What ‘seeing through a glass darkly’ means

The epitaph for this generation could read: They Didn’t Know.

Nothing new about that, however. Reading the New Testament, one is struck by how often significant players in the Lord’s drama were said not to have a clue.

On the cross, the Savior summed it up when He prayed, “Father, forgive them. They do not know….”

Here are instances throughout the New Testament where that can be said.

Prayer. Matthew 20:22

The disciples did not know what they were asking for.

Ever pray that way? I have. I’ve asked the Lord to grant me success in this venture or that without ever checking to see if it was His will in the first place.

The brothers James and John wanted the places of honor in the Kingdom. And, who knows, they reasoned–perhaps it will be given to the ones with the moxie to ask. After all, isn’t it true that “you have not because you ask not”? And, they further reasoned, the worst that could happen was that the Lord would say, “No.”

He said, “No.” And more. That it was reserved for those whom the Father chose. And that they did not know what they were asking.

One wonders if a few weeks later when they saw the two thieves dying on crosses–one on the Savior’s right hand, the other His left–if they remembered this sad conversation.

The Apostle Paul said, We do not know how to pray as we should. Boy, is that ever the truth.

Help us, Father. We say as the disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

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The 5 most frustrating things pastors do

I believe in pastors. That does not however mean I endorse everything every pastor does.

They’re human.

They tell us the typical pastor in our denomination serves a church with 100 or fewer in attendance, which probably means the offerings are inadequate to provide much of a living for him. In some cases he holds down a second job or his wife works. Or both. Or, most amazing of all, he manages to live on what they pay him.

I believe in these guys. They are my brothers and my admiration of them knows no bounds.

Most of them.

But at times ministers will do the most self-defeating things. Not all of them, thankfully. But enough to warrant our addressing the issue as a caution to the rest of the Lord’s shepherds.

Here is my personal list of the 5 most frustrating things pastors do.

FIRST: It’s frustrating to see preachers cut corners on sermon preparation.

The bizarre thing is that to the congregation the Sunday sermon is 50 percent of his job.

In the more liturgical churches that may not be so, with the ministers’ homilies often appearing as 5 minute reflections thrown together just prior to entering the sanctuary.

But in the world I live in, the only time 90 percent of the congregation sees the pastor is on Sunday morning. If he does poorly there, he has just about sealed his fate with the membership as a whole.

And yet.

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You are not the judge of your own work. For good reason.

(Note: This article first ran on our website in September 2012.  Some of the identifying notes are dated, some of the people have moved, that sort of thing.  But I’m going to reprint it as it ran then with a few tweaks.  Thank you.)

“Sow your seed in the morning, and do not be idle in the evening; for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.” (Ecclesiastes 11:6)

“And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.” (Galatians 6:9)

A great many ministers are sitting in judgment on their own work. And it’s not looking good for them.

They will decide their portion of Kingdom work is not going very well, feel guilty because they are so ineffective, and grow discouraged. Instead of giving their all day in and day out over a long life of service and obedience, they turn inward, give less and less of themselves, while the visible results they so long for become more and more scarce.

Stop it.

You’re not the judge, just a worker in the field of the Lord.

Now, get back out there and trust that the Lord knows what He was doing when He assigned you to this corner of the Kingdom.

Jeff Christopherson knows.   Jeff loves to tell about something that happened to his parents.

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Why God called you into the ministry. Some will be surprised.

Let me tell you what happened to my friend Jon recently.

Jon was hired by one of the pro football teams as an assistant coach.  Jon is a lifelong athlete, all-pro in his own career, and after retirement became a coach.  So, now he was excited about the new position and moved his family to that city.  He settled his stuff into the assistant coach’s office, got to know everyone, and turned to take a look at his players.  That’s when his rude awakening came.

He told me, “Joe, I was so shocked.  Some of those guys are lazy.  Some of them are not doing their preparation for the games.  They are lagging on their reps and resent being reprimanded.  I was so disappointed that I went to see the head coach, my boss.”

“And what happened then?” I asked.

Jon said, “I told him, ‘Coach, I wanted to come to a team that was excellent, that was poised to win the big games, to go all the way.  Instead, what I found is that a lot of the players are unmotivated, are in this work for the big salaries, are lazy, and are not up to speed on the fundamentals of the game.  I’m big-time disappointed. Honestly, coach, I don’t know how you can take this.”

“Was he upset?” I asked.

“No,” Jon said.  “In fact, he just smiled.”

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To touch the world, be a writer

I’m a sucker for a great beginning of a book.

Here is how Kelly Gallagher kicked off his outstanding work Teaching Adolescent Writers:

You’re standing in a large field minding your own business when you hear rumbling sounds in the distance. The sounds begin to intensify, and at first you wonder if it is thunder you hear approaching. Because it’s a beautiful, cloudless day you dismiss this notion. As the rumbling sound grows louder, you begin to see a cloud of dust rising just over the ridge a few yards in front of you. Instantly, you become panicked because at that exact moment it dawns on you that the rumbling you’re hearing is the sound of hundreds of wild bulls stampeding over the ridge. There are hordes of them and they are bearing down right on top of you. They are clearly faster than you and there is no time to escape. What should you do? Survival experts recommend only one of the following actions:

–A) Lying down and curling up, covering your head with your arms.

–B) Running directly at the bulls, screaming wildly and flailing your arms in an attempt to scare them in another direction

–C) Turning and running like heck in the same direction the bulls are running (even though you know you can’t outrun them)

–D) Standing completely still; they’ll see you and run around you

–E) Screaming bad words at your parents for insisting on a back-to-nature vacation in Wyoming

Gallagher, who teaches high school in Anaheim, California, says experts recommend C. “Your only option is to run alongside the stampede to avoid being trampled.”

Then, being the consummate teacher, he applies the great attention-grabbing beginning: “My students are threatened by a stampede–a literacy stampede.”

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10 ways to know you’re becoming more Christlike

The marks on the back door tell of the growth of the children over the years.

The clothing in back of the closet the kids can no longer wear speak of the growth of your young’uns.

The escalating cost of schoolbooks as the kids move into high school and then into college bear eloquent testimony to the maturation of the offspring.

They’re growing up.

But how can you tell when spiritual growth is taking place? Where are the markers? How are we to know if one’s development as a disciple of Jesus Christ has plateau’ed or is even regressing?

To my knowledge, there is no answer book for this question. There are only indicators.

Here is my list of ten signs–indicators, markers–that we are growing in Christ, that we are getting it right.

10. A Changing Appetite.

My taste for spiritual things is changing. I find myself loving to study the Word of the Lord and looking forward to it. Far from it being a chore, it’s literally fun.

Job said, I have esteemed the words of Thy mouth more than my necessary food (Job 23:12).

At the same time this is happening, my thirst for a trashy novel, an entertainment magazine, a sexy movie or a television celebrity expose’ is drying up. My appetite for spiritual junk food is diminishing. And that’s a good thing!

Radiation for cancer in the early months of 2005 changed my life forever. Since the cancer was under my tongue, the radiation was directed toward key spots in my head and neck. Although the oncological team did everything they could to program the computer to save saliva glands and taste buds, some were zapped and are gone forever. My doctor said, “Food will never taste as good to you again as it used to.” He was right. But that is a small price to pay to go on living and loving and ministering. Some foods–especially dry stuff like chips and fries and breads–have almost no taste. On the other hand, my taste for ice cream and sweets came back with a passion! There’s probably a spiritual lesson in here somewhere.

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The pastor is journaling; he finds it tough to stay with it.

A friend texted to ask if I would talk about how a minister with a full-time congregation can discipline himself to do a daily journal.  I’m not sure I’m the one to ask, for a good reason.

When I began keeping a journal, back in early 1990, I was between churches.  Long story told elsewhere, but with a 12-month paid leave of absence I had time on my hands.  Knowing that at the end of August 1990 my income would end and finding that pastor search committees were afraid of me–“If he’s so good, why is he available?”–I made a decision to journal.  I figured someday I would look back and wonder what I was thinking during this time.  So, I bought a hard-bound book and started writing each evening. Where to find those books? Barnes and Noble.  Hobby Lobby.  Even Wal-Mart.

Now, since I was unemployed, I had time for this and did not need the discipline my friend seems to need.  In September 1990 when I began pastoring in metro New Orleans, I found it relatively easy to stay with the program since I had formed the habit.

So, what follows will only partially answer my friend’s question.  But this is what I’ve come up with on the subject of “pastoral journaling.”  Hope it helps.

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What pastors can learn from Moses

Chaplain Moses is a book written by Kenneth Cook, a retired Army chaplain.  He sees lessons for chaplains in the biblical account of Moses.  I would personally not be surprised if a hundred other professions have found parallels with this great champion of God and produced similar books.

Pastors perhaps more than anyone else can find parallels from the life and times of Moses.   Since four of the first five books of the Old Testament, called the Torah or Pentateuch, give us story after story involving this man, enterprising ministers and students will have no trouble unearthing a hundred or more lessons for their guidance.

Some of the more obvious lessons–that have furnished material for ten thousand sermons and almost that many books–include delegating work so you don’t try to do it all yourself, organizational guidance, prayer lessons, working with carnal, bull-headed associates, and such.

Here are a few of mine that seem to fit pastors so perfectly…

One.  Let the pastor make sure of his call. That’s Exodus chapter 3. Until that is settled, you ain’t going nowhere.

Two. Until God says otherwise, the pastor is stuck with these people, no matter how much they try his soul and get on his nerves. Reading Moses’ story, primarily in Exodus and Numbers, one is struck by how the Israelis drove him batty.  And yet, Moses kept at it.  He was an amazing role model, to be sure.

I’ve known of pastors belly-aching to God about the people, wondering “how much more can I take?” and “Lord, the church over at Bigtown has come open and they pay a decent salary” or maybe “Lord, the unemployment rate in this dying town means we cannot pay salaries to stay competitive with bigger churches.”  And in case after case, the Lord says, “Stay where you are. I’ll let you know when it’s time to move.”

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Write a play, a short but fun one that fits your sermon

In the church I was pastoring in the 1990s, we began inserting the occasional drama into the morning worship service, something we had created to fit the sermon.

Now, let me say up front that if you do brief dramas like this, you don’t have to purchase them.  And neither do you have to buy videos.  You have a few people in the congregation who would love to do something creative and helpful like this.  However, don’t do it more often than monthly, lest it grow old or get out of hand.

Here’s one from Sunday, July 11, 1993.  We called it the “Low Self-Esteem Anonymous Group.”

Margaret called the meeting to order.

Julie stood and said, “My name is Dummy–and I have low self-esteem.  I’d planned to look for a job this week.  But I didn’t.  Probably wouldn’t have done any good anyway.”

David stood to his feet. “My name is Invisible and I have low self-esteem.  I thought about asking a girl for a date this week. But I didn’t.  Who would want to go out with me?”

Jennifer said, “My name is Zero–and I have low self-esteem.  I thought about going to church.  But I probably wouldn’t fit in, so I stayed at home.”

Throughout this, Neil sits aloof, off to one side, making derogatory comments (which brought laughter).  Finally, he has enough.  He stands up, points to the sign and says, “Look at that–‘Low Self-Esteem!’ I love the initials–L.O.S.E.  That’s what you all are. A bunch of losers! I’m out of here.”

As he turns to leave, Jesse calls to him, “Hey Buddy–Egomaniac Anonymous meets down the hall, third door on the left.”

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