Insightful Praying

Here’s a brief prayer that I believe gets to the heart of effective praying! The image, the same one I used in the last post, is of an old statue of an angel in a cemetery.

A Poster for the Pastor’s Study/Office

Here’s a poster I created that communicates the gratefulness I often feel toward the Lord as I seek to carry out His work.  I rejoice in His grace toward me and my ministry!

The Comparison Game

Pastor and best-selling author Max Lucado was interviewed in the Summer 2011 issue of Leadership Journal. Because I feel called to both pastor and write, like Max Lucado, it’s a great temptation to give in to the sin of envy when I think of Max. I suspect his grocery list would sell well. Yes, I have wished I could write like Max Lucado.

In the interview Max said, “Some pastors, like Tim Keller or John Piper, are different than I am, and they excel at reaching those deeper thinkers. I listen to their sermons, and they’re just at a different level. And I think that’s phenomenal. I’m so grateful for people like that. I speak to folks who don’t dwell at that altitude.” (p. 26) Max Lucado is no Tim Keller or John Piper, and he’s OK with that.

Come to think of it, I’ve been tempted to envy the speaking, writing, and pastoral ministries of both Tim Keller and John Piper (both of whom I regularly read) as well as that of Max Lucado! I confess that I can be quite a mess at times.

In the same issue of Leadership Journal Eugene Peterson, another favorite pastor/author of mine, was interviewed. The article includes an excerpt from his book, The Pastor (which I’ve read – excellent!) In the excerpt Peterson writes, “Along the way, I want to insist that there is no blueprint on file for becoming a pastor. In becoming one, I have found that it is a most context-specific way of life: the pastor’s emotional life, family life, experience in the faith, and aptitudes worked out in an actual congregation in the neighborhood in which she or he lives – these people just as they are, in this place. No copying. The ways in which the vocation of pastor is conceived, develops, and comes to birth is unique to each pastor.” (p. 53)

When I’m tempted to play the comparison game I have to remind myself that it’s a game the Lord never calls me to play. When I do I never win in the long run! I’ve struggled with this enough that I did a sermon series on the topic, then self-published the material in a book called, interestingly enough, The Comparison Game.

One of my favorite scriptures to use as an antidote against the sin of envy in the ministry is found in a statement Jesus made to Peter. It occurred after Jesus’ resurrection, when He was walking with Peter and had hinted at how Peter’s life would go in his final days. Peter then asks Jesus about John, who was walking behind them. What would happen to him? Jesus said to Peter,“What is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:22)

When I start comparing my writing ministry and/or pastoral ministry to someone else I remember Jesus’ words to Peter, and own them for myself. “What is that to you? You must follow me.”

The Stewardship of Grace

Ever notice how you can be reading along in the Bible and come across a statement in a part of the Bible familiar to you but find it to be completely unfamiliar and new? Such an experience happened this morning in my devotional reading. The line is in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, the end of verse 2 in chapter 3. Paul writes of “the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you…”

I read it again… “the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you…” I realized that part of my stewardship as a pastor is the stewardship of God’s grace given to me which is to be spent on the people I serve. This giving of the grace given to me has as much to do with stewardship as does the three “t”s of time, talent, and treasure upon which I so often preach!

I rehearse how I don’t deserve God’s help in being a pastor because I’m so far from who I should be in Christ, but, by His grace, He uses this imperfect vessel called Dave Claassen anyway. I’ve been freshly reminded that part of my ministry is to pass on this grace I’ve received to those I serve. Because I’m being gifted every day with undeserved favor from God, I’m to be re-gifting this toward my people in thinking, feeling, and acting favorably toward them even when I think they don’t deserve it. Grace to me – grace to them!

I want to be able to picture my congregation, the people I’ve been called to serve, and pen these words in my heart to them that Paul penned to the Ephesian church. In my heart and mind I want to affirm “the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you…”

God’s Sovereignty and The Weather

“JimmyJams” recently commented on my post about grumbling. He writes that the weather is “an interesting metaphor for God’s sovereignty–you can’t change it.”

Jimmy has done a great video on this theme so I thought I’d share it. Fun!

A Case of the Grumbles

Under my breath I’ve found myself muttering “Grumble, grumble.” Sometimes I don’t actually mutter, but I’m grumbling nevertheless.

I grumble against other people, especially the sheep of the flock I’ve been called to tend. The apostle James makes it clear I shouldn’t be doing this. “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.” (James 5:9) O…..K, that sounds serious to me!

But I fear my grumbling is not just against the sheep of God’s pasture I serve but also against the Good Shepherd I serve. When I complain about the lack of results I see, the problems I have to deal with, and the seemingly insurmountable challenges that are before me in ministry, am I not really directing much of this against God?

It’s important for me to be reminded just how serious an offense it is to grumble against God. Such a reminder comes from the account of the Israelites in the wilderness and what God said to them. “In this desert your bodies will fall – every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me.” (Numbers 14:29) The psalmist wrote of this that “they grumbled in their tents and did not obey the Lord.” (Psalm 106:25) Substitute “parsonage” or “pastor’s house” for “tents” in this last passage to drive home the application.

I’ll confess I don’t always see grumbling as a serious issue. I should; it’s quite clear in scripture that grumbling is a sin. I suppose, as far as sins go, I see it as a “white collar” type of crime, but a crime is still a crime; a sin is still a sin.

When I give some thought as to why grumbling against God is wrong, is sin, is serious sin, I come to the conclusion that in grumbling I question God’s goodness. I’m strongly hinting that He is not playing fair with me.

So, OK, grumbling is serious sinning, but I also know that the psalmists were often brutally honest in expressing their feelings to God; that’s why I enjoy reading the psalms so much. An honest pouring out of the heart to God is good, this is what I counsel my hurting parishioners to do, and I do it myself. What I’m realizing is that I need to ask for the Lord’s help in discerning between honest-to-God praying and grumbling.

The bottom line is that this grumbling needs to go! I must take the apostle Paul’s admonition to the Philippians to heart when it comes to the work of my ministry. “Do everything without grumbling…” (Philippians 2:14)

Competing with God for His Glory

“If we insist on being achievers, seeking God so that others might admire our faith, our commitment, or our dedication, we become God’s competitors, trying to steal some of His glory.” (Gary Thomas, Thirsting for God, eBook loc. 272)

I doubt I rarely, if ever, do anything from a pure motive.  As a pastor I want to promote Christ in my ministry, but sometimes there slips in an element of self promotion.

This is one more reason, a personal reason, why I must preach a message of grace.  God chooses to love me and use me in spite of my mixed motives in ministry!