The Pastor I Want to Be

This morning I came across Philippians 2:19-30, and came to see it as an example of the type of pastor I wish I was and should strive to be.

In these verses, Paul speaks of Timothy and Epaphroditus and the encouragement they have been to him. Before looking at what he said about these two men let’s remember the situation Paul was in as he wrote these things.

They encouraged him in ministry. Only those who are well outside the loop believe ministry is an easy course. These men encouraged him in his imprisonment. Paul had been imprisoned for the gospel, in a world where prisons were especially brutal. They encouraged him as he faced the likelihood of execution. Paul speaks of his survival as a fifty-fifty shot.

This is the most amazing thing about this passage. Paul wanted the Philippians to experience the encouragement of these men so much that he was willing to send them, rather than to keep them close, serving himself.

So what does Paul say about these men?

First thing I notice is that Timothy is described of having the interest of others, from the perspective of Jesus Christ.

The opposite of this is to seek your own interests.  This is a constant challenge for a pastor or minister of any type. Just yesterday I sat with a missionary who spoke of the difficulty of speaking on God’s behalf without allowing the message to decompose into personal tirades at the people we love, because of our private, and often frustrating, knowledge of their sins.

Another challenge of seeking the interests of your congregation is that they don’t really know what is in their own best interest.  They too have a way of making their self-interests selfish instead of Christ-centered. So, in order to avoid telling people what they want to hear, you have to temper your message constantly with a deep connection to Christ.  This is the only way that you will know His best interests for your hearers.

The last thing I want to mention about this maintaining the interests of those you serve, is that it helps to have a support system outside of the circle of your own congregation.  Often others can see things in us we have carefully hidden from ourselves.  An honest friend will tell you what you need to hear to allow you the opportunity to improve. Every Paul needs a Timothy and every Timothy needs a Paul.

Second, Paul speaks of Timothy as a person of proven character.

Proving anything takes time. Proving character takes a lifetime. Timothy was not spoken of as someone whom Paul just met and had a good feeling about, but instead as someone that had served alongside Paul for an extended time.

Proving leadership has a trait in it that many people miss.  One of the ways that you become a good leader is by being a good follower. Paul’s leadership over Timothy helped bring out Timothy’s abilities in that area. Leaders who cannot follow, at least in my opinion, also cannot lead. Remember job one for any leader is to follow Christ.

Character is not weighed on scales, so that as long as more half their characteristics are good, they are a good men. Character is not a litmus test, meaning that when a strong majority of their characteristics are pure they are a good person.  Character is on the gold standard.  If it is not 100% pure then it is still in need of refinement. All of us are still in the process, but don’t use that as an excuse to change out to any other standard than Christ.

Finally, Paul speaks of Epaphroditus as a man who was willing to sacrifice all.

The first sacrifice was being willing to live broken-hearted for the people he served.  The passage describes it as longing for the Philippians, and indeed, leaving behind those you love is one sacrifice most face in ministry.  But the sacrifice of a broken heart comes in many other ways too. Everything from watching people drown in their sin to burying your beloved members break your heart.

He also was willing to walk the line of public scrutiny and shame.  I say this because prisons in that time and place were difficult to survive. Paul most likely would not have made it through if Epaphroditus was not bringing him food, water, medicines and encouragement.  But bringing these things to Paul meant he was willingly associating himself with the crimes the Roman overlords assumed Paul was guilty of.

Finally, Epaphroditus almost died from illness while performing these ministries. This was the context in which Paul said we should hold men like Epaphroditus in high esteem. Are we as willing to risk everything for the gospel?  We live in such comfort today that it is hard to tell. But if you are not willing to make the many smaller sacrifices included in ministry, you are not training yourself to be ready to make the ultimate sacrifice if, or maybe when, the time comes.





Placing Faith

Where do you place your faith? When you need to be healed, do you believe God will heal you? When you need to pay your bills, do you believe God will provide the resources? When you come before God with an intercession, a request for a friend, do you believe God will do as you ask?

As for me, I answer the first question, by saying I place my faith in God. I purposefully and intentionally choose to trust Him. This trust means I have to allow Him to make choices which affect my life in ways, which might not be what I think I want. He might choose to allow me to suffer in order to refine me. He will, sooner or later, chose some method of death. Death will be His way of bringing me to heaven. In cases like these, I might well be asking for something other than His will and His sovereign choice. Therefore, I would be placing my faith contrary to God’s will if I believed God would or should do whatever I am asking. I believe it is more faithful to voice my request and to trust God’s choice, knowing it might be different than I requested.

I am aware many teach the right way to use faith is to believe God will do whatever you prayerfully request. To me, this sounds more like manipulating God than trusting Him. Who really is on the throne, if you think God has to do whatever you ask, as long as you can muster enough faith in the request?

Placing your trust in God should inherently mean you trust His choices to be best. This does not mean you cannot speak to Him with your prayerful requests. Letting God know what you desire is a part of being in relationship with Him. However, if you allow God to be the boss of the discussion, you might find Him changing your desires, instead of giving you everything you think you need.

Place your faith in God. Allow your trust to be a path to a deeper relationship, instead of a way of manipulating God to give you what you want.


Heart Problems

About a month ago, I went to the doctor to follow up on my still new CPAP machine and its usage. In that appointment I mentioned to the doctor that I had woken up in the night with a bunch of chest pressure and pain.

He ordered his nurse to hook me up to a box which did an automated EKG on me. I was so relaxed I was almost asleep, but I woke right up when I heard her tone change as she said, “I want to show this to the doctor.” and slipped out the door.

A moment later my doctor came back in the room and informed me that the box had said I had had a heart attack. He was quick to say he didn’t believe that; he believed my slow heart rate and an anomaly in my rhythm had fooled the machine. But to be certain, he sent me for a full stress test which I had done within a week.

For a bit of history, my father was one year younger than me when he had his first heart attack. My middle brother, who is in fantastic shape and goes on long runs regularly, had a heart attack earlier this year. So family history is stacked against me.

In the time intervening I suppose I tried to take it easy, but my schedule was far from normal. I went on a mission trip for five days. I took several days off to paint my house. I also took my wife in for medical tests and attended a meeting which promised to be very stressful for a local ministry.

During all of these events, I repeatedly noticed pressure in my chest. I tried to take it as easy as possible, but I also fully intended to meet all of my obligations. Even the day I went back to get results proved unusual. My car had a tire going flat, so I dropped it to the shop, and walked from there to the doctor appointment. Along the way I thought to myself, if I get a bad report I am going to feel like an idiot for pushing my luck with all this physical activity.

My doctor said the tests demonstrated my heart was completely healthy. As I walked back to my car after the appointment I didn’t notice any pressure in my chest. Since then, I have had some once or twice, but I am ignoring it like I did all my life prior to that first appointment.

This is an example of how life events affect us. Before the box had made the mistaken diagnosis I had never worried about my heart. But from that time until I got the final word, my head (and spiritually speaking, my heart) were filled with concern for my physical heart. This concern caused me to notice things I normally wouldn’t have. Even though I resisted the temptation to live differently, what filled my heart and mind did shape my behavior.Cover

This is an example of why I wrote the book, The Storeroom of the Heart. I wanted to help believers recognize how the content of their heart shapes their potential. Only by doing what we can to control the content of our heart will we allow ourselves to be most useful to God.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy, you can either pick it up anywhere books are sold. You can get it from CrossBooks, or from Amazon. Or if you want a signed copy you can contact me and I will arrange it. You can use the social media links, on the right side of the blog, then contact me by private message.

God is Big

CoverOn Wednesdays I promote my book, The Storeroom of the Heart. You can get it anywhere books are sold, regular bookstores will special order it, Amazon or Nook can give it to you as an E-book, or you can contact me and arrange for me to mail you a signed copy.  Here is a link to the publisher site if you want to buy it from them.

Here is a short excerpt for you to consider.

If we are willing to be used by God, there is no telling what He might accomplish through us. Perhaps what God would accomplish through us would be the next great accomplishment of humankind – finding a cure for some disease, inventing a life-changing device, unlocking a better source of energy, or awakening revival in our times. Maybe what God would accomplish through us would be the redirecting of public attitudes, which are currently shifting hard and fast toward hating God and everything He stands for. I can only imagine and dream about the great things God might do in us. I can’t help but dream big, because I know God. God is big. God does big things in people who are committed to Him. God knows how to use a person whose heart is undivided.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbird

This is a yellow-headed blackbird. There doesn’t seem to be any need to discuss how it came up with its name. This is the biggest blackbird. It appears most sporadically, meaning there are few places they don’t show up in at some point, but there is also only a few places where you can be sure they will return year after year. The marsh where I took these pictures was full of at least twenty males dividing up the area into nesting territories.

One of the behaviors of these birds is they will drive red-winged blackbirds in order to claim a nest area. The squabbles when they first arrive are a comical affair made up of more posing and bravado than of crossing talons and beaks. The winner in these battles is generally the one who stands their ground with the most courage.

I believe courage is a spiritual value. We should carefully store courage up in our hearts. We should encourage it and nurture it in our children and those we mentor. Courage is important because it is a necessary ingredient in everything we do. From a child’s first steps to a young soldier’s command to join the battle to an old man facing a cancer diagnosis; courage is necessary.

It is a spiritual value because courage is necessary to do things for God’s sake. It takes courage to walk away from sin. It takes courage to learn and grow in the Christian life. It takes courage to become whatever it is God wants us to become. In addition to believing courage is a spiritual value, I believe most people are not reaching their full potential in Christ because they have not practiced the high level of courage it takes to achieve God’s best.

This is a pattern of Scripture. Remember the children of Israel refused courage and wandered in the wilderness for forty unnecessary years. Then when they did take the promised land they used some courage, but stopped short when they grew weary of the battle. Then they had to live with the consequences of compromise for the remainder of the time they were carried off into captivity. That captivity was one of the consequences suffered for their lack of courage.

In Joshua 1:7 (HCSB) we see the principle of courage being taught to Joshua as he prepared to become a leader. “Above all, be strong and very courageous to carefully observe the whole instruction My servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go.”

Theology of Imperfection

I believe humans are imperfect, because of sin, and incapable of perfection on earth. More importantly we should continue to strive for perfection as a due diligence of our repentance. Confession is necessary because we have not fully overcome our bent toward sinning. However, Christ on our behalf, has fully overcome our sin, but we must never use this as an excuse for taking our sin lightly.

Human beings sin. I have met people who deny the fact, but this claim can only be made in a very egocentric view of life. A look at how our actions affects others will demonstrate we have all done things we know harm others, therefore we have sinned.

I also believe we are not currently capable of eliminating all sin. We do not understand the full implications of our actions, nor do we fully suppress the effects of temptation on our lives. These two facts together will lead us to return to sin, even with severe efforts on our side to avoid doing wrong.

Believers can deal with these crisis of behavior by confessing their faults to God and allowing Him to forgive their sins and cleanse them from it. This reality of sin in the believer and the relief from it is described in 1 John 1:8-9.

How the church and believers react to these realities seems to be changing in recent years. Some Christian music, a few books and quite a bit of preaching have adopted the idea even our sin glorifies God. It is all a part of God’s plan so, go with it. Enjoy and embrace life, including living out the sin nature God has for you. I hope you reject this concept. Paul dealt with it in Romans 6:1 and threw out the possibility.

If we are seeking God’s best in our lives we should continue on the path of repentance. We should fight and resist sin every step of the way. Not because we will reach perfection, but because sin is an affront to God. It robs us of potential and robs Him of glory.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

This is a pied-billed grebe. It is tiny swimming bird, the smallest of the grebes. It happens to be very common, but is seldom seen. The main reason for this is it generally sees you first. Even if you are watching it from a distance it will dive under the water, and seemingly, it will never come up again.  In reality it will travel further under water than a spectator would expect to be possible, and pop up somewhere out of sight.

Other birds will perform this kind of a disappearing act but pied-billed grebes are better at it than any other bird. But disappearing is not their only trick. These birds have rivalries with several other birds. For example, they are known to have a distinct dislike of several types of ducks. All of which are bigger than them. So instead of a toe to toe fight, they do a behavior called submarining.

Submarining is attacking their enemies from below. The bird being attacked has no way of knowing trouble is coming, since the grebe was a long ways away when it dove. Then when the attack happens it cannot see what is attacking it in order to defend itself. The duck on the surface loses the battle before it starts.

Many Christians feel this way when fighting spiritual battles. Every time they try to reach for a victory they find they have already lost. They try to figure out what happened but the nature of the battle is hidden from them. They might sense they are responsible for their own failures, but they don’t understand what it is they are doing wrong.

Very often the problem gets back to what is stored in their heart. No one feels good about themselves when they know they are doing wrong. Sin lurking in the storeroom of the heart acts as a trap waiting to attack the believer when they least expect it. But since the sin has been in their lives for a period of time without any noticed consequence, they fail to connect their compromised lifestyle with their spiritual failures.

In hindsight they might see it, and when they finally do, they feel foolish for not having seen the connection earlier. Sin stored in the heart will lurk there, under the surface, attacking courage and self-esteem. Then in the moment when that believer has a chance to do something great, they can’t. The attack from under the surface of their own heart defeats them before the battle ever really begins.

Proverbs 5:22 (HCSB)
A wicked man’s iniquities entrap him;
he is entangled in the ropes of his own sin.

Self-worth and the Heart

In The Storeroom of the Heart I address three issues which affect the heart and its ability to empower a well lived life. Can you guess what they are? Here is a quote from the book to give you a strong hint as to the one most people miss.

A broken heart, or discouragement, makes us less able to achieve, less likely to do the right things, and more vulnerable to temptation. Discouragement makes us weak in heart, not just in the emotional sense, but in the sense our moral fiber becomes weakened. It is important to accept and understand how difficult events in life also damage our hearts.

If you said self-esteem, broken-heartedness or discouragement then, yes you got it. (I did say it was a strong hint.) But you might be looking at my answer and questioning whether self-esteem is the same thing as being broken-hearted or discouraged. It’s a matter open to opinion perhaps but I say yes—both are what you think of yourself. Self-esteem is what you think of yourself in the long term, while the other two are what you think of yourself in the short term. Both are a matter of your opinion of your own value.

The book is available by order from any book source, including amazon and including ebooks.  For you convenience here is a link to the publisher site if you wish to get it from them.

The Shape of a Hero

In my book, The Storeroom of the Heart, I have a chapter about heroes and what they say about society.

“The original Superman reflected what a hero should be. Someone we lift up and point to, someone we desire to emulate. If we portray them as unrealistically good, then so be it. This provides us with a higher calling to strive for in our society.”

Consider today what you want in a hero. If you prefer for them to be tormented souls with a dark secret in their past, what does that say about you?