Monday, November 30, 2009

A "Living" Sacrifice

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a LIVING sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1)

God takes pleasure in and accepts our sacrifices to Him. In the OT He gave detailed and specific instructions to His people how they were to give their sacrifices and offerings. He declared that these would be a “sweet savor” or “smooth aroma” to Him (Lev.1:13, 17). Once given, the offering was no longer their own – it belonged entirely to God. Furthermore, God would accept only the best they had to offer. It was an insult and offense to God if His people offered crippled sheep that were damaged or imperfect in any way.

God Himself met these standards of excellence for sacrifices when He offered up His own Son as the spotless Lamb. Only the death of His perfect Son was worthy enough to atone for the sins of mankind.

Today, God instructs us to lay down our lives on His altar as a LIVING sacrifice. We don’t offer dead sacrifices, but living ones – ourselves! They way we live our lives for God is our offering to Him. We should live righteously and holy before God, which is our REASONABLE service. Such a sacrificial life becomes “acceptable” to Him.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Mind Dump

  • Baptized 18 people today. Love doing that.

  • Attendance was good – about 450 – the same as last week. Not too bad for a holiday weekend.

  • Next Sunday we will conclude our current sermon series. I will be preaching from Revelation 19 – the Second Coming. We will be singing “We Will Ride” again.

  • I believe next Sunday will be a great service.

  • Speaking of great services, THIS WEDNESDAY night FRANK LAY will be speaking at PCC. Oh yea.

  • Planning to get the atrium redecorated this week with a Christmas tree, etc. If you are willing to help, let us know. We want it to look like the holidays for the first Sunday of December (which is next weekend).

  • I love seeing the teenagers on the front row… with Bibles in hand.

  • We have ordered a choir riser (similar to the one pictured) to use from time-to-time for ensembles or worship team backup singers. This going to be a lot of fun.

Baptism Picture

Click to enlarge.
Click again for full screen

Baptism Picture

Baptism Picture

Friday, November 27, 2009

How to Survive in a Church You Don't Like

First of all, give up the fantasy that there is a perfect church somewhere else.
When unhappiness sets in, people often live with the fantasy that it will be better “over there” or “down the road.” They think, “If I only attended that church…. served under that pastor… or had that budget… then I would really be happy at church again.” The truth is, all churches have inherent flaws within them. So get over the illusion of greener pastures. That place does not exist.

Second, serve in your area of responsibility in such a way that leaves the church better than you found it. For instance, maybe you are a small group leader, a youth worker, or even a staff member, but you feel “boxed in.” Maybe you feel stifled, or something. I would challenge you that it is not your responsibility to push the pastor or the elders to go in a direction that suits your gifts and preferences. Instead, use your gifts and talents to help the church fulfill the mission that the overseers have already established.

The day may come when God leads you to another church to serve in, but in the meantime make your present church better. Don’t destroy it and don’t tear it down simply because of your own inner dissatisfaction. And when the time comes to depart, leave it better than you found it. By serving this way, you will be helping the church and advancing God’s kingdom. It also honors God when you serve with a cooperative spirit.

Third, practice the “one thing” principle. Let’s suppose the church you attend is not passionate about the same things you are. Maybe you love evangelism or discipleship but the church is weak in those areas. Maybe the teaching is dry and the doctrine not deep. Whatever it is that “rings your bell” the church is not ringing it, and your bell hasn’t rung in a long, long time. If this describes you, you can practice the “one thing” principle. The “one thing” principle states that “there is always one thing I can learn anytime somebody opens God’s Word.” This means you can hear a really bad sermon, but still walk away with “one thing” that rings true. You can listen to a dry and dusty lesson in a Bible class and still apply “one truth” that can be life-changing for you. Your church services may be as dry as chips, but there is always “one thing” that is God-honoring that takes place. You get the idea. Practice this principle and you will discover God speaking to you every single time you gather at that place. You see, it’s more about the condition of your heart (i.e., the anticipation of receiving) than it is about the environment measuring up to your expectations.

Fourth, finish well. The way you finish one season of ministry is going to have a big effect on how successful your next season of ministry will be. How you end one season will determine how you enter the next; so you need to finish well.

I was on staff at a church in Pensacola early in my ministry. I served as an associate pastor and my responsibilities included preaching, youth and the bus ministry. The people in that church really loved me and were very gracious. But then this church entered a difficult season. There was discontent. There was tension between a group of people and the senior pastor. A fight was brewing and you could sense the build up. Then people started telling me “how great I was” and “how much better I could preach than the pastor.” Others were inviting me out to dinner. Stuff like that. I could see what was happening. These little pockets of gossip were gathering together, like bugs being drawn to a light bulb, and I was being manipulated to join. It was sneaky, underhanded, and deceitful. I had no part of it. I told them no. I did not go to their meetings. And when they gushed over me about how great I was, I told every single one of them that I was absolutely loyal to the pastor (even though this man was very imperfect). What they were doing was wrong, and there was no way God could possibly bless their efforts. Plus I didn’t want my ministry there to end that way.

If you every find yourself in that kind of temptation, don’t get involved; don’t go to those meetings; don’t go to those lunches; and don’t go to those small groups. It is not the right way to end your ministry, and if you end that way you will mess up your future.

Refusing myself to be drawn into the discontent, and handling it in an honorable manner, turned out to be one of the most vital lessons I have ever learned in the ministry and church life. I also believe it to be a key reason God has blessed my time in the ministry over the years.

Fifth, keep a secret playbook. Keep a journal and write down every ministry idea that you would like to implement yourself one day. Let’s suppose you see something in the church you don’t like, and you think to yourself, “If I was in charge I wouldn’t do it this way, I would do it another way.” Instead of undermining those in leadership, write your ideas down in your secret playbook. Create a file and gather material. Put them in a 3 ring binder. Keep all this between yourself and God. Let the ideas accumulate. Allow them to percolate for a couple of years. And maybe one day, if God ever allows you to be the overseer of a church a department head, or lead a ministry yourself, you will be able to implement the ideas you’ve recorded in your journal.

I spent years doing this, serving under others, learning along the way, and it is how I prepared myself to become a church planter.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Religious Persecution

Yesterday in China, a pastor and four other church leaders were sentenced to prison for worshiping in their homes. It would probably be healthy for you to read the entire article
to both be reminded to pray for other people throughout the world who don’t have our freedom and to thank God for the freedoms we have in the United States.

I wonder how comitted the the fair weather Christians in America would be under these conditions.

On Being Thankful...

Being a grateful person is foundational to the Christian life. Thankfulness is a conscious response that looks beyond our blessings to the One who is the source of them. As Christians, we have been forgiven, saved from eternal death, and adopted as God’s children. No greater reasons exist to have a thankful heart!

Thankfulness is a big deal to God. He looks for our thanks. Even the Lord’s prayer begins with thanksgiving to God: “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name…”

Our worship, prayers, service to Him, bringing of tithes & giving of offerings, and our daily lives should be saturated with thanksgiving to God.

….in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (I Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV)

As you meditate on the price Jesus paid to give you access to the Father, you will come to treasure your Christian walk like never before. Worship will become a privilege you seize with gratitude.

Be thankful for the simple things in life too; a good family, a good church, and the opportunity to serve God in a meaningful way . These are the things that make life real. If you have these things, you cannot be any richer than that.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dancing Babies

I read that this is the most watched online advertisment of all time.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Does Everything Happen for a Reason? (5)

Part 1 here
Part 2 here
Part 3 there
Part 4 here

Obviously, there are situations where God DOES take something bad and uses it to produce something good. The ultimate example of this, of course, is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Another instance can be found in the misfortunes of Joseph and his subsequent rise to power in Egypt. God was obviously at work behind the scenes when Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, falsely accused of attempted rape, jailed, primed for early release, summarily forgotten, and finally brought before Pharaoh to interpret a bizarre dream.

When Joseph’s brothers eventually came to ask him for mercy despite their treachery of selling him into slavery, he responded with these famous words, “….ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20 KJV).

With 20/20 hindsight, it’s easy to see that God used the the brothers’ betrayal to position Joseph for a high office in Egypt. In the process, God provided food for Joseph’s family, saving them from starvation, so that they eventually grew into a great nation - Israel.

Yet there is no indication that Joseph KNEW that God was doing any of this while he was suffering the misfortunes imposed upon him by his brothers. Joseph had no clue whether or not God was up to something special. He just knew that righteousness was the only path to take no matter what life was dishing out to him! It was only AFTER his brothers came to him begging for food that Joseph REALIZED God had been at work behind the scenes to bring about good. Not that God caused it, but that God was always at work despite his brothers' sin. Big difference between the two.

THE FACT IS, just as it was for Joseph, it is NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE for us to DISTINGUISH which painful events in our lives the result of God’s orchestration. And if the truth be known, it doesn’t really matter. Every trial or hardship calls for the same response from us – OBEDIENCE. We are supposed to do the right thing no matter what the outcome, or no matter the cause. Sometimes, as in the case of Joseph, we will be rewarded in this life. Sometimes we will be rewarded in the next. In either case, obedience is the only path for the Christian to follow.

I understand the tendency to believe that God is directly responsible for everything that happens. I wrestle with this myself. It’s one of the ways we make sense of the (seemingly) random events and misfortunes that come against us. “Why did this happen to me? Surely, there has to be a reason for it” we think. It’s how we cope in this world of evil. But this is looking for a silver lining that may, or may not be there. Kind of like the child who always sees a funny face in the clouds when the rest of us can't see it. Emotionally it might appear to be a good thing to do. After all, it's good to stay postive. But the disappointment can be crushing when the harsh reality of truths sets in. When life falls apart, there is something more important to look for than a silver lining. Once again, it’s the path of obedience.

The path of obedience ALWAYS TAKES THE HIGH ROAD. It always tells the truth even if the truth is inconvenient. It refuses to return evil for evil, even when vengeance is within reach. It walks with integrity, even when no one else does. It does the right thing, even when life doesn’t work out so well.

Bottom line: God hasn’t promised that everything will work out in THIS life. Many Christians have been put to the edge of the sword without being delivered. Yet they “obtained a good report” through faith, and “RECEIVED NOT the promise” (Hebrew 11:39). But God HAS promised us that, no matter what happens, He will never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

In Romans 8:28 (the passage this five-part series has been about) God has promised that no matter what life, or the enemy, might throw our way, He is always at work and His purposes for our lives will not be thwarted.

But please, let’s quit calling the devil’s attack God’s doing. Let’s stop calling Adam’s legacy God’s handiwork. Let's quit blaming God for the consequences of our disobedience. And let’s quit calling evil good.

It helps no one but the enemy.

37Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Mind Dump

  • What a perfect day.

  • Both services today were exceptional.

  • Even though we had many families out for holiday travel, attendance held strong. We were about 45 people lower than last Sunday – most of whom we were aware would be out.

  • Our band was missing three musicians (drummer, bassist, & percussion) and two singers – total five. That’s a pretty big gap. Yet we were able to fill these vacant positions with other talent from our church, resulting in a church service that was seamless. Good job guys!

  • A special shout-out to Wade C. for an excellent job on drums. This young man (high school student) played in service for the FIRST TIME today. He spent the last week practicing in preparation for today’s service… and it showed. It’s not an easy thing to do to step in to a band like ours and be a good ‘fit.’ Yet, he did it. Way to go Wade.

  • I’d like to give another shout-out to our regular musicians and singers who were out today…. for giving us notice. It gave us time to find someone to fill the gap. Thanks for thinking ahead.

  • Today’s sermon (Preparing for Armageddon) was one of the strongest messages to-date in our current series. The book of Revelation paints a very grim picture… and much of this series has had grim content. I’m glad that we have turned a corner and will soon be talking bout the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ’s Second Coming and His Kingdom on earth.

  • I’ll be honest with you. This series is emotionally draining for me. Yes, it’s the content. But it has been good for our church. We are a twelve-year-old congregation and it was time for us to be exposed to a diet of strong meat together. It has lifted us above the thin glaze of Christian feel-good religion. A positive outcome of this series will be that, by the time we finish it, we will have journeyed together through this series and will have matured together. This kind of thing brings joy to a pastor’s heart.

  • Three people got up and walked out today; a couple, and a lone individual. Since it was 12:00 noon, it may have meant nothing. Maybe they needed to be somewhere. Maybe they couldn’t hack it. I don’t know. But when you get right down to it – this stuff is in the Bible. It’s God’s Word. I’m reading it line-by-line and teaching it that way.

  • Our attendances has been increasing during this message series. Go figure.

  • The baby dedication was special and meaningful. We dedicated one baby in the first service, and four in the second service.

  • I took a quick glance at the commitment cards today just before I left the office. It appears about 8-9 committed to Christ.

  • After church today, at 5:00 PM, we held our All-Church-Volunteers Appreciation Banquet. What a great time we had. About 130 people were there!

  • Can you believe that we actually have that many volunteers at PCC? In fact, not all were able to make it. We actually have about 150 volunteers. That is amazing!

  • The Department Head of Food Service & Catering at UWF (who was responsible for organizing the banquet) said to me, “Your church has a lot of volunteers; more than I’ve ever seen.” I said, “Yes, these are the people who make our church work.”

  • The agenda for the evening was perfect; 30 minutes of gathering together, selecting a table, and registering for door prizes; opening comments (by me) about 5 minutes long ;one hour and ten minutes for eating, visiting with friends, fellowship and hanging out together; then ten minutes for a wrap up.

  • The drawing for the door prizes was fun. Giving away the coffee mugs was a big hit! I was surprised, but everyone took us up on the offer. We probably should have done it sooner.

  • The food was FANTABULOUS.

  • There was so much heart-felt gratitude and appreciation for one another being expressed tonight. Our church is made up of some wonderful people.

  • I think the most meaningful (insightful) thing I said tonight was this: “Even though we have a compelling vision and a Biblical mission that we all work together towards, Pace Community Church is FAMILY. We actually LIKE EACH OTHER, and we enjoy BEING TOGTHER. We are tennis partners together, movie-goers together, vacation travelers together, eating out couples together, and we share our lives together.” That really meant something to me.

  • One lady said the nicest thing to me. “Being a military family, we have moved a lot over the years and have attended a lot of churches. We have discovered that good leadership is very hard to come by in churches. This church is absolutely the best church we have ever been a part of. We only hope that we can find another church as good as PCC when we are transferred.”

  • It’s easy to take one another for granted…. but when you hear comments like that, it helps put things in perspective. Thank you Cindy B.

  • I am thinking about doing a sermon series on the book of Job (the man who lost his family and wealth in an instant, yet remained faithful to God). The book of Job is not an easy book to read, to teach, or to accept. But it is God’s Word. I think it would be very helpful for a lot of people . Would you be interested in a series like this? Let me know. I feel a strong leading in this direction.

  • I just can’t say this enough – there aren’t’ any volunteers like the volunteers at Pace Community Church.

  • Pictures didn't take very well. Sorry.

  • Check back every day this week. I feel a writing spurt coming on!


Church was AWESOME today! Still have the Volunteer Banquet to do at 5:00 PM.
Check back later for Sunday Mind Dump. Will have pictures.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Does Everything Happen for a Reason (4)

The belief that God is the direct cause of everything that happens, (i.e, based on a distorted view of Romans 8:28, a distorted view of the Sovereignty of God, or predestination), is not only indefensible; it has the potential to produce great spiritual harm and shipwrecked faith. Here are a few negative consequences.

ANGER AT GOD: In many cases, pinning everything on God leads to an unjustified anger at God. Most of us know someone who wants nothing to do with Jesus, God, Christianity, or church, primarily because of a tragedy for which he/she blames God.

When we proclaim that God is the direct cause of 'everything' that happens, we unintentionally hand the enemy (Satan) some powerful ammunition; ammo he gladly uses to slander God’s reputation and His Church. His argument usually goes something like this: “If God is responsible for your mess, He’s obviously not a very good God. Why would you want to waste your life serving a God like that?”

A few years ago I went to the home of a man whose twenty four year old daughter was found dead in her bed on a Monday morning. She had spent the weekend drinking at Pensacola Beach. After two days of binge drinking she came home to sleep it off. In the night she died. She literally drank herself to death, dying of alcohol poisoning. I’ll never forget this mans anger at God and at me. He totally blamed God for taking His daughter from Him. Yet, God had nothing to do with it. I’ve always wondered what led him to believe this way.

: Another consequence of assuming that God is responsible for everything that happens is a glossing over of sin. Let’s be real here. There’s no reason to fear sin or its consequences if it all works out "for the good” in the end. Right?

I have been told that an affair was part of God’s plan because the new union resulted in a happy marriage. I’ve had people look me straight in the eye and say that their adultery was not that big of a deal because “God understands.” I’ve heard people say that God orchestrated a church split. Some people actually believe that God is behind some murders, because the killers often get saved while in prison.

Such thinking is nonsense. God has NEVER approved of people’s sin. Yes, He can do something good in the midst of a sinful life, but He didn’t cause people to sin. He didn’t “use it.” He overcame it. THAT’S WHAT GRACE DOES!

IRRESPONSIBILITY: The belief that God is responsible for everything that happens leads to an epidemic of irresponsibility. After all, if God guarantees that everything will eventually work out “for the good” no matter what, WHO CARES WHAT I PUT INTO THE EQUATION? I can just go out and sow my wild oats, throw caution to the wind, and God will patch it all up in the end. After all, He promised.

This is more nonsense. Yet, many people live this way.

I have witnessed many people engage themselves in patterns of dangerous risk taking, which was conveniently labeled as “taking a step of faith.” Yet most of the time it had nothing with God’s leading. Usually it is self-willed determination disguised as spirituality. Things like taking huge financial risks, ditching a career to move across the country, marrying an indiscreet person (even though good friends advise otherwise), is like putting all your chips on red and hoping it will work out. This is not faith. It is irresponsible.

  • A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it. (Proverbs 22:3 NIV)

When people live so presumptuously, believing that God will bail them out, they are devastated when He doesn’t come through for them. Many end up shipwrecked in their faith. This is NOT God’s fault. It is THEIR fault for running through a series of warning signs (or stop signs) that would have caused any sensible person to come to a screeching halt.

Let’s be sensible when it comes to Christianity.

Note: Next time (Part 5) we’ll look at the kinds of situations in which God DOES produce something good out of something bad.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Does Everything Happen for a Reason? (3)

Those who assume that God’s fingerprint is on everything that happens fail to distinguish between what God allows and what God causes – what God permits to happen and what God prefers would happen. The Bible is very clear that there are a number of scenarios where the dark trials of our lives have nothing to do with God’s wonderful plan for our lives.

SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS: Sometimes the trials and hardships we face are the direct result of sinful choices we make. That’s none of God’s doing. That’s our doing.

I know a Christian family who lost their home because their excessive debt was eating them alive. They took out a loan on a house they couldn’t afford. Frankly, they got it by lying. They overstated their income when they applied for the loan. “Everybody else is buying a big home, why not us?” they thought. Then when the economy began to worsen and their money was stretched too thin to make the payments, a friend told them not to worry. They were in God’s hands. He would not let them down.

It was false comfort. It was misleading.

The family had lied. It caught up with them. Everything fell apart and they lost it all. They were devastated because "God didn't come through." God, indeed, had something better in mind for them. But it wasn’t a bigger house. It was honesty – telling the whole truth even when it was inconvenient. Having failed to live up to God’s Plan A, they were now forced to live with consequences of Plan B.

LIVING IN A FALLEN WORLD: Sometimes things happen simply because we live in a fallen world. We are all caught in the backwash of Adam’s sin. It is unavoidable. It is universal.

It’s not a coincidence that the first story in the Bible right after the fall is the story of a BAD guy KILLING a GOOD guy – Cain killed Able. That’s what happens in a fallen world. Bad people do bad things and good people often get hurt. That's not God's doing. It's Satan's.

Then there is NATURE. If you haven’t noticed, Mother Nature has been in a bad mood ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Just follow the news for a couple of weeks, and you’ll find plenty of examples of random and malicious destruction somewhere in the world with innocent people suffering.

And don’t forget MURPHY – that is, Murphy’s Law. Also unleashed at the fall, this first cousin of Mother Nature shows up uninvited (but with regularity) just to mess things up. Adam knew him as weeds, thorns, and thistles in the Garden of Eden. We know him as the reason why the other line always moves faster; why whatever can go wrong will go wrong; and why the later we are for work the more traffic lights we’ll get stuck at. Murphy’s Law is not God’s emissary. He is Adam’s legacy.

FOOLISH DECISIONS: There’s another reason why bad stuff happens to us. Sometimes we make foolish decisions – not sinful ones, just dumb ones. We’ve all been there. Either we failed to check out all the facts or we act impulsively. When we make boneheaded decisions, bad stuff usually follows.

Our choices matter. They have consequences. Picking the wrong stock can wipe our your portfolio. Picking the wrong partner can derail your business. Picking the wrong person to marry can bring a lifetime of unhappiness.

It is ludicrous to blame God for these choices of ours or to assume that He will jump in and fix every idiotic decision me make. In fact, the Bible calls such thinking foolish.
  • It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way. A man's own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the LORD. (Proverbs 19:2-3 NIV)

The good news IS NOT that God promises to keep us from making bad decisions or to fix whatever we break. INSTEAD, it’s the promise to continue working for our eternal good no matter how many dimwitted judgments we make along the way.

There are more scenarios which demonstrate that the dark trials of our lives have nothing to do with the direct action of God, or have nothing to do with God’s wonderful plan for our lives - but these three examples are enough to make the point. Sometimes life just happens – it’s not what God prefers, but it is what He permits. When it comes to the consequences of the fall, we are not offered immunity. We’re offered eternity.

Note: Next time, (in part 4), I’ll show you why it is so dangerous to assume God is directly responsible for everything that happens. Then (in part 5) I’ll talk about those scenarios that God IS directly responsible for.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Does Everything Happen for a Reason? (2)

28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 NIV)

28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (KJV)

What does Romans 8:28 really mean? On the surface it seems to imply that everything that happens is a part of God’s greater plan, that life is a giant jigsaw puzzle that will make sense once all the pieces are in place. It appears to say that, given enough time, everything that happens will prove to be good.

But does it really mean that?

On the contrary it more accurately means this: No matter what happens, good or bad, God is at work… in behalf of His children… for the good. Notice the difference? It’s NOT saying that everything that happens is good, NOR is it saying that God causes everything to happen. It is actually saying that God is active in our behalf for the good no matter our circumstances. Big difference.

Those who pin ‘every’ disease, financial disaster, calmity, or personal hardship on the direct action of God are headed down a path that is logically indefensible, and may prove to be disastrous to their faith. If these bad things are really an expression of God’s goodness, they would have seen in the Garden of Eden. They would also be in heaven right now. Yet that’s clearly not the case.

How do you tell a sixteen year old cheerleader who just had her leg amputated because of bone cancer that this is God’s plan for good for her? You can’t - because Romans 8:28 does not teach that, neither is it supposed to be applied as a panacea.

Notice something else that people miss. This verse is not a promise for everyone. This promise is for those people who (1) love God and (2) have been called according to His purpose.

That leaves out a lot of people.
  • That leaves out your coworker who has no interest in spiritual matters, but just found out that he has heart disease
  • That also leaves out the nice guy who lives next door, is not a Christian, and just lost his job
  • This also leaves out the grandmother who lives down the street and makes chocolate chip cookies for you, but has lived in disobedience to God her entire life.

Yes, God has a preferred future for all these people – He wants them to be saved, experience eternal life, and enjoy the blessing of His guidance that He can provide for them - but until they turn to Christ, Romans 8:28 has nothing to do with them. Assuring them that these hardships are part of His (jigsaw) plan may make both of you feel better, but it’s really a misapplication of this promise. God makes no such promise to those who fail follow Him, no matter how nice they are.

It also leaves out some Christians – the disobedient ones. If we live in willful, deliberate disobedience to God, Jesus said that is proof that such a person does not really love God (John 14:15-21), and therefore Romans 8:28 is not blanket promise that God will step in and magically fix the mess that our defiance creates.

I once met with the parents of a teenage girl who was on her third (out-of-wedlock) pregnancy. They came to me to figure out how to handle the situation. At one point in the conversation they said something like, “We’re not sure why God allowed this to happen, but it’s good to know He had a reason and a plan.”

I didn’t say anything. But I was thinking to myself, “Unless this is another virgin birth, God probably didn’t have anything to do with it.”

This couple was steeped in the false notion that God is directly responsible for everything that happens and, as a result of that faulty thinking, were now actually placing partial blame on Him for their daughter’s actions. They believed that God had something good up His sleeve, so He let this girl disobey Him to bring it about. Something like “the end justifies the means” I guess.

I’ve lived long enough to realize that parenting is hard work, that single parenting is even harder, and that babies are not novelty items. Babies are real human beings who have eternal souls, and they had no choice in being brought into this world. As such, the parents who DO bring these eternal souls into the world have an enormous responsibly to raise their children properly and in the fear of God. I have also come to understand that the consequences of sin can be very painful and can last for an entire lifetime – even in the presence of God’s promises. The behavior of this teenage girl was not part of God’s plan. Her actions were, in fact, thwarting God’s plan.

Can God step in and salvage what is left of our lives when we have made a mess of things? Absolutely. That's what He does. He rescues the lost and guides the misguided. He can take our runined lives and give us meaning, purpose, hope, and direction. He is the God of second chances, and everyone of us need His help.

The beauty of Romans 8:28 is NOT that God CAUSES everything to happen. Rather, it’s a promise FOR THE CHRISTIAN that no matter WHAT happens He is ALWAYS THERE AT WORK for the good.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why We Do Not Approve of Fundraising at PCC

In PCC’s twelve year history we have never given approval for fund raisers to be conducted by any of our ministry departments, small groups, staff members, or individuals; especially on site at the PCC campus. What people do off site on their own time is their business, but what they do here or under the auspices of any Pace Community Church ministry is our business.

From time to time we WILL receive special offerings for a specific cause, a new initative, a pressing need, or some heart-captivating campaign. Usually these are causes that affect and benefit the church as a whole. Once we even conducted a three-year giving campaign (called Time to Build) that resulted in us being able to construct our church building. This is much different than allowing every group 'within' the church free reign to do their own independent fundraisers. Big difference, in fact. Here’s why we do not allow fundraisers:

1. First of all we have a budget that provides all the necessary resources for the ministries of PCC that need funding. This is a unified budget that is supported by the tithes and offerings of faithful believers. Besides, by not having to spend time raising money, the people in these ministry departments can actually spend their time doing ministry.

2. If fundraising is permitted, our church patio will turn into a bazaar. There will be car washes, cookies sales, rummage sales, cake walks, penny marches, and chicken dinners all over the place! Competition for dollars will become intense, and our members will resent the constant appeals for money and sales gimmicks. People don’t want a church that is trying to sell them something every time they turn around. If they wanted to buy something they would go to Wal-Mart. But the church is not Wal-Mart; it’s our spiritual family. It’s the place where we worship.

3. If everyone is permitted to do fundraisers it siphons resources away from the main part of the church causing financial instability.

4. Not permitting fund raisers also protects our church from becoming like a temple of moneychangers.

12And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, 13And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. (Matthew 21:12-13)
This policy has not always set well with everyone. Yet, in our twelve year history God has always provided the necessary resources. And in those seasons when things were lean, we simply scaled back. The end result of this practice is that we are a healthy church, with all departments fully engaged in ministry, and have never had to beg for money.

Aren't you glad?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Does Everything Happen for a Reason? (1)

If you have ever been severely sick, faced a life-threatening illness, or been in a major crisis, you have two choices: keep it private or go public with family and friends.

Going public has its risks. People will give you pamphlets, books, articles, web sites, special diets, supplements, and “how-to” advice that is supposed to bring healing, slow down the sickness, reverse the disease, or fix the crisis. All of this information also contains the subtle message: “If you had followed this advice earlier, you wouldn’t be in the jam you are in now.”

Save the advice. The apostle Paul knew what he was talking about when he said, “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). People need compassion, not advice in times like that.

The most disconcerting thing about going public in a crisis is all the unsolicited “happy talk” you get from well-intentioned, but often misguided, Christians who will try to assure you that your tragedy is really a blessing in disguise from God. I have been told:
  • "God doesn't make mistakes"
  • You must be very special for God to trust you with this"
  • "Won't it be great to see how God uses this?"
  • "This is happening for a reason"

When my father was dying with cancer, one lady prophesied to him that God was going to heal him and that he would get well. He didn’t. I conducted the funeral and can't even remember if this lady even attended.

You never know how to respond to those kinds of comments. If my tragedy is really a blessing, (like they say), I’m willing to take a pass. I also notice that none of the people who are quick to proclaim my crisis as a blessing from God seem to be very eager to get blessed the same way in their own life.

I recognize that God is in control. He rules the universe and is Lord. Ultimately He is in control of, and is aware of, all the events that take place in my life. Plus He is good, and that brings me immeasurable reassurance. But that doesn’t mean that He is the direct cause of everything bad that happens in my life. Sometimes my wounds are self-inflicted. Sometimes they are inflicted by others. Sometimes bad things happen to me for no other reason than the fact that I live in a fallen world that is full of sin, sickness, hurt, pain, suffering and dying. There is no divine conspiracy; it is simply the consequence of my environment.

Does "everything" happen for a reason? No, not everything. Sometimes life just happens. And it's good to know that God is always there no matter what.

Don't blame God for everything. God didn’t cause Lucifer to rebel, Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, or David to sleep with Bathsheba. He did not cause Cain to kill Able, the tower of Babel to be built, or force the crowd to cry out for Barabbas. No. Those who carried out these evil deeds bear full responsibility for their actions. They can’t blame God.

Adam tried. It didn’t fly. You can look it up.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Mind Dump

  • Where to begin?

  • Today was one of our best days in a long time. The house was packed in the first service and the second service attendance was very strong. Combined attendance was 497.

  • The song service was off-the-chart. I think we went to a whole-nutha-level. How about the last song? Awesome. The singers were amazing too. That song comes from Revelation chapter 19, describing Jesus’ appearance at the Second Coming. Yea, we’ll be doing it again.

  • Thanks to the tech guys who worked in rehearsal Saturday night and Sunday morning to make it sound so good.

  • We are five weeks into our current message series (Future Shock), and honestly I am very surprised by the increasing attendance. The first couple of weeks it was a crowd thinner - people got up and walked out (each Sunday, both services). Yet we forged ahead anyway and attendance has continued to climb regardless.

  • The children’s wing (nursery, pre-k, elementary, teens) was PACKED!

  • God is doing some stuff at PCC.

  • Our internal systems are overtaxed and key personnel are overworked. We are not always firing on all eight cylinders, but in spite of our shortcomings God is changing lives. I mean, some real life-change experiences are taking place. Little miracles are everywhere in the PCC family – all sorts of them.

  • I took a glance at the commitment cards that were turned in today. It appears that a good number of people committed their lives to Christ. I’m glad God uses PCC to do this.

  • A LOT of visitors were in service today.

  • Next Sunday’s volunteer banquet is going to be a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to it.

  • As our church grows, I have to manage less and learn to lead more.

  • It looks like my blog counter will soon reach 75,000 visits. Do I really have that many friends? Or are there others who visit here?

  • A Calvinist logged on to my blog Friday night and left me a comment. That’s how he identified himself, “I am a Calvinist.” Apparently he didn’t like the post I wrote last Tuesday (Why I Could Never be a Calvinist). Okay, but I'm not losing any sleep over it. I don’t know who this person was. Of course, I didn’t publish his comments – it was dorky. I'm just saying....

  • Renae and I are ready to sell our house and move into the country – way out.

  • I heard on the news recently that Pensacola has one of the worst job markets in the entire country right now. That’s not a problem for God.

  • Spent the day yesterday working around the house – mostly in the yard. The weather was beautiful and it was great to be outdoors. My backyard is going through a Landscape Makeover.

  • Going to watch a movie tonight at 7:00 PM – the movie 2012! End of the world stuff.

  • Getting up early tomorrow morning for a vigorous run. Yes, spandex will be worn.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Moses Broke the Tablets

When Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from the mountain, God did all the work. Exodus 32:16 says that both the inscription and the actual tablets were carved with the finger of God. Apparently, God Himself cut the stones out of the rock and personally hand designed the original tablets. All Moses had to do was deliver them to God’s people once he got down the mountain.

Unfortunately, when Moses made it back to the camp, he found the people of God indulging in idolatry. In his frustration and disbelief, he slammed the stones to the ground where they shattered on impact.

God called Moses back to the mountain for a do-over in Exodus 34:1. In His mercy and patience, He provided Moses with a Revised Edition of the Ten Commandments. Only this time, Moses had to chisel the two stone tablets himself. God would provide the inscription, but this time, Moses would have to do the arduous work of carving the stones himself. After all, Moses was responsible for destroying the first set of tablets. Now he would have to take responsibility for the construction of the new ones. You break it, you buy it. Or something like that.

God is gracious, but sin has its consequences:
  • If you sabotage your family relationships, God can put the pieces of your life back together. But the rebuilding won’t be easy. You’ll have to rebuild those relationships little by little - day by day.
  • You can recover from financial mismanagement. But it took you years to amass your debt. It may take equal time and sacrifice to repair the damage.
  • You get the idea…

When we break the laws of God, He graciously gives second chances. But it’s so much easier to do it right the first time around.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Church Warmth

The size of a church (big or small) does not attract. People shun cold churches and flock to places where they are loved (big or small).

Near Miss with Asteroid LAST WEEK!

Here is a link to a Fox News article about an asteroid that came near planet earth last Friday (November 6, 2009). And to think, I was teaching about this very kind of event on Sunday. Who knew?

Click the link here

Near Miss with Asteroid - March 2009

As reported on NBC news: In March of this year an asteroid came very close to planet earth... and none of us knew. If it had collided with earth it would have had the force of 1000 atomic bombs making it a life-threatening event for a large part of mankind. Listen to this - it is amazing!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

High Visibility for PCC

This is the custom card that Gene Tharp and I designed. We mailed 16,000 of these last week to our community.

The reverse side of the card contains a message of hope that we believe will encourage hurting people.

There were 9 visiting families last Sunday who came as a direct result of this effort. More are sure to come. This confirms for us that there are many people who are searching for answers, seeking God, and looking for a good church home to belong to.

Monday, November 9, 2009

How Faith Killed Works

18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18 NKJV.

One of the things drummed into my head since the beginning of my Christian journey was the doctrine that we are saved by faith alone and not by works. I get it. I believe it too; and Ephesians 2:8-10 is the primary proof text for that idea. But there is another side to this simple truth and it has become the source of fierce debates among Christians today. One camp likes to say that salvation is all faith and no works, while another camp likes to say that works are also essential.

The weakness of the "faith only" camp is that salvation is reduced down to merely reciting a prayer (formula) while being required to possess nothing more than a mental belief in God. This often results in people who profess Christianity but do not live for God. The error of the "works" camp is that salvation becomes some kind of performance oriented arrangement where the individual is always trying to measure up and please an angry God; producing very insecure Christians.

But in the Bible no such dichotomy (or division) exists between faith and works. They are BOTH SEEN AS ONE; with each being an essential part of the other. The verse quoted above (Eph. 2:8-10) actually makes the case for both faith AND works.

Jesus taught us that a tree is recognized by the fruit it bears – good or bad - (Matthew 7:16; Luke 6:43-44). A tree and its fruit are not in conflict with each other; rather, one is the natural product of the other. The fruit comes from the root. Therefore, faith and works should not be seen as two opposing ideas, but as TWO MANIFESTATIONS of the SAME IDEA.

This faith-verses-works argument has caused different groups of Christians to take sides in a conflict that should never have occurred because the Bible views them explicitly as being one. But a split in Christian theology - especially in America - resulted in a deep divide over the roles of faith and works in ones salvation. That argument continues to this very day and it’s easy to see how dividing works from faith has resulted in both sides being left with only a half gospel.

The false notion persists that committing ones life to Jesus Christ begins and ends by simply reciting a brief prayer that activates one’s “fire insurance” policy. The parts about ‘living the life’ and bearing good fruit are seen as optional. If the truth be known, authentic saving faith is always demonstrated by accompanying good works.

To drive home the point, consider what Jesus taught. “You are the salt of the earth," He said, "but if the salt loses its saltiness (i.e., works) it is no longer good for anything except to be cast out….” (Matthew 5:13). We can only be saved by embracing the whole gospel of faith AND works. Faith and works must be PUT BACK TOGETHER again. After all, the Bible never separated them; we did. We must move beyond this weak, anemic view that our faith is only a personal and private matter with no visible outward evidence.

Faith without works is dead, being alone (James 2:17; 20).

Sunday, November 8, 2009

When Demons Invade Earth from the Bottomless Pit

This may be next Sunday's topic.... it is the Fifith Trumpet Judgment.

Sunday Mind Dump

  • About 500 in attendance today.

  • Had some issues with the sound system, mixing board, and CD recorder in the first service. Fortunately, it was resolved by second service.

  • The message was a strong word today. Almost everyone seems to be enjoying this series.

  • My delivery was much better in the second service.

  • This topic is very difficult to prepare for and then talk about. What I mean is, all this talk about wrath, death, judgment, killing, dying, etc, is very difficult for me to talk about on Sundays. It weighs heavy on my mind. Plus, it is a crowd thinner. Not easy stuff.

  • In fact, as we continue through the book of Revelation we will discover that it continues to get worse before it gets better. The global horrors only increase and finally climax with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to the earth. I’ll be glad when we get to that topic.

  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “For ALL SCRIPTURE is given by inspiration of God and IS PROFITIBLE....”

  • The book of Revelation should be studied because it is the last book of the Bible. What good is a book if there is no final chapter? The book of Revelation lets us know how the story ends.

  • Had a lot of visitors today.

  • One of the highlights of my week is looking at the feedback we get from our guests or the testimonies from our committed members. These words are a source of great encouragement to me, and they trump the abusive phone calls, ugly e-mails, and criticisms that come from disgruntled church people out there in “church land” any day of the week!

  • When we mail invitation cards into the community, someone usually calls us up at the church offices to scream at us over the phone! Huh?

  • Every time something like that happens, it reminds me to stay focused on the Great Commission.

  • I’m looking forward to the holidays.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Took a two mile run early this morning. The cool weather makes it very enjoyable. In fact, I resumed my running routine seven weeks ago (after riding bicycle all summer) and finally feel like I'm back in running shape.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Crippling Effects of Unqualifed Elders

It’s easy to ordain someone as an elder. It’s much harder to live with the consequences of that decision if a person is unqualified. Just because someone says he is elder material, doesn’t mean he is.

There is a reason why the Bible says… "Lay hands on no man hastily” (I Timothy 5:22) and “… know them who labor among you” (I Thess. 5:12). In other words, don’t be so quick to ordain someone as an elder… get to know the person first – really know them deeply - before you turn them lose on the church. Hanging out together in the gym is not the right environment for making that kind of decision – anyone can talk the talk. It is only in the context of church work, after they have proven their fruitfulness and contribution to the church, that they can be trusted and ordained. Otherwise, you’ll live to regret it.

What are the crippling effects of an unqualified elder?
  • The church will not grow
  • His ministry area (or department) will not grow
  • If he does draw new people to your church, they will people who have come from other church's, and therefore will eventually leave
  • There will be political infighting and plenty of backroom conversations
  • His ministry will flounder in mediocrity
  • A non-producer becomes empowered
  • He will attempt to hijack the direciton of the church
  • There will be a decline in membership or attendance
  • He will possess a total inability to reach new people for Christ
  • There will be an obvious lack of fruitfulness and multiplication
  • He will be emotionally draining to you and your family
  • There will be stress in the pastors home
  • If given a budget, he will blow through it and have nothing to show for it
  • He will cause, or bring, more trouble to the church that he is worth

The proof is in the pudding – don’t you think?

Membership Covenants?

Yea. We use them. Have been doing so for twelve years. PCC’s membership seminar (partners class), the membership covenant, and accountablility to its terms are contributing reasons why we are a healthy and vibrant church. We don't a accept a "letter of transfer" from another church to ours to be sufficient grounds to grant membership either.

Here are links to three articles I have previously written on the subject of covenants. Read and learn:

Membership & Church Discipline

Covenants & Raising the Level of Commitment

Turning Attenders into Members

Sermon Series Idea

For the last nine months I have been thinking of doing a sermon series (in Jan) on some popular myths that Christians believe. Here’s why. Many Christians, both new and mature, have a tendency to trust in promises that God never made. Then when God doesn’t come through on those ‘promises’, some are likely to become angry at God and depart from the faith.

This sermon series would be intended to shatter some of our faulty belief systems and would not be for the faint of heart. It might even strike at the core of some things you believe and hold dear. If we can be taught the truth, (instead of embracing our spiritual urban legends), our faith IN GOD will strengthened.

Holding to beliefs that are 'partially' based on the scritpures (instead of fully based) is very dangerous. Furthermore, it fosters a lot of pretenders or dabblers in the faith who try to play by the rules of good-luck Christianity, but do not really abide in Christ.

I’m thinking the series might be called “Myth Busters” or “We Demolish Arguments” or “Spiritual Urban Legends.”

Here are some myths that should be shattered:
  • Faith Can Fix Anything…..(Maybe it’s intended to fix us instead)
  • One-Way Forgiveness….(Do I have to forgive if the other party expresses no remorse?)
  • A Godly Home Guarantees Godly Children…. (This is a false promise that a lot of parents count on and often leads to shipwrecked faith)
  • Christians Shouldn’t Judge…. (Why “judge not” doesn't mean what most people think it means)
  • Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide (Why it is not always such a good idea)
  • And more…

These topics are PARTIAL TRUTHS with a Biblical basis... but we should NOT be building the WHOLE HOUSE on them. Sometimes we treat the Bible as a collection of pithy sayings and sound bites that you would put on T shirts and coffee mugs. That's fine. But don't build your house on them. The Bible is a big book... not a laundry list of verses to be taken out of context... and it has a lot more to say about the sobering reality of the Christian life than our modern day clich├ęs. Context is always better than a proof text.

Eating Out

I’m eating out less often these days. Trying to lose weight is not an easy thing to do when the restaurant platter contains four thousand calories and enough artery-clogging fat to stop up the drain pipes in the kitchen sink! For the last several months I have been eating healthier and at home more often; lot’s of fresh produce, nuts, avocados, and Mediterranean type foods. Combined with my exercise routine, I am sleeping better, longer, and my energy level is way up. Nothing but good has resulted.

Another reason I’m eating out less often these days is because a lot of restaurants are not sanitary, often making me sick. The kitchen is a hotbed of germs - big hairy bacteria grow in there. Cross-contamination from the cutting board to other food products is a regular occurance (i.e., using the same knife to cut raw meat and vegtables for the salad bar is not a good thing to do). Spoiled food gets cooked then served, which is over-seasoned so you can’t taste how rancid it is. Dirty fingers cut the lemon slices before being dropped into your glass of water. Then there are the salad bars and buffet lines; some of the food pans look like Petri dishes for growing culture cells. I’m thinking angry-stomach by now.

The only thing worse than greasy silverware and breakfast egg still stuck to the dinner plate is to be eating out during flu season. There, in the same room with you, a number of runny-nosed swine-flu carriers will be coughing on the back of your neck from the table behind you. If you are not sick when you walk into a restaurant, you will be by the time you walk out. The last time I ate at Ryan’s the meal cost $7.95. The diarrhea was free.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Why do Pastors Work Only One Day a Week?

This is a typical assumption of ministers, but is very far from the truth. Serving as the pastor of a church requires more than one day a week, and is one of the most exhausting and time consuming jobs you could imagine. The average pastor actually works more than 40 hours a week.

Because of the nature of his job, a pastor cannot escape his responsibilities when he leaves the office. He is on duty around the clock, and often receives calls at home from dawn to dusk, even in the middle of the night. Most of his home activities and social relationships are church related. If he is fortunate enough to get a day off during the week, it will rarely be a day of leisure. It’s usually the only time a pastor can have some undistracted time to catch up on ministry related things.

To prepare a fresh new sermon from scratch, a pastor must pray and receive God’s direction, research scriptures, consult commentaries for clarity, find interesting illustrations, and pray for God’s anointing on the finished product. For me personally, it takes 2 full days (sometimes 3) to prepare one thirty minute sermon. But the demands on a pastors time are so great, that rarely can he devote the required amount of time to sermon preparation.

Each week there are many people who want to counsel with their pastor or speak to him by phone. It’s not uncommon for me to have several calls a day come in, and if I take each call and spend a mere 12-15 minutes with each caller (most phone conversations are longer), this could easly come to 2 hours per day, (which 12 hours per week), just on the phone. I also meet people each week – either in my office or after the morning services – for spiritual advice or guidance. Each meeting takes about 30 minutes to an hour, adding another 3-4 hours to the work week.

So far this comes to 40 hours per week. But the work is not done, so let’s continue.

Then there is the time required to conduct the business aspects of the church. I easily spend 3 hours a day involved administrative decisions of our church, reviewing expenditures and other paperwork, dictating or writing letters, analyzing attendance and giving trends, directing our church staff, reviewing schedules, problem solving, strategic planning, setting goals, and planning the quarterly calendar. Besides this, it takes me about 12 hours a month to write my portion of the weekly bulletin and other publications.

Then there are hospital calls to make or other visitations during the week. Calculating the drive time involved to-and-from the visit, this eats up a half day (4 hours).

Then there are a variety of meetings to attend or lead, (such as staff meetings, department meetings, or planning meetings). Not to mention the periodic weddings, funerals, and other social functions that the pastor is expected to attend.

If you don’t have a calculator handy, all of this comes to 65-68 hours per week. Needless to say, pastors work more than one day a week. BTW, Sunday is a work day for pastors - not a day of rest.

I was in a crowded room one time when a wise guy thought he’d make a joke. He said in a loud voice, “Ronnie can do it. He’s got the time. Everybody already knows that preachers only work one day a week.” After the laughter died down and everyone was looking at me, I replied to man, “It's apparent that you don't know what you are talking about, so I will excuse you for your ignorance.” He has never said it again.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What is it Like to be a Pastor?

It has been my privilege to serve in the ministry for most of my adult life, and for the last twelve years at PCC (my favorite church of all time). However, the ministry does have its challenges.

Today, all too often the demands upon a pastor exceed what they should really be doing. The pastor is traditionally considered a church’s head of “everything.” He is the spiritual leader, administrative overseer, church Chaplin, the legal corporation president – and basically the know-it-all and do-it-all “chief cook and bottle washer.” In small churches, the pastor will conduct all the services, lead the singing, do all the preaching, handle all the visitation & counseling, as well as be the Sunday School Superintendent. He will probably also be responsible for the office work, bookkeeping, janitorial, maintenance, and building repair.

This is not the way it should be. Ideally the pastor should be the spiritual overseer, devoting his attention and energies to the priorities of prayer and teaching of God’s Word, while delegating the load of administrative tasks, details, and responsibilities to other personnel. In too many cases, the pastor has to do far more than he was ever called for or even trained to do.

The rewards of being a pastor are many. Without question, it is a high honor to be called of God into this office. However, pastoring a church is a vocation of extreme contrasts – it is often wonderful and terrible in the same package.

Some of the greatest challenges of being a pastor are:

BEING MISUNDERSTOOD. For the most part, the life and ministry of a pastor is not really understood by the average person. In truth, the only people in the world who truly understand the life of pastor are other pastors.

Being a pastor isn't a job, it's what a person is. When God calls a person to be a pastor, He places in him a shepherd's nature and characteristics — to love and care for His flock. He is a pastor all the time. It's what he thinks about, what he lives for, his purpose on the earth. It's not possible for him to go home at the end of a day and leave his job behind the way that most people can. His, is an all consuming task. The pastor is on duty twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. He frequently receives phone calls at home from morning to evening, and often in the middle of the night. Most of his home activities are related to the church. Most social calls or relationships are church related.

. Like most other public figures, a pastor and his family live in the public eye, like a "fish bowl" where people watch them constantly, frequently viewing them with criticism and cynicism. People who enter the ministry must be prepared to face much criticism, sometimes of a brutal and cruel nature. However, all those who have risen in leadership or accomplishment know well the sting of their critics. It seems that many people have a different opinion of what they think the pastor should be doing.

FACED WITH AN OVERWHELMING TASK. It's been said that 80% of the work of the church is done by 20% of the people. But when you realize that the majority of American churches have fewer than 100 people, you can imagine that the pastor and his family often make up a great portion of that 20%. A pastor’s life is one of constant distractions, receiving dozens of calls and letters each day, and expected always to drop anything he's doing to sympathize, counsel, or encourage those who ask his help. The pastor seldom has enough time to do everything — time is always one of his greatest needs.

The average pastor often feels overwhelmed and lonely in his task. He beats out his brains in the pulpit week after week to make a difference in people's lives trying in vain to motivate a sullen pack of foot dragging spiritual adolescents who never quite seem to see the big picture, never get excited enough to shoulder responsibilities, and never come anywhere close to a full 10% tithe.

RESISTING MANIPULATION. For many, this will sound unbelievable. But the pastor is a frequent target of manipulation and control. Sometimes people unintentionally take advantage of a pastor's willing heart, and make requests and demands that begin to dominate his personal life. And then there are others who view the pastor like a politician, trying to lobby his favor or influence to attain a position, to favor their opinion, etc. But there are those who have a definite personality profile that feeds on being in control, and if they can't get the pastor to do what they want, they'll often turn on him and try to run him out.

Because of this or other sour experiences with people, pastors will sometimes distance themselves from close personal relationships. They may even refuse favors or monetary gifts directly from persons, unless they are given anonymously, since such gifts often have strings attached — perhaps unintentionally, the giver will often expect preferred treatment, recognition, or to have a "special influence" in the pastor's decisions.

COPING WITH EMOTIONAL CONFLICT. Pastor’s often face emotional challenges and conflicts that he was never prepared for. This unique man entered the ministry out of his divine calling, and his love for people, only to become very suprised to learn that shepherding people was a life filled with wounds, hurts, and disappointment.

As the pastor faces his daily tasks, he will begin to ride an emotional roller-coaster. With each person he counsels or prays with, he will experience a momentary bond with their circumstances or burdens. During the course of a day he may console someone with a terminal illness, listen to trivial complaints, meet with a couple to discuss their marriage plans, or find it necessary to correct someone for their sinful lifestyle. He will go from one contrasting situation to another, and then within a short period, he will have to find a way to restore his composure from all these concerns to preach an encouraging, heartfelt sermon to the congregation.

Most others who deal with repeated crisis or trauma eventually learn how to develop a callousness in order to cope with the emotional upheaval of their jobs. Paramedics, police officers, or emergency room workers understand this all too well. However, when a pastor deals with a daily assortment of similar urgency's, unlike other emergency workers, he cannot distance his feelings from crisis. He cannot allow himself to become callous to protect his emotions from becoming involved. It’s the nature of his calling and his job to care. His flock expects him to be sensitive, a person of genuine compassion, to feel their hurts and to share their burdens.

DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT. Furthermore, during his ministry, he will experience many disappointments and heartaches with people. Many will fail to do what they promised and disappoint him. Others will criticize, judge, speak against him, betray him or even seek to ruin him or his family. Some will try to gain his friendship for ulterior motives — to manipulate his influence for their own agenda. Many of those whom he loves will eventually leave the church for some reason... some will move away, others may backslide, become offended, or simply reject his ministry. Dozens of times, he will experience the loss of beloved members of the flock through death. Many, many are the wounds of a shepherd, that the flock never really understands.

STANDING AGAINST SATANIC ATTACK. The pastor and his family are targets of Satan’s attacks. The strategy is simple, yet intelligent - if he can overturn the shepherd with temptations or trials, he can likely scatter the sheep. According to insurance statistics, ministers experience an unusually high rate of stress related illnesses (such as ulcers and nervous conditions), depression, marital difficulties, conflict with their children or family, financial problems, and so on. To complicate matters further, if he does face such challenges, some will criticize him as a spiritual failure.

In light of these challenges, a pastor must have perseverance. There will be numerous temptations for the pastor to simply quit. He must be a person of tremendous faith and prayer to overcome the many challenges — to set his face as a stone, with unflinching determination and steadfastness. The average layman will never realize the price his pastor must pay to be his shepherd — the heartaches he will endure to minister to men’s souls. Jesus, the Great Shepherd was a man acquainted with grief and sorrow, despised and rejected, and His under-shepherds and pastors also identify with these characteristics.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Testimonies from Seminar 101

Each time I teach Seminar 101 we provide a questionnaire that asks two simple questions: What brought you to PCC? and Why did you come back? Here’s a sample of the responses from the last class about a week ago:

What brought you to Pace Community Church?
  • We’d heard good things about PCC from neighbors and co-workers
  • We heard about PCC from friends
  • I came with a friend
  • I was looking for a church that fits me
  • By invitation
  • We started attending Financial Peace University, and were invited by JH to church
  • My family and I are young and needed an atmosphere for all ages.
  • I was looking for a place to worship God in liberty
  • A friend at work told me about her church (PCC) and invited me to come
  • A.L. invited me
  • I visited with a friend who is a member of PCC
  • Loneliness after a divorce, and was invited by a member of PCC
  • My father invited me and assured me that no one would “put me on the spot”
  • God led me here
  • Our daughter started attending youth group

Why did you come back?

  • Enjoyed the preaching, enjoyed the music, most of all we felt peace, the presence of God, and comfort here.
  • We enjoyed the laid back atmosphere, not stiff. And Pastor Ron’s teaching style was such that I could understand
  • The church family, good preaching, small groups, PCC Riders
  • Music, preaching
  • I immediately felt like I was among family and friends
  • We enjoyed the atmosphere, the message, and the wonderful people
  • Our children love their teachers
  • Enjoyed the freedom in worship and the warm welcome we received
  • I felt the Holy Spirit here
  • I was able to connect with the way the pastor teaches the Word from the Bible.
  • I have made friends here
  • My kids love children’s church, they learn and serve
  • I couldn’t stay away… the services kept calling me back
  • I liked the way people treated me
  • We quickly made friends at PCC who invited us back
  • From the first visit I have felt a natural sense of belonging. Now I look forward to every Sunday, as well as our classes during the week
  • Good preaching
  • God led me to come back
  • The church is well organized
  • The pastor's teaching style is clear and concise

Way to go church! Every one of you helps make this possible. From the first impression created at the parking, to inside the building, to what happens on the platform, and in our varied ministries behind the scenes, your friendliness and dedication to God creates this kind of atmosphere and positive testimony about PCC. Most impressive of all to me is how active the members of PCC are at inviting their friends.

From a human point of view there are two important principles at work here: (1) Our people are very active at inviting others to attend, and, (2) Our church has the goods when they get here. From a supernatural viewpoint, and most important of all, it is God Himself who is drawing men/women to Christ...

And to think, these are just the testimonies of what brought people to PCC and what brought them back..... and doesn't include the deeper testimonies of life-change and discipleship which are just as abundant and even more dramatic! Good things are happening at our church.