"Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, . . . They are not
just idle words for you-- they are your life" (Deuteronomy 32:46-47).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When "I Can't Believe This Is Happening" Happens

"I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:13 (NIV)

At no time is the reality of the war between the inner life and the outer life more evident than when "it" happens: job loss, down-sizing, sickness, financial distress, death of a loved one, separation, divorce, children's indiscretions-- you name the others. When things happen that change our circumstances or rock the boat we call our life, stress and distress enter the picture. Where is stress and distress felt most powerfully? Internally. Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest, said most people never deal with the internal because they are so preoccupied with the making sure the external stays consistent. That is so true. When life is good, all of us want our circumstances to remain as they are or get better-- not worse!

But what happens when life takes a downward turn instead of upward? How can we stand up under the stress and distress that take over our inner life? When every thought is of the worse-case scenario, how can we calm the inner storm? The Apostle Paul said, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want" (Phil. 4:12). Webster's says that content means satisfied. However, for us, we think of contentment as being when the inner life consisting of our thoughts, emotions, and feelings and the outer life consisting of our relationships, living standards, and families are free of turmoil. In other words, when the inner life and outer life are at equilibrium.

Since I'm on this faith journey with Christ, here are some thoughts for fellow travelers:

First, let's make sure our perception of life is consistent with what God promises when we become followers of Christ. "Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward. . . . Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble" (Job 5:7, 14:1). Jesus said the following: "Each day has enough trouble of its own. . . . When trouble and persecution comes because of the word, . . . In this world you will have trouble" (Matthew 6:34, 13:21, John 16:33). We should remind ourselves that when we accepted the invitation to follow Christ, we were guaranteed a troubled life in this present world. Trouble comes from all directions including bad decisions that we and others make, personal sins and other's sins, Satan's attempts to steal, kill, and destroy us, and God's activity aimed at testing us and increasing our faith. The point is that when we, as Christians, experience trouble in this life and then get way-stressed out, angry, and desperate, we have lost the proper persective of the God-life. The question is not if trouble will come, but when.

Second, let's make sure our fears don't cause us to forget what God promises when we become followers of Christ. "But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand" (Psalm 10:14). "The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; . . . because they take refuge in him" (Psalm 37:39-40). "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:35-37). The point is that when we, as Christians, experience trouble in this life, the proper response is to remember that God sees and knows we are in trouble, will take our trouble in his hands and help us in the midst of it, and see to it that we overcome the trouble with his wisdom, power, and might. However, for this reality to become ours, we must not ignore the inner life while focusing on fixing our circumstances.

Third, let's make sure we don't fail to prove ourselves to be Christians who rely on what God promises when we become followers of Christ. When troubled times come, fear makes us worry about everything. Soon, we find ourselves sitting endlessly with our head in our hands, pacing the floor non-stop, biting our nails even when we are talking, and losing our grip on life. Wisdom says, "If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength!" (Proverbs 24:10). Let's remind ourselves of what Jesus said: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? . . . your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:25, 32-33). The point is that worrying never helps; it always hurts-- we know it's true, don't we? Let's remind ourselves that our lives are about a whole lot more than us; our lives are part of the greater plan of God for this world. In our inner life, we are to be busily involved in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study, worship, yielding to God's will, recognizing God's presence, and personal spiritual growth. In our outer life, we are to live according to God's standards rather than this world's standards, and we are to serve Jesus faithfully, obediently, and consistently in good and bad circumstances. I do not know how to explain it other than to say it is a God-thing, but if we will focus on being Christ-followers in our internal and external lives, God will take care of our troubled circumstances.

Having read these words that have been written in this post, I freely admit that following them is just as difficult for the writer as it is for the reader. But not impossible for all of us in Christ, for Paul reminds us that we can do all things (including overcome tough and troubled times) through our Lord Jesus Christ who stengthens us with his wisdom, ability, and power. Blessings along the way.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Dear Friends,

Be aware that the link at the top of this page, "Next Blog", leads to internet sites that I have no control over. This link is placed on the page by blogger.com without any input from me, even though this is my Pastor's Blog page. If you click this link, you may be taken to sites with morally questionable material; therefore, I highly suggest that you disregard the "Next Blog" link.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What About the Men in Church?

The other day I was talking to a friend. His question was: What are we going to do about getting men more involved in church? It's not a new question, but rather as old as the church, I suspect. Next Sunday look around your church as see if the women don't outnumber the men at least 3 to 1.
We men are some strange birds, I admit, when it comes to church. One author I've read blames men's lack of enthusiasm for church on "the feminization of our culture." There might be some truth to that. Think about it. What do we ask men to do when they come to church, either overtly or covertly? Be nice, use your "church voice"- which means ssshhhhh!, smile even if you don't want to, don't cause a scene, and say your sorry even if it's not your fault!
There's nothing wrong with using good manners, being polite, and matching your voice level with your situation. Every man knows not to cause a scene unless the scene calls for it, and the question in every man's mind at some point is: Why do I have to say "I'm sorry" if it's not my fault? Men are doers. God put a warrior spirit in every man. We want to solve the problem and save the day, even if we don't have a clue how to do it; and something else- remember the action heros we read about and watched on TV when we were kids- we wanted to be like them then, and to some degree we still do. Inside every man is the desire to be somebody's hero. That's part of being a man.
Here's some more info on men. We like to take stuff apart and put it back together- and most of the time having parts left over doesn't bother us as long as what we tore up and put back together works or runs. We like outside, physical stuff like sports, hunting, fishing; and if you really want to get our blood moving, give us a hammer, some nails, a skill saw, or a chain saw- and get out of the way!
But here's something else about most men- we realize deep down in places that we have a hard time letting people near, that we're not everything we need to be or should be. We need help. We need Jesus. We need the church. We know there's more to being a real man than what we see and experience in the workplace and in the culture. So, from a pastor's heart to wives, wives-to-be, and the people of God in churches everywhere, I offer the following. This is also for my friend who lit the torch that got me thinking about this subject.
I was reading in Momentum magazine the other day and ran across some help. Since men love action, here are some verbs to help us think about and plan men's ministry; and to help us answer the question: What about the men in church?
1. Connect. We always say that the priorities of a man life- in order- should be God, family, church, then everything else. Men need to connect with God, their wives and children, believers in the local church, and people in their workplace and community. A strong, vibrant men's ministry through the local church can help facilitate these connections. But here's the catch- it's got to be attractive to men, allow men to be men, and speak their heart language.
2. Grow. Part of being human is growing. Whenever something doesn't grow, something is wrong. Here's the truth: men are either growing toward what God created them to be or away from it. Spiritual growth is a necessity for being the men we were born to be. We've got to know Jesus personally; we've got to know what our Lord expects of us; we've got to have spiritual mentors; and we want to mentor others. We've got to have Bible study opportunities and prayer opportunities that provide regular encounters with God's Word that will keep us growing spiritually and moving forward in our journey with Jesus.
3. Serve. The local church needs the service that men can provide. The Bible speaks of spiritual gifts being given to every Christian for the good of, and the building up of, all of God's people-the church. When men's ministry works like it should, men will discover how God wired them up with spiritual gifts, empower them to use those God-given gifts, and provide opportunities for men to get down to the nitty-gritty and use them.
4. Go. Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Spirit that should be growing in every man's life. People grow physically through physical exertion. Picking up things, walking, running, strength training, and a host of other activities ensure that the human body grows and develops healthily. Likewise, if men are going to grow spiritually healthy, they have got to be given opportunities to go and do. Missions and evangelism helps produce the Fruit of the Spirit in a man's life; and nothing makes a man feel like he's accomplished something, like results. When men see a building go up, get painted, or go through remodeling; or, when men see other men come to faith in Christ and grow in that faith as a result of their efforts, it makes them feel like they've accomplished something for Jesus- then suddenly, church makes sense.
Connect, grow, serve, go. That's sounds like a good outline for a thriving men's ministry. How does it sound to you? But men, come up real close and let me tell you from my heart: it doesn't matter what kind of program or effort your pastor or other leaders in the church put together to help you be all that God created you to be, it won't mean anything unless you put forth the effort to participate. Come on, the local church needs you. It's not perfect, but neither am I and neither are you. But together we can serve the cause of Christ in this world, really make a difference in our families and communities, and have something to offer our Lord when we see Him in heaven.
May God bless every effort you put forth for Christ, your family, and your local church.

Pastor Helps

To my colleagues in ministry,

People stop us in church hallways, on grocery isles, and at ballgames and ask questions. Most of these are not counseling situations, but rather opportunities to offer advice, provide spiritual direction, and build friendship and trust with others. However, there are those times when people-problems require more concentrated efforts. Most ministers do pastoral counseling as part of caring for people. Here are a couple of books that I've read recently that you probably want to read, apply, and add to your personal library:

David G. Benner, Strategic Pastoral Counseling: A Short-Term Structured Model, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003).

Gary R. Collins, The Biblical Basis of Christian Counseling for People Helpers: Relating the Basic Teachings of Scripture to People's Problems (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001).

Benner's book will help you put together an organized, planned approach to your counseling ministry, rather than just doing it off-the-cuff. Collins' book will go a long way in answering some questions you've had about using the Bible in counseling. Both are great reads. Enjoy them, and blessings.