A PRAYER FOR WHEN LIFE COMES UNDONE

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17

Lord, this morning I am reminded of who you are and how you hold all things together. In my life I often forget this. I quickly become a spiritual chicken little; thinking the sky is falling and there’s no way out. Fortunately my weakness and lack of faith has no affect on your strength and faithfulness.

Jesus, you are the Son of God. You were before all things, you made all that is made, and only you can completely unmake anything. In you is the source and power of life. In you is eternal hope; even in the worst of situations. There is no power greater, no mind wiser, no leader more capable and no god greater. In you we see the beauty, love, power and ability of God.

I confess that I too often believe I can (and have to) hold all things together. And when that falls apart I am quick to look to someone or something else to protect and pull it all back together. I put too many things before the One who is before all things, to my detriment and disgrace. Forgive me lack of faith. My unbelief only images my idols and unravels my world. Fear, worry and despair display the domain of darkness not the kingdom of his beloved Son.

Holy Spirit, thank you for pointing me back to His deliverance; for speaking truth into my doubts through your enduring Word. Give me eyes to marvel at the strength of Christ anew. Grant me faith to trust that He alone holds all things together by his word. That He alone, by his blood, covers over all my failures and fears with outstretched, unmatched arms of grace. Continue to transfer my thinking into trusting. Let me view every circumstance in light of his power not mine and every opposition as under His throne.

Thank you Lord, that nothing about my day, my week or my life has surprised you. I am confident that nothing behind or before me can overtake or unravel You. You hold all things together. You are preeminent and premiere and because of this, I can trust that even my shortcomings and inadequacies are being used by You to create in me something beautiful and beneficial here on earth as it will one day be in heaven.

Thank for Father for Jesus. Thank you Christ for your cross. Thank you Spirit for your eye opening, heart illuminating truth. Amen.

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A PRAYER FOR WOUNDED RELATIONSHIPS

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 1 Pt 3:8

Father I come to you this morning with a burden for broken relationships. This has been heavy on my heart for awhile now and the weight doesn’t seem to get any lighter. I know I’m not alone either. You made us to be in relationship with you and with others and when either is out of place the pain can be awful.

Lord, I worship you as the Triune Relational God this morning, thinking of the perfect union you have within yourself – Father, Son and Spirit – a Oneness that you have always shared and desire to share with us. You did not need anyone. You had all the love one could ever hope for, so much in fact that it was too much for anyone but you to contain. What an incredible love it is that you would wish to extend it to rebels like me. Father, you are the most tender hearted one of all. You did not repay evil with evil, but you sent your Son as a sacrifice of grace, with unity in mind, to make sinners into sons and daughters. Jesus you humbled yourself, even to death on a cross, bearing my sin in your body on a tree, that I might die to sin and live to righteousness. What an incredible example of love and what an effective act of affection to make us capable of loving you and one another.

I confess God, that in light of this wonderful, transforming truth, I sense the failure of my own brokenness all the more. I feel the fracture in my relationships. My pride and selfishness squint into the face of your radiant humility. I have not had unity with others in mind, so much as a priority of self-preservation and protection. I blow it more than I care to admit. Putting myself first, I do not consider well enough the hurts and heartaches of others. I am often unsympathetic in my actions and overly supportive of my own cause. When attacked I want to attack. When wronged I want to wrong. When hurt I want to harm. I am guilty of being quick to judge and slow to forgive; fast to speak and sluggish to listen. Unsurprisingly, I seldom believe I’m in the wrong. Lord, I struggle to image your peace making, people loving, self-suffering enduring love. I tend to blame others before examining my own heart. I conveniently overlook my own sin in favor of exposing theirs. I have often withheld forgiveness in attempt to regain a sense of lost control. And in all of this I reject the very gospel I excitedly embraced and desire daily to enjoy. Lord I need your mercies anew today for sure.

Thank you Father for your kind rebuke. Thank you for pointing out the backpack full of relational rocks upon my back. It’s a hard but caring lesson; to be reminded of your love through discipline. That’s exactly what a great Dad does when they care for their kids. I am reminded of your grace again today. Of how you do not look at my failures and condemn me, but see me in your Son and smile. You are not holding my sins against me; you have put them all on Christ. Jesus you know I am a relational wreck, that’s precisely why you came – to reconcile us into renewed relationship with God and redeem our flawed relationships with one another.

Spirit, help me to believe and accept the forgiveness and love I have as a child of God. Aid me in being more aware of my unhealthy ways of relating to you and others. Would you keep my eyes fixed on the cross and help me to see every relationship in light of the gospel. Lord, I know I’m not the only one. There are many suffering today from relational wounds of the past, operating out of present hurts and despairing of what tomorrow holds. Jesus I pray for those facing struggling friendships, breakdowns in marriage, difficulties with co-workers, tensions in homes and turmoil in their souls. Love us into gospel hope, and lead us into renewed unity. For your glory, Lord, I ask that you grant us tender hearts, humble minds and brotherly love that the world might witness the living God at work and our hearts would be overjoyed with lavish grace. Amen.

STAYING CLOSE TO CHRIST

Abide in me, and I in you. – John 15:4

Are you currently close to Jesus? Is his presence and impact evidenced in your life? In John 15 Jesus teaches us that it’s vitally important that his disciples actively remain in relationship with him. He explains that our fruitfulness in mission, growth in grace and fullness of joy is at stake.

You might say, “I agree, but what does a life lived close to Jesus look like? Are there visible affects of disciples dwelling daily in relationship with God?” Good questions, let’s look.

Humility

When we are abiding in Jesus our lives begin to take the shape of his. We begin to love what he loves; seeing and caring for people as he does. Christians are grace saved sinners. That means, we’ve felt the weight of our guilt before God and experienced, through faith, the liberating freedom of Christ’s redeeming work in our lives. The cross humbles us. It rescues us from selfish pride into humble rejoicing. The more we think of God’s loving sacrifice, at the expense of himself, to save unloving sinners the more our souls melt for him in worship and service to others. The reality that God laid his life down for me, moves my heart to lay my life down for others.

Are your attitudes and actions marked by gospel abiding humility?

Holiness

There has been a tremendous resurgence in the doctrines of grace over the past several years. I am profoundly grateful for this in my own life and have seen first hand the powerful affects of it in countless others who lived under the joy crushing weight of rule driven religion. Sadly I’ve also noticed a disturbing trend. Many folks, under a banner of “grace”, begin cherry picking the commands of scripture, taking “free in Christ” to mean free from obedience and free to sin. Paul addresses this misappropriation of grace at length in Romans 6-7 so I’ll encourage us to read his words not mine.

Christians are not set free by grace to ignore the law but to enjoy it. Before salvation the law condemned us in chains us as slaves. In Christ God’s good commands guide us into liberty and love. We are saved by grace from from a self saving life of “got to” into a mercy pardoned life of “get to”. God’s standard of holiness for his people has not changed, our desire for it has been redeemed. We have become “obedient form the heart”. It’s now our delight to honor God through holiness. When we are clinging closely to Jesus we will find ourselves less tolerant of our sin, giving fewer excuses for disobedience and joyously willing to fulfill his commands.

Are your exploits abounding in grace abiding holiness?

Happiness

Finally, when we are remaining in the presence of Jesus love, joy is plentiful. “I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

There is nothing so heavy pressing upon my soul that time spent marveling at the love of God for me in Christ Jesus cannot lift. Is the Christian never sad? Surely not. Does the Follower never find himself in darkness and despair? Impossible in this world. We cannot; however, abide in Christ and constantly wear a frown. A heart not warmed by time sitting by the fires of grace is one that has yet to beat with eternal life.

Are you overwhelmed and saddened by circumstance? Withered from lack of abiding and worried by the things of this world? Open his word and listen. Lay yourself before him in prayer. Reach for his scar marked hands and linger in the loving radiance of his glory. Ponder anew what it cost him to rescue you from sin, Satan and death. Rehearse once more what was lost for your gain and what it cost to call you friend. Tears of repentance will once again bring about a harvest of joy.

Are your troubles accompanied by grace abiding happiness?

Now you might be saying to yourself, “that’s not me…well at least not all three”. Let me just say, that’s ok. The point is for us to hold our lives up to his light and see what shadows we cast; allowing the truth and grace of the gospel to form us into greater reflections of him.

Conviction is not condemnation, it’s an invitation. Go to him. Spend time with him in the word and on your knees in worship. Confess where there is less of him in your life. Repent of the things grab your attention and keep you from enjoying his presence. Share your convictions with others in your church and ask them to walk with you in encouragement and accountability. God has promised to finish the work he began in you and he is always faithful to his word. Ask, act, abide and expect. Revival and renewal awaits.

So You Want to be a Pastor?

I remember when I first began to sense God was inviting (ok pushing) me into pastoral ministry I had all sorts of ideas of what that meant, looked like and would take. I was overwhelmed on the one hand, feeling totally incompetent, and on the other “I got this.” I’d lead teams and run multiple businesses, surely I could start and run a church. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that made Jesus laugh out loud too.

Fast forward. I’ve been in ministry for quite some time now. I’ve been a church planter and pastor for the last eight years and pretty much everything I started out believing about myself and ministry has changed completely. It’s been humbling and humiliating. In many areas I realized I was way worse than I naively first thought and in many others, well lets just say God was far more gracious and loving than I imagined.

Over this time I’ve met countless young men at various stages of church planting and pastoral ministry, all of whom have ideas about where they were going and what they’d face. Often they ask guys in my stage of life and ministry what we’ve learned. “What advice would you give a guy like me at this point in the game.” Over the years I’ve given multiple responses ranging from “run away” to “do this or read that” (usually just whatever I thought was working in our own church, which inevitably changed right after that because it wasn’t, but that’s another post).

I’ve settled, in the last couple years, into a few key concerns young guys considering pastoral ministry need to address. Things they should pray about, seek input on and think long and hard over. (Preferably before they are knee deep in it.) Questions I honestly think are best worked out in the context of an existing ministry; ie an internship or apprenticeship. Bible college and seminary are great and needed, but some things about soldiering aren’t answered at boot camp. It’s only in the trenches of the battlefield they’re rightly assessed. I challenge every young guy I meet, even older guys rethinking where they are and what they’re doing, to get with another guy doing what they aspire to do. A man who has answered and addressed these for himself and from other pastors and planters they respect.

I’ve listed them specifically in the order of importance I see them falling in.

1. AM I CALLED?

There will be days you want out. There will be times when others want you gone. There will be many evenings when the enemy hurls accusations and there will be nights you anxiously lay awake believing all of it. There will be tears, heartbreak, emptiness, loneliness, fear, guilt and shame. You will worship idols and wrestle with identity. You will question not only your ability, but your own salvation. You will battle sin and Satan. You will feel betrayed, abandoned and alone because a servant is not greater than his master.

There are amazing things about being a pastor. There are incredible blessings and benefits. The privilege of walking with others on their journey with Jesus can’t be beat. The Sunday’s when the sermon brings repentance and faith and midweek teaching produces growth. The instances when you witness first hand the work of the Holy Spirit. The moments when sinners turn to saints, enemies become friends and years of wounds are healed in an instant. Those days will set you on fire, renew your passion and strengthen your resolve. Those are the things you imaged ministry was mostly like.

But those days are easy and exciting. They require little “gospeling” of yourself. They don’t send you to counseling and don’t cause you to seriously contemplate quitting…life. What about those? The days that demand I know my Savior and am absolutely sure of his call.

Are you Called? Not competent, not capable and not willing – Called. Is there an unmistakable invitation from the Lord on your life? Is it affirmed by other war torn men not just your mom and youth pastor? Is there a desire to weep with those who weep, not simply stand in a pulpit and preach? Is there a fire for others to know Jesus in their souls more than your name on the cover a book? Is there a fear? Are you afraid of what it will cost? Are you scared to death of your death. Are you terrified of the toll it will take? Are you eager to rush in even so?

Is there anything else you see yourself doing? Is there another route to your reward? Take that path and save yourself some pain.

Calling gets you out of bed on Monday morning. Calling pulls you to your knees in the night. Calling enables you to have hard conversations with your family. It gives you courage to lead. It prevents you from leaving a church that’s smaller than you hoped. Calling keeps you in a town that will never host a conference. Calling brings you to your feet to take another hit. Calling gives you strength to take up your sword and endurance to wield it with skill and love. Calling brings you back from the dead.

How? Because of who has called you. The One who answered the call first. The One who loved you and gave himself up for you. The One who goes before and forever walks with. The One without whom I would not be alive. The One for whom I would gladly lay down my life and my dreams.

Before you plant a church or become a pastor, be sure about His Calling.

2. HOW’S YOUR CHARACTER?

Usually I loose guys after that talk. So if your still hear, great.

How’s your character? How are you doing with Jesus, personally, right now? A common assumption is that one’s spiritual life will get better because of ministry. That my friends is like playing chicken on a NASCAR track.

Paul told Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely for in so doing he would save both himself and his hearers. If you are going to lead others toward Jesus, you must be going to him yourself. Is what you believe affecting your own soul? Is what you aspire to teach being applied to your own mind and heart? Is the gospel growing you? Is there fruit to your faith. Ministry exposes your character faults before it helps to fix them.

Is there any unconfessed sin in your life? Are there any unresolved issues in your marriage? Planting and pastoring is not the place to work them out. Deal with it before it deals with you. Work on your character before it wrecks your own life and the lives of those you lead.

Every good disciple maker has been discipled. Every good teacher has been taught. Take some time to sit at someones feet, work on your issues and understand the gospel ahead of time. You can grow be a shepherd, but you best not skip learning to be a sheep.

Is your character becoming more like Christ? Where do you need to grow in repentance, faith and obedience? Work on who you are in Christ, before you go do things for Christ. Allow others to sharpen you, assess you and yes, correct you. Letting the bible read you before you stand and read it will go a long way toward making you a better pastor. Peter summarized his thoughts on being a pastor as “being examples to the flock.” Who you are needs to proceed what you do.

3. ARE YOU COMPETENT?

Finally, are you competent? What abilities and traits do you have? What skills have you acquired up to this point? What do you still need to learn? Too many well intentioned men skip right to the “how” of it all. At this point, after working through the first two, it’s good to get assessed. To have others help you figure out some basics traits and tools that will help prepare you for being a pastor or church planter. You can get this through internships, seminary, study and mentoring. You can read books and talk to existing ministers; there’s lots of ways to learn. Personally I like hands on. Theory is good, but it needs to be applied.

It’s good to have some of the basics under your belt. There definitely seems to be type of personality and proficiency that helps someone thrive in ministry, but there’s good news – God doesn’t call competent men and women to his work, he calls them to faith in him. Actually, and thankfully, he seems to prefer incompetent people because they best glorify him. Lots of folks start with competency first to the detriment of many a man, family and church. Character not capability earns greater respect, and calling more than ability keeps you in the race.

Yes, we want to increase in our ability and add to our skill set. We should strive to be good students and grow in our competencies. That’s just good stewardship and leadership. God  invites us to shepherd, thankfully he doesn’t require us to be great. That’s his title. Lots of things are figured out along the way. We learn, we fail and grow; through the power of the Holy Spirit giving us necessary gifts and through hard work and diligence that honors him.

This is honestly the last thing that concerns me when someone asks for help. I know I’ve frustrated guys at times along the way when they ask for checklists, ideas and how-to’s and I instead press into their hearts before I equip their hands. I believe most relevant expertise comes through experience. Learn along the way and live alongside others. Find a peer group of pastors and church planters that have gone before you and will walk with you. That’s been the greatest part of being in a network like Acts 29. I’ve been able to learn from and with brothers in the trenches.

The day’s of easy ministry are over if you really want to engage and win the world for Jesus. The Kingdom needs men called and confident in Christ. Men full of the gospel not of themselves. Pastors sure of who they are in Jesus. Courageous, called, godly men who don’t have it all figured out, but who love God, love people and know they are loved by him. I am praying God raises up 100s and 1000s of new pastors and church planters. Waves of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to carry the gospel around the world and equip the church to love Jesus and live on mission for his glory and fame.

Are you Called? How’s your Character? Are you Competent?

Preparing Your Church for Disaster

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. Rom 8:22

 

We live in a fallen world. Natural disasters, destruction and death are the bi-products of humanities sin. It seems, as I’m sure many before us have thought, that troubles and tribulation are on the rise. The last several years have been seemingly monumental in terms of tornados, tsunamis, earthquakes and more. So much so that we seem to have grown numb to these events, unless of course they happen to you; in your city, near your church, close to your family. That was myself a couple years ago for sure.

 

We remember this week in our city, Joplin Missouri, the anniversary of an incredibly devastating F5 tornado on May 22nd of 2011 that destroyed a third of our community. We have learned that we are a resilient place full of determined people. We are rebuilding and we have slowly been settling back into life, but as the spring storms return and the warning sirens once again ring out you can feel the underlying pain and almost hear creation and creature alike groaning.

 

Yesterday a severe outbreak of tornados sped across the Midwest leaving a wake of devastation. There are more forecasted for tonight as well. Friends and fellow churches are even today, picking up the pieces and coming up with a plan to serve their communities. When I share our story with people and pastors across the country nearly everyone expresses sympathy and genuine concern. At the same time though many, if not most, walk away from the conversation thankful that it was not their city or church, but also naively assuming it will never happen to them. I was asked to speak at a conference a year ago about what we learned and how other churches can prepare – two people showed up. It never fails though that after a disaster someone calls. When I talk with fellow pastors after their city has been affected they usually always express two things: 1. How people who haven’t been through it don’t get it (which is completely understandable) and 2. How utterly unprepared and ignorant they where before and during their disaster.

 

As spring storms fires up around us I thought I might share here (again) some thoughts on preparing yourself and your church for what I pray will not happen anywhere, but what I know is bound to happen as long as we live in this groaning world.

 

Here are some things I’d challenge every pastor and church to think through before disaster strikes:

 

1. What Resources Are Already Available to You?

            Denominationally, Locally, Nationally what is already in place to help.

Find out, compile it, make a list and keep it accessible.

 

2. Develop Relational Connections in Your Community

           Who is out there already prepared for these types of events.

Know them and be known.

Get on the “go to list” for organizations and put them on your own.

 

3. Have a Plan for your Church.

            Who would you contact first? How would you communicate?

Who would they contact next?

Who would be responsible for whom and what?

What other churches would you partner with and serve alongside?

Start dialoging with them today.

 

4. Preach and Teach on Sovereignty and Suffering Today

            People in your church will look to you during this time for answers.

Teach solid theology for your people to draw upon in difficulty.

You don’t know what you believe until you are faced with needing to believe it.

Theology is not figure out, but found out, in difficulty.

Give hope before it feels hopeless.

 

5. Start Serving Places Where Disaster Has Occurred

            If you hear of needs in surrounding communities go and serve them.

Learn from people who’ve been through it, and bless those going through it now.

During a disaster is no place find your vision and start your mission

 

I’m praying this is useful and ultimately unnecessary for you and your church.