On the Road Again

On The Road Again

As we’re planning a family vacation my kids asked, “Are we going to sleep in the car?” I’m sure most of you would hope the answer is no.  But I asked them if they wanted to, and they went crazy saying, YES!!!  When I consider driving straight through the night I feel like groaning, but my kids feel like celebrating.
In his book, Ministry Mantras, J. R. Briggs shares a story about when his son was three years old and he helped plant vegetables one morning.  When his son woke up from his afternoon nap later that day his first questions was, “Are the vegetables ready yet, Daddy?”  He responded to his young son, “No buddy, that’s not how vegetables work.  It takes a long time.”  Briggs is challenging and encouraging the many of us who get impatient with God’s seemingly long and slow plan.  He says, “Much of ministry is learning to plod along faithfully, even when we aren’t seeing results.  As Eugene Peterson writes –quoting German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche –a life committed to ministry is a ‘long obedience in the same direction.’”1
Over the many years of staff devotions, there are two I will never forget.  One was a challenge from my dear friend Tom Zillman, who after reading Isaiah 6 asked this question, “If God calls you to an unfruitful ministry, will you be faithful to it?”   Well God would never do that right?  And how could it be ministry if it’s unfruitful?  And then Pastor Tom pointed out God told Isaiah to preach to those who would not listen, perceive, understand, or respond.  And when Isaiah asked God how long he would have to do this, God said until the cities are empty and the homes are desolate.
Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, is a great example of perseverance: a long obedience in the same direction.  He wrote in his early years in China, “At home, you can never know what it is to be absolutely alone, amidst thousands, everyone looking on you with curiosity, with contempt, with suspicion, or with dislike. Thus to learn what it is to be despised and rejected of men…and then to have the love of Jesus applied to your heart by the Holy Spirit…this is precious, this is worth coming for.”
As Paul Harvey would say, The Rest of Hudson Taylor’s story is.. “Taylor’s daughter died from water on the brain; the family was almost killed in the Yang Chow Riot of 1868; Maria, Taylor’s first wife, died in childbirth; his second wife died of cancer; and sickness and ill health were frequent. Yet, the China Inland Mission continued its work of reaching China’s millions for Christ. By 1895 the Mission had 641 missionaries plus 462 Chinese helpers at 260 stations. Under Hudson Taylor’s leadership, C.I.M. had supplied over half of the Protestant missionary force in China. During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, 56 of these missionaries were martyred, and hundreds of Chinese Christians were killed. The missionary work did not slack, however, and the number of missionaries quadrupled in the coming decades.  Chinese Christians proved remarkably resilient under Communism. They did not die out but multiplied many-fold in one of the greatest expansions in church history.”2  Praise the Lord for Hudson Taylor’s persistence!
I’m sure on our long road trip at some point I will groan and my kids will whine and ask “are we there yet?!”  But I’m learning to “apply the love of Jesus to my heart by the Holy Spirit.”  Maybe even with a beef jerky and Diet Dew at a gas station in the middle of the night.  Then it’s on the road again!
For other articles by this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

1 Ministry Mantras, JR Briggs and Bob Hyatt, pp 84
2 http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1801-1900/hudson-taylors-heart-for-chinas-millions-11630493.html

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The Rest of God

rest area
While talking about road trips with our dear friends Dick and Bev, Stephanie and Bev were laughing about how Dick and I hate to stop while traveling. “Do we have to stop here or can you hold it until the next rest area?!” Why don’t we like to stop and rest?
At our house, we often have the most conflict over bed time. “Really, I have to go to bed (like this is the first time we’ve ever done this)?!” “Can’t we stay up?!” And you can ask my dad and mom, I faught bedtime and naps everystep of the way growing up too. Why are we so resistant to rest?
Genesis 2:1 says that God “rested on the seventh day from all His work that he had done.” Does this imply that Almighty God was tired? I don’t think so.
A collegue asked me to listen to a message by Tim Keller entitled “Work and Rest.” Keller suggests physical rest won’t do anything for us if it is not accompanied with soul rest. He said, “Entering God’s rest is being completely satisfied with what’s been done and who we are in Christ.” He points out that at the end of the days during creation, “God saw that it was good.” Keller suggests we find the meaning of God’s rest in Genesis 1:31, “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”
This was a light bulb for me! When we have time to slow down and rest, a key component is being able to take a step back and see that life is good! God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3)
Recently I have been with a family by the bedside of their deceased loved one. I have sat across the high security glass of a friend in prison. I have talked with a dear friend estranged from family members who refuse to talk with them anymore. And I have prayed with a dear friend who struggles to understand why God would ask them to work at such a difficult job. All of these situations are heavy and overwhelming, and I would not have been surprised at all if they could not see the goodness of God in their lives.
But each of these friends have told me how good God is to them! They are thankful for the work God has completed for them in Christ Jesus (forgiveness, the peace of the Holy Spirit, the hope of heaven). We can also be thankful for what God has provided for us each day. And we can be thankful for the good things God has prepared for us to do each day. The friend in prison is sharing the gospel with those they interact with there.
How bout you and me? What circumstances, disappointments, or frustrations compete to keep our souls from rest? Can we enter the rest God has for us and see that life is good right where we are?! Next time my kids tell me they’re not tired, I’m going to ask them to go lay in their beds, and think of how many things they could say, “Life is good!” That is the rest of God.

for more articles from this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

Renewal from Decision Fatigue

Time To Renew

My colleagues invited me to lunch on my birthday and wanted me to choose the restaurant.  As I drove and they laughed about my passion for southern gospel quartet music, I realized I could not make a decision about where to eat.  This started a discussion about “decision fatigue.”  They told me I should take a cue from Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, who each intentionally reduced their daily decisions by wearing the same thing every day!

“Decision fatigue” is the reduced mental function due to the strain from many decisions and/or exerting extreme self-control, creating high emotional stress.  “People find that making many choices can be [psychologically] aversive.”[1] While reading about decision fatigue, I learned when we are tired, we generally are tempted to either become impulsive and reckless, or to avoid decisions altogether.   The “process of choosing may itself drain some of the self’s precious resources, thereby leaving the executive function less capable of carrying out its other activities. Decision fatigue can therefore impair self-regulation”.[2]

This is called the theory of ego depletion, which suggests that self-control, or willpower, draws upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up.  In other words, when we have used up our willpower resources, we begin to have boundary problems.  We may become quick tempered, impulsive, apathetic, etc.  I read that those who are struggling financially have higher stress and “decision fatigue” even when making simple purchases, and are therefore in greater danger of impulse buying than those who can shop or make purchases without financial stress.  George Loewenstein has suggested that the disastrous failure of men/women in high office to control impulses in their private lives may at times be caused by decision fatigue, which stems from the burden of day-to-day decision making.[3]  When this happens such a person may become unable to hear his/her conscience.  “Ego depletion has been shown to hinder the ability to engage in such reflection, thereby making it difficult to experience guilt.”[4]

I consider myself blessed to be surrounded by older, wiser men than me, who consistently challenge me to slow down, have quiet time, “Be still, and know that He is God.”  While the internet, the Starbucks-culture consumerism, and the pace of life are certainly increasing my decision-making opportunities, I think God’s solution to decision fatigue and ego depletion is the same as it’s always been.  Paul calls us not to conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Ro 12:2).  To be transformed, or transfigured, is to “be changed after being with” Jesus.  The renewing is to be refreshed by God’s power.  The Bible promises us an unlimited measure of the Holy Spirit’s self-control (Gal. 5:23) if we will take the time to receive it.

I also read “In a recent experiment, it was shown that inducing a positive mood can buffer the impairing effects of ego depletion on subsequent performance.”[5] This sounds like the Bible to me!  “It is God’s will that we give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18)!”

When you sense the decline of decision fatigue setting in, you can decrease decisions by wearing the same shirt every day as some high-level executives do, or you can spend time in solitude and thanksgiving as Jesus invites us to.  In the words of my dear friend Bill, “Jason, remember Psalm 42:10 – BE STILL.”

for more articles from this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

1 Danzigera, Shai; Levav, Jonathan; Avnaim-Pesso, Liora (2011), “Extraneous factors in judicial decisions”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108 (17): 6889–6892, doi:10.1073/pnas.1018033108, PMC 3084045, PMID 21482790

2 Vohs, Kathleen; Baumeister, Roy; Twenge, Jean; Schmeichel, Brandon; Tice, Dianne; Crocker, Jennifer (2005). “Decision Fatigue Exhausts Self-Regulatory Resources — But So Does Accommodating to Unchosen Alternatives” (PDF).

3 Loewenstein, George (2003), Time and decision: economic and psychological perspectives on intertemporal choice, p. 208, ISBN 0-87154-549-7.

4 Xu, H.; Bègue, L.; Bushman, B. J. (2012). “Too fatigued to care: Ego depletion, guilt, and prosocial behavior”. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 43 (5): 379–384. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2012.03.007.

5 CUTRIGHT, K. M.; SAMPER, A. (2014). “Doing It the Hard Way: How Low Control Drives Preferences for High-Effort Products and Services”. Journal of Consumer Research. 41 (3): 730–745. doi:10.1086/677314.

Are We Too Sympathetic?

balance is the key

Have you ever felt exhausted caring for others?  Ed Stetzer reports that “90% of pastors stated they are frequently fatigued and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis.”  Many would say they feel called to carry out the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  The word agapao (love) focuses on preference, “choosing God’s choices and obeying them through His power, a discriminating affection which involves choice and selection.”  We can choose to love ourselves the way the Lord prefers and love others in the same way!

All too often, being sympathetic to others involves feeling stressed, stimulating the “sympathetic” half of our nervous system.  Our sympathetic involvement in the frustrations, conflicts, griefs, and difficulties of our neighbors, often causes our sympathetic nervous system to be in fight or flight, standing at attention, awaiting the next phone call to action.  During seasons of “sympathetic” dominance, we may experience increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, increased blood clotting (which causes strokes), increased blood sugar (prediabetes), increased muscle tightness, high adrenaline (which can be addicting), decreased digestion, decreased saliva production, dilated pupils (light sensitivities), decreased lacrimation (dry eyes), and cold hands.

The autonomic (automatic) nervous system, which consists of both the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) controls most of the body’s internal organs.  When the system is out of balance, in “fight or flight” too often, it causes a multitude of stress-related illnesses.  Seventy-five percent (75%) of pastors experience a significant crisis due to stress in the ministry (Fuller Institute, 1989-1992).

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love.” The word fear is phobos, meaning the alarm of dread, or the need to flee or withdraw (flight), feeling inadequate without sufficient resources for the situation.  “But perfect love drives out fear… The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
This is a good reminder and litmus test for each of us.  Love drives out fear, anxiety, and the fight or flight stress response.  Love can help us drive out sympathetic dominance, and stimulate the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, or help us to “rest and digest.”  Here we experience increased saliva, increased lacrimation (tears), digestive enzymes are released, heart rate drops, muscles relax, pupils constrict.  When I am in the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, I feel at rest, able to love everyone.  When I am in sympathetic dominance, I am over-concerned about situations, and feel the need to fix things.   I am more confrontational and controlling because I usually feel “right.”  I’m afraid if I don’t fix this, we will be in danger.

I’m learning that when I find my hormonal system in sympathetic dominance, I’m not loving myself well, which means I can’t love others very well either.  All too often, however, I can’t get my nervous system back into balance.  The following strategies help to stimulate your parasympathetic “rest and digest” system: sleep or rest, exercise, solitude, massage, and hobbies or things you enjoy.  Specifically, I’ve been reading that Acetylcholine is the primary neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic response, so you may want to take a choline supplement.

If most of your time serving the Lord is spent in fight or flight, it’s time to find the love.  Don’t be TOO sympathetic!

for more articles from this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

The Success of Fruit, Feedback, and Fuel

jd-combine-cart

I was recently asked what defines ministry success for me?  Is success being liked by everyone?  Having everyone get along?  Everyone saved?  Everyone’s needs met?  Having a lot of money?  So I have spent time thinking about what the Bible says about success and I think there are three “F”s of success to consider… Fruit, Feedback, and Fuel.

Years ago I had the privilege of working on a farm.  Whether we were planting or harvesting, ultimately everything we did all year was to have a good crop.  The same is true in our organization.  The Bible says, “Every tree is recognized by it’s fruit.  People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers”  Luke 6:44.  People do not seek out prickly, upset, or hurtful people.  The Bible says we can grow in the fruit of the Spirit, becoming more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, full of the goodness of God, faithful, gentle, and long suffering.  We will be successful if we communicate the FRUIT of the Spirit.

When we were harvesting we would have to stop to unload when the combine was full. We were receiving feedback from the machine.  Some farms have a grain cart so they unload while moving.  The combine driver and the driver of the grain cart have to be able to communicate and listen to each other, and the cart has to be perfectly positioned under the combine spout or there will be grain all over the ground.  The cart driver can be confident he’s doing well, but if the combine stops for a rock and the cart driver doesn’t listen, grain will be spilled.  Often times in a position of leadership, we feel really sure we know which way to go which leaves no room to listen to others.  However God never meant for this to be a one man show.  He intended it to be a body with many parts.  The eye cannot say to the hand, “ I don’t need you!”  And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 1 Co 12:21We will be successful if we listen to FEEDBACK.

If the weather is good and we can unload on the go, the only thing that stops the harvest are the needs of the machinery.  While Air Force One can fuel on the go, our tractors and trucks have to stop for fuel.  Each morning we would spend an hour greasing and fueling the equipment.  Often late in the day we would have to take a break and refuel.  Sometimes we would have to stop to attend to a breakdown.  I’m so thankful the farmer doesn’t have to pick each piece of grain or carry it all to the elevator by himself. So he’s willing to stop and make sure the equipment has what it needs.  The Bible says God gave (church leaders) to prepare and equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith Eph 4:12  We will be successful if we take time to FUEL others, preparing, equipping, and supporting those who serve with us.

May we experience ministry success as we grow in Fruit, Feedback, and Fuel.

David Strengthened Himself In The Lord

under-pressure-300x217

As a pastor I spend most of my time in one of two areas.  I serve people suffering weakness, like hospitalizations or financial needs, and I spend time responding to conflicts like  broken marriages and church disagreements.  I was recently encouraged by Dr. Zack Eswine (The Imperfect Pastor) when he shared the story of how David responded to these things in 1 Samuel 30.

In previous chapters David had been fleeing King Saul who was trying to kill him and then he was rejected by the Philistine leaders in 1 Samuel 29 who didn’t approve of him.  In the beginning of chapter 30 David and his men were raided and all their wives and children were taken.  David’s men were so upset they wept till they had no more strength to weep, and then they talked of stoning David.  And the Bible says, “David encouraged himself in the Lord.”  As we continue reading, some of David’s men were so overcome with grief they were too weak to go recapture their wives and children, so 200 of them stayed behind.  Upon reclaiming all the wives and children and plundering the Amalekites, the 400 who went resented the 200 who stayed back and refused to share the plunder with them.

And David, having strengthened himself in the Lord, was able to “manage well with all dignity” (1Ti3:4) and give grace to them all.  Those too weak to contribute were blessed alongside those who worked hard for it.  And those in conflict, who were filled with resentment, were blessed alongside those who had been overcome by love for their families.  May we strengthen ourselves in the Lord and bless those who are weak and those who are angry.

Be encouraged; God’s grace is for you.

Joggling Pastoral Transitions

joggling-michal-kapral

Recently I saw a commercial featuring marathon joggler Michal Kapral, who set a world record in running a full marathon while juggling, otherwise known as joggling.  While in a pastoral transition I could relate to the high pace of life while trying to keep multiple balls in the air.  See Michal talk about this … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDd07tyMwzA

Pastoral ministry is much like juggling while running a marathon.  There are certainly times of fatigue and endurance.  There is as much mental stamina required as physical, oh, and spiritual stamina too!  What most people may not realize is that every pastor I know, whether serving in a one pastor church, or those serving in a multiple staff churches, every pastor is running and juggling multiple things while trying not to let one of those balls drop.  And when a ball does drop, there’s the grief of people focusing on the one ball bouncing alongside rather than the successful juggling and running act being performed right in front of their eyes!  This criticizing the imperfect circus act can feel very isolating.

I find the same is true in my walk with Jesus.  Why is it that before becoming a Christian, I didn’t feel good enough for God apart from Jesus, but now that I’m in Christ, I don’t feel good enough for God with Jesus?  I’m also focused on the one ball bouncing alongside this miraculous event of the Holy Spirit functioning within me?  The Holy Spirit’s ministry in me makes me look like I’m running and juggling at the same time!

While in a pastoral transition we often find ourselves juggling a few new balls on top of the usual.  There’s the ball of insecurity that comes with a new position or the lack of one.  There’s the ball of new problems and/or new responsibilities to face.  And then there’s that big medicine ball of fear that comes with a transition.  Ever tried to juggle a medicine ball and two tennis balls?!  We have to learn to administrate new things to get this ship back to safe harbor!

When life is moving too fast and there’s too many balls to juggle, I’m reminded of the story of Mary and Martha.  Jesus says Martha is worried and upset about many things, including her project partner.  But Mary is at peace and enjoying what is most important, a forever friend.

So in joggling pastoral transitions, may we overcome the tendency to be discouraged, worried, or upset about things like our project partners, and may we enjoy the forever friends that He provides along the way.

Oh, and way to go, you juggle and run really well!