As I write this piece Judy (my wife) and I are returning from Southeast Asia, where our son and daughter-n-law serve as missionaries. This trip was a refreshing reminder of the joy of giving. We were able to share gifts of encouragement with several missionaries. It is such a blessing to encourage others and to see the joy on their faces as they received our gifts.
As I connect the joy of Christmas giving to what I experienced in SE Asia, I am reminded of several gifts we should share at Christmas and throughout the year. First, there is the gift of unconditional, unsolicited love. Our giving to the missionaries was unsolicited and unconditional. 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 of unconditional love.
The gift of encouragement is also needed. We planned the gift giving for the missionaries as an act of encouragement. Likewise, there are people all around us 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?
A few days 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 seek out those actions that are beyond the ordinary. Such actions will bring us an extra special level of the “Joy of Giving.”
Only the called of God see the ministry as a lifework for the Lord Jesus regardless of the pay, the appreciation, or the fruit. Only the called keep preaching when no church will employ them and when the disgruntled from the last two churches are bad-mouthing them to pastor search committees.
You have to be called. That's all there is to it.
Last week we posted the first in this series. The first section: “You know you are not called to this work when...” and the second, “You know God called you into this work when...”
1)...the work is hard, the rewards are few, the complaining is multiplying, and you are more fulfilled than in anything you've ever done in your life.
2)...you preached your heart out, you know beyond a doubt that the hand of God was on you, but the only response from the congregation was griping that you went overtime. And you are still happy to be serving those people in that pastorate.
3)...the deacons are discussing your ministry (pro and con; you do have your supporters) while you sit there in silence, and you find the peace of Christ settling upon you. You sense within yourself a strong love for your critics.
4)...you can't do anything else.
A pastor friend wrote about a church he served. “There was a time when I was in a difficult church. A small group of leaders had force-terminated the previous four pastors, and now they were trying to run me off. They were hypercritical, they fabricated allegations against me, and they wanted me gone.
“I became frustrated and weary and began exploring other career options. In fact, I even found one. However, the Lord would not let me leave. He confirmed in my heart that I was called to pastor and He had sent me to that church. He restored my joy and gave me the perseverance needed to ride out the storm.”
5)...you take a well-needed vacation and when it's over, you can't wait to get back.
You miss your people and miss what you do.
6)...you sincerely love the people you are ministering to. They're sinful and can be difficult and the work is emotionally and spiritually draining. But you love them in a way that feels that it must be how the Lord loves them.
7)...you are truly burdened for the spiritual well-being of your people.
This keeps you awake at night, occupies your mind in the day, and drives the programming of your ministry.
Far from running from this kind of burden and the demands of this heavy a ministry, you actually embrace it.
Harper Shannon tells of a pastor running into a friend who had left the ministry and was now selling insurance. He asked, "What do you miss most about the work?"
The insurance seller and former pastor said, "I miss the trumpets in the morning."
(That became the title of Harper's book on the pastoral ministry. It's long out of print, but available from used book sellers such as amazon.com and alibris.com.)
Those called of God understand trumpets in the morning.
My pastor friend was about to conduct the most difficult funeral of his nearly 20 year ministry. He and I had discussed it and I had prayed for him. His heart was breaking for the young family that was laying to rest two close loved ones.
In a private moment, I said to him, "Pastor to pastor, I want to ask you something. Even though this is tearing your heart out, do you find yourself thinking, 'I'd rather be here doing this than anywhere else in the world'?"
He said, "I do! I really do."
I said, "That's how you know you are really called to this work."
He was quiet a moment, then added, "I tell my wife--pastors' wives understand these things--that my favorite part of pastoring, what I do best, is the funeral of a Christian. It's hard, it can be gut-wrenching, but this is our moment to shine, the event which brings together all the great stuff we believe so strongly."
God-called pastors understand.
Only the called will understand.
In a meeting of the directors of mission for the Baptists of our state, an item on our agenda, one we discussed out of great concern but for which we arrived at no solution, was "helping pastors know if they are called (or not) into the ministry."
There ought to be a way to help uncalled ministers to recognize their situation, then step away from this work and find something else to do.
Some will ask why, what difference it makes.
After reading many posts from The Shepherd’s Connection website, and hearing of so many discouraged pastors, I believe the Lord wants me to share from my heart why so many God-called pastors get so discouraged, and many even choose to leave the pastoring ministry.
I am 72-years-old and have been pastoring for the last 20 years. When I gave my life to Jesus at age 36, a radical change began to take place in my heart that is still going on today, as I expect it will until I see Him face to face. God began putting my life in order, after His order, because that is what He does.
For 16 years, I was under the leadership of a great pastor in a large church. He was not a great pastor because he was serving as the pastor of a large church, but because he was living out his God-given instructions for every God-called pastor. It is clear that Paul summarized the pastor’s role in Ephesians 4:11-12, “And he gave some, apostles, and some, prophets, and some, evangelists, and some, pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. (KJV emphasis mine)
My first pastorate was a church in a small community with a membership of about 50, of which about 14-16 regularly attended (of course, it was not always the same 14-16 who attended). While this may be typical, it is certainly not normal for the saints of God. I started out to build up that small church and it was one of the most frustrating endeavors I have ever undertaken. Everyone was excited in the "honeymoon" stage, but it was not long before I realized that I could not build the church because that was not what I have been called to do, at least according to Matthew 16:18; only Jesus could do that!
Celebrating Two Years of The Shepherd’s Connection
Have you heard any positive words lately? I use this question because, unfortunately, ministers often hear more negative than positive words. These negative words come from numerous sources. First, there are the negative, condemning words that sometimes flow from our heart.
Then, there are the negatives words that come from the people we serve. If you serve in ministry you will receive your share of complaints, grumbling, criticism and the like.
There are also negative words that come from Satan. It is no surprise that he is called the accuser, the slanderer and the father of lies. He condemns us and paints our souls in black.
Today, I want to speak a positive word to you. I am thankful for you! I am reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy in his second letter. “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” I observe four significant truths in II Tim. 1:3-7.
Celebrating the 2nd Anniversary of The Shepherd’s Connection
In an article I wrote last week I referred to II Tim. 4:9-13. In this passage Paul asks Timothy to bring several resources. He recognized some of the vital resources that are helpful to his journey in ministry. Paul identifies friends, reading material (the scrolls), and his cloak. “Make every effort to come to me soon, for Demas has deserted me, because he loved this present world, and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak I left in Troas with Carpus, as well as the scrolls, especially the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did great harm to me. The Lord will repay him according to his works.” (II Timothy 4:9-13)
Paul knew the value of resources. What about you? Do you maintain resources that will enable you to stay healthy for your journey in ministry? I will share some resources that I have found to be helpful to a healthy journey in ministry.
In last week’s article I discussed John Donne’s famous quote, “No man is an island.” If no man is an island, there is a natural assumption that all men need the encouragement and support of others. This is true in the secular world as well as the religious world. It is also true for ministers of the gospel. We are not superhuman.
Ministers of the gospel face the challenge of living in an isolated cocoon. This is not conducive to giving and/or receiving the support of others. This concept demands our attention in both directions. We should give encouragement to others, but we also need encouragement. In this article I want to challenge you to be an encourager.
As ministers, we should be encouragers to everyone. However, we desperately need to share this gift with fellow ministers. No one understands the challenges and trials of ministry like those who serve in ministry.
I am inspired by the example of Barnabus. Most every time we meet him on the pages of the New Testament he is encouraging someone. We read where he sold some of his possessions and encouraged others by sharing with them. (Acts 4:36-37) He encouraged Paul and stood up for him, as a new convert, before the skeptical elders of the Jerusalem church. (Acts 9:26-27 He was an encourager for the Gentile church in Antioch and he stood for them and by them in the early days of their spiritual journey. He encouraged the church in Jerusalem by helping deliver the benevolent gift from Antioch during a time of famine. (Acts 11:19-30) He stood up for John Mark, at a time when he needed encouragement and a friend. This was especially significant since Barnabas and Paul had a difference of opinion concerning Mark’s continued participation in their missionary work. Barnabas chose to support and encourage John Mark whereas Paul wanted to go on without him. (Acts 15:36-41)
A famous poet by the name of John Donne (1572-1631) once said, “No man is an island.” The past two years I have observed this to be so. Two years ago, in October, a group of fellow believers started The Shepherd’s Connection. This ministry was designed to address the pain, loneliness and challenges faced by those who serve in ministry. I asked one leader, who regularly counsels pastors, this question, “What do you perceive to be the greatest danger faced by ministers?” Without hesitation he said “isolation.” Translation, no man is an island.
In considering this topic I am reminded of Paul’s situation when he wrote II Timothy. “Make every effort to come to me soon, for Demas has deserted me, because he loved this present world, and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak I left in Troas with Carpus, as well as the scrolls, especially the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did great harm to me. The Lord will repay him according to his works.” (II Timothy 4:9-13) Paul experienced the heartache of desertion and felt the loneliness of saying goodbye to ministry associates. He recognized the importance of staying connected to other believers. He anticipated Timothy’s soon arrival. From this text I recognize several important truths we ministers should heed.
When we started “The Shepherd’s Connection” we chose a name with intentionality. We recognized the truths from Paul’s life. The key word is the word “connection.” Every minister needs to be connected. Paul recognized this truth and sought to be connected to two valuable resources.
First, Paul sought to be connected to ministry friends. Every minister faces isolation. Isolation has many causes: people’s expectations, the natural isolation of leadership, competition, jealousy, and insufficient time to prioritize personal relationships. Isolation goes with the position; however, we do not have to yield to it. We, like Paul, should seek to stay connected.
Recently, I learned something about myself that I really do not like. I am very poor at waiting! I wake in the morning with a “Hurry Up” attitude. I rush to the kitchen to start the coffeepot and then wait for it to brew. While trying to listen to the morning news, I quickly made my toast. Gulping breakfast down with my second cup of coffee, I was off to the bathroom for a quick shower and shave. Then I jumped into my jeans, shirt and shoes and was off to my doctor’s office -- and then I realized that I had hurried only to wait! Waiting my turn seemed twice as long as it really was. Then I wondered, how much time had I really saved and for what?
For most of us, life is just one big hurry up and wait! Through the years, I have tried to make positive use of that waiting time. So, controlling my impatience, I returned to my effort to use each minute well. Looking around, I discovered the prettiest three year old, well-behaved little girl. I spent some time just soaking up the wonder of a little child. I got acquainted with her father and mother – Army people.
There was an elderly lady who had recently undergone surgery on her arm and we exchanged miseries and pleasantries, and then an acquaintance who I had known for nineteen years came in. I learned that because of severe illness, she had to retire. I offered words of encouragement. After a while, a lady with no legs came in, and all I had time for was a smile and she smiled in return; and then I was ushered into a little room to wait some more! What could I do while waiting?
I remembered some truths given in God’s Word. The Apostle Paul admonished us to “Buy up the time!” So, I began working on a sermon idea, “When Time is No More” and another idea, “While Waiting, What Kind of a Person Should I Be?” Sensing my failure to always use time well and my need for patience while waiting, I “gossiped” to the Good Lord about me and I prayed for the physicians who were so busy at the task of making life better for so many patients.
Reflecting upon my attitude and impatience at having to wait, I remembered a favorite Psalm, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble, therefore we will not fear.” (Psalm 46:1-2) Regardless of what happens, He is in control! “The Lord of hosts is with us.” (Psalm 46:7) Then the verse really spoke to me, “Be still and know that I am God: I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10) I was reminded that this time spent waiting was just what I needed to “Be still” and experience God’s presence. Lord, thank You for time to wait in Your presence.
E. J. Bradshaw is Director of Missions for Vernon Baptist Association, Leesville, LA.
“Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”
I don't know who it was in our Men's Ministry who coined the phrase years ago, “Don’t Fix Me, Just Hold Me” which meant to the other guys in the group, "I don’t need your advice, I just need your friendship. I just want to know that you care.” This saying has proved itself over and over again to be a great way to be a better friend to one another. And the good news is, it works in all relationships, not just between men.
Hearing those words, "Don't Fix Me Just Hold Me" are refreshing for the simple fact that often times in life we are fully aware of what we are struggling through as God is working in our lives or as we have just experienced a hardship or loss and what we need most from those close to us is their loving support. Just knowing they are there for us speaks volumes. In the book of Job, when his three friends first heard the news of his tremendous loss, they didn’t try to fix him, no, they just came to him and sat by his side for days on end without speaking a single word. They cried with him and mourned his loss with him, but they didn’t try to fix the situation by offering sage advice. That story provides for each of us an important lesson on how to be a better friend.
Availability is sometimes the single greatest gift we can offer others, especially in their time of need. Think about it, loved one, what keeps any of us from helping others? Isn't it our busyness that hinders us from getting involved? I remember a pastor friend telling me one time that if people wanted his counsel they could set up an appointment with him during his office hours placing the burden on them if they wanted his care. He told me that since people would take off time from work to go to the doctor he saw no reason not to make them schedule an appointment between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. if they really wanted his help. I remember thinking at the time, is that what Jesus would do? I shared with him that I thought we might need to reconsider our thinking on that for the simple fact that, “since people can’t schedule all their pain, they can’t schedule all appointments conveniently between the hours of 8:30 and 4:30.” As friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ we should all seek to be available for each other in life understanding that in doing so we will enjoy some of the most divine appointments God has to offer us.
"Don't Fix Me, Just Hold Me" is a basic human cry of our heart that can be met when we choose to "be there" for others. We don't need to worry what to say, we don't need special training, all we need is a willingness in our heart to drop what we are doing, and to make ourselves available to others in their time of need. After all, that's what Jesus does for me and for you! Actually, Jesus does one better. When Jesus holds us, that makes it all better!
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
Mike Osthimer is pastor of Calvary Chapel Westbrook in Bakersfield, California.
While travelling last week, on two separate occasions, I observed a turtle slowly creeping across a road. Both times the same thing happened. When the turtle saw my car approaching each quickly withdrew into his shell. These incidents were a parable of truth to me. What did I learn?
The first lesson, you have to give the turtles credit for venturing to cross the road. They saw something worth pursuing across the road. There is an old saying “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Am I venturing out and testing new terrain? We will never accomplish anything if we do not venture out.
A second lesson was somewhat humorous. Two turtles are strolling across the road. They realize danger is pressing in on them. They cannot run away so they withdraw to the security of their shell. Even though they felt secure in their shell, the truth is, the shell offered no security. Those turtles did not escape the danger. They escaped to the perceived security of the shell. However, the threat was still present. We may do the same thing. We withdraw when we perceive danger is present. We subconsciously convince ourselves that we have escaped the danger, only to emerge with the danger still present.
A third lesson grows out of the second. When we withdraw we are not solving the problem, we are merely avoiding it. When we come back it will still be there. Obviously a turtle cannot reason or negotiate when it finds itself in dangerous circumstances. However, God has given us the ability to communicate, speak truth, and discuss issues with other people. We must be careful that we are not retreating and merely hiding our problems. Such avoidance often leads to depression and hidden emotions.