Distractions…

distractionsI was on my way to church on a Sunday morning to preach. For no apparent reason, my mind flooded back many years to conversations with a man who hates me. He wouldn’t say that. He would say that he doesn’t like me or that he thinks I am not a good pastor or the right man for his church or some other form of the thought…but the bottom line is, he hates me. I get that. I have tried numerous times through the years to address the issue and it always ends unfulfilling and in the same place. I am not discounting his experience. He thinks I am a buzzard. I am not his former hero pastor. I get it!

In the ride to church, I am replaying the conversations over and over and saying in my mind all the things I wish I had said back then that would make me feel better. Pulse rate up. Heart beating faster. Adrenaline flowing. Spiritual high ground-SURRENDERED.

Where do these unwelcomed and intrusive thoughts come from? Not from the man. He was nowhere to be found. Not from some recent conflict. Not even from some email or Facebook post. They are DISTRACTING TOOLS OF THE ENEMY.

The enemy wants one thing…to steal glory from God. To do that, he will stop at nothing. He will invade your mind. He will argue in your ear. If the enemy can get you to surrender the high-ground, your effectiveness in the gospel enterprise is hampered.

Not to belabor the issue, but I found this to be a recurring tactic. The “noise” of this and many other things was constantly playing in the back of my mind. It created frustration within me, which provoked me to have a shortened fuse whenever ANYTHING did not go “picture perfect.”

At this point, you’re either pushing the mouse toward the top right corner…or you’re saying, ME TOO! What did you do? 

When you are distracted or any time you face the enemy down and he seems to be winning…there is a “best” next step. RUN TO JESUS.

[What I am about to tell you will cause some to want to throw stones saying that I am boasting. God forbid! He knows my heart and I am sharing with you that my motive is not to point to ME but to share something that I hope will help YOU, when (not if) you find yourself here.]

I had to stop and fast and pray. Fasting is a discipline that I have had to embrace through the years (though some look at me and wonder if I ever truly miss a meal:) . I was 2 days into a 3 day fast when I started getting clarity. Clarity about my own soul condition. Clarity about the wellspring of self-centeredness in my own heart. Clarity about the source of the distraction. Following this…repentance, renewal, and restored communion with God. Oh, and food.:)

Some would say, “I can’t do that. I can’t fast!” I say…if you are fighting the enemy’s onslaught…you cannot NOT fast. As hard as it is for me…God teaches me about His grace to do what I cannot otherwise find within me to do. In fact, if I could do it easily, I question if it would even work to bring me back into focus with my loving heavenly Father.

So, how is the enemy working against you? Are you successful in fighting the “good fight of faith?” If not…run to Jesus. Seriously! RUN. RUN to Jesus! There you’ll find help and hope and a fresh start.

 

A difference between “a pastor” and “your pastor”

2015-05-09 13.19.57The observation has taken a couple of different forms in recent days. One was an admonition from Dr. Thom Rainer, the President of Lifeway to not compare “your pastor” to “a pastor/preacher” that you heard on a podcast. You can read the post HERE. The second appeared yesterday in a post noting the “7 personality traits that guests  like in a pastor.” In this latter post, Dr. Rainer provided observations about the qualities that guests find “attractive” in a communicator. From looking at some of the comments (a certain way to drive yourself ‘nuts’ on the internet), it seemed that there was an inadvertent leap by some to an expectation on “the pastor.”

For the record, I don’t think Dr. Rainer is even slightly confused, nor do I think he is trying to overtly correct pastors everywhere and tell them to use humor or more self-deprecating talk as they shepherd their own people. (Certainly though there is a need for some of us to take ourselves less seriously). His observations, which I affirm by the way, are related to the ability of the speaker to connect with an audience that has yet to learn to trust him. There is certainly something to be said for “the pastor” gaining influence with his people by adjusting his style of communication a bit, but that is not the focus of the post.

It is an incredible opportunity for a pastor to stand up in a worship service and present the truths of Scripture in a winsome manner and with such a sweet personality that others who are new to “the room” are drawn into engaging the proposed truths. In other words, a smart communicator uses techniques (or develops personality traits) that attract newcomers to the message.

This is FAR DIFFERENT than the “personality” of the preacher being responsible for the success of seeing souls converted to Christ or seeing attendance grow. Personality is primarily about how to keep people engaged long enough for the Holy Spirit to arrest their rebellious hearts! Personality is not a reason for a church member to love, listen to, or learn from “the pastor.” Could you imagine that argument with Jeremiah or Ezekiel? How about Moses? But you might say, “they weren’t pastors.” True…so what about Jesus? Read John 6. He said some stuff that was not considered winsome and most of the crowd left Him. In fact, the 12 said that the reason they stayed around was because Jesus alone had the words of eternal life! What kept these disciples engaged was the Gospel…not Jesus’ self-deprecating humor or relational skills. What about Peter? There’s a dude that had some personality challenges. Or…Paul maybe? Peter said that the way Paul taught was sometimes difficult to understand…and Peter walked with Jesus for 3 years! Many in the churches charged Paul with being unsophisticated in his communicating ability. Was Paul’s personality really the problem facing the Corinthian Church?

Am I arguing that a pastor should have no personality? Certainly not! Heaven forbid! I am making the case though that if you really understand the Word of God and the will of God for your life as a disciple, your “reason” for sitting under the teaching of “your pastor” MUST be more than his personality. It SHOULD be that you recognize that He labors in prayer for you. He is concerned with your soul. He is on guard against the enemies that come to destroy you. He is sympathetic to your pain and struggle. He tries constantly to grow you to maturity in Christ. He is intensely jealous for you with a godly jealousy! He desires to present you to Christ with no shortcomings.

If you are a pastor hoping to keep a church together with your winsome personality…you are in for a tough life. Grow in areas that make you attractive to your people, but don’t have the people fall in love with you; rather, help them fall in love with Jesus. Otherwise, when you’re gone, they will be too. If you are a church member intently focused on the mechanics of a message or the smoothness of your pastor’s speech…you’ll soon be gone. Another more winsome guy will preach down the road and you’ll go there claiming that “God moved you,” which is, in my pastoral opinion, probably not the case. You are probably giving God credit for what really amounts to a form of manifested spiritual immaturity.

Pastor, be kind, but don’t bear the weight that people grow or die spirituality because you can or cannot use humor in your teaching. In the words of one of my dear friends who used to preach to students in a suit, tie, and wingtip shoes, “Be comfortable with who you are. Don’t try to become someone you’re not. They can smell it on you.”

Preachers do not “lecture.”They “herald.”

mlk 1I have been thinking for a season now on the nature of preaching and the role it has in the church of God. This Sunday, I shared with my church that we (disciples) are called to kerusso (herald) that which Jesus whispers in our ear (Matthew 10:27). This is the same word that Paul admonished Timothy with, “Kerusso (preach) the word! (2 Timothy 4:2). It is also God’s prescribed means of exhortation in the church during the congregational gathering. (1 Corinthians 1:21). Through the message preached (i.e. the substance of preaching)…He saves some!

This is why we do ourselves a disservice is we see the “Worship Center” (sometimes called the sanctuary) as a lecture hall. I remember a few times in college that I disagreed with my professors. They offered opinions that were different from my own. I would choose to listen to the information…and even memorize it to recite back…but in my heart and mind…I disagreed. Since I disagreed, I could rationalize how I may still be correct in my view even though it was contrary to the professor’s view.

In the church, the preacher is not a professor and the word preached is not a lecture. The word preached is the heralded message from God’s throne to the hearer’s heart. If we as preachers reduce the proclamation of the herald to simply another op-ed piece on life choices, we do a disservice to God and we cripple the hearer.

Admittedly, while I know this to be true, there are times I weaken the truth of this by making the message less “heralded” and more delivered. The fact is, before the “heralded message” there are only two right responses: Obedience and disobedience. Pastor, what about the response of waiting for more information or seeking confirmation in our heart before accepting the word? I know this sounds hard and may even inadvertently carry an air of self-service…but delayed obedience is simply disobedience.

Further, the hearer cripples himself by negotiating with the truth. To place oneself in the judge’s seat, determining if one believes the preached word, is to reveal the independence and insolence of ones own heart. If you are always seeking to judge the word, you cannot simply choose to obey it. I have (through the years) had people who would listen to me preach while constantly disagreeing. That’s fine if you into the assembly…but how could you be in the place of a disciple while rejecting God’s prescribed means of instruction through preaching? If you don’t believe the preacher to be “God’s man” for your church…either repent or run! Find a place where you can yoke up under that authority in your life. God put it/him there. He gave the preacher to you! (Ephesians 4:10-12).

I know that in our cultural norm, we can find a dozen reasons to disagree with this; however, cultural norms often are antithetical to the will of God. In fact, the diminishing of the authority of the preached word is, in my view, a direct cause to the decline of genuine discipleship today.

Now if you disagree…I am happy to hear from you. I invite you to share any biblical objection to this post. I welcome the dialogue.

When the Burden is not Lifted…

Bible praying hands (2)Yesterday, I kicked off a series of messages on what it is to be and make disciples. Like most days, I was burdened. For months I have been burdened in my spirit about the nature of discipleship in the Church and particularly in the church that I serve. I ask questions about whether we are effectively accomplishing the task of “making disciples.”

A “burden” is not a foreign concept for a preacher. Zechariah gives us insight…

1The burden of the word of the Lord concerning Israel. Thus declares the Lord who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him. Zechariah 12:1 (NASB95)

My task/responsibility/privilege to shepherd and preach to God’s people is a burden. Now…it is not that the people are a burden (though the demands and needs of the people of God can be, at times, burdensome; rather, the burden I speak of is that weightiness of the word of God for His people in my charge. This is a “burden” that He entrusts to the preacher to bear.

Most Sundays…I preach until the burden lifts. (Yep, I know that sounds weird…if you are not a “preacher,” but it is what it is).  Preachers are not “public speakers” in the sense that a politician, or motivational speaker, or even a “teacher/professor” is. Preachers step into the pulpit with a divinely given assignment, and are not “released” until they have completed the assignment.

I shared with my people yesterday…after preaching for nearly an hour…that I was not yet “unburdened.” Sure, the service was nearly over…but the burden remained. Why?

  • I was burdened for the response of the people. I sensed in my spirit that there were people who were choosing to leave the service while disobedient to the Lord’s will.
  • I was burdened for the consequence of their disobedience. Literally, our obedience or disobedience to the Lord impacts us…sometimes and ultimately for eternity.
  • I was burdened that the plea of God was not heard. God nearly always DRAWS men to Himself during the proclamation of His Word and the word of the preacher. The hearer may not respond but God is drawing.

I waited for almost an hour after the service…until everyone had left before leaving… because I was burdened.

Now I don’t say this to elicit “pity” or “sympathy.” I am not looking for consolation, nor am I having a “blue Monday” that preachers often have. God KNOWS that this is not my motivation. I am motivated, however, by my clear understanding that eternity hangs in the balance.

Now, honestly, I have heard preachers (and others) offer “suggestions” about the burden. I don’t necessarily understand their logic since it is not my “experience.” Here are a few-

  • “Remember, that results are not your concern.” Sure, I get that…but I am not speaking of the results. I am talking about the burden.
  • “That’s just how people are.” Ok, I get this…but I care about them. I too was the “way I was” and Jesus pursued me…hard. He was unrelenting. I am not sure how to relent…in light of that.
  • “God’s Word doesn’t return void.” Again, I get the sentiment…but what theological understanding allows a preacher to preach passionately and then to dispassionately declare in the midst of NO RESPONSE that God’s Word did what it was supposed to do? (Consequently, when Jesus cried out while looking over the city, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. How I longed to gather you together as a hen gathers her chicks, but you were not willing (MT 23:37),” did He just need to trust a little more that God’s Word doesn’t return void? )

I am convinced that there is and will always be a burden for the preacher. If He cares (not as a hireling but as a shepherd), then he must be concerned and weighed down at the awesome responsibility of the task of proclamation.

The continuation of the burden provokes me to intercede for my people. It drives me to prepare more, to preach harder, to stand in the gap, and to fall on my face. It is the burden that does not lift.

“Don’t talk about my mama…”

Open Bible 1Where I grew up, a “sure-fire” way to get into a fight was to talk about someone’s mama. It was the proverbial gauntlet to throw down if you wanted to scrap with somebody. Please don’t ask me why young boys would fight over words unknown to mama while at the same time listening to her lessons about “sticks and stones,” but we would.

Actually, the reason had to do with honor. We (as sons) appropriate the offense to ourselves personally. Talk about mama in front of me…and you are talking about me.

When I married, that sense of defending honor was directed toward my wife. No one talks about “Precious.” No one. I reminded my sons often that she was my girlfriend and before you “bow up” toward her, you have to go through me. I would remind them that I would gladly “take them out” and make a replacement model with her…so don’t ever try to elevate themselves above the special relationship between me and my Precious.

Why defend her? It isn’t that she cannot take care of herself. In fact, the most merciful thing I could ever do for a raucous stranger with a “potty mouth” would be to step between him and my wife. She certainly could handle him and leave him in a diminishing puddle of regret that he ever crossed her.:) The reason for the defense though emanates from my love, passion, devotion and sense of honoring her. She is valuable, therefore an afront toward her must be addressed. In this case (different than the example with “mama” above, the focus is her, and not an appropriated offense toward me). Someone has assaulted the very honor of one I treasure and believe to be of immense value and honor.

This is much close to the heart behind the Psalmist in Psalm 139:19-22:

O that you would slay the wicked, O God;
Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed.
For they speak against You wickedly,
And Your enemies take Your Name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord?
And do I not loate those who rise up against You?
I hate them with the utmost hatred:
They have become my enemies.

The writer is so passionately devoted to God that an offense toward Him is hated as if it were an offense personally. He wants to defend the Name of God because God is of immeasurable value and worthy of limitless honor. The writer will confront the greatest enemy that would dare even utter evil words (through word or deed) toward Holy God.

As I reflected on this today, two thoughts came to mind:

  • Sometimes, we care about the afront toward God (at least we say we do) but the real offense is toward us. We hate how sin and sinful pursuits negatively affect us…not how they offend and grieve the heart of Holy God.
  • At other times, we don’t voice concern at all over the offense toward God. We say, “God can defend Himself.” Isn’t the question not whether God can defend Himself, but do we honor Him enough to defend His Name when He is offended?

I’d not stand by while someone dishonored my wife. To do so would communicate to her that her value was less than it is. I also would not say, “Did you hear what he said to you? How dare he disrespect ME like that?” I am not the one being attacked and dishonored. She is. And that evokes a strong response from me for her honor.

Should we not honor the God of the Universe in like fashion?

God is not having an identity crisis…

open-bible 2I saw something powerful and provoking in the Word this morning:

“Behold, as the servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid looks to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until He is gracious to us.” Psalm 123:2.

A servant and a maid are absolutely dependent on the master or the mistress’ benevolence. If the master is cruel or chooses not to provide, the servant goes without. If the servant is well cared for, it is to the credit of the master, not the servant.

Servants do not demand. They serve. Servants do not circumvent. They serve. Servants do what they do in service to the master. Everything. Everything. The servant exists for the master’s pleasure and to fulfill the master’s will.

The Apostle Paul was fond of identifying himself, not as an enterprising teacher or religious elite…but as a doulos, a bondservant. A bondservant was everything I described above by choice. He served because he desired to, not because he was compelled to do so by external forces.

Reflecting on the role of a bondservant and his relationship with the Master, Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:11-13 that he depends upon the Master for everything and that he is content to do so…not based on circumstance, but based on the Master’s PERSON and Paul’s purpose in serving for the Master’s PLEASURE.

So, do you look to the hand of the Master UNTIL He is gracious to you? Do you exist for His pleasure? Or, have you reversed the roles in your mind to think (even though you would never say such strong things) that the Master exists to serve your needs?

God is not having an identity crisis…are you?

Shalom, CA.

The Certainty of the Word!

Open Bible 1“Don’t miss the forest for the trees, they said.” A great reminder that we, at times, can reduce our focus so far that we actually lose perspective and, often times, the “wonder” of the bigger picture. As a guy who reads the Bible…a lot…and critically… it is important for me to step back and look at it in “bigger chunks” in order to not forget the overarching idea. By my life’s calling, I analyze Scripture to the most minute of details. This is what some refer to as “mining the text.” It is essential for a teacher, but it is not exclusive.

This morning, I came to Psalm 119 in my daily “quiet time,” and rather than take it in parts, I settled in for the entire thing. (Now reading one psalm doesn’t seem that impressive…until you look at it. If you have to turn the pages more than once, you have a long text).

As I read, I was reminded of the reverence that the Psalmist displayed toward the Word of God. He saw it as ALIVE. He saw it as HOLY. He saw it as an EDICT from a REIGNING KING! The Bible, for the psalmist, is not an op-ed piece or a commentary on life from a fallible man. The Bible is TREASURED instruction and REVEALED TRUTH from the very mouth of God. It is an expression of God’s love. It is able to save (v.41). It guards against sin’s destructive lure and consequence (v.9-11). It revives and restores (v.25) and therefore it comforts (v.49-51).

Perhaps all of these responses to the Word are predicated on this truth, found in vv.89-90:

Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven. Your faithfulness continues throughout all generations; you established the earth, and it stands.

Honestly…that is a bold statement. God’s spoken edict stands forever. He is never reversed on appeal. His judgments are true. His truth is triumphant. He is predictable in so many ways because He is FAITHFUL, always, to His Word because He is faithful to Himself.

So, here is the point to consider today– If God is unchanging and He has revealed exactly who He is, how He thinks, what He desires/demands/deserves…and if He has revealed all of that freely to us…does it not make sense to know His revealed Word personally and deeply?

Final thought in verse 11:

“Your Word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against you.”