Month: January 2016

James’ story

frustratedPastor James (not his real name) had been at Christ Church for over twenty-four years. You’d think by then his church would be immune to controversy. But when James started introducing changes to boost the church’s outreach, an unseen fault line under Christ Church burst wide open. “We tried to change the culture of the church and it couldn’t be done,” James told me. “It created inherent tension in the body.” Overnight, it seemed, Christ Church took on the air of an intense presidential debate, and James was the political football. The rift unfortunately coincided with the resignations of all five of James’s elders. One elder was having marital problems. Another felt he was too old to continue serving. Another resigned to take care of her ailing husband. A fourth elder was diagnosed with bipolar disease and needed hospitalization. The fifth could not abide the changes James was making. So when things were at their most desperate, James had only one person on the governing board besides himself: his assistant pastor.

An influential family in the church agreed with James that the church needed to turn its focus outward. For too long, they said, Christ Church had ignored the needs of the community. But when they saw a church fight looming, they wanted no part of it; they’d been through that before in another church. So they told James they were leaving. Problem was, that family contributed nearly a third of Christ Church’s offerings. So now, James had not only a congregation in turmoil, but little money. The budget had to be slashed; the assistant pastor had to go.

The tension took its toll on James, emotionally and physically. He caught a cold that he could not shake. His teenage daughter said, “Dad, you’re under stress!” James knew it but didn’t know what to do about it. He managed to recruit three new elders from the congregation. They agreed with James theologically but not philosophically. Every board meeting pitted James on one side against the three elders on the other.

“You’re taking Christ Church in the wrong direction,” they told him.

“You’re not listening to the gospel,” he replied. It was a stalemate.

Finally James told his elders what he’d been thinking for months. “We’re not a team. It’s not good for any of us, and it’s not good for the church. Either you need to step down or I need to. If we stay together things are only going to get worse.” The elders took offense, as though James was accusing them of fomenting division.

“We’re not going anywhere,” they told him. So the following Sunday, James announced his resignation.

Three months later, despite their promise to stay, the three elders also left. Absent leadership and with declining membership, Christ Church fell apart and was dissolved by its denomination.

Choose the reproach of Christ

I find great comfort in Hebrews 11:26. Speaking of Moses the author says, “He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the rewardtreasure-chest.”

When you suffer for the sake of the body of Christ (and isn’t that what pastoral ministry often means?), you experience the same kind of reproach (i.e., scorn, contempt) experienced by Jesus. You are filling up in your flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Col. 1:24). And this is of greater worth than all the treasures of Egypt. Why? Because “in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).

Suffering unites you to Jesus like nothing else, allowing you to experience his strength in your weakness, his grace in your weariness, his love in your rejection, his Spirit in your emptiness. His steadfast love is better than life (Psa 63:3). At his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psa 16:11).

Charles Wesley beautifully described the treasures found in Christ in his hymn, Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose:

Jesus, my all in all Thou art,
My rest in toil, my ease in pain,
The healing of my broken heart,
In war my peace, in loss my gain,
My smile beneath the tyrant’s frown,
In shame my glory and my crown.

In want my plentiful supply,
In weakness my almighty power,
In bonds my perfect liberty,
My light in Satan’s darkest hour,
In grief my joy unspeakable,
My life in death, my Heaven in hell.

Jesus is like the treasure hidden in a field that is worth more than a man might give up in order to possess (Matt. 13:44).

The thing is, to experience the reproach of Christ we have to make the same choice Moses made. He chose “rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25). He chose a superior pleasure over an inferior one. Isn’t that the fight of faith we are called on to wage every day as we lead God’s people?

Accept being ordinary

Brené Brown writes, “We seem to measure the value of people’s contributions (and sometimes their entire lives) by their level of public recognition. In other words, worth is measured by fame and fortune. Our culture is quick to dismiss quiet, ordinary, hardworking men and women. In many instances, we equate ordinary with boring or, even more dangerous, ordinary has become synonymous with meaningless.” (Brené Brown, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power. New York: Penguin / Gotham Books, 2007, 204–205)

The key of faith

I gave the following children’s sermon one Sunday during our church’s series on Hebrews 11.

Title: “Faith Is the Key”

Scripture text: Matthew 8:5-13

Materials you need: A lock (I used my bike lock) and a set of keys, one of which opens the lock

Opening question: Do you think I could make a sick person well just by saying a few words? Of course not!

Message: One day an important Roman soldier came up to Jesus i
n Capernaum. One of his servants was very sick. The soldier loved this servant and wanted him
to get well. So when he heard that Jesus was nearby, the soldier went to Jesus and told him about his sick servant. Jesus was about to go with the soldier to heal the servant when the soldier said, “No Lord, just say the word and my servant will be healed.” He had faith that Jesus could make someone well just by saying the

What is faith? (Listen to the children’s answers.) That’s right, faith means putting your trust in God. Faith is the key that unlocks the power and love of God.

Look at what I have here. I brought along my bike lock. As hard as Ilock try, I cannot open this lock. Here is a set of keys. One of them opens the lock. (Demonstrate)
That key is like faith. You and I are weak. We face many situations in which we need God’s help. Maybe you’re sick like that soldier’s servant. Maybe you’re lonely, or afraid, or sad, or upset about something. Maybe you’re being bullied or lied about or rejected. You don’t know what to do. Just like this lock, you’re too weak to fix the situation on your own.

What do you need? You need the key of faith. You need faith in God’s power. The power of God that made the sick servant well can help you with your fear, your loneliness, your anger, or whatever you’re struggling with. Faith is the key that unlocks God’s power and love.



The words of the wise are like goads

The most valuable words ever spoken to me by a mentor: You minister out of who you are.

That’s what an older pastor said to me over 30 years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. I have tried to live out his words by reminding myself often that I don’t have to covet other people’s gifts or calling. I am who I am by God’s design and for this time and place. I have a unique past, a unique voice, unique abilities and limitations–all of which equip me for influence with people whom God has sovereignly placed in my sphere.

The Teacher once said, “The words of the wise are like goads” (Ecclesiastes 12:11). What wise words have meant the most to you as a pastor?