A Time of Personal Examination

Web editor’s note: As mentioned last month, H.B. has been battling a number of health issues for the past few months. We continue to encourage you to pray for him, his family, and his doctors as he slowly heals and regains strength. Once again, we are reposting a previously used blog entry, this one from March 15, 2014. We believe it still imparts an important message and challenge for all pastors.

Spring break is taking place across the country during various weeks of this month and next — depending on one’s school, school district, or college institution. When I was young, the idea of spring break was much different than it is today. For most of us, our schools actually called it Easter break or Easter vacation, and it occurred the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. It was not the socially celebrated time to get away from home and party with friends and strangers like it seems to have become today. In fact, a lot of churches in those days planned youth camps during this week and used the time off for spiritual activities. Others did other special things. But, among many of the “high church” denominations, the emphasis at this time of the year was on Lent.

Lent is the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting. The term comes from the Middle English lente — meaning “springtime” — and from the Old English lencten, and was akin to the Old High German lenzin — meaning “spring.” Its first known use was in the 13th century. The Latin term is Quadragesima (a translation of the original Greek Τεσσαρακοστή, Tessarakostē, or the “Fortieth” day before Easter).

“Christ in the Wilderness” by Ivan Kramskoi

The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial — linked to the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert preparing for His ministry. This event, along with its pious customs, has long been observed by Christians in the Anglican, Reformed, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic traditions. Today, some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season. During Lent, many believers commit themselves to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence. Many Christians also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional, to draw themselves nearer to God.

I believe that — for you, my colleague — the Lenten Season should be much more than planning for a big crowd and festive weekend. It should also be a time of personal preparation for your heart, your attitude, your message, and your relationship with the risen Christ. The apostle Paul wrote, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:2-5).

As a pastor, I used the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday to call my people to a time of personal examination. Every service, including midweek, had an Easter theme that would draw people along the road to Jerusalem, to the foot of the cross, and into the celebration of the empty tomb.

During the Lenten Season, I would ask our congregation:

  1.   Who among us has someone to forgive?
  2.   Who among us has a blockage that would keep the Holy Spirit from moving freely in his or her life?
  3.   Who among us has allowed his or her relationship with the risen Lord to stagnate?

What if, during this time of preparation, you guided your people to a new plateau of intimacy with Jesus? (Of course, it is nearly impossible to guide another to a place you haven’t been to or experienced yourself.) The celebration of Easter can hold great significance, especially to the new believer. I pray that your Easter activities will be underscored by the Spirit’s power.

“Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).

A Covenant for Pastors

Web editor’s note: As many of you may know (especially if you follow H.B. London on Facebook), H.B. has been battling a number of health issues for the past few months. We would encourage you to pray for him, his family, and his doctors as he continues to heal and regain strength. In order to relieve some pressure from him, we are reposting his blog entry from January 30, 2012, when this blog was only two-and-a-half months old and the web site was in its eighth month of existence. We believe it still imparts an important message and challenge for all pastors.

Ministry today is more difficult than it has ever been. It seems that each day we hear of another colleague in ministry who has fallen into immorality, another who has burned out, another who has in some way weakened the credibility of those called to God’s ministry. Why is this happening in record numbers today?

I think that, amidst the hectic expectations that we encounter in “real” ministry, we often lose sight of the commitments we made when we first accepted Christ as our Savior and Lord. Perhaps the standards by which we promised to live when we followed His call to be His ministers have been overshadowed by exhaustion or carelessness. Whatever the cause, we in ministry more and more are facing a crisis of integrity, righteousness, and credibility.

I believe it is crucial that we regain our focus and recommit ourselves to a lifestyle pleasing to the Lord, to our congregations, to our families, and to ourselves. We pastors are joined together by a common call of God to feed His sheep, but we are also tied by a common commitment to purity, holiness, righteousness, and faithfulness. This agreement transcends theological differences, denominational connections, and local congregational constraints. We are bound to one another by our calls and by the knowledge that one day the Great Shepherd will be the final Judge.

Several years ago, I introduced a concept I called the Shepherd’s Covenant®. It is a strategy for the moral, spiritual, and ethical protection of pastors based on the guidelines practiced by the Good Shepherd. The Shepherd’s Covenant® is built on the acronym G-R-A-C-E. Here are the basics of that covenant:

While this new year is still young, look at the first of these elements. How are you doing with accountability — genuine accountability?

  • Do you meet regularly with a colleague?
  • Do you really engage and challenge one another?
  • Do you pray for and support one another?

You need your accountability colleague — your colleague needs you! I realize accountability relationships are fluid, but they are very worthwhile. If you are having a tough time finding someone, select a pastor in town who has an assignment similar to yours and ask him to join you for a coffee break. It is amazing how productive those times can be. Honest, the members of the clergy that most often find their ministries in jeopardy are those who have no accountability. So, how are you doing?

“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

Having a Heart for Peace

This is the weekend we celebrate the life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is my impression that Rev. King was essentially a man of peace. He often found inequality or injustice in our nation, but he generally sought a resolution through peaceful means. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs. On October 14, 1964, King even received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. (King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971, and as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986.)

Violence is an attitude that permeates our society: grown men fighting one another at their sons’ Little League games, a father assaulting a teenage referee in a soccer game, one gang in a poor area of a city conducting a “turf” war with another gang, an unborn baby having his or her life terminated for the sake of convenience, a deacon threatening a pastoral staff member, and, lately, voters whose candidate did not win attacking voters whose candidate won in shameful and reproachable ways. There’s a kind of “get even” mentality that finds its way into every corner of our relationships — even in the church. One of my most embarrassing moments as a pastor was my involvement in a church league basketball game brawl. It was terrible!

In our Lord’s discourse on the end times, He indicates that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matthew 24:7). In other words, there will be war everywhere you look. That seems to be the case today. Not only do we have wars raging; we also have rumors of more wars to come.

I hate the thought of war. I am well aware of the concept and why we engage in war, but it is difficult to think of so many people hating so many other people enough to want to kill them. It’s even worse when innocent soldiers are sent to kill other innocent soldiers simply because their leaders can’t get along. I am not being overly naive — I just hate war.

Why do we do these things? The answer: wickedness of the human heart. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Paul explained part of the reason for mortal conflict when he said, “The acts of the sinful nature are … hatred, discord … [and] dissensions” (Galatians 5:19-20). In other words, the motivation that causes war between nations is the same one that causes neighbors to do bodily harm to one another because the snow is not removed from the sidewalk. Or a church member to have such hatred for his pastor that he would do nearly anything to see the pastor lose his or her job. Or someone to assassinate Martin Luther King, Jr. Or kill a president. Or murder a spouse.

The heart — that which tempers our reactions and causes us to love or hate — is basically evil. And unless there is radical surgery on the heart, there will never be peace. That is why Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). His peace is a transformation of the mind brought about by a changed heart.

Hearts must be changed. That is why you need to preach it: “Change my heart, O God.” “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples” (Isaiah 2:4). Unless our hearts are changed by a relationship with Jesus, we will continue to hurt one another.

There will be a time when, like all men, we will stand before the awesome Judge of the universe and account for our behavior. Only then will we know genuine and complete justice. Unfortunately, the church does not talk much about judgment anymore, and because of that, a generation of people is going through life uninformed and unforgiven. That is a shame, because judgment is an integral part of the gospel.

Pastor, preach the whole gospel — not just the parts people want to hear. A dying world is in need of God’s saving grace. “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).

Looking at Relationships

H.B. London at Friendship Church

Today (December 15, 2016) is my 80th birthday. I stand amazed at how God has taken care of me through the years and allowed me to continue serving Him. My early years, as many of you know, were played out the way to which many a P.K. (preacher’s kid) could testify, with good times and troubled. But God saw fit to call me to pastoral ministry, and I was absolutely blessed to serve as pastor of three churches over the next 31 years in California and Oregon ─ some of the hardest, yet most wonderful and fulfilling times anyone could imagine. I was then honored by an opportunity to serve beside my brother-like cousin, Dr. James Dobson, at Focus on the Family and to create a special ministry to pastoral families that lasted some 20 years. After “retirement,” I was continually asked to speak to pastors and their spouses at conferences and seminars through the fledgling H.B. London Ministries. And, now, the circle has come around and I again get to do what I love — pastor a small church in Palm Desert, California.

Over my 80 years, I have made more friends than anyone has a right to. Many of them have sent cards and greetings this week. It has been wonderful. There is a mix of both birthday and Christmas cards, and Beverley and I love sorting them out. I am a blessed man.

I think one point I would like to make this month is that, in the hurry of the Christmas season, you can easily overlook the significance of each greeting you open. You see, every card represents a person or family that you have influenced in some way.

Some of the first Christmas cards I read this week were from former church members I had helped through difficult times. As I read their letters, I rejoiced with them for the many blessings received over the past year. From others, I could read between the lines and find loss and pain.

I have lived long enough to recognize that each card has a very special nuance to it. These folks have invested their time and money to remember our family. I am thankful for that. In my last pastorate, there were so many people and so many cards that I took a lot of them for granted.

A suggestion: As you open your cards, take a moment to read the printed message, then visualize the family who took time to remember you. Pray for them and thank God for the privilege of having a small part in their Christian journey. Then, place the card in a basket or box with all of the others you receive. Later in the year, go back to that container and reread the cards and repray for those people. You will be amazed at the difference it makes in you.

Christmas cards in many ways echo the beautiful message of the angels so long ago: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). May this Christmas season fill you with the joy of that announcement.

A second point I would like to make here pertains to relationships. In so many ways, the gospel message is about relationships — especially that unique one God offers through Christ to each man and woman to belong to Him, to have sins redeemed, and to live eternally in His presence.

The Christmas season not only makes us think about family past and present, but also brings to mind friends who have touched our lives through the years. We do not see them as often as we would like, but when we are together, they seem like relationships that have always been. There will come a time in your life when you realize the most lasting and valuable things we have on this earth are the relationships we have nurtured over the years.

I am positive that, as you read this, you can think of a colleague who has gone through tough times. Perhaps there has been a failure of some sort in his or her ministry. Maybe their family is struggling. There might even be a pastor in your circle who has been forced to step away from his assignment because of a conflict within the congregation.

Likewise, think of all the people you have met in your ministry ─ those in your congregations, those in your communities, those in your denominations, those in your neighborhoods. Cherish those relationships.

My point is a simple one: The Christmas season can be very lonely for those of us who are away from our roots. The moves we have made have taken us out of our comfort zones. What might it mean to your clergy friends or others if you made a call, sent an e-mail, or initiated some contact that would help them realize they are not alone, that they matter? I urge you to take a few minutes and “do the friend thing.”

“A man that hath friends must show himself friendly” (Proverbs 18:24, KJV).

Where Do We Go From Here?

Hey! Did you hear? We had a national election for President of the United States this month! It is one of the most important responsibilities we have as Americans — to elect our nation’s leaders. Congratulations to Donald J. Trump on his victory to become our next president, and condolences to Hillary R. Clinton in one of her saddest of moments, I’m sure. Both campaigned long and hard, as it should be. One won, and one lost. May God bless and oversee them both. And now we need to rally behind those who were elected at all levels of government as we move forward.

election-riots-250x140I have been utterly shocked into disbelief, however, to see the nasty and violent reactions of so many Americans and others, whether in anger or joy. I realize that, even with all of the protests and riots and bitterness, we are still talking about a very small percentage of our citizens, but it is still disturbing. And some even say they have seen the buses bringing in what appear to be professional rioters and protesters, indicating that a lot of what we are hearing and seeing on the news is orchestrated and political in motivation, and not truly the behavior of average citizens.

gods-love-250x275What really scares me, though, is that there seems to be so much hatred out there. And it seems to run quite deeply. Lots of ruthless name-calling and labeling have been going on since even before the election. I sense a lot of disunity in our nation right now, and it needs healing. What do you imagine your role could be or should be, my colleague, in bringing about unity and peace?

I looked up the word hate and found it defined as detest, abhor, loathe, and despise. All of these words are terrible when focused on another individual. They speak of feelings so strong toward another person that one’s actions, words, and attitudes are controlled by them.

Yet the Bible uses the word hate to describe both positive and negative reactions. For instance, Jesus said, “All men will hate you because of me” (Luke 21:17). That’s a good thing for His followers. Paul wrote, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). That is a positive emotion for the Christian. John reminds us that if anyone claims to love God, but hates his brother (1 John 4:20), it is unacceptable.

It’s the last verse that confuses me. How can any of us who call ourselves by the name of Christ justify feelings so intense that we find ourselves — in mind and body — out of control?

no-hatred-250x250Election fury, road rage, spousal abuse, racism, and intolerance are all a part of the human condition. That’s a bad thing. Yet, hate also exists in the church. I’m afraid as clergy we have tolerated for too long these things in our own congregations. Where sin abides … the Spirit will not. Let’s “hate hate” in Jesus’ name and speak boldly against it!

“If anyone boasts, ‘I love God,’ and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both” (1 John 4:20-21, MSG).

being-the-church-250x250Let’s face it, the church really needs to wake up and realize that our effectiveness and credibility come from “the church being the church” and not a finely tuned image campaign that creates a mirage. In many ways, the church is a mile wide and an inch deep. There are lots of folks who have been so deluded by our feel-good approach to the gospel that they are missing the born-again experience.

I will continue to be respectful of my critics, but I will not allow their watchdog mentality to stifle a message that I believe is from the Lord.

I often agonize for you, my friends, over the power players you must deal with on a weekly (or daily) basis. But you cannot allow yourself to be emasculated or let the message God has placed in your heart be weakened, even if it makes some people uncomfortable.

Paul wrote, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

stand-firm-250x150“I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone” (Titus 3:8, MSG).

Every day I deal with pastors who put themselves and their earthly passions above their call and their ministry. Nothing hurts the body of Christ more than a halfhearted dedication to the call of God to “tend the flock.”

I have been called, and assigned, for such a time as this — and so have you. You, in so many ways, are the comfort and grace of Christ to those you serve, and to our nation. Please stay strong, stay focused, stay pure, stay connected to the One who called you in the first place. You are vital to the world you serve.

psalm16_8-250x385The battles you engage in are His battles. The circumstances you face are familiar to Him. The burdens you bear may be placed on His shoulders with His permission. The weapons formed against you are, in a real sense, formed against Him, and they will not prosper. Nothing will ever separate you from His love or care.

We have a responsibility to lead our own people and our entire nation into a God-pleasing place. Yet, so often, under the pressure of our assignments, we feel we must “make it work” on our own or else. Not so! Your church is God’s church. Your call came not from man, but from God. He guides each step you take. Please do not ever forget that!

Our country and our world need you right now. You will be an instrument of peace and harmony if you let God use you as He wants. Start today.

“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

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