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.

Thursday, 30 January 2014 16:13

Watch the Line

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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. 

Thursday, 23 January 2014 21:39

The Unlikely Messenger

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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!

Saturday, 18 January 2014 22:06

Life Poured out or Foolishly Managed?

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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.

Wednesday, 08 January 2014 22:23

Expect Scars

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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.

Friday, 03 January 2014 12:28

Do You Look Like A Preacher?

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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!

Saturday, 28 December 2013 08:34

Seven Benefits of Being a Controlling Leader

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Oh, the joy of controlling leadership. It's highly under appreciated.

Oh, I know, this appears to be a change of tune for me. My blog has been critical of controlling leadership as a very poor leadership style. I apologize. I should have recognized the benefits in controlling leadership before now. Thankfully, there's still time in my leadership career. Hopefully I caught you in time too.

Controlling leadership, if done well, offers some powerful contributions to the organization.

Here are seven benefits of being a controlling leader:

1. You keep things small. Small is so easy to manage. Growing is so overrated.

2. New ideas are stifled. New always translates to we've done things before now. Different can be messy. Keep things neat and tidy and life is more comfortable.

3. Change is minimal. Change is hard. Unpopular. Challenging. Ain't nobody got time for that.

4. There are fewer misunderstandings. Everything is clear. You're the boss and no one questions your authority. There. Take that.

5. You get all the credit. You can even blame others for mistakes. Because, after all, you're in control.

6. Risk and fear is minimized. (Or so it seems at the time.) If you can control things, you can keep things from getting away from you. It's safer. (At least it seems.)

7. People don't grow. You know what happens when people grow. They start developing their own leadership skills. Pretty soon they start thinking they could do things on their own - perhaps even better than you can do them. They may even leave searching for another opportunity. They may leave. Stop that. (And that'll keep 'em with you forever, right?)

See how cool this is. Right now you're probably thinking you should've thought of this controlling leader deal years ago. You can thank me later.

But, you controlling leaders better quit reading this post. Someone is waiting on you to make a decision. You make all of them around there...don't you? It's what you do best.

Note from Pastor Tim – I hope you appreciate Ron's cynical look at Controlling Leadership. Happy New Year to our Shepherd friends.

Printed with permission from h

Saturday, 21 December 2013 12:13

Giving is a Joy

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Do you remember a time when a gift you gave lit up the face of a child or someone special? During the holiday season we are given the opportunity to repeat this action a number of times. As a believer it is my prayer that I would always remember the joy of giving.

During the Christmas season I am reminded of several gifts that should be shared at Christmas and throughout the year. First, there is the gift of unconditional, unsolicited love. All around us there are people crying out for unconditional love. I think of Jesus' love for the social outcast, the leper, the demon possessed, and the unlovely. He displayed the grace and unconditional love of our Heavenly Father.

The gift of encouragement is also needed. All around us there are people who need encouraging-- the single mom seeking to raise children by herself, the lonely senior adult who receives few visits from family, the recently released prisoner who is trying to rebuild his life, the cancer victim who struggles with the insecurity of the future, the widowed/widower who faces the first Christmas alone. All of these individuals need the gift of encouragement.

The greatest gifts are not necessarily those that can be wrapped in a package. Some gifts require extra effort and extra thought to process. It is easy to love when it is expected or the love flows along family or friendship lines. Jesus said,

"For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don't even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don't even the Gentiles do the same?" (Mt. 5:46-47 HCSB)

The words that stand out to me in this passage are the words "out of the ordinary." As a Christian and a minister, am I willing to go beyond the call of duty? Am I willing to go beyond the ordinary?

Some time ago I heard a story, on the morning news, about a young American Marine who went beyond the call of duty. He went beyond the ordinary. He took a bullet and died in a valiant effort to rescue a medical doctor who was being held by Islamic extremists in the Middle East.

As ministers and Christians there are certain things we are expected to do. We are expected to fulfill our responsibility to the church. We are expected to maintain a Godly character. We are expected to support our families. These are all noble and commendable actions. My prayer is that during this holiday season - and throughout the year - we will fulfill what is expected but also perform those actions that are beyond the ordinary. Such actions will bring us an extra special level of the "Joy of Giving."

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