Never Give Up!

Every four years, when the summer Olympic Games roll around, I become engrossed in sports that I have not heard anything about since the last games. Sports like double trap shooting, judo, fencing, canoeing/kayaking, and badminton don’t usually make headlines outside of a country winning the gold medal. The players may never be heard from again, but their gold medals are forever a source of pride for their countries.

We are currently in the midst of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There are 207 nations (between 8,255 and 10,500 athletes) participating in 306 events in 28 sports in 37 venues. We are witnessing some of the most historical athletic endeavors of all time. Michael Phelps now has the most Olympic gold medals of any individual in the history of the games — 23 gold, 3 silver, and 2 bronze. Usain Bolt has proven that he is the fastest man alive by winning his third straight Olympic gold medal in the 100 meter dash. And, even though it is her first Olympics, Simone Biles is already being acclaimed as the greatest female gymnast of all time.

There are several traits that all of these Olympic athletes have in common, among which are focus, repetition, passion, and perseverance. This is a great lesson for folks like you and me: to “run,” as the writer to the Hebrews expressed, “with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). Or to persevere, as James expressed: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life” (James 1:12). Paul exclaimed in his farewell address, “If only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me” (Acts 20:24). And again, he admonished Timothy, “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5).

When God called you, He did so with the full expectation that you would be a winner, not a whiner — that you would finish the race with joy, not drop out along the way. Paul looked back on his life and ministry saying, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). He was eligible for the prize … the crown.

So are you, my colleague, but you must fight the good fight — finish the race — and no matter what, keep the faith! You may never receive a gold medal, but if you remain faithful, the Righteous Judge will award you something much better: His approval, His recognition, His blessing. So be prepared: The finish line lies before you! Go for it! And do it with enthusiasm.

The apostle Paul admonished the church at Corinth to also aim for perfection (2 Corinthians 13:11). In other words, do your best, be your best, hope for the best. The pursuit of excellence is a repeated story in the sports world. Reporters often write about:

1. Preparation
2.  Recruitment
3.  Performance
4.  Coaching
5.  Teamwork
6.  Players at skilled positions
7.  Study of the playbook
8.  Second effort
9.  Testings and challenges
10. Minimizing the turnovers
11. Will to win

And the list goes on.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it, my colleague? The thing we have going for us is that, in our big games, there are no losers. You are a player/coach on the winning team in a struggle for the hearts and souls of all mankind. We may not succeed on every play, but one day when the final whistle blows, we’ll know “we are more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37).

At the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, I once visited an exhibit titled “Praxis — Athletes” by an artist named Kyriacos Lazarides. The paintings were all abstracts of famous Olympic athletes without names attached. There were gymnasts, runners, lifters, skiers, cyclists — you name it. In the mix of the paintings was a framed quote that caught my eye: “Praxis is not only to try and to give up, but praxis is also to penetrate, to fight, to win and to lose, to kneel down, to get up, to stimulate and to accept struggle and fight until the last breath.” It really reflects the Olympic spirit — it also calls to mind the commitment you must make to the challenge you face in life and ministry. That “never give up” spirit personifies who you are in Christ.

It reminds me of the challenge and promise our God issued to Joshua as he took the mantle of leadership from Moses: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:25).

Preparing Your Church to Face the World

Violence 250x167The current year is just a little more than halfway over. Apart from the frightening carnival that this year’s presidential election has become, what would you say is the biggest category of news story that is being reported and debated throughout the country and the world? Watching the nightly news and checking the Internet, my guess would be the stories on increasing, unnecessary, and unconscionable violence around the planet.

For example, just recently there was Thursday’s attack in Nice, France, when a large truck driving through Bastille Day crowds killed 84 people, many of them children. Also on Thursday, July 14, Baltimore police officers, responding to the sound of gunshots near an apartment building, fatally shot a man who fired at them with an AR-15-style rifle, authorities said. Also from yesterday, a Philadelphia father has been charged with waving a gun around a bedroom with seven children present until it went off, killing his 4-year-old daughter. An Indianapolis man was accused of firing shots into a police officer’s home on Tuesday, July 12, as his wife and child slept. And last week, on July 7, the Dallas Police Department became the first in the nation to use a robot to deliver and detonateViolence gun 250x156 a bomb to blow up suspect Micah Johnson, ending a night of terror in which he shot 14 officers, killing five of them, and also wounded two civilians. On July 6, in St. Paul, a black Minnesota man was allegedly shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop. In Phoenix, a man was shot dead on June 10 as he sat in his car in front of his girlfriend’s house by a suspect who was identified later that week as the city’s first serial killer in a decade. Today like never before, violent extremists of all kinds are not just killing others in cold blood, but they are deliberately targeting young people with poisonous propaganda — especially in cyberspace, where they are flooding social media with slick recruiting videos and persuasive calls to action.

Sin separates 250x125Folks, we have a problem. And it’s not a new one. At the heart of each of the violent acts being carried out around our world is the same condition — sin! And what is the only remedy? Belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who came to earth as a man, lived a sinless life, was crucified and thereby paid the debt each of us owed for our sins, then rose again to conquer death forever and provide us with everlasting life. God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us.

Now, how does this work today? A significant part of the plan is the local pastor — you! “Why do we need pastors?” some will ask. Well, let me tell you why we need you now — at your best — more than ever.

Role Of The Pastor 250x167First: We need stability. The nation — the world — is spinning out of control. We need you steadfast and sure to point us to God. We need your leadership.

Second: There are so many questions. Why war? Why killings of the innocent in schools? Why so much corruption in our government? Why the lack of moral outrage? Why is the church so hesitant to get involved? Where do you find answers? We need to know what you think. We need your wisdom.

Third: Christianity is under attack. Everywhere I turn, I see the liberal media taking shots at Christ and those who follow Him. We need you to encourage us, to guide us to keep up the good fight.

Fourth: We see truth undermined at every turn. In Bible days, it was said that people did what was right in their own eyes. Not so different than today, huh? It is not so much what man says — we need to know what God is saying. We need you to tell us, “Thus says the Lord.”

Fifth: We need consistency. We need to be able to look at you and know that you practice what you preach. We need to see a renewal of faith in you and what you represent. We need to be able to trust your morals, your commitment, and your determination. We want to do that with confidence. We need you now more than ever … at your best!

Christian family 250x188In a little-quoted scripture, the writer of Hebrews proclaims, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).

The next truth to keep in mind is that you are not expected to do it alone. You cannot change the nature of man by yourself. You are to lead your church into the battle. The Church of Christ is the Body of our Lord. Its various members have assigned tasks and abilities that will allow It to do the will of Jesus in this perverted world. Prepare it to do so.

Your job? To pray without ceasing for your people. How do you pray for your church? Consider the following:

Pray …

Prayer - a passion for God 250x225► For the hearts of your people to blaze with love and loyalty to Christ our King and Lord of all.

► For church members to recognize their sin and openly confess the many ways they have grieved God. To seek forgiveness and renewal.

► That God would draw near to His people, revealing His presence with times of refreshing like water on a parched desert.

► For reconciliation, the removal of divisions and hostilities — for the church to work in unity.

► For a renewed passion for those who represent the least, the lost, and the lonely (such as those who resort to violence).

► That the church might be the initiating agent to eradicate loneliness and sin around the world through Jesus Christ.

A Big God 250x200When you pray, how do you pray for your church family? How do they pray for themselves? The early church “joined together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:14). I believe the local church — your church — is the catalyst for real transformation in our nation. But it can happen only as we are willing to pray urgently, humbly, and often.

Pray, brother, pray! Pray, sister, pray!

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Love-cross 250x150And, as you pray for them, they will respond in love — for you, for one another, for those they know personally, and for those they do not know personally, for the world. Love begets love. When you love your people genuinely, they will love you back and then some.

Over the years, that fact has been proven to me again and again. From many whose names I could not remember, and faces I could not identify, have come words of thanks and blessings for my loving them and standing in the gap for their families and marriages. As pastors, we make a difference more often than we could ever imagine.

There is a dangerous trend I see in the church — where the pastor wants to be served and stands aloof from the people of his pasture. I promise you that, years from now — no, weeks from now — your people will scarcely remember the sermons you preached. But I promise, they will never forget the love you showed to them and the joy you expressed at being called their pastor. They will Forgiveness from sin 250x188remember how you led them in the ways of Christ Jesus. They will see the power of the Lord as the resolution to the sin that is so violently prevalent today. They will
then make a difference.

“It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart” (Philippians 1:7).

Investing in Men

Fathers-Day3-250x166Father’s Day shines bright this month. You may see more fathers and husbands in attendance than usual. You may see more sons and daughters, too. Take hold of this opportunity. Make a fuss over them.

For the major part of my pastoral life, I invested huge amounts of time in men. Early on, I realized it was a ministry that would reap great dividends. When fathers and husbands become convinced that church and spiritual things have value, they become a pastor’s greatest asset.

I have a theory that many men are opting out of the church altogether, or living on the fringe of the fellowship. Statistics have shown that there is a decline of younger male leadership and involvement in church Men-in-church-1-250x166activity. Leon Podles writes, ‘‘A basic fear in men has resulted: church threatens their masculinity.” The Barna Research Group reports, “While 90 percent of men believe in God, only a third (or less) of them attend a church.” David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church, says, ‘‘A lack of male participation is one of the surest predictors of church decline.” He goes on to say, “If you want a healthy church for the long term, attract men. This was Jesus’ strategy. It still works today.”

That may not be the situation in your congregation, but the facts underscore the truth that, when men are involved in the church and committed to living a consistent Christ-like life, the congregation is healthier and families are more stable.

Men-in-church-3-250x167I further believe that the pastor cannot simply pass the responsibility of relevant men’s ministry on to someone else. You may not be required to head the endeavor, but you must be willing to participate. Further, keep in mind that a successful attempt to reach the men of your congregation cannot be limited to activity; it needs to reproduce leadership.

The words of Paul are essential: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).

How are you going to reach men? One word: Invest! As a pastor, you must make time to connect with your men in a nonthreatening way. They need to be able to trust you, confide in you, believe in you, and learn from you without intimidation. Please trust me on this one. It will transform your ministry.

Mens-Fellowship-250x290Your investment will, in time, reap a bountiful harvest for the kingdom. Walking into the lives of other men with a masculine approach to Christ-like living will make a difference. Pastor — you hold the key! I can’t overstate how important it is that you invest in men.

Men need a challenge. Muslim men know they are locked in a battle between good and evil. We must encourage men in the body of Christ to step up and engage the evil one before we suffer one more defeat.

“Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat … and followed him” (Matthew 4:21-22).

The Power of Your Prayers

Election 2016 - Obama Overreach 250x317Have you been following the emotional election nomination process of the past several months? Have you been keeping track of how our government officials (at all levels) have repeatedly and blatantly misused the constitutional powers of their offices? Have you been staying updated on the explosive political and military situations in the Middle East, Russia, and Korea? How about the radical policies being forced upon your local schools, your kids, or maybe even your church? Or the increase in the volume, nature, and intensity of crime in general across this nation? Or just the problems arising within your congregation or perhaps your home? Have you noticed that we live in a world more characterized by hate than at any other time in history? Things are out of control.

Personal Prayer 250x210My colleagues, it seems to me that things are so bad and threatening these days that no human effort could make even a dent towards fixing or improving what is going on around us. And that, of course, leads me to our obvious and growing need for inhuman, supernatural, divine help. And we seek and request that Godly remedy — including the power to sustain ourselves — through prayer … powerful personal prayer! It is needed more than ever.

Of course, most of you know that May 5 this year was the National Day of Prayer. I hope you and your people participated in this very important event and its activities held all around the country.

I remember a time in the early days of my pastoral ministry when I was facing a very difficult situation. I decided to share my burden with an older gentleman in the congregation whom I admired greatly for his spiritual insight. I poured out my heart to this wise man and then sat back awaiting his response. After several moments of silence, he looked over his eyeglasses at me and simply said, ‘Pray, brother, pray.”

I’m not sure that was the answer I was looking for, but it was the answer I needed. As the prayers I prayed were answered, his advice proved to be invaluable. So, whatever you might be currently facing — personally or nationally or internationally — I’d like to pass these words of wisdom on to you, my colleagues: “Pray, brother (sister), pray!”

Man in Prayer 250x167I do not know all I would like to know about prayer and how it works, but I do know from my own experience that the prayer of the intercessor is powerful. It projects faith and love in the name of Jesus Christ. As Paul taught: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

The psalmist David wrote, “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth” (Psalm 86:11). He was probably referring to the things he learned both through experience and meditation after he had prayed. He seemed to keep asking God to “Hear my prayer.”

I learn a lot through my private prayer life, especially when I can just be quiet and talk to the Father as a son. It’s after the prayer, when I reflect on our conversation, that I most often hear from God or, at least, find direction.

When I pray, I find myself removed from the norm of my everyday activity. All formality aside, I just communicate my feelings, and often my frustrations and fears. In the end, I don’t always ask for much. I just talk and then, when it’s over (my part), I listen.

Prayer Conversation 250x250There were a lot of years during which I was guided by the “A-C-T-S” formula for praying (Affirmation, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). But as the years have passed, my time with the Lord has become less emotional, not as animated, and much more conversational and intimate. I still wonder why we make such a show of prayer in public and why we need to pray so predictably. God listens when His children humbly and faithfully seek His face, whether our concern is over a disobedient child or an international tyrant.

Remember the Lord’s instruction regarding simple prayer in Matthew 6:5-6, before He taught the disciples how to pray? “And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. … Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace” (MSG).

Write Down Your Story

WriteYourOwnStory 250x333The last paragraph of the Gospel of John ends, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25). This passage makes me think about you and your story. You have a story — an amazing story of God’s grace and goodness. Have you ever written it down? Have you taken the time to start at the beginning and chronicle the events and miracle moments of your life?

Oh, I’m not saying you should do it for publication — but for your own sake. Yes, you face many challenges, but if you would make the time to “write your story,” I think you would find that it would be filled with many more good times than bad.

WriteYourStoryJourna 250x128lHow do you begin? Just start writing things down, beginning today. That’s what I did.

For instance, talk about your childhood and those who influenced you. You will find angels in that chapter.

How did you meet your spouse? Who you are and what you accomplish can often be traced to that moment.

How did you enter into the ministry? What brought about that call? Did it happen suddenly in a service or at camp, or was it through a series of unmistakable divine interventions in your life?

Challenges Ahead 250x324What about the challenges, both personal and professional? We have all faced both sorrow and happiness. Each one of us has known failure, but we have also experienced victory. What about the miracles of God’s grace that have caused you to shake your head and say, “He really does care about me.” Write it down — let other people read it. Use it as a testimony.

Consider this. You have probably gone through situations that caused you pain, but you made it and now you are on the other side. How you dealt with those circumstances might be helpful to you when you are faced with a similar reality. You have likely gained wisdom by the ways you have handled or mishandled successful times, as well. All of these experiences may also help someone else, perhaps another pastor.

I would imagine you’ve learned several hard lessons as a parent and spouse — and maybe you (and we all) could benefit from what you went through. Your diary or journal would contain remembrances of good times and bad, successes and failures. You would be reminded of times when you were a good mom or dad and when you made some mistakes.

WriteYourStoryNow 250x123You would come face to face again with ministry issues that changed your life. For instance: “Today, I made a decision to move on. I will assume the leadership of a new congregation. My wife and family are thrilled. I feel I should have had a better chance to turn things around here.”

Or . . . “My son needed me today, but I had pastoral duties that would not allow me the time to be the dad I wanted to be. I hope he will understand.”

Or . . . “I’m sad today. The baby we had been praying for died. I was there with the family, but I didn’t have answers. I could only say, ‘God loves you now more than ever.’ They seemed to appreciate my concern and prayers.”

Or . . . “I was at lunch today with a man in our community. As we talked, I could see he was hungry for a new life. I led him to Jesus Christ. It was awesome. What a day!”

Or . . . “Sunday came too quickly this week. I didn’t have time to prepare well — but God helped me. Some said it was the best sermon I have ever delivered. I think it’s because I had to trust Him more.”

LearnFromYourPast 250x141Our stories should be told if for no one else but our families. Think of the blessings you would experience if you had such a book from your parents, other relatives, or significant people in your life. Please consider doing this. You, my colleague, have a story — tell it!

“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago” (Psalm 77:11).

“Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced” (Psalm 105:4-5).

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