Monthly Archives: August 2010

Links to Make You Think

  • Sometimes we talk about our weaknesses. Usually that means we are thinking we justimage need to strengthen them and our ministry will succeed. This post by Ray Ortland makes it clear that the problem is weakness; we are weak. Period. And that’s a good thing.
  • Ed Stetzer writes about the dangers of treating a pastor like a celebrity. As you’d expect, he has some ideas for mitigating the tendency.
  • If you want to understand and communicate with the college class of 2014, Beloit College’s Mindset List for 2014 will help. The older you are, the more surprising you might find the observations.

Speaking Freely?

depressedAnne Jackson asked “What is it that you can’t say in church?” on her blog in 2008. The answers led to a recently published book, and lots of discussion among Christians. Anne discovered that there were all hundreds of topics that people felt (rightly or wrongly) they could not talk about in their church. As a pastor I thought about how I might help my next church be a bit more safe for those who ask these questions. But I also considered what it is that I don’t seem to be able to talk freely and honestly about in Christian circles. At the top of my list would be I sometimes get discouraged.

Most of the time I’m pretty balanced. As I wait for God’s perfect timing as to my next church and ministry I’ve mostly been able to keep a clear head and a joyful spirit. Yet some days I find myself discouraged, down, a bit depressed. At times it is generic, but some days there seems to be a sense of being overwhelmed by loss. Some of that has to do with my personality, some may come from spiritual battles, probably most deal with my humanness and sinfulness. All of it has to do with the way life is – the way it unfolds in a broken world. I trust I am learning through this long season of waiting … that I’m seeing God despite the things that wear on my soul.

What are those things? At the risk of sounding like I’m throwing a pity party …

  • The cost of change. I’ve been through personal and corporate change before. I’ve experienced the emotions that come with change. I’ve talked others through change. Yet this time it seems at times to catch me off guard. Maybe because it is not yet a completed change. I’ve left something, but not arrived, and my feet are firmly planted in the air … waiting for the rest.
  • Speaking of waiting. It’s hard work! Staying in place; waiting for clear direction from the Lord; waiting for acknowledgment of an application; waiting for … well, just waiting.
  • With the significant change in my life comes the pain of leaving and losing friends. As circumstances change, their lives go on, their lives change, they have commitments to things I have left, they have new commitments. Our paths don’t cross. It is a great reminder as to the value of true friends – especially those that transcend the circumstances – but there are fewer of them. Some days it just feels lonely.
  • I realize that I am but a small player in the larger story of the lives of most of those I know. Even those whom I’ve known well must move on with their life, their family, their ministry, but I miss knowing the unfolding details of their lives.
  • I am reminded of how many Christian clichés there are and how often they don’t really encourage.
  • I’m hurt by those who assume that something must be wrong with me, my Christian life, or that I have made misguided choices, or that maybe I’m deficient for the work of God … why else would I have to wait so long?
  • I am human in more ways than I would like to admit … that in itself sometimes becomes discouraging. Yet there it is. Yes. There. It. Is.
  • I really dislike knowing that I am whining while some people are truly in very desperate, scary, situations. Situations that are far beyond mine.

Yet God continues to be gracious to us. I’ve seen signs of his grace and mercy even in small things. His mercies are new every morning. God has not forgotten me. I know that God will provide, I’ve experienced his provision before. I’ve been frustrated that I’ve burned through almost everything, only to experience his generous provision, and have my ability to be content expanded along the way. He continues to use me, even in my great weakness, to redemptively connect with people. There are those jewels of friends who transcend circumstances and redemptively and lovingly remain in my life.

Ps 145:9 The LORD is good to all, And His tender mercies are over all His works.

Ps 23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.


Derek Tidball indicates that doubt in spiritual matters is not the same as unbelief, although it could be a warning sign that one is on the edge of unbelief. It is helpful to determine the source of one’s doubt before seeking to “cure” it. He notes that there are seven families of doubt:

  1. Doubt arising from ingratitude.
  2. Doubt arising from a faulty view of God.
  3. Doubt arising from a weak foundation.
  4. Doubt arising from a lack of commitment.
  5. Doubt arising from a lack of spiritual growth.
  6. Doubt arising from unruly emotions
  7. Doubt arising from fearing to believe.

Doubt isn’t always from “not believing hard enough.” Sometimes it comes from a lack of knowledge.  Sadly, Skillful Shepherds: An Introduction to Pastoral Theology has been out of print for a while, but can be found used.

Masks and Love

At times we can get overly concerned with how others see us. It may become a significant enough concern that we begin to “perform” in ways that make us look good. When that happens we usually fail to let our weaknesses, and our hurts come out – at least to others – especially if we have a role with a great deal of responsibility. Particularly if that is a spiritual leadership role in a church where, for some reason, we think we have to be perfect and have it all together. (OK, I confess … I might be included in the “we”).

When that happens we may begin to consider that we are accepted by others only because we seem to have it all together. The fact is that the “with it” Christian  is a fallacy. Each and every one of us fails in some way. When the combination of our weakness and the felt need to keep up appearances is unchallenged we can get so caught up in our need to perform that we might choose to a “performance mask” that keeps others from seeing who we GlasgowMay07 (26)really are.

Someone once said that all people seem to have three deep longings regarding love, and to the degree we consider them unmet, we will wear masks in order to protect ourselves from being exposed or hurt. As best I recall the three longings are:

    • to be loved with a love that is so free that they don’t have to fear being real, even if it means being weak;
    • to be loved with a without fear of being used, or worse, abused;
    • to know love so strong that it won’t distance itself from me even when we hurt.

Blessed is the one who knows this kind of love in his family and friends. More blessed is when we understand that we always have this love in Jesus! Hopefully we might love others in a manner that would help them loosen any mask they might be wearing.

On a related note Anne Jackson’s Permission to Speak Freely touches on this topic in a redemptive and hopeful manner.

Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession, and Grace

Take Time To Rest

The following is from the Life of Saint John the Evangelist. I jotted it in my journal in 1988 when I was tired and feeling guilty about taking time for rest and play (something of an ongoing problem for me). I have no clear remembrance of why I was so intense, but it really doesn’t matter. I’ve had this same issue over and over again.

Cassiodorus saith that a man had given to Saint John a partridge living, and he held it in his hand stroking and playing with it otherwhile for his recreation. And on a time a young man passed by with his fellowship and saw him play with his bird, which said to his fellows, laughing: See how the yonder old man playeth with a bird like a child. Which Saint John knew anon, by the Holy Ghost, what he had said, and called the young man to him and demanded him what he held in his hand, and he said a bow. What dost thou withal? said Saint John. And the young man said: We shoot birds and beasts therewith, to whom the apostle demanded how and in what manner. Then the young man bent his bow and held it in his hand bent, and when the apostle said no more to him he unbent his bow again. Then said the apostle to him: Why hast thou unbent thy bow? And he said: Because if it should be long bent it should be the weaker for to shoot with it. Then said the apostle, So son, it fareth by mankind and by frailty in contemplation, if it should alway be bent it should be too weak, and therefor otherwhile it is expedient to have recreation. The eagle is the bird that flyeth highest, and most clearly beholdeth the sun, and yet by necessity of nature him behoveth to descend low, right so when mankind withdraweth him a little from contemplation, he after putteth himself higher by a renewed strength, and he burneth then more fervently in heavenly things.

archery[14]Yeah, it is a bit tough to read quickly, but you get the point. Like a bow that grows weaker if it is held taut all the time, so too do our lives. Lord, give me the ability to play, to enjoy the birds, to smell the roses…

Simple Thoughts About Transparency

I had an opportunity today to speak with a church search committee. It was the first interview they’ve had with me and most of the time was spent trying to figure out who I am when you get past the careful words written on my resume. For a few minutes the conversation swirled around the topic of being an authentic and real fellowship; about being a community that allows believers to have weaknesses, to fall on their faces, even to struggle with sin, without fear of rejection or being shamed. A community that allows for failure and sin, even as it seeks to rebuild lives with compassionate integrity. A community where “masks” are worn less and less, and people are appropriately transparent, vulnerable … authentic.

What went unsaid is how difficult it is for pastors to model this from the pulpit. Many in my generation think that a spiritual leader must not demonstrate too much weakness, or admit to too much that is personal. They should only admit to safe sins, and then only when they have found victory.  Most in the younger generations just tend to let it all out in the name of being real. They often “share their journey” whether or not they have arrived, or have kept to the biblical path of obedience.

I thought about this un-discussed topic and came up with two guidelines, at least for myself, for being transparent as a teacher, leader, pastor in the pulpit:

  1. Self-exposure must have a purpose that helps my audience. Merely telling people about my struggles usually does little unless I also share how God is at work in them, or how I am working it through with God. Talking about my sin for the sake of talking about sin, or merely for the purpose of identifying with others, might make me seem more real, but the pulpit probably is not the place for that.
  2. Point people to Christ, not to myself and how bad I am, or how difficult my struggle, my doubts, my …. We don’t tell how we solve problems, but rather how Christ does, or how he meets us in the midst. We must constantly point people (each one of which is sinning at some level) back to the gracious work of God at the Cross … where we all fall on our knees in humble dependence. Especially this pastor.

Book Review: Saint Francis by Robert West

Saint Francis is part of Thomas Nelson’s Christian Encounters biography series which is designed to highlight important lives from all ages and areas of the Church. As such, this entry in the series, accomplishes that purpose. The reader will gain an overview of the life and work of this Catholic Saint often alluded to even by evangelical Protestants. West writes in an easy-to-read engaging style with a hint of humor and comparisons to modern-day culture that helps the reader grasp the 13th century world of Francis of the small town of Assisi. As readers, we follow Francis in that world from his childhood, his early years as a profligate, to his life changing loss, to his spiritual turning, through his steadfast commitment to a “rule of poverty”, gathering people to his orders, to his death. At each step it is obvious that Francis was a significant person in the life of the Catholic Church. His teachings are mentioned along the way, as are the practices he held dear; hints as to how he became the patron saint of ecologists and animal lovers are also to be found.

While the book is a good overview, it does not attempt to do much with the veracity of the doctrine held by Francis other than note that “his message was not theologically profound” (p. 217). The facts presented make it clear that Francis was thoroughly Catholic, committed to the Pope, albeit a Catholic with a unique approach to penance – the “rule of poverty” – which for the times, was powerful in exposing the corruption of many church leaders.

I would recommend this book for its stated purpose of highlighting and introducing Francis of Assisi to a modern audience.

Saint Francis (Christian Encounters Series)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.