through the book of Job, where we meet a man fully dedicated to God. He seems to have been a respected leader, as well as a priest, and of course it could be argued that he tried to pass those things of God he knew to others. Many historical theologians place Job near the time of Abraham, and we see in Abraham a similar situation. In this time era it seems that the clan leader fulfilled the role of leader (king), priest, and prophet (proclaimer). We also see that in some respects Moses’ father-in-law Jethero fulfilled similar roles.

I want to consider now what are these three roles, and how did they originate in conjunction to God’s people. The role of priest is found through out Scripture as one who conducts worship and intercedes with God on behalf of themselves and others. This role was to be fulfilled in various levels: fathers and heads of household, leaders of whole clans such as Jacob, and finally those appointed officially by God. This final category comes about after the Exodus, when The Law is given, and before the full establishment of the nation. The Levites were appointed to be the ones responsible to carry out the rituals of worship, the sacrifices of the people, intercession for the people, listen for God’s responses, and passing on God’s Word in the Law. They were the central leaders under God that united the nation of Israel together.

This system worked for a time, but by the time of Eli’s son’s corruption began to come into the priesthood. God brought Samuel up to be the first of many prophets who would speak to God’s people. The priest remained vital to uniting the people in worship, ritual, tradition, and even God’s Word. The prophets came the proclaim God’s instructions of truth, need, change, and direction. Still God remained at the center of this process. Yet, even under this first of many prophets, the people demanded to be like the rest of the world. They wanted to have an earthly king to unite and lead them. God gave the people their wish, but told them that that king would make demands of the people and exploit them. What were the common roles of the kings of that time? They had several roles in a community: uniting the people, protecting the people, mediating problems of the community, and negotiating with other kings for safety and commerce. Most kings become a bit focused on their own agenda over responsibility to the care of the community. They get focused on the size of their kingdom and go to war to expand it.

We return now to the point of our discussion at hand, the role of those of us in ministry with regard to the roles of prophet, priest, or king. We can see by my short definitions of each of these roles in history that ministers do often have to step into any and all of these roles. We are called on to administer the rituals of worship, to teach and pass on the traditions. To both proclaim and teach God’s Word. We are responsible to help the church community facing both internal and external problems that may arise. We also have to work with the other leaders in administering the business of the church, and uniting the church community. In all of this we see that we are prophets (proclaiming God’s Word), priests (praying and worshipping with people), and king (leading the church).

In pondering this today I began to think about how we often get so caught up today in the kingly side of our role. Remember I pointed out that historically kings/leader often let power corrupt them, and soon the size of the kingdom is what is most important. While we continue to make effort to carry on the other two roles, it never ceases to amaze me that when ministers get together the conversation is always on size or health (often the new term for growth) of our church in comparison to the other ministries in the room. Are we any better than the kings of old? These kings often held great parades to show off their armies, fortunes, conquests, and wares for any and all visiting dignitaries.

We often receive pressure from friendly pastors instead of supporting one another freely with the role God has given us. The pressures also come from leaders who are over us, some who have not ventured out of the palaces to the smaller communities where we may be called to be. There may even be pressure from those whom we are leading, who have their own visions of grandeur and what that means. We feel the pressure to succeed in these areas, which is where the numbers and reports seem to fall far too often.

I return to the biblical callings put upon people. In God’s plan He set up priests to maintain His Laws, worship, prayer, and intercession. God also called and appointed prophets to proclaim truth and teaching to His people. While kings came to be appointed by God, it does not appear that this role was central or in the original plans. The reason for this is that God was originally the king of His people. The Laws given in the Torah were similar to agreements drawn up by the kings of that time. God set forth a plan with His people, and they latter rejected God, in Samuel’s time, for a human king.

With regard to those of us now living in the Christian faith, we see Paul even reminds us that in the church Christ it the head (Eph. 5:23 & 1 Co. 12). He also shows that we are all vitally important to the Body of Christ, and as members we work together in Christ. The issues of unity, the body, and working together seem to come out in a lot of the New Testament writings. This reminds me both of how important it is to keep these things right, and how easy it is to miss the mark. If it were not so, I don’t think there would be need to write so much on these issues.

To often in our world we see pastors seeming to worry more about building their kingdom, instead of simply living alongside of their brothers and sisters and the churches nearby. The American church of competition seems to drive us far from where we should be. We need to return our hearts to be more like Abraham, who welcomed neighboring leaders with hospitality and openness, instead of competition. We need to worry more about the Kingdom of God, which we all serve, over our little places of responsibility.

I hope we can all learn to keep balance in our ministries. I pray that we do not let our little kingdoms take precedent over The Kingdom of God, which we are a part. May God bless us with the ability to better serve the role of prophet and priest, so the Kingdom of God will be blessed. When we must, and times will be such, be the leader, may we lead with humility and care above all. May the need of the small out way any desire of greatness. May God be glorified in our mere service in His plans.

- DGS 3/1/12

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sharing Generously

The Apostle Paul gives some great advice in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, about sharing and receiving from others. Paul had just finished praising the churches of Macedonia, who gave out of their own poverty to help those in need in Jerusalem. When we find ourselves with out, or have went through times it often seems easier to relate to someone else who is in need. Paul encourage the Corinthian Church in some practical ways, with regard to giving. We can learn from these instructions some practical steps for giving in our own lives.

First, Paul instructs us that when we are generous the blessings flow back to us. This is not some formula for success, but rather a way in which blessings seem to continually flow. We are blessed that we may bless others, in turn they may bless others, and as Paul points out at the end of this passage in prayer those blessed are blessing the giver. This flow really reminds me that we are not alone, but interconnected to the believers around us. We need one another, and in living we bless one another through life.

A second principle is to give using our mind. We should, when possible take the time to consider what type of gift we can both afford, and that is best suited to the need. Thinking is not just a principle of tithing, but of all stewardship. God's plan is that we bless one another, but if we give all that we have with out thought of our own need, then we might well be unable to help others in the future. Thinking and giving should include how we use all of our resources: time, money, education, and influence.

In thinking we also should make decisions as a family, as to what we will give to any given need. By including our family in the process we accomplish two very important tasks. First, we are teaching our children or other family members the importance of good stewardship and sharing. Second, we are keeping clear and open communication between spouses.

This second area is vital to a marriage, as a couple should be giving together. I know of a church in a town I once lived that had held a great pledge drive. The only problem was that several people promised money with our consulting their spouses. Some of these spouses were neither attendee's of the church, or even Christians for that matter. When it came time to collect the money problems arose in these families. One family in the church already faced some problems, and this issue of money and promises with out talking to the other spouse added into their filing for divorce. While the idea and pledging was good, this is a reminder that we must make such decisions as a family, and not alone.

Ultimately God loves a cheerful giver, and so our giving should be from a heart that desires to share and give. Paul even states that we should not give "out of compulsion" (v.7). This heart felt giving may go far beyond money. I know of ladies who sow quilts for missionaries. Others who collect household needs for missions organizations. When my family were headed off on a church planting adventure a church blessed us with both a monetary gift, and with a van load of household items for a move into a new home.

In blessing of God's ministers and mission workers we are freeing people to focus upon the task of ministering to the people God has called them to. We are directly then involved with that mission in our own lives. We should always be willing to give to such needs in our communities and around the world.

Giving is a way of praising God. Paul tells us in verse 11 and 12 that this giving is thanksgiving to God. As we give we can praise God that we are able to help in His blessing of others. It becomes an attitude of thanksgiving and sharing that passes God's love on to others around us.

What if you find yourself on the receiving end of giving, how should you respond? First, with thanksgiving to God and the person who has giving to help you. You may not always know who has blessed you. I remember a time when our family was down to a a couple of cans of food on the shelf. We walked out of our trailer to go to a mid-week Bible study to find two grocery bags full of food. I do not know to this day who gave those to us, but we thanked God and prayed God's blessing upon them. Paul reminds us that those who receive, pray for those who have given. This keeps the blessings passing along.

We do need one another in life, and I pray that you will be able to be blessed in giving generously, as God would lead and direct you to needs around you and your family.