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)

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.

The Literalness of Jonah and the Big Fish

In this article I have no interest whatsoever in attempting to try to convince unbelievers of the truthfulness of the account of the prophet Jonah. Rather, I wish to challenge those who profess to be followers of Christ, yet try to pass Jonah’s being swallowed by a big fish as being allegorical or just a tale.

We read of the account in the Old Testament:

And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. ~ Jonah 1:17 (ESV)

Then later, after Jonah prays while in the fish, we are told:

And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. ~ Jonah 2:10

Now, shifting gears for a moment, the genuine follower of Christ understands that Jesus is truly God who took on human flesh and walked among men. This being the case, what is His take on the account of Jonah? Did Jesus simply view Jonah as an old Jewish mythological tale? 

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. ~ Matthew 12:38-41 

Jesus’ words reveal that He views Jonah as a real prophet who existed, who was really swallowed by a large fish and dwelt within it for three days, and the people of Nineveh were real people who repented at Jonah’s preaching. Similarly, Jesus was stating that Jonah’s account was a foretelling of the Messiah‘s literal death, burial, and resurrection.

What absurdity when persons who profess to be followers of Christ, who claim to believe in His deity, then doubt the validity of the Scriptures of which Jesus testified as being completely trustworthy and true. If one does not believe that it is possible for a man to be swallowed by a fish and to remain alive by the sovereignty of God, then how in the world can such a person truly believe that Jesus literally died for the sins of men, was buried, then literally arose from the dead (this is the very heart of Christianity, see 1 Cor. 15)?

This is not a trivial matter, but hinges on what it means to believe. To not believe the accounts of which Jesus states as being true, is to reveal distrust in His perception. Furthermore, if one finds a lesser issue of being unbelievable (a man surviving in a fish for three days), how can he possibly believe in the more incredible—that One died a gruesome death, was buried for three days, then conquered death? The latter is certainly far more unbelievable—yet, it happened!

If you view the account of Jonah as merely a fanciful tale, then I assure you, so is your supposed “faith” in Christ and His death and resurrection. If you deny the lesser miracle, then how can you support the greater?

The Importance of a Man Loving His Wife

In the outcry against sins of society, a Christian man can neglect to decry his own sin in his own home—namely, the sin of neglecting to love his wife as Christ loves His church (which a number of other sins can be attached to this: pride, anger, harshness, sexual withholding or abuse, verbal and emotional abuse, etc.).

Too many Christian men have perverted the passage that reads, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph. 5:22-23), meanwhile totally ignoring the command just a few verses later:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church. ~ Ephesians 5:25, 28-29 (ESV)

Regardless if a man is a simple layperson or a preacher with theologically solid and polished sermons, he can give a thousand and one reasons why he might disrespect and mistreat his wife, all of these reasons are inexcusable before the Lord who calls him to love his wife and honor his vows to her (before Him and witnesses).

Does a man think the Lord ignores or treats flippantly a man treating his wife poorly? The apostle writes,

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. ~ 1 Peter 3:7

Understand, the Bible is not at all saying the woman is lesser or inferior. In fact, her qualities are to compliment the man’s, just as his are to compliment the woman’s. A man is to love, nourish, cherish, and honor his wife. To neglect these is to both neglect himself and have his prayers hindered. As Christian men decrying the sins and corruption of society, may we also be all the more vigilant in decrying any sin of our own where we might be dishonoring, harsh, and demeaning to our wives. God is just as condemning of these as He is of any sin we might cry out against in society.

The Relevance of Christianity

There are some who claim that “Christianity needs to change” and that biblical teachings are “outdated and irrelevant.” However, neither of these claims are correct. It is not Christianity that needs to change; rather, sinful, unbelieving hearts are what need to change by the regenerating and transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, if people actually believed the dire predicament of the human condition and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, and truly put into practice the teachings of Jesus (without “tweaking” them according to their own preferences), there is nothing more practical and relevant than Christianity.

Our world is ravaged by selfishness, pride, disrespect, xenophobia, greed, deception, slander, hatred, violence, immorality, and the like. All of this is a result of original sin.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. ~ Romans 5:12

This corrupting and destructive power of sin can be likened to Gollum and the ring in, The Lord of the Rings. The ring, like sin, distorted his original nature and being, poisoned his mind and perception, and created a love and addiction to the very thing—his precious—that was destroying him.

The term “progressive Christianity” is both erroneous and deceptive, as well as stating, “making the church relevant.” So-called progressive Christianity ignores the reality of what the Bible calls sin—in all of its forms. The same for those who claim to promote relevance. The tendency, really, is to try to “have one’s cake and eat it too.” Often, these are mere attempts to gain God’s heaven apart from renouncing sin and yielding to Christ’s lordship. These remind me of the words in U2’s, “The Wanderer”:

“I stopped outside a church house
Where the citizens like to sit,
They say they want the kingdom.
But they don’t want God in it.”

This is why we are seeing so many churches and movements, feigning the name of Christ, all the while endorsing goddess worship, homosexuality, abortion, rebellion against any authority, rejection of the trustworthiness of the Scriptures, dismissal of holiness, etc. Many profess to condone these in a spirit of love; however, they misunderstand the true concept of what it means to love. Genuine love does not dismiss the seriousness of sin and its consequences, truth, or justice.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? ~ Micah 6:8 (ESV)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son[d] from the Father, full of grace and truth. ~ John 1:14

[Love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:6

Furthermore, we are told:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy,drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. ~ Galatians 5:16-24

The truth of the matter is this: if people truly believed on Christ, renouncing sin and selfishness, and surrendered to the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures, we would see a cleaning up in politics, wholesomeness, in Hollywood, homes being restored, and peace in our streets and communities. Again, Christianity does not need to change, people do. If people were to accept Christianity’s effect throughout the ages, they would see that it is far more relevant and productive than what it is given credit for.

Spiritual Humility or Veiled Unbelief?

There is a movement within Christendom which often prides itself in its humble confession of not knowing things with certainty. Its leaders essentially agree with pagan philosophers who pondered as to whether we can really know anything at  all, and team up with unbelievers who argue that Christians are arrogant when they feel certain about biblical teachings. Yet, the Bible states repeatedly there are things we can know with certainty.

  • Be still, and know that I am God. ~ Psalm 46:10 (ESV)
  • To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight. ~ Proverbs 1:2
  • So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” ~ John 8:31-32
  • And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. ~ 1 John 2:3

Make no mistake, a person can be wrong about something although he is convinced he is correct; however, is God pleased with church leaders who feign humility when they claim to not be certain about essential Christian doctrines? Is He impressed by persons impersonating shepherds of His flock, all the while causing the sheep to turn up their noses to the very Words that would nourish their souls? The Bible tells us,

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. ~ Hebrews 11:6

Biblical faith is not a hopeful shot in the dark. Rather, it is trusting the very words of God—even when we do not fully comprehend. For example, Abraham was declared “righteous” when he believed God’s words that he and Sarah would have a son in their old age. This did not make complete sense to Abraham; in fact, he laughed at the thought. However, he was certain this child would be born because God said so (see Gen. 15:1-6; 17:15-17).

This is the real issue of these leaders within this movement—unbelief in the trustworthiness of the Bible. Many things these men publish either oppose clear biblical teachings or call the Bible into question. They profess to believe in Jesus, yet question, reject, and deny the very words Jesus testified as being the very truth (see Luke 24:44-45; John 17:17). These men promote various practices—in some cases, even New Age occultism—claiming the Bible is “outdated” and needs to “get with the times.”

They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. ~ Titus 1:16

For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. ~ Jude 4

Friend, let me ask you: when it comes to the Word of God, if you declare not really knowing and understanding it, is this genuine humility or merely a disguise to unbelief? Do you believe the Bible is truth or not? Do you believe the God who created the universe and overcame death is capable of preserving His Word for us? Beware of false shepherds who actually scatter the sheep, thus, sending them into grave danger.

At This Point, Do You Walk Away?

In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus miraculously provided food for over five thousand people. Wow! So far, so good. At this point, Jesus is cool and life is good. It’s sort of like today, is it not? Jesus is cool and all is good if He is dishing out blessings, grace, encouragement, and forgiveness.

When Jesus and His disciples departed from the area and crossed the sea, we are told that the next morning many of the people also crossed the sea and sought after Jesus. Again, so far, so good. They are seeking after Christ. Like today, it is good when people are seeking after Him. 

When they found Him, Jesus confronts them with their motives. They were not seeking after Him, but for His blessings. They did not desire Him; rather, they simply wanted their needs met (see vs. 25-27). This is still like today. Many people do not truly desire Jesus, but the luxurious life televangelists promise, or peace of mind of going to heaven, or a healing, or warm fuzzies during a church service.

Beginning in verse 35, Jesus states that He is the bread of life, and He will provide life to those who come to Him. Furthermore, those who believe in Him He will resurrect in the last day. Here, the people began to grumble. Driving home the point of dependence on Him, Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (vs. 53). Ah, this demand and this exclusivity is too much, but Jesus does not budge from His position. We then read:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. ~ John 6:66 

Today, talk about Jesus’ deity and exclusivity; talk about the cross, repentance and renouncing of sin, holy living, and sound theology. Furthermore, take out the lights, the programs, and excitement, and watch the masses turn away. Mind you, this does not necessarily mean people will stop attending church. We are forewarned,

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. ~ 2 Timothy 4:3-4

When the Gospel message begins calling you to turn from sin, to deny yourself, and to surrender unto Christ wholeheartedly, do you continue to follow and pursue Christ or do you, at this point, turn back and no longer walk with Him?

“Liking” Jesus but Not the Church

There is a book entitled, They Like Jesus but Not the Church, (note: I do not endorse the author or the movement he is part of). Certainly the church is not perfect—far from! However, is the author correct? Jesus is not at all concerned with whether people like him or not. We are told in the Gospels:

But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. ~ John 2:24-25 (ESV)

People are fickle. They can like a person one day and betray him the next. Or they can be infatuated for a season only to have the infatuation replaced by the coldness of winter.

What does Jesus say about people’s thoughts about Him and His people? He tells His disciples (men who struggled with ambition, pride, anger, prejudice, fear, etc.),

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. ~ John 15:18

Elsewhere, He explains:

The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. ~ John 7:7

A common complaint is churches are “filled with hypocrites.” As opposed to what? Politics? Hollywood? Realms where people are applauded and idolized—in spite of blatant hypocrisy! Furthermore, while hypocrites exist in many churches, there are also many wonderful, godly, honest, humble, and compassionate persons (but no one wants to give any credit to these). Yet, it is these that are just as much irritants to those who supposedly “like” Jesus. Notice what Jesus said, the world hated Him before it ever hated His people. And why does it hate Him? Because He testifies about it and its evil practices.

The apostle John declares,

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. ~ 1 John 4:19-21

And Jesus says plainly,

If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me…. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. ~ John 14:23-24; 15:12

Jesus’ call has never been to follow His followers. Rather, He bids each of us to pick up our cross and follow Him. For someone to say he “likes Jesus but not the church” is merely a smokescreen concealing rebellion against the very One he claims to “like.”

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