Saturday, 12 April 2014 09:48

How to Handle the Chronic Critics in Your Church

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Every church has ‘em.  The Chronic Critic…the person(s) who simply can’t be pleased.  No matter what you do, they have something negative to say.

You are not alone when you face chronic critics. Nehemiah, perhaps one of the greatest leaders of all times, was on a mission from God.

Yet he faced chronic critics. They could have derailed his God-given mission. They didn’t. And here’s what he did.

Complete this statement:

The last time I was criticized by someone in my church I…

Reacted, blew up, screamed, cussed, stayed silent and drove my anger inward, became defensive,

felt embarrassed, listened and learned from the critic?

Criticism never feels good. Sometimes it’s warranted. Sometimes it’s not. Nehemiah’s criticism from Sanballat and Tobiah was not warranted, yet Nehemiah wisely responded with the 5 P's below.

Saturday, 05 April 2014 13:30

Hard Steps to Follow

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A girl’s high school basketball team from our area recently won their eighth consecutive state basketball title. Today I was thinking, “I would not want to follow in that coach’s steps. He will be a hard act to follow.”

In following Jesus I sometimes feel the same way. I feel as if it is hard to follow his example. A passage from Isaiah 53 shares one such example. “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.” (Isaiah. 53:5-7)

Saturday, 29 March 2014 10:10

THE GLORY OF THE ORDINARY

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One of the most profound TV moments happens in The Office when Michael glances at the camera.

It is a satirical way of reminding us that a reality show isn’t actual reality. People aren’t real when the camera is on. No one is truly himself when he is being observed.

America’s celebrity-driven culture is fun and interesting. But there are inherent problems. One of them is that we see our famous “friends” for an hour each week and assume this is the “real them.”

We watch our actors, singers, athletes, politicians and preachers during their most glorious moments. We stand in awe of them, and then we feel dissatisfied with our own ordinariness. But we are comparing apples to oranges: their scripted and prepared public presentation to our normal human existence.

If you want to see the real persons--famous or not--spy on them while they are changing diapers, visiting a sick friend, mowing the lawn, responding to a request for charity from a homeless person, “discussing” issues with spouse or children, performing redundant or menial tasks at their vocation.

Saturday, 22 March 2014 09:17

Shooting Yourself in the Foot

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Have you ever shot yourself in the foot? This old saying refers to an action or attitude that causes you personal harm or problems.  As ministers of the gospel we can be guilty of shooting ourselves in the foot. We often do this with the best of motives and purest of intentions, but they cause us harm nonetheless.  A few personal examples might help clarify the picture for you.

I remember an occasion when I got upset with a group of leaders because they failed to fulfill my expectations. Rather than sharing my disappointment with the group and letting that be the end of the matter I closed up and stopped communicating. This caused the leaders to close up and stop communicating. When all was said and done I shot myself in the foot. My self-justification blinded me to my part in the problem.

There were other occasions when I shot myself in the foot with my preaching. What preacher has not used words that came back to haunt him.  For example, we might think that stern words will “correct the flock” and cause a wave of repentance. I found that stern words usually discouraged the faithful who were working hard and burdened those who did not need such a burden.

Saturday, 15 March 2014 08:14

Climbing from the Pit

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Do you ever feel like you’re climbing out of a pit when you get out of bed in the morning?  I felt like that yesterday.  I had two minor setbacks that threw me into a tailspin.  The setbacks caused me to feel somewhat despondent and discouraged.  I spent about half of my day in this pit and then God began to help me climb from it.

A number of different causes can send us to the pit: Monday morning blues, rejection by others, failed plans, a sermon that fell flat, conflict at church, burnout, family issues, just to name a few.  The causes vary but the result could be the same - the pit.  How do we climb out of the pit?  I share the following resources that I have found over the years.

Pray - This resource should be an obvious choice for Christians, but many times it isn't.  Pits can be a major inspiration to our prayer life.  We tend to criticize people who turn to God in times of crisis.  However, is it not human nature to pray more during times of trial?  All of us are more spiritual when things are difficult.  God desires to use such times to grow us.

Get out of your cave - When trials come, it often feels as if we are in a cave.  I remind myself that caves are dark!  Thus, it is good to get out of the cave.  Visit a friend!  Help someone else!  Visit someone in the hospital!

Pursue fresh ideas - I find that fresh ideas refresh my spirit.  Browsing a magazine, reading a new book or sharing ideas with another person always motivate me.

Share with others - When I got out of bed feeling despondent I didn’t know what the day might hold. Two ministry visits helped to change my focus.  I visited a friend who had hit a deer while riding his motorcycle.  After that I had lunch with a pastor friend who was struggling with church issues.  This visit seemed to be a God ordained contact.  That feeling always makes me say WOW!

Sunday, 09 March 2014 16:50

What Drains Your Energies?

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“What depletes your energies for God?”  Here are my top ten energy-depleters:

10. Compromise

You’re doing something displeasing to the Lord and you know it. The guilt lingers and weighs you down. When you try to read your Bible, pray, or worship, the fog is so thick you could cut it. God seems far away, and you know without being told it’s because you moved.  (Isaiah 59:1-2 comes to mind. “Your sins have separated you.” Confess them and move back closer.)

9. Nay-sayers

The discouragers around you are constantly pointing out that you cannot do this, you are not the Christian you ought to be, the Bible cannot be understood, your prayers never go beyond the ceiling, and your pitiful offering amounts to nothing. To make matters worse, sometimes that negative voice hounding us is our own. You lose heart and want to give up. (Psalm 103:1-5 comes to mind. “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Speak to yourself words of faith. Believe your faith and doubt your doubts.)

8. Nit-pickers

A family member, a colleague in the office, or a so-called friend has taken it as their personal calling to remind you of your failures.  Of course, he tells you this for your own good. You leave your friend’s presence feeling worthless and hopeless.  (Philippians 4:8 comes to mind. “Whatsoever things are true, think on these things.” Choose where your mind will land and come to rest and what it will feed upon.)

Friday, 28 February 2014 10:29

Going on Alone

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As I type this article I am watching the winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. As I watched the athletes I was reminded of the lonely path they must walk. Sure, there is glamour in what they do, especially if an athlete has the good fortune to win a medal. However, think of the demanding regimen of training, special diets and difficult workouts they must endure. In addition there are occasions when they miss family events or pleasurable activities to stay faithful to their training. Some athletes even move to locations that present better training opportunities. These unique demands are not glamorous.

The lonely path is the destiny of many Christians, especially those who faithfully serve Jesus in ministry. I include pastors, missionaries, deacons, elders, Sunday school/small group leaders, musicians and others who walk a similar path.

As I consider this thought my mind races to the times when God's servants walked alone, as recorded in the Bible. Abraham walked alone when he offered Isaac as an offering to God. Moses walked alone when he ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the revelation of the Ten Commandments. Esther walked alone when she represented the Israelite people before King Ahasuerus. Prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah walked alone. The ultimate example of walking alone was Jesus. He walked alone when He was tempted. He walked alone when He prayed in the garden. He walked alone when He hung on the cross.

Sunday, 23 February 2014 17:55

Praying for Victory

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Last Thanksgiving I hiked with my sons, David and John, to Mt. Lecompte which towers above Gatlinburg, Tn. Lecompte is one of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River. I have made this hike many times. The view from the top is breathtaking. What made this hike interesting was the fact that I had just turned sixty, two months prior. I could tell that Mother Nature is doing a work on me. In spite of this limitation I made it to the top. My muscles ached, exhaustion was a challenge and my sons had to exercise patience with me. I made it to the top.  Victory was mine. There is nothing like tasting victory, in spite of the challenges.
 
Are you experiencing victory in your walk with Christ? While serving in ministry, living a victorious life is not always easy. The challenges of dealing with people, physical exhaustion, institutional concerns, emotional stress, self-doubt and spiritual warfare often make victory seem to be a faraway dream. In Colossians 1 Paul shares a prayer I found to be encouraging and challenging in my pursuit of victory.
 
“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy.” (Col. 1:9-11)
 
Friday, 07 February 2014 15:21

Hard Pastoral Words

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Nicole had just been wheeled into the air ambulance helicopter. Her 30-minute ride from our city to the medical center was under way. I stood numb and speechless with her mom and dad in the parking lot as they gathered courage for their car ride to the hospital. A week earlier their daughter had been a picture of health; now Reyes Syndrome had filled her with toxins that were eating at the very fiber of her life.

Another friend came over to offer encouragement. “She’s not going to die,” he said, “She’s going to be all right.” And then he left.

I wanted desperately to concur. Two options were alluring. Perhaps I could promise a miracle, or at the very least say a pastoral word that would help them to deny their excruciating reality. I found words for neither. She died the next day.

On another occasion we arrived at little Sarah’s house to pray with her and her parents. A special shipment of drugs had just arrived from a specialty cancer treatment center, and they had asked that we pray for Sarah again, and ask God to add his blessing to the new treatment she was about to receive.

The sturdy carton sat next to us on the floor as we knelt at Sarah’s bedside. Her strength had ebbed to the point of little responsiveness. Her discomfort had worn her out to bland resignation. The pain of her family was obvious in their drawn faces.

I wanted desperately to help them all escape. Perhaps I could promise a miracle, or at very least say a pastoral word that would help them deny their excruciating reality. I found words for neither. We held her memorial service last week.

Eugene Petersen has got me thinking again. This time the book is Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. In the chapters on Lamentations and Ecclesiastes he deals head on with the pastoral temptations to avoid hard realities or to deal with them inappropriately. Neither, or course, is an acceptable alternative to living through the real thing. It is not that God cannot do miracles; He can and He does. I have witnessed it myself. But sometimes He says no, and then it is left to pastors to hear, accept and affirm His “no” even when there is congregational pressure and inner temptation not to do so.

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