Are You Standing Still or Moving Forward?

How is Jesus changing you from the inside out right now? When is the last time you can recall that the Lord moved something in your heart to be more like His heart? It’s a real question and I would really encourage you to think about it for a minute. God wants us to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind,” (Romans 12:2), so ask yourself if it’s really happening within your soul.  If Jesus is moving in your soul in a mighty way, rejoice!

If, though, you can’t remember the last time that the Holy Spirit moved through your soul then it’s time to consider changing your approach to the Christian life.  We can’t change ourselves; that’s God’s place. However, we can “tie the knots and set the sails” in our heart so that when the Spirit blows like a wind, we are ready to move. To be ready, be invested in:

  1. Truth. Be invested in the truth of God found in the Word of God. Sunday morning worship and Bible study are a great place for that.
  2. Community. You become like who you hang around, so choose to be with people becoming like Jesus! Small groups are the place community happens.
  3. Openness. We change when we’re ready to change and never before. Openness is the heart of Life Transformation Groups (LTGs), where we can be honest with ourselves and a very few trusted others.

To come in from the fringes and deeply experience Jesus, you need all three. So how are you getting them?

Dead or Alive?

I’ve been hearing this phrase in my head over and over in the past few months:

“Every living thing changes.”

Maybe it’s partly because I’ve noticed that the gray hairs in my beard are staging a coup d’etat over the dark hairs. Maybe it’s because I’ve been through a lot of transitions in life the past few months at church and at school and at home and with friends. And change can be scary because it moves me away from something that I know and into the unknown.

But if it’s static and unchanging, it’s not alive. A living person is constantly changing. (cue comments about my weight going up and gray in my hair…) Likewise, a relationship that is alive is always evolving and growing and moving. I thank God that my marriage is not in the same place that it was when we said “I do” 17 years ago! A business that thrives is always changing. IBM, for instance, began as a maker of dials and time recorders in the 1880s. Imagine if Apple had decided to stick to making desktops and Steve Jobs hadn’t changed to embrace the mobile phone market!

This is true of people as well. Consider the Apostle Paul, who in my mind is the greatest follower of Christ to ever live. In one of his earliest letters, he says in Galatians 5:12 “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” That’s pretty hard core! But at the end of life, in 2 Timothy 2:24-25, the very same man said, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”

This is also the case with our spiritual life. If it is not growing, it’s not living. That’s not to say that we’re not saved (salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone), but it’s not living and breathing and useful for today. This is what James talks about in James 2:17, that a faith that is not working and growing and changing is dead.

Every living thing changes. So embrace the change and the growth.

How about you? Where are you changing? Is your marriage changing for the better? Are you growing closer to God, growing in your use of your spiritual giftedness in service to God for the benefit of the kingdom, and changing your heart? If you took a spiritual inventory would you find that compared to a year ago some things have definitely changed, or are you in about the same place?

Every living thing changes.

Where does the time go?

I know a lot of people who wonder what a pastor does. We have a running joke at my church that I only work for 30 minutes a week! (which is how long my sermons usually last…okay, more like 35-40) It’s true, I do know some pastors whose golf game is too polished for their own good, and some who spend too much time on Facebook. (pointing the finger at myself there!)

 

But if you wonder what your pastor does, chances are that’s because he’s not allowed to share with you what he is doing. Hear me out.

 

When you ask what he did today, how in the world can he answer that he sat and talked with a couple you know at church who is in the throes of infertility, whose hearts are broken but who can’t share that even with close friends? How does he he tell you that he had to spend time alone praying for a friend who confessed sexual infidelity, praying that he will listen to the Spirit and come clean to his wife? How can you tell them that you sat and agonized over how to confront someone in love about their sin that you know about? Or that you thought and prayed and talked all morning about how to help the congregation see that a person’s sin is always forgivable?

 

How can you tell them that you spent 5 hours pouring over an email communication to the church so that it balanced speaking truth with not being a gossip? How do you justify chasing a Hebrew verb through the whole Old Testament to verify a nuance in the text, only to see at the end that you were wrong and it is not so nuanced after all?

 

How do you share with them that you spent the afternoon talking with a friend on the phone who everyone loves to listen to teach in Sunday School but admits to you that they aren’t sure Christ is more than a myth?  How can you share that someone reached out to you to say that they are secretly gay, and that they need someone to talk to because “the Church” (capital C) has too many pat answers and not enough real concern and care?

 

How can you share that you had to spend the day in prayer for your family who is struggling, and that you think it might be a spiritual attack of some sort because you’re trying to serve Christ? How can you share that you spent the day finding out about the effects of huffing bath salts on a person’s brain and how to get them help because someone in your congregation is doing it? How do you say that you prayed with a family whose teenage son is abusing drugs and harming himself? That you visited a congregant with a mental disorder in a treatment facility?

 

Heck, for that matter how can you say that you spent a few hours evangelizing to people within your congregation, who say all the right things but in reality don’t know Christ? 

 

I share a bunch of these not because I have experienced them all (I haven’t), but because I have a lot of friends in ministry and this is not out of the realm of a typical pastoral month.  I am grateful that it’s not a typical week!

 

What he can tell you about is the victories, the good stuff, and where people are rejoicing and celebrating. Sometimes that comes off like the world is rainbows and lollipops, but in reality there is plenty of that in ministry as well and he can share that because it is allowable. When someone trusts Christ he can share that. When a person overcomes addiction he might not be able to though, because that person doesn’t want it publicly known that they had addiction to begin with.

 

Here’s the bottom line: if you wonder what your pastor does, that’s a lot of it. And most of that he can’t share with you, because it would break confidentiality and harm the people he is trying to help. It would break relationships and bring destruction upon his ministry and harm to the kingdom of God. 

 

What’s more, if he is called to be a shepherd it is what he is meant to do.  Crazy as it sounds, even in the hard times he is driven to help people see God and live for Him, to experience grace and mercy and righteousness.  It’s hard work, and much of it is confidential work, so pray for your pastor. Realize that he’s not just sitting at home all week watching I Love Lucy reruns, but that a lot of his life is off limits not because you’re not worthy of it but because he just can’t share. And be grateful for his ministry.

 

To be explicit, I am not writing this to my church family as a passive-aggressive way of asking them to have sympathy on me or to pat me on the back, but for the readers of ABF who don’t really know what a pastor does in their congregation.

 

So how about you? What do you think your pastor does in a typical month? Do you think it’s a hard job or a fun one?

Use Your Shout Outs!

I love the TV game show “Cash Cab.” In this show Ben Bailey asks people trivia questions while taking them to their destination in his cab, and part of the game is that they have two “shout outs” that they can use to ask for help.  One is a phone call that they can make to anyone they know, and the other is a chance to pull over in New York City and ask a helpful stranger for the answer they need.  So many times people forget to use their shout outs! Even though the host reminds them, they forget and for some it costs them the game.

 

How often do we think that we have to be the solution to the problems around us? And even more, how often do we shoulder burdens that are way too heavy for us to carry because we think that we have to be able to help everyone solve their problems.

 

Maybe you’ve not struggled with this as much as I have, but I know that it runs wild in the pastoral community. Most pastors don’t go into ministry because they feel a deep longing to be underpaid and overworked; if that was their aim, they would enlist in the military or work in retail! (both of which I have done, FWIW) Most pastors aren’t egomaniacs looking to wield power over people or mama’s boys who want everyone to like them.  No, most pastors go into vocational ministry because they love Christ and love people and want to help people know and love Christ like they do.  They’ve seen the transforming power of God in their own life and want to share with others the grace they’ve received.

 

The problem that many pastors run into, and that many loving Christians who aren’t pastors share, is that in our desire to love one another and help people see Christ we try to offer answers that we don’t have and help that we don’t have the ability to give!  And when we do that, I always get a flashback to the only Tom Cruise movie that is worth watching:

 

 

I can just picture God looking at us and saying, “Son, your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash!”  I see this all the time, and have run across it in my own life rather pointedly. 

 

  • I have students and church friends who have friends struggling with self-harm, and come to me asking for advice on how to help their friend stop.
  • I know people whose family is making poor decisions and have been asked how to help them change.
  • I’ve been asked how to open the door for someone to change and not be angry with God anymore.
  • I’ve seen people struggle with personal past issues that spill over into current relationships and have both personally desired to help them have healing and had others ask me how to help them get back on track.
  • Recently someone laid their finances out for me and asked me how to overcome their family swindling them out of their retirement and their income.
  • I had a friend come and complain about their church and how broken the church is, and in frustration ask how to start a better one.

 

This past year, God has really, really shown me the folly of thinking that as a shepherd, friend, pastor, professor, etc. that I can fill all of these needs in someone’s life.  That’s a lesson He tells us all in 1 Corinthians 12!

 

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4–7, ESV)

 

God never said that He gave one person all of the manifestations of the Spirit, but that He has given each one a manifestation or gifting to serve the body of Christ.  And that means that we can only do that which we are called and equipped and able to do.  To do more is working out of our area and is terrible not only on them but on us as well! In 1 Cor 12 Paul goes on to talk about the church using an analogy to our bodies, with different organs serving different functions.  Lungs don’t digest well; think about the last time you inhaled a drink of water or a bite of food and how that worked out for you!

 

Likewise, in the body of Christ when we try to do that for which we are ill-equipped it harms us and the body. 

 

Let me put a fine point on this.  Lately especially I have seen people trying to carry burdens for others that they just can’t carry.  I have done it myself, so I am not pointing the finger! Instead of carrying that burden or trying to be someone’s Savior, love them, support them, and give them a strong nudge to get the help they need from a part of the body that can help them. 

 

  • I told my friend with financial distress to go talk to our Crown teacher at church and a CFP that I know.  They know finances and can help!
  • For many of us, a good and helpful start is to encourage our friends to go talk to their pastor about their spiritual, emotional, and relational struggles. They at least have SOME training in helping in these areas, so encourage others to get help!
  • Pastors need to recognize their limits as well, and not try to be counselors or psychologists.  I have learned the hard way that it is far better to encourage someone to seek out better help than to try to muddle through with my limited abilities. And I thank God for the men and women who are professionals in the field of behavioral health who can offer assistance I can’t!

 

So do yourself and your friends and family a favor and use the “shout outs” that God has placed in your life! Be a good help, but don’t try to be everything.

 

How about you? Have you had to use a “shout out” recently? How has that gone?

The Heart of the Matter

This Sunday our elder who oversees finances said he needed to ask me a question about how to handle a gift in the offering, which was odd. (I am normally not involved in the offering at all)  I asked him what was up, and he gave me these:

CEC tokens
First, we all had a good laugh.  Hey, skee ball for the pastoral staff! 🙂 (okay, if you look close it’s actually 2 Chuck E. Cheese tokens and 1 Cabela’s token…so skee ball and animatronic shooting gallery!) Then I thought about it some more, and thought about how Jesus handled the same issue.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”” (Luke 21:1–4, ESV)

I can just imagine the disciples around Jesus looking at those coins (they were worth about a half penny each) and having a good chuckle. “Awww…isn’t that sweet?” Jesus, though, thought the world of that gift.  He saw the heart behind the gift and honored it.  He knew that the amount was not the key, but the sacrificial heart that prompted it that was important.

Some little one in our congregation wanted to honor God by giving of their finances this past Sunday, and they had some tokens to give.  What is not much to most of us, to them was probably all that they had.  And I think that honors God a great deal.

If we look at the larger principle, how often do we not serve God, honor Him, obey Him, and worship Him because we think our offering is too small? How often do we look at the outside rather than the inside, the effect rather than the heart? And are we willing to look past the appearance to see how God sees?

How about you? Do you look for the heart? Are you giving God your all, no matter how small? Are you focused on the activity or on the heart behind it?