Tag Archives: depression

Persistent Peace of Christ

It is foretold that Messiah will be Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

“For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace

there will be no end…”

We believe Jesus fulfills the prophecies concerning Messiah. What about him being the Prince of Peace?

At Jesus’ birth the angels proclaimed: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14, NIV)

Has Jesus brought us peace? There appears to be a glaring contradiction, even in what Jesus said about himself.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).

“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. rom now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.” (Luke 12:51-52)

Certainly, in our world this is the case, isn’t it? Families are divided over politics and religion. Christians are disregarded, disrespected, or hated when they follow Jesus’ actual teaching. So, how is he the Prince of Peace? Let’s look further at what He said to his students.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

(John 16:33, NIV84)

The Peace is In Christ.

In the world we will have trouble. As we observed a moment ago, following Jesus may increase the trouble you face in the world. Notice, the angels proclaimed that peace would come “to those on whom his favor rests.” The secret to Jesus’ peace is to put faith in his unmerited favor or grace, and trust Him to take care of you. When He is genuinely your Lord, then He is in control. Nothing will happen in your life that your Lord is incapable of handling, and giving you the wisdom, courage and perseverance to go through. In the passage surrounding this verse Jesus has promised to send the Holy Spirit to stay with his disciples. In fact, he promised the Holy Spirit would live inside them! When you have the presence of God within, you have the power of God to go through any circumstance with peace and confidence.

This isn’t to say you will be able to control all of your circumstances. In fact, the need to control everything will rob you of peace.

You cannot control everything but you can control yourself!

Ever feel like you’re out of control… and you just can’t seem to get it back.

Good news for believers is that self-control is a direct result of being indwelt & empowered by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

Realize you cannot control other people, but you can control your reaction to them.

Realize you cannot be in control of the world and many of your circumstances, but you can determine how you will respond and act.

You cannot control everything but you can pray to the God who created the heavens and the earth.

The world is fallen and many people are in rebellion, so a lot of bad things are happening. Maybe you’re afraid something bad will happen to you! Rest assured God is on his throne in heaven and is in ultimate control.

“The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19)

Invite the LORD into your current situation and intercede for others, even if don’t believe or trust Jesus.

God changes things when we pray & trust him to work.

First and foremost God changes me when I pray. He gives me peace when I pray.

“Be anxious for nothing but in everything with prayer and petition with Thanksgiving make your requests known to God and the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Jesus promised that if we believe when we pray we can move mountains. So, yes, God can and sometimes will change circumstances when we pray. But we must trust him to move.

The peace of Christ is not freedom from conflict;

at least, not coming from others. Certainly, you and I as followers of Jesus are not to be staring fights with people over our opinions or the faith. We are taught to “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV84)

We are taught to “speak the truth in love,” (Eph. 4:15),

which doesn’t mean to add, “but I love you,” as a tagline to your diatribe against someone’s lifestyle or opinion.

The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say, the conviction about when and how to say them, and anointing to make you effective (Mark 13:11, John 14:26, 20:22, 1 John 2:20 & 27)

The peace of Christ is not the absence of challenges

As long as you’re in the world, you will face trouble. There will be obstacles. There will be trials. Jesus will not remove all your struggles because you need to overcome them by relying on His Spirit in order to become more like your Lord.

We are promised that God will make everything work out for our good and his glory!

“All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)

We have to go through the difficulty and overcome to become. God’s primary goal is to make you like Jesus, friend.

“For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (and sisters) (Romans 8:29).

Those of us who practice weightlifting know that through resistance we become stronger.

You will be tempted. Instead of crying for the Lord to take the temptation away, learn to rely on him and resist!

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to people. God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear, but will with the temptation provide the way of escape so that you may endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

We are promised total victory when we fight the good fight of faith.

“If God is for us who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31)

“But in all these things we are overwhelmingly conqueror through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37)

The Peace of Christ means I have nothing to fear and no reason to be troubled

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The world offers superficial answers, outright lies and temporary solutions to help you with fear, stress, anger and other emotional challenges.

Let me be clear:

Panic is Satanic.

God doesn’t inspire panic or the kind of terror that leads you to cower and run away. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but that is deep reverence not terror.

Faith brings the presence of God. Satan is the one who thrives on fear and drives you to panic. Panic means you feel vulnerable and without the ability to control some real or imagined circumstance. Admit you have not control, then. Give control to Jesus. TRUST the LORD! Pray. Sing songs of praise. Get on your face and worship the Living and True God.

Confusion comes from the Father of Lies

If you’re confused, it is not God. The spirit of confusion comes from the Father of Lies. “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21). God has made himself clear in his Word. He has a purpose for you. First of all, to make you like His Son Jesus. Are you completely committed to Jesus? If not, that is the real source of your confusion. God wants to reveal specific direction for your life. How will you know what it is? Commit yourself completely to Christ. Align your will with God’s. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Seek his kingdom above your ambition or profit. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33).

You’ll know what to do when you’re willing to do God’s will no matter the cost. “If anyone is willing to do His will that person will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own” (John 7:17).

Depression is of the devil.

Depression may result from frustration and internal anger over your circumstances or relationships.

It may be a response to loss. Ultimately depression is a lack of hope. The devil has told you that you’re unworthy of God and His love. OR he has made you believe that you deserve better. Either way, tell the truth to yourself, and to God. You ARE unworthy, whether you think so or not. None of us deserve God’s love. None of us has earned the right to be forgiven. None of us have lived a perfect life.

God offers grace to the undeserving

Grace is unmerited favor. God chooses to look your way, listen to and answer your prayers. Why? Because of What Jesus did on the cross to buy your forgiveness. Once you admit you’re unworthy, you’re in the perfect position to receive God’s love. He chooses to love you. It is in his nature.

Hope is renewed when we find and put our faith in God’s promises

God has offered us many promises in which to place our hope.

Let me remind you of the promise I believe God offered us last week Lifewell

As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.” (Zechariah 9:11–12, NIV84)

It is because of the blood of Jesus that God offers this, not because we deserve it.

You have been set free of your depression, your panic attacks, your fear. That is the promise. Believe and it will be!

Whatever the devil has stolen, God will restore two-fold or more! That is the promise. Believe it and receive it.

There are many more promises I believe God has made to me for this church. As you are willing to receive them, I will continue to deliver them.

But don’t wait for me. Search the Scriptures. Put your hope in God’s promises. Put your trust in Jesus. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. Be at peace!

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Overcoming Anger, a Christian View

Anger is easy. There’s a lot to be mad about: some is justified; some is not; and too much is pointless. Anger is my default emotion, my drug of choice, if you will. When I get hurt, it makes me mad. When something doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, it frustrates me and that results in anger (hence, my longstanding problem with technology). When I have to wait for something for what I feel is too long, that impatience results in anger (just experienced this with our abysmally slow internet connection). When people ignore me or reject me, it makes me angry. All of this bubbles up from the well of Pride, which is to say Original Sin. Pride expresses itself in manifold ways in different individuals, and this is an obvious way it comes out in my life.

In the Bible, James, the half-brother of Jesus and pastor of the first Jerusalem church admonishes, “The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). And yet, when someone cuts me off in traffic, when things don’t turn out as I expected, when I feel I am being treated unfairly, anger flairs and runs me, then ruins a portion of the day. This is wrong. Knowing that, however, doesn’t stop it from happening.

The results of human anger are devastating. Health problems may be caused or exacerbated by chronic anger. Depression is often the result of internalized anger. I may strike out in anger and injure someone physically or emotionally. Anger may even result in murder. Jesus clearly taught that anger leads that direction.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21–22, ESV)
When I’m angry with another person because of a real or perceived wrong they’ve done to me, then I have the motive which may escalate to hatred and murder. Even though I can’t imagine myself killing someone, I am guilty of harming them in my mind and I possess the motive to do harm. Slander is character assassination, so even if I wouldn’t dream of killing the target of my anger, I may very well feel no compunction about ruining their reputation.

It is likely that anger constitutes an addiction. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not attempting to turn myself into a victim of genetics, or the poor choices of my youth. Every time I erupt in anger, I am making a clear choice. I am guilty. However, that doesn’t mean it is easy to control. In fact, I’m coming to realize that, like any addiction, fighting anger is futile because I’m fighting my own will. “A house divided against itself will not stand. This is made worse by the fact that I’m fighting anger with, well, more anger. What I must do is attack the basis for all of my anger, not just fight daily skirmishes against it’s myriad outbreaks.

The command and control center for anger, and for Pride, which is its basis, is the self. More specifically, “me” striving to live apart from the manifest presence of God. We weren’t created to live apart from God, and doing so has grave consequences. Anger is one of them.

My self must come to an end. It must die. I’m not suicidal, don’t worry. I’m not talking about ending my life but about ending the self-life. This includes: selfishness, self-centeredness, selfish ambition, even self-protection, manifesting as a constant need to defend the self. However, I cannot do this alone. No addiction can be eradicated without outside help.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now Iive in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Jesus Christ came to earth to accomplish what you and I cannot alone. The Son of God took on the fullness of our humanity, lived the life we are supposed to, then took on the full weight of our sin. Then he died. I must die with him. I must be crucified with Christ. That is how the self-life comes to an end.

“If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Most importantly, Jesus Christ rose from the dead. In so doing he brought hope for a new life and a new self. Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born anew” (John 3:3). This may also be stated, “You must be born from above.” The resurrection makes that possible for everyone who will believe.

So, in order to overcome my anger, I must identify with Jesus Christ on the cross, through the grave, and in the resurrection. I must realize and remind myself daily, and even moment by moment, that I am a new creation in Christ. I have a new identity. No longer do I live my life apart from God. I’ve invited his Spirit into my innermost being, and a transformation has taken effect. I have a new nature. My thinking must agree with this reality.

When I agree with God’s Word and Spirit that I am a new person, that I have been re-created to be a “little Christ”, then the anger dissipates. It is replaced by a peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:5-6), and by a humble confidence in God.

Suicide and Salvation

I write this in the wake of the reported suicide of Robin Williams. Many of us are shocked, and many who battle depression have empathy for him. Everyone should have sympathy, and no one offer condemnation. However, it is very important to realize that suicide is not the answer to peace or escape.

There is a very dangerous belief shared by many Americans when death occurs. I’ve heard it at many funerals, and you’ll hear variations of it as people talk about Robin Williams or others who’ve died, whether by their own hand or in another way. Theologians call the belief in question, “universalism,” which means all people are going to heaven, or to “a better place.” Sadly, I must report the truth, however: everyone who dies will not go to a better place. I realize fully that this is neither comforting nor popular. However, if you are comforting yourself and others at the price of perpetuating a lie, then you are buying a little comfort at the price of eternal pain. If you want to know the truth, then you need to go to the Bible, which is God’s message to humankind.

The Bible teaches the following. Everyone dies. Everyone will be judged by God. “It is appointed for everyone once to die and then comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Not everyone will be in heaven. “Anyone whose name was not found written in the Lamb’s Book of Life was thrown into the Lake of Fire with the Devil and his angels” (Revelation 20:15). You will be judged. Only those with their names in the book spoken of will go to heaven. How would you know?

Actually, you get to choose one of two destinations, but only two. Either you choose to spend eternity with God in heaven, or to be eternally separated from God, which is hell. There is not a third option. There is no purgatory mentioned in the Bible, even though the Roman Catholic church has developed such a doctrine. Heaven is not a place of your own making, the realization of your fantasies, or the reward of living a good life (even if that were possible on your own).

Appropriately, Robin Williams was in a movie about heaven once. The 1998 release “What Dreams May Come” was based on a 1978 book of the same title by Richard Matheson, The concept of heaven is not one you’ll find in the Bible; instead, it depicts a sort of dream heaven that might be nearer to the idea many share, or, at least, wish for. In the movie heaven is essentially the living out of one’s wishes and desires. This is a “heaven” without God, or perhaps, more accurately, a heaven of one’s own making, so I am my own god. In the film Robin Williams plays the main character, Chris Nielsen, who dies in a car accident and is led through his heaven by a “friendly spirit” (Cuba Gooding Jr.). Chris’s wife, Ann (Annabella Sciorra), commits suicide and lives on in her own self-made hell (the antithesis of this concept of heaven). Chris saves his wife in the end. This kind of thinking has displaced the Bible in our culture and that gives more room for people who are considering suicide to believe they will be in a “better place.” 

Williams may have been inclined to believe in some form of reincarnation. Here’s a quote about the film from an interview mentioned in an article by Huffington Press. 

“When I watched the final movie, I felt it was extraordinarily beautiful but I felt disappointed by the ending. There was a different ending that they shot that I felt was much more true to the story. It was about reincarnation, basically, that they were going to meet again. The movie ended with two babies being born simultaneously, one in Bombay and one in the United States, and they held them up, and then the screen went to black.”

Did this play into his consideration of suicide? We may never know.

There will be no reincarnation, as Hinduism has it. There will be a resurrection, both of the righteous and the unrighteous (Revelation 20:6 and surrounding). The righteous are those who’ve been made right by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross (Romans 3:24-26), who have been reborn by receiving Christ (John 1:12, 3:3 & 5). These people are justified (made right) by Jesus Christ and will rise from the dead and reign with Him. The unrighteous are those who do not believe, who reject Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for their sins . They will come up in the second resurrection and will be judged according to what is written in “the books,” which means they will be judged for their own works. Since none are righteous apart from Christ (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:23), they are thrown into the Lake of Fire to be eternally destroyed (Revelation 20:11-15).

Heaven is “God’s space, or God’s dimension” to quote theologian N.T. Wright (from his book Surprised by Hope). This is where God’s throne is (Psalm 11:4). After death we leave earth and enter the dimensions of God’s space beyond time.  So, I don’t die and go to “my heaven.” If I don’t believe in God, if I don’t want to be with God, if I want to escape his presence, the only option is hell. This is a realm where people are forever separated from God, and must ultimately pay the penalty for their own sins, which is eternal death, or destruction.

So, there is no heaven apart from God. Even if you were given some realm in which to live out your dreams, without God it would soon become hell. Human beings were made by God and for God (Psalm 100:3). We were made to be loved by God, and to love and worship God (Matthew 22:37-38). Self-love alone is malformed love, which soon devolves into selfish idolatry. I am missing what I was made for if I am apart from God. I become increasingly warped and monstrous the longer I remain separated from God. I believe what will make hell more “hellish” is that those who dwell there will have only self to sense and serve and love. We were created not only to love God but to love other people (Matthew 22:39). In order to do that we must receive the love God offers through Jesus. “Love one another the way I have loved you” (John 15:12). In hell we will be separated, not only from God, but from caring about others. Love will be impossible.

In this fallen world we are naturally separated from God by sin. Humans were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), but we are fallen; we are broken. So long as we live in this dimension of time, however, there is time enough to change.  We are malformed creatures, who may be reformed into the image of God by putting faith in Jesus Christ. That is our hope and our opportunity now, today. “Today is the day of salvation, now is the time of God’s favor” (2 Corinthians 6:2). This is why suicide is such a horrible lie. When someone commits suicide, they are looking for salvation from their depression and pain. The reality is, they have destroyed the opportunity to be saved in that moment.

A hurting person wants whatever they are going through to stop, but ending their earthly life will not stop it. Instead it may bring more pain than they can possibly imagine. There was a time in the Bible when the people were longing for an end to their difficult circumstances. They cried out for “the Day of the Lord,” which is another way of saying “Judgment Day,” the time when God will make everything right. Problem is, the people who cried out for this were sinning. They were not right with God. In fact, the circumstances they were complaining about were actually sent by God as discipline. The pain they were enduring would only be temporary if they would change their hearts and minds and listen to God. Here is what the prophet Amos told these people about their desire to see the Day of the Lord, and I believe that this is what the suicidal person needs to hear, for they are hastening the day of their own judgment.

“Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! 

Why would you have the day of the Lord? 

It is darkness, and not light, 

 as if a man fled from a lion, 

and a bear met him, 

or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, 

and a serpent bit him. 

Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, 

and gloom with no brightness in it?”

(Amos 5:18-20).

If you’re hurting, depressed, despairing, there is hope! Your hope is cannot be killing yourself. The Sixth Commandment explicitly forbid this: You shall not kill. That means God commands you not to kill yourself, friend. He loves you and has a better life planned for you than you are currently experiencing. “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to help you, not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). The promise made to His exiled people in this verse is for you too. If you are in exile from God, from love, from light, from experiencing life. Jesus offers a rich and satisfying life. It is the enemy of God, Satan, who wants to kill you. 

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come to give abundant life” (John 10:10). The thief is Satan. He is a murderer and a liar; in fact, he is the source of the lies you are believing right now. “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44b).

Change your thinking, friend. Change your ways. Turn your life completely over to the care of the Lord Jesus Christ, right now.

We all sin. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). All of us earn death for our sin. “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a). Jesus died so you don’t have to! Jesus also rose from the dead. He overcame our worst enemy, the devil, and our greatest fear, death.

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had* the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.”

(Hebrews 2:14-15, NLT).

Jesus is alive and He offers you the gift of eternal life, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). 

You need to be saved. “What must we do to be saved” (Acts 2:38a)? All you have to do is turn away from your own thinking and your own ways and turn toward Jesus Christ. “Repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38b). Call out to Jesus right now. Admit you’ve sinned, admit that suicidal thoughts are sin. Confess that Jesus died and rose so that you can be forgiven and saved. “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved… whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:9 & 13).

Pray right now:

Jesus,

I believe in you.

I believe you died for my sins.

I believe you rose from the dead.

I give you my life, right now.

I want your Holy Spirit to live inside of me.

I receive you, your gift of eternal life and all that you have to offer.

Jesus Christ, you are Lord and God.

You are my God.

Amen.

Now, get to a church and get some support. Start reading your Bible so that your mind can be renewed and transformed (Romans 12:2). If you haven’t been baptized in water since you gave your life to Jesus Christ, you must be. He commanded it.

For more, visit our church’s website http://lifewellchurch.com

Sick and Sad 13

Sick and sad,

already broken or

I’d be breaking bad.

But still, 

what if I

took a sabbatical

and tested myself?

Solomon is the example.

He knew that life under the sun

is all vanity, but indulged

only for a moment in pleasure and fun.

All the while he watched 

with his wisdom intact

to discover if

nothing is worth it, in fact.

I know the answer,

as did the wisest man.

But I need to feel

something.

I’ve got to find a way to become

someone.

This tame existence is killing me.

My dreams are dammed up,

my desires are pent up,

and lust must be damned out.

But I’ve got to break free

from this boring little life

before I waste away.

Everyone loves

the Prodigal.

His return was celebrated

his story told and retold,

while the responsible son

tended sheep out in the cold.

I wait and wait and wait and wait,

my heart is sick

from hope deferred

and unfulfilled longing.

When, O when

will I reach the heights

I thought God called me to

back then, at a time when

everything seemed possible.

When can I be fulfilled again?

Over half my life is gone

and still I wait.

I suppose I’ll be like 

Abraham

rather than Solomon.

Restore to me the joy

of my salvation.

Vindication, Part 8, Popularity and Brokenness

This is the eighth chapter in a series about 21 years of overcoming conflict and opposition as I’ve tried to learn how to minister and speak the truth in Garland, Texas. You can read the first seven parts at www.deorl.wordpress.com or in my notes on www.Facebook.com/deorl.

 

I don’t want to sound jaded or cynical, but so much of what I see in regard to church and ministry may be explained by the politics of the playground. You remember elementary school, right? Actually, this applies to school all the way through college, but the playground is a seedbed and an accessible example. Starting in kindergarten there are popular and unpopular kids, as well as many in the middle. Those in the middle determine who is popular by virtue of whom they decide to follow. 

 

There was a game that was often played when I was in grade school that illustrates this. A group of kids would join hands and walk shoulder to shoulder through the playground chanting, “Hey, hey, get out of my way, I just got back from the USA!” The group grew when other kids joined it by taking the hand of a member at either end of the chorus line. If the kids at both ends thought you had cooties or something, then you didn’t get to join that group. There were usually competing groups marching around and chanting loudly. Sometimes two groups would stand opposite one another and battle by screaming, perhaps bumping each other. A kid or two might join an opposing group, usually because it was larger, or had more popular people in it. The larger groups gained members quickly, while the smaller groups grew more slowly or simply disbanded (some or all of their members joining a larger group).  Many people like to be a part of something big.

 

None of these groups was spontaneous; someone started each one by recruiting the first members, then marching and chanting to advertise for more. I’m sure you’ve already jumped ahead to my intended application. Churches are really no different than these chorus lines on the playground. Although, I would hope a church has higher aspirations than merely gaining more members. If the main point of a church’s existence is increasing numerically, then how is that church any different from, say, a gym, a restaurant, or a store? All of these are striving to gain more loyal customers.

 

The word for church in the original Greek means “called out.” I have always believed the New Testament teaching about church: it is a community God has called out from the world to worship him, support one another, learn to follow Christ’s teaching, and offer the Gospel to the world (see Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 2:42-47 & 4:32-35). As we proclaim the resurrected Jesus and live out his love in the world, God calls people to become a part of his Kingdom and join our communities. “And he added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

 

Therefore, the big difference between playground politics and church membership should be the God factor. We (pastors, teachers, evangelists, every day Christians) broadcast the Good News and those who receive it are called by God to be part of a community of fellow believers. That call happens when God’s Holy Spirit draws or compels a person to become part of a local church. Here is where I get negative, perhaps you would say skeptical (hopefully not cynical). I don’t think most people are paying attention to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Many misconstrue their own feelings as God moving. The reality is, a lot of people are just following the popular impulse to attend a particular church because others like them are there. Many seek to identify with an attractive brand, or affiliate with what appears to be a trustworthy institution. The pastor and his family look like our kind of people, so we want to be a part of their group.

 

The “why” of popularity has been a source of consideration and consternation for me since first grade (I never went to kindergarten). Why am I not popular? I remember running for class office in fourth grade. I spent all night putting together packets with candy to bribe class members into voting for me. I got two votes (yes, mine was one of them). In high school I would never have dreamed of trying to run for office, but in government class my senior year there was an election for some office. I ran on a platform that included legalization of marijuana (a transparent attempt to get the stoner vote), and lost. In college I started a Bible study at the Baptist Student Union. I put up flyers all over campus. I had one freshman who kept attending, and that was it. I tried to get on the BSU steering committee and was denied by the BSU director. He said that my efforts at personal evangelism would somehow be hindered by having a position on the committee. In the end he just didn’t like me (not hostility, just simple rejection). Why don’t more people like me? 

 

We started the church I lead the same year as two others in our region. Both of these churches are large, ours is not. I’m sure that there are other congregations that started the same year which don’t even exist any longer. Reportedly, 32% of all new church plants fail within five years (NAMB report http://www.namb.net/namb1cb2col.aspx?id=8590001104 ) I know of one congregation in our city that started several years before ours, became quite large, then folded. Perhaps focusing on our continued survival could be a source of consolation for me, but it isn’t. I always thought if God led me to start a church, it would grow large. I was saved in a large church. I know the importance of evangelism and preach the Gospel. I once ran a ministry that introduced thousands of people to Christ (House of Judgement was used to lead over 10,000 people to pray a prayer of salvation). So, why in heaven and earth has the church I lead not grown beyond a hundred or so (at times a few more, at others, many less)?

 

Perhaps it is because I am not married. People are looking for a pastor who is a family man, for a father of children, for a husband of a lovely wife. Sorry, that’s not my call. God hasn’t shown me anyone to marry, and I will not jump into a relationship to make other people happy with me. Perhaps it is because I do not have an appealing appearance. I have crooked teeth and don’t smile as often as I’d like to because of self-consciousness. I guess this is my fault by now. If I spent money on the dentist like I have Apple products, I’d have a beautiful smile. But wait, I thought the church was, well, supernatural, a community of people who have been called out of the world, not a social group who have decided to cluster around a handsome, charismatic leader. As a reminder, last Monday (11-19-2-13) marked 35 years since 900 people committed suicide at the command of cult leader Jim Jones.

 

Is it my sin that keeps the church from growing? Yes, I sin. No, I’m not smoking meth and seeing prostitutes (as the prominent pastor of a large church in Colorado was discovered doing several years back). I’m not stealing from the church or manipulating people to give money (there are plenty of ministry leaders who have been caught doing so). I’ve never had sex outside marriage. I don’t even look at porn– I cannot say I never have, but it’s been a very long time and even then it was quite brief. I do get angry. I do use some obscenities on occasion (usually when alone and yelling at some piece of errant technology). I do have to exercise constant restraint on lustful temptation. I’m sure I’ve offended people by saying or doing the wrong thing. I usually to make this right in the end, though that doesn’t always result in the person or people continuing to be members of our church. I do keep writing honest exposés like this one, and some people would prefer to have a fairy tale pastor. There may be some in my community that which I’d just get over myself and stop writing like this. Maybe I should heed that perceived advice.

 

Is it my lack of personal evangelism that keeps the church from increasing? Perhaps. I do know how to share the Gospel with people. I am simply uninterested in appearing like a salesman. I’ve also lost a lot of confidence in recent years. I feel like people will not want to listen to me, so perhaps I don’t share when I should. I lack urgency in this area, but I don’t believe in the dictum: “if it is to be, it is up to me.” I’m not a Calvinist, though. It’s just, God doesn’t need me. Heck, sometimes I don’t even feel as though he likes me. I’ve told God recently that if I got it wrong and I’m not supposed to be in ministry, then show me something else to do. I’d probably be unhappy, but I’m miserable when our attendance and offering is low. I take it personally. I mean why am I here? There are worthy men and women in my church whom I’d love to pay to do the work of ministry. They need the money. We cannot pay them because I cannot get enough people to attend and continue supporting this ministry. It is one thing to fail yourself; believe me, it is a devastating to fail others.

 

Sometimes, I become tired of trying. I’m tired of preparing for a Wednesday night Bible study where five or six people show up. I’m tired of fluctuating Sunday worship attendance: one week 80 or 100, the next week 45-50. I’m tired of people who refuse to continue living for Christ. Half the people I’ve mentored over the years are not living for Christ with any passion, and probably half of those aren’t actively following Jesus any longer. Most of the leaders I looked up to over the years have shown cracks in their armor, and some failed morally. If I look at all of this, it makes me sad and depressed. In fact, I’ve evaluated myself, and at times over the last 15 years I’ve shown signs of clinical depression. I’m beyond burned out; I’m sick and sad and in need of a miracle. This is exactly where God wants me to be so that he gets all the credit and all the glory.

 

I’ve come to the conclusion that this life is all about being broken. Self-confidence is deceptive. Pride is original sin. When I trust in me, there is little room for God. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). There is a huge problem with narcissism in our nation. People have been brought up to believe they need to love themselves in order to love others (a gross misinterpretation of Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” but that’s a topic for another blog). Many of us are inveterate self-promoters. I need more followers on Twitter, more “likes” for my page or my post on Facebook. Indeed, I have to be careful that my desire for higher attendance at our church is not motivated by selfish ambition. Maybe that’s the problem. Don’t worry, I’ve been evaluating that possibility for some time. God’s purpose is not to raise me up and give me glory. My purpose is to worship him, praise him, give him glory, and to lead others (by word and deed) to do the same. In order for that to happen, “He must become greater, I must become less” (John 3:30). “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God that he may raise you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). Jeremiah the prophet was led into the potters house where he watched the craftsman make a pot, then break it down to remake it because it had become marred on the wheel (Jeremiah 18). I am marred. He is remaking me.

  

I still believe. I still love Jesus. I still love my people. I’m still in ministry. I’m still trying. I continue clinging to the promises that brought me to Garland, Texas 21 years ago. If you’ve been reading these articles, you are a trooper. They are pretty negative at times. However, God has not left me. Even though I complain, quarrel and test him like Israel did, he remains my rock. I wrote these eight reflections on ministry as a way of reminding myself that the scripture God used to bring me to this city was prophetic and necessary to keep me from failing and falling. I’m still looking for vindication. I’m still believing God. I’m still trying to change. One thing is for sure: no weapon formed against me shall stand; no scheme against me shall prosper. Yes, I still believe. “Though he slay me, still I will serve him.” Here is a final reminder of the prophecy I seek to (re)establish in my life. 

From Isaiah 41

8 “But you, O Israel, my servant, 

Jacob, whom I have chosen, 

you descendants of Abraham my friend, 

9 I took you from the ends of the earth, 

from its farthest corners I called you. 

I said, ‘You are my servant’; 

I have chosen you and have not rejected you. 

10 So do not fear, for I am with you; 

do not be dismayed, for I am your God. 

I will strengthen you and help you; 

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. 

11 “All who rage against you 

will surely be ashamed and disgraced; 

those who oppose you 

will be as nothing and perish. 

12 Though you search for your enemies, 

you will not find them. 

Those who wage war against you 

will be as nothing at all. 

13 For I am the Lord, your God, 

who takes hold of your right hand 

and says to you, Do not fear; 

I will help you. 

14 Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, 

O little Israel, 

for I myself will help you,” declares the Lord, 

your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. 

15 “See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, 

new and sharp, with many teeth. 

You will thresh the mountains and crush them, 

and reduce the hills to chaff. 

16 You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up, 

and a gale will blow them away. 

But you will rejoice in the Lord 

and glory in the Holy One of Israel. 

17 “The poor and needy search for water, 

but there is none; 

their tongues are parched with thirst. 

But I the Lord will answer them; 

I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. 

18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights, 

and springs within the valleys. 

I will turn the desert into pools of water, 

and the parched ground into springs. 

19 I will put in the desert 

the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. 

I will set pines in the wasteland, 

the fir and the cypress together, 

20 so that people may see and know, 

may consider and understand, 

that the hand of the Lord has done this, 

that the Holy One of Israel has created it.

 

AMEN.