Monday, February 4, 2019

Why We Need God in Painful Moments

I got a text message from a friend recently. She shared that a mutual friend, who is only a little older than myself, has suddenly passed away. Though I had not talked to him in a few years, when I lived in Vermont he was a great colleague in ministry. Less than 24 hours later one of my pastor friends sent me a text to say one of their youth workers, a really fine young man with a promising future, had also unexpectantly passed away that morning. So much loss. So much pain. Such a short time to process it. Many of my circle of friends were struggling with why God lets these things happen. One mused that perhaps there was no point in following Christ if we still have to endure such pain.

In such difficult moments of life, we must remember that there will always be pain and hurt in the world. Those who have no faith must endure the same pain as everyone else, but without the help of God. Therefore, removing God from the picture only makes the situation worse. As a nation, and as individuals, we must stop trying to eliminate pain by eliminating God. 

That does not keep us from asking ourselves why God doesn't just stop all the pain? Clearly He has the power to. We understand theologically that He is sovereign in all things. But in His sovereignty, God has chosen to us give free will to make our own choices. Sometimes we use that free will to make choices that cause us, or those around us, pain. Other times other people make bad choices and cause us pain. Sometimes pain just happens for reasons we do not understand because we lived in a messed up unfair fallen world that is stained by sin. 

It is tempting to ask God let us keep our free will while also asking Him to limit the free will of others, so they can’t hurt us. But deep inside we know that is not really the way it works. We can't have it both ways.

The answer to our pain problem is a deep and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He helps us overcome the pain of our own mistakes and gives us strength to overcome the pain of the mistakes of others. Removing Him from our lives is the exact opposite of the answer we are looking for. Delve deep into Him today and let Him help you overcome the pain this world throws at us! 

Friday, February 1, 2019

What Happens When Our Plan Is Wrong?

The middle aged minister expressed deep frustration as he poured out his heart to me. He had started his ministry full of energy and excitement a decade ago. Though the numbers were small when he started, he was sure that his faithful preaching of the Word and his clear strategic plan would turn the situation around. That was a decade ago. Now the numbers were even smaller, his excitement was long gone, and the financial situation, which had never been good, was now perilous. He was not sure how long he could continue in his present ministry, but he was not a quitter, so he didn’t really want to leave either. He was in a quandary.

I encounter some version of this scenario numerous times each year from pastors, church planters, Directors of Missions and other ministry leaders across New England. In these situations, I ask a lot of questions. I try to listen, not only to what is being said, but to what is being left out. Though the person I am meeting with is often hoping I have a quick and easy solution, so far that has never been the case. It took that leader awhile to get to that level of discouragement, and it will take a while to get out of it.

In these situations, typically either I, or someone on my team, will also speak to other leaders in that ministry to see how their perception is similar, or perhaps different, than the primary leader’s. It is interesting to hear what they have to say. Most often, they agree that he is a faithful preacher of the Word. Only on very rare occasions does theology seem to be the problem. What is often expressed is that he is a “dry” speaker or his sermons lack “practical application.” I am actually relieved to hear answers like that, because they are the easiest to address. While there are many people who will never be stellar speakers, everyone can improve in their presentation style. For willing leaders, there are numerous workshops and techniques to address this. When someone tells you your sermons or Bible teaching is dry, REJOICE, because that is something you can and should fix!

What is much more challenging is when the primary leader’s ideas are just wrong. Not theologically, but methodologically. One leader told me the “real way to grow a church is door to door visitation.” His once rural church now sits in the middle of half a dozen gated communities that had sprawled out to his area. He couldn’t even get inside those communities to go door to door if he wanted to. Yet he was insistent that was the only way his church could grow. Since he no longer had access to this system of growth, his church was in decline. Another leader was convinced that the “public reading of scripture” was the most important part of the worship service. And so he would read a chapter, sometimes two, each week at the beginning of the service. Those scriptures had nothing to do with his sermon, or the season of the year, or have any other connection to the service. They were just randomly selected scriptures that he read at the beginning of the service each week. He couldn’t understand why many in his congregation would show up 15 minutes late every week and that his members rarely brought friends to church. His system just did not work. Another leader was convinced that “outsiders” should not be in leadership because “they did not understand the context of the local culture” even though the leader saying that was also an outsider. His insistence on only local people could lead caused many highly qualified Christians who were moving to his area from other parts of the nation to move on to other ministries instead of serving in his. As a result, his own ministry eventually died out.

I could give dozens of other examples. Sadly, these types of wrong ideas prevail in many churches and ministries. Let’s all be honest and just admit that sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes our plans do not work and instead of being stubborn, we need to change the plan in order to move forward. We must not let pride or ego hold us back from change when change is needed. We must be willing to move forward and embrace change when it is needed. Fortunately, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us in that. Let us heed the words of James 1:5 “ Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.” The Lord is happy to give us the wisdom to things differently so that our strategies can actually work for the Kingdom instead of against them.

Lord, reveal to us wrong motives or ideas so that we can repent of them and get back to serving You faithfully. Amen.