Performance Review

Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was granted to you through words of prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. – 1 Timothy 4:14

It would seem that the Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy were intended to help him overcome some discouragement that his young pastoral protegee` might have been experiencing. Can you imagine that? A defeated and downhearted church leader? [Sarcasm intended]

A friend of mine once said that he could be a great pastor, if it wasn’t for the people. Obviously, this was said at a time when things were not going well for him. On the other hand, I have sometimes wondered in my former pastoral ministry if perhaps the church might have been better off if someone else didn’t have the job! Every church leader (pastor or associate staff) will face discouragement from time to time, but he or she must learn to keep those moments from becoming an overwhelming force. Each of us has particular strengths and weaknesses. We are uniquely made and gifted. Some are more “task” than “people” oriented. On the other hand, others are more relational.

However you are “wired,” you must learn to serve from your strengths while gaining the understanding that God’s strength is perfected in our weaknesses. Paul said that he had become all things to all people that by all means he might save some. We will fail and we will succeed in our service, as such is judged by mankind. Ultimately, the only review that matters however is the one given by the Master.

Help me to see that although the challenge is great, the power behind me is greater than the challenge in front of me. – Selwyn Hughes

The Blessing of Affliction

Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I keep Your word. – Psalms 119:67

Affliction is not something that we seek or particularly like to experience. In fact, I would say that it ranks right up there with illness, trial, and disaster. Who would ever want to be “afflicted?” How could we ever see such things in a positive light?

The Scriptures clearly teach that God’s purposes are often accomplished through difficult circumstances. Hardship, in its various forms, is often the means by which the Lord gains our attention and devotion. A person travelling on a clear, smooth, and straight highway most often looks forward. That same person who travels a crooked, damaged path or who finds themselves in a ditch, most often looks for a way out!

We should be thankful.

Indeed, it is so easy to say it, but much more difficult to embrace it; therefore let me rephrase. May we be thankful for those circumstances of life that cause us to regain our bearings with the Lord and, if it helps, consider just how messed up we would be without them.

No one is exempt from trials and tribulations. In fact, this is often what happens to people God loves very much, for it is part of God’s often mysterious and good plan for turning us into something great. – Timothy Keller

Flame and Fan

For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. – 2 Timothy 1:6-7

As I considered these words from Paul to Timothy, two questions stirred my conscience:

1. If I were Timothy, could I heed them?

2. If I were Paul, could I write them?

God called me into His “general” service (as a believer) almost 57 years ago and then into His specific vocational service 21 years later. Given all that has occurred in the last 35 years, how brightly is the fire of my devotion still burning? Am I as passionate about serving the Lord as I once was? To be honest, from time to time the flame needs to be rekindled.

Besides my own walk with Christ, I also wonder if there are any young men or women who, in the wake of my ministry, who need to hear words of encouragement from my lips. Are there any “Timothy’s” who would benefit from a bit of gentle encouragement nudging them forward in God’s service? Am I fanning the flame of future leaders?

No doubt, flaming and fanning go together. Those of us whose service God has deemed to retain into our later years, should desire more than ever to burn with consistent intensity and pour on the fuel for the next generation in the cause of Christ.

God created us to thrive on encouragement from others. – Willie Robertson

No Greater Responsibility

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a worker who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. – 2 Timothy 2:15

For much of my pastoral ministry, I served churches with mostly volunteer co-laborers. This meant that I often found myself performing many different tasks necessary for the ongoing work of the local body. Of course, with my loyalties so divided, I was often tempted to neglect the depth of study necessary for good sermon preparation. Yet, of all the tasks that a pastor must be careful to prioritize, next to his personal time with the Lord, study of God’s Word is the greatest.

For the sake of “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry,” there can be no more important work for the pastor-teacher than correctly handling the Word of truth. While every shepherd of a local flock wants the church that he serves to be a friendly, caring example of the body of Christ, he also needs it to be biblically grounded. If a pastor neglects the study, he will soon find himself neglecting the church.

When Paul writes of a Christ-follower’s “spiritual service of worship” in Romans 12, he speaks of our lives being “living sacrifices” unto the Lord. For those who would dare serve as pastor-teachers, the “offering” is the unashamed presentation of a worker who is handling God’s Word of truth accurately. This is job #1.

The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the word. – John Owen

“Disciplined”

Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning, knowing that such a person has deviated from what is right and is sinning, being self-condemned. – Titus 3:10-11

In First Corinthians, chapter five, the Apostle Paul addressed the actions that should lead a local church to discipline one of its members. The list of offenses that can cause a person to be “disfellowshipped” seems purposely short and slightly ambiguous, leaving room for the congregation to determine the severity of the indiscretion.

Though “being divisive” or “sowing discord” is not in Paul’s list for the church at Corinth, it is clearly included here in his letter to Pastor Titus. The pattern for addressing this particular offense appropriately matches Jesus’ outline given in Matthew 18 and should probably be added. It is a caution that should be seriously considered for unity is high on Jesus’ list of healthy church qualities (John 17).

Church discipline is rarely considered in most churches today and even where provisions exist, even more rarely exercised. Indeed, the practice is agonizing and difficult, as it should be. Yet, the church where it exists will be led to a deeper understanding of true fellowship and the loving, mutual accountability that accompanies the practice. Just one reminder for those who would apply it: it must be biblical, loving, work toward restoration, and true church health demands it.

Any objection to the carryings on of our present gold-calf Christianity is met with the triumphant reply, “But we are winning them!” Winning them to what? To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total committal to Christ? Of course the answer to all these questions is, “No.” – Aiden Wilson Tozer

Anchored

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and reliable and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. – Hebrews 6:19-20

As the old hymn states, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Christian hope is much different than the world’s hope. The hope of this world is more like a wish or desire. “Earth-dwellers” hope that things will work out for their good, but have no assurance that they will. Believers, those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, those who have been made new by the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit, “heaven-dwellers,” are fully assured (in fact, certain) that things will work out for God’s glory and ultimately their good.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews would go on to state, “Now faith is the certainty of things hoped for, a proof of things not seen.” In times of great personal or global uncertainty, those who claim to know Christ should bear such knowledge in ways that are attractional. Anchored souls that are not moved by every whim of public opinion or moved to panic by every headline will draw those who are drowning to themselves.

Let us be reminded this day that we do not hope in an uncertain fate. Rather, we rest securely in a certain, Risen Savior.

God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope. – Timothy Keller

When Conflict Occurs

For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no gossiper, quarreling quiets down. – Proverbs 26:20

Typically, as organizations go through crises (i.e., economic downturns, transitions related to growth, changes in leadership), there is a lot of chatter. Most of this is welcomed, important, and vital as everyone works toward helpful solutions; however, some of the talk can be negative and counterproductive.

There will always be challenges, personal and corporate, for individuals and entities seeking to accomplish God’s purposes. Sometimes these challenges will result in differences of opinion, which is actually a good thing. Often it is in the differences that the best approach is found; however, the negative “pot-stirring” of a contentious individual (or group) can serve to magnify the differences and work against the common unity that is necessary to move forward. Even the best of leaders can be drawn into the unholy fray and often are. Since conflict is common (and often necessary) health cannot be achieved through the absence of it, but rather through godly management.

Though the issues that give rise to conflict are rarely simple, leaders must remain steadfast, faithful, and humble in their service to Christ when they find themselves in the midst of it. Growth and health require constant attention and diligence, but ultimately, by His sovereign grace, God will get the glory and His work will continue if those who lead honestly acknowledge their part in it, embrace the change that is needed, and choose a righteous path forward.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. – Winston Churchill

To Be Reconciled

Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you — since I am such a person as Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus — I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I fathered in my imprisonment, who previously was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. – Philemon 1:8-11

Paul wrote this short letter to Philemon, a “child in the faith,” about another “child in the faith,” Onesimus, in order that his two “kids” might be reconciled to one another. Apparently, Onesimus, the slave, had fled Philemon, the master, and had taken a few things along for the journey. Of course, as Onesimus was running, he met Paul and his Savior. Onesimus, whose name means “Useful,” as a believer needed to return to his earthly master and Philemon needed to offer forgiveness for his slave’s offense. Paul also not so subtly instructed Philemon to then release Onesimus from his obligation, in order that he could return as an aid to the apostle, because he had been so useful to him.

For reconciliation to occur between believers, the love of Christ must prevail, and everyone involved in the offense must surrender to His purposes. In this case, even Paul (who brokered the reconciliation) was included. Forgiveness acknowledges failure, embraces it, and applies grace as the healing agent. The work of reconciliation is never easy, but it is always worth the effort, for in it Christ is glorified, the flesh is crucified, and God’s work continues unhindered.

To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. – C. S. Lewis

Never Too Late

Babylon has been a golden cup in the hand of the Lord, intoxicating all the earth. The nations have drunk of her wine; therefore the nations are going insane.  – Jeremiah 51:7

The rise and fall of the Babylonian empire are a great example of God’s sovereign power over earthly institutions. Jeremiah, God’s prophet, foretold both the ascent and descent of this once powerful nation. In the end, Babylon was simply another tool by which God accomplished His divine purposes.

Could our nation (your nation) experience a similar fate? Absolutely.

In some ways the “great experiment” that is “America, the Beautiful” seems to have gone awry and the principles upon which our nation once firmly stood are daily being abandoned. For centuries, at least at the governmental level, we were a positive influence, but now it seems, no more. What have we become? What will we be? How must we change? Is it too late?

Whatever the answers, I am convinced that the Body of Christ must seize the opportunity that has always been before it. We are here to represent our Savior to a world that needs redemption. We didn’t earn our place, nor did we deserve our position. It is a grace and an obligation that demands to be shared.

To answer the last question, it is never too late for that.

This generation of Christians is responsible for this generation of souls on the earth! – Keith Green

Tomorrow. Tomorrow.

Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. – Proverbs 27:1

I always try to plan for tomorrow while still living for today, but it isn’t easy to pull off. Sometimes, it seems, I have a lot riding on the future, thinking that if something doesn’t happen the way I have it laid out, then I am defeated. The result is that I sometimes get ahead of myself and end up with some disappointment over failed plans. Unmet expectations can lead to frustration and impatience with my circumstances and my friends, coworkers, and family.

Why not use a different tactic? Yes, plan for tomorrow, but don’t boast about it. To plan is wise, but to boast is presumption. Boasting about future plans is akin to acting as if we have sovereign control over every circumstance and, of course, on God has such power.

Success in such matters is often seen in surrender. It is good to be bold, to “push the envelope,” to stretch the boundaries. This is how breakthroughs are achieved and new “wineskins” are formed. Resting on one’s “laurels” (past achievements) is not an acceptable path for a consecrated servant of God in Christ Jesus. On the other hand, resting in His dominion is the best possible direction for the saint who desires to please the Savior.

Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins. – Eric Liddell