Friday, December 31, 2010

Step Three Out Of THE CAVE - RETURN To Your Place Of Service

What steps can you take to come out of THE CAVE (the place where ministry becomes misery)? We have already seen two.

REST Your Physical Body!

RENEW Your Spiritual Passion!

Now comes step three:

RETURN To Your Place Of Service!

In 1 Kings 19:15-19, God orders Elijah back into service. He gives him three specific commands to fulfill as His prophet:

Anoint Hazel king over Aram
Anoint Jehu king over Israel
Anoint Elisha as prophet in your place

The same principle is needed in your life if you are a pastor or ministry leader who has found yourself inside THE CAVE. You need to RETURN to your place of service. Whatever you have been called to do - do it!

RETURN to studying!
RETURN to preaching!
RETURN to teaching!
RETURN to leading!
RETURN to visiting!
RETURN to administrating!
RETURN to counseling!
RETURN to witnessing!
RETURN to singing!

And as you return, do so in power and confidence in the God who called you. In 1 Kings 19:18, God reminds and assures Elijah,

"Yet, I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him."

God reassures Elijah! And He reassures you today as well. And how did Elijah respond? 1 Kings 19:19 says,

"So he (Elijah) departed from there and found Elisha..."

He obeyed! He got back in the game! He RETURNED to his place of service. And so must you!

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Step Two Out Of THE CAVE - RENEW Your Spiritual Passion

I am now completing with the next few posts a series of postings from the life of Elijah describing THE CAVE (that place where ministry becomes misery). In this Old Testament account I see four steps out of THE CAVE. We saw the first step in my last posting - REST Your Physical Body (1 Kings 19:5-7). Now, we see Step #2:

RENEW Your Spiritual Passion (1 Kings 19:8-13). After the angel comes to Elijah and tells him to eat (as seen in my last posting) he sends Elijah to a certain location, "Horeb, the mountain of God" (1 Kings 19:8). Now what is significant about Mt Horeb? This is the same exact mountain where God appeared to Moses back in Exodus 3 and Exodus 19. It is here that God speaks to Elijah as well:

"So He (the Lord) said (to Elijah), 'Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.'" (1 Kings 19:11).

Herein lies a huge lesson that we must learn if we are going to take steps out of THE CAVE. It is essential that we return to a place in our lives and in our hearts where we can hear from God. When you are in THE CAVE it is paramount that you can distinguish the voice of God over the voice of Satan, over the voice of opposition, over the voice of isolation, over the voice of self-pity, over the voice of fear, and over the voice of hopelessness. And how was it that Elijah heard from God?

"And the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. It came about when Elijah heard it (the gentle blowing), that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, 'What are you doing here, Elijah.'" (1 kings 19:11-13)

God didn't speak to Elijah through the wind or the earthquake or the fire. He spoke to him through a gentle blowing. When you are in THE CAVE, you are looking for some great BANG from heaven with the voice of God giving you clear direction or a finger appearing and writing a message to you from Him on the wall of your office. But that's not how it works.

May I remind you that the main way God is going to speak to you and bring you refreshment is through His Inspired Word. For you to to RENEW Your Spiritual Passion, you need to return to that place in your life, centered around His Word, where God speaks to you. For me, it was returning to some elementary yet needed spiritual disciplines:

For me it included several things. First, solitude. I needed to find a place at the same time each day where I could get alone with God where no one else could see me or hear me. Second, Bible reading. I chose to spend time in 2 Corinthians where Paul shares very transparently about the ministry hurts he faced. Third, Scripture memory. As I would read, I would pick out one verse each day and commit it to memory, also taking time to review the previous day's verses. Fourth, journaling. I would take time each day to write down what I was going through and what God was teaching me through it. And finally, prayer. As my spiritual hero, Dr Jerry Falwell, would often say, "Nothing of eternal value happens a part from prayer!"

Are you ready to take some steps out of THE CAVE? Then Rest Your Spiritual Body and Renew Your Spiritual Passion. If you take time and listen real close, you may just be able to hear the Lord saying to your heart, "What are you doing here (in THE CAVE)?" (I Kings 19:13)

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Step One Out Of THE CAVE - REST Your Physical Body

Over the last several posts we have seen from the life of Elijah the prophet what life is like in THE CAVE - the place where ministry becomes misery. Now it is time to see how Elijah got out of THE CAVE and to apply those same principles to our lives today. From the story of Elijah we see four steps out of THE CAVE. The first step is this:

REST Your Physical Body (1 Kings 19:5-7)

As Elijah is curled up in THE CAVE isolated, fearful, full of self-pity and hopeless, an angel appears to him and the first thing the angel says is, "Arise, eat" (1 Kings 19:5). The Bible then says:

"Then he (Elijah) looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again." (1 Kings 19:6).

The Bible goes on to say that the angel appeared to Elijah a second time with the same command. "Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you" (1 Kings 19:7). Then the Bible says:

"So he (Elijah) arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. (1 Kings 19:8).

I find it more than interesting that the first command the angel gives Elijah in THE CAVE was to eat something. You will never find your way out of THE CAVE if you allow the ministry misery you are facing to affect the way you take care of your body. It is while you are in THE CAVE that it becomes easy to not sleep right (either too much or not enough sleep) and not eat right (stress eating, lack of nutritious eating, etc.). During a time in my ministry that I found myself in THE CAVE I made the determination not to stay there and I committed to the following physical disciplines:

I went on a balanced diet. For me this means eating several small and nutritious meals several times a day rather than two or three big meals. It also meant limiting my snacking at night to only two things which together did not exceed 200 calories.

I started exercising. I rode a stationary bike while I watched the news at night. I was disciplined to do this 3 to 4 times a week, 7.5 to 8 miles each night.

I refused to become lazy and over sleep. I limited myself to no more than 8 hours of sleep a night. If I went to bed at 11pm, I got up at 7am.

So if you find yourself in THE CAVE - then why not start taking steps today to come out. You can begin by RESTING your physical body. Take care of yourself. You will be amazed at how a healthy body can help give you a positive mind-set - even inside THE CAVE.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Life In THE CAVE - Isolation, Self-Pity and Hopelessness

What is ministry life like in THE CAVE (the place where ministry becomes misery)? In our last posting we saw that life in THE CAVE for the prophet Elijah was one of FEAR (1 Kings 19:3). But there are also three other descriptions of life in THE CAVE:

ISOLATION (1 Kings 19:3-4)

When Elijah left due to the threats of wicked Queen Jezebel, he ran as far south as he could go. He not only left behind his new founded supporters after winning the battle on Mt Carmel against the 450 prophets of Baal, but he also left behind his most trusted servant. That's what life in THE CAVE does. It causes you to isolate yourself and become an island all to yourself. Elijah found himself sitting all alone under a juniper tree and then ultimately in THE CAVE. Have you isolated yourself due to the ministry opposition you are facing? If so, you might be in THE CAVE.

SELF-PITY (1 Kings 19:10, 14)

When you are in THE CAVE all of your thoughts are inward focused. In Elijah's case he developed a "martyr" complex. Look at his words:

"I (as opposed to everyone else) have been jealous for God"

"I am the only one left who really serves God"

"Everyone is out to get me"

It's as if you can hear him saying, "No one likes me. Everyone hates me. I think I'll go eat worms." This is what THE CAVE will do to you.

HOPELESSNESS (1 Kings 19:4)

For Elijah, his hopelessness went the full mile. He simply wanted to die. Life was no longer worth living and death seemed far more appealing. Elijah felt completely useless seen by these words,

"And he (Elijah) requested of himself that he might die, and said, 'It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.'" (1 Kings 19:4)

And it is at this point that many a pastor bails out of ministry for good. After all, who can be expected to live a ministry life filled with fear, isolation, self-pity and hopelessness. But wait! There is a way out of THE CAVE. Beginning in my next post I will share four steps to get out of THE CAVE. These steps worked for Elijah. They can also work for you. And if you are a hurting pastor who has found yourself deep in THE CAVE where ministry becomes misery, these next few posts may just be the greatest Christmas present you will receive this year!

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Life In THE CAVE - Fear

Since December 13th we have been looking at ministry life in THE CAVE (the place where ministry becomes misery) as seen in the life of the Old Testament Prophet named Elijah. We have seen three principles about THE CAVE:

THE CAVE can become reality even to the most successful of pastors and ministry leaders! (December 15th's posting)

THE CAVE can become even more possible after a great spiritual victory! (December 17th's posting)

Entering THE CAVE is often the result of one person who opposes us! (December 20th's posting).

But what is life like inside THE CAVE? Have you ever tried to describe chocolate to someone who has never tasted chocolate? Where would you even begin? The same is true in trying to describe life in THE CAVE. If you have never been there, you just can't understand. In Elijah's case in 1 Kings 19, there are four characteristics of life in THE CAVE. The first one is:


Due to the opposition of Jezebel, Elijah was filled with fear:

"And he was afraid and rose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba" (1 Kings 19:3).

His fear caused him to run to Beersheba which was the southernmost city in Judah. In other words, he didn't just run - he ran as far away as he could go. Fear now ruled his life and so it does with those who are in THE CAVE. There is the fear of losing your status as a successful pastor! There is the fear of losing your job and your salary! There is the fear of how this will affect your family!

And these fears can consume your thinking 24 hours a day. Your fear can cause you to become highly suspicious of everyone around you and force your mind to play over and over again all of the "worst case scenarios." Fear will affect your sleeping as you spend all night looking at the ceiling going through all of the "what ifs" surrounding your situation. Suddenly you become full of paranoia and mistrust as a result of fear.

An even worse, your fear results in your doing even less ministry. That was the case with Elijah. After the battle of Mt Carmel, there was never a more ripe time to see ministry expanded and the possibility of national revival in Israel take place. But where was Elijah? he was in THE CAVE filled with FEAR.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

THE CAVE - Principle #3

So far we have seen two principles regarding THE CAVE (the place where ministry becomes misery) from the life and ministry of Elijah. They are:

THE CAVE can become reality even to the most successful of pastors and ministry leaders! (December 15th's posting)

THE CAVE becomes even more possible after a great spiritual victory! (December 17th's posting)

Now we see principle #3 regarding doing ministry from within THE CAVE. Here it is:

"Entering THE CAVE is often a result of one person who opposes us!"

In Elijah's case it was the wicked Queen Jezebel. When I think of the story of Elijah, I like to call it by the title of the old Clint Eastwood western, "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!" Here is how the characters breakdown:

The Good = Elijah
The Bad = King Ahab
The Ugly = Queen Jezebel

After Elijah's victory on Mt Carmel that we looked at in the last posting, King Ahab ran home and told his despicable wife, Jezebel, all that had happened at the hands of the Prophet Elijah. This resulted in Jezebel sending a message to Elijah threatening to kill him within 24 hours:

"Now Ahab had told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, 'So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.'" (1 Kings 19:1-2)

Elijah had just taken on and killed 450 prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel. Yet now, he was letting one person who stood in opposition to him drive him from the mountain top of spiritual victory and into THE CAVE.

it's true - entering THE CAVE is often the result of one person who opposes us! I heard a preacher say the same thing one time only he put it like this, "There is always a Judas in your life and they are usually close enough to kiss you."

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Friday, December 17, 2010

THE CAVE - Principle #2

In my last post we saw the first principle about THE CAVE (the place where ministry becomes misery) as seen in the story of the Old Testament prophet, Elijah:

"THE CAVE can become reality even to the most successful of pastors and ministry leaders!"

Today we see principle #2:

"THE CAVE can become even more possible after a great spiritual victory!

In 1 Kings 19 we find Elijah in THE CAVE. But where was this great man of God in chapter 18? He was standing on top of Mt Carmel where he had just been the victor in one of the greatest battles in all of Scripture.

Elijah had ordered Ahab to meet him on Mt Carmel with all of Israel and the 450 prophets of Baal. Here he challenged these prophets to a "winner take all" showdown. Each side would take an ox, prepare it for sacrifice, and then call on the name of their God to provide the fire. Whichever God responded first would be the winner. The Prophets of Baal had all of the advantages:

It was 450 of them against just 1 prophet of Jehovah!

Mt Carmel supposedly was the home of Baal, so they had "home field advantage" sort of speak!

Baal would get to go first! What a risk this was. If Baal answered first, the contest would be over before Elijah could ever get the first prayer out of his mouth.

Elijah would have his sacrifice drenched with water!

The prophets of Baal started. From morning until noon they cried out to Baal but with no response whatsoever. Elijah began to mock Baal by using simple human terms to describe this so-called deity. The false prophets even cut themselves to get Baal's attention. 1 Kings 18 goes on to say that they cried out with a "loud voice" which is a term used in Deuteronomy 14:1 to describe the cry of those grieving and mourning for the dead. This emotional frenzy continued until evening but still there was no response.

It was then Elijah's turn. The prophet of God took 12 stones, representing the 12 tribes of Israel, and repaired the altar of the Lord. He had a trench dug around the altar and prepared the wood and the sacrifice. He then had the sacrifice and the wood soaked to the point that it filled the trench with water. Then Elijah prayed and fire immediately came down from heaven with such force that it consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the altar and the water that was in the trench.

There would be no question to all of Israel as to who the real God was. It was Jehovah - not Baal. So Elijah commanded that all the false prophets of Baal be killed. This was not an act of vengeance but one of obedience to the command of God to put to death all false prophets as seen in Deuteronomy 13:1-5.

It's almost funny, isn't it (at least to everyone except Elijah)? In one chapter Elijah is standing in victory on Mt Carmel and in the next chapter he is in THE CAVE saying, "God, just kill me." But I have found that this is exactly how Satan seems to work.

Maybe it is because we have a tendency to let our spiritual guard down while we are basking in the sweet glow of ministry success. Maybe it's because these victories have a tendency to cause us to start depending on God far less and depending on ourselves far more. But either way you look at it, the principle about THE CAVE remains true..."THE CAVE becomes even more possible after a great spiritual victory!"

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

THE CAVE - Principle #1

In my last blog posting I introduced to you ministry life from within THE CAVE (the place where ministry becomes misery) as seen in the life of the Old Testament Prophet, Elijah. This man of God was no "run of the mill" prophet. Hundreds of years after his ministry was over, the Holy Spirit of God inspired James, when writing part of the New Testament, to pen the words, "The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much." Then, out of all of the spiritual giants of the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit led James to choose Elijah as an example of this fact.

"The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit" (James 5:16b-18).

The word "effective" carries the idea of "energy." Of all of the incredible men and women of prayer seen in the Old Testament (Daniel, Job, David, Hannah) the Holy Spirit guided James to pick Elijah who with energy prayed that it would not rain - and it didn't. And then he prayed that it would rain - and it did (see 1 Kings 18:41-46). This guy had one major effective ministry and he was a proven prayer warrior, yet he found himself inside of THE CAVE. That brings to us our first principle about THE CAVE:

Principle #1 - "THE CAVE can become reality even to the most successful of pastors and ministry leaders."

It doesn't matter how big of a church you pastor or how small it might be. It doesn't matter if your preaching is classified as far more dynamic than most others. It doesn't matter what school you went to for training or what denomination you are part of - you still just may experience what it is like to do ministry from within THE CAVE.

If you are in THE CAVE presently, that does not mean that there is something deeply wrong with you or that you are a failure. Elijah experienced THE CAVE. Many good and faithful servants of God have experienced THE CAVE. Remember, THE CAVE can become reality even to the most successful of pastors and ministry leaders - even you.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Ministry In THE CAVE

I had heard about THE CAVE and had even talked to those who had experienced it, but until I found myself deep within its cold, dark confines, I really had no idea how miserable ministry could be inside of it. That is really what THE CAVE is - it is the place where ministry becomes misery.

You don't hear much about THE CAVE when you are preparing for ministry. You should. After all, very few pastors will get through a lifetime of ministry without experiencing it up close and personal. In fact, it will be THE CAVE that will end many a pastor's life in ministry. As I talk with seasoned pastors, they all seemingly have one thing in common - they have experienced ministry inside of THE CAVE and they often still have the scars to prove it.

You can have others tell you about what it is like to do ministry from within THE CAVE but until you've been there...

Until you know what it looks like...

Until you know what it feels like...

Until you know what it sounds like...

Until you know what it smells like...

Until will never truly understand. Once you get a whiff from inside the cave, the smell never really leaves your nostrils. It is an aroma that you will remember and that will impact you the rest of your life.

But THE CAVE is not a new concept in ministry. One of the greatest Old Testament characters in the Hebrew Scriptures may have just been the one to discover it - Elijah. In 1 Kings 19 we read:

"Then he (Elijah) came there to THE CAVE and lodged there." (1 Kings 19:9)

It is from Elijah's life that we learn some very real principles about THE CAVE. Over the next several postings I will share with you from the life of Elijah the following aspects of ministry life in THE CAVE:

Three Principles About THE CAVE!

Four Characteristics Of Life In THE CAVE!

Four Steps To Get Out Of THE CAVE!

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Reading List Christmas Gift Ideas - Part 2

In my last posting I showed 3 books that were very beneficial for me as I went through a very painful time in my ministry. If you are a pastor going through a tough time, here are two more books I strongly recommend. If you know a pastor who is going through a hurtful time in their ministry, why not consider one of these books as a Christmas gift for them?

Beginning Monday I will start a new series of postings from the life of the Old Testament Prophet, Elijah!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Reading List Christmas Gift Ideas - Part 1

Christmas is right around the corner so if you know of a pastor in ministry that is hurting right now, why not consider putting a good book under their tree. In my blog posting today and Friday, I will share 5 books that were very helpful for me as a pastor when I was going through a difficult ministry period.

I'll show the final two books in Friday's blog!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Two Sides Of Ministry

"By glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers, and yet true." (2 Corinthians 6:8)

Receiving Glory!

Good Report!

Seen As True!

Those are three wonderful aspects of faithful ministry to those God has called to a life of serving Christ and His church. There will be many who shower you with glory. I have notebooks filled with hundreds and hundreds of notes, cards, and emails from people who shared with me amazingly kind words about my ministry in their lives. There will be times of good reports as people see how God is using your ministry and rejoice with you. And there will be many who will take notice of the purity and truth of your motives and desires and applaud your passion and energy for the Lord.

But those are not the only words Paul uses to describe life in ministry. Next to each of them he adds their painful and stinging counterparts:

Being Dishonored!

Having An Evil Report!

Being A Deceiver!

In ministry, these will become very true as well. Some may dishonor you. Some may spread evil reports about you. You may even be accused by others of being a deceiver. And make no mistake - these times hurt - they hurt real bad. There are two sides to ministry. Some will RESPECT you while others will RESENT you. Some will ADORE you while others will ATTACK you. How do you respond? You respond to both sides the same way:

Be HUMBLE - it's not about you!

Be FAITHFUL - it's all about God!

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Endurance 101

"But in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distress, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger." (2 Corinthians 6:4-5)

2 Corinthians 6:4-5 gives us quite the list, doesn't it? I don't know about you but they did not show me this list when I was in Bible College or Seminary. There seriously should have been a class called "Endurance 101" with each class period going over one of the many difficulties of ministry. If Paul were teaching it the schedule would look like this:

Class 1 - Enduring Afflictions
Class 2 - Enduring Hardships
Class 3 - Enduring Distresses
Class 4 - Enduring Beatings
Class 5- Enduring Imprisonment
Class 6 - Enduring Tumults
Class 7 - Enduring Labors
Class 8 - Enduring Sleeplessness
Class 9 - Enduring Hunger

If I were teaching the class the list of lecture topics might look a bit different. In fact, each professor who might teach this course would most likely alter the topic list based on their own ministry scars and experiences.

But no matter what topics are covered, the truth is that there is a low side to ministry and very few pastors and ministry leaders will skate through their lives without experiencing the gut-wrenching pain that comes with their calling. Paul didn't escape it. I didn't escape it. And if you are reading this posting then you have most likely not been able to escape it either.

That's why we have to go back to the first word Paul uses in the verse. It is the theme. it is the need. It is endurance - holding up under the weight of a ministry that hurts.

So my friend, ENDURE!

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Divine Appointments (Lessons From Two Jim's)

"Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men..." (2 Corinthians 5:11)

"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us, we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." (2 Corinthians 5:20)

Hurts in ministry have a way of turning your focus from being outward to being inward. Suddenly, every moment of every day is focused on "me" and what is happening to "me" and how "I" am being treated and how it is making "me" feel and how it is impacting "my" life.

When I become fully focused on "me" I lose sight of my main calling which is to "go into all the world and make disciples." Paul was going through horrible affliction in ministry, yet he remained focused outward on those who needed Christ.

Two men, each named Jim, helped me to see how in my own life I had allowed my hurt and pain to change my focus from outward to inward. I was counseling one Jim who had begun to attend our church. He had never really thought much of 'church' but God had recently led him to our local church and Jim was realizing that the Bible really did apply to his life. He struggled with how forgiveness of sin and eternal life could be a free gift. He felt it only made sense that he needed to earn something so valuable. These meetings with Jim were like an oasis in a desert for me during a very difficult time in ministry. He was eagerly embracing the truth of the Gospel and ultimately Jim crossed that line of faith and trusted the death and resurrection of Jesus alone for his forgiveness and salvation.

The other Jim I met while attending a Leadership Development Training out west. I was the only pastor there as this was a corporate leadership training. To spend an entire week with a dozen secular leaders from all over the country brought quite many opportunities but, sad to say, things had become so bad by the way of ministry challenges back home that I was struggling to focus on anything but "me." God brought me back to the proper focus through what I like to call a "Divine Appointment."

I was taking a walk back at the hotel when I passed Jim, who was also attending this training. He was on the phone, and being in the inward frame of mind that I was, I fully intended to pass right by him. However, Jim noticed me and motioned for me to stop while he finished his phone conversation. He asked if I wanted to go grab a bite to eat. Honestly, I didn't want to but I could sense that this was being orchestrated by the Holy Spirit.

It didn't take long at dinner for Jim to share his spiritual journey with me even though we had just met that morning. What a joy it was to share with Jim steps he could take to continue moving forward toward a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Even in your greatest pain, if you will take your eyes of of "me" you will find Divine Appointments that God has arranged for you, His ambassador on earth. After all, there are many Jim's right around you!

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Keep Your Nose Clean

"Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him." (2 Corinthians 5:9)

Death - the final frontier. That is Paul's topic in the first ten verses of 2 Corinthians chapter five. It is a passage brimming with hope. Paul likens our physical bodies here on earth to being like tents. There are two facts about tents. First, they are only temporary dwelling places. You don't live in a tent your whole life. Our physical bodies are not designed to be our permanent dwelling - they are like a tent. And second, tents wear out. So do our bodies. And as a result, Paul tells us that we groan for that day when we shall take off these earthly tents - these bodies - and put on our eternal bodies in heaven. And the pathway to this new home will be death. Paul describes the joy of this coming day with the words...

"...absent from the body and at home with the Lord."

As a result of this certainty Paul tells us to make one thing our ambition, whether in life or in death, and that is to...

" pleasing to God!"

Let me remind you that as a follower of Jesus Christ and a child of the living God, the best is yet to come for you! You may be hurting right now. You may feel like a failure. Your character may be under assault. You may be feeling the agonizing sting of betrayal and disloyalty. You may even be seeing the proverbial "handwriting on the wall" showing you that your time at your current ministry is coming to an end - but I can assure you of this - THE BEST IS YET TO COME!

Because that is true, make it your number one ambition, even in the midst of your uncertainty and pain, to be pleasing to God. When I was going through one of the most difficult times of my ministry career I called up my mentor in ministry on the phone. This was the man who taught me everything I know about being a pastor. And his biggest piece of advice for me was along the same lines, only he put it this way - "Keep your nose clean!"

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Friday, November 26, 2010

The Squeeze Is on

"We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed." (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

I remember those old episodes of "Batman" that I watched on television when I was a kid. The Dynamic Duo would always get in a jam that seemed like it would be the end of the caped crusader and his sidekick, Robin. They would be locked inside a room and suddenly all four walls would start closing in on them as would the ceiling and the floor. Soon it appeared that they would be turned into "Bat-cakes." And the voice of the announcer would then say, "Will this be the end of Batman and Robin? Find out tomorrow - same bat-time, same bat-channel." And what happened in the next day's episode? Batman always found a way out!

That episode seems to be a lot like what the Apostle Paul is describing in his ministry. He said that he was "afflicted." The word carries the idea of feeling pressure. And Paul further says that he was being afflicted (feeling pressure) in "every way." he wasn't just feeling pressure from one source. He was feeling pressure from multiple sources. it was like the walls were caving in on him. So what walls are "squeezing" in on you today?

Ministry walls?
Marital walls?
Parental walls?
Financial walls?
Relational walls?
Spiritual walls?
Physical walls?
Emotional walls?
Mental walls?

As the walls continue to squeeze in on you are you hearing that announcer's voice in your head saying, "Will he or she make it? Will this be the end for this ministry leader?" Well, you don't have to wait until tomorrow for the next episode to see what happens. You can know the answer today. Paul says, "We are afflicted (pressured, squeezed) in every way (from multiple walls) - BUT NOT CRUSHED!

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I Repeat - Do Not Lose Heart

"Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart." (2 Corinthians 4:1)

"Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day." (2 Corinthians 4:16)

What is the best way to learn something? It is through repetition. That is why effective marketing has a lot of repetition in it. I could start different commercial jingles or slogans and you could most likely finish them without much of a problem. Why? Because you have heard them over and over and over and over again.

So when the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the Bible to repeat something we ought to sit up and really take notice. I mean, everything in the Bible is very important but those principles that are repeated are that much more important for us to learn, remember and apply to our lives.

Such is the case with the fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians. Paul opens the chapter in verse one with the words:

"...we do not lose heart."

He then wraps up the thought in verse 16 with the same exact repetition:

"Therefore, we do not lose heart."

And Paul tells us why and how this can be, even when you are facing challenges in your ministry. Not losing heart is tied directly to having an eternal perspective. Your affliction is real - but it is light in comparison to the weight of glory it is producing in your life. The present pain being caused by your affliction in ministry does not even begin to compare with the eternal reward it will produce in you.

So today, my fellow follower of Jesus Christ and hurting ministry leader, do not lose heart! Let me repeat that! DO NOT LOSE HEART!

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Do Not Lose Heart

"Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart." (2 Corinthians 4:1)

I have three questions for you if you are currently going through a very tough ministry challenge:

Do you have a ministry?
Has God shown you mercy?
Then why are you losing heart?

When you go through the trials of ministry, be it problems or people, the natural outcome is that you begin to lose heart. Is that happening to you? Are any of the following statements a bulls-eye for describing you at this point in your ministry life?

I don't look forward to going into the office!
I lack the joy I once had in ministry!
I feel like a ministry failure!
My ministry trials are affecting my eating!
My ministry trials are affecting my sleeping!
I feel depressed, anxious and fearful!

Now let's go back to the original three questions:

Do you have a ministry? If the answer is yes, then this is God's calling on your life, at least for now. You are serving Him.

Has God shown you mercy? I once heard mercy defined as "God's ministry to the miserable." Can you see the fingerprints of God ministering to you?

If the answer to both of these questions is "YES," then the third question becomes almost rhetorical, "Why are you losing heart?" If God has given you a ministry today and has shown you His mercy today - then respond by serving Him today with all of your heart!


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Friday, November 19, 2010

Both Sides Of The Same Package

"...We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted; but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed." (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

The following four descriptions were true of Paul due to the affliction that he was facing because of being involved in ministry:

He was afflicted in every way!
He was perplexed!
He was persecuted!
He was struck down!

And though you are never taught this in Bible College or Seminary, the truth is that everyone who commits their life to full-time ministry will experience this same package on some level.

The word "perplexed" stands out to me. It is the idea of having "no way out." That is one of the hardest parts of facing adversities within our ministries. In most cases, it is impossible to defend ourselves without coming across disagreeable or without "pouring the proverbial gas on the fire." In ministry you may be afflicted in every way. You may feel perplexed - like there is no way out. You may at times be persecuted. And you may even find yourself being struck down.

That package was true in Paul's day and it is still true in our day as well. But that is only half the story! Even during Paul's experiencing these four traits in his affliction, he also found the other side of the package to be equally as true:

Though afflicted, he was not crushed!
Though perplexed, he was not despairing!
Though persecuted, he was not forsaken!
Though struck down, he was not destroyed!

Yes, my friend, it is possible to be afflicted in every way but still not be crushed! It is possible to be perplexed and feel like there is no way out but still not be despairing! It is possible to be persecuted but still not be forsaken! And it is possible, through God, to be struck down, but even then, to not be destroyed! You are not destroyed!

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Your Adequacy

"Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God." (2 Corinthians 3:5)

Back in 2 Corinthians 2:14, Paul taught us that we always triumph in Christ (see my blog posting for Nov 15). As a result, we are manifesting the sweet aroma of the knowledge of God in every place. He then goes in in verses 15 and 16 to say that this aroma is the sweet smelling aroma of life to those who will receive its message and find spiritual life in Christ. But to the one who will reject our message of Christ, it is the stench of spiritual death. With this in mind, Paul asks a stunning question at the end of verse 16:

"And who is adequate for these things?"

Who is adequate to be the aroma of life and death in Christ? Who is adequate to give their life to ministry? What makes you adequate as a pastor or a ministry leader? Is it the size of your ministry? Is it the financial stability of your ministry? Is it the awards and verbal recognitions that you might receive from others?

For many in ministry, we find our adequacy and our significance in our results and in the acknowledgments of others. As a result, when we go through a season when we aren't growing in numbers, when our ministry is struggling financially, or when others are criticizing us, we feel like failures. And the feeling of failure will quickly rob you of your joy and passion in doing what God has called you to do.

And this will always be the case until we learn that our adequacy in ministry does not come from anything within ourselves, but rather, our adequacy comes only from God. If anything good comes from your ministry - it is because of God, not you. If your ministry grows - it is because of God, not you. If your ministry is financially stable - it is because of God, not you. If you receive high achievement awards and amazing words of commendation - it is because of God, not you.

In the end, it is not the size of your ministry, the financial stability of your ministry, or the commendations you receive because of your ministry that count. It is the changed lives that have resulted - that's what counts. That is the goal. And you cannot change a life. Only God can!

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Monday, November 15, 2010

You WIN Today!

"But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place." (2 Corinthians 2:14)

When Paul speaks of our triumph in Christ, he is speaking of a Roman Triumph which in essence was a day-long parade and celebration to honor the conquering general who had returned home victoriously with his troops from the battlefield. According to Paul, spiritually we are always part of a triumph through our conqueror, Jesus Christ. He has won the battle for us. We now rejoice in and celebrate His victory.

This was true yesterday!
This is true today!
This will be true tomorrow!
This will be true throughout the rest of your life!
This will be true throughout all of eternity!


Even in the middle of your hurt,
Even in the middle of your pain, YOU WIN!
Even when the tears flow down from your face, YOU WIN!
Even when you lay awake at night staring at the ceiling, YOU WIN!

And because YOU WIN, no matter how the struggle you are going through in ministry ends, you can still rejoice. No matter what this day throws at you, you can still rejoice. No matter what new adversity comes your way today or tomorrow, you can still rejoice.

How should this realization affect your response to affliction, even in ministry? Your focus should be simple - manifesting to others around you, even those who may be causing your pain, the "sweet aroma" of the knowledge of God.

YOU WIN! Can you smell it?

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Friday, November 12, 2010

The Danger Of Unforgiveness

"For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world and especially toward you." (2 Corinthians 1:12)

"Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes." (2 Corinthians 2:8, 11)

Paul is addressing with the Corinthians a situation in which someone has wronged the church, repented, and yet the church was not responding with the forgiveness they should have reflected. He tells them of their need to reaffirm their love for this individual. He says that failure to do so gives an advantage to the evil one.

As you go through your ministry hurt, chances are very good that a person or persons were involved in causing some or much of your pain. But now you must forgive them. If you don't, two things will surely happen. First, Satan will get an advantage in your life, in your church, in your family, and even in your ministry. And second, the advantage you give to Satan through unforgiveness will most definitely result in his attacking your mind.

Paul says, "We are not ignorant of his schemes." The word "schemes" means "mind". In other words, we are not ignorant of his "mind games." That is how Satan attacks us - through deceptive, accusatory and tempting thoughts. When we refuse to forgive we give him an advantage - a foothold into our thinking. And suddenly, we don't just think about the untrue and unbiblical thoughts he fills our mind with, we begin to believe those thoughts. And because thinking always affects our behavior, we begin to react based on our wrong thinking.

As a result, instead of acting in a way that is full of holiness, godly sincerity and the grace of God, we react out of fleshly wisdom. Unforgiveness leads to wrong thinking and wrong thinking leads to wrong behavior. Don't give Satan the advantage. Chose to forgive.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Trust In The Lord

"For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction...that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves so we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raised the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope." (2 Corinthians 1:8-10)

In Asia, Paul and his companions had suffered intense personal and physical affliction which had three results on them:

They were burdened excessively
They were burdened beyond their strength
They were burdened to the point that they despaired even of life

In other words, they were certain that the affliction they faced would end in their physical death. They had "the sentence of death within themselves." But even this seemingly fatal cloud hanging over their ministry heads had a silver-lining. It caused them to trust fully in God. Their fate was out of their control. They had no choice but to trust God alone. As a result, they set their hope on Him.

If your affliction in ministry results in your fully trusting God - setting your hope on Him and Him alone - then it is worth every hurt, every bruise, every tear, and every sleepless night. You cannot avoid pain in ministry but you can avoid your pain resulting in your becoming bitter toward ministry. That's what pain will do. It will cause you to become BITTER or it will cause you to become BETTER. The choice is dependent on "Who" you trust while you are going through the storm.

As my Grandpa, who had been a pastor for nearly 50 years, battled the final days of his fight against cancer, he told me these words,

"All my life I have preached Proverbs 3:5-6, 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will direct your paths.' But now, I really know what those verses mean."

Don't let your hurt make you BITTER! Allow your pain to make you BETTER by learning to trust God more fully!

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Monday, November 8, 2010

The Purpose of Pain

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all of our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort we ourselves are comforted by God." (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

Pain has a purpose - no matter what the type of pain it may be. Every affliction has a reason -even in ministry. One reason is so that in the future God can use us to "come along side" others who are going through a similar pain. It is a fact - pain is a prerequisite for true empathy. For example:

A woman who has been through breast cancer can best be the one to "come along side" of another woman who has just learned that she has breast cancer.

A parent who has lost a child to death can best be the one to "come along side" of another parent who is about to lose a child to death.

A pastor who has experienced a hurtful ministry can best be the one to "come along side" of another pastor who is going through a challenging time in ministry.

Think of it this way. I heard a preacher once say that every time Jesus distributed bread in Scripture, He always used the same approach:

He TOOK the bread!
He BLESSED the bread!
He BROKE the bread!
He GAVE the bread!

And so it seems to be the same pattern with God's servants. He TAKES us! He BLESSES us! But He then BREAKS us before He can ultimately GIVE us!

Are you in the process of being broken? Are you learning right now what it means to be broken - even in ministry? Then take heart! Take courage! Take comfort! Take joy! If God is breaking you, resulting in many tears and even sleepless nights, it is probably because He is getting ready to give you to someone else who you will be able to "come along side" of because you have experienced the same pain.

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Friday, November 5, 2010

The God Of ALL Comfort

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction..." (2 Corinthians 1:3-4a)

Many names and titles are used in the Bible to describe God. But if you are a pastor in ministry who is hurting one of the most precious titles is, "The God of all comfort."

He isn't the God of SOME comfort!
He isn't the God of MOST comfort!
He is the God of ALL comfort!

There is no struggle that you are facing in ministry, no hurt that you are feeling, that is beyond God's ability to comfort. Because He is the God of all comfort, He can, "Comfort us in all our affliction."

He isn't just able to comfort us in SOME of our affliction!
He isn't just able to comfort us in MOST of our affliction!
He is able to comfort us in ALL of our affliction!

BUT WAIT! What does God mean by "comfort"? When we are hurting we want to interpret comfort as "God fixes my situation." We want to define comfort as "God removes my adversity." But that is not what the word "comfort" means. The word literally means "to come along side." He is a God who "comes along side of us" in our affliction.

So maybe it's time to change the way we pray regarding "comfort" when we are hurting. Instead of praying, "God, fix my problem"; instead of praying, "God, take away my adversity"; maybe we should pray this,

"God, please come along side of me through this hurt. And when this affliction is over, whenever that is and however that looks, help me to be more in love with you; more in love with my spouse; more in love with the local church; and more in love with my calling. As much as this affliction hurts, please don't let it end until I have learned everything You want me to learn through it. And most of all, please stay right alongside of me for the entire journey. Amen."

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Called By The Will Of God

"Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Corinthians 1:1-2)

Every person who has served as a pastor or ministry leader has the scars to show for it. Our job is to shepherd the sheep, but as the old saying goes, "Sheep bite." They also kick. There are times that the opposition and the unfair personal attacks hurt so bad and can so weigh us down that we can lose our joy in ministry. We don't look forward to going into the office. We hesitate to check our email. We even wonder at times if it's worth it. Once in my ministry it got so bad that I found myself with a severe case of "McEnvy" as I watched the man working behind the McDonalds counter put my order together and I started wishing that I had his job instead of mine.

The Apostle Paul went through these painful times in ministry as well but as he opens this very transparent letter to the church at Corinth he reminds them, and himself, that he is an Apostle, not because it was easy, not because of the fanfare it brought, not even because it was his choice alone, but "by the will of God." It was his calling and this calling came from God. Nothing could change that. It is in the most hurtful times of our ministry that we must fall back on our calling..."Scott, a pastor by the will of God." It is your calling that will keep you moving forward when ministry brings the most pain.

I remember my final conversation with my Grandpa before he died. He had been a pastor for nearly 50 years and had experienced the many joys of ministry. But he also had many scars as a result. His last words to me, his preacher grandson, were, "Don't ever give up on the Lord." I think I know now what he was saying back then. As a pastor there would be hurts and heartaches. There would be times that every fiber of your being would want to throw in the towel and call it quits. You will get, "McEnvy." But in those times - no matter how bad it gets - NEVER GIVE UP ON THE LORD! You are a pastor called "by the will of God."

So, hurting pastor, be reminded today of your calling. Fall back on it. And no matter how bad it gets - NEVER GIVE UP ON THE LORD!

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Hope For Hurting Pastors

I have talked to many pastors in recent months and have found what seems to be one universal truth - almost all of them have scars - scars from hurts that they have experienced due to being in minstry. No wonder so many pastors drop out of ministry. The wounds that often come with being in ministry can be some of the most painful wounds one can ever experience. But yet, even among the pains associated with ministry there is still hope. That is what this blog is all about. In it I will be posting lessons I have learned through my hurts in pastoral ministry that have allowed me to still be able to find hope. It is my prayer that as God might lead others going through ministry storms to this website that these lessons will also be used by the Lord to provide HOPE FOR HURTING PASTORS.

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