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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