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

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

What is Love?

Water
“What is love, baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.:” –Haddaway
I’ve heart a lot of opinions about love in my lifetime and I would sum up our world’s definition of love as relationships void of pain. But is a relationship void of pain really full of love?
After a difficult ministry season my wife and I went on a quiet retreat. I had experienced great conflicts, unfair accusations, and was held in resentment by people close to me. While normally pretty resilient, I was beginning to crumble inside. I spent time in prayer asking God to immerse me in His love and give me the courage to continue in these difficulties. It was then I found myself singing an old hymn.

The Love of God is greater far than any pen or tongue can tell.
It goes beyond the highest height and reaches to the lowest hell…
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky…
The love of God so rich and pure, so measureless and strong,
it shall forever more endure, the saints and angel’s song.

He reminded me that responding to the love of God would guarantee that people would hate us (1 Jn 3:13), and that to continue in this loving relationships with Him by faith I might feel abandoned by Him from time to time (Job 13:15). His loving plan for my life might even involve painful experiences (2 Co 12:8). Dr. Henry Cloud points out in Boundaries in Marriage that “ just because someone is in pain doesn’t necessarily mean that something bad is happening…. (Is it) pain that leads to injury? (Or is it) pain leads to growth?” I realized the pain I was experiencing was not leading to permanent injury, even the fact that it led me to cry out to God was indicating it was pain that was leading to my spiritual and relational growth!
I prayed that He would cast me so far into the oceans of His love that I couldn’t swim back to my flesh even if I tried. I prayed that He would plunge me into the depths of His love so far I couldn’t swim back up to the surface of earthly resentments even if I was tempted to.
In “The Lego Batman Movie” the Joker is trying to convince Batman that he is the villain Batman hates the most. Batman says to Joker: “I see what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to entrap me into a relationship.” Joker says to Batman, “Do you realize, [in all these years], you’ve never once said, ‘I hate you, Joker.’? Listen to this, ‘I hate you, Batman.’ Now your turn.” And Batman replies, “Me too.” To which Joker replied, “I am not going to be part of a one-sided relationship any longer!” I sat there considering whether you can hate without acknowledging love? Can you be an atheist without acknowledging there is something not to believe in?
The Bible doesn’t define love as the absence of pain. Infact, Jesus willingness to experience a painful crucifixion is His demonstration of love for us. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life.”  Sounds painful to me!  The Bible defines love as the absence of fear (1 John 4:18).  So while love may involves pain, we don’t have to be afraid of the pain.  Love covers a multitude of pains!

for more articles by 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.

Wives, Encourage Your Husbands Daily -Heb 13:3

  1. Your desire to lead means a lot to me. -1 Ti 3:1 If a man desires the position of elder, he desires a good work.
  2. I really appreciate that you want to do the right thing. -1 Ti 3:2 An elder must be blameless
  3. You are such a loyal man -1 Ti 3:2 An elder must be the husband of one wife
  4. I like how self controlled and kind you are. -1 Ti 3:2 An elder must be temperate
  5. You do a good job of being rational -1 Ti 3:2 An elder must be sober minded
  6. I’m so glad I married a man with the fruit of the Spirit -1 Ti 3:2 An elder must be a good behavior
  7. It means a lot that you help me have a home to have friends over. -1 Ti 3:2 An elder must be hospitable
  8. I think you’re really wise. -1 Ti 3:2 An elder must be able to teach
  9. I admire your discipline to get up every morning -1 Ti 3:3 An elder must not be given to much wine
  10. I like to be close to you when you’re gentle -1 Ti 3:3 An elder must be gentle
  11. I notice how well you get along with your friends. -1 Ti 3:3 An elder must not be quarrelsome
  12. Our marriage is the best when we’re content. -1 Ti 3:3 An elder must not be covetous
  13. You manage (this) well -1 Ti 3:4 An elder must manage his own house well
  14. Your love means so much to our kids -1 Ti 3:4 An elder must have his children in submission with all reverence
  15. You are a blessing to our church. -1 Ti 3:5 An elder must be able to take care of the church
  16. Its so cool that you’ve been a Christian for ___ years! -1 Ti 3:6 An elder must not be a novice
  17. Your humility brings God’s grace for our family. -1 Ti 3:6 An elder must not be puffed up with pride lest he fall
  18. Thank you for having a good testimony with your work friends. -1 Ti 3:7 An elder must have good testimony with outsiders
  19. I really respect how hard you try to overcome temptations. -1 Ti 3:7 An elder must overcome temptation
  20. Thank you for trying to understand -1 Pe 3:7 Husbands must give understanding to their wives
  21. I have felt so special since the day you proposed. -1 Pe 3:7 Husbands must give honor to their wives
  22. I’m so thankful you know God’s grace for each of us. -1 Pe 3:7 Husbands see wives as coequals in the grace of life
  23. Thank you for praying for me. -1 Pe 3:7 Husbands must be men of prayer
  24. I’m glad we are like minded about Christ. -1 Pe 3:8 be likeminded
  25. I’m blessed by your compassion -1 Pe 3:8 be compassionate
  26. Your love makes me feel special -1 Pe 3:8 be loving
  27. For such a strong man you are tenderhearted. -1 Pe 3:8 be tenderhearted
  28. I noticed how courteous you were. -1 Pe 3:8 be courteous
  29. Thank you for not being insulting or overpowering. -1 Pe 3:8 not reviling
  30. You are such a blessing to me. -1 Pe 3:8 blessing one another
  31. We are blessed because you are such a nice guy. -1 Pe 3:8 inherit a blessing

(see also Genesis 3, Proverbs 5, Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 3, 1 Peter 3)

Husbands, Encourage Your Wives Daily -Heb 13:3

  1. You have a powerful influence of moral excellence on the people around you –Pr 31:10 Virtuous (powerful influence of moral excellence)
  2. I hold you in high esteem, you are the most important person in my life –Pr 31:10 worth (held in high esteem)
  3. I trust you, you’re the most competent person I know –Pr 31:11 her husband trusts her
  4. You bring so much good into my days –Pr 31:12 you do me good all my days
  5. I appreciate how hard you work –Pr 31:13 work hard with hands
  6. I noticed how far out of your way you have to go to take care of all of us. –Pr 31:14 goes far to provide
  7. Thanks for getting up to care of us –Pr 31:15 rises early to provide for family and others
  8. I wish you didn’t have to make mony, but I’m impressed with how you do it. –Pr 31:16 earns private profits
  9. You are the strongest most steadfast woman I know –Pr 31:17 strength
  10. It makes me feel good when you perceive all is good, we’re going to be fine. –Pr 31:18 perceives all is good
  11. You strengthen me when I know hard times don’t destroy your confidence –Pr 31:18 lamp does not go out in darkness
  12. I love how you extend your hands to give to others –Pr 31:19 hold out her hands to give
  13. Your confidence is beautiful –Pr 31:21 confident
  14. I appreciate how fearless you are –Pr 31:21 not fear
  15. You look really nice today –Pr 31:22 well clothed
  16. I want to be the kind of man you respect and admire –Pr 31:23 respected husband
  17. You are so good at making ______________. –Pr 31:24 sells what she makes
  18. I just wanted to honor you by _______________. –Pr 31:25 strength and honor
  19. I love it when we rejoice together. –Pr 31:25 rejoicing
  20. I think you’re really wise and I appreciate your input. –Pr 31:26 wise
  21. I think you’re a really kind person. –Pr 31:26 kind
  22. Thank you for making our household run so smoothly. –Pr 31:27 watches over household
  23. I appreciate how hard you’re working –Pr 31:26 not idle
  24. You are leaving an incredible legacy. –Pr 31:28 children appreciate
  25. I believe in you and I’m excited about _________ (This part of our future) –Pr 31:28 husband affirms
  26. You are at the head of your class, there’s no one as gifted as you are. –Pr 31:29 excel in them all
  27. Your fear of the Lord is your most valuable quality. –Pr 31:30 fears the Lord
  28. You should praised for ____________. –Pr 31:30 to be praised
  29. I wish everyone knew how good you are at _____________. –Pr 31:31 show off your works
  30. Your gentle and quiet spirit is so beautiful –1 Pe 3:4
  31. Your love for the Lord inspires me to love Him more. -1 Pe 3:1

(see also Genesis 3, Proverbs 31, Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2, 1 Peter 3)

Why Pastor In Residence Ministries?

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Have you ever lost a job? It’s never a fun experience. It hurts. Cleaning out your office is hard. Then the questions start. What am I going to do? How will we pay the bills? What will we do about health insurance? Will we lose our home?
When a pastor transitions out of a church, there are more conversations. He has to comfort his wife’s tears as she loses her community. He has to explain to his kids why they can’t go to church with their friends anymore. And while many people can change jobs without changing homes, for most pastors, a change of churches requires moving to another city. A pastor and his family invest their whole world into the church, their home, their community, and all their Christian relationships.
My wife and I are in a transition of our own. Two years ago we found mold in our attic because it wasn’t vented properly. We spend a lot of time and money fixing the problem. Recently we realized our kids rashes, stomach aches, and other symptoms may be from mold. We have been displaced from our home for three weeks this time. Fortunately, we’re finding it may not be our home, but our belongings. We are in the process of losing all our clothes and porous possessions. Why do we care so much about where we live and what we wear? I don’t know but we do.
In John 21 Jesus said to Peter, “18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.
Many pastors have a Peter calling and this effects the whole family. Sometimes they find the Lord’s plan is difficult. Pastor In Residence (PIR) Ministries exists to help pastors and their families in the difficult transitions of ministry. http://www.pirministries.org   Many pastors transition every 4 – 10 years and many of these transitions last 12-18 months. If you’re a pastor and you don’t know what is next, you’re not alone. You’re not crazy. Be encouraged. God’s plan may be uncomfortable but He always takes care of His kids.

The road I have traveled has sometimes been steep,
through wild jagged places of life.
Sometimes I’ve stumbled and fallen so hard
that the stones cut my soul like a knife.
But the staff of my Shepherd would reach out for me
and lift me to cool pastures green.
With oil of the spirit anointing my wounds,
there I’d rest by the clear healing stream.
Oh, but now more than ever I cherish the cross.
More than ever I sit at His feet.
All the miles of my journey have proved my Lord true,
and He is so precious to me.
Is Love’s Old Sweet Story too good to be true?
Do you find all this hard to believe?
Has the cruel world we live in so battered your heart
that the hurt child inside you can’t grieve?
I can’t say I blame you.
I’ve been where you are.
But all I can say is it’s true!
You’re wanted, You’re precious,
You’re the love of His heart,
and the old rugged cross is for you.
More Than Ever lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GcihwpFWkE