Never Forget…

A couple years ago I had the privilege of going to New York City in order to help a local church leader connect with a NAMB church plant in the area. During our time there we had the opportunity to visit the 9/11 memorial in Manhattan.  It was a cold November evening so there were not many other people around.  The silence allowed the noise of the rushing waters to fill the air.  It was a sobering place As we reflect on the events of September 11th, 2001; we realize that since that day our world and our country has never been the same.  I was in college the day the towers fell and that very day I was supposed to go to the visitation for my grandfather, a navy veteran who also retired from the FAA.  My family could not travel from the western side of the U.S. because all air travel was suspended.  We all just sat in disbelief about what had happened. We have all been changed by the events of this day.  Even the church cannot say that she has escaped the effects of that day.

  1. The World Shrank
I was a young man when the towers fell.  Places such as Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia were little more than places on a map to me.  These places did not play much of a role in my life, and I did not think often about the people who lived there. Even my faith was a purely American endeavor.  The Great Commission meant I was supposed to share my faith with my classmates and fraternity brothers.  Place like those mentioned above were a world away and someone else’s responsibility.
That all changed on 9/11.  Suddenly, these places in the world seemed very close, and very important.  Suddenly, there was a group of people out there who believed differently than me and were willing to kill for it.  The world shrank that day, and people who were once so far away were now close enough to touch.
  1. Christianity, more than ever, was bound to patriotism.
I think everyone can remember how our churches filled up those first few weeks after 9/11.  Many people came looking for answers.  Other came to hear a comforting word from the Lord.  Still others came because those who had attacked us were Muslim and we were a “Christian Nation”.
Whatever the reasoning, after the events of 9/11, Christianity became an increasingly “American” faith.  We made sure to keep the American flag on prominent display in our churches.  We did more to celebrate Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veteran’s Day.  We also made a point to pray publicly for our leaders and for our soldiers.
While none of this is bad, it was not necessarily a good thing either.  This patriotism came with a lack of love for those outside of our country’s borders.  The church seemed to take on a “take care of our own” mentality, which does not honor the Great Commission.
Jesus said, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)  One thing we must remember as we celebrate the freedoms we have as a country and pray for our soldiers is that the Great Commission was always intended to transcend national borders and the differences between people groups.

 

  1. The people of Islam need the Gospel
In contrast to the change mentioned above, we also became very aware that the nation of Islam needed to hear the gospel.  Now, I am not saying that there weren’t people who were particularly burdened to bring Jesus to Muslims around the globe.  However, I do think that most Americans did not have a clear understanding of Islam and American Christianity did not see the tremendous need to share the Gospel with people from Islamic Countries.
Today we speak a great deal about what God is going in the 10/40 window (https://joshuaproject.net/resources/articles/10_40_window) and we are regularly challenging individuals and churches to do all they can to reach people from these countries.
We must be reminded that God loves the Muslim just like he loves the Buddhist and the Atheist.  9/11 serves as a witness that the only thing that can truly thwart Islamic extremism is the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  Today I am praying for all those whose lives were forever changed by the events of 9/11.  There were so many who did not return home from work that day; so many that were forced to move forward without the people they love.  I am also praying for all of our service men and women who answered the call to stop terrorism both here and abroad.  I am praying for the families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, both our military and first-responders. But I am also praying for our missionaries in the field who are trying to bring the Gospel to those in Islamic nations.  I am praying for them and for the people who will hear the Gospel through them.   May these people hear the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be transformed by it!


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Brother, your “ministry” is not worth your life.

Last week the nation was shocked to read about a pastor in California that had taken his own life after a lengthy battle with depression.

Andrew Stoecklein seemed to be doing quite well on the surface.  He was happily married and the father of three beautiful children.  He was pastoring a vibrant church in a beautiful area of southern California.  He certainly did not seem to fit the bill of a pastor struggling in ministry and fighting for his life.  His death has once again put the spotlight on the mental health of those in ministry.  As pastor appreciation month approaches, several Christian media outlets are posting articles about depression, suicide, and the pressures of ministry.

Unfortunately, the numbers do not lie.  Pastors across the nation suffer from depression, the feelings of isolation, and exhaustion.  Many do not think they are making a significant impact on their congregation.  Even pastors’ wives and children are not spared the stress and pain of ministry, with many reporting that they needed counseling for the pressures of having a spouse or parent in ministry.

I must say that I can understand how this must feel.  As the only pastor of a small church, there have been many times when I have doubted my calling.  I have questioned whether I was doing more harm than good to my congregation.  I have even struggled to do anything because of an overwhelming feeling that all my efforts were destined to fail.

So as I reflected on this pastor’s actions and the statistics that show that so many other pastors are on the same path; I was left with this word of advice:

Your “Ministry” is not worth your life.

Let me explain:

  1. Your “ministry” ≠ the Gospel

The title of this post is intended to be provocative and I have no doubt that some who read this would respond by ask, “Didn’t Jesus himself say, ‘For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.’ (Mark 8:35) Now you’re telling me that my ministry isn’t worth my life?”

Yes, that is what I am saying, and I am saying it because your ministry is not the gospel.  It is true that we may very well be called to go and preach the Gospel in places where the Gospel is not welcome.  We may be called to face persecution, imprisonment, even death as we faithfully share the Gospel with the lost.

However, that isn’t really what we are talking about here.  Here, we are talking about your “ministry” or the particular work or vocation where you are currently serving.  It is one thing to preach the Gospel knowing that you may be in danger for doing so.  It is quite another thing to stay in a certain position or job even though it is leading you to burnout or self harm.

Jesus himself told his disciples that they were to preach the Gospel and yet be willing to walk away from bad situations.  He said, “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet.” (Matt 10:14) He gave them permission to move on instead of grinding to the point of exhaustion.  You need to know also that you have permission to move on as well.

  1. The Gospel will go on; even if your ministry doesn’t.

The next thing you may say is, “But I can’t do that!!!  If I quit, then no one will be here to witness in this church / community / town!!!”

Really?  One of the hardest things for a pastor, missionary, or lay leader to understand is that the Great Commission does not hang on our ability to succeed in a particular ministry.  I can promise you that even when you step down or step aside, the Gospel will continue moving forward.

Yes, your particular ministry may cease to exist.  Yes, you may see opportunities to share missed because of your absence.  And yes, things may appear to be worse because you are no longer at the helm.  But do not fear, the Gospel has not been thwarted and the Great Commission will go on.  We know this because the Bible is true.

“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Rev 7:9)

See?  God is going to see that every tribe, tongue, and nation come before the throne in worship.  You cannot thwart the plans of God; even if that means stepping down for a season to rest and be with Him!

  1. Your family > Your ministry

This brings me to my last point.  I beg you that you please listen to this, your “ministry” to your family should always, always take priority over every other ministry you have; vocational or volunteer.  Pastors and every other form of minister often feel like everyone is demanding their time and attention; often at the neglect of their spouse and children.  I beg you here and now to break that cycle in your own life.  If a ministry or church cannot function unless you neglect your family, then it isn’t the place for you.

Even before Christ gathered the church, He established the family, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) In this moment the first family was formed and just as it was placed before the church in history, it should be placed before the church in priority.

One thing we know for certain, you cannot minister, care for, and love your family if you are not there.  It is far more important that you be a husband to your wife and a father to your children, than you be a pastor to a church.  A church, ministry, or mission can have a variety of leaders, but your family can only have one father.  Please, be that father.  You cannot do it if you are gone all the time, and you cannot do it if you take your own life.

Your family loves you and needs you; be there for them.

 

Brother, your “ministry” is not worth your life.  It is okay to step aside and/or step away.  The Lord will provide for you and He will take care of you.  Rest, seek counseling, and be with your family.  It is not too late.

 

If you are reading this, I am praying for you.  Pray for me too.


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The Buck Stops Here

The 33rd president of the United States, Harry S. Truman, has always been my favorite president.  While an obvious reason that he is my favorite has to do with our shared home state, another reason is the tremendous level of responsibility he took in his job and in life in general.

Harry Truman served his country during World War I and he tried to reenlist during WWII while he was already serving the country as a congressman before he was tapped to be Roosevelt’s VP.  When Harry Truman became president after Roosevelt’s death, he was famous for placing a sign on his desk.

The sign read, “The Buck Stops Here”

This sign served as a reminder to Truman and his entire staff that they did not have the privilege of “passing the buck” on to someone else.  If it reached his desk, then he had a duty to address the issue and find a resolution.

It seems like this has become more an exception than the rule in life.  Most people want to “pass the buck” onto the next person in hopes that they can avoid doing anything that may be hard or cause them to miss out on something else.

This is also true in the church as well.  Most of us have a pretty good ideal of what the church “ought” to be doing

The church ought to be witnessing.  The church ought to be teaching the Bible to her members.  The church ought to be meeting the needs of her community in order to share the love of Christ.  The church ought to be on mission in her community, surrounding areas, and across the globe.

But who is supposed to do it?

Should the pastor?

Yes he should.  There is no question that the pastor should be sharing the Gospel with the lost, ministering to the congregation and the community, and taking care of others. 

But there is a problem here.  If a church delegates all ministry duties to the pastor, then the church cannot grow, many ministries and opportunities will be missed, and the pastor will eventually burn out and/or give up.  In other words, the church’s ministries will be severely limited, and it is highly likely that people both inside and outside of the church will perceive that the church still is not doing what it ought to be doing.

Should the gifted?

Another idea is that only the spiritually gifted should do the work of ministry.  Thankfully, this does not place all the burden on the pastor, but it still limits the church’s ability to do all that it ought to be doing.

Usually when we think about “the gifted”, we mean people who are natural teachers, extroverts, and people with the gift of gab.  But God uses several other gifts in accomplishing His mission.  1 Corinthians 12:7 says, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  This tells us that ALL OF US are gifted to accomplish the mission of church.  If you think that the work of the church is only for the “gifted”, then you may have to realize that YOU are gifted and called to serve in the church.

Should I?

This is the heart of the matter.  When it comes to ministry and felt needs in the church, we can be tempted to “pass the buck” onto the pastor, the deacons, or some other gifted individual.  But the reality is that God has revealed that need TO YOU!!!

Do you see a group in our church that is being neglected?  Start a ministry!  Have you noticed a community in our county that is unreached for the Gospel?  Recruit an outreach team!  Do you have a burden for people who are lost?  Pray for them!

Jesus said in John 20:21, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”  I hope and pray that you will take this commissioning seriously.

So where do you see God working in your heart and life?  How will you respond?  Will you pass the buck, or will you own it like our former president and say, “The buck stops HERE!”


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Let us gather…

Summers are a blessed time full of fun and exciting events!

Many of us have taken advantage of this season with camps and trips, vacations and adventures.  But often this also means that our full schedules tend to pull us away from gathering with other believers for the purpose of worship.

It does not take much to notice that churches all over the nation see a drop in worship attendance over the summer months.  Unfortunately, for many this also means getting out of the habit of corporate worship; with some taking a very long break before they gather again with their church family.

It is during times like these that we need to be reminded of the importance and certainly the blessings that come when the saints gather together to worship God.  Here are a few things to consider as we head into the school year and try to get back into a routine.


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Wanted: Christians who…

Imagine for a moment that you saw this ad in the paper:

WANTED:  Christians who would be the Church and not just go to church.

What would be your initial reaction?  What questions might you have for the person who posted the ad?

What would be the difference between a Christian who is the Church versus the Christian who merely goes to church?

I want to present to you a few qualities of Christians to strive to be the Church.

  1. They are present.

The first clear characteristic of Christians who are being the Church is that they show up.  Those who just go to church view church attendance and participation as something to do when they are available.  If the things of life (work, recreation, chores) demand their attention, being present is quickly sacrificed.
But to those who are the church, presence and participation are a priority.  They are there even when it is inconvenient.  They show up even when they don’t feel like it.  They serve when better offers come along.  This isn’t limited to Sunday morning either, they are always there to give a helping hand; whether it is encouraging a brother/sister over coffee or getting dirty on a project at the church building.  Those who are the church always show up!

  1. They are giving.

Paul writes, “For God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor 9:7) Therefore, it stands to reason that those who are the Church are eager to give and give sacrificially.

But there is more to this than giving, there is a mentality to the Church that this world is passing away and all the things that are in them. (1 Jn 2:17) This should mean that the Church does not desire to cling to the things of this world over the things of God.  The Church ought to be generous in their giving because they know that by giving the local church is able to do more as she meets needs and shares the Gospel with the nations.  Paul also wrote, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”  When the Church gives, God will use those gifts to reach the nations with the Gospel!

  1. They are sharing.

Jesus clearly said, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” (Jn 20:21) This “sentness” means that every single person who claims Christ is supposed to be a witness for Christ in this world.  People who are the Church embrace this fact and seek to share the good news of salvation through Christ to the world.  They just don’t do it as part of a church program, nor do they delegate that responsibility to a pastor or someone “gifted with evangelism”.  The Church shares the Gospel with their family, friends, and coworkers.  When they aren’t sharing, they are praying for those who need to hear it.

  1. They are loving.

The last and probably the most important characteristic of the Church is love.  Jesus told his disciples, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:35)  First, the Church has to love one another.  We love each other even when we disagree.  We love each other even though we are different.  No matter way, we love each other.  Secondly, we love those outside of the church.  We love them so much we speak the truth in love. (Eph 4:15)  We love them so much that we do everything we can to see them come to Christ.  People who know nothing about us or our faith should be able to see that we love others.

 

So how would you do?  Would you be able to answer the ad?  Imagine for a moment how different things would be if everyone sought to be the Church and not just go to church!  It would change the world!!!


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