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.

Moms, You Rock Stars—Shine On!

This post is meant to, hopefully, encourage moms out there who are striving to be good moms, but who have found that they are, well, human. You are tired; after all, you are awakened in the middle of the night. During the day you are changing diapers, cleaning, cooking, running errands, making sure your children are where they are supposed to be (school, medical appointments, practices, etc.). On top of this, many of you have jobs outside of the home in order to make ends meet.

Some of you feel embarrassed, ashamed, or even like you are a horrible mom, because you see other moms who appear to have it altogether. Their houses are immaculate, yours has toys all over and laundry is never completely finished. Their children are well behaved, while your children are like a bunch of wild monkeys. Other moms seem well rested and always keep their composure, while you caught yourself losing your cool—again—after dealing with another day of criticisms from family, crying kids, crayon writings on the walls, teenagers screaming, “I hate you!” because you have set necessary boundaries.

Moms, give yourselves some slack, and stop comparing yourselves to other moms. You have a tough job that is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining! The dynamics in your home are not identical to those of other homes. It is okay. It is also okay that you have imperfections—EVERY other mom does too. It is okay that your child(ren) do not receive everything they desire. It is okay they receive discipline when they are being unruly (proper discipline comes with being a good parent).

Moms, I trust that most of you are trying the best you can with what you have. You do not have perfect knowledge concerning how to raise each unique child. You might not be rich. Chances are, you have some unchecked boxes of responsibilities and chores still needing to be done. But are your kiddos being fed? Do you consistently tell them how much you love them? Are you teaching them right from wrong, and warning them of dangers? Do you properly discipline them to correct them? Do you comfort them when they are scared or hurting? Are you there for them when they need you? Do you love them so much you would lay your life down for them? If you can say yes to these (sure, probably imperfectly), let me tell you, YOU ROCK, MOM!!!

My mom did not have an easy time raising the four of us (me being the “baby”). She was a single mom most of my growing up years, sometimes working two or three jobs to make sure there was food on the table and a roof over our heads. There were times she felt like a failure because of some the poor decisions my siblings and I made. There were numerous times we broke her heart by what we either said or did. She does not really realize how much of a hero she is to me, even though I try to let her know.

Growing up we were certainly not rich. While we got many nice things for Christmas and birthdays, we had our share of clothes from Kmart and rummage sales. There were seasons we did not get to go to restaurants very often. Nevertheless, my mom worked her butt off to make sure our needs were met!

But I learned some amazing things from this dear lady who never had the opportunity to go to college. She taught me about the Lord, at least the essential basics. She taught me right from wrong, and taught me about the reality of consequences. She taught me about unfailing love and grace, as her love for us continued, even when her own heart was severely wounded. I learned a measure of integrity through discipline (I know what old school butt whoopings are). From her I learned what it means to say, “I’m sorry,” as there were times she would verbally lash out or discipline more than what was warranted. I learned a lot about forgiveness, as she was never one to bring up past faults or rub our faces in our mistakes. I learned not having “name brand” everything really is not that big of a deal (to this day, many of my clothes are bought at Walmart, and I really do not care what people think). Perhaps the greatest things I learned from my mom is compassion and empathy. See, my mom knows what it is like to suffer a broken heart and to fall on hard times. There have been numerous times her eyes filled with tears and her voice cracked when reading a sad story from a newspaper. And times I got on my high horse about something, she would gently let me know that I would possibly have made the same decisions if I had been in someone else’s shoes. Mind you, my mom was not perfect, and still is not. She has made her share of mistakes raising us. However, she has ALWAYS been there whenever I, or my siblings, needed her.

Moms, give yourselves a break. Yes, there might be times your kiddos are little hellions and your teenagers literal nightmares who say hurtful things. Remember, they are also going through difficult things (I am so glad I am not a child or teen these days). So what if on this day you are in your sweatpants and your hair is a mess? So what if you were unable to get today’s dishes washed or every piece of laundry done and folded? At the end of the day do your children know you love them? Do they know you are their safe place? Are they learning that life hurts and is sometimes unfair, but you will never forsake them? If so, know your children will grow and call you blessed. And know that rock stars are at their best when they are pouring themselves out, tired, sweaty, and grimy! Is this not when we cheer the loudest? Likewise, moms, you are at your best when you are pouring your love onto your kiddos—even when you do not look your best, and you are tired. You are rock stars—shine on! Your legacy will be enduring!

Be Willing to Be Kind to Yourself

I was sitting there the first week of intensive outpatient therapy for my depression. A lady sitting across from me shared with the group, “Be willing to be kind to yourself, and speak well of yourself.” While I have come across this concept numerous times since then, it was revolutionary to me that particular winter morning.

It almost seems silly, does it not? Yet how many of us are guilty of criticizing ourselves, sometimes echoing hurtful words spoken to us years—perhaps decades—ago? We  are critical of our size, our nose, our smile, or complexion. We make a mistake or fail at something, and our thoughts go to, “Man, I’m so stupid,” or “I’m never going to amount to anything.” On and on the criticisms come.

What is the “Golden Rule”? Jesus teaches us: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). How do we desire to be treated? With honor, respect, mercy, kindness, patience, and love, correct? But why? Because we are divine image-bearers!

Being kind to ourselves is not the same as being selfish or conceited. Rather, it is being humble but not self-abasing; acknowledging our mistakes and learning from them, but not paralyzing our growth by self-criticism and self-fulfilling prophecies. It is acknowledging our strengths and giftings but not becoming conceited.

When you look at others, regardless what you might think of them, each of them have both strengths and weaknesses. Each of them are God’s image-bearers, even though many pay no thought to Him. Nevertheless, each has incredible value God has bestowed on them. Many of them are oblivious to their true worth and purpose, and all the while being quite self-conscious of their weaknesses (even those who appear to have it altogether).

In the same manner, that person you see each time you look in the mirror also has strengths and weaknesses. That person deserves to be respected and complimented, because that person is also an image-bearer of his/her Creator. That person does not need to be criticized for their appearance or shortcomings. That person deserves to be taught, admonished, and encouraged. Indeed, show kindness to those you meet, Lord knows the world needs more kindness. But remember to be kind to the precious one looking back at you in the mirror. This person deserves some kindness too—not the least coming from you.

For to Us a Son is Given

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” goes the Christmas song. However, for many it is the most loneliest time of the year.” In the midst of all the beautiful Christmas lights, for many this season is very dark. During the calmness of the falling snow, there is an unnerving restlessness within. With talk of “holiday cheer” there is deep sadness. Joy and hope seem as mythological as Santa himself. 

Although we try to decorate this season with colorful and glittering beauty, the fact remains we live in a fallen, broken, and hurting world. We give and receive gifts of fleeting pleasure and delight, most of which will break down and be thrown away eventually—mere reminders of the temporal significance of the things of this world.

Ah, but there is one Gift given to all, but seemingly insignificant to most. In fact, most people will neglect this Gift. We tend to like gifts of monetary value or instant gratification, but this Gift gives us neither. However, this Gift does give what the human heart craves most: peace, joy, hope, significance, and a relationship with God. Mind you, this Gift does not take away all the hurt, pain, and heartache—but it does redeem them for good. Furthermore, this Gift does come with the promise that one day all suffering will cease, and every tear will be wiped away.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. ~ Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

What is this Gift, and who is it from?The Gift is Jesus Christ our Savior, and given to us by God Himself. Oh yes, many will mock and scorn. Politicians and philosophers will continue to give worthless promises of a utopian society that will never happen (the corruption in the human heart will forever prevent this). 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. ~ Isaiah 9:6-7

This Gift comes with fullness of redemption and the washing away of guilt and shame. This Gift comes with truth and grace, and teaching us what it truly means to love and be loved. 

This Gift can neither be bought or earned, but it must be humbly received. God will not force anyone to receive it, but to reject it one does so to their own peril.

This Gift is given to you. What have you done with Him? Yes, life will still hurt. Jesus does not promise to eradicate all hurt. Yet, in Him the day will come when all suffering will and tears will cease. For now, He promises forgiveness and His presence.

For to you a Son is given. Have you received Him? 

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. ~ John 1:12

I hope you truly have a very merry Christmas!