Hey! Did you hear? We had a national election for President of the United States this month! It is one of the most important responsibilities we have as Americans — to elect our nation’s leaders. Congratulations to Donald J. Trump on his victory to become our next president, and condolences to Hillary R. Clinton in one of her saddest of moments, I’m sure. Both campaigned long and hard, as it should be. One won, and one lost. May God bless and oversee them both. And now we need to rally behind those who were elected at all levels of government as we move forward.

election-riots-250x140I have been utterly shocked into disbelief, however, to see the nasty and violent reactions of so many Americans and others, whether in anger or joy. I realize that, even with all of the protests and riots and bitterness, we are still talking about a very small percentage of our citizens, but it is still disturbing. And some even say they have seen the buses bringing in what appear to be professional rioters and protesters, indicating that a lot of what we are hearing and seeing on the news is orchestrated and political in motivation, and not truly the behavior of average citizens.

gods-love-250x275What really scares me, though, is that there seems to be so much hatred out there. And it seems to run quite deeply. Lots of ruthless name-calling and labeling have been going on since even before the election. I sense a lot of disunity in our nation right now, and it needs healing. What do you imagine your role could be or should be, my colleague, in bringing about unity and peace?

I looked up the word hate and found it defined as detest, abhor, loathe, and despise. All of these words are terrible when focused on another individual. They speak of feelings so strong toward another person that one’s actions, words, and attitudes are controlled by them.

Yet the Bible uses the word hate to describe both positive and negative reactions. For instance, Jesus said, “All men will hate you because of me” (Luke 21:17). That’s a good thing for His followers. Paul wrote, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). That is a positive emotion for the Christian. John reminds us that if anyone claims to love God, but hates his brother (1 John 4:20), it is unacceptable.

It’s the last verse that confuses me. How can any of us who call ourselves by the name of Christ justify feelings so intense that we find ourselves — in mind and body — out of control?

no-hatred-250x250Election fury, road rage, spousal abuse, racism, and intolerance are all a part of the human condition. That’s a bad thing. Yet, hate also exists in the church. I’m afraid as clergy we have tolerated for too long these things in our own congregations. Where sin abides … the Spirit will not. Let’s “hate hate” in Jesus’ name and speak boldly against it!

“If anyone boasts, ‘I love God,’ and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both” (1 John 4:20-21, MSG).

being-the-church-250x250Let’s face it, the church really needs to wake up and realize that our effectiveness and credibility come from “the church being the church” and not a finely tuned image campaign that creates a mirage. In many ways, the church is a mile wide and an inch deep. There are lots of folks who have been so deluded by our feel-good approach to the gospel that they are missing the born-again experience.

I will continue to be respectful of my critics, but I will not allow their watchdog mentality to stifle a message that I believe is from the Lord.

I often agonize for you, my friends, over the power players you must deal with on a weekly (or daily) basis. But you cannot allow yourself to be emasculated or let the message God has placed in your heart be weakened, even if it makes some people uncomfortable.

Paul wrote, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

stand-firm-250x150“I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone” (Titus 3:8, MSG).

Every day I deal with pastors who put themselves and their earthly passions above their call and their ministry. Nothing hurts the body of Christ more than a halfhearted dedication to the call of God to “tend the flock.”

I have been called, and assigned, for such a time as this — and so have you. You, in so many ways, are the comfort and grace of Christ to those you serve, and to our nation. Please stay strong, stay focused, stay pure, stay connected to the One who called you in the first place. You are vital to the world you serve.

psalm16_8-250x385The battles you engage in are His battles. The circumstances you face are familiar to Him. The burdens you bear may be placed on His shoulders with His permission. The weapons formed against you are, in a real sense, formed against Him, and they will not prosper. Nothing will ever separate you from His love or care.

We have a responsibility to lead our own people and our entire nation into a God-pleasing place. Yet, so often, under the pressure of our assignments, we feel we must “make it work” on our own or else. Not so! Your church is God’s church. Your call came not from man, but from God. He guides each step you take. Please do not ever forget that!

Our country and our world need you right now. You will be an instrument of peace and harmony if you let God use you as He wants. Start today.

“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

clergyappreciationmonth19-250x188We are in the midst of Clergy Appreciation Month. It is a time when congregations are encouraged to honor, thank, and celebrate their pastoral staffs. It is an important time because we all know that being a pastor can often become discouraging, disappointing, depressing, and even destructive. Knowing that someone cares, knowing that you are making a difference, and being recognized by the people you love and serve can be a shot in the arm, a rebirth of compassion and commitment, a boost in your soul. I truly pray that your congregation has already done and perhaps is still doing something special, something tangible to let you know how much they value you. (By the way, even if you are not among the fortunate few for whom this is true, do not be disheartened or think that you are not appreciated by your people. You are worthy and loved.)

In the book of Hebrews are words written to a group of people about their pastors: “Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden” (Hebrews 13:17).

joy-250x250I thought a bit about what that phrase really means — “joy, not a burden.” I’m sure it does not mean people are just to be robotic yes-men to their pastors. Rather, they are to honor the divine calling of their pastors and conduct themselves in a way that brings joy to pastoring.

What would make ministry joyful for you? Here are a few thoughts:

  • People who continue to show growth in their walk with the Lord.
  • People who have a genuine concern for their brothers and sisters in the faith.
  • People who do not turn a deaf ear to the lost.
  • People who walk by faith and not by sight.
  • People who pray rather than faint.
  • People who are drawn to peace rather than contention.
  • People whose self-image is based on who they are in Christ rather than what they accomplish by themselves.
  • People who pass the torch of righteousness to the next generation.
  • People who love the church and give themselves to it.

I think each of us has a “joy meter” that registers what gives us joy and how much joy we experience. Please don’t let yours be based on what happens around you more than on your contentment in Christ and the job He has given you to do. Rejoice!

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

joy-vs-happiness-250x170Of course, my colleague, we are all aware that joy and happiness are two completely different things. It seems to me that joy comes from God, while happiness comes from circumstances or others. We can still be joyful even when we are unhappy about something. I pray that, as pastors, you can always claim joy even when everything around you is not perfect.

There was an article several years ago in the Christian Post reporting on a survey conducted by the University of Chicago. The survey found that being in the clergy was the top job for satisfaction among American workers: 87 percent of the pastors surveyed reported they were very satisfied. The exact quote was: “Pastors — perceived to be some of the most under-appreciated and on-demand workers in America — are actually the happiest and most satisfied in their jobs.”

clergyappreciationmonth9-250x167Now, get this! In addition to being the most satisfied, pastors also outranked other American workers as being the happiest (67 percent). It was interesting to note that doctors and lawyers did not make the list of the top 12 most-satisfied or happiest. At the bottom of the “happy” list were garage and service station workers (13 percent) and roofers (14 percent).

What made pastors the happiest workers in the land? Is it still true? Do you think it is based on the same criteria that makes other professions happy, or could it be because we are uniquely called and, in fact, our jobs are really not “jobs” as such? Could it be because we give hope to people and help them find the Lord? And, sometimes, we are humbled when they show their appreciation back for us?

clergyappreciationmonth23-250x183Are you joyful — if so, why? Are you happy — if so, why? Are you satisfied — if so, why? If not, why not?

The dictionary defines happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment.” Is that how you would define it? Just something to think about.

Happy Clergy Appreciation Month! We love you and treasure what you do for our Lord!

“But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

Central ParkCentral Park is a great place. Suddenly, you are out of the hustle and bustle of New York City, and you are experiencing trees and water, people enjoying times with their children, a ride on the Ferris wheel, an ice cream cone, or some time to just sit on a park bench, feed the birds, or read a newspaper. The park is, for many, an oasis.

But here are the thoughts that kept coming to my mind as I recently shouldered my way through the crowds and sat and watched parents with their kids in Central Park: Who of them know Jesus as their Lord and Savior? How many of them really know how much God loves them? And, if they don’t know, who will tell them? Of course, there were street preachers — but no one really stopped to listen. I’m sure many of the people I saw are believers, but likely, the majority have never been born again.

So what? Well, the next question is, what do we do with John 3:18: “But whoever does not believe stands condemned”? My answer: Take our evangelistic task seriously and work harder. Double our passion. Be intentional. Never give up on anyone. Reach and preach for a decision.

 "Apostle Paul on Trial" by Nikolai Bodarevsky

“Apostle Paul on Trial” by Nikolai Bodarevsky

Do you recall the incident in Acts 26 when Paul was in a discussion with King Agrippa? Paul had been called insane by the king, but the apostle would not be silenced. The king finally asked Paul if he, in such a short time, would try to persuade him to be a Christian. Remember Paul’s response? “Short time or long — I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains” (v. 29). That was a debate Paul won — yet, in the world’s view, lost.

Today, this is still our great challenge. How can we as pastors and Christian leaders make such a compelling case for salvation in Christ that people will be persuaded to accept it? The most important decision people will ever make is not who will be president, but where they will spend eternity. This is one debate we dare not lose. We must care deeply and fight endlessly for their souls. However, don’t forget that we do not work alone. The Holy Spirit prepares the hearts of others and ultimately convinces them of their need for a savior as we serve beside Him.

The scripture is pretty plain. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

faith-in-jesus-christ-alone-250x250I know we must be tolerant of other faiths — even though, when I was a kid, I thought the only ones getting into heaven had to believe like me. But I worry how healthy it is for the church to become so inclusive and accepting that, in our preaching and teaching, we fail to draw a very important line in the sand that cannot be compromised — namely, faith in Jesus Christ alone.

During our Sunday school days, we memorized a lovely verse: “For God [whose God?] so loved the world [what world?] that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever [anyone?] believes [accepts] in Him [as God’s only Son] shall not perish [be lost], but have eternal [forever!] life [in heaven with God].”

The bottom line for all of us, my colleague, remains — “Is anyone being saved here?” How do we return to that passion? We do it by pointing people from survival to surrender, to the power and love of God. That is our answer. And, by the way, thank you for all you do to point people to Jesus!

“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:3-5).

As we take our evangelistic responsibility seriously, we cannot depend on the personal crises or scary events in the world to drive men and women into the church, or even to Christ. The only thing that will accomplish that goal is for mankind to realize that they are lost without Jesus. Foxhole conversions are few and far between, and not particularly lasting. The most effective way to turn people’s hearts to God is through the genuine witness of those who have embraced our Lord and who, with childlike excitement, share that good news (Mark 16:15).

franklin-avenue-baptist-congregation-250x160Each Sunday (or weekend) gives us clergy the opportunity to encourage our people to live lives of faith and courage, to engage their friends and family in meaningful conversation about the value of being born again (John 3:7). Is there a more important message? I think not.

An elderly pastor once quoted an old saying to me: “Don’t forget, son. The light that shines brightest at home can be seen farthest away!” The light of your local church ministry should shine so brightly that the world is influenced by its vitality and vision. Pastor, encourage your people to be light in a dark world.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Every four years, when the summer Olympic Games roll around, I become engrossed in sports that I have not heard anything about since the last games. Sports like double trap shooting, judo, fencing, canoeing/kayaking, and badminton don’t usually make headlines outside of a country winning the gold medal. The players may never be heard from again, but their gold medals are forever a source of pride for their countries.

We are currently in the midst of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There are 207 nations (between 8,255 and 10,500 athletes) participating in 306 events in 28 sports in 37 venues. We are witnessing some of the most historical athletic endeavors of all time. Michael Phelps now has the most Olympic gold medals of any individual in the history of the games — 23 gold, 3 silver, and 2 bronze. Usain Bolt has proven that he is the fastest man alive by winning his third straight Olympic gold medal in the 100 meter dash. And, even though it is her first Olympics, Simone Biles is already being acclaimed as the greatest female gymnast of all time.

There are several traits that all of these Olympic athletes have in common, among which are focus, repetition, passion, and perseverance. This is a great lesson for folks like you and me: to “run,” as the writer to the Hebrews expressed, “with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). Or to persevere, as James expressed: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life” (James 1:12). Paul exclaimed in his farewell address, “If only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me” (Acts 20:24). And again, he admonished Timothy, “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5).

When God called you, He did so with the full expectation that you would be a winner, not a whiner — that you would finish the race with joy, not drop out along the way. Paul looked back on his life and ministry saying, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). He was eligible for the prize … the crown.

So are you, my colleague, but you must fight the good fight — finish the race — and no matter what, keep the faith! You may never receive a gold medal, but if you remain faithful, the Righteous Judge will award you something much better: His approval, His recognition, His blessing. So be prepared: The finish line lies before you! Go for it! And do it with enthusiasm.

The apostle Paul admonished the church at Corinth to also aim for perfection (2 Corinthians 13:11). In other words, do your best, be your best, hope for the best. The pursuit of excellence is a repeated story in the sports world. Reporters often write about:

1. Preparation
2. Recruitment
3. Performance
4. Coaching
5. Teamwork
6. Players at skilled positions
7. Study of the playbook
8. Second effort
9. Testings and challenges
10. Minimizing the turnovers
11. Will to win

And the list goes on.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it, my colleague? The thing we have going for us is that, in our big games, there are no losers. You are a player/coach on the winning team in a struggle for the hearts and souls of all mankind. We may not succeed on every play, but one day when the final whistle blows, we’ll know “we are more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37).

At the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, I once visited an exhibit titled “Praxis — Athletes” by an artist named Kyriacos Lazarides. The paintings were all abstracts of famous Olympic athletes without names attached. There were gymnasts, runners, lifters, skiers, cyclists — you name it. In the mix of the paintings was a framed quote that caught my eye: “Praxis is not only to try and to give up, but praxis is also to penetrate, to fight, to win and to lose, to kneel down, to get up, to stimulate and to accept struggle and fight until the last breath.” It really reflects the Olympic spirit — it also calls to mind the commitment you must make to the challenge you face in life and ministry. That “never give up” spirit personifies who you are in Christ.

It reminds me of the challenge and promise our God issued to Joshua as he took the mantle of leadership from Moses: “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).

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:25).

Violence 250x167The current year is just a little more than halfway over. Apart from the frightening carnival that this year’s presidential election has become, what would you say is the biggest category of news story that is being reported and debated throughout the country and the world? Watching the nightly news and checking the Internet, my guess would be the stories on increasing, unnecessary, and unconscionable violence around the planet.

For example, just recently there was Thursday’s attack in Nice, France, when a large truck driving through Bastille Day crowds killed 84 people, many of them children. Also on Thursday, July 14, Baltimore police officers, responding to the sound of gunshots near an apartment building, fatally shot a man who fired at them with an AR-15-style rifle, authorities said. Also from yesterday, a Philadelphia father has been charged with waving a gun around a bedroom with seven children present until it went off, killing his 4-year-old daughter. An Indianapolis man was accused of firing shots into a police officer’s home on Tuesday, July 12, as his wife and child slept. And last week, on July 7, the Dallas Police Department became the first in the nation to use a robot to deliver and detonateViolence gun 250x156 a bomb to blow up suspect Micah Johnson, ending a night of terror in which he shot 14 officers, killing five of them, and also wounded two civilians. On July 6, in St. Paul, a black Minnesota man was allegedly shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop. In Phoenix, a man was shot dead on June 10 as he sat in his car in front of his girlfriend’s house by a suspect who was identified later that week as the city’s first serial killer in a decade. Today like never before, violent extremists of all kinds are not just killing others in cold blood, but they are deliberately targeting young people with poisonous propaganda — especially in cyberspace, where they are flooding social media with slick recruiting videos and persuasive calls to action.

Sin separates 250x125Folks, we have a problem. And it’s not a new one. At the heart of each of the violent acts being carried out around our world is the same condition — sin! And what is the only remedy? Belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who came to earth as a man, lived a sinless life, was crucified and thereby paid the debt each of us owed for our sins, then rose again to conquer death forever and provide us with everlasting life. God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us.

Now, how does this work today? A significant part of the plan is the local pastor — you! “Why do we need pastors?” some will ask. Well, let me tell you why we need you now — at your best — more than ever.

Role Of The Pastor 250x167First: We need stability. The nation — the world — is spinning out of control. We need you steadfast and sure to point us to God. We need your leadership.

Second: There are so many questions. Why war? Why killings of the innocent in schools? Why so much corruption in our government? Why the lack of moral outrage? Why is the church so hesitant to get involved? Where do you find answers? We need to know what you think. We need your wisdom.

Third: Christianity is under attack. Everywhere I turn, I see the liberal media taking shots at Christ and those who follow Him. We need you to encourage us, to guide us to keep up the good fight.

Fourth: We see truth undermined at every turn. In Bible days, it was said that people did what was right in their own eyes. Not so different than today, huh? It is not so much what man says — we need to know what God is saying. We need you to tell us, “Thus says the Lord.”

Fifth: We need consistency. We need to be able to look at you and know that you practice what you preach. We need to see a renewal of faith in you and what you represent. We need to be able to trust your morals, your commitment, and your determination. We want to do that with confidence. We need you now more than ever … at your best!

Christian family 250x188In a little-quoted scripture, the writer of Hebrews proclaims, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).

The next truth to keep in mind is that you are not expected to do it alone. You cannot change the nature of man by yourself. You are to lead your church into the battle. The Church of Christ is the Body of our Lord. Its various members have assigned tasks and abilities that will allow It to do the will of Jesus in this perverted world. Prepare it to do so.

Your job? To pray without ceasing for your people. How do you pray for your church? Consider the following:

Pray …

Prayer - a passion for God 250x225► For the hearts of your people to blaze with love and loyalty to Christ our King and Lord of all.

► For church members to recognize their sin and openly confess the many ways they have grieved God. To seek forgiveness and renewal.

► That God would draw near to His people, revealing His presence with times of refreshing like water on a parched desert.

► For reconciliation, the removal of divisions and hostilities — for the church to work in unity.

► For a renewed passion for those who represent the least, the lost, and the lonely (such as those who resort to violence).

► That the church might be the initiating agent to eradicate loneliness and sin around the world through Jesus Christ.

A Big God 250x200When you pray, how do you pray for your church family? How do they pray for themselves? The early church “joined together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:14). I believe the local church — your church — is the catalyst for real transformation in our nation. But it can happen only as we are willing to pray urgently, humbly, and often.

Pray, brother, pray! Pray, sister, pray!

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Love-cross 250x150And, as you pray for them, they will respond in love — for you, for one another, for those they know personally, and for those they do not know personally, for the world. Love begets love. When you love your people genuinely, they will love you back and then some.

Over the years, that fact has been proven to me again and again. From many whose names I could not remember, and faces I could not identify, have come words of thanks and blessings for my loving them and standing in the gap for their families and marriages. As pastors, we make a difference more often than we could ever imagine.

There is a dangerous trend I see in the church — where the pastor wants to be served and stands aloof from the people of his pasture. I promise you that, years from now — no, weeks from now — your people will scarcely remember the sermons you preached. But I promise, they will never forget the love you showed to them and the joy you expressed at being called their pastor. They will Forgiveness from sin 250x188remember how you led them in the ways of Christ Jesus. They will see the power of the Lord as the resolution to the sin that is so violently prevalent today. They will
then make a difference.

“It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart” (Philippians 1:7).

Fathers-Day3-250x166Father’s Day shines bright this month. 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 Men-in-church-1-250x166activity. 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.

Men-in-church-3-250x167I 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.

Mens-Fellowship-250x290Your 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).

Election 2016 - Obama Overreach 250x317Have you been following the emotional election nomination process of the past several months? Have you been keeping track of how our government officials (at all levels) have repeatedly and blatantly misused the constitutional powers of their offices? Have you been staying updated on the explosive political and military situations in the Middle East, Russia, and Korea? How about the radical policies being forced upon your local schools, your kids, or maybe even your church? Or the increase in the volume, nature, and intensity of crime in general across this nation? Or just the problems arising within your congregation or perhaps your home? Have you noticed that we live in a world more characterized by hate than at any other time in history? Things are out of control.

Personal Prayer 250x210My colleagues, it seems to me that things are so bad and threatening these days that no human effort could make even a dent towards fixing or improving what is going on around us. And that, of course, leads me to our obvious and growing need for inhuman, supernatural, divine help. And we seek and request that Godly remedy — including the power to sustain ourselves — through prayer … powerful personal prayer! It is needed more than ever.

Of course, most of you know that May 5 this year was the National Day of Prayer. I hope you and your people participated in this very important event and its activities held all around the country.

I remember a time in the early days of my pastoral ministry when I was facing a very difficult situation. I decided to share my burden with an older gentleman in the congregation whom I admired greatly for his spiritual insight. I poured out my heart to this wise man and then sat back awaiting his response. After several moments of silence, he looked over his eyeglasses at me and simply said, ‘Pray, brother, pray.”

I’m not sure that was the answer I was looking for, but it was the answer I needed. As the prayers I prayed were answered, his advice proved to be invaluable. So, whatever you might be currently facing — personally or nationally or internationally — I’d like to pass these words of wisdom on to you, my colleagues: “Pray, brother (sister), pray!”

Man in Prayer 250x167I do not know all I would like to know about prayer and how it works, but I do know from my own experience that the prayer of the intercessor is powerful. It projects faith and love in the name of Jesus Christ. As Paul taught: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

The psalmist David wrote, “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth” (Psalm 86:11). He was probably referring to the things he learned both through experience and meditation after he had prayed. He seemed to keep asking God to “Hear my prayer.”

I learn a lot through my private prayer life, especially when I can just be quiet and talk to the Father as a son. It’s after the prayer, when I reflect on our conversation, that I most often hear from God or, at least, find direction.

When I pray, I find myself removed from the norm of my everyday activity. All formality aside, I just communicate my feelings, and often my frustrations and fears. In the end, I don’t always ask for much. I just talk and then, when it’s over (my part), I listen.

Prayer Conversation 250x250There were a lot of years during which I was guided by the “A-C-T-S” formula for praying (Affirmation, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). But as the years have passed, my time with the Lord has become less emotional, not as animated, and much more conversational and intimate. I still wonder why we make such a show of prayer in public and why we need to pray so predictably. God listens when His children humbly and faithfully seek His face, whether our concern is over a disobedient child or an international tyrant.

Remember the Lord’s instruction regarding simple prayer in Matthew 6:5-6, before He taught the disciples how to pray? “And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. … Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace” (MSG).

WriteYourOwnStory 250x333The last paragraph of the Gospel of John ends, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25). This passage makes me think about you and your story. You have a story — an amazing story of God’s grace and goodness. Have you ever written it down? Have you taken the time to start at the beginning and chronicle the events and miracle moments of your life?

Oh, I’m not saying you should do it for publication — but for your own sake. Yes, you face many challenges, but if you would make the time to “write your story,” I think you would find that it would be filled with many more good times than bad.

How do you begin? Just start writing things down, beginning today. That’s what I did.

For instance, talk about your childhood and those who influenced you. You will find angels in that chapter.

How did you meet your spouse? Who you are and what you accomplish can often be traced to that moment.

How did you enter into the ministry? What brought about that call? Did it happen suddenly in a service or at camp, or was it through a series of unmistakable divine interventions in your life?

Challenges Ahead 250x324What about the challenges, both personal and professional? We have all faced both sorrow and happiness. Each one of us has known failure, but we have also experienced victory. What about the miracles of God’s grace that have caused you to shake your head and say, “He really does care about me.” Write it down — let other people read it. Use it as a testimony.

Consider this. You have probably gone through situations that caused you pain, but you made it and now you are on the other side. How you dealt with those circumstances might be helpful to you when you are faced with a similar reality. You have likely gained wisdom by the ways you have handled or mishandled successful times, as well. All of these experiences may also help someone else, perhaps another pastor.

I would imagine you’ve learned several hard lessons as a parent and spouse — and maybe you (and we all) could benefit from what you went through. Your diary or journal would contain remembrances of good times and bad, successes and failures. You would be reminded of times when you were a good mom or dad and when you made some mistakes.

WriteYourStoryNow 250x123You would come face to face again with ministry issues that changed your life. For instance: “Today, I made a decision to move on. I will assume the leadership of a new congregation. My wife and family are thrilled. I feel I should have had a better chance to turn things around here.”

Or . . . “My son needed me today, but I had pastoral duties that would not allow me the time to be the dad I wanted to be. I hope he will understand.”

Or . . . “I’m sad today. The baby we had been praying for died. I was there with the family, but I didn’t have answers. I could only say, ‘God loves you now more than ever.’ They seemed to appreciate my concern and prayers.”

Or . . . “I was at lunch today with a man in our community. As we talked, I could see he was hungry for a new life. I led him to Jesus Christ. It was awesome. What a day!”

Or . . . “Sunday came too quickly this week. I didn’t have time to prepare well — but God helped me. Some said it was the best sermon I have ever delivered. I think it’s because I had to trust Him more.”

LearnFromYourPast 250x141Our stories should be told if for no one else but our families. Think of the blessings you would experience if you had such a book from your parents, other relatives, or significant people in your life. Please consider doing this. You, my colleague, have a story — tell it!

“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago” (Psalm 77:11).

“Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced” (Psalm 105:4-5).

Easter_crosses_250x250A lot happened to our Lord Jesus Christ on three of the four days leading to Easter. The story is primarily recorded in the first four books of the New Testament — the Gospels. And, since we have largely learned this account by reading about it in a book, it can become quite easy to push it into that distant place in our minds where we store stories — to give it a polished, almost two-dimensional perspective without the dirt, grime, pain, agony, loneliness, loss, fear, and eventual amazement that were all part of it even touching us. It is too easy to forget that it was real. It actually happened — with all of the human experiences and emotions that we ourselves know all too well.

Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci 1495 444x250
“The Last Supper” by Leonardo Da Vinci – 1495

However you choose to celebrate Easter, it will be a time of remembering. You will feel the emotion of that last supper when Jesus — His heart broken — observed His faithful brothers and washed their feet. You will be reminded of that awful moment when one of those trusted disciples sold Him out for a paltry sum. You will remember His sadness when He went away to pray while those He would leave behind to lead the church slept. And there was the roughness with which the soldiers treated Him as He was arrested. You will recall the spectacle of the trial, the mocking of the crowd, and the haughty trade of Jesus for a real criminal. And how can you fail to remember the journey to the cross and creation’s reaction as Jesus endured agony and death?

The Passion of the Christ 250x375When I first viewed Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, I was mesmerized by the film. When it was over, I walked alone in the Colorado evening and just talked to my Lord. I remember saying to Him, “I don’t ever want to hurt You — You have suffered so much.” I was reminded on that Easter evening that the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection were real — not fiction, not a church pageant, not the figment of one’s imagination. It was real! Your people need to understand that and experience His full presence.

Christ in Gethsemane by Heinrich Hofmann 1890 250x350
“Christ in Gethsemane” by Heinrich Hofmann – 1890

Let’s look briefly at those brutal and astonishing days. According to the Gospels, Thursday was busy — from the preparation for the Passover (Luke 22:7-23), to the last meal Jesus and His disciples shared (Matthew 26:21-24), to the garden where Judas betrayed Jesus (Matthew 26:47-50), to the arrest, Peter’s denial (Luke 22:60-62), and the appearance of our Lord before the high priest (Matthew 26:57-66).

Then, in Mark 15, Luke 23, and Matthew 27, we follow Christ from early Friday morning through the evening — from Pilate, to the cross, and then to the tomb. As He was nailed to that cross, it was the weight of a world’s sin on His shoulders that was crushing Him, the reality that He who knew no sin was made to bear the sin of all mankind. Yet, always remember that we serve a resurrected Lord, not a suffering Savior.

But before that triumphant morning, there was the agony of the cross. We must also never forget that. “One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear” (John 19:34). “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).

Crucifixion-250x162The suffering of Christ was reality — real pain, real blood, real loneliness, and real betrayal. It is all a part of the Easter miracle. I urge you to preach it! “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Early 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! It is Easter. Resurrection Day! We have the silence of a Saturday to contemplate the meaning and reality of the crucifixion, 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.

Salvation at the Cross 250x170So, what about the reality of 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 truly lost souls the way to eternal life.

CrossCelebration-500x250Your people need to remember that Easter was and is for them. It was real! And it still is! “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’” (Matthew 28:5-7).

Season of Lent 250x250I like to observe many of the holy days of the Christian Church calendar. I guess I grew up doing so and I continue to find that they help me focus on the life of Christ and the life that the believer should be following. The Season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which was just observed by many Christians last week. It typically concludes on Easter Sunday.

Now, since many of you do not pastor in denominations that closely follow the Church calendar, you may not be very familiar with this season, and I thought it might be interesting to examine the history of Lent. I found a well-written piece on this subject by an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Rev. Kenneth W. Collins (B.A., M.Div). So, rather than “reinvent the wheel,” so to speak, I wanted to share an edited portion of his explanation from his web site (which I recognize is only one version). He also includes a section on why he thinks many Christians do not celebrate this Church holiday:

Lent is a forty-day period before Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday. We skip Sundays when we count the forty days, because Sundays commemorate the Resurrection. Lent begins on 10 February 2016 and ends on 26 March 2016, which is the day before Easter. …

"Christ in the Wilderness" by Ivan Kramskoi
“Christ in the Wilderness” by Ivan Kramskoi

Lent is a season of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock. Lent originated in the very earliest days of the Church as a preparatory time for Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the forty days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days. All churches that have a continuous history extending before AD 1500 observe Lent. The ancient church that wrote, collected, canonized, and propagated the New Testament also observed Lent, believing it to be a commandment from the apostles. (See The Apostolic Constitutions, Book V, Section III.) …

Lent began in the apostolic era and was universal in the ancient church. For this reason, Lent is observed by the various Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and Anglican denominations, by Roman Catholics, and by Eastern Orthodox Churches.

It is much easier to explain who stopped observing it and why.

Didache (Teachings of the Apostles)
Didache (Teachings of the Apostles)

In the 16th century, many Calvinists and Anabaptists discarded all Christian holy days, on the theory that they were Roman innovations. That was their best information at the time, but today we know that they were wrong. In the late 19th century, ancient Christian documents came to light. The Didache from the first century, the Apostolic Constitutions from the third century, and the diaries of Egeria of the fourth century; all which give evidence of the Christian calendar and holy days. The Didache and the Apostolic Constitutions were written in the east, which denies it ever recognized the institution of the papacy. Egeria was a Spanish nun, but her writings also describe practices in the east. All of these documents came to light 300 years after it was too late for the groups who had already discarded Christian holy days.

In many cases, Rome was the last place to observe the holy days. For example, the idea of moving All Saints Day to November 1 did not reach Rome until 700 years after it originated in England, and the idea of celebrating Holy Week as Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, was quite elaborate in Jerusalem before the early fourth century, but did not spread to Rome until the 11th century. Advent began in medieval Gaul and spread to Rome from there. Lent, on the other hand, appears to have originated in the apostolic age. The Apostolic Constitutions attribute the observance of Lent to an apostolic commandment. We can’t verify that, but we also can’t disprove it.

Draw-Near-to-God-James-4-8 - 250x250The Anabaptists gave rise to or influenced the Amish, the Mennonites, the Baptists, and the Plymouth Brethren. The Puritans, who were Calvinists, had similar views on worship, which is why they made Christmas illegal in Massachusetts at one time. (Some Mennonites, however, never rejected the Christian holy days.)

In the United States in the 19th century, the established denominations were slow to spread west of the Appalachians, which was the frontier at the time. The area was thinly populated and there were very few seminary-trained clergy. The lay people had been converted at camp meetings without any church background. They were influenced by the groups that had rejected Christian holy days, but frontier conditions were not conducive to structured liturgical worship anyway. They weren’t aware of the Christian holy days, and they didn’t have the equipment, the facilities, the education, the authorization, or the training to conduct liturgical worship. Therefore most of the religious groups that were formed in the United States in the 19th century do not have a custom of observing Lent. This environment had some influence on individual congregations in denominations that have historically observed the Christian holy days—so you will occasionally find a Methodist church that does not observe Lent.

Gradually, the holy days have returned to the churches that had lost them. The restoration quickly began with Easter. Christmas followed in the 19th century, and Advent and Holy Week became widespread among them in the 20th century. Lent is mounting a come-back in the 21st century.

─ Copyright ©1995-2016 by the Rev. Kenneth W. Collins. Reprinted with permission.
http://www.kencollins.com/holydays/holy-04.html

Lent-Submit to God - 250x300Let me be very clear, my colleague. I am not trying to persuade anyone that they should observe Lent. As Rev. Collins himself says on his web site: Do not allow my persuasive writing style to overcome your skepticism: weigh my words, check my facts, and accept only what passes muster. Don’t agree with me without first putting me to the test, which is your duty according to 1 John 4:1-3. I share this information only because I find it interesting.

For those of you who already participate in this annual activity, I believe that — for you — the Lenten Season should be much more than planning for a big crowd and festive weekend. It should also be a time of personal preparation for your heart, your attitude, your message, and your relationship with the risen Christ. The apostle Paul wrote, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:2-5).

As a pastor, I used the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday to call my people to a time of personal examination. Every service, including midweek, had an Easter theme that would draw people along the road to Jerusalem, to the foot of the cross, and into the celebration of the empty tomb.

Lent - RenewaL 250x250

During the Lenten Season, I would ask our congregation:

  1. Who among us has someone to forgive?
  2. Who among us has a blockage that would keep the Holy Spirit from moving freely in his or her life?
  3. Who among us has allowed his or her relationship with the risen Lord to stagnate?

What if, during this time of preparation, you guided your people to a new plateau of intimacy with Jesus? (Of course, it is nearly impossible to guide another to a place you haven’t been to or experienced yourself.) The celebration of Easter can hold great significance, especially to the new believer. I pray that your Easter activities will be underscored by the Spirit’s power.

“Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).