I Know The Plan

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One of my favorite football coaches was asked a question about his leadership following the game.  He had just been beaten badly by a rival, he was navigating ongoing player discipline issues, and he looked exhausted and discouraged.  A reporter asked him, “Do you think you’ve lost the team?” and he answered, “I don’t know.” Two days later he was fired. I learned a valuable lesson from that coach I respect so much. I learned that one of the most important tools of a leader is confidence in the plan.  

As Christians we have an unfair advantage when it comes to leadership.  We’re trusting the Lord Jesus who always knows the plan (Jer. 29:11) and is faithful to establish us (2 Thes. 3:3),  so we can be confident He will complete the plan in us (Phil. 1:6, He. 12:2). But our feelings will betray us.

Elijah experienced overwhelming discouragement and burnout in 1 Kings 19.  He was being threatened and chased because God had used him mightily. The Bible says that he was so exhausted he lay down and prayed that he might die.  An angel came to encourage him to eat because the journey was too great for him. If we had asked him that day how would overcome Jezebel, I’m guessing he would have said, “I don’t know.”  If we had asked him if he would survive the difficulty, I’m guessing he would have said, “I don’t know.” If we had asked Elijah that day about his leadership ability I’m guessing he would have said, “I don’t know.”   These battles of uncertainty are exhausting and scary, and each of us has been there from time to time. Later in the chapter, Elijah’s confidence in the Lord’s plan is renewed and he goes back to work.

Paul said in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me… 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.”  Paul knew how to answer every question and was confident in every overbearing difficulty. He knew we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Eph. 2:10).  

Nebraska head coach Scott Frost recently said after starting the season 0 and 5, “it would have been easier to stay where we were comfortable, but there’s not going to be a place where it’s sweeter or more fun for me than here, when we get this right.  Wherever I’m going to coach, we’re going to teach our players to play with a desire to excel with no fear of failure.  ”

Dear Christian leader, the next time you’re in a great difficulty, or you’re exhausted or discouraged, and you’re asked a question about your leadership, be careful not to say “I don’t know.”  Start with what you know. Be confident in who He’s created you to be and what He’s called you to do. Be confident that He will complete it, and your only work is to believe (John 6:29). Remain in fellowship with Christ so that you can be full of courage and not shrink back (1 John 2:28).  Communicate the confidence you have in following Christ, and demonstrate humility by inviting other wise counsel into the discussion. After sharing what you’re confident in, ask other key leaders what wisdom they can share with you, and acknowledge the “I don’t know” when it comes to the details.  And always, when you’re just really not sure, “lay down before you hurt yourself,” and allow the Lord to minister His Bread to you until you can get up in confident humility again.

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Keep Your Chin Up Tiger!

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My grandpa was a man of few words.  He would often whistle while helping his neighbors fix something, or whistle while doing the dishes for Grandma after dinner.  But one phrase I remember him saying to me often was, “Keep your chin up tiger!”

Romans 5:2-5 says, “Through (Jesus) we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Does that say rejoice in sufferings… really?  Suffering produces hope?  How?

The word “rejoice” comes from a root word which literally means “neck,” or “that which holds the head upright.”  It refers to living with a God-given confidence that comes from having a proper perspective to deal successfully with a matter. To rejoice could be translated, “Keep your chin up tiger!”  Looking back, I now realize when Grandpa was telling me to keep my chin up, he was telling me to whistle and be confident in the worries and discouragements. He was telling me that I’d get through this, because God had a right perspective and a good plan for me.

The Bible says we are to rejoice or “keep our chin up” in sufferings.  Sufferings are difficult situations that create an internal pressure which makes us feel trapped with no way of escape.  The Bible says these trapped and hopeless feelings bear a good fruit in our lives.  They are actually for our good…?

The Bible says keeping the right perspective in sufferings produces three things: endurance, character, and hope.  Endurance or steadfastness is God’s enabling grace that helps us to remain under the challenges He allots in life.  Romans 14:4 says, “for the Lord is able to make (you) stand.”  James 1:2-4 says it this way, “Count it all joy… when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  Endurance or steadfastness comes in trials and sufferings when we come to a place of contentment that allows us to say, “The Lord is my Good Shepherd, I have everything I need (Ps 23:1).”

Character is a genuineness that comes from being approved through testing.  Have you ever watched someone you respect respond in a difficult situation and think to yourself, “I think they can get through anything?”  These are men and women of character, who have been tested and come forth as gold (Job 23:10).  Psalm 66:10 says, “For You have tested us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined.”  Ephesians 4 says we should mature to the measure of the full stature of Christ, no longer tossed to and fro by the waves of this life.  He created you for Christ-like character!

And Hope is to anticipate and joyfully welcome what is certainly to come.  We rejoice in hope of the glory or good manifestation of God.  The Bible says His plan for us is good, and we have hope because He loves us, He has given us the Holy Spirit to comfort us, and ultimately we are promoted to eternity with Him through faith in Jesus.  The Bible says faith is the assurance of things hoped for (He 11:1).  And faith comes by hearing the word of the Lord (Ro 10:17).  If you need hope today have someone read the Bible aloud to you, or listen to an audio Bible.  There is always hope. Remember, “He is able, He is able, to accomplish what concerns you today!”  What thoughts of hope do you dwell on today?

So rejoice in sufferings, rejoice in hope, keep your chin up tiger!

The Rest of God

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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?

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“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

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

David Strengthened Himself In The Lord

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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

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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!