Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
We all have seasons in our lives when we need a little help. And, given the choice between someone who has already been through my issue versus some spiritual leader who knows nothing about my issue, I’ll take the former every time. If you think about it, it just makes sense. As you are climbing that mountain, you can listen to the guy on the ground below you who has never been up that mountain or you can listen to the guy above you who has just come up that same climb. Who would you choose?
God’s community is set up that way. There are times and circumstances in our lives when we’re the ones who need the help and there are seasons when we make ourselves available to others in a sacrificial way. Often, those seasons even overlap and we find ourselves in both positions simultaneously. In the support group arena, it is always a significant moment in the recovery journey when a person stops focusing inwardly and begins to ask how he/she can turn outward and begin to help others on this same journey.
So what does this all mean for you and for your church? On any given Sunday morning, within your church, you will find two kinds of people: (1) people who are there to be comforted and ministered to, and (2) people who are there to comfort and minister to others. You may have found that you are capable of being in either group, depending on …
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up…“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. Exodus 3:1-2, 5-6
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. Exodus 34:29-30
Sometimes, I find myself concerned about how easily we as church leaders throw around the notion of God speaking to us. It seems to me that we are often guilty of speaking about that possibility as if we’re describing what we had for breakfast. In scripture, when God makes an appearance and speaks to one of His servants, or when one of His servants has just come from being in the presence of God, it is never a small thing. It is something that forever changes that servant, and that change is evident to the rest of God’s people.
So, as I ponder Moses’ friendship with God, I come away with a few observations that I find …
…live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 1 Peter 1:17
Every year my ministry takes a team to South Africa. It is always a Spirit-filled time with old friends and new friends alike.
Over my years of making this trip, I have come to know some things about that country…things about it’s people, it’s society, and its politics. I’m still learning the right questions to ask and the ones not to ask…when to ask them and when not to ask them. In so many ways, it is not unlike here in the U.S. Like here, there is within the church a degree of discontent with the moral and political directions that country seems to be headed.
When our team finds ourselves in those conversations, there is always some “freedom” in being able to say, “We’re not from here.” We can still have an opinion, even a Biblical perspective on the issue, but we are not in any position to impose those opinions on a country where we are only visitors. We have now grasped what it feels like to be “ambassadors for Christ” in a foreign land. We have the freedom (and the responsibility) to speak the truth, but no freedom (nor responsibility) to try to force it or to impose it on anyone. That is not our business.
In the end, the distinction between those two postures can be a thin line. Somehow, being foreigners in that land, it is an easier distinction to grasp. Speak the truth, in love, but do not seek political power to impose that truth on a country where we are mere visitors.
As I meditate on Peter’s words above…live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear…I feel just a little more clarity about …
What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. Psalm 8:4-5
Back in 1985, when I came out of law school and started work as a very wet-behind-the-ears lawyer, I expected to be stuck in the back of a law library for at least a year or two before I would be entrusted with anything which actually required much judgment on my part. I fully expected I would be researching and reading and gathering documents and other such tasks which were reasonably “safe” for a baby lawyer to handle. Imagine my surprise, then, in my FIRST WEEK ON THE JOB, when one partner handed me a file to take before a jury in just 3 short months and another partner handed me an appellate brief to prepare and argue before the Texas Court of Appeals in just 6 short months. I was scared to death! I was in pretty far over my head. I would not have done it that way. I thought to myself…they must really trust me!
I say it often about God and the church…I would not have done it this way. If I were God, I would not have chosen this strategy to reach this lost and broken world. To be blunt, I would never have entrusted my name and my reputation into the hands of a bunch of broken, flawed people like you and me. What an enormous risk!
In my work as a peacemaker in the church, I get the privilege of seeing the church often at its very worst behavior. I am reminded over and over again just how flawed we are…how very capable we are …
All the believers were together and had everything in common.They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Acts 2:44-45
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them allthat there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the salesand put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. Acts 4:32-35
Here’s a test question for you as a church leader: which is more “successful”…ministering to the needs of 50,000 people by mobilizing 5 people…or ministering to the needs of only 500 people by mobilizing 500 people?
Some 15 to 20 years ago (suddenly feeling great surprise that it’s been that long now) my wife, our two little girls and I joined a small team of about 5 other families, all spending our Spring Break on mission in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, doing Vacation Bible School at a small church there. Over the ensuing 8 years, that same trip grew to become a church-wide Spring Break family mission trip of some 100-150 “missionaries” ranging in age from 6-months to 80-years. We had medical mission teams, construction teams, music teams, drama groups, VBS on multiple sites, sports evangelism teams and even pastoral care teams. We gathered everyone together at our campsite every night for worship and reporting. As you might imagine, it was chaotic and fantastic all at the same time. There was no childcare ministry…we all took care …
Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness…As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. Matthew 10:1, 7-8
I have a ministry. Well, it belongs to God, not to me…but you know what I mean. I have been entrusted with an amazing ministry and an amazing message about unity among God’s people. I know the feeling of ownership of a ministry. I know the pressures of stewardship of such a message. And I know the stress of placing the reputation, the very name, of that ministry into other people’s hands. I know what it feels like to send other people out in the name of Christian Unity Ministries, placing them in control of our reputation, and having little or no control over how they will exercise that stewardship.
So I am more than just a little bit amazed at what Jesus does in Matthew 10, sending out the twelve to perform miracles in His name. There was no tutorial about casting out demons. There was no dress rehearsal for any of them to practice raising the dead. He just gave them the authority, gave them a few verses of instruction, and sent them out. Surely they did not all take to this task naturally. There had to have been some humorous “fails” (like the one at the foot of the mountain in Matthew 17:16…I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him). Nevertheless, Jesus empowered them, authorized them, and sent them out to do His Father’s work, and he exercised virtually no …
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14
Change is inevitable. We can fight it, we can rebel against it, we can pretend it doesn’t exist. We can hide from it, we can curse it, we can cry out to God against it. But in God’s church, among God’s people, there will always be change…because this revolution Jesus called “my church” is in fact a living, breathing organism. And where there is life, there is necessarily growth…and where there is growth, there is [gulp!] CHANGE. Mark it down. It is an eternal truth.
Yet despite all of the scripture devoted to this truth and even in the face of thousands of years of evidence of it in the human experience, managing change among God’s people (i.e., in the church) remains one of the toughest leadership challenges around. I have never met a pastor who did not consider the ushering in of change to be one of his most difficult leadership tasks…ever. But if you were to come to the conclusion that God’s people just do not like change, I believe you would be …
In raising daughters, there are the years when you have lots of say about who they see and who they do not see…and then those years come to an end and you learn to just keep quiet (mostly) and pray a lot. For my own girls, I have prayed their entire lives that, if other men must come into their lives–and, alas, they apparently must–that those men would know God and walk with Him and be shaped by Him to love my girls well.
But in my most vulnerable moments, ones when my worldly anxieties crept in and I allowed myself to have an opinion on the matter, when I was completely honest with God I probably periodically threw in an extra prayer such as, “…and God, please don’t let them marry a minister.” I had my reasons.
I myself am a pastor’s son. I’ve been around the church my whole life. I have made a career of working with conflicted churches and counseling pastors and church leaders alike through those difficult seasons. I have seen “up close and personal” the results of church fights in tens of thousands of lives. And of all the casualties of mean-spirited Christians and of all the lives and careers I have seen destroyed, the most helpless and defenseless (and typically the most innocent) of all is…the minister’s spouse.
If ministers have had any decent training at all, chances are pretty good that somebody along the way (maybe a seminary professor, maybe a wise friend) has warned them that they have chosen a difficult path, one wrought with mean people and disappointment. So when trouble comes and I am counseling them and I say to them, “Welcome to ministry”, they usually know exactly what I …