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Friday, 14 June 2013 16:07

Technologically Challenged

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Are you a part of the technologically challenged? We generally use this term in reference to the older generations. However, there may be some younger adults who struggle with this issue as well. Regardless of your age, keeping up with technology is a challenge. In fact, I saw in the news that former President Bill Clinton had been reluctant to get involved in Twitter.

I am concerned with two areas when this subject involves ministers. The first area has to do with courtesy and respect. We are living in a world of information overload. We are bombarded with social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like. In addition we face information overload in receiving text messages, media messages, telemarketers, mass mailings and the like. This information overload can cause us to become desensitized to the important messages, along with the junk messages. So, what does this have to do with us?

The Bible has much to say about common courtesies such as kindness, goodness, love and encouragement. If we become desensitized to messages we may very well overlook a common courtesy or act of goodness that we either need to give or that we need to receive. I am not referring to the frustrating messages. I am referring to the common everyday phone calls, text messages and emails that people send our way.

People become desensitized to voice stimuli. We should remember the Golden Rule. “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.” (Matt. 7:12) People can become desensitized to our voice as they hear us teach and preach. They must approach the teaching/preaching event with an open heart. Even so, we should be careful to keep an open heart to listen when people communicate with us.

The second area that concerns me is the closed mind. It is a fact; we will never be able to keep up with changes in technology. There is a difference between being an expert and being familiar. Studies show that an overwhelming percentage of Americans use Facebook, email, text messages and the like. This is where people live each day. Paul spoke about being all things to all people. He tried to connect with people. When we familiarize ourselves with technology we give ourselves a tool for connecting with all ages in our congregation. And if we occasionally mention a text message, email or internet search we attract people’s attention, both young and old.

It must have been a challenge for Paul to adapt his ways to meet those he sought to reach. He said, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more.” (I Cor. 9:19) Translation, Paul was willing to adapt in order to reach his constituency.

I sometimes say, or hear other ministers say, “I will not do that.” In essence, what we are saying is, “I have stopped growing.” If we familiarize ourselves with modern technology we slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s (Ha! Ha!), plus, we give ourselves a whole new medium for ministry. All of us want to be faithful in using every medium at our disposal. God can use everything we offer Him!

Editor’s note: June is the start of Hurricane Season, but as we have recently seen churches need to be prepared to respond to disasters at any time.  Caleb Magnino is the International Missions Pastor at The Woodlands Church in The Woodlands, TX.  He has recently responded to numerous disasters, including Haiti, Hurricane Sandy, the fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, TX, and most recently to tornado-ravaged areas in Oklahoma.

stormThey are experiences that I will never forget.

Walking among the rubble, the destruction, hearing the stories of those who had now unexpectedly found their lives turned upside down with the onset of a disaster; shouldering the weight of the shock and seeking to bring hope in the midst of the storm…that was the task set before us.

In those moments when life is uprooted, when chaos ensues and questions abound, the church has an unprecedented opportunity to be a beacon of hope to communities of people who are in dark hours.

I’ve seen it firsthand.

Often the church is one of the first forces on the ground in a disaster zone assessing the damage, listening to the needs of the community affected, and organizing relief efforts. The church can be a powerful unified force in the wake of a disaster. Before FEMA or other government agencies respond, the church is on the move.

The key lies in strategic decisions made by individual leaders in the early hours and days following a disaster.

Disaster strikes. Now how do you respond?

First of all, be ok with the thought, “I don’t know…but I’m going to figure it out.”

Welcome to disaster relief.

1. Communicate Early and Often

Be proactive in your communication efforts with your church members…as in within a few hours of the disaster. Don’t wait until you have everything nailed down and all the questions answered. Initial conversation can be as simple as letting your people know that your team is starting to assess how your church can help those stricken by disaster. Give your people immediate action steps, including “Pray” and the option to “Give” financially to support relief efforts via your team, partner churches in the affected area, or other Christian relief organizations who will mobilize into the area. Feel free to also challenge your people to consider the “Go” option to volunteer to be part of relief teams that might be mobilized in the days to come. You may not have “the exacts,” but you can still start to cultivate interest and compile an email list.

Now let me be blatantly honest. Resist the urge to immediately start collecting canned goods, bottled water and especially clothing. While the hearts of those who give mean well, those items can often pose a logistical problem during a time of disaster response either due to transportation, storage or the relevance of donated items to actual needs of residents. Every disaster is different. Listen to the true needs of the locals and then make the call for donated items if need be.

Saturday, 01 June 2013 11:56

Dealing with Unreasonable People

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How do you respond to unreasonable people?  It might help if I describe unreasonable.  Unreasonable people have an evil spirit, cannot be reasoned with, are impulsive and do things to hurt others.  Every church has some of those people.  A good example of an unreasonable person was Saul.  Saul displayed all four of the aforementioned characteristics (see I Sam. 19:9-10).  After God anointed David, to be King of Israel and before he took the throne, David had to deal with an unreasonable person, Saul.  As you watch this story unfold it drags on over a period of time.  This is much like the story we often see unfolding in our churches.

In I Sam. 23-24 you see how a man of God responded to an unreasonable person.  I will list these responses in outline (sermonic) fashion.  Who knows, you might want to use these at some point.

1. When dealing with unreasonable people seek God before acting.  David did this on more than one occasion (I Sam. 23:1-2, 4, 10-12). David prayed much and waited on God.  At one point he takes up the “Ephod.”  The “Ephod” was a garment worn when a person was seriously seeking God.  It seemed to represent the presence of God.

2. When dealing with unreasonable people set a good example for other people (I Sam. 23:3; 24:6).  In verse 3 David’s men admit to being afraid. In 24:6 David’s men want David to take vengeance on Saul.  In both instances David displayed a Godly example in his behavior.  When I feel the impulse to be vindictive or to use my tongue to rip another person I am reminded of the suffering servant passage in Is. 53.  In verse 7 of that chapter it said, “He did not open his mouth.”  What an example!

3. When dealing with unreasonable people do not respond in kind (I Sam. 23:15; 25:1-6). Saul acted in an ungodly manner but David did not return the favor.  If people act one way it does not necessitate that we follow suit.  If we display a Godly example, other people will eventually show their colors.

4. When dealing with unreasonable people let God decide who is right (I Sam. 23:7-9, 26; 24:12, 21).  It is amazing, when Christian people disagree everybody thinks God is on their side.

Not long ago I read an account of the Civil War.  This particular writer pointed out that everyone claimed God was on their side.  Only God has the right to decide who is right and who is wrong. When everybody claims to be right everybody proves to be wrong.   President Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address said, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other... The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "

5. When dealing with unreasonable people do not become bitter or cynical (I Sam. 24:5-7).  David did not allow Saul’s irrational behavior to force him to be bitter, angry or cynical.

The preceding qualities are hard to emulate.  They are Christ like qualities.  I have come to believe, if I cannot display Christ like character in the midst of a trial that may be why I am going through the trial. Ouch!  Ouch!  Yes, I said it twice.  Our world and our churches need to see Christ like men standing in the pulpit.  I pray that God would help me to be one of those men.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013 08:15

When God Vetoes an Idea

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vetoHas God ever vetoed one of your ideas?  He has vetoed more of my ideas than I care to admit.  I wish my walk with Christ was such that I always have his stamp of approval before moving forward.  That is not always the case for me.  I have a hunch that you readers can identify with my failure.

A veto, from God, could have several meanings.  It could mean He caused something to fail.  It could mean the timing was not right.  It could mean He has something better in mind.  What kind of ideas does God veto?

  • A failed church plant
  • A revival that was poorly timed
  • An idea that was inappropriate
  • A decision that was wrong

These are just the tip of the iceberg.

I once resigned from one church, in order to accept a call from another, and realized I had made the wrong decision.  Sometimes God speaks through a still small voice.  On that occasion I felt like I had been hit with a baseball bat.  Thank goodness God and His people are gracious in such humiliating times.

God showed me an encouraging word on this subject.  When Jesus led Peter, James and John up the mountain for the transfiguration, Peter had what he probably considered, a brilliant idea.  Peter said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Matt 17:4) God vetoed that idea!  WOW!  Consider these truths.

  1. Even God’s chosen have bad ideas.  Jesus handpicked Peter, James and John to accompany Him up that mountain.  When we fail there is a tendency to doubt God’s selection of us.
  2. Past spiritual experiences do not hinder us from making poor decisions.  Jesus was transfigured before His three disciples.  Peter’s bad idea came on the heels of that experience.  Unfortunately, today’s victories do not stop tomorrow’s failures.  They may lessen them, but do not stop them.
  3. Bad ideas are a sign that we are a work in progress.  The three chosen disciples were learning, but they still had much to learn.  God uses failure to teach us some of our greatest lessons.
  4. Because of the grace of God, failure is a stepping stone.   After Peter’s bad idea, God sent a “bright cloud” as a means of communication.  He spoke these words to the disciples. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 17:5)  Translation:  Moses and Elijah are not equal with My Son.  God’s voice struck fear into the hearts of the disciples.  However, Jesus softly touched them and said, “Do not be afraid.” (vs. 7) Jesus gave the disciples assurance and the realization that they needed His support if they were to serve Him.
  5. Good intentions and good ideas do not translate into Godly ideas.  Peter had, humanly speaking, a good idea.  Peter had good intentions.  God knew something that Peter did not realize.  That shortcoming did not mean Peter was a failure.  He was given a new revelation and growth experience.

I am so grateful that God is gracious.  He coaches us through bad ideas.  He grows us from our failures.  He raises us from our low points to greater service.  The world penalizes failure.  God uses it to prepare us!  

Friday, 10 May 2013 01:06

The Greatest Failure

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I believe that the primary failure of 9 out of 10 pastors is the “Lone Ranger” syndrome. Pastors are trying to do the work of the Lord alone.

Most pastors lack a few good friends in the ministry with whom they meet with regularly for fellowship, prayer, study, confidential talk, accountability, a round of golf, a good meal and rest.  A preacher needs a friend with whom he can hang out. This omission has seriously limited the ministry of many ministers I know.  It surely weakened my service for the Lord.

I think of two critical times when I needed a few good buddies in the worst way.

When I first started pastoring I had a history degree, zero experience and no training in church leadership.  Each week, as I worked on sermons, I reinvented the wheel.  I started from scratch.  II searched the Bible for something I could turn into a sermon.  In the Birmingham suburb where we lived, there were plenty of pastors who would welcome a call from a 22-year-old preacher asking for advice. But, I struggled alone.

Another critical time occurred when the chairmen of deacons and the personnel committee stopped by my office to announce that either I relocate or that a move would be made to get me out of that church. I was stunned!  I needed support when that little delegation delivered their ultimatum. However, I needed counsel when I was beginning to learn the nature of my tasks and the size of the obstacles I faced.

I regret not calling a half-dozen friends to drop what they were doing and come visit me. I should have said, “I’m in a crisis situation and need you.”

They say a true friend is one you can call in the middle of the night to come help bury the body and he does and never asks for an explanation.  Now, my friends would have exercised a little more discernment than that, but they would have been there; I’m completely convinced of that. But I did not make that call and went on alone.

“The Lord was there,” you say. He sure was.  And so was Margaret, my wife.  We had a back-porch custom in those days where we sat and unloaded.  (The agreement she and I had was that we could say anything on the porch, but could not bring it inside the house.  It was a good system, one we have recommended to others in the years since.)

But I needed one thing more:  I needed a few buddies.

These days, I frequently have the opportunity to address young ministers about the work to which the Lord has called them.  One point I drive home is that among the things they’re going to need, “a couple of buddies” ranks toward the top of the list.

Too many pastors today are like Elijah, a loner in every sense of the word.  The problem is, as any professional counselor can tell you, solitude makes the person vulnerable to loneliness, depression, even anger, sometimes thoughts of suicide, and then, oddly, pride.

We see every one of those traits in Elijah.

“Lord, I’m the last one you have left.”  (I Kings 19:10, 14 He said it twice!)

Woe is me.  Everyone else has given in to the enemy. I’m the Lord’s last hope.

Not so, said the Lord.  In fact, He answered the prophet, “I have 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (19:18)

Elijah was too smart to argue with God, but we can imagine him protesting that the others were holed up in caves somewhere, while he himself was on the front lines, risking everything for the Lord.

The lone ranger syndrome can produce depression and thoughts of suicide and at other times, pride and egotism.

The Apostle Paul is a better role model for today’s pastor.  We get the impression from Acts 9 that he began his ministry as a loner.  Soon, he made the discovery that this was a dead-end route, that he would need friends.  “Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.” (Acts 9:27)

Later, when Paul barely escaped from Jerusalem with his life, he returned home to Tarsus for an indefinite period.  We wonder what was going on in his mind at that time. Was he making tents and studying the Word?  Was he feeling like a failure?  Was God letting him marinate a bit before returning him to a far greater ministry?

When revival broke out in Antioch of Syria, Barnabas happily discovered that Gentiles were coming to Christ in vast numbers.  He remembered that God had called Paul as a missionary to that very group. Acts 11:25 may be one of the most important sentences in history: “Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul (Paul).”

When Paul became a missionary, he went with Barnabas.  Later, he took Silas and then Timothy, while John Mark accompanied Barnabas.  No one went alone.

Saturday, 04 May 2013 12:07

Struggling with Success

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Are you struggling with questions about success?  Come on don’t be so pious!  All ministers struggle with this question from time to time.  The classic example is Joshua.  After Moses died God chose Joshua to lead the people of Israel.  Talk about big shoes to fill.  Talk about an inferiority complex.  Joshua struggled with this task.  He needed words of encouragement from the Lord.

The struggle with success plays itself out in many ways.  Sometimes we struggle with the “poor little old me syndrome.”   We compare ourselves to the superstar preachers and that makes us feel small; or we struggle with the church-down-the- street syndrome (“The church down the street has welcomed more new members than our church”); or it may be a struggle with “location syndrome” (“why did God place me in this location?”); or we struggle with the last pastor syndrome.  (“I am not as popular as the last pastor.”)

I had an interesting experience in my first church out of seminary.  I served in a small rural church in Mississippi.  The church I served was located about ten miles from town in a rural area.  We defined the phrase “rural church.”  There was a church in town that was “blowing and going” as we say.  They had a nice building and were gaining many new members on a regular basis.  I remember feeling somewhat envious of that church’s pastor.  I thought to myself, “I will be happy when I don’t have to live under his shadow.”  Guess what happened?  Sometime later, I moved to another church about two hours away. The pastor from the previous town moved down the street from my new place of service.  The same scenario repeated itself.  His church appeared to do better than mine.  In each of those situations the church I served prospered; however, the prosperity was not equal to the church down the street.  I struggled with questions of success.

In studying Joshua’s experience, several lessons come to mind.  First, take time to listen to the Lord.  The Lord always has a word for our situation.  Sometimes we are so busy that we miss a relevant word from the Lord.  We need to spend time praying, meditating and bringing our struggles before the Lord.

Secondly, as God spoke to Joshua, He reminded him of his calling.  God chose Joshua to be Moses’ successor.  God’s call gives value and purpose.  God’s call, in and of itself, is reason to celebrate.  We tend to rate success on man’s standards and on man’s opinions.  If we are following God’s call, that call, in and of itself, makes us successful.  We are doing what God called us to do.

Closely related to the previous thought is that of faithfulness.  God reminded Joshua to be himself.  Every pastor cannot pastor a mega-church.  Every pastor cannot write a bestselling book.  Every pastor cannot speak on the seminar/conference circuit.  The pastor who is faithful in the small rural church is successful.  The pastor who is faithful in the traditional rural church is successful.  The pastor who is faithfully working with difficult people is successful.

God told Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (1:9)

Wednesday, 10 April 2013 13:11

Overcoming Personality Quirks

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We will face many trials as we serve in ministry.  Trials such as sickness and death of friends, divorce of fellow believers, personal sickness, family issues, and people issues, just to name a few.  It is hard to say which trials will affect us the most.  There is one trial that may very well be the most debilitating and most difficult to overcome.  What is it?  The trials created by our own personality quirks.

Let’s look at the topic. All of us have personality quirks.  I love watching the detective show “Monk.” Monk reminds me of us. He is his own worst enemy.  I know!  Monk has deep seated personality issues that require professional help.  I have always told congregations I served, “we are all one step away from insanity.”  We may not be as quirky as Monk, but all of us have them.  Consider these examples: OCD, the tendency to be a control freak, obsessed with work; paranoia, by insecurity and anxiety; and chronic worriers.

In the Bible the classic example of a man with a personality quirk was Jacob.  Jacob had to be in control. He always manipulated circumstances so that he would come out on top.  Have we not seen that in ministry?  This is seen most clearly in Genesis 30-32 as Jacob played a game of situational chess with Laban.

The beautiful thing about God’s sovereign work in our lives is that he changes our spiritual dimension but also our personal/emotional lives.  Over time God changed Jacob from being a control freak to being a man of faith.  That required time and surrender. In Jacob’s life the masterpiece of God’s work occurred at Bethel (Genesis 35:16-26) when Jacob wrestled with an angel.  This encounter moved Jacob to a new dimension in his service to God.

The tricky part is that we do not shoot ourselves in the foot while God fulfills His work in us.  So what can we do to confront our quirky nature?

  • Ask God to help you! He knows your needs.
  • Be honest and humble about what you see in the mirror.  This is not always a pretty picture.
  • Be transparent with fellow believers.  I know this is dangerous.  Sometimes when you are transparent, people will use this against you.  However, transparency elicits transparency.  If we are phony people will be phony with us.
  • Talk to a trusted friend about your issues.
  • Seek the advice of a professional. In the early days of ministry it is good to take a personality and leadership profile.  When we know ourselves, it makes life easier in working with others.

It is inevitable that we will face trials as we serve in ministry.  My prayer is that my personality quirks not contribute to my trials.  Occasionally pastors walk into my office and begin talking about church issues they are facing.  The sad part is that sometimes the man is as much, if not more, a part of the problem. Even sadder is the pastor who cannot see his weaknesses.  His pride blinds him.

Only by the grace of God do any of us contribute to God’s sovereign work in our world.  Our sin, our sinful world and our personality quirks are formidable foes.  My prayer is that God sovereignly change us, as He did Jacob. He wants to change our world through His imperfect servants.

Saturday, 30 March 2013 00:00

Quitting the Ministry

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netThe title of this article contains three disturbing words, “Quitting the Ministry.” You might be reading this article to see to whom the words refer. It could be you! It could be me! We do not relish the use of these words regardless of the source. We do not expect God’s men to quit. Secretaries quit, electricians quit, and plant workers quit, surely pastors do not quit.

The truth is, anyone serving in ministry has entertained these three disturbing words from time to time. The causes are many: difficult people, discouragement, burnout, depression, feeling ineffective, the list goes on.

When looking for Biblical inspiration it seems as if we can always look to Peter for an example. Peter experienced the full range of spiritual struggles while following Jesus. In John 21 we find an occasion when Peter seemed to struggle with his calling. Jesus had risen from the dead, but Peter and the other disciples had not discovered the full significance of this good news and its impact on their lives.

During this time, Peter and several of his fellow disciples decided to go fishing. We do not know the reason for the fishing trip. It could have been doubt, a time to relax, a need to raise funds, or a time of wavering in their call. Regardless of the reason we learn several valuable lessons about facing the empty times of ministry.

First, regardless of their reason for fishing, Jesus did not condemn the disciples for going fishing, nor did He condemn the motivation behind it. Were they motivated by doubt, discouragement, guilt, uncertainty, self- condemnation or similar negative emotions? Just because you get down does not mean Jesus is down on you. It is okay to withdraw and look for answers.

Also, there is nothing wrong with empty nets. As Americans we abhor failure. Jesus often uses empty nets to teach us His abundance. When we have tried our way and our methods (remember Peter was a fisherman by trade) and come up empty that leaves plenty of room for Jesus and His fullness.

John’s gospel tells us the purpose behind this fishing experience. “After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself.” (John. 21:1) Did you notice that word, “again?” Jesus wants to show us he can turn empty nets into full nets. Jesus reveals Himself again and again until we get the lesson. John said, “This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.” (John. 21:14)

In the seasons of emptiness Jesus does His greatest work in us. We do not want to hear this truth, but it is truth we need to hear. As Jesus walked Peter and his comrades through this failed fishing trip He prepared them for their next phase of ministry. As we claim the promise of Romans 8:28 we can be assured that empty nets are a prelude to the Lord’s fullness and a bright future.

Saturday, 23 March 2013 05:00

Let’s Consider a Preacher’s Confession

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“Confession is good for the soul,” so said Peter De Vries. I must confess that on one recent winter morning, I awoke inundated physically, emotionally and spiritually in a deeply depressed state. I think Webster would have said, “He’s in a deep funk.” Although I always try to will myself to never be overtaken with those feelings, it would have been easy for me to have justified (rationalized) my feelings. For several nights in succession, arthritis had kept me awake ‘till past four in the morning. I have witnessed the discomfort of friends suffering with Restless Leg Syndrome; but I had battled Entire Body Restless Syndrome, and my sleep was disturbed by horrible recurring nightmares. I know, this is all a part of being blessed with Old Age, and as I often tell others, “More age is not going to help it.” This is topped off by the never fading sense of joy of knowing that my Bobbie is in heaven. I dearly miss her.

Have I dragged you down with me? Well, I hope you will find hope in the rest of my confession! Dressed for the day, I cranked Old Betsy and, wiping back some tears, started for my office and work. My radio was tuned to KJAE, and Mel was presenting his usual morning devotional time, and Guy Penrod’s voice, accompanied by the Gaither gang, interrupted my sadness with his rendition of “Just Knowing that You’ll be There, Makes it Easy to go Home.” I sang along with them. This was followed by another Gospel Artist Joe Pearls singing, “I Knelt and Prayed for You Today,” and I was refreshed by the knowledge that Christian friends from Louisiana to Montana pray for me each day. I was feeling better.

Then Mel, with his inimitable voice and his always pleasant but descriptive use of words, did his brief but powerful message about the Apostle Peter wanting to go on to heaven with the Lord (John 13:37), but he was left on earth. Mel’s explanation of why we are left on earth and God’s purpose for our being here, well, I just asked the Lord’s forgiveness for my backsliding from the sunshine of God’s love into a case of the Blues. Then the late George Younce sang a rendition of “That Says It All,” which is a song of assurance of God’s presence with us when we are in our “valley of the shadows,“ lifted my spirits for the ministry God had already laid out for my day. God used these two radio friends to lift my spirits.

God always has answers and help for us if we will just look and listen for Him to speak! I have found that when I need help, if I call on God and ask, He soon supplies it in the most unusual ways!

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