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, 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).

“Golgotha” by Charles E. Barre

Fresh out of the tomb, Jesus began to comfort those who loved Him most. He saw Mary crying at the entrance to His grave and comforted her. “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18), she told the disciples. In one of my favorite biblical narratives, Jesus walked with two of His followers on the Emmaus Road. When they recognized Him, their hearts burned within them (Luke 24:32). He ate with His disciples and showed them the scars in His hands and feet. He comforted Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27). Thomas was overwhelmed.

Then, there was that marvelous moment on the beach when Jesus fixed their breakfast while Peter and his comrades were out fishing. In that life-changing moment, He reinstated the one who had denied Him three times. In simple words, He commissioned Peter to “follow me.” The fisherman never looked back.

In the time before the Lord ascended into heaven, He encountered hundreds and hundreds of people. The reality of the resurrection would in time take over the world.

It’s amazing what can happen in just a few days — from loneliness to exceeding great joy, from emptiness to fulfilled!

Well, Easter has come and may be gone by the time you read this. We know the story. We have been confronted with resurrection power. Now what? The church is in many ways impotent, but the power that amazed Jesus’ disciples the week following Easter is just as powerful today as it was then. Will we recognize it? Paul wrote, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). How about you? The aftermath of Easter is more powerful than ever! Are you ready for it?

I always thought that one of the more enjoyable characteristics of living in Colorado Springs was that the weather could change dramatically from one day to the next (or one moment to the next). We were blessed by a sight we sometimes took for granted — Pikes Peak. It stands majestically along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. When you look to the west, it is nearly always visible. But there are days when the clouds hang low and the 14,000-foot peak is hidden.

It seemed strange when you couldn’t see “The Peak,” but I am reminded of a truth I heard from an old pastor years ago. He said, “Remember, son, even when the clouds hide the beauty of the mountains, the mountains are still there, and that is what makes the difference.”

What a comforting thought for folks like you and me as we pass through the Easter season. Sometimes trouble, distress, setbacks, or sickness overwhelms us to the point where we feel separated from God. During those times — behind the clouds of despair, beyond the fog of doubt — we know God is there, and that is what makes the difference. That is what we call faith.

In writing her little daily devotional book, Jesus Calling, author Sarah Young “listened to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believed He was saying.” Her devotionals, therefore, reflect what Jesus might say to us in first person. Open your ears of faith as you read one of her entries:

J a n u a r y 28

I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS. These were the last words I spoke before ascending into heaven. I continue to proclaim this promise to all who will listen. People respond to My continual Presence in various ways. Most Christians accept this teaching as truth but ignore it in their daily living. Some ill-taught or wounded believers fear (and may even resent) My awareness of all they do, say, and think. A few people center their lives around this glorious promise and find themselves blessed beyond all expectations.

When My Presence is the focal point of your consciousness, all the pieces of your life fall into place. As you gaze at Me through the eyes of your heart, you can see the world around you from My perspective. The fact that I am with you makes every moment of your life meaningful.

MATTHEW 28:20; PSALM 139:1-4

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

Web editor’s note: As mentioned last month, H.B. has been battling a number of health issues for the past few months. We continue to encourage you to pray for him, his family, and his doctors as he slowly heals and regains strength. Once again, we are reposting a previously used blog entry, this one from March 15, 2014. We believe it still imparts an important message and challenge for all pastors.

Spring break is taking place across the country during various weeks of this month and next — depending on one’s school, school district, or college institution. When I was young, the idea of spring break was much different than it is today. For most of us, our schools actually called it Easter break or Easter vacation, and it occurred the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. It was not the socially celebrated time to get away from home and party with friends and strangers like it seems to have become today. In fact, a lot of churches in those days planned youth camps during this week and used the time off for spiritual activities. Others did other special things. But, among many of the “high church” denominations, the emphasis at this time of the year was on Lent.

Lent is the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting. The term comes from the Middle English lente — meaning “springtime” — and from the Old English lencten, and was akin to the Old High German lenzin — meaning “spring.” Its first known use was in the 13th century. The Latin term is Quadragesima (a translation of the original Greek Τεσσαρακοστή, Tessarakostē, or the “Fortieth” day before Easter).

“Christ in the Wilderness” by Ivan Kramskoi

The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial — linked to the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert preparing for His ministry. This event, along with its pious customs, has long been observed by Christians in the Anglican, Reformed, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic traditions. Today, some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season. During Lent, many believers commit themselves to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence. Many Christians also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional, to draw themselves nearer to God.

I believe that — for you, my colleague — 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.

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).

Web editor’s note: As many of you may know (especially if you follow H.B. London on Facebook), H.B. has been battling a number of health issues for the past few months. We would encourage you to pray for him, his family, and his doctors as he continues to heal and regain strength. In order to relieve some pressure from him, we are reposting his blog entry from January 30, 2012, when this blog was only two-and-a-half months old and the web site was in its eighth month of existence. We believe it still imparts an important message and challenge for all pastors.

Ministry today is more difficult than it has ever been. It seems that each day we hear of another colleague in ministry who has fallen into immorality, another who has burned out, another who has in some way weakened the credibility of those called to God’s ministry. Why is this happening in record numbers today?

I think that, amidst the hectic expectations that we encounter in “real” ministry, we often lose sight of the commitments we made when we first accepted Christ as our Savior and Lord. Perhaps the standards by which we promised to live when we followed His call to be His ministers have been overshadowed by exhaustion or carelessness. Whatever the cause, we in ministry more and more are facing a crisis of integrity, righteousness, and credibility.

I believe it is crucial that we regain our focus and recommit ourselves to a lifestyle pleasing to the Lord, to our congregations, to our families, and to ourselves. We pastors are joined together by a common call of God to feed His sheep, but we are also tied by a common commitment to purity, holiness, righteousness, and faithfulness. This agreement transcends theological differences, denominational connections, and local congregational constraints. We are bound to one another by our calls and by the knowledge that one day the Great Shepherd will be the final Judge.

Several years ago, I introduced a concept I called the Shepherd’s Covenant®. It is a strategy for the moral, spiritual, and ethical protection of pastors based on the guidelines practiced by the Good Shepherd. The Shepherd’s Covenant® is built on the acronym G-R-A-C-E. Here are the basics of that covenant:

While this new year is still young, look at the first of these elements. How are you doing with accountability — genuine accountability?

  • Do you meet regularly with a colleague?
  • Do you really engage and challenge one another?
  • Do you pray for and support one another?

You need your accountability colleague — your colleague needs you! I realize accountability relationships are fluid, but they are very worthwhile. If you are having a tough time finding someone, select a pastor in town who has an assignment similar to yours and ask him to join you for a coffee break. It is amazing how productive those times can be. Honest, the members of the clergy that most often find their ministries in jeopardy are those who have no accountability. So, how are you doing?

“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

This is the weekend we celebrate the life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is my impression that Rev. King was essentially a man of peace. He often found inequality or injustice in our nation, but he generally sought a resolution through peaceful means. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs. On October 14, 1964, King even received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. (King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971, and as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986.)

Violence is an attitude that permeates our society: grown men fighting one another at their sons’ Little League games, a father assaulting a teenage referee in a soccer game, one gang in a poor area of a city conducting a “turf” war with another gang, an unborn baby having his or her life terminated for the sake of convenience, a deacon threatening a pastoral staff member, and, lately, voters whose candidate did not win attacking voters whose candidate won in shameful and reproachable ways. There’s a kind of “get even” mentality that finds its way into every corner of our relationships — even in the church. One of my most embarrassing moments as a pastor was my involvement in a church league basketball game brawl. It was terrible!

In our Lord’s discourse on the end times, He indicates that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matthew 24:7). In other words, there will be war everywhere you look. That seems to be the case today. Not only do we have wars raging; we also have rumors of more wars to come.

I hate the thought of war. I am well aware of the concept and why we engage in war, but it is difficult to think of so many people hating so many other people enough to want to kill them. It’s even worse when innocent soldiers are sent to kill other innocent soldiers simply because their leaders can’t get along. I am not being overly naive — I just hate war.

Why do we do these things? The answer: wickedness of the human heart. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Paul explained part of the reason for mortal conflict when he said, “The acts of the sinful nature are … hatred, discord … [and] dissensions” (Galatians 5:19-20). In other words, the motivation that causes war between nations is the same one that causes neighbors to do bodily harm to one another because the snow is not removed from the sidewalk. Or a church member to have such hatred for his pastor that he would do nearly anything to see the pastor lose his or her job. Or someone to assassinate Martin Luther King, Jr. Or kill a president. Or murder a spouse.

The heart — that which tempers our reactions and causes us to love or hate — is basically evil. And unless there is radical surgery on the heart, there will never be peace. That is why Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). His peace is a transformation of the mind brought about by a changed heart.

Hearts must be changed. That is why you need to preach it: “Change my heart, O God.” “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples” (Isaiah 2:4). Unless our hearts are changed by a relationship with Jesus, we will continue to hurt one another.

There will be a time when, like all men, we will stand before the awesome Judge of the universe and account for our behavior. Only then will we know genuine and complete justice. Unfortunately, the church does not talk much about judgment anymore, and because of that, a generation of people is going through life uninformed and unforgiven. That is a shame, because judgment is an integral part of the gospel.

Pastor, preach the whole gospel — not just the parts people want to hear. A dying world is in need of God’s saving grace. “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).