Many of us are essentially nobodies, sometimes feeling as though we are drifting through life merely existing. We know the sting of rejection, loneliness, failure, and the like. We are either too this or too that, we are told. Yet we are called, chosen, and cherished by the One whose thoughts of us truly matters. We might, indeed, be nobodies. Yet we are significant somebodies to Him who redeemed us.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. ~ 1 Corinthians 1:26

There are times when we have little to give. Yet, if surrendered to God, even our little can go a long way. A warm smile, sincere smile, a kind note, a hug, a conversation over coffee, a listening ear, or an acknowledgment of someone’s existence and worth can go a long way. Society tells us we need “stuff,” but it is the little things that give us purpose and hope.

There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many? ~ John 6:9

Do you feel like giving up? DON’T! You have more fight in you. When you are weak, that is when you are strong! Get up, little fighter! Get up, mighty warrior! For God is your strength!

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~ 2 Cor. 12:9-10

Encourage Your Pastor

One of the sad (but true) jokes in churches is that many families will have roasted pastor for dinner after Sunday’s service. However, the pastor who is genuinely called by God and is trying to lead a congregation in the ways of God has a tremendous responsibility. Furthermore, he does so many things behind the scenes ministering to others most are unaware of. Contrary to popular belief, pastors do far more than “just prepare for sermons and preach.” They serve as counselors and comforters, and many are on-call 24/7.

Pastors are not perfect (although they are to be godly). They have feelings and passions. They experience fear, sadness, discouragement, and anger. Many are husbands and fathers trying to be good In these roles (these are difficult for them too), and often people expect their families to be picture perfect. Dysfunction brings their calling, character, and credibility into question.

Pastors must deal with conviction and accountability to God for how they behave and handle the Word of God. They must deal with their own consciences making them aware of their failures and inadequacies. And pastors have “a target on their backs,”  more so than the average Christian, because if Satan can influence them to fall into gross sin and scandalous activities, then congregations can be divided, confounded, and even faith being shipwrecked of some.

I have read of the following statistics:

  • 97% of pastors have been betrayed, falsely accused, or hurt by their trusted friends.
  • 70% of pastors struggle with depression.
  • 1500 pastors quit each month.
  • 10% will retire as pastors.
  • 80% of pastors feel discouraged.
  • 94% of pastor’s families feel the pressure of ministry.
  • 78% of pastors have no close friends.
  • 90% of pastors report to working 55-75 hours per week.

The primary tasks of a pastor is studying/teaching God’s Word and devoting himself to earnest prayer. Christians can say they “love God’s Word,” but pastors make a lot of people mad when they do truly preach God’s Word!

If you have a godly (albeit imperfect) pastor who strives to be faithful to Jesus Christ, His Word, and the Great Commission; and if he seeks to minister to the congregation and is burdened for the souls of people, then you are truly blessed. The Bible says this of such individuals:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. ~ 1 Timothy 5:17 (ESV)

And,

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. ~ Hebrews 13:17

Do you give honor—even double honor—to your pastor? Or do you nit pick his flaws, give him grief because he did not call you on your birthday, and roast him because he preached against your beloved pet sin(s)? If the latter, how is this of any benefit to you? What gain is there in wounding and making the work difficult of one who loves you? Sadly, often pastors pour themselves out (sometimes at the expense of their families) only to meet with continual resistance, roasting, and betrayal from congregants. 

Do you pray for your pastor’s well being? Have you encouraged your pastor (and his family) lately? A gift, a note of appreciation, and the like could be of great encouragement to him. It might even be that needed spark to help him keep from giving up. Encourage your pastor. He experiences the stresses of life and loss, just as you, all the while putting these aside ad he tried to minister to others. The weight and burdens he carries with him you will never understand. He needs your prayers and encouragement more than you can ever know.

Lessons In the Dark (Failure Does Not Have to Be Definitive)

There are times when a person must go through times of darkness. The reasons vary, but sometimes darkness comes as a result of immense failure. Such was the case for the man of God Samson.

Before he was even conceived Samson was ordained to be a deliverer for the people of Israel. By the Spirit of God he was granted incredible strength and valor. His life was to be holy and consecrated to the Lord. Yet, when we read the account of Samson in the book of Judges, we read of a man who squandered his privileges (even having sex with a prostitute [see Jud. 16:1]), and who took his abilities for granted. This squandering eventually cost him dearly.

Samson later falls in love with the woman Delilah. The lords of the Philistines convinced her to seduce Samson and find where his strength came from. After three failed attempts, Delilah pouted and reasoned, “How can you say you love me if you are not willing to tell me your secret?” Being beguiled by the woman, Samson shares his heart and what was not to be revealed. After he falls asleep, Delilah cut Samson’s hair and the Philistines rush in to subdue him. We then read the dreadful words,

And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. ~ Judges 16:20 (ESV)

For so long Samson took his privileges, anointing, and victories for granted he was oblivious to the fact the Lord departed from him. He was to experience such profoundly humiliating defeat. After rushing on him, the Philistines gouged out Samson’s eyes, put him in shackles, and imprisoned him at the grinding mill.

Samson was alone in the darkness of his blindness, yet it was here that he had time to reflect, grieve, confess, and listen. He was learning hard lessons of squandered privileges, of pride, of immorality, etc. Yet, among all these lessons he would also learn of God’s grace and faithfulness. God would yet hear Samson’s prayer and grant him a major victory. Centuries later he would be named among people of faith:

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions. ~ Hebrews 11:32-33

Perhaps you have tasted the bitterness of failure and experiencing its painful consequences. May you take courage in the Lord and find some peace in His promises. Due to your folly, may you listen to the instructions of the Holy Spirit and gain some wisdom.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. ~ Proverbs 1:7

Your failures do not have to define your identity or your future. Consequences might be devastating, but they do not need to demolish hope if you will be still in your darkness. Turn to Christ, and listen to His Spirit. Confess your sin(s), admit your guilt, and own up to your failures. There can still be mighty victories won through Him.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 1:9

My enemies, don’t be glad because of my troubles! I may have fallen, but I will get up; I may be sitting in the dark, but the Lord is my light. I have sinned against the Lord. And so I must endure his anger, until he comes to my defense. But I know that I will see him making things right for me and leading me to the light. ~ Micah 7:8-9 (CEV)

The Present—His Presence

We are living in uncertain times. What is going on in government? What is going to happen to the economy? What is going to happen in our lifetime, and what is the world going to be like for our children and grandchildren? One commodity that seems to be dwindling for many is hope.

One of the gems within the Christmas/Gospel message is God’s presence among people. It is important to understand Jesus’ highest position. We are told He is the Alpha and the Omega (First and the Last), and Lord of lords and King of kings (see Rev. 1:8; 17:14). In John’s Gospel we are told Jesus is the Word, who was with God and is God, who took on flesh and “dwelt among us” (see John 1:1-5, 14). Furthermore, Paul tells us that in doing so, Jesus “emptied himself” (see Phil. 2:7).

In Matthew’s Gospel we are told one of the names of Jesus is Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (see Matt. 1:23). He did not come to dwell among the elite or to live in the lap of luxury. He was born in poverty, grew among the average Joe, and associated with the hurting and outcast.

Although Jesus has ascended, He promises His continual presence through His Holy Spirit (see John 14:15-17). Note, the passage says that He will abide with us forever.

Perhaps you are facing some challenging circumstances (e.g., loneliness, illness, financial issues, marital problems, etc.), and God feels a million miles away. Maybe you are thinking He has abandoned you. My prayer for you this Christmas season is that you will remember the Word (Jesus) “dwelt among us” and continues to dwell within His people. 

There are some who feel they are “too far gone,” but Jesus, His grace, and His presence are given as gifts to all who are willing to receive them by faith. If you have not already, may you receive these gifts this Christmas season.

Faith Requires Enduring Patience

Sometimes faith is treated like a sprint—fast, exciting, then over. However, biblical faith is more like a marathon. There are times the miles are long and the perseverance is quite strenuous. There are times when life’s terrains test persons to their limits, and when God’s promises seem like mirages. One sees the promises in the distance, but they seem to disappear when one draws closer.

It is both all to easy and all too common for persons to give up. “It’s too hard,” some say. “It’s not fun,” others complain, who never really understood the meaning of redemption to begin with. There are times when faith is hard. There are times when it is not fun. Preachers do a great disservice to persons when they portray the Christian life as a never-ending party, because in reality it is often (spiritual) warfare. And we are expected to hold true to the faith even in the trenches. One of the prophets writes:

And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay…. the righteous shall live by his faith. ~ Habakkuk 2:2-4

The prophet, too, wrestled with faith, life, and the workings of God (or apparent lack thereof). He begins his brief book as follows:

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? ~ Habakkuk 1:2-3

Who among us have never pondered such questions? Nevertheless, God tells His prophet—and us—that His promises are faithful and will come to pass. Do not give up, my brothers and sisters, because you have come too far. Remember His faithfulness in the past. God will remain faithful in years to come.

One Step At A Time

Sometimes God’s leading seems to fuel more questions rather than answers. Like children we want to know where we are going, how long it is going to take to get there, why we have to stop by here, and is the driver (in this case, God) lost? We are told, however, of God’s instructions for Abraham:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. ~ Genesis 12:1 (ESV)

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. ~ Hebrews 11:8

Notice, God did not give specifics. Abraham did not know where God was leading, he only knew God told him to take steps away from what was familiar. Abraham made mistakes along the way, at times running ahead of God’s leading. This only added to the difficulties of his journey of faith, but God remained faithful.

Perhaps your journey does not seem to make any sense, do not lose heart. Obey where you know to obey; rest where God permits you to pause; be productive in any work He assigns. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. ~ Proverbs 3:5-6

When I Only Want to Go Home

There are times when I really want to go home. No, I do not mean the place of my upbringing; rather, to breathe my last breath so I can go to my eternal home. I was experiencing this longing recently. Perhaps you can relate?

Mind you, this is not a morbid death wish, nor is it a grunge rock anthem about how life sucks. Life is precious and creation is beautiful. For me, the crushing weight is the inner loneliness I feel and the gnawing question as to why am I here?

I used to be a pastor. Yes, I preached sermons of encouragement and hope, but I also preached against sin. While I made my share of mistakes, I also did a lot of things right. Yet, in the end, I was betrayed and deeply wounded by certain individuals. I now loathe church politics and want nothing to do with it.

I have been ordained. I worked hard to earn my bachelor’s degree in ministry (graduating with honors) and my master’s degree in discipleship (graduating with a 4.0 gpa). All of this, for what?

I am a theologian, in my own right. I am an introvert and deep thinker, with a melancholy temperament to match. I am not the life of a party, to say the least. Genuine friends are few.

My desire is simplistic: for people to know Jesus Christ as their Savior, and to truly grow in relationship to Him. Yet, when all is said and done, I often feel like a vagabond.

So what do I do when I am feeling weary and useless? What do I do when I only want to go home? I try to look to Christ, and remember that I am not an accident or a mistake. God was actively present when I was being formed in the womb (see Psalm 139). I try to remember that He is at work even when I cannot see or understand. I continue to write, even if readers are few—trusting that God will use my writings to minister to someone’s heart and spirit. Finally, I try to remember my real purpose is to glorify God. If I can maintain this, then I am fulfilling my destiny regardless of the perception of my eyes and heart.

Although I look forward to going home, God has me here for a reason. I do not need to understand, but I do need to trust. Perhaps today was simply to offer some needed hope to someone reading this—like you?

Spring’s Declaration of Our Everlasting Hope

Living in Minnesota, the winters can seem rather long. In fact, some can seem forever. The sky is often gray and dismal, and the temperature biting. “Seasonal depression” is not uncommon here.

March and April can be taunting months. Warm, sunny days and melting snow—then comes another snowfall. Repeat the process. I remember one year this happened several times, and one could sense the irritability in many people (including myself). Although the blustery, lifeless winters would appear to have a stranglehold, spring proves to be victorious as life bursts forth throughout the landscape.

In his book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis tells of the evil white witch who brought perpetual winter to the land of Narnia. Yet, certain citizens (i. e., the Beaver’s) remained steadfast in their hope in Aslan and his promise of the coming spring. Mr. Beaver quotes the ancient rhyme:

“Wrong will be right,
when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar,
sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth,
winter meets its death
And when he shakes his mane,
we shall have spring again.” [1]

Lewis’ series, The Chronicles of Narnia, is an allegorical story of Creation, the Fall, and Redemption. The winter wonderfully portrays the brutal coldness of the witch’s heart, as well as the barrenness and harshness of the ice and snow. These capture well the absolute evil of the adversary (the devil), and the  impoverishing effects of sin: loneliness, guilt, greed, violence, evil, and death. I know Hollywood makes entertainment of these, the education system scoffs at the source of them, and Washington and world leaders make use by exploiting these. Regardless, the reality of these is before us continually.

The situation, indeed, appears hopeless. However, just as the Beaver’s held to the promises of ancient rhymes, we also have ancient promises we can hold onto with confidence.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. ~ Romans 8:18-25

Because of sin, creation was subjected to bondage, corruption, and futility. For centuries, for millennia, creation has been groaning—left to suffer in the ever bitter winter. However, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the sunlight has pierced the dreary skies. The temperature is rising, and the snow and ice are melting. Although the winds still bite, the eternal Spring draws ever closer! At that time,

A new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ~ Revelation 21:1-4

Although the devil and wicked men sought, and continue to seek, to silence Jesus, His Gospel continues on and will not stop.

As Lewis writes, in a manner as only he could,

“‘It means,’ said Aslan, ‘that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards’” [2]

Darkness will continue to try to smother the light; evil will continue to resist the good; and the wicked will continue to persecute the righteous. These would forever perpetuate the winter; however, the light of Christ has already dawned. Even now the ice is melting. Although the blustery, lifeless winter of sin at times seems to have a stranglehold, when Christ returns His Eternal Spring will prove to be victorious as life bursts forth gloriously throughout the landscape—to never succumb to another winter again.

Notes:

[1]  C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1950), 74-75

[2]  Ibid., 159-160.