|H.B. London Ministries|
|─ A Heart for Pastors ─|
|It’s a beautiful winter day in Colorado Springs, but our weather can change dramatically from one day to the next (or one moment to the next). We, in our city, are blessed by a sight we sometimes take for granted — Pikes Peak. It stands majestically along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. When you look to the west, it is nearly always visible. But there are days when the clouds hang low and the 14,000-foot peak is hidden.
It seems strange when you can’t see “The Peak,” but I am reminded of a truth I heard from an old pastor years ago. He said, “Remember, son, even when the clouds hide the beauty of the mountains, the mountains are still there, and that is what makes the difference.”
What a comforting thought for folks like you and me. Sometimes trouble, distress, setbacks, or sickness overwhelms us to the point where we feel separated from God. During those times — behind the clouds of despair, beyond the fog of doubt — we know God is there, and that is what makes the difference. That is what we call faith.
In writing her little daily devotional book, Jesus Calling, author Sarah Young “listened to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believed He was saying.” Her devotionals, therefore, reflect what Jesus might say to us in first person. Open your ears of faith as you read one of her entries:
J a n u a r y 28
I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS. These were the last words I spoke before ascending into heaven. I continue to proclaim this promise to all who will listen. People respond to My continual Presence in various ways. Most Christians accept this teaching as truth but ignore it in their daily living. Some ill-taught or wounded believers fear (and may even resent) My awareness of all they do, say, and think. A few people center their lives around this glorious promise and find themselves blessed beyond all expectations.
When My Presence is the focal point of your consciousness, all the pieces of your life fall into place. As you gaze at Me through the eyes of your heart, you can see the world around you from My perspective. The fact that I am with you makes every moment of your life meaningful.
MATTHEW 28:20; PSALM 139:1-4
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
|So, what are you going to do in 2013? What plans do you have in your endeavor to serve the Lord? Will you attempt to maintain the status quo? Will you try something new? What are you looking forward to in this new year? “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2 Peter 3:14).
I want to challenge you to think outside the box. Dream a bigger dream, and risk a bit where before you have chosen to play it safe. Only a small percentage of our colleagues will go out on a limb. When I ask them why, they always say there is too much at stake ... too much to lose.
Many of us just continue along the same old trail, looking at the same scenery and encountering the same people day after day, settling for what is rather than striving for what might be. I admit that stepping farther out on the ledge is often chancy, but the pastors I know who seem most fulfilled are those who test the limits and trust God for His guidance and protection.
When you dream of ministry and those things you have always wanted to accomplish, what do you see? What excites you? If the Lord is the Author of your new adventure in faith, then go for it! It is not about throwing caution to the wind. Rather, it is about continuing to grow, stretching your courage, and moving beyond the norm to keep your dreams alive.
I challenge you to stretch yourself beyond the realm of the comfortable, to live life on the cutting edge. Be courageous. You will be amazed at what you can do with God’s power and might as your source and a courageous spirit as your motivator.
The Psalmist declares, “Sing to the LORD a new song” (98:1). The Lord said to Isaiah, “Do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:18-19). Go for it!
|We are just days away from our celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace, the Great Hope, the Compassionate Son of God. This is a time of year during which we usually “tap in” more deeply to the joy, hope, peace, love, and excitement that entered the world when Jesus Christ was born. Unfortunately, most of us are, instead, feeling somewhat emotionally overwhelmed by the meaningless murder of kindergarten children and their leaders in Newtown, Connecticut, last Friday.
Among the 28 who died in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School were six teachers — all women — and 20 children, ages 6 and 7. The two others who died in the shooting were the gunman and his mother. Of the children, eight were boys and 12 were girls. Wonderful things are being said about all of these innocent victims. Meanwhile, experts and everyone else are searching for a reason behind something so evil. And the weekend was filled with the opinions of those who were already politicizing the tragedy into one social issue or another, from gun control to mental illness.
Several hours before Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six adults at the school on Friday, a 36-year-old man a half-a-world away in China attacked 22 children at a primary school with a knife. Fortunately, none of those children died.
In the last five months, the media have brought shocking images into our homes of some of the more sensational and senseless tragedies: a school in Connecticut, a mall in Oregon, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a movie theater in Colorado, a murder/suicide in the NFL. There have been many others that most of us never heard about. Your colleagues join you today in deep sadness and recognition that this world is filled with evil, disasters, and pain. We can almost hear God weeping along with us.
The phrase, “I feel your pain,” has been bandied around a great deal. Politicians say it, churches promote it, and well-meaning people use it to identify with those around them who struggle with life’s harsh realities. The truth is that people do suffer pain from one source or another, and they need someone to understand.
Even we pastors know pain. But where do we go? What do we do when we hurt and no one seems to care? Let me make a few suggestions:
Turn to the Psalms. Read Psalm 103:2, 32:11, and 144:1-2 for starters.
Turn to music. Beautiful music has a way of reminding us that our situations are known to the Lord.
Turn to a friend. Find someone who “will not forsake you.”
Turn to God. Find comfort in His words: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
I don’t want to oversimplify the impact of evil and pain or throw out trite adages any more than you do. Please know that you’re doing a wonderful thing for Christ and the church. We are proud of you. We salute you, and we stand beside you — and so does He! There’s Someone to turn to when you really hurt and no one seems to care.
“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
|Last weekend was the first weekend of Advent — the celebration of both the first and second coming of Jesus Christ. The emphasis by many for this week is the celebration of hope. Followers of God who lived before the birth of Christ were sustained by the hope promised by the prophets that an Anointed One, a Messiah, a Christ was going to come and revolutionize their lives. Those of us who have lived since that first Christmas are also motivated by the hope of His second coming. And what is hope? An insightful 11-year-old named Jadon explained it to his class this past Sunday by saying that hope was, first, wishful thinking, wanting something to be true with all of one’s heart, like hoping to receive a bicycle on Christmas day. Second, he said, hope is a kind of confidence in God and a trust that what God has promised will actually come about.
The early Jews truly wanted a Messiah to come and rescue them, and most were confident He would. Unfortunately, too many of them missed the signs and did not see Jesus as the fulfillment of that hope 2000 years ago. Now, we Christians today truly want to see our Savior return in glory and we have a confidence that His glorious second coming is not far off in the future. We celebrate our hope in Jesus, who once became a man and lived among us, and who will once again come for those who believe in Him and will reign for eternity.
Louisa Tarkington wrote, “I wish that there were some wonderful place called the Land of Beginning Again, where all our mistakes and all our heartaches and all of our poor, selfish grief could be dropped, like a shabby old coat, at the door, and never put on again.”
Probably, Ms. Tarkington was having a very bad day when she penned those now famous words. I have also been led to believe that she lived the remainder of her life with a sense of hopelessness. A lot of the people you pastor live like that. They have never really understood that surrender of their mistakes and heartaches to a gracious, merciful Lord is, in reality, the land of beginning again — that according to Isaiah, “he blots out your transgressions ... and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). Or, as David said, “You are God, my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long” (Psalm 25:5).
It is so important that you not only preach the message of hope to your congregation, but that you also live in hope before them. Just think what your life would be like if you had not experienced God’s grace and mercy — the land of new beginnings. Each Lord’s Day presents a prime opportunity to encourage your people to forget and press on (Philippians 3:13-14), to believe in their hearts and actions that He is going to return soon. I pray that you will do the same.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” Romans 15:13).
|It seems to start earlier every year! In my community, we currently have two music-oriented major radio stations — one Christian, one secular — that began playing nothing but Christmas music 24 hours a day back before Halloween. There may be others about which I haven’t heard. This news has divided the population — most complaining that this is just too early in the year to go full-time Christmas and some who enjoy the music and wish it could be Christmas all year long.
I can understand the arguments on both sides. Those of you who follow me on this blog or elsewhere know that Christmas lights up my life every year. I love it! I love the pageantry and the fellowship and the parties and the good will. But I also love the heavenly reminders of who God is and what He provides to each one of us — peace, hope, love, joy, glory, salvation.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14, KJV). That, of course, was the message heralded by the angels some 2,000 years ago on the occasion of our Savior’s birth. Several years later, that same Jesus would himself speak of peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). His words were addressed to a group of His followers who were troubled, and rightly so.
Jesus told His disciples, as He tells each of us, that there is peace for those of us who love Him, seek Him, and obey Him. We experience this peace as we spend time with Him and surrender to His will in love. We find this peace as we become more intimately involved with the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
Peace is not the result of higher church attendance, a raise in compensation, a successful sermon, or an absence of bickering (even though all of these help a lot). That’s because the peace our Lord described is permanent and personal, not fleeting or conditional.
With the busy holiday season staunchly upon us, I trust this simple message finds you at peace. He is your peace. (Stop and read that again.)
“The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace” (Psalm 29:11).
When I think back to that September morning, it still seems surreal — watching a tiny-looking plane fly into one of the Twin Towers, followed by explosions, panic, and casualties. It seemed like a high-budget movie. Yet, it was not a movie. It was real, and a nation went into mourning. For most of us, September 11 changed everything.
Shortly after 9-11, I stood at Ground Zero, helping those engaged in the rescue and recovery efforts. I watched them remove bodies from the rubble and, in desperation, search for any signs of life. It was almost like I was standing in front of a large window taking in the moment without really being there. But I was.
The jagged skeletons of destroyed buildings, the odor of burning materials, the huge cross on an elevated platform, and the weariness in the eyes of those working around the clock are impressions I shall never forget.
Thousands of our countrymen and women have given their lives, and tens of thousands have been wounded in the attempt to liberate Iraq and protect our freedoms in America. Freedom really isn’t free, is it? We are indebted to our brave military personnel.
I hope you will find a way this week to honor those in your congregation who serve in our nation’s military and first responders, and to remember the families who lost loved ones that September morning.
The truth of all this is that life is uncertain. As Proverbs says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1). Approximately 7,200 people will die today in the United States. How many of them will be ready to meet their God? How many of those who died in the Twin Towers attack were ready to meet their God? That is the reality that haunts me.
“Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
I have been disheartened by the news of so many huge, devastating fires that continue to burn in so many states. It can be terribly unsettling. And with the strange pattern of weather we have experienced for the past many months, lots of people are suffering and grieving over lost property and possessions because of heat, cold, floods, tornados, earthquakes, or storms. Not so much “the best of times,” but not yet “the worst of times” either.
I know of one couple who lost their home in the recent Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs. It was burned to the ground. Everything was gone except for a few items they were able to save during a brief 45-minute-or-so window when the firefighters allowed them to quickly return to their homes just hours before the worst part of the wildfire cascaded into their neighborhood. Even then, they thought the house would make it, so they did not retrieve as much as they might have.
They stayed in the basement of the home of some friends for a month. They now are renting a townhouse for the next year or more while the debris is cleared away and a replacement home can be designed and built.
The remarkable thing I noticed is how positive their attitude is today. Instead of bitterness over their tremendous loss, they are seeing the blessings of the little townhouse and its numerous amenities. They are grateful that they still have each other and their jobs. They also have wonderful memories. They have chosen to be positive and to move on — with God.
I remember the remarks of a wise colleague after I had been complaining about what I believed to be unfair treatment by a church member. He said, “It could have been a lot worse. If I were you, I would be thankful.” I have never forgotten those words: It could have been a lot worse.
You may have had it tough lately, but I urge you to be thankful, for it could have been worse. Sure, the attendance at church has not been all you had hoped for, but just think about how many have attended and been confronted with presence and message of the Holy Spirit. You probably should have been recognized more often for the things you did for your people, but think back to those who did affirm you. I would imagine there have been some lonely times, but what about those encouraging telephone calls that came at just the right time? And, for what it’s worth, I care very deeply about you and your family and your calling.
In ministry, we all look for the obvious, often at the expense of His grace and mercy. I know I do! His blessings come in many forms, even in difficult times when those without faith would only see the negative side. Keep your perspective. Know that He is God! Be thankful!
“Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done” (1 Chronicles 16:8).
When I was pastoring, school would usually begin the first Tuesday after Labor Day. The following Sunday would be a really big day. In fact, preparation for that Sunday would begin weeks in advance.
The choir would be back together after taking the summer off. Every Sunday school teacher would contact each child in his or her class. I would be excited to have the church family back in their places. It was really like a homecoming. And, most times, attendance would be up. Offerings would be above average and, as a pastor — like a proud father — I liked having the whole bunch back home again.
But now, things are different. School begins “whenever,” and families seem more fragmented than they used to. Excitement takes on a different tone and, for many pastors, the first Sunday back is just like any other — if you can even identify which Sunday is the first one back.
With schools already started or about to begin their new academic years, parents in your congregation are scrambling to be prepared and to get everyone in the family back into a routine. It is often also the time a lot of church programs will be launching, as well as sports, scouts, clubs, etc. In other words, be sensitive to the hectic pace your people are experiencing right now.
On the other hand, pastor, between now and January 1, you will have the greatest opportunity to reach the greatest number of people. Before they become too distracted by the cadence of the coming year, you will likely have more listeners giving you their attention. But you must consider several things if you and your leadership are to succeed. Here they are:
Enthusiasm — You must be positive and expectant.
Game plan — What do you have in mind for your people? What new twist will you insert in your playbook?
Teamwork — Is everybody on board? Is your leadership team engaged?
Divine assistance — Sometimes a “hail Mary” pass is not just lucky; it is the hand of God enhancing hard work and preparation that pays off. God knows!
Persistence — Even if it doesn’t look that good on the scoreboard, you know when you have done your best.
“He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42).
To borrow a line, “The best-laid schemes of mice and men oft go awry.” It happens and, in many cases, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. Imperfect expectations!
As I have watched the beginning of the 2012 Olympic Games from London, I have been touched by the losers. So many of these young people have spent their entire lives practicing, working hard, and sacrificing for this one moment. They are as ready as they can be, yet something happens. Maybe something goes wrong in their performance that hasn’t before. Maybe someone else is just a little better on this particular day.
It used to be that those Olympians who had fallen short of their highest expectations could grieve and process their disappointment in quiet. However, with the technology we have today, the whole world is able to zoom in on the face of a teenager or twenty-something young person and watch the heartbreak that crosses their face and causes their body to tremble.
Very few of us live our lives as members of the clergy without disappointments and heartbreak. I think the question is, “What do you do when your dreams lie on the office floor like a scattered stack of newspapers?” I don’t have a fail-safe response, but one that I ask you to think about.
The sun will come up tomorrow. How you face the new day depends on how you finish this one. Consider the following suggestions:
- Confide in reliable people.
- Search your heart for any motivations that might appear selfish.
- Remember that, normally, your ministry does not rise or fall on one isolated event or circumstance.
- If you have made a mistake, apologize to the proper people or group.
- Don’t allow a perceived failure to drive a wedge between you and your family.
- Make your next move only after you have had some time to recover.
Bottom line: To those who love the Lord first and foremost, there will always be God’s way ... a better way. As Stan Toler and I said in The Minister’s Little Devotional Book, “He has chosen you to spread His Word! And whenever you do stumble, He will pick you up, brush you off, and set you back on track — brighter and smarter than when you started.”
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).
Be blessed today, whatever disappointments you may have to face.
As you know by now, there has been another tragedy in Colorado. Very early Friday morning, a gunman entered a theater in Aurora, Colorado, and began shooting at movie patrons. Twelve people were killed and 58 others were injured. The ages of those who died ranged from six years old to 51. During the attack, James Holmes, 24, allegedly set off gas canisters and used a semiautomatic rifle, a shotgun, and a pistol to open fire, police said. Holmes also booby-trapped his apartment with an array of complex incendiary and explosive devices, designed to kill anyone who entered.
Once again, our nation is stunned. Once again, people cannot understand how something like this can happen. Christians and non-Christians alike are seeking answers.
“Why does God allow bad things to happen?” you may be asking yourself (or others may be asking you). In the Focus on the Family booklet, Why, God? Why?, Dr. Dobson points out, “‘Why’ will have to remain unanswered for the time being. We have been given too few facts to explain all the heartache in an imperfect, fallen world.”
Do we believe God is obligated to explain Himself to us? Trying to analyze His omnipotence is, as C. S. Lewis described, like attempting to teach physics to a four-year-old. Dr. Dobson adds, “Unless the Lord chooses to explain Himself to us, which He does not often do, His motivation and purposes are beyond the reach of mortal man.”
Our role as clergy is not to construct answers to a complex question, though we often attempt to do so and feel inadequate when we cannot.
Our role is to comfort people, to point them to life over death, to remind them of the brevity and uncertainty of life, and to encourage them to live each day with purpose and thanksgiving — to prepare them for eternity.
You know how to do that. I encourage you, my colleague, to help your people be ready for eternity with the saving knowledge of Jesus and His gift of life everlasting to us. Please don’t beat yourself over things God does not yet want us to understand. Concentrate on that in which we have our hope.
“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8).
(I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.)
Queen Elizabeth II is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee this year. She has been the queen now for 60 years and counting — second only to Queen Victoria, who reigned for 63 years, 7 months. The now 86-year-old (the longest-lived ruler) is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms, and head of the 54-member Commonwealth of Nations. She is also head of state of the Crown Dependencies. During her reign since 1952, her realms, at various times, have included the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, Ceylon, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. (The number has varied as territories gained independence and some realms became republics.) Pretty intimidating!
Queen Elizabeth is also the official head of the Church of England. In her Royal Christmas Message of 2000, broadcast to the Commonwealth, she said, “To many of us, our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me, the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ's words and example.” I like that.
When do you feel most comfortable in the presence of God? When you’re walking through His creation, moved by His handiwork? When you have failed and seek His forgiveness? Or, how about when you least expect it — when the road ahead seems endless and you are facing an insurmountable obstacle? It could be when you are with your kids or grandkids, in a moment of quiet interaction, when listening to a beautiful song, or doing whatever it is that draws you close.
I have felt wonderfully close to my Lord at times. But, at other times, I’ve felt estrangement when I have allowed selfishness, ego, or flesh to take the central place in my life.
Are you in a comfortable place with our Lord today? The scripture says, “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8). How do you “come near”?
· Confess the “stuff” in your life.
· Surrender your anxieties and fears.
· Identify a quiet place to meet Him each day, and just be still and listen.
· Talk with Him about everything in the morning and in the evening.
Remember, He loves you unconditionally, even when He seems otherwise engaged. And He wants you to be comfortable in His presence, just like you want your children to feel comfortable with you.
The prayer our Lord prayed for His disciples is a prayer He continues to pray for you: “I in them and you in me” (John 17:23).
With Memorial Day upon us, I was thinking about the legacy we as clergy will leave and the overall impact our ministries will have on those we have served.
While reading about the death of Moses in Deuteronomy chapter 34, I was impressed by the following: “He buried him in Moab ... but to this day no one knows where his grave is” (Deuteronomy 34:6). What was he — 120 years old? He still had good eyesight and evidently was strong, but yet he died.
Think about it. They couldn’t even find his grave, but they would not forget his deeds. Read on — “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses ... who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 34: 10-11).
The point: Even if you are a Moses, it is not so important where you are buried after you have passed on as it is how you are remembered for what you did while you were alive. Your assignment is to live life to the fullest, accomplish all that God has instructed, and then let someone else handle the burial details.
And so, on this holiday, we pause to remember the lives and contributions made by those we have loved and still do — those in the military and those who have served us in some other capacity. But, in every case, it’s not so much about the grave as the person. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).
I sincerely hope you had a great Mother’s Day this past Sunday with your own family and with your congregation. If your mother is still living, I hope you were able to reach out to her with your love and words of appreciation. If you have children, I hope their mother felt special and honored by you and the kids.
If you are married, I hope that Sunday provided you and your spouse with an opportunity to give undistracted attention to one another. I also hope you both regularly experience tangible moments that keep the bond between you growing and burning with passion. Cultivating a satisfying marriage is an important part of emotional and spiritual wholeness. A commitment to marriage development is pleasing to God, fulfilling to both partners, crucial in the eyes of children, and healthy for the church.
Marriage offers joy, meaning, and pleasure. The intense demands of ministry, which many consider harmful to marriage, can be used to cultivate closeness that grows out of sharing thoughts and experiencing service together. Every marriage can be better, and happily married pastors are more effective pastors. My colleagues, it’s time to demonstrate in our own marriages all we preach to others about commitment, integrity, accountability, and virtue.
Think for a moment about the topics you cover in your counseling sessions with potential brides and grooms — issues like open communication, personal finances, spiritual oneness, common interests, time alone, emotional support, marital fidelity, and expressions of love for one another. Successful marriages demand time, dedication, and work. And that’s true even in the parsonage.
Do you routinely take time to work on your marriage? Do you practice the principles you recommend to the couples you counsel? Make a concentrated, deliberate choice to strengthen your marriage by just talking to one another about ways each of you could improve the union. Take some time to get out the wedding pictures and reminisce. Play the video of your wedding. Renew your vows. Have a date night for the specific purpose of talking about your marriage and family. Gifts would not be inappropriate either. But, for sure, take a moment away from the hectic pace you’re keeping just to say to the one God has given you, “I love you!”
If your problems are more serious, find a Christian counselor who can help you work on your relationship. As the pastor, you must keep your marriage strong.
“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19). “In everything, set them an example by doing what is good” (Titus 2: 7).
Fresh out of the tomb, Jesus began to comfort those who loved Him most. He saw Mary crying at the entrance to His grave and comforted her. “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20: 18), she told the disciples. In one of my favorite biblical narratives, Jesus walked with two of His followers on the Emmaus Road. When they recognized Him, their hearts burned within them (Luke 24:32). He ate with His disciples and showed them the scars in His hands and feet. He comforted Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27). Thomas was overwhelmed.
Then, there was that marvelous moment on the beach when Jesus fixed their breakfast while Peter and his comrades were out fishing. In that life-changing moment, He reinstated the one who had denied Him three times. In simple words, He commissioned Peter to “follow me.” The fisherman never looked back. In the time before the Lord ascended into heaven, He encountered hundreds and hundreds of people. The reality of the resurrection would in time take over the world. It’s amazing what can happen in just a few days — from loneliness to exceeding great joy, from emptiness to fulfilled!
Well, Easter has come and gone. We know the story. We have been confronted with resurrection power. Now what? The church is in many ways impotent, but the power that amazed Jesus’ disciples the week following Easter is just as powerful today as it was then. Will we recognize it? Paul wrote, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). How about you? The aftermath of Easter’ is more powerful than ever! Are you ready for it?
I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen it happen before. Maybe it did, and I wasn’t aware of it. On Monday of this week, ESPN’s Sports Center spent several straight hours talking exclusively about one single sports story — Peyton Manning’s decision to join the Denver Broncos. All other sports stories were relegated to the news ticker running at the bottom of the screen, and this was in the middle of college basketball’s “March Madness” championship tournament! What made this one story so uniquely important?
Football fans in Colorado have mixed feelings. Most are excited to have the quarterback who some have called the greatest of our era coming to Denver. Many are also saddened that it is likely to mean that last year’s “story,” Tim Tebow, may be leaving. I can understand why Manning’s decision would be considered important in Colorado — it is a source of great hope. The Broncos must now, in all likelihood, be considered favorites to win their division, possibly the AFC championship, and perhaps even the Super Bowl next season. But why would sports fans in every other state be so focused on this turn of events?
I don’t have an answer. Maybe you do. If so, leave a comment or opinion below. My best guess is that it must have something to do with the high expectations that surround a report like this. We’ll see.
I would imagine that, when you entered the ministry, you were filled with great expectations. I know I was. In time, reality sets in and those expectations are tempered by many variables — namely people, places, and chemistry between you and those you were called to serve. In some ways, your great expectations are at the mercy of others’ expectations for you. I didn’t like that part very much, but let me encourage you with a few timely passages from God’s Word.
“If the LORD delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm” (Psalms 37:23).
The Lord spoke through Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Paul wrote, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).
Paul quotes from Isaiah 64:4 when he says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
It’s all about God cheering you on! He has great expectations for you!
Sometimes, I think we forget how much faith God has in us, and we give in to our own self-doubt and challenges. Don’t do that! His hopes and dreams for you are great — even more than what you believe for yourself. You are a winner — live like it!
In John 14:12, Jesus startled Philip with the promise, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these.”
Go for it!
I never get too excited during “March Madness®,” the NCAA® men’s basketball championship tournament, which starts this week. I’ve occasionally had a favorite team or coach that I might pull for, but to be honest, I usually know very little about most of the teams in the brackets — except to say that they all must be pretty good to be listed among the 64 best in the country.
However, I do have many friends and acquaintances who really look forward to this time of year with a fervor. They know every team’s strengths and weaknesses, and celebrate every victory that advances someone to the next round of the tournament. They rejoice in every step taken toward the final prize of being named “national champion.”
The teams that play in the NCAA tournament do not get there without good coaching, hard work, in-depth planning, hours of practicing, efficient teamwork, and good execution. They all start at the bottom and work their ways toward the “Big Dance” one step at a time.
Most of us in ministry don’t begin at the “mega” level. It takes time to learn your strengths and weaknesses. There is a learning curve and cost to success, and being sensible and patient when you begin will give you the very best chance of succeeding. The Lord promises us that, if we are faithful with the small things, He will in time trust us with greater things (Matthew 25:23). But that doesn’t always mean a change of venue.
In one section of our book, The Heart of a Great Pastor, Neil Wiseman and I take a fresh look at the misguided notions of “pastoral success.”
Opportunity blindness always worsens when a pastor considers each assignment as a stepping stone to something better. Such a stance forces him to consider every pastorate as semi-temporary. In some unexplainable self-fulfilling way, his thinking causes the assignment to actually become restrictive or even suffocating. Yet, the opportunities he hopes to find in another place already exist where he resides.
Francis Bacon’s advice helps us bloom: ‘A wise man makes more opportunities than he finds.’ I would imagine that any long-term pastor has considered moving on to another place only to be reminded by the Lord, ‘I have not released you; I need you here; your work is not finished.’ ... The secret is to make our assignments ideal by blooming where God plants us.
God does not measure our success by numbers. Neither should we. I believe that, if you will determine to bloom where you are planted, opportunities will appear where before there were only walls. And rewards will come — in one form or another.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9).
The past few years have seemingly brought many of us increasingly destructive weather. In the past few days, we have heard of tornadoes, snow storms, earthquakes, and other natural disasters that have left devastation and suffering all across our nation. I sometimes think that these sudden and terrible changes to the lives of so many people have become so commonplace that we have a difficult time fully comprehending how bad and how long these hard times can really be.
Suffering, in one form or another, is a daily reality for most people. Natural disasters, automobile or work-related accidents, catastrophic or temporary illness, loss of jobs, broken relationships, or unmet expectations are just a few of the causes. How can we cope?
Years ago, I received a letter from Vonette Bright, the wife of Bill Bright — founder of Campus Crusade for Christ International. She wrote of Dr. Bright’s declining physical condition.
In the letter, she related a conversation she had with Bill and a question she asked him: “Why do you think you’re suffering? Why would God put you through this?” Bill’s immediate reply was, “I’m not suffering! It depends on the definition of suffering. Even grasping for breath for extended periods of time does not compare with what Christ went through during his trial and crucifixion. He had six hours suffocating on the cross. Think about Peter being crucified head downward, Paul’s persecution and finally being beheaded. All the disciples were persecuted and martyred, except John, who was exiled.” Dr. Bright continued, “What I am going through is very minor. Suffering is a matter of perspective. It is not pleasant . . . but God allows only so much.”
Later, when Dr. Bright’s blood oxygen level dropped to a dangerously low level, he asked his wife to read from 1 Peter: “These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold — and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold” (1 Peter 1:7, NLT).
When suffering comes, hold on to your faith, my colleague! Hold on! It’s a matter of perspective.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).
My good friend, Chris Fabry, served as my co-host for many years on our Pastor to Pastor audio series, produced by Focus on the Family when I was there ministering to pastors and their families. Chris can now be heard on the Moody Radio network as the host of his own daily program, Chris Fabry Live! And Chris is also a proficient, award-winning author. In his first novel for adults, Dogwood, the father of one of the main characters tells his son how to develop a good heart.
“You work on it [developing your heart] like anything else. It takes time and effort. Your heart is like an unplowed field. Even if you have good soil, you have to work it up and see what’s best to plant there. If you train your heart to see things, to lean toward others, to care about people rather than things, to always take advantage of an opportunity to reach out to strangers and sacrifice for your friends, you’ll wind up with a good heart.” (Dogwood, © 2008 by Chris Fabry)
James gives us some guidance related to issues of the heart: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Also, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:7-8).
Our defense from things that damage the influence of the church and our extended ministries includes: intimacy with God, a loving family, right relationships (colleagues, constituency, and leadership), adequate rest, honest accountability, a meaningful ministry, an attitude of joy and thanksgiving, constant prayer, and a vigilant spirit. We just can’t take chances. Guard your heart, my colleague!
“Righteousness guards the man if integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner” (Proverbs 13:6).
Assuming that all of the prognosticators were correct, I was planning on talking this week about Tim Tebow again and emphasizing that, even when you lose, you can get through it because you know that God is still with you. However, as you certainly know by now, Tebow and the Denver Broncos pulled off one of the great upsets of post-season history by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers this past Sunday on the first play of overtime — with a long touchdown pass.
Not to be deterred — and assuming that the Broncos will not make it to the Super Bowl, making this analogy eventually work — I have decided to say what I was planning to say anyway. There are four NFL teams who played this weekend for whom it applies today, in any case.
The work that you and I have been called to is filled with disappointments and "emotional speed bumps." But our directive is to continue loving and serving God and His children in spite of setbacks and missteps. We are never the healer — God is. We are neither the judge nor jury — God is. But we are His agents for change, and we must never grow weary of trying. Why? Listen to the apostle Paul: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Galatians 6:9-10).
I can honestly tell you there have been times when I have been weary in well-doing in spite of the Scripture's admonition not to give up. I have wondered, as you have, if there was strength sufficient to complete the journey. But I labored on, resisting the temptation to give it up, knowing inside I could not reject the call that our Lord had placed upon my life.
No doubt you have used the familiar phrase in Matthew 11:28 many times: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Have you read that passage lately? What does it mean to you?
May I expand that question and provide you with at least a glimpse into the words of Jesus? To me, it says: When faced with the pressures and challenges of our assignments, the Lord asks us to surrender to His loving yoke and experience His perfect rest, His strong arm around our shoulders.
So, hold your head high. You're doing a great work, and there will be many who join you around God's throne because of your faithfulness.
"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:29-30).
This is the first week of a new year. What do you plan to do in the next 365 days? What will you determine to accomplish? A lot of people make resolutions for the new year. I don’t do that because a resolution is more of an end than a means to reaching that end. Without a plan, a resolution usually becomes a wish or hope instead of a strategic reality. And a plan for the new year will involve a plan for each day.
Do you begin each day with a purpose in mind? Do you have goals for each day, or do you just start your day with no specifics in mind? When we have a plan, we have strategic steps for accomplishing something. And, as believers, we know that God must be an important part of that plan. "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (James 4:14).
Each of us must surrender our plans to the Lord each day. He will orchestrate the day, but He needs to know we are workers who are diligent and productive. In fact, if we know what should be done and can be done to God's glory, and we fail to seize the opportunity, we have failed God. James calls it sin: ''Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins" (James 4: 17).
My colleague, today will pass by quickly. When the day is over, what will you have contributed to the greater good, and how will you have embraced God's plan? The ministry is one calling that can be easily shortchanged. Please do not make that mistake. Your contribution is much too important.
"Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men" (Ephesians 6:7).
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