November 15, 2013 Leave a comment
November 9, 2013 Leave a comment
There’s been a subtle name change going on with the space where pastors work. What used to be called the pastor’s study is now called simply the pastor’s office. Why?
More and more the pastor is called upon to do leadership and management in the church. We go to leadership conferences, not study conferences. I’ve been at the same church for over 38 years and I can testify that church ministry is far more complex than it was the first years of my ministry. This requires more time to shepherd these complexities that can take away the time we spend providing green pasture upon which our people need to feed.
The pastor’s study was a place where the pastor, well, the pastor studied! The title was a reminder to the pastor and also the people that this was the primary task of the spiritual leader.
My goal is to be a pastor who studies. It’s important that I maintain set hours when I work on the sermon. The secretary has instructions to tell any caller that “he’s studying for his sermon right now. Can I take a message, or is this an emergency?” I consider it holy time and space where the sermon must come to life.
I also try to be intentional about doing some general reading in the first hour of each work day. Many days it’s less than an hour and some days no time at all, but it’s what I aim for. I need to be taking in more than I deliver each week in sermons, Bible studies, and writing. I need more input than I have output. This reading is in a variety of areas – theology, spirituality, church health, etc. It’s amazing how many books and articles you can read if you devote just 45 minutes to this work even four days a week.
Occasionally someone will glance into my office while I’m studying for the sermon or doing my general reading. I sometimes catch myself wishing the person had caught me on the phone or shuffling papers. I’m tempted to day, as I look up from my reading, “I really am working!” Why should I have to explain? After all, one of the primary tasks of the pastor should be to study, in his study!
I think of Paul’s advice to young Timothy. “Study to show yourself approved before God, a workman that doesn’t need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
What do you think? Let’s get some conversation going.
November 8, 2013 Leave a comment
The fog was a shroud of gossamer floating about in thick and thin waves. Through it all ran a horse. The picture was there for the taking. But there are always variables. Fog comes and goes, so you have to be ready. I couldn’t shout instructions to the horse as to what he should do to make himself more photogenic. I’m not a horse whisperer, but even if I were, he was at a distance that would have required shouting, not whispering. Fog and horse were in place, all that remained was for a photographer to drive by; that would be me. It all came together and, presto, here’s the picture. Photos like this are not planned; they just happen and you have to be ready. I almost always have my camera with me in the car.
I’ve come to realize that much of life happens spontaneously. We plan some, and should, but always we must be open to the unexpected. Consider how the bookends of life, both birth and death, are not easily scheduled. Expectant young parents wait for the birth of their child, and wait some more. Adult children sit beside the bed and wait for the death of an elderly parent. Both the maternity ward and the Hospice unit operate on a flexible time frame. Life in between the bookends often doesn’t go as scheduled either.
Jesus went about doing a great many miracles, but of the 30 plus recorded miracles in the four gospels there are none that were planned ahead of time by Jesus. It was miracles by interruptions. God’s calling for each of us comes without a printed schedule. He informs us on a need-to-know basis, which often means about the time it happens! It’s a calling to act spontaneously by the Spirit!
Each day is filled with the unexpected, but with His help we can expect to carry out His will in the midst of the surprise. Who will we bump into? What phone call will come? What will get canceled? What good news will we get? What bad news will we get? Will we be healthy or sick tomorrow? Will we have a narrow miss or an accident? God is very much alive and active in all of our unknowns. As has often been said, we don’t know what the future holds but we can know the One who holds the future! God says, “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.” (Isaiah 42:16)
October 25, 2013 Leave a comment
Recently I spoke at a gathering where funds were being raised for a local mission. I was among eight or so pastors who were to give a two-minute inspirational message between songs. I soon discovered that most of the pastors were from traditions where preaching is very emotional and energetic. The first speaker was Lutheran, so she was more my style. I was number seven, with five more before me and one after me. By preacher number four, I knew that my preaching would be, shall we say, very, very low-key by comparison. Each of them really worked up a sweat when they were preaching. It seemed like a preach-a-thon. My wife Diann, seated beside me, later told me that if she had been me she would have gotten up and said, “Excuse me; I don’t feel well, and I need to leave.”
Then it was my turn, and I spoke. I wanted to stop mid-sentence and remind the audience, “I really am excited, even though it doesn’t appear that way.” Another dynamic preacher followed me to wrap things up in grand style. I felt like I was the intermission!
The next morning on my prayer walk, I reflected on the evening. I got to thinking that they were all trying to outdo each other and that I was glad I was just being myself. Then the parable of Jesus came to mind where a Pharisee and a tax collector were praying. The Pharisee prayed that he was glad that he wasn’t like the others, especially the tax collector. I got the message: I had no right to judge the motives of those other pastors. Maybe they weren’t trying to outdo each other; maybe it was just the way they preach. I was thinking like the Pharisee, and I had to ask the Lord to forgive me. I’m not sure that my motive was all that pure by the time I got into the pulpit, trying to show them I could deliver a message without breaking into a sweat!
I’m continually in need of God’s gracious forgiveness! The cross of Christ I preach is a cross I need all the time. I have set up camp beneath the cross!
September 13, 2013 Leave a comment
(A PHOTOVOTIONAL is my term for a photo accompanied by a related devotional)
I’ve always loved sunbeams, they prompt me to think of heaven. They’re lighted pathways spanning heaven and earth. Or perhaps they’re better described as silver slides, like the kinds kids slide down, maybe for playful angels?
This photo was taken one very foggy morning when I was walking along the edge of the soybean field behind our place. The sun was struggling to break through, and it did so several sunbeams at a time. I rushed back to the house to retrieve my camera, then back out to the bean field.
We yearn for the transcendent. We instinctively know there is more to life than buttering our toast, doing a load of wash, driving here, there, and back again, shuffling papers at a desk, cleaning a house that will be dirty and dusty again a week from now, or manufacturing something that will be in a landfill in twenty years. It’s not that the day-to-day details of life are unimportant, they aren’t. God has anointed them as part of what it means to be human on a daily basis. Still, we know there’s more, and, for me, sunbeams remind me that there’s more, far more.
It’s good, while we’re living the details of each day, to maintain a heavenly perspective, an eternal view. Like the child who glances at a parent from the sandbox or the stage to see if they’re paying attention or for their approval, so we have a Heavenly Father who gives us His full attention. We can know we are part of His divine plans and that we have His mighty help. We can pray the psalmist’s prayer, “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 17:8)
While we’re here on earth we’re to embrace all that God has for us to do. But in the doing of it we’re to never lose sight of heaven’s perspective. Sunbeams are just one way God reminds me of this! “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all peoples see his glory.” (Psalm 97:6)
August 9, 2013 Leave a comment
“When I was a young pastor, I was in a service where Dr. Warren Wiersbe was going to preach. It was a conference and I assume he didn’t know most of the people there. Yet in the moments before the service started, he worked his way up and down the aisles and into the rows greeting people and shaking hands. I instinctively knew he was doing more than being friendly. He was pastoring, and he was doing a kind of sermon preparation for the people and for himself.” (loc 679)
I, like many pastors, will pray with the others involved in leading worship (for some of you it will be with the elders or deacons) just before the service, but I don’t spend much time with them! I feel inclined to be greeting the people, walking around in the narthex (lobby), up and down the aisle and in between the pews. Sometimes I find that I’ve personally greeted almost everyone before I stand up front and say “Good morning!” to open the service. I feel I can better connect with the people in leading worship and in the service if I have literally come from their midst just before the service starts.
August 8, 2013 Leave a comment
“The authority God invests in pastors does not come with the usual perks of leadership. You don’t really get to be the boss of anything. (That’s the part that seems to get lost in some Christian leadership books.) People will ignore you just as they ignore God; yet we’re expected to lead them. Jesus tells us explicitly that we cannot lord it over others, but rather we must be their servants. Foot washing servants! It is a hard way to get things done. Plus sometimes God Himself practically kills us “so that [Jesus'] life may be revealed in our mortal bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:11).” (loc. 364)
I sometimes feel leading a congregation is like going shopping with a teenage child at the mall. You’re there to give guidance on what they should buy, and you’ll pay for it. Plus, you just want to have a good time with your teen child. The teenager, however, is often moody, walks several steps behind or ahead so as not to be seen with you. The people in the congregation are often like that with the one called to be their pastoral leader. They get the “pastoral” part of it but not always the “leader” part of it.
In my saner moments I know this is how God gets His work done through us, His pastors. It’s servant leadership, servant leadership, servant leadership!