Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by prayer? Last week my wife, Judy, and I closed on the sale of our home in DeRidder. Our intent was to sell this property, which was in town, and buy a couple of acres in the country. In recent months we have driven most every road in our area seeking a piece of property.
As we waited on the sale of our home we located several pieces of property, only to have them sold before we could make arrangements. In addition, nothing seemed to match our dreams. These two factors caused a bit of frustration. I know none of you ever feel this way. However, God sent an answer to the door of our home.
Several Saturdays ago a real estate woman brought the lady who purchased our home for a final check. Judy and I cleared out to give them room. While they were looking, Judy and I rode by a piece of property we had been watching for three years. There were no “for sale” signs on the property. We returned home and found the realtor and home buyer with several unanswered questions.
A few years back, Steven Covey wrote a popular book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The book provides helpful concepts in life management. Among the concepts Covey advocated was Quad 2 living. Covey divided daily activities into four quads:
1. There are things that are urgent and important. These are the crises events you cannot avoid, such as the death of a family member.
2. There are things that are not urgent but important. These are life’s vital activities, such as our relationship with God, relationships with friends and family, personal growth and recreation. These activities contribute to a stronger life and help you move beyond crises events.
3. There are things that are not important but urgent. Some meetings and some phone calls would fall into this category.
4. There are things that are not important and not urgent. Browsing the internet and watching television would be examples.
Quad 1 activities (crises) cannot be avoided. Quad 3 activities deplete you because they must be fulfilled, but you do not get excited about them. Quad 4 activities are time wasters or activities that we run to after Quad 1 events. They help us chill out, but do not contribute to our productivity in life.
This brings us to Quad 2 activities. These are the proactive activities. These contribute to our growth and development. These help us avoid many Quad 3 activities and a dependency on Quad 4 activities. All four quads are a part of life. However, our aim should be to prioritize Quad 2 living. This will make us stronger physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
Lynn Pope could recite the seed varieties of every truck crop known to man. Billy Martin was acknowledged as the authority on beef cattle. Doyle McCullar knew more about fishing and the Brooklyn Dodgers than anyone we knew. Doyce Bailey specialized in lumber, Sonny Musgrove in corn, and J. L. Rice in carpentry and guitars. You get the idea. I envied none of them. What I did care about was picking cotton.
Not that the act itself was of any particular enjoyment. Cotton picking was hard work designed to give back-aches and poverty to anyone taking it seriously. However, all the other areas of expertise required years of experience to master. One could rule as the champion cotton picker by one day’s concentrated effort.
Each teenage claimant to the unofficial cotton-picking championship produced numbers such as 230, 285, and 290. I kept quiet, recalling that 175 was the best I had ever done and my daily average was more like 145. Just to lay on the class a respectable number like 225 was my goal. That’s why I hurried down to Junior Roman’s as soon as word came that he was hiring. And that’s why I began picking at noon.
By the sundown weigh-in, I had picked 140 pounds, my best afternoon ever. The fever had struck by now and I stayed after everyone else left, picking until the dark made it impossible. I ended the day at 165.
The next morning, I arrived in the field soon after sunrise. When the noon bell sounded, I weighed in at 150 pounds. In one afternoon and the next morning, I had gathered 315 pounds of cotton. Having done what I had come to do, I turned in my sack and walked home, eager to tell the world what I had accomplished.
This is the second in a series. Our ability to manage the issue of church complication may well affect our health and effectiveness in the ministry.
Second, we are guilty of “layering.” At some point in history churches began to layer new programs and new ministries in an effort to strengthen our churches. We added Sunday school, discipleship classes, brotherhood or men’s ministry, women’s ministry, various music groups, three or four children’s ministries, VBS, nursery, committees, Wednesday night activities, and the list goes on. All the activities I mentioned are good. There is not a bad idea among them. However, as the layers build up so does the complication.
An example of layering occurs in children’s ministry. If a church conducts Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night activities they feel obligated to provide children’s activities during each of the time periods. That is a noble gesture. However, the problem is, there are only so many people who are gifted, willing and able to work with children. Parents and church leaders desire to provide children’s Sunday school, AWANA (or a similar) ministry, mission organizations, VBS, and other children’s activities. All of these are “good,” but they put a strain on children’s workers. In order to get the needed workers a church ends up asking people to fill two or three ministry positions or use people whose hearts are not into children’s ministry. In this scenario the issue is not what is “good” but what is “best.”
When church leaders cannot get enough workers they tend to criticize church members for being uncaring. The problem, many times, is not uncommitted people but “layering.”
Do you ever feel that church is “too” complicated? If so, this article is for you. I first realized this truth when I was thirty-one. My awareness of this truth developed in the following way. I was serving a church in rural Mississippi. We typically averaged 100-150 in worship on Sunday mornings. As a young pastor I thought I had to visit each church family once or twice a year and every prospect who visited the church. In addition, I was preaching three sermons a week and teaching a discipleship class. Plus, I visited every person who was in the hospital, I was available for counseling, and I performed all weddings and funerals. Add to that list, deacon’s meetings, church leadership meetings, budget meetings, personnel meetings and the like. Plus, I was the only full time staff member in the church. I enjoyed all of these activities. I enjoyed being a pastor. However, I soon learned I was not superman. I began to feel empty. I began to lose the joy of ministry. Where did this come from? The technical name for my condition was burnout. The burnout was induced by a complicated lifestyle. When church becomes so complicated that you do not enjoy church, something is wrong! (I refer you to Dr. Thom Rainer’s book Simple Church.)
The story of Mary and Martha helps put this concept into perspective. “But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Jesus and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me." And Jesus answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42 NKJV)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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!
“What depletes your energies for God?” Here are my top ten energy-depleters:
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.
“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)
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.
Several weeks ago, while visiting Sears, I received a simple but profound message from a line that separates parking spaces. When I parked there was no car on either side of mine. However, when I returned to my car there were cars on either side. The car on my left was parked especially close to me. When I saw the close proximity of the car I became a little agitated. I thought to myself “how dare that driver crowd me?” I could barely squeeze into my car.
After closer examination I discovered I was the one who parked over the line. I was at fault for the close parking conditions. The other fellow was innocent. As I contemplated that incident I considered the lessons God had in store for me, a minister.
First, I should be careful about judging others because I may have a log in my eye. “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye?” (Matt. 7:3-4) When I preach or teach or talk, I should be careful in judging others without recognizing and confessing the sin in my own life.
Second, I should beware of my pride. As I work with others I may make quick judgments that are totally wrong. That was certainly true at Sears. In working with people it is easy to place blame on others when I need to look in the mirror myself.
Third, the Sears incident reminded me that I am a work in progress.
I stood there staring through a sliding glass door watching the rain fall and wondering how things got to this point. I had just heard the news from a deacon friend that several of the deacons wanted me to resign. “For what, and why?” I asked. He thought for a moment and said, “Not for any particular reason and I’d rather not say.” He added, “I think you should resign.” I replied, “I don’t feel like it is time for me to go. The Lord has not released me.” I have invested three years of my life, I thought, in the community, church, and the unchurched in my community. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I thought of my wife and kids.
The reason for these accusations was unclear. The only thing of which I was guilty was loving people. I work hard visiting, reaching out and preparing a word for the people. I asked the deacon, who bore the bad news, “Do I have your support?” He responded, “Yes, but I don’t want a church vote.” “It shouldn’t have to come to this,” I replied. I sat through a week of tense meetings, where I was drilled for any and every flaw. In one meeting seven to ten people verbally ridiculed me for three hours.
Over the next few weeks all I could do was cry, pray and cry. My heart was crushed. I felt broken. I had truly loved the people who were out to get me. I had spent hours visiting, drinking coffee and ministering to these people. Now they were shooting me down. I felt utterly alone. My hands would tremble from stress and people would say, “Bro Tim you are losing weight.” I felt like a walking shell. I didn’t lock myself in my house or office, due to some helpful advice. The lights were on in my heart but no one was home. My spirit was broken and missing in action. I was numb.
Finally, I was given a list of the things of which I was accused. I felt like the list was put together by a group of junior high kids. The list included: using non-deacons for the Lord’s Supper, letting dogs in the church building, not asking for permission to secure a revival speaker and borrowing toilet paper without permission. Yes, toilet paper!
While talking with a young pastor a few days ago, I asked how he was doing. He gave a canned answer that all of us use. He said something like, “I am doing fine.” From that point he shared how busy he had been and hard he had worked. He proceeded to share how we are called to pour out our lives for Christ. I admire his enthusiasm and dedication. He is a hard worker.
The previous discussion started me thinking. When are we pouring our lives in dedication to Christ and when are we foolishly managing our emotional reserves? Failure to discern between these two concepts could have devastating consequences.
First, we are called to pour out our lives in service to Christ. After all, Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
Our hearts are stirred by great saints who poured out their lives for Christ. I am reminded of William Tyndale who was burned at the stake for his efforts to translate the scripture into the common man’s language. I am reminded of William Wilberforce who struggled for years with insult and persecution as he sought to eliminate the slave trade in England. I am reminded of Lottie Moon, the Southern Baptist missionary who died of malnutrition and exhaustion as she served the people of China. I am reminded of the great saints listed in Hebrews 11 who poured out their lives in service to Christ.
I share a couple of simple observations. People who pour out their lives for Christ seldom see themselves as making a sacrifice. Their surrendered life is a part of their identity. People who pour out their lives for Christ are like a galloping horse who is hard to reign in. Their passion is their life.
One of my first sensations on driving a new Camry home from the dealer was the pristine condition of the windshield. No nicks, no dents, no dried bugs. None of the stuff you get with older cars.
After a few months and several thousand miles, the windshield began to look like all other used cars.
There is a way to keep a windshield unflicked (is that a word?). Park it in the garage and leave it there. Never take it outside.
Real life is this way. If you get out in the world, you get nicked and dented and even scarred. If you get involved with people you will occasionally come home at night with bruises and the occasional black eye and bloody nose.
A friend who left the pastorate to become the director of missions (my former ministry) with the Baptist churches in a Gulf Coast county wrote recently to say no sooner had he unpacked his boxes than he had to mediate a situation between a pastor and a church. The pastor was being forced out and the DOM worked with the church leadership to arrange an appropriate severance package.
I observed that sooner or later, if he does this enough, both sides will turn on him. He was unfair, he was partial to the other side, he is unworthy to call himself a Christian, let alone a minister, he is no friend.
The minister should expect it; don’t be blind-sided; it happens. No one said it was going to be fun.
We all get beat up in life. If our lives count for anything larger than ourselves, we will occasionally have to wade into difficult situations not of our own making in order to salvage lives or relationships or justice.
Policemen will tell you the most dangerous aspect of their jobs is settling domestic disputes. An angry husband who has been beating his wife resents the intruder who tries to calm him down and now turns on him.
Pastors and counselors live in the same world as the cop. “A ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not where ships belong.”
If you are looking for a carefree career, one with pleasant working conditions, smooth and supportive relationships, and constant rewards, the ministry is not for you, friend.
When you became pastor of that church, for a brief shining moment, it gave your ego a thrill. That lasted about 24 hours.
Then the phone began to ring. People began to knock at your door. The chairman of this committee or that project informed you that they’ve been waiting for you to arrive so you could tell them what to do. Caution: the reason they’ve not already made the decision is there is no good choice. This is a steel trap waiting for a head just the size of yours.
Last week my wife, Judy, and I stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Our car has a hard time passing a Cracker Barrel! As we sat waiting to place our order I noticed two men being ushered to the table next to us. As I watched I thought to myself, “If I were a betting man, I would guess those two men are preachers.” My assessment proved to be right. (Please understand, I am not judging these men. They may have been totally Godly men, as far as I know.) This is not the first time I have made such an accurate assessment of preachers, simply by looking at them. This assessment occurred before these individuals ever opened their mouths. After they were seated their conversation proved me to be right.
The thought raised in the previous paragraph caused me to do a little soul searching. I wondered if I look like a preacher. If my behavior and conversation cause people to raise an eyebrow out of respect, then I praise the Lord for such a testimony. However, if people evaluate me negatively by my dress, demeanor, carriage and manner of speech, then I should do a little soul searching.
When the Lord called me to preach I rejected His call because of a stubborn heart. However, there were certain perception issues which encouraged my procrastination. These issues were based on the naïve heart of a teenager more than on actual fact. I list several of my issues: I thought all preachers wore Sunday clothes all of the time. I thought all preachers were loud and arrogant. I thought all preachers were gluttons and had huge bulging stomachs. There I said it!