Thursday, October 28, 2010

Observations of a New Pastor pt.4: Shepherd Your Sheep

Sadly, I have never seen shepherding modeled well in ministry. Yes, Jesus did it perfectly, but I’m not talking about him. I’m talking about the men I’ve been around. Will I ever see it done well (will I ever do it well)? I don’t think so. But can we take a dang good stab at it? Yes sir, we can, by the grace of God.
Pastors are to be under-shepherds of the flock of God. Of those whom God has called to be his sheep he calls (and gifts) some sheep to lead. These are under-shepherds (pastors) they are to follow the Shepherd (Jesus), and thus lead the flock through their following.
I’ve seen three tendencies in shepherds. First, over-leading, meaning the pastor will do a fantastic job at the church helping the spiritually sick and needy but will neglect his family. Second, cowardice, meaning the pastor will either flip-flop from conversation to conversation or will simply avoid the situation. Thirdly, laziness, meaning the pastor would rather not involve himself in the plight of the sheep for want of relaxation or home-life.
All of these will kill a flock. A pastor who neglects his family to tend the flock kills his primary flock (his family) and in so doing kills his secondary flock (the church). A pastor who is a coward kills the flock through indecision and unwillingness to preach the Gospel. A pastor who is lazy kills the flock by not using his shepherd’s staff to guide them to fresh grass and sweet water.
I am guilty of all of these tendencies. I have done them all at least 10 times (Neglect of priorities as opposed to family seeing as I don’t have one). So the rub is this: how does a pastor shepherd his flock?
He doesn’t.
Though he is the one preaching or writing; though he is the one drinking coffee or counseling; though he answers the phone calls and text messages; the best way for him to shepherd his flock is to understand it is God who does all the shepherding.
The identity of the pastor must be lost in Jesus. Only then will he lead his primary and secondary flock well, only then will he say exactly what needs to be said (offensive or not), only then will he feel the weightiness of his calling. For only then will all else pale in comparison with who Jesus Christ is.
So for the pastor, Jesus is your hope not your position. Life is the ebb and flow of the careening tempest, yet by the grace of God we cling to the Solid Rock of God and follow him well.
For the laymen, Jesus is your hope not your pastor. Your pastor will fail you. He is a sinner (not an excuse just a fact). Thus as he strives, Lord willing, to cling tightly (with all his life) to the Gospel, so you should follow his leading and cling tightly to the Gospel (with all of your life).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Overwhelming Flood (A post for believers)

Most of us know the feeling. If you don’t you will. When we are submerged completely beneath the gravity of life and the weightiness of our sin. When the tide comes rushing in so swiftly there is no hope of escape and no idea save panic in your mind. Whether it’s work or school or family or relationships matters not, the feeling is the same. ‘Utter helplessness’ and ‘sheer exhaustion’ are the words we press in other’s ears trying to describe our feelings.
It’s the evening when you crumble into bed and weep bitterly for no apparent reason. It’s the day when chirping birds and laughing children are gongs in your ears. It’s the moments when the warmth of the sun and the kiss of the breeze feel like needles on your raw skin. It’s the time when the sweetness of melodies and the sound of a dear voice are fingernails on chalkboards.
Indeed it is the whelming, no the overwhelming flood. While our feet remain firmly trapped in the muck the ocean pounds over us and there is no apparent end in sight.
Why does God let these times happen? What’s the point? Is he just a sick and twisted kid with a magnifying glass and we are his ant farm, or just a freakin jerk?
Our thoughts may tend to the ‘freakin jerk’ answer. We see these rough times in other believer’s lives, so doesn’t that mean God is just pulling our legs for his own kicks and giggles?
No.
Religious affections.
What we love will be pitted against what we say we ‘love’. There is a reason these times are called ‘tests’ and ‘trials’ those are not just adjectives tossed to fill a sentence, they carry meaning. In a ‘test’ what you ‘know’ is shown for what you really, truly know. In a ‘trial’ what you ‘love’ is tried against the very things you practically love.
Is that explanation supposed to make you feel better about the dark depressive valley? No. Not at all.
This is:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives."
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” Heb. 12:1-13

“If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” Take heart and cling tightly to the Gospel. It is your only hope in this tempest called ‘life’.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Observations of a New Pastor pt.3: The Call

Called. This is a word thrown around in churchy circles. “Do you fell ‘called’ to tell them the Gospel?” “Do you feel ‘called’ to give more in the offering plate?” “Do you feel ‘called’ to missions?” The weightiness of its meaning has been lost thanks to a century of over use and unfamiliarity.
What is a call? Not a phone call, but a call in the churchy sense. This word that we’ve tossed about like a paper airplane without considering it’s meaning or the tonnage that follows in its wake. More often than not it’s used as a sentence filler or a vocab credit (look at me I know church lingo). But the call is a burdensome thing.
A man who feels a call cannot do anything but his calling. It is seated so deeply within his being it is a fire in his bones. Visible when he speaks, sparking up in his eyes at its mention. When conversation begins to move in that direction his heart wells up and his mind flies, he longs to speak of his passion and to see others drawn into the same love. For this man to do anything else would be a travesty. Indeed, If a man can stand to do something, anything else he does not feel a genuine calling.
So what is a call? It could best be described as a fire in the bones. Though this description leaves more to be wanted. It goes further than his mind and deeper than his heart; it attaches itself to the very fabric of who this man is. Indeed if his bones are broken because of his calling it is more likely to cause a stronger sense of calling rather than shattering it.
As a new pastor I would say this, “If I felt no calling to being a pastor, I would not do it. This job would suck if I didn’t feel called. The burden of being a shepherd of loving stupid sheep (though I am one) is difficult. Seeing people hear the Gospel and saying, ‘My neighbor needs this’ rather than recognizing their own need for it is a wearing tedium. But I feel a call. I’d rather have shards of glass in my eyes than do anything else.”
Granted there are men occupying pastoral positions who feel no calling. Some are there to appease their want for being seen as great. Some are there because it’s the only job they could get cause they sucked at Algebra. For the people following these men I feel pity, because they ought to be pitied. They will sit in their pew (or chair, or couch) and learn from a man who feels not the truth he pretends to believe. No fire in his bones, nor flame in his eye, he simply moves the sheep around the same ravaged field time and time again.
The calling must be made sure. It must be tried in the furnace of affliction. Indeed a man must be broken before he is sure of his call. The gravity of this word, this call, must again be made known. Men ought not to lead as a last resort, they must feel the fire in their bones.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Observations of a New Pastor pt.2: The Job/The Life

Being a pastor is one of the, if not the only job in the world where your personal life has a direct relation on your professional life. Everything you do on your ‘off-time’ will come to light and be judge just as strictly as if you were ‘on the clock’. It is quite an interesting phenomenon, and of course makes total sense.
I’ve heard it said to pastors, “What’s wrong with your church is what’s wrong with you.” I wholeheartedly agree. Let me peal back my skin and show you my heart.
Depression is near yet not so dear to my heart. It always has been. When I hear of one whom rarely, if ever, struggles with depression I marvel and wonder what that must be like. It sucks. Yet I would not trade depression for a peaceful mind. The tumult of depression is a constant reminder of my depravity.
I tell you this because a majority of the people I am privileged to lead deal with depression. Coincidence? I think not. Providence? I think so. What’s wrong with my church is what’s wrong with me. Pride. The pride of introspection.
From thought life to action, from personal study to public writing, from sitting in a chair by oneself to teaching, in all of it there must be a pressing on to know God. One cannot simply be in ministry and not grow… unless of course he’s a fraud. One must always be learning, adapting, and becoming wiser. This does not mean the message preached changes. It means the kid who started in ministry grows up to be a godly man and continues this growth for all of his life.
So when the deep desire comes to just act ones age rather than fighting sin well, one must turn to the Gospel. When the spotlight of ministry grows too bright and want of the shadow wells up, one must cling to the Gospel. Why the Gospel? Because, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”
Though the judgments of men are harsh and though a constant feeling of condemnation sits upon the head, Jesus is the identity. The pastor ought to be lost in him, so much so that there is little reference to the boy that used to be there. My biggest problem has been taken care of on the cross of Christ and therefore the harsh judgments of men are a leaf in the fall breeze. The constant condemnation is fader for the fire of remembering; “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1)”
But in all the falling of leaves and the stoking of flames the pastor must fight his personal sin publically, through the grace of God purchased on the cross of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Observations of a New Pastor

I haven’t been doing this very long. In the grand scheme of things I’m still na├»ve to many of the problems pastors encounter. But there have been things that I’ve seen now and things that I wish I had seen modeled by pastors I love which will shape who I am in ministry until God sends something bigger.
The dynamic has changed. It’s like moving to a different part of town, the friends remain the same, but they all change… Rather you change. Some I was close with before are still close but not near as close as they were. Some are a simple blip on the radar. Some I don’t know anymore. Things have changed. Whether it is God working to grow me, or my sin of being overly busy, I’m not sure.
As I write I see the books on my shelves and know from their spines which ones were good for my brain in ministry and which ones sucked. I think in terms of Sundays passed, not days or moments. A ‘big deal’ is putting a fire out over the phone or through a conversation. But the life of the pastor is more than these things.
It is my prayer, through this series of posts, to be extremely candid with you my readers (all five of you). To simply write, as a man, how working in ministry changes me, as well as to write simple insights into how I’ve done ministry poorly. I would rather write this now than after 50 years of ministry. I’d rather see this on my desktop and remember whom I serve, then to have theoretical constructs running amuck in my brain for 40 years.
So, here it goes, Observations of New Pastor. “Hi, my name is Sam Morris, I’m a pastor.”

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Joy pt. 4: Grace

I know of nothing more beautiful than the grace afforded believers in the Gospel.
I have seen much. From cathedrals in Europe to the stars of a different hemisphere, from the mighty pyramids to the sunset over a jungle of unrest, they do not compare. Even the emotions of life don’t compare to this one theme. Gaining deep lasting friendships and holding a newborn baby, watching my brothers be baptized and seeing my sister wed, they do not compare.
It would cheapen the picture of grace to call it ‘gorgeous’ or ‘beautiful’ even ‘breath-taking’ leaves thousands more miles to be wanted in a remotely sufficient description of grace. I cannot, I will not attempt to describe its beauty, rather our relation to it.
We are drowning in its unfathomable depths. Thank God. We cannot tell up from down, left from right because we are so swamped with grace’s immensity.
God sits on his throne and commands the magistrate of grace to be lavished upon us, and he comes unbridled and unflinching to us. There is no hesitation in his step, no second-thought in his mind.
He comes and woos us to the King. He tells of his kindness toward us undeserved ones. Indeed he informs us he was sent by the King to carry us to the Sovereign.
“You see,” he says, “You are broken and cannot come to the King on your own. You have been shattered by the fall. But I have been bought by Jesus and sent by the King to cover your brokenness and take you where you could not otherwise go.”
Though we are covered in necrotic flesh and though the maggots eat at our wounds, grace covers believers. Though we smell and often look for love somewhere else, grace covers believers. Though our sin taints every intention in our life, grace covers us. Martin Luther described us well, “We are dung hills covered in snow.”
Grace. We are hidden within it. We cannot escape it. With every breath it covers us more. Jesus has bought an incomparable gift. He has lavished us with his grace.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Intentions are funny things

Intentions are funny thing. They tell us who we are. Not who we want to be seen as; not as who we are perceived as by others, but who we are.
Typically we feel pretty good about our decisions, about why we do what we do. But what if we trace our decisions and subsequent actions back to the intent? What would we find? Would we like what we find?
Jonathan Edwards resolved, “44- Resolved, that no other end but religion, shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. Jan.12, 1723.” Religion being ‘true-religion’ AKA to the glory of God.
Henry Scougal said, “…How few of us understand and believe what we say? These notions float in our brains, and come sliding off our tongues, but we have no deep impression of them in our spirits; we feel not the truth, which we pretend to believe. We can tell that all the glory and splendor, all the pleasures and enjoyments of the world are vanity and nothing and yet these nothings take up all our thoughts and engross all our affections, they stifle the better inclinations of our soul, and inveigle us to many a sin.”
I’m struggling with saying that God’s glory ought to be the aim of our hearts, souls, and minds and if it’s not were sinning… But I feel it’s right. God is about the singular business of glorifying his name (with its far reaching implications), and thus we, as believers striving by his grace to be like his Son, ought to be attempting to be about the same business…
So the question remains, “If we trace our decisions and subsequent actions back to their intent what will we find?” Who are we? Are we self-serving or God honoring? The answer is there and we all know it, but I feel we are not shaken by what we find… We’re comfortable with being the sinner we are. This includes myself, thank God for the Gospel through which we say "O wretched man that I am who will deliver me from this body of death (this body of comfort in my sin)? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Joy pt. 3: Mud-pies & Sandcastles

All of life is learning. From the classroom to the distraction; from the Church to the house; from the coffee shop to the car, everything, all of it, contains teachable moments. But we don’t approach life that way.
We see life as the venue and the stage of performing our knowledge in front of the audience that ought to adore us. Being the spectacle not the spectator, being the star not the first-row (let alone the back-row).
But it’s hard to be the performer, the star, and the spectacle. It’s unsustainable. It’s exhausting. It’s killing.
Think about it, if life was seen as millions of opportunities to learn as opposed to your ‘special performance’ then resting and finding joy in the little graces would be comparatively easy. But if all of life is your ‘breakthrough moment’ then all of life is critically important and exhausting.
To be sure life is important and there are times were God uses you critically, but it is not always your show… In fact even when you are the linchpin you are not the star, you are used.
So the classroom is opportunity though monotonous; the happily welcomed distractor is opportunity though wonderful; the drive is opportunity though familiar; the book is opportunity though tiring; the friends are opportunity though fun.
All of life is learning, because all of life is grace. We live and breathe and have our movement because of God’s incredibly free and unflinching grace. So how does this apply to joy? Simply.
Mud-pies and sandcastles rather Mud-pies to sandcastles. Seeing every moment as opportunity to absorb knowledge creates joy. Child like joy in seeing things differently as if for the first time. So the monotonous moves from mud-pie to sandcastle. The act of changing a tire becomes fascinating as you watch your hands maneuver and work with just a thought.
Grace. It defines our joy. It ignites our joy. It moves us to worship. So simply stated our valleys and our low tides, our lack of joy is because we see the sandcastles of grace as mud-pies of familiarity. Lewis was, and is, right, “We are far to easily pleased.”