Archive for August, 2014


I was talking to a friend of mine. He was extremely discouraged. He is a pastor. He has a growing church. In fact most of what is happening at his church should make a pastor smile. He was not smiling.

His day had become a steady diet of office hours. Instead of a shepherd he had become a CEO. That is the dilemma many pastors face. It is easy to say “hire some help.” That’s great…until budget time. It is also great…until the church member still does not want an “underling.”

Instead of being a shepherd he was forced to manage an institution. He sat dismayed at his desk and said, “I don’t know the people I preach to every Sunday.” His dismay was evident and deep.

I’ve met too many pastors in the same position. The Scriptures point very clearly to the pastor not being a preacher (evangelist). They speak very clearly of a pastor being a shepherd. He is one who is to “feed, care and lead the sheep.” Basically, where the shepherd goes the sheep go. Jesus called on Peter after his resurrection to be a shepherd. The earthly shepherd was to follow the steps of the Great Shepherd.

We don’t talk about hiring a Shepherd. We talk about hiring a pastor. We expect him to be fiscally sound, have the ability to make wise decisions, be a counselor, energized preacher, theologian, visionary, and more.

Lately I have been having a few conversations about pastors. The idea of a pastor being a Shepherd has been the main point. Mark Driscoll, a nationally known pastor in Seattle is facing issues that will affect his life, his ministry and his church. I have followed it from a far. What I see is a pastor who is a pretty good Shepherd but got caught in the trap of being a CEO. Guess what is causing him the problem? Shepherd and CEO actually do not go together. We think they do. We have become accustomed to assuming they do. End of the day…they don’t and they shouldn’t. A pastor cannot tend to the sheep and worry about the institution.

That is exactly what one conversation emphasized. We tend to invite people to institutions yet the church is to be people that comprise the body of Christ. Pastors end up running programs of an institution instead of having the freedom and the time to know his sheep.

How can a pastor open the Word of God on Sunday (by the way, that is the most important task of all living men…to rightly divide the Word of God every Sunday). He has to present (feed) the sheep by speaking for God concerning what the specific sheep need to eat. How can he if he does not know the sheep? He can’t. I Peter tells pastors to care for “their” sheep. Jesus said that the good shepherd knows his sheep by name. The difference between a pastor and a preacher is the same as the difference between a shepherd and hired help.

What would it look like for a pastor to be a shepherd instead of a CEO? That is a good question. It may not look anything like we see our current pastors. A second discussion was very thought provoking. A young lady said she sees a shepherd (pastor) as one who will go and bring home the wandering sheep. She said a shepherd will go and rescue those sheep who are about to be eaten by animals or fall off the cliff.

Ummmm, I wonder if our pastor shepherds today can ever get away from running organizations to rescue lost sheep? We think it is to happen for a half hour on Sunday morning. I don’t think so anymore. The Bible speaks of shepherds who walk on the trail with their sheep every step of the way. They leave the herd to find the one. Let’s write a new job description. Soon!

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Recently I heard a sermon in which the word “hypocrite” was used. It was used to describe people who confessed Christ but had a propensity not so much toward blatant sin but rather towards refusing to have a life-style that demonstrates Christ. These types of behaviors would include such things as unforgiveness, greed, lack of compassion, failure to extend grace, self-focus and lost love.   Many of these Christ like traits are not written in a “10 Commandment” like manner. They are more like the traits Jesus expressed in the Sermon on the Mount where he described a relationship with God as being one that is blessed. Those who are blessed are “poor in spirit, mourn, meek, hunger and thirst for what is right, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted.” No one can measure these Christ like attributes but you know it when you see it.

“Hypocrite” is a very strong word. Most Christians confess to being a hypocrite without understanding the word. Jesus infuriated the Pharisees and the self-righteous by using the “H” word on a regular basis. In the four gospels Jesus refers to it some 20 times. Each time he was engaging the self-righteous. Boy, would they howl!

I see nowhere in the gospels anyone settling for such an accusation or label. When the “H” word was used people were highly offended and mad as hell. Why? The actual definition according to Mr. Webster reads: a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess; especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.

Did you catch the truth? It is someone who “does not actually posses…stated beliefs.” Let me rephrase it for you. When Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites he was telling them they were not God-seekers or God-righteous at all.

When the “H” word is used today we don’t even blink. We accept it. There is something wrong with our Biblical perception. When a pastor talks about the lack of Christ like character and uses such harsh terminology it means the same for us as it did the Pharisees. Let me rephrase it in a way that we might understand. If we say we are Christians but do not have Christ like characteristics we are not God-seekers and God-righteous. How about this one…if we say we believe in Christ but do not posses Christ like attributes, we are not Christians. Does that one make the blood run like the Pharisees? It should! But it doesn’t.

Our hope is in Christ not our ability to appease God. When Christ invades the heart it is a supernatural cosmic event. Jesus even said, “A house divided cannot stand.” He went on to say “you cannot love God and things of this earth.” “You either love the one and hate the other.” So much for the easy, kind Jesus that makes me think I can be a hypocrite without ire.  

When the “H” word is used it should poke us deep in our hearts. When God’s grace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ penetrates our hearts and lives the very word should drive us to self-inspection and humility before the one who gave his life and asks us to do the same…”lay your life down for the sake of many.”

This might be a bit crass but sometimes you got to say it the way it is…hey hypocrites can we start by getting pissed off that we are living lives that would even have the pastor call us the “H” word? Being a hypocrite means we have a divided house. It means we are not laying our lives down for Christ and for others. Jesus said in order to “save our lives we had to lose our lives.”

If we are indeed hypocrites we have a greater issue of severe importance. Remember…it means we aren’t what we think we are. Only one thing to do with that…get on our knees at the cross.

By the way…thank you pastor for calling me the “H” word. I needed to get to the cross. More pastors need to be willing to call it like Jesus did.  

 

From time to time and probably more than I like to admit I am humbled and left in awe by fellow Christians. The Ebola epidemic has humbled me. Missionaries are on the front lines once again. They along with other medical personnel are putting their lives on the line. Meanwhile I worry about catching a common cold from a coughing congregant. They humble me. I stand in awe.
We need to lift up these modern day champions of the faith in prayer. They remind me of selfless stories through the ages. Christians responding to social ills instead of running away have been the norm through the ages. They sacrificed. They put their lives on the line. They lived their faith.
Running to the front of the line is not for everybody. Even the military has special troops designed to answer emergencies and hold the line till support arrives. It is clear the Scriptures teach that there are different gifts for us.
However, there is a way of life that we as Christians are called. I was reminded of it this past week while riding a horse with a name…Cinnamon.
My family was on vacation in the mountains this past week. We decided to go horseback riding. Don’t laugh. Yes, I got up on a horse. Getting up wasn’t the bad part…getting down was.
We drove up a dirt road expecting to come across a healthy farm with white fences and big barns. Instead we came across a beaten trailer with a spot-a-pot out front. The horses looked very healthy. The more we looked around the more amazed we became at the living conditions or the owner and his family. I will admit, I almost told the family to get back in the van.
Out came the owner and his daughter to lead our trip. He was one of the nicest and gentlest guys I have ever met. From what we could gather from the various conversations humbled me the second time in one week. I of all people should know that we are not to “judge a book by its cover.”
He had 35 horses six years ago. The downturned economy that still exists in the Appalachians has caused him to sell all but 11. It is clear he takes very good care of his horses. His family is struggling. His wife has been very sick. She recently came home from the hospital. He is doing what he can do to hold things together hoping that soon…the vacationers return.
Not only did he lead our trip up the mountain and back down he personally hitched my 5-year-old granddaughters horse to his and made sure she had a glorious first horseback ride. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer and more considerate guy to take care of her. Oh, he looked rough…real rough. Like Samuel said when looking for the man to take King Saul’s place…”man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart.”
So…what is the call? How do we minister to this hard working struggling man? It really isn’t that hard. My wife and I didn’t have a chance to talk about it, but we were thinking the same thing…a really big tip. He only charged us $25 a person. A normal tip would be $2.50 to $5 a person. Forget standard thinking. The man was in need. I’m not going to boast about what we did. What would you do?
Every day we meet people in need. I’m not asking everyone to run to tragedies or medical disasters. I do believe Jesus taught us that when a brother asks for a loaf of bread to not give him a stone. He also said that when a brother asks for a coat, to give him two of them. The gospel expression comes in many forms. Yes, there is a vocal form that is needed. However, it is better received when gospel living backs it.
Take a look around this week. We don’t have to go to the mountains to find a need. We don’t have to go on vacation to find a gospel expression. As more and more people don’t trust the organized church we will have to take the gospel to them. It might start with a decent tip.
By the way…if you can’t find a person in need…check out a lot of single mom waitresses in our restaurants. I know they could use a helping hand. Maybe if we follow the lead of missionaries answering the Ebola crisis our world will once again be receptive to the good news of Jesus who gave more than we could ever ask…his life for ours.

Today (the day I actually wrote this article) is my birthday. I won’t say how old I am but you can figure it out by one statement. I am now old enough to move into Sun City.
I waited for the UPS truck to come loaded with gifts from around the world. After I woke up from a nap and realized it was a dream, I decided to sit down and do a little reflecting. I think I am a bit reflective due to my state of mind. This is the first birthday I can honestly say “its just another day.” Maybe I have finally gained wisdom. Maybe I have matured. Maybe I have come to realize there are a lot bigger things in life than a birthday.
My daughter sent me a text video of my grandkids singing “Happy Birthday.” That’s all I needed. Is that what grandkids do to a person? If so, is there anyway we can skip having kids and just have grandkids? I’m only kidding. I love my son and daughter as well as my son and daughter in-law. I’m a lucky man. This Christian did say he was lucky. Get over it!
I thought I would take a few minutes and let you know what has my thoughts today. I’m sorry if it’s boring. I don’t need any more gifts. I got enough stuff. I value the people in my life. My birthday musings center on them, not me.
The first I figured out is there is a great value in modern technology. You have heard me rant about its misuse. I learn once again objects are not the issue…man is. How we use these objects is what makes them good or evil. I found out the good side. For some reason I am attuned to the birthday wishes on Facebook today. It has meant a lot to me the different people and friends who took a moment out of their life to wish me well. It sure beats putting a card in the mail. My friends…you reminded me that I am not alone. Thank you.
In my role as a pastor I do mostly personal ministry. The people at Grace Coastal are spared weekly preaching from me. My role is handling the tough places and things we get into as human beings. Yes, let’s get this right, Christians get in tough places as well as unbelievers.
I am involved with several marriages that are really struggling. I am again a very blessed man. My wife is an angel. No, she is a saint. I cannot imagine life without her. A birthday wish I have for the struggling marriages I am privileged to help seek healing is that they find the love that my wife and I have. The ones that are hurting say they love each other but truthfully, love isn’t words. Love is action. Love isn’t sex. Love is intimacy. Love doesn’t take. Love gives.
There is only one-way to make a marriage last. No, it is not learning to say, “yes darling.” The only way for a marriage to work is to do what Jesus did. He laid his life down for another. That means as one our thoughts and desires are wrapped up in my spouse, not me. When two people are doing that together, it works real well. I would give anything for the marriages that are struggling to discover the love of Jesus that took him to the cross.
Birthdays…let’s face it…they are pretty selfish. I think I’ll do my birthday different next year. I’m going to have an old fashioned Maryland Steamed Crab Feast. My friends are invited. The only thing they can bring…themselves. See in the Mid-Atlantic we don’t have a steamed crab feast for the food…it’s about the event. Happy Birthday…enjoy it with me.