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).

Joy and Happiness

clergyappreciationmonth19-250x188We are in the midst of Clergy Appreciation Month. It is a time when congregations are encouraged to honor, thank, and celebrate their pastoral staffs. It is an important time because we all know that being a pastor can often become discouraging, disappointing, depressing, and even destructive. Knowing that someone cares, knowing that you are making a difference, and being recognized by the people you love and serve can be a shot in the arm, a rebirth of compassion and commitment, a boost in your soul. I truly pray that your congregation has already done and perhaps is still doing something special, something tangible to let you know how much they value you. (By the way, even if you are not among the fortunate few for whom this is true, do not be disheartened or think that you are not appreciated by your people. You are worthy and loved.)

In the book of Hebrews are words written to a group of people about their pastors: “Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden” (Hebrews 13:17).

joy-250x250I thought a bit about what that phrase really means — “joy, not a burden.” I’m sure it does not mean people are just to be robotic yes-men to their pastors. Rather, they are to honor the divine calling of their pastors and conduct themselves in a way that brings joy to pastoring.

What would make ministry joyful for you? Here are a few thoughts:

  • People who continue to show growth in their walk with the Lord.
  • People who have a genuine concern for their brothers and sisters in the faith.
  • People who do not turn a deaf ear to the lost.
  • People who walk by faith and not by sight.
  • People who pray rather than faint.
  • People who are drawn to peace rather than contention.
  • People whose self-image is based on who they are in Christ rather than what they accomplish by themselves.
  • People who pass the torch of righteousness to the next generation.
  • People who love the church and give themselves to it.

I think each of us has a “joy meter” that registers what gives us joy and how much joy we experience. Please don’t let yours be based on what happens around you more than on your contentment in Christ and the job He has given you to do. Rejoice!

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

joy-vs-happiness-250x170Of course, my colleague, we are all aware that joy and happiness are two completely different things. It seems to me that joy comes from God, while happiness comes from circumstances or others. We can still be joyful even when we are unhappy about something. I pray that, as pastors, you can always claim joy even when everything around you is not perfect.

There was an article several years ago in the Christian Post reporting on a survey conducted by the University of Chicago. The survey found that being in the clergy was the top job for satisfaction among American workers: 87 percent of the pastors surveyed reported they were very satisfied. The exact quote was: “Pastors — perceived to be some of the most under-appreciated and on-demand workers in America — are actually the happiest and most satisfied in their jobs.”

clergyappreciationmonth9-250x167Now, get this! In addition to being the most satisfied, pastors also outranked other American workers as being the happiest (67 percent). It was interesting to note that doctors and lawyers did not make the list of the top 12 most-satisfied or happiest. At the bottom of the “happy” list were garage and service station workers (13 percent) and roofers (14 percent).

What made pastors the happiest workers in the land? Is it still true? Do you think it is based on the same criteria that makes other professions happy, or could it be because we are uniquely called and, in fact, our jobs are really not “jobs” as such? Could it be because we give hope to people and help them find the Lord? And, sometimes, we are humbled when they show their appreciation back for us?

clergyappreciationmonth23-250x183Are you joyful — if so, why? Are you happy — if so, why? Are you satisfied — if so, why? If not, why not?

The dictionary defines happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment.” Is that how you would define it? Just something to think about.

Happy Clergy Appreciation Month! We love you and treasure what you do for our Lord!

“But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

Who Will Tell Them?

Central ParkCentral Park is a great place. Suddenly, you are out of the hustle and bustle of New York City, and you are experiencing trees and water, people enjoying times with their children, a ride on the Ferris wheel, an ice cream cone, or some time to just sit on a park bench, feed the birds, or read a newspaper. The park is, for many, an oasis.

But here are the thoughts that kept coming to my mind as I recently shouldered my way through the crowds and sat and watched parents with their kids in Central Park: Who of them know Jesus as their Lord and Savior? How many of them really know how much God loves them? And, if they don’t know, who will tell them? Of course, there were street preachers — but no one really stopped to listen. I’m sure many of the people I saw are believers, but likely, the majority have never been born again.

So what? Well, the next question is, what do we do with John 3:18: “But whoever does not believe stands condemned”? My answer: Take our evangelistic task seriously and work harder. Double our passion. Be intentional. Never give up on anyone. Reach and preach for a decision.

 "Apostle Paul on Trial" by Nikolai Bodarevsky

“Apostle Paul on Trial” by Nikolai Bodarevsky

Do you recall the incident in Acts 26 when Paul was in a discussion with King Agrippa? Paul had been called insane by the king, but the apostle would not be silenced. The king finally asked Paul if he, in such a short time, would try to persuade him to be a Christian. Remember Paul’s response? “Short time or long — I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains” (v. 29). That was a debate Paul won — yet, in the world’s view, lost.

Today, this is still our great challenge. How can we as pastors and Christian leaders make such a compelling case for salvation in Christ that people will be persuaded to accept it? The most important decision people will ever make is not who will be president, but where they will spend eternity. This is one debate we dare not lose. We must care deeply and fight endlessly for their souls. However, don’t forget that we do not work alone. The Holy Spirit prepares the hearts of others and ultimately convinces them of their need for a savior as we serve beside Him.

The scripture is pretty plain. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

faith-in-jesus-christ-alone-250x250I know we must be tolerant of other faiths — even though, when I was a kid, I thought the only ones getting into heaven had to believe like me. But I worry how healthy it is for the church to become so inclusive and accepting that, in our preaching and teaching, we fail to draw a very important line in the sand that cannot be compromised — namely, faith in Jesus Christ alone.

During our Sunday school days, we memorized a lovely verse: “For God [whose God?] so loved the world [what world?] that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever [anyone?] believes [accepts] in Him [as God’s only Son] shall not perish [be lost], but have eternal [forever!] life [in heaven with God].”

The bottom line for all of us, my colleague, remains — “Is anyone being saved here?” How do we return to that passion? We do it by pointing people from survival to surrender, to the power and love of God. That is our answer. And, by the way, thank you for all you do to point people to Jesus!

“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:3-5).

As we take our evangelistic responsibility seriously, we cannot depend on the personal crises or scary events in the world to drive men and women into the church, or even to Christ. The only thing that will accomplish that goal is for mankind to realize that they are lost without Jesus. Foxhole conversions are few and far between, and not particularly lasting. The most effective way to turn people’s hearts to God is through the genuine witness of those who have embraced our Lord and who, with childlike excitement, share that good news (Mark 16:15).

franklin-avenue-baptist-congregation-250x160Each Sunday (or weekend) gives us clergy the opportunity to encourage our people to live lives of faith and courage, to engage their friends and family in meaningful conversation about the value of being born again (John 3:7). Is there a more important message? I think not.

An elderly pastor once quoted an old saying to me: “Don’t forget, son. The light that shines brightest at home can be seen farthest away!” The light of your local church ministry should shine so brightly that the world is influenced by its vitality and vision. Pastor, encourage your people to be light in a dark world.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

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).

A Blog for Pastors and Their Families