Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Are You a Church Burn Out?

Are you bored with church? Do you feel like you’re spiritually dry? Everything seems to be the same; nothing really changes; nothing is moving? Here’s why. You are not moving toward God’s will and purpose for your life. You’re not spiritually healthy, so you’re not growing in your faith. You are not doing anything, or just doing the bare minimum. You’re in spiritual survival mode, instead of thriving and flourishing. You’re living more for the world than for God. Where is your supposed faith? Perhaps you’re doing things for God, serving at church, but you’re doing from your flesh. That means your doing it all by yourself, from your own limited resources, rather than in partnership with God.

The reality is: you have limited time, limited money, and, let’s face it, you may well have less and less interest in church or in pursuing God. Jesus said, “If you aibde in me, and I in you, then you’ll produce much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). That means, even if you’re doing something for God, you’re accomplishing nothing significant because if you’re not doing it from the power of the Holy Spirit’s presence in you. Is the Holy Spirit filling you? I’m not talking theory here, friends. I’m not asking you to go back to some time in your past when you “accepted Christ,” or had an emotional experience with God. I mean, are you filled with the power and presence of God? No? Then why aren’t you asking, even crying out, for that? “How much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (Luke 11:13).

The Holy Spirit’s presence is the requirement for fruitful activity in the Lord. That’s the reason you’re burned out, friend. You’re full of your own effort, not the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is the Person of the Trinity who brings us into Christ and Christ into us. This is not something you work out in your head, or convince yourself of. When the Holy Spirit fills you and empowers you for God’s work, it is a real ongoing experience deep within. He perfects, affirms, strengthens and establishes you from the inside out. I’m not trying to get you to do more for God, although some of you need to do just that. I’m seeking to stir up a genuine spiritual interest. I hope you desire to be filled with God Himself.

Jesus had chosen the 12 apostles, and trained them to be his witnesses in the world. One betrayed him, so they were down to 11. Then he told them to “wait in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” The entire Christian mission was on hold, until God poured out the Holy Spirit to empower His people. The apostles were scared, timid and focused on their own little community, until the Day of Pentecost. Suddenly, they were on fire! Now they boldly spread the news about Jesus’ resurrection, and God’s offer of forgiveness for sins and eternal life. The Holy Spirit was availble to everyone who would believe in Jesus. So, why are you still doing this on your own? Why are you satisfied with being bored? Why are you looking at other means of success,  or methods of getting high? If you have really, truly given your life to Jesus Christ, if you still have the least bit of faith, then you’ll never be satisfied until you are filled with the Holy Spirit, and going into all the world to make disciples for Jesus.

“Don’t be stupid. Instead, find out what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t destroy yourself by getting drunk, but let the Spirit fill your life.”  The Holy Bible: The Contemporary English Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), Ephesians 5:17–18.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Acts 1:8.

 

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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.

Vindication 5 Who Is Deaf Like My Servant?

This is the fifth 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 four parts at www.deorl.wordpress.com or in my notes on www.Facebook.com/deorl.

In the early years of our church’s existence we were seeking an identity and a home. I thought we knew who God had called us to be and to whom he had called us to speak and serve. We were refugees who had been called to the rebellious who didn’t like church. We started out meeting in a rented house in Richardson, Texas, as well as hotel ballrooms. Regarding the house, there was some conflict with neighbors and the City of Richardson over our Bible studies and band practices. We were told by the city that we couldn’t have worship services in the house. Well, we were only doing Bible studies there, but there were complaints about that. We had two neighbors that liked us and two that didn’t. Complaints get the attention of city officials and they use zoning laws to limit free speech and free exercise.

We found an old movie theater in Garland, Texas and moved everything there. It was large, which would work well for our dramatic productions, but it had been unoccupied for at least 10 years. Many things had to be done just to bring it up to code. We took out a loan to do the necessary renovations. I really thought we’d be able to grow enough to pay the loan back quickly. However, as it turned out, the age of the building and an uncooperative owner kept us from having an inviting facility where people would worship.

We spent a lot of money getting the air conditioning to work in the building, but when the first winter hit we discovered the building did not have working heat either. This was something an unscrupulous leasing agent had kept from us. When we requested help from the owner, he offered to loan us money to fix the heating in his building. The payments for this five thousand dollar loan would conveniently be added to our rent. Even if this were fair, it wasn’t feasible for us. We were already struggling to pay the rent.

So, our little community froze through two winters in the old theater. During one of those winters I and our worship leader were living in the building as a cost saving measure. It was shortly after the movie Fight Club, and we saw this as our version of the dilapidated old house in which Edward Norton’s character lives. Did I mention it was cold? If you’re from a Northern state, then you probably think Texas cannot get that cold, but living in a building without heat in 30 degree weather is still harsh.

Worship services during these winters were interesting. We did a noon Bible study with brunch, and that happened either in the lobby or outside in front of the building. Our main worship time was at 6:00 P. M. Sundays. We tried various portable heaters, but the ceilings were 34 feet, so it really never got that warm. The few intrepid youths who came to worship huddled around those heaters and tried to pay attention to the service. This was not the best environment for worship attendance growth.

To compound the heating challenge, we also got flooded several times. Once during a drama production, it rained and a drain behind the building failed. Several of our scenes were flooded and we had to cancel the show that night. Neither the owner or the leasing company was willing to take responsibility for this. They did dig out the drain, but wouldn’t compensate us for lost revenue. At this point a little relief from the rent is all we were seeking. It would have even been financially wise on their part because it would have helped us remain in the building.

We had a three year lease, but there was a six month opt-out clause, which was put there by the owner, who was seeking to sell the building. After two years, and two cold winters, we had had enough. We gave our six-month notice in July, which meant we would be out of the building by December 31st.

On December 1st of that year I spoke about spiritual warfare during our Sunday evening worship time. I remember that it was a long message, and sitting on the floor to my right was a young man who would soon be shipped off to the war with Iraq. Warfare is primarily spiritual, even when it appears to be against material foes.

The next morning dawned a beautiful day; the sun was out, temperature was mild. Life, it seemed, was great. By mid-morning my perception of the day changed dramatically. The hearing in my right ear suddenly began to diminish. If I could make a visual analogy, it was as though I was inside a cave with bright sun coming in through the entrance. Then a door began closing like the iris on a camera, and it grew dark. As it got darker, I became more deaf. By 1:00 P. M. on December 2nd, 2002 I could no longer hear in my right ear.

To be deaf is a challenge. However, it was a shock to me because I’d always had good hearing. I do have tinnitus, loud ringing in my ears. This was the result of listening to a youth garage band years earlier. It was cold that day, so the teenagers in the band closed the garage door and turned up the amplifiers. I left with my ears ringing and they’ve never stopped. Up to this point, however, this affliction had not been overwhelming because outside noise usually drowned out the ringing.

Now my right ear was completely deaf to outside sounds. Complete deafness on that side would have been hard to take, but ironically I could still hear ringing in the ear, constant shrill ringing. Imagine if you were in a room where a loud smoke alarm is going off next to one of your ears, but you cannot stop it, or leave the room.

As I grew deaf, I also grew dizzy. I experienced a severe case of vertigo. I had to lay down to keep from vomiting. For a week, whenever I moved my head the room spun in the same direction. This was hell. In fact, as I lay there, perfectly still, I had time to think about hell, and what many Christians say it will be: eternal conscious torment. I could not imagine something so horrible. It changed my perspective. Something I may write about another time.

Thankfully, I believe in a good and loving God who hears prayer. I complained. I cried out. I begged God to help and heal me. I went to the doctor and received minor relief in the form of anti-vomiting medication, but the vertigo continued. I read the Bible and believed God directed I apply a promise from Revelation 2:10. It was originally a promise for the church in the ancient city of Smyrna. It reads: “Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you in prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.” I was surely imprisoned by this strange affliction. I came to believe that the torment would last no longer than ten days. By the tenth day the vertigo was barely noticeable, so perhaps this was an accurate understanding of what the Holy Spirit promised me through the Bible. However, I wasn’t completely healed.

To this day I am almost completely deaf in my right ear. The ringing is loud and incessant: every waking hour, every single day since December 2, 2002. Thankfully, God grants me sleep and I do not hear the ringing then. I often have to strain to hear what people are saying during a conversation because the ringing is as loud as most people speak. When I try to play music or direct sound into that ear through headphones it irritates something and the ringing will become briefly louder.

On several occasions tinnitus in my left ear has flared up and become so loud that I have been terrified the same thing might happen. That would be for me the realization of hell on earth: not just deafness, but constant torment because of unimpeded ringing in both ears. I am trusting God not to allow something so horrific to happen. When I fear the other ear may close up, I cry out and trust my good and loving Father

The only thing that keeps me sane in the midst of constant affliction is the hope that God is good, he loves me and does not intend to harm me. He will not permit evil to overcome me. I remember his promises. I cling to them. I hold God accountable to keep his word.

” 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. 

“All who rage against you

will surely be ashamed and disgraced;

those who oppose you

will be as nothing and perish.

Though you search for your enemies,

you will not find them.

Those who wage war against you

will be as nothing at all.

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.”

(Isaiah 41:10-13, NIV)