The pastor’s heart: Reservoir or cesspool?

“Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

“Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19).  “Rend your hearts, not your garments” (Joel 2:13). 

This is one of those lessons almost no pastor learns except by personal experience.

Someone told you a joke years ago.  In my case, it was an older cousin and I was a young teen.  The joke was dirty by any measurement and some would say it was funny.  But it was filthy and has stayed with me all these years.  The joke is still in my mind and I am unable to get rid of it.

I wish I’d known.

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“Two questions that bug me about pastors”

“But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; My steps had nearly slipped.  For I was envious of some pastors, when I saw the success of those less gifted  than me….  Their strength is firm; they are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like other men.  Therefore pride serves as their necklace…. Their eyes bulge with abundance; they have more than their heart could wish….” (Psalm 73…sort of…  With apologies to the Psalmist.) 

A pastor friend who has seen his share of troubles during his pastorates which total perhaps 25 years shared his questions with me.

One.  Some pastors live their entire lives without problems, serving church after church with a string of unbroken successes.  What sets these pastors apart?

Two.  And yet other pastors seem to know setback after setback in their ministries.  Are they to blame for this?  What are the characteristics that lead some pastors to go from trouble to trouble in churches?

After posing the questions–good ones, I think most will agree–he said, “I expect there are so many reasons for this,” and he named a few.  “God’s sovereignty, the pastor’s ability to deal with church politics, and temperament/personality.”

I promised him I would give this some thought and put the questions out here for our friends to comment on.  (Consider this your invitation.)

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The “poor me” pastor with the inferiority complex

“Why is everybody always picking on me?”  –1950s song by The Coasters

The biggest egotist in the room may be the wallflower who sits alone, absorbed in killer thoughts about his isolation.  “Why does no one talk to me?”  “They’re all snobs.”  “Why did I bother coming to this thing anyway?” I, I, I, me, me, my, my.

Over the years I’ve met quite a few pastors who were being victimized and brutalized by their own low self-esteem and their inferiority complex.  It’s tempting to say here that “it’s not a complex if you’re really inferior,” but that would be cruel.  This person afflicts enough mental cruelty upon himself/herself without outside aid.

The poor-me pastor is usually in one of three situations…

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What the lonely pastor should do

“My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.  Stay here and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). 

When you are hurting, you need a friend.

Even our Lord did.

At a denominational meeting, a man approached and introduced himself. It turns out he reads this blog and is acquainted with my cartoons. And he said something that lingers with me to this day.

“Sometimes I think about calling you.  It gets so lonely where I’m working and I just need someone to talk to.”

As I recall, he is not a pastor of a congregation but works with pastors and other ministers.  Therefore, he has no regular constituency.  And often, that means no one is looking after him.  He is bearing this burden alone.

I tore off a piece of paper and wrote my phone number.  “Call me,” I told him.  “Please!”

That is one courageous man.

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Things I wish I’d said (and done) differently

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves….” I John 1:8

Looking back.

I do a lot of that these days.  I suppose it’s human, seeing as how I’m about to hit birthday number 79 in a few days. There are a lot of days back there to look at! I’m so grateful to be active and energetic and still in the Lord’s field working alongside younger men and women called to His work.

The days behind me far outnumber those in front.

I do not sit around wallowing in regrets, let me make plain.  But sometimes before rising in the morning, I lie there reflecting on times gone by, experiences in churches I served, remembering when my family was young, calling to mind conversations and decisions.

I have many a regret.

I wish I’d said ‘no’ to a lot of requests.  As a young husband and father and ambitious pastor, I accepted many an invitation to speak or travel or serve on a board because it felt like the very opportunity for which the Lord had called me and for which I’d been prepared.  But it took me away from my young children and my over-wrought wife.

Did I really need to serve as a trustee of that denominational board? It required me to travel out of state a half dozen times a year, two or three days at a whack.  Over a four-year term, that adds up to a lot of time away.

I think about the two weeks I spent in Singapore helping the missionaries conceive an evangelistic comic book at the time my three children were 10, 13, and 16.  Such critical ages, so formative, so needy of their father to be hands-on.  Poor Margaret, looking after them, doing all the things a faithful mother does, chauffeuring them to everything, and all the while working on her degree from the local university.  What was I thinking?

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“There are those who say…” but God says otherwise

(15th article on the “Seven Churches of Asia Minor” — Revelation 2-3)

Let’s consider the Lord’s response to some of the more foolish statements heard around church from time to time.

There are those who say….

One.  “Love does not matter.  Obedience is everything.  Love is syrupy and weakness.  Sentimentality! Show me your deeds.”

The letter to the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) proves them wrong.  Without love, no amount of good works is enough.  Reference the opening of I Corinthians 13.

“Love one another,” says our Lord to the Ephesian church, “or I will pull the plug on you.  Cut off your life support.  Cancel your franchise.”  Remove the lampstand.

God is love.

Two.  There are those who say “God will not let His faithful ones suffer.  If there is pain or suffering, someone is being disobedient.”

The letter to the church at Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) proves them wrong. He knows, He sees, He cares–and still He allows it.  God has His purposes.

Trust Him.

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Longevity in ministry: How to stay as long as God wants!

“Certainly, I will be with you” (God to Moses in Exodus 3:12).

Poor Moses.  He served the same congregation for forty years.

During all that time, Moses had no opportunity for advancement. And instead of getting easier as the years came and went, the work seemed to never let up.  One challenge after another.  It was enough to age a fellow prematurely.  Which is why, perhaps, the Lord chose a fellow who was already old–like eighty!–at the start.

Think of that.  Just at the time most people are getting fitted for a rocking chair and ordering their walk-in bathtub, Moses took on a new assignment.  Clearly, the Lord did not ask a committee of Israeli leaders what they wanted in the next shepherd.

Not only was Moses’ congregation the largest one around, it was the only one!

During those forty years, Moses did not receive a single raise.  And not the first award or recognition.  Well,  other than from God, which as it turned out, was more than enough.

The writer of Hebrews said we should ‘consider Jesus “who endured…” (Hebrews 12:3).  True. But we may also want to “consider Moses.”  He was a lot like us and demonstrates a hundred lessons on how to hang with a difficult job through good times and bad until you get the people of the Lord to the promised land.

Here are a few of those lessons.

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The team member who is your biggest headache

“…a thorn in the flesh was given to me …lest I be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7).

They’re standard equipment, these “thorns in the flesh.” Burrs under the saddle.  Pains in the, well, you know.  They come with the territory.

I’m reading Jack “Dusty” Kleiss’ memoirs of his service in the Second World War.  “Never Call Me a Hero: A legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers The Battle of Midway” is the lengthy title.  I recommend it highly.

As a student of the Second World War, I must have read a dozen or more of such books, memoirs of veterans of this greatest of all conflicts.  In spite of the title, Kleiss deserves the recognition and accolades of a hero as much as anyone ever has.  Again and again he risked his life flying planes of all kinds throughout the Pacific in the war against Japan.  He kept good records, his team did great research, giving us details on the days he served, the planes they flew and the men he served under alongside, which included Admirals Kimmel, Halsey, and Nimitz.

All is good, except for one guy who keeps popping up throughout the story.

Lt. Clarence Dickinson was his thorn in the flesh.

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The Lord takes care of His own

“Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits!” (Psalm 68:19).

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:2). 

A friend prompted me to write something about how the Lord takes care of His children.  And he gave me story after story of the Lord doing that in his life.

–Like the time he asked the church leadership to help him get that needy family into a house and pay the deposits, requiring an outlay of $468.  When they refused, he paid the sum himself.  A few days later, the bank informed him they had misfigured his mortgage insurance and refunded him in the amount of $468.

–Or the time he asked the leadership to purchase a new van for the church.  He explained that he and the youth minister were racking up heavy miles on their personal vehicles and the church should do this.  When they refused, God gave him a vehicle.  The local power company gets rid of one of their passenger-hauling pickup trucks each year, and our friend won it.  “It had 200k miles on it,” he said, “but had been meticulously maintained.”  Last year, he put 20,000 miles on it in the Lord’s service.

That sort of thing.  On and on.

Yes, He does take care of His own is my response to my friend.  But….

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What praise is and what it does

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His name.  Bless the Lord O my soul, and forget none of His benefits….  Bless the Lord, O my soul” (Psalm 103:1-2,22).

Again and again throughout Holy Writ, we are enjoined, instructed, commanded and reminded to praise the Lord. To bless His name.  To burst forth in worship during which we say things like “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessings” (Revelation 5:12).

How come?  What good does this do to tell the Lord and Master of the universe that He is Lord and Master of the universe?  Sure He already knows who He is (see John 13:1-4).  Being complete within Himself, God does not need our praise.

So, what’s this all about?

It’s a fair question and one that has been asked and answered by disciples far better than this poor child.

As a new believer, C. S. Lewis had trouble with the question.  “I found a stumbling block in the demand so clamorously made by all religious people that we should ‘praise’ God; still more in the suggestion that God Himself demanded it.”  (Reflections on the Psalms)

This being my blog, and Psalm 103 having been dealt with on these pages in recent days, it now falls to me to make an attempt to answer the question:  What is it to bless the Lord and what good is it?  (Again, I’m grateful to Dr. Lewis whom I shall quote below.)

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