Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hard to be a pastor

A pastor friend of mine, Rev. Mark Roberts, did a blog not too long ago about the hardest thing about being a pastor. I thought I'd tackle this subject as well (with some help from his blog). Mark talked about one of the hardest aspects of being a pastor is the expectation people put upon their pastor. Here is a list from some of what he said:

• To be good oral communicators and to have truthful theology.

• To be caring counselors, good listeners and people of prayer who can help folks get through hard times and grow in their faith.

• To be present in personal emergencies, like unexpected hospitalizations or deaths in a family.

• To guide then through the intricacies of planning and performing weddings and memorial services.

• To be visionary leaders who can help churches both remain strong and grow in their ministries.

• To be wise and attentive managers of staff (if that’s in our job descriptions).

• To be decent writers, at least for the church newsletter and for other pastoral communications within the church.

• To be able to respond intelligently to a myriad of personal and theological questions.

• To be readily available to the congregation.

• To represent the church well in the community.

• To live exemplary moral lives.

To be prayerful both in public and in private.
As I look at this list, I can see why there are times I get overwhelmed or frustrated. It is impossible for any one person to be all these things. And yet churches do expect this from their pastor. Maybe it is because they need their pastor to be all these things for them. Maybe it is because they long to have these qualities in themselves. Maybe it is because people see pastor's as being above most people in their spirituality. But whatever it is, it is unrealistic.
Just for me to admit that I can't be all these things to my congregation is helpful. As I admit this, it helps me to know that I can't be a pastor on my own, I need God's help and God's strength, and God's guidance. It also helps me to realize that I need to understand who God created me to be, and life within my giftedness. If I can do that, then it will lead me to involve others around me who are gifted in ways that I am not.
In a more general sense, all people live their lives with unrealistic expectations. These expectations come from themselves and from others. And when we try to live our lives meeting unrealistic expectations, we will find ourselves frustrated, hurt, and/or angry because we cannot fulfill the demand.
So, I want to challenge you to think about the expectations you have for your life, and that others have for you. What expectations are unrealistic? Seek to live within the context of life God has called you to live. Seek to live your life utilizing the gifts God has blessed you with. And if you do, your life will be so much more fulfilling and purposeful!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Do We Know How To Pray?- Part 11

In October of 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the N.Y. Mets in game 7 of the National League Championship series, IN NEW YORK! This was largely because of a man named Jeff Suppan. Suppan is a pitcher for the Cardinals, and he pitched so well in the seventh game (as well as in an earlier game the Cardinals won) that he was voted the MVP of the series. Now, when he got this award, was he the only one celebrating? NO. The whole team was celebrating, because they knew that by his strength, he helped the team to victory, and into the World Series! Even though he was the MVP, it was considered a team effort.

Jesus is our MVP, because He is the one who makes victory possible. But we are ALL a part of the winning team! Through faith in Christ we have access to the power of God which enables us to overcome temptation and evil. Through faith in Christ we have the understanding we need to live life with fullness and depth and meaning.

As I close this series, I want to pose these questions: What settings are you in when you fall? Avoid them. What props do you have that support your sin? Eliminate them. What people are you usually with? Stay clear of them. There are two equally damning lies Satan wants us to believe: 1) Just once won't hurt. 2) Now that you have ruined your life, you are beyond God's use, and might as well enjoy sinning. As the great preacher Charles Spurgeon once said: "Learn to say no. It will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin." Now you might never thought that knowing Latin would be important, but in Spurgeon's time it was important. The point is, as we trust ourselves to Jesus Christ, He will help us to say “NO,” and that is greatly important. The Lord's Prayer should give us renewed hope that we can know God, live out the "Kingdom of God" here on earth, have our basic needs provided, and overcome temptation and evil, this day and every day, as we follow our savior and Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Do We Know How To Pray?- Part 10

One of the books my kids used to love to read is the frog/toad stories. The series is about the adventures of 2 friends: one a toad and the other a frog. In one particular story, Toad has baked some cookies. The smell causes him to eat one of the cookies, which tastes so good he runs over to Frog’s house so that Frog can enjoy them too. Frog eats a cookie and loves it so much that he has to eat another one. Together Frog and Toad eat many cookies. But then Frog says: "You know, Toad, I think we should stop eating. We will soon be sick." Then Toad responds: "You are right. Let us eat one last cookie, and then we will stop." So they eat one last cookie, but there are still many cookies left in the bowl, tempting them. So they have another./ Frog suggests to Toad: “To stop eating we must have willpower.” “What is willpower?” Toad asks. “ "Willpower is trying hard not to do something you really want to do," says Frog. "You mean like trying hard not to eat all these cookies?" asks Toad. "Right," says Frog. And so frog puts the cookies in a box. But they know that they can still open the box. So then Frog ties some string around the box. But they know that they can cut the string. So Frog puts them up on a high shelf. But they know they can still get them with a ladder. So Frog puts the cookies outside for the birds, and the birds fly off with them. "Now we have no more cookies to eat," says Toad sadly. "Not even one." Then Frog says: "Yes, but we have lots and lots of willpower." To which Toad replies: "You may keep it all, Frog, I am going home now to bake a cake." (Ray & Anne Ortlund, Renewal, Navpress, 1989, p. 73-74.)

To overcome, we need help. We have to admit that we cannot heal the brokenness of our sin on our own. We have to understand that Christ is to be the King, the ruler of our lives. Think about the question, “Are you a leader or a follower?,” hopefully the answer is that you are a follower; a follower of Christ the King.

Who gives us strength when we are feeling weak? JESUS CHRIST. Who guides us in right paths when we go astray? JESUS CHRIST. Who picks us up when we fail or fall? JESUS CHRIST. Who is there to help us to overcome the evil in the world; the evil in my life? JESUS CHRIST. As the well known writer C. S. Lewis once said: The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.” That is what Jesus does for us.
Jesus knew that people could become defeated in life. He saw that defeat take place in people's
lives through physical disease, monetary wealth, and confused priorities. Time and time again He saw people not living the abundant life He had come to give. Jesus knew that to have abundant living, we would need to not only know the Lord’s Prayer, not only pray the Lord’s Prayer, but live out the Lord’s Prayer. This last phrase of the prayer, “but deliver us from evil,” tells us that to have abundant life, we must overcome evil, and this evil can only be overcome by celebrating the holiness of God, celebrating the intimacy we have with God, setting aside our will for God’s will (a will which comes to us from heaven), and being centered on a trust that God will provide for our needs.
This closing petition should not be a surprise to any of us, for this petition demands from each one of us the recognition that this world is filled with evil forces and evil powers. It is a petition which clearly recognizes that we do live in a world which none of us ever escapes involvement with, nor the consequences of, these forces of evil. Without this final petition, the prayer would not be complete, because we have to acknowledge the existence of evil that can be at work in our lives. For Jesus to ignore this reality would not be helpful to us, because this area of life is what can trip us up the most. And so, in the midst of such powers of evil, our Lord teaches us to pray that the Father would deliver us from evil; the evil that to our dismay, sometimes thrives in this world. It is like the story that Jesus told of a farmer who spends his entire life cultivating his field and then planting good seed, only to discover that all along there is an evil force at work to destroy all of his good efforts./ As we live in this world, we live in a world where evil can affect us, and that we, in many ways, are powerless on our own to bring about our own deliverance from it. But this prayer reminds us that evil does not win; Christ is the victor, and in Christ we have victory as well.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Do We Know How To Pray?- Part 9

Temptation is a part of life. But if we want to gain character and strength, if we want to be able to live for God, we have to learn how to let God lead us past the temptation that exists. Satan wants to trip us up and keep us from living a life of following Jesus. In fact we are reminded in 1 Peter 5:8-9, Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” And yet we are given great words of encouragement in 1 Corinthians 10:13,No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."

As I continue in my series on the Lord’s Prayer I want to look at the the phrase: “And lead us not into temptation...” Up to this point I have talked about how the Lord’s Prayer is about focusing our prayer on God, being committed to seeing God’s Kingdom come about more in this world, and seeking God and His will for our lives, trusting faithfully that God will provide for us, not necessarily what we want, but all that we need. In this next phrase, we see that it is still about trusting, but trusting that God will give us the power we need to be guided into the right paths.

When you look at the Lord's Prayer, you can see that it is actually a theological statement on the nature of God; a nature which includes who God is, what God desires for the world, God’s providing nature, and God’s presence in our lives in regards to temptation and testing. Jesus teaches us, with this last phrase, that God would not lead us into temptation.

I think for many of us, this might sound like a strange petition; “lead us not into temptation.” Why would God even think of leading us into temptation? The Bible tells us that God is a compassionate God; one who sees our suffering and rescues His people from their bondage. In the Psalms we are told that the Lord is our Shepherd, and we shall not want. Also, that God “hears our cries and lifts us up out of the slimy pit to set our feet upon a rock.” Does this same God seek to lead us into trouble and tribulation? Would God take us to the place of temptation where we might slip and fall?

One of the challenges of understanding the Bible, is that sometimes when the translation from the original language is translated into English, the English word (or phrasing) might seem to have a different connotation to us than the Greek had intended to mean. Let's look at other versions:
The New Revised Standard version says,
“And do not bring us to the time of trial…” The Modern English Bible says: “Do not bring us to hard testing…” The King James version and the New International versions say: “And lead us not into temptation…” By doing this word study, we can see that the words used were temptation, trial, and testing. And by doing a little more studying, we can see that it is referring to the kind of testing that challenges us in order to strengthen us.

When Abraham took his son Isaac to Mount Moriah to sacrifice him to God, Abraham was having his faith tested by God. And by faithfully going there, God provided a ram for the sacrifice instead of Isaac. Before Jesus started His ministry, He went out into the wilderness to be tested. Jesus was able to avoid the temptations of Satan. By passing the test, Abraham, and Jesus, and others gained strength and self-discipline. And each time we overcome our temptations, we gain strength to be able to serve God more faithfully.

So, in praying this, we are not asking God to take us into trials or temptations that we cannot bear, but so that we will not go into these trials and temptations alone; we are praying that God will give us His power as we encounter these temptations. In other words, we are saying: “God, do not lead us into trials without your help!”

The challenge for us is that temptations do exist. In fact, there was a recent survey done in Discipleship Journal where the readers ranked areas of the greatest spiritual challenge to them. Here are the top 10…1. Materialism; 2. Pride; 3. Self-centeredness;

4. Laziness; 5. (Tie) Anger/Bitterness; 7. Sexual lust; 8. Envy; 9. Gluttony; 10. Lying.

The survey respondents also noted that the temptations were more potent when they had neglected their time with God and when they were physically tired. Resisting temptation was accomplished by prayer, avoiding compromising situations, Bible study, and being accountable to someone. (Discipleship Journal, November / December, 1992.)

To overcome the temptations in our life, we need to not look at the temptation, but rather to keep our eyes focused on Jesus; the author and perfector of our faith. To pray this petition, “lead us not into temptation,” means that we trust that God knows our breaking point better than we do. We are praying for God to not lead us past this breaking point; we are praying that God would help us to trust and cling to Him, so that we might stay faithful; we are praying that God would overwhelm us with His presence and saving strength. This is what the Lord teaches us to pray!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Do We Know How To Pray?- Part 8

The next phrase of the Lord's prayer says "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." There are 2 parts to this statement: being forgiven, and forgiving others.
Jesus tells us to pray for forgiveness. But before they can pray this, they must understand that they need to pray it. That is to say that they have to have a sense of the fact that there is sin in their life.

The trouble is, most people have a wrong conception of sin. They think that those who commit crimes, those who are hurtful to others, those who don’t live respectable lives (whatever respectable means), these are the people who sin. So many people don’t believe that sin has anything to do with them. “As long as I live a good life, I’m okay,” they think.

We all have things we do that affect others negatively, or that hurt others, or that bring some bad into the world. So when we pray “forgive us our sins,” we are acknowledging that we are not perfect, but in fact have sin in our life. And even more, we are acknowledging that only God, through Jesus Christ, can forgive our sins.
But along with being forgiven, we need to learn how to forgive. To understand about the forgiveness we receive from God, through Christ, really comes once we learn how to forgive others. This
phrase reminds us that we will be forgiven in proportion to how much we forgive others. So if we refuse to forgive others, or can’t bring ourselves to forgive others, then God will not forgive us. This might sound harsh, but it really isn’t, because human forgiveness and divine forgiveness are linked with each other.
If all we do is ask for forgiveness, we will not understand what it means to receive it. But once we start giving forgiveness to others, we understand what forgiveness is about. We understand that it is not easy to forgive. We understand that it is overlooking the wrong that has been done. We understand we have to rise above the hurt that we feel from being wronged. And we learn that we must seek to understand the circumstances which caused this person to sin. If we cannot put things right with our fellow brothers and sisters of this world, then how can we expect to put things right with God? In forgiving others, we learn how to stop judging, and we learn how to forget. Only then can we receive the forgiveness that God has for us.
The Bible tells us that only Jesus Christ can provide for our physical needs, and our spiritual needs. Only in Jesus can we understand about the need to forgive others and receive forgiveness. Only in Jesus can the hunger of personal peace and meaning and purpose of life come about. May we understand today and always, that God is our provider, our sustainer, and the one who teaches us how to forgive and be forgiven.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Do We Know How To Pray?- Part 7

In my last blog we talked about the phrase in the Lord's Prayer "Give us this day..." I talked about the importance of focusing on the day at hand, and letting any future days not cause us to worry; we are to give the future to the Lord, since we never know what future we may have.
Today I want to look at the end of this phrase "Give us this day OUR DAILY BREAD." First we looked at the word "daily," now we will look at the word "bread."

This word "bread" might appear to mean food, since we eat bread as a food substance. But did Jesus mean it to be used as a symbol for something greater, something significantly larger, something much more eternal? I believe so. So, let’s look at 3 items that will help bring this into better perspective.

1. Dependency- First, what matters most in our lives, in the eternal

perspective, is our dependency on God. One of the dangers of living in the society we live in, is that we can believe that we can make it on our own; that we are self-sufficient; that our future is in our hands; that we make our own destiny; that we are the providers of our own sustenance. But in doing this we forget about God.

The Israelites had this same struggle. They would turn away from God, their

LORD and creator, and forget how God had rescued them out of slavery from Egypt. Time and time again we read in the Bible how the Israelites had to remember the days of old and how God provided for them. When they did this, it caused them to again let themselves become dependent on God.

In teaching us to pray this simple petition, “Give us this day our daily bread,” Jesus is telling us to remember that God created us not for independence, but for dependence upon Him. Our future is not in our hands, but in God’s.

2. The basics- Secondly, when we pray for daily bread, it is referring to our

basic needs. In a time when society gets so focused on the exotic and the extravagant, usually at the expense of the impoverished, I think Jesus wants us not to forget the basics of life, and that God is there to provide for us in the most basic of needs.

God can use us to provide the basics. When we give to help those who are poor and in need, we trust God to use this giving as a means to help provide them the basics of life. In doing this, we are not hoarding our money, but sharing it with others, and we are answering this prayer for another human being.

3. Spiritual Sustenance- Thirdly, we have the basic need of spiritual

sustenance. We are more than just a body, we are a body and a spirit, and our spirit needs to connect with the Spirit of God. This is a need, and yet too many people turn a blind eye to this need; too many people think they don’t need to have a relationship with God. Just as when we eat physical food our body gets hungry again, so we are continually hungry for the spiritual food of worship, prayer, and God’s word.

EX. A number of years ago a man wrote into the newspaper, which started an important dialogue. He wrote that he didn’t think that sermons were important because he didn’t remember any of the sermons he ever heard. The debate went back and forth between those who thought sermons were important, and those who didn’t. Finally, the dialogue ended when one man wrote: “My wife has been cooking me meals for 20 years. I can’t remember most of the meals she has cooked for me, but I do know that eating them has kept my body healthy!”

There is a poem that says:

You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer in the first person ‘I.’
You cannot say the Lords Prayer and even once say ‘My.’
Nor can you pray the Lord’s Prayer and not pray for another;
for as you ask for ‘daily bread,’ you must include your brother.
Yes, others are included in each and every plea;
from the beginning to the end of it, it doesn't once say 'Me.'

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Do We Know How To Pray?- Part 6

Today I want to look at the third phrase of the Lord’s Prayer where Jesus says: “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors…” If we were to visualize the Lord’s Prayer in 2 parts, the first part would be what God may properly expect from us (things like respect for God’s holiness, commitment to God’s Kingdom, and obedience to God’s laws and will), and then the second part is what we may properly expect from God (things like provision for our physical needs, liberation from our bondage to sin, and deliverance from the powers of evil).
Let us first look at the word "daily," and then next time we will look at the word "bread." This request centers around the understanding the word “daily.” The Greek word that is translated as daily is the word episousios. It is a word that Jesus uses to help us understand that we should be concerned with today. Give us this for today, should be our request. We do not know what tomorrow holds, so why worry about tomorrow? Let us pray for God’s provision today, trusting that if tomorrow comes for us, then it is a new opportunity to turn to God and trust God.
As James tells us in James 4:14-15, “Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring… Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’”
Gregory of Nyssa, who lived in the forth century, once made this comment: “He who gives you the day, will also give you the things necessary for the day.”

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Do We Know How To Pray?- Part 5

Last time I talked about the phrase "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done." It is only when we can each give up our will, and join together in seeking God’s will, that the Kingdom of God can be seen here on earth. Which brings us to the next phrase of the Lord's Prayer: "one earth, as it is to heaven. So how does God’s will come to earth as it is in heaven?

In the beginning of creation, God created all things, including people. And we see that this was taken from aspects of heaven. For example, the river of life that was in the garden of Eden, is in heaven flowing from the throne of God (Rev. 22:1). In Hebrews 9:24 it refers to sacrifice on the cross like the priest of the Old Testament who shed the blood of the sacrificial lamb to remove sins. The phrase here in 9:24 says: “For Christ did not enter the sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one…” The true sanctuary is in heaven. Any sanctuary we have down here on earth is just a small likeness of what is in heaven.

So when Jesus says to pray… “On earth, as it is in heaven,” He is reminding us that God has a master plan, and things on earth are copies in part of what is in heaven. Just like a copy of a painting is not as wonderful and glorious as the original, so what we copy will never be as glorious. But it will be wonderful in its own way, because it is a following of what God has for us to experience.

We can’t lose sight of the fact that God is the expert on life. God created our life; God created this world; God created all that exists. God as the creator knows what the best plans are to be. So we need to trust ourselves to God in this. As Psalm 37:3 tells us: “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.” If we want to experience the best that God has for us, then we must have the understanding and commitment to seek out and follow God’s will.

There is a wonderful poem by Annie Johnson Flint which says:

“God hath not promised skies always blue, flower-strewn

pathways all our lives through; …God hath not promised

sun without rain, joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

But God hath promised strength for the day, rest for the

labor, light for the way, … grace for the trials, help from

above, unfailing sympathy, undying love.”(The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, p. 235, by Charles Swindoll)

God’s desire for us is good. But we tend to doubt this. You might say that you believe this, but your actions speak louder than your words. For example, when you worry, you are not trusting that God can bring good to your life. When you make decisions apart from seeking God, you are not trusting that God’s way is the best way. When you want something that you know God doesn’t want you to have, and you get angry at God, you are doubting that God desires good for you. As the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:32- “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with Him?” Jesus wants us to understand that God knows what is best, and we need to seek God in all that we do in life. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”