“Happy Valentines Day” by DJ Elcy

When was the last time you and your spouse went on a marriage retreat? I’m not talking about one that you might have been conducting or at which you were speaking. I mean a genuine marriage retreat at which you were a participating couple. (I hope that you are not someone who thinks attending such a retreat is a sign of weakness or trouble in your marriage, because that is simply not so. A little marriage check is good for all of us every once in a while.)

As you celebrated Valentine’s Day this week, I do hope you made your spouse feel special. And, while your spouse is your primary concern on this holiday, it wouldn’t hurt to include your children in that expression of love. Love your family — because, sometimes in the heat and busyness of ministry, they are forgotten, left out, left alone.

A strong family requires more than a comfortable bank account, expensive house, respectable neighborhood, or top-notch schools. It exists only on a minister’s wish list until it is a lived-out relationship, characterized by love and hard work among those who occupy the same household. The primary impediments to a strong ministerial family are not church politics or other environmental disadvantages. Instead, impediments arise from the lack of lived-out love in the couple for each other and for their children.

Strengthening clergy families demands an intentional commitment to the abiding values of the home. Whatever the minister’s family has is contagious in the church, either good or bad. Society will be strengthened when the homes of spiritual leaders are improved. Here are some guidelines:

  1. Consider the advantages of being a ministry family.
  2. Strive to please the people who matter most.
  3. Get your family in tune with God.
  4. Feed faith to your children.
  5. Refuse to blame common problems on the ministry.
  6. View your family as a gift you give yourself.

You know how hectic our schedules as pastors can be. Several years ago, a leadership survey reported that 81 percent of ministers said insufficient time with their spouses was a major problem, by far the most common concern. Likewise, when I was serving in the Pastoral Ministries Department at Focus on the Family, we would ask ministers about the greatest danger facing them and their families. The overwhelming answer was lack of time.

What would happen if you asked your spouse and children how they feel about your schedule? Do they ever feel they take second place to your profession? Find out whether your children think being a PK is a positive or negative experience.

Do you engage in activities that strengthen the bonds between you, your spouse, and your children? Why not surprise them when your brood gets home from school today with a special activity together. Or, if your kids are grown, just give them a call and tell them how much they mean to you. Or, if you and your children have been at odds over something, use this day as an opportunity to clear the air.

Does your family know how you feel? I pray that, without a doubt, they realize you love them more than anything. And I pray they know it because of your actions, not just your words.

Many years ago, my dad passed away. He had grown old and, suddenly one day, he just died. It was a pivotal moment for me. As an only child, I had to step up and assume the role as head of the family.

I still think about my dad just about every day. He was a part of a generation of clergy who, for some reason, thought the church was more important than family. He was a great dad in that he gave me everything I ever wanted, but he failed as a father because, as I was growing up, he didn’t have time for me. Maybe you had the same experience — whether your dad was a pastor or not.

The reason I tell you this is to remind you of your role as husband, father (or wife, mother), and spiritual leader of your home and family. I don’t want you to have any regrets. I know it’s trite, but the most important people in your congregation, in your life, are your spouse and children.

At home, talk about things other than the church. (Unfortunately, we never did that.) Take time to establish memories aside from church activity. (I don’t remember many of those times.) And, whatever you do, model love before your children for your spouse.

Tell your family members often how much you love them — even your adolescent and grown children. Praise each other regularly. Be patient with one another. Hesitate before you express a negative opinion. Take time for one another. In big and small ways, honor each other as the people that God created you to be.

“Now, the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect” (1 Timothy 3:2-5). In other words, if anyone does not know how to manage (and enjoy) his own family, how can he take care of (and enjoy) God’s church?

“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).

Today is the annual day we remember Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life was taken from him 50 years ago. He is remembered for many things, often based on one’s personal perspective of the man. For me, one of his most important exhortations was his enduring call for unity. That one touches my heart deeply. And yet, this past year has certainly taught us that we remain a long way from any meaningful unity — global, national, local, or congregational. This seems to be a lesson that too many simply can’t understand or embrace. And we are all the poorer for it.

So often, my colleagues, those we serve are unwilling to face their responsibility to God to seek unity — to be compassionate and forgiving. When this happens, conflict results and, inevitably, walls are built.

Truth: Christ came to tear down all walls of hostility that separate one person from another.

Scripture: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

“Reconciliation”
by Rebekiss

Definition of reconciliation: “The restoration of friendship and fellowship after estrangement.” Reconciliation has to do with relationship. It does not mean agreement or understanding on every issue. Reconciliation and resolution of issues are two different things. The Bible teaches unity, but it does not demand uniformity.

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (KJV). If you are currently involved in any conflict, are you blaming the other person? Are you willing to begin to resolve the conflict by asking God to examine you and change your heart?

Three lessons learned: (i) Always accept personal responsibility for your contribution to the situation. (ii) Make whatever effort necessary to move toward the person with whom you are in conflict. (iii) Take the risk of confronting the issue for the sake of the relationship.

An essential element that must be present before peace can be obtained is a fundamental principle of Christianity: forgiveness.

We want to. We try. We think we give it our best effort, but many of us just can’t rid ourselves of that painful feeling that comes from being wronged by another. You know the remedy. Forgiveness.

If there’s a message we must continue to preach, and a sermon we must constantly live, it’s that we must drop all charges against people who have done us wrong. If we don’t, we will never live in peace or be free to live victoriously. So many clergy I know hang on to an offense they have suffered at the hands of a parishioner or a colleague until it becomes like a festering sore in their lives. My friend — let it go! Surrender your issue to God.

But how do we forgive? We are granted the same power to forgive others that Christ uses to forgive you and me — His blood. We must be compassionate and ready to forgive, even as Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). I urge you to ask God to give you strength, courage, and the desire to tear every page from your little black book of grudges and hand it over to Him. Our burdens become His burdens; He takes responsibility for them. By faith, commit to God each day your hurting heart and your damaged emotions. Allow Him to ease your pain. Intimacy with the Lord is possible only through a willingness to forgive as Christ has forgiven us.

Now, sometimes, it takes more than personally addressing conflict and embracing forgiveness to bring about peace and unity. Sometimes, it also requires confrontation. Sometimes, there must be face-to-face reconciliation.

Speaking the truth in love is a learned talent. Avoiding the truth is more the norm. Why? Because caring enough to confront not only takes a lot of courage, it also takes time.

When it comes to serious conflict, we are always ahead if we consider these questions before we engage in confrontation:

  1. Why is this happening? Think about it. Most conflicts arise when someone’s “turf” is threatened. What will need to be given up? What will be required of me? Am I being taken advantage of? Does the person with whom I am in conflict feel minimized? Do I understand his or her position? Is the conflict really necessary?
  2. How have I contributed? In times of disagreement, we must all be honest enough to ask ourselves if we have been guilty of creating an atmosphere conducive to conflict.
  3. Has my Christian attitude been evident? Isn’t it interesting that so many of our petty differences are complicated because we cannot act as Christians? In the last heated issue in which you were involved, would the Lord have been pleased with the way His children behaved and showed honor and love for each other?

I urge you to be the peacemaker that God honors. Actively pursue unity and peace, and be an instrument of peace yourself. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

I also remind you to always be ready to forgive. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25).

And, when confrontation becomes necessary, be as tender as possible. Seek reconciliation and restoration with care. Remember, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths” (Ephesians 4:29).

 

I can tell that we are nearing my favorite holiday because Christmas cards are beginning to arrive. As I sit and read them, I see phrases like “All the joy that life can bring,” “Christmas is the promise of peace and hope for the world,” “May the glad tidings of Christmas fill your heart with joy all year,” “To wish you the peace of love at Christmas and always,” “A season of hope — a promise of peace — a reminder of miracles — Christmas!” And one that states, “May Jesus be the glorious gift your heart celebrates at Christmas.”

I know you receive many such greetings, too. Do you read the text or verse on each Christmas card or just the name at the bottom? The cards you receive have words like peace, joy, love, hope, glory, good tidings, and the like — but have you ever thought how empty those words would be without the reality of Jesus’ birth and His unselfish sacrifice?

I pray that your messages this Christmas season will be more than just Advent words, but ones packed with substance based on the reality of a living Lord without whom there will never be peace, joy, or hope.

For so many, the reason for the season is really not the reason for the season. It is more about “doing Christmas” than it is celebrating the Lord’s birth. And all too often, it’s primarily about getting and receiving gifts.

If you had to look back across the years and identify one Christmas gift that stands above all the others, what would it be? My guess is it would not be some expensive something as much as it would be a gift of special meaning — something that you treasured even though its value to another might be minimal. The fact that it was from someone who loved and honored you is what made the present meaningful.

In the Christmas story, the Magi “opened their treasures and presented him with gifts” (Matthew 2:11). My colleague, what is it that we present to our Lord as we celebrate with our families and congregations? I was thinking about that biblical phrase, “They opened their treasures.” What would that mean to you? What treasure would you offer our Lord at this Advent season? Perhaps . . .

  • A renewed commitment to your call.
  • Your promise of daily interaction with the Father as His child.
  • A commitment to guard your heart and to flee those things that might negatively entrap you.
  • A more sensitive commitment to the lost, those for whom Christ died.
  • A disciplined and vigilant attitude toward a healthy lifestyle. You are a temple that must be protected.
  • A realization that your spouse and your children need more attention than any others in your congregation.
  • A humble spirit that will not allow envy or pride to dominate your thinking or actions.
  • Loving Him back.

To me, and I hope to you, that would characterize genuine gift-giving. Your treasure becomes His gift.

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

“A Savior has been born to you” (Luke 2:11).

 

The London Family 2017

If you have journeyed with me for very long, you know that I love the holiday season. And, while my personal favorite is Christmas, I do enjoy a lot of the trimmings of Thanksgiving. One thing I have noticed as I have aged is that, every new Thanksgiving, it seems like we have a lot more for which to be thankful to God. That is certainly the case for me this year.

You are probably aware that, for quite some time at the beginning of this year, I was unable to converse with you through this blog due to some serious health issues. During those months, my assistants reposted some of my blog entries from a few years ago that were lost when we made behind-the-scenes modifications to this web site. We felt that these blog entries still pertinently spoke to the needs and conditions of pastors and their families. I hope they ministered to you. And I want to thank my friends for standing in the gap when I needed them.

Now that I am feeling much better, I would like to share a few more details with you about that time as part of my personal Thanksgiving prayer and testimony. I am not looking for your pity or worry, but I want you to see my experiences as an example of the potential trials that we in ministry face and of the power of prayer and personal faith that we all have available during such times. Our God is truly amazing!

For the first half of 2017, I was either confined to the hospital or home health care. It all began with a successful surgery and culminated in a very-difficult-to-treat abscess that resulted in a 40-pound weight loss, having to learn to walk again, and a lack of energy that immobilized me. I could not have survived without Beverley’s care. I am also so appreciative of my long-time assistant, Sue McFadden, for keeping you all updated over those many months. I know there would have been many fewer people praying had she not done so. I sincerely want to thank you all for your prayers and interest in my condition.

I was also unable, during this recuperative time, to engage with many of you much on Facebook, nor to respond much to your email messages, but I did occasionally peek in on what was going on in your lives. It uplifted me to do so, and to see God at work in you.

As time went by, I was praying that I might eventually continue to serve as pastor of Friendship Church. Our people were and continue to be so generous and supportive. I did improve. And, on Sunday, July 9, I delivered my first sermon since February 5. God was present even though my voice was still very weak. I was so encouraged by my time with everyone at the church. Thanks to all who made that day and those that have followed so special.

Then, in October, I was able to travel to Portland, Oregon, for my grandson’s wedding. There were certainly times during the past few months when I wasn’t sure if I would be able to be there. It was my earnest prayer that I could be there. It was beautiful.

Thinking and praying about a subject for that first sermon back at my church, I was impressed with the word PRAISE. It seemed to fit my situation, but should be the echo of every one of us. God responds to our praise. He lives in our praises and we are rewarded. People around us are encouraged by our positive attitude of gratitude. And we ourselves are healthier when we live a life of praise. Our faith grows as we praise, and things that may seem dreary and painful suddenly attract peace and light because we look at life differently.

Are you a person of praise, my colleague? I pray so. The Bible urges all of us, “Let everything that has breath PRAISE the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).

I have learned so much from all of you. We have shared some tough times together, but have also celebrated many victories. Let’s keep caring for one another and keeping our focus on the right thing. Please continue to pray for me, my health, my ministry, and for one another. Be blessed, my blog and Facebook friends, be blessed.

My colleague, “What’s on your calendar?” The more I pondered that question, the more profound the thought became — “What’s on your calendar?”

The psalmist wrote in the beautiful 139th Psalm, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (v. 16). A divine calendar whose entries were penned by God Himself. He has things in mind for us. I often wonder how my calendar compares with His.

I used to travel a lot. Some of my trips were “calendared” several years in advance. There were times when I forgot them until they were upon me. I still live my days by a calendar, some days hour by hour. But the question remains: “What’s on your calendar?”

For instance, does each day include adequate time for you to spend with your Lord? I suggest that those times be early in the morning. All of us face busy, stressful times — too many events in a short period of time, people depending on us, and, to be honest, not really knowing if we can satisfy all of those expectations. We do the best we can with what we have where we are. I do hope your schedule is manageable. If not, find a quiet place, look for perspective, and do the most important things first. Part of that means guarding your time and putting the proper value on everything you do.

Remember when Jesus and His disciples were so busy that they didn’t even have time to eat? Jesus said to those closest followers, who were attempting to meet so many needs, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). Even in the midst of ministry, Jesus felt it necessary to stop for a while. Likewise, you need to stop for a while. If you haven’t done so lately, you had better do so soon. Put it on your calendar and spend some quiet time listening to what the Lord has to say to you.

I think everyone — especially pastors like you, my colleague — needs a quiet place. Where is yours? Yes, a spot where you can withdraw from the busyness of your assignment and recoup. A place where you can listen to music or read or study. Somewhere — a place of your own — where the noises of the world are drowned out by the quiet of the Lord’s presence. A temporary stopping place.

So, where is your quiet place? It need not be a fancy destination point. It could be in a park near your home, or the city library, or a spot you have chosen on the coast, or at a lake. Somewhere free of distractions and interruptions where you just walk and talk with the Lord.

The psalmist talked of “still waters.” Jesus called his disciples to the other side of the lake. Peter went fishing.

I must admit that I have not had many quiet places in my ministry. That was a mistake. But this week, for a few hours, I was reminded how much I needed one. Where is your quiet place?

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).

“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place” (Matthew 14:13).

In addition to scheduled time with the Lord, I also trust your calendar provides you sufficient time to honor your family members. Does each week or month have a notation that reads “date with my spouse” and/or “quality time with my daughter”? Perhaps, “son’s basketball game Friday at 7:00 P.M.” What I hear so often is a cry from pastors’ families just to be included in their lives — on their calendars.

How about clearing an afternoon or two each week to just “walk in the village,” to rub shoulders with those in your community who need to see you from a perspective outside the pulpit? You shepherd best one-on-one. Oh, and what about your day off? Do you guard it, or do you allow other things to take away your Sabbath rest? Is your vacation scheduled for the coming year? If you don’t schedule it, soon your calendar will be filled with other things.

I don’t mean to belabor the point, but your calendar tells more about you than almost anything else. It speaks of spiritual discipline, priorities, and, most of all, your intimacy with the God who called you and blessed you with your special gift called “family.”

So, what’s on your calendar?

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’S purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).

The past few weeks have been harrowing for many people in our country. Along the eastern and southern coasts, some of the most devastating hurricanes in our lifetimes have dominated the news. In the western and northwest states, horrific wildfires have been destroying property at record rates. So many of those directly affected can only think numbly of survival and recovery. Meanwhile, it seems that so many others throughout the nation still fume over anything and everything with hatred and vitriol like we haven’t seen for some time. The world around us is a mess. It certainly is a difficult time to be a pastor. But, then, maybe it always has been.

As you know, for over 30 years, I was a senior pastor of three churches. Then, for some 20 years, I was a “pastor to pastors,” nationally focusing on the families of pastors. While I still continue to do so in a more limited way (largely through my website at www.hblondon.org), I am also again serving as pastor of a wonderful medium-sized church. I don’t think being a pastor has ever been very easy. At times (most of the time, actually), I was able to find joy and fulfillment in my calling. Some other times were quite difficult.

Everyone on this earth needs encouragement, affirmation, and appreciation. One of my most significant accomplishments during my years leading the Pastoral Ministries department at Focus on the Family was the re-emphasis to congregations that it was very important to regularly let their pastoral staffs and families know they were loved, noticed, recognized, appreciated, and valued by the people they served. We called it Clergy Appreciation Month, and due to the high visibility of Focus on the Family, we were able to influence others in many related industries to join in the effort to urge Christians everywhere to give tangible expressions of gratitude and indebtedness to their pastors at least once a year.

Now, when it came to pastors, it was sometimes a challenge to formulate that message. It was hard enough for some of those who had been called to humble ministry to even receive the honest expressions of acceptance and approval from their people. Eventually, we implored this audience (you, my colleagues) to first recognize and thank their own families for their sacrifices and support, and to second communicate in some tangible way their encouragement and gratitude to fellow ministers, including those with whom they served on staff, those in the neighborhood, those around the country, and those across the world.

Since October is still traditionally celebrated as Clergy Appreciation Month (or Pastor Appreciation Month, as many are more comfortable calling it), it is appropriate for me to remind you that we ministers need to support and appreciate each other. Who better than a colleague to understand our challenges and stresses? Who better than another ministry family to relate to the pressures our loved ones encounter? Who better to appreciate the battles required for guiding a congregation than someone else who faces them? Who better to realize what is at stake than one who shares the same calling?

Any time is a wonderful time for you and your family to tell a comrade in the faith how grateful you are for his or her commitment to carrying the message entrusted to us by our Lord. Even better during Clergy Appreciation Month. By simply making a phone call or sending a note of affirmation, you might encourage another minister on your staff or in your community. Better yet, get together face-to-face.

We are all on the same team, playing for the same coach, and engaged in a titanic struggle with evil. We will not win the battle alone, but only as we join our hearts and talents in a mighty show of mutual faith and admiration for each other. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Let me share a personal experience. I was walking through the airport in Denver years ago and I heard my name paged. At first, I didn’t respond, but when I heard it again, I dialed the operator. I was instructed to go to the information desk in Concourse B for a message. The attendant there handed me an envelope with my name on it. When I opened the enclosed card, the words “I prayed for you today” were in bold type at the top. The handwritten message that followed the printed one also blessed me: “Thank you for your ministry to pastors all over the nation. May God bless you richly this day! Thank you for letting God work through you.” It was not signed, but what an impact it had!

I was on my way to a very challenging ministry assignment and believe the Lord knew I needed someone to say to me, “It’s going to be okay … Just be yourself.”

As I reflected on that situation, I thought, “How creative of someone to take the time to encourage me and to do it anonymously.” And then I thought, “When was the last time I walked into someone’s life unannounced … just to say thanks?”

There are so many of your colleagues who could use a note or a call this very day — something that lets them know they are not alone. How about taking a few moments to encourage someone?

“But we ought always to thank God for you” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

A really bad thing happened last weekend. It was an evil thing. I suppose you could even call it a demonic thing. The city of Charlottesville, Virginia, (with a population of just over 43,000 people) had seen several small racist rallies in past months by radical groups from both the extreme right and the far left. On Saturday morning, hundreds of neoNazis, Ku Klux Klan members, and other “white nationalists” began gathering in anticipation of a noon rally to be held by “Unite the Right” for the purpose of protesting the pending removal of a statue honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. (The park was formerly known as Lee Park.)

But as thousands of demonstrators arrived, the event was projected by authorities to become the largest and most dangerous in decades. State police and members of the Virginia National Guard, therefore, surrounded the park after Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, saying he was “disgusted by the hatred, bigotry, and violence” and blaming “mostly out-of-state protesters.” The city of Charlottesville declared the “alt-right” protest an unlawful assembly — effectively cancelling the demonstration before its planned start time. Some 500 of those gathered headed for home.

But within minutes, thousands of those remaining were met by equal numbers of “counter-protesters,” including Black Lives Matter activists and a radical Princeton professor. Clashes broke out, mainly between the white nationalists and anti-fascist groups, as crowds moved toward the park where the Lee statue was located. Dozens of people used wooden poles from their flags and banners as weapons. Others threw trash, bottles, and urine-filled balloons into the opposing ranks of protesters as the crowds swelled. Many also brought their own pepper spray. Numerous protesters came prepared, wearing helmets and flak jackets and charging into crowds holding plastic riot shields. Protesters on one side of a square held up anti-fascist signs and Black Lives Matter banners, while groups on the other displayed Confederate flags and iron cross banners.

At one point, a 32-year-old woman died and at least 19 people were injured when a car sped down a congested street and intentionally crashed into a crowd of peaceful protesters leaving the rally. The 20-year-old driver was quickly arrested. Three hours later, a Virginia State Police observation helicopter crashed seven miles southwest of Charlottesville, killing two state troopers. It was a terrible day.

Saturday’s violence followed a spontaneous march the previous night by hundreds of torch-wielding white nationalist protesters on the University of Virginia campus that was broken up by police as an unlawful assembly after scuffles broke out and pepper spray filled the air. Some saw this image as a call to action.

* * * * *

Now, why have I taken so much space and time to share so many details of this story? For one thing, both sides of this violence claimed to be representing Jesus Christ, using Bible quotes in support of their actions. Both sides also had pastors involved. That’s a problem. How can both points of view represent the gospel? In fact, does either side truly reflect the principles of God and Christ? Where should the Church come down on a situation like this? I’ve heard of a lot of pastors who have already made very strong pronouncements even before all of the facts are known.

I probably had more time this week to sift through the research than you do in a normal week, and I still don’t believe I have a grasp on everything that happened. So, how can you be expected to be accurate and comprehensive as you talk about your church and its place in this culture? How do your people get the truth? The answer I stumbled upon many years ago is something I call “a social concern committee.” A social concern committee can be of great assistance to any pastor for understanding and addressing cultural issues.

In my first years as a pastor, I believed that openly opposing societal ills would create problems for me from people who felt uncomfortable with their pastor talking about “news” subjects. And I was right. I was hammered from all sides, and I became reluctant to speak my conscience. However, I eventually worked myself out of that corner and again started to take stands on public policy. Had I not done so, I would have felt less than honest.

There were also many occasions when I felt lonely and exposed because it was difficult for me to know where I stood with those who mattered most to me — my congregants. Then it dawned on me that I should not stand alone, nor take the abuse for my well-intentioned convictions. That was the genesis of a social concern committee.

Every congregation has a nucleus of people who care deeply about the signs of the times. They are concerned when society begins to move in a direction that could be detrimental to the institution of the family, the church, and our children. Call them together around a cause and you will have the simple beginnings of a social concern committee.

A social concern committee can also be used as a research and information source for the whole church body. Committee members can attend meetings of the city council, school board, library board, and so on. They can gather pertinent information related to social issues. They can meet each month to discuss whether or not an issue is worthy of further action. They can make telephone calls and visits to the significant players in the community who influence policy matters. They can compile lists of names and telephone numbers of those who need to be contacted and whose opinions can be influenced by the public. They can write letters.

Further, they can provide pertinent material with issue-related information for those in the church body who need to become better informed. In short, the social concern committee is like Nehemiah on the wall — a watchman on behalf of the church and the community it serves.

You yourself can’t be everywhere in the community and do everything in the church. So you need concerned individuals to act as your eyes and ears, collecting information for you, informing your congregation, being a liaison with the community, praying for you. It’s a wonderful way to get appropriately gifted individuals involved and is a great help to any pastor.

Are you hesitant to form yet another committee in your church? Do you think you already have too many? Here are a few final thoughts about how a social concern committee can make your job easier.

First: It can provide you with a group of people to run point for you on issues about which you might be uncertain or incomplete in your knowledge.

Second: It can give you a point of reference or serve as a resource reservoir. Members can do research on your behalf, in order to provide information that is accurate and not skewed by the liberal press. They can go to the source and ask hard questions. They can also stimulate interest within your congregation, which might be difficult for you to do.

Third: When you grow weary, they can hold your arms up and, when you are discouraged, they can be a Gideon’s army — not many, but very dedicated. In addition, they can prove to be a source of great prayer support.

Contrary to what many might say, I do not believe that everyone can be an activist. Nor do all in your church family have the gift of evangelism. But I do believe that everyone in your church can have a witness, just as I believe all in your church can have an opinion and a vote on social issues. You needn’t stand alone when, in front of you every week, there can be a small remnant of people exercising their passion for the cause of Christ in the interest of righteousness and godliness.

Think about it, and consider forming a social concern committee.

“May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17).

“Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:3-4).

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).

“Elijah Confronts Ahab and Jezebel
in Naboth’s Vineyard”
by Sir Francis Dicksee in 1875
(colorized from black & white original)

I don’t think I would have been comfortable being King Ahab. The Bible says in 1 Kings, chapter 16, that the king “did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those [kings] before him” (v. 30). It also says King Ahab “did more to provoke the LORD … to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him” (v. 33). He must have really been something.  Now, just imagine that you were Elijah, the prophet, and that you had been chosen to confront this evil person with a word from the Lord that would naturally displease the king very much. That assignment would not be a walk in the park, would it?

As you know, Elijah was up to the task. He obediently did confront Ahab, contested the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, was threatened by Queen Jezebel (which filled him with fear), was ministered to by the Lord under the broom bush, and eventually continued to stand firm for the Lord until Ahab was finally killed in battle.

Well, my friend, the assignment that Elijah accepted is similar to the task that our Lord has for you. You, as a kind of Elijah, have been consigned by our Lord to defend righteousness and confront evil.

As the servant of God, it is your assignment to take a stand.
Taking a stand for the Lord is not always easy or safe. When a contemporary of Elijah, the prophet Micaiah, son of Imlah, was called upon to confer with Ahab, he was urged by the messenger who summoned him to prophesy in agreement with the 400 prophets of the king instead of with the true word of God. But Micaiah courageously said, “As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me” (1 Kings 22:14). Micaiah ended up in prison, but the prophecy he delivered came true and, because Ahab ignored it, he was wounded in battle and died.

Every day presents us with challenges — things we can take a stand for or against, issues that might not be too popular with some in the community, topics that might even stir up our congregants. Will you take a stand, even if your words and actions displease people? Will you have the courage of Elijah to speak truth even if you become a target for people’s hostility?

As pastors, we have to do what’s right rather than what’s popular!
I pray that God will give you the courage — both to be and to speak that for which He has called you. I came across a novel several years ago by best-selling author Francine Rivers called And the Shofar Blew. It tells the story of a gifted young man who becomes a pastor. He is charismatic and a skilled orator, and he is used by God to build a great church. But he lets down his defenses, and drifts into a self-centered scenario, preaching only what people want to hear, that which is profitable. As a result, he nearly loses everything. It’s a story that has become far too familiar to me in real life.

I dealt with members of the clergy nearly every day in the past who, for one reason or another, gave their ministries away. Sometimes, it was for “30 pieces of silver.” Other times, it was for a fleeting moment of pleasure. There were even those times when “power needs” overtook them and they felt they could operate by another set of guidelines. In other words, they did whatever they felt like doing. Most often, the result was a betrayal of the trust our Lord had placed in them.

Satan and the forces of evil stand before you with an offer you must refuse. “The wages of sin” can cast a shadow that covers your whole ministerial history. We must be willing to count the cost of our words and deeds. When we are tempted, our defense is always the whole armor of God, so that we can “stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11). We cannot risk our ministries with a weak defense. We cannot exasperate or provoke Him through our fears or apathy.

These days are challenging for our world, our nation, and the church. The battles we face are turbulent and demanding, but you who lead the church are standing in the gap for righteousness. Whatever you do, please do not give up. Pray more, study more, read more — gird yourself in the whole armor of God and stand firm.

“In everything, set them an example by doing what is [right] good” (Titus 2:7).

“Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?” (Psalm 94:16).

I have noticed that a lot of churches have already held their vacation Bible school programs this summer, while others are doing so this week or will be doing so in the near future. I think this is great! A good VBS program can begin to tackle one of my most serious concerns about the church today — biblical literacy. How familiar is your congregation, your family, or even you with the facts surrounding the characters, stories, and writings in the Bible?

My colleague, I often wonder how fundamentally sound we are in the North American church? We constantly try to simplify the Lord’s message, often without including the nitty-gritty background details that make it so relevant. How about those of us (you) who are leaders in the North American church? Are we fundamentally sound?

I find it hard to imagine that any church or any believer could be considered fundamentally sound without an ever-deepening knowledge of God’s Word. How can anyone fully relate to a biblically sound sermon or lesson without knowing the facts of the biblical story, the context of a scriptural quote, the historical background in which that part of the Bible came into existence, the names and accounts of those characters whose faith, exploits, adventures, and misadventures were used by God in His book to reveal His important teachings.

And yet, that’s what I see more and more often. I see those who cannot identify in which book the story of creation is recorded, the distinct chapters in the rich life of Joseph, the unnatural courage demonstrated by Daniel, the risks taken by Esther, the tension surrounding Jeremiah, the apathy faced by Jesus, the anger encountered by Paul, or the political world in which Epaenetus became the first Christian convert in Asia (Romans 16).

Pastor, your people need to know the Bible and its content. They need to be proficient at Biblical quizzes. They need to know which major world empires and forces existed as God was working with His chosen people at the various stages and eras of their development. They need to know what prevailing philosophical and theological concepts the people of God faced as they moved forward in their maturity. Of course, people won’t completely grasp much of this information as they begin their journeys of faith, but you must be sure they are continuing to grow in their biblical literacy each year until they do. Only then can they fully appreciate how amazing God’s presence has been throughout the history of mankind, and the enormous power He brings to bear on our futures.

Paul advised Timothy, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). In an earlier letter, he told Timothy to “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity … devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:12-13). Paul was referring to the basic gospel that “Jesus is Lord,” but as one who had learned every detail of the Scriptures as a Jewish student and theologian, he certainly hoped that the characters, stories, and content of the Word would eventually become equally as familiar to those in the churches he led.

Paul also admonished his protégé to “pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace” (2 Timothy 2:22). Paul regularly referred to these and other fundamental contents of God’s Word as he explained their applications for his readers. Fundamentals! You can’t maintain a high level of ministry without good fundamentals.

What do you think? What do you perceive to be a fundamentally sound church and/or Christian leader? Please take some time to consider the fundamentals and whether your church needs a course correction.

“They must keep hold of the deep truths [stories and concepts] of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Timothy 3:9).

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).