Let’s get real…Do you REALLY want to grow spiritually?
Being one that is chronically ill, pain becomes a multi-faceted word. As of today, I am 27 years old and have undergone nearly 40 surgical procedures; with each one bringing me face to face with many types of pain.
As if that weren’t enough, two of my close friends, one I consider a true sister, passed away in as many years.
I learned at an early age, pain is a fixture in life. In 1998, on my 14th birthday, I was in Madison, Wisconsin for a doctor’s appointment at a prestigious children’s hospital. It was on that day that I was diagnosed with Lupus and kidney failure. I was to immediately start IV steroidal and chemotherapy treatments. Surprisingly enough, despite the physical pain, it was the emotional fallout that hurt the worst. For a 14 year old girl, the nearly 80lbs the steroids helped me gain caused so much social damage, I would have gladly taken a million IV’s instead of facing my peers. I was so overwhelmed with pain on every level, physical, emotional and spiritual that hearing the words “this is temporary” fell on deaf ears.
However, like most things during your teenage years, it was temporary. Not my Lupus or kidney disease, mind you, but the pain in those moments was. Yes, surgery is painful and most of the time, for quite a while – but, you heal. Yes, using needles so large they should be illegal 3 times a week is painful – but after a few hours, they are removed. Physical pain tends to be treatable. Maybe not curable, but as a race, we humans can make it tolerable. So when I was asked to share my thoughts on pain, my mind went the route I am most familiar with: physical pain. That is the easy kind, the kind that, for me, eventually goes away.
But, the real pain for me comes from loosing two great friends. One I learned passed away because she was a victim of murder; her spouse being the number 1 suspect. The other, my very best friend, due to health complications on an Easter morning. For me, these are pains I cannot shake. They are pains I am promised will get lighter. The are also pains that I am afraid to heal, because as I have learned from my experience with physical pain – healing hurts as well, if not more.
I could write a novel how to handle physical pain, but am clueless as to handle pain in this capacity. On my closet mirror at home, I have written “Just because they are in Heaven, it does not mean they are separated from us, because we are all part of the Body of Christ.” It was something my pastor here in Florida had once said in a sermon and it brings me comfort.
So, day by day, needle by needle, memory to memory – I heal a little bit more. You think I would know by now that all healing, no matter the kind takes time – but those that know me best know how impatient I can be. All I can do is thank God that He created the healing aspect of life; because He certainly wasn’t obligated to! That along with knowing that we as Christians will undoubtedly experience total healing and the existence He intended for us with Him in Heaven – makes the pain all the more bearable.
“Remember, in the end, it will be all right; if it’s not all right, it’s not the end.”
Pain is an unavoidable part of life. Christians and non-Christians alike endure pain on a daily basis. Whether through circumstances, consequences, or external influences, the reality of pain is inescapable regardless of race, religion, gender, or any other human characteristic. Why, then, do Christians (and by Christian I mean someone truly bearing his Cross, and not only attending services and potlucks each Sunday) see pain as a positive aspect of life? What could lead a group of individuals whose endgame culminates in a painless, eternal world to value pain in an afflicted, temporary one? Who would choose to follow a man who famously said “take up your cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23), and why? If, as many world religions promise, there is no guarantee of eliminated or even reduced pain in Christianity, why choose it?
The simple reason is wisdom. While unavoidable, pain is also the most instructive part…
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From the archive…
Sometimes Jesus doesn’t fit in with our expectations…
You just have to say no
To the lies the enemy tries to bind you with…
To the thoughts that invade your mind
Say no to the negative thoughts
That try to steal your joy
When you are on that mountain of blessing
And overcome with bliss
In an instant you can come crashing down
All because of a thought
But you can handle it
It is your job to say no.
Those thoughts won’t win today
And I am stronger than you think I am
Stronger than yesterday
The devil does not know who he is dealing with
The “what ifs” will not be written on my heart today
Those old tricks won’t work
And if worse does come to worst
I will deal with it then
Because in my mountain top times
I have gained enough strength
To deal with the broken things
And to not overwhelm myself
I will endure and not be discouraged
For I know who walks with me
I always remember that
Ok…maybe not always
I was a teenager in need of physical conditioning.
It was my sophomore year of High School, and I had the bright idea to try out for the school wrestling team. Before you comment, yes, I was aware that a successful completion of this tryout meant that I would be privileged to wear the tight uniform (known as a singlet) given to team members. I didn’t care though, because it was a sport I thought I would really enjoy. I was fairly skilled in the “grappling arts”, but the cardio-based side of the sport had me gasping for breath. I have never been diagnosed with asthma or anything…let’s just say that I wasn’t ready for the physical demands.
Let me paint the picture for you. Me and a large group of boys, who were already sweaty before they ever stepped foot in the wrestling room, stretched and began the arduous endeavor of proving our physical prowess. Coach Silverman let us cut time and intensity off of our workout if we could muster up the energy to run up the wall and do a backflip off of it. Spoiler alert: I could not. This was because I had not worked out in a long time, and I was still carrying a little extra baby weight (which the ladies loved by the way)…I digress. Anyway…after a grueling workout inside, it was time for the aspect of the tryout I had been dreading.
The 5 mile run.
For the average runner, a 5 mile run is something that is rather routine. For me, I had struggled heavily even jogging an entire mile, and the mere thought of running 5 made my legs tired. I was a slow runner anyway, but I knew that being the first one to cross the finish line was not the overall goal. Simply finishing the course was what the coach wanted. We all lined up at the starting point. The coach yelled, “Go!” The mass of humans went on their way and I kept up with the pack nicely for a while.
The course was marked out like a cross country track, with orange traffic cones and yellow tape. At some point, I got a little confused where to turn, but soon got the lay of the land. I felt like I started to get a great pace, and I am not sure whether I got my second wind early, or I was excited to pass a few people, but I felt my energy increase. At one point, I was all alone, and I assumed that the full pack was so spread out that there would be times where I would not be near anyone. So, I charged ahead, and ran longer than I have ever run without slowing down. I felt so proud of myself. I knew I was not going to be the first one that finished, but to finish at all was quite an accomplishment for me. Then, after a run that felt like it took most of the day, I rounded the corner and could see the end in sight.
When I crossed the line, I felt such pride. My pride, though, immediately turned into concern, when I looked around and saw that I was the only one standing at the finish. The coach looked at me with a very puzzled look on his face and asked, “are you done alread?” I nodded my head, and wondered why he asked me in that tone. I soon realized that, at some point, I took a wrong turn, and accidently took a giant short cut. I had only run a little less than 2 miles. It felt like 100. I was devastated. I never came back to tryouts after that day.
In life, it is very tempting to live life always desiring to take short cuts and find the easy way out. If we do this, we keep ourselves from growth and opportunities that will only make us better.
With the easy accessibility of instant information, fast food, and communication, we have mentally conditioned ourselves to make instant gratification not only a desire, but an expectation. This even leaks into our spiritual life. We think something is not God’s will if we become tired of praying for it, or we call waiting a “closed door”.
God wants us to develop a passion for the path and mission He has us on. We must learn to thicken our skin and become laser focused on what we know to be true…no matter how long it takes. When we see resolution, it will be that much sweeter.
Endure dear friends. Simply endure.
“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. – Matthew 14:17-21
When looking at this passage, it is easy to think that the disciples and all the people gathered were on “cloud 9” after seeing the amazing miracle that had taken place. In review of the story, Jesus had just blessed the contents of a little boy’s meager lunch and used it to feed over 5000 people (in those days only men were counted…so there could have been exponentially more people). Often when we read this story we talk about how God provides and He can do anything. This is absolutely true, but I think it is easy to miss the important detail of what Jesus and the disciples were going through during this time.
If you look at what happened right before this popular event, you will see something that potentially brought God-followers into a deep emotional and spiritual valley. John the Baptist was killed. He was beheaded as a present for Herod’s birthday. He was gone.
People who followed Jesus would have probably looked at this as a massive blow to their cause and movement. Some may have even thought that it was time to give up. Many would have been very afraid to continue following Jesus. All would have felt the devastation.
Imagine the scene. So many people gathered and many with their heads down in despair. They were hungry and probably very tired. Then, Jesus provided nourishment for them all as if to tell them that everything was going to be okay. Jesus knew that John’s sacrifice was not going to be in vain and that there was still hope in the midst of discouragement. No matter how dark things looked, it only took a little light to set the world ablaze. Jesus knew that this was a pivotal moment in their lives and they needed to pay attention. They were going to be the people who brought the gospel to the world!
Remember this today. Whatever darkness you are going through…in Jesus there still is hope. Even if the deadline has passed. God is still on the throne and His timing is perfect.
Trust Him today.
Prayer for today: Jesus, help me to rely on you every moment of the day. Thank you for who you are and your abundant grace. Amen
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably read articles, or have seen news segments about recent allegations surrounding pastors who have morally fallen. Some of these stories involve sexual misconduct, and others imply that the leaders have mismanaged funds belonging to the church or organization they lead. The fallout of these allegations can be devastating. They can give their families a deep wound and tear apart the church they were once pastoring. Some ministers have been arrested, or publicly shamed for their actions and when this happens, we all know social media goes wild with comments. Certainly, if these allegations are true, we should hold the leaders accountable and they should repent of their actions. These actions come from a prideful heart and sometimes the money and influence become intoxicating.
The circumstances alluded to above can cause energetic conversation at the dinner table. These scandals are not just confined to those serving in a pulpit, though. We can all tell stories of people who we once trusted yet let us down in a catastrophic way. Odds are, if they have developed trust with us, they are probably considered a “good person” by the world’s standards. They have given to charity, encouraged their neighbor, and they even were once considered a model citizen. Then, something goes wrong, and their affair is exposed, or their unflattering mugshot is displayed on the evening news.
When these things happen, what is our response? Well, if you are the average human being with a social media account, you have 1 of 2 reactions. Either you are shocked and thrown off balance, or you proclaim with arrogance that you “knew” they were not as “squeaky clean” as everyone thought. The sad part of all of this is…far too many people have the second reaction. It is one that is very common in our culture. When we experience a person who seemingly has it together, and is living a “great” life, it is tempting to always retain a level of suspicion about them. That way, when someone messes up, we can immediately jump on the “I told you so” wagon. The reflex of distrust in these situations only takes a microsecond to develop. As a culture…distrust comes quickly.
What about the inverse, though? Why does it not work the other way around? Let’s say a person who has lived an unscrupulous life experiences a complete transformation. Perhaps this individual has hurt us many times in the past without repentance. In cases like this, our minds have been conditioned to distribute grace slowly. Why is this? Can’t forgiveness come as quickly with a person who hurt us as distrust comes after an infraction?
The reality is we live in a fallen world that is very bad at reconciliation. When someone is restored to a new life, it is tempting to not believe them until we personally see some benefit from their life. This makes us just as selfish as the transgressor. Grace is a rare commodity, and I understand that healing takes longer than being wounded, but we must get to a point in our maturity when we develop a quick forgiveness reflex. Does this mean we could be hurt? Yes…yes it does. I won’t sugarcoat it. The purpose, though, is not for us to live in euphoria…it is to share in the redemption of others. Let go of fear, and embrace forgiveness.
I am a young pastor, and I do not presume to think that I can offer up much worthwhile advice and encouragement to a new generation entering the ministry. I do think, however, that any amount of experience has its own level of anecdotal instruction that can be offered to anyone willing to listen.
This week, I have thought about what I have learned in my decade of formal ministry (volunteer and paid) and I think there are some things that are worth sharing. Some items being shared in this blog are a result of frustration that has helped to grow me as a minister. Other points are simply things I that have come to mind. Just know that none of them are meant to demean, discourage, or demonstrate anger. I just feel these things need to be said.
I love learning. Sometimes the learning involved pain, and other times it was a result of great joy.
Today, I want to share 5 Things I Have Learned As a Pastor.
People prioritize what matters
Sunday after Sunday pastors all over the world work their hardest to preach, teach, and display the Gospel in their lives. Their families often feel the brunt of the time and effort they put into sharing vision, meeting with those in need, and attending business meetings. Sometimes a pastor will give their all for a congregation who seem to look at the idea of worship as “something they will attend if they have nothing else to do”. Don’t get me wrong. Pastors are thankful that anyone shows up for worship, but we now live in a Christian culture that has prioritized other things over meeting together as was commanded of us in scripture.
Discouragement is only temporary
I’m going to let you in, behind the scenes, for a moment on what pastors talk about when they are together. Sometimes we talk about how things are progressing with the church. Other times we talk about how discouraged we are in a particular area of ministry. For some people in ministry, short seasons of discouragment end in resignation. It is easier to quit than to persevere. When discouragement comes, and it certainly will, it is always vital to lean into God and rely on His promises. The seasons of discouragement do not last forever. They can just be painful. When we tap into God’s resolve, then we find times of great spiritual wealth and ministerial progress.
There will be resistance
No matter what God has asked a person in ministry to do, resistance to that call is inevitable. Sometimes there is resistance because the author of lies is creating unnecessary conflict in the church. Other times (I am speaking to myself here) it is because personal pastoral agendas are forced and God’s will is not taken into account. Pastors are not exempt from being stubborn or having human thoughts, emotions, or actions. A consistent prayer life trains the mind and heart to more readily pick up Christ’s signals and gentle nudgings.
Lives matter to God
When looking at scripture, it is apparent that God has spent a lot of time showing humanity His love. Sure, there are times of discipline, but the way He guided the Israelites out of captivity, restored them multiple times after their transgressions. sent Himself to die, and gave us the Holy Spirit, no one can deny the energy that has gone into God’s affection for us. He calls pastors to be distributors of this love and grace. Christians in general have this call on their lives as well, and are compelled to share this message with the world. So, when someone comments that a pastor’s focus is “all about numbers”, they are actually somewhat correct. Every person matters to God, and He came to die for every single one. A pastor’s job is a response to this concept.
Often times, more energy is spent on lemurs than butterflies
Ok, so this one is a difficult topic to talk about. Now, I do not want to sound harsh or condescending, but this idea breaks my heart so I felt as if I needed to share. You may read this heading and be somewhat confused, but allow me to explain. I wrote another blog post a while ago that compared the personalities found in the church to animals that live in a zoo. Lemurs are animals that live in trees and eat berries and bugs. When there are no more berries or bugs in the tree they move on to another one that will suit their needs. Butterflies start as caterpillars, and camp out in trees or bushes. They are sheltered by the tree and allow themselves to be transformed. Often churches respond to God’s call to help those in need (in and out of the church), and sometimes it is the “lemurs” get the most attention. In the church, it is often the case that the ones that are the most helped are the first ones to leave. The church is a great place to seek transformation. No matter the result, though, we are called to serve.
Overall, I can honestly say that God has blessed me more than I deserve. His calling on my life to participate in the transformation of souls is something that invigorates me. Ideas keep me going, and His spirit not only makes up for my inadequacies, but moves me out of the way completely. He has also given me an amazing church family.
If you are a young pastor leading a church today, I implore you to lean on that calling. Don’t quit. It is a very difficult job, and it is not going to get any easier. You are not going to make millions and you may struggle to help grow the congregation you are in. Don’t be a “corporate ladder” type of pastor and just move to the next bigger church for the nice facility and salary package. There is a large family sitting in your pews waiting to see revival, and their souls need it. Be vulnerable, and build deep relationships. What if they leave? Well, then you will be deeply hurt, but don’t run away from being hurt. God’s call means more.
There is a story that’s more than lore
About believers who have come before
Those who sought Jesus over earthly more
And earnestly asked him to save
These folks acknowledged the pain he bore
And answered when He knocked on the door
They found meaning they always longed for
And loved the grace He gave
To them, serving was not a chore
When they prayed, they felt their hearts soar
Scripture changed their very core
Their eternal future was gilded and paved
Then one day our precious Lord
Ferried them to the beautiful shore
Asking them to trust Him just once more
And ride the uncertain wave
When they did, they found what they were created for
Streets of gold and everyone they adore
Waiting at the golden door
And the joy that God naturally gave
So what can we learn from this report?
Well, whether long or even short
Our earthly time is not for sport
And eternal life starts before the grave.