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Lifestyle, Personal Growth

Why Living in the White Space is So Hard

Pastor J.D. Greear often talks about the “white space” in the stories of biblical superstars. A “white space” is a literal gap in the words of Scripture — a paragraph break, a gap between chapters — where a period of time passes between a promise that God has made or a task that he has given his people and the time that thing actually takes place.

David had one, right in the middle of 1 Samuel 16. David had been anointed king of Israel, but instead of being thrust into the spotlight to fulfill the role that God had called him to seven years pass and all we have is a white space in the pages of Scripture.

Paul, the uncontested champion of missions and evangelism, has one, too, right in the middle of Acts 9. Jesus had saved him in a spectacular display, knocking him off his horse on the road to Damascus, blinding him, and commissioning him as an apostle to the Gentiles. In Paul’s white space, 17 years pass before he fully steps into the mission that God had for him.

What did they do in the white spaces? They waited. They faithfully served in the places where God had placed them. And all the while, God was preparing their hearts for what the vision and the mission that he had called them into.

Are you in a white space?

Are you in a white space right now? Perhaps God has given you a glimpse of what he has in store for you and your ministry, but it seems like you’re “stuck” and going nowhere fast.

If that feels all too familiar to you, you may be in a white space.

Before you ask what makes me an expert on living in the white space, it’s because I’m living in a white space, too. Six years ago, having been saved no more than three weeks, the Lord laid on my heart the call to plant a church. And he’s brought me through many pastures as he has prepared me for that calling. From sharing the gospel with fifth and sixth graders at The Summit Church, to discipling young men at the Boy Scout camp where I spent my summers, to pastoring a wonderful church family at The Gathering Church, the six years that have passed since God has given me the vision to plant a church have felt more like being stuck in rush hour traffic — patiently enduring stop and go traffic, with more stopping than going, as I press on toward my destination — than cruising effortlessly into my calling.

But with every stop along the way, the Lord has prepared my heart, head, and hands to become the man that he has called me to be.

Even so, living in the white space is hard. And recognizing that you’re in the white space doesn’t necessarily help, either. Why? What makes living in the white space so hard?

Here are three reasons that make living in the white space so hard.

Pride

The first reason that living in the white space is so hard is simple pride. It’s the favorite dysfunction of every man, woman, and child who has ever walked the earth. It was pride that led Adam to believe that he knew better than God in the garden. It was pride that led David to bury his sins — and his friend — after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. It was pride that led Peter to boast that he would never deny Jesus.

Why does pride make living in the white space difficult? Pride leads us to believe that we know better than God — that our plans are somehow better than his plans, and that we are smart enough, good enough, prepared enough, and talented enough to carry out the great mission that Jesus has called each of us to.

The antidote to pride is looking at all of the faithful men and women of God that God brought through the white space as he prepared them for his mission. Noah. Abraham. David. Paul.

And those who tried to skip the white space? They experienced tragic moral failures. Think Samson, Solomon, Saul… (Apparently, you’re at greater risk if your name begins with S.)

Impatience

Impatience is the second reason that living in the white space is so difficult. Impatience is really a manifestation of a lack of faith. Faith is hope in the promise of things unseen, and when we don’t see what God is doing in our white space, we tend to throw up our hands and give up on what we once believed that God had called us to.

This showed up in a major way in my life not so long ago. Once upon a time, God had given me a very clear call and passion to plant a church — so much so that I asked my wife before she married me if she was okay marrying a church planter. (In case you’re wondering, she said yes!)

But as God brought me through the white space and I landed in a pastoral role in a tiny but vibrant church in rural NC, I got lazy. I compromised. I looked at where God had me in that particular season and settled on my vision. I began describing my calling as a call to “pastor” a church. It’s a subtle shift in language, but a call to “plant” a church is very different than a call to “pastor” a church.

My compromise wasn’t based on anything other than my impatience and my inability to see what God was doing in my white space. Where I expected immediate results, God was working slowly and deliberately in my heart.

If you’re anything like me, you’re not going to like what I have to say about the cure for impatience. The only cure for impatience is patiently waiting. We type A folks don’t like waiting. We like to have our plan laid out, and we like to see our plans moving forward a little more everyday. But God doesn’t always work like that, and sometimes he puts you in the white space to remind you that he is doing something while you wait.

Shortsightedness

A third reason that living in the white space is difficult is shortsightedness, or a lack of vision. If we don’t yet clearly understand what God has called us to — if we don’t have a target to aim at as we wait patiently for God to give us the green light — it becomes harder and harder to wait. We become restless, wandering to and fro as we try to figure out what, exactly, we’re supposed to be doing with our lives.

This one hit me hard, too, and it wasn’t until a recent trip to Atlanta and visits to NAMB and a vibrant church plant that rekindled my passion and desire to plant a church and reminded me of the calling that God had put into my heart many years ago.

When I got back from my trip and excitedly shared what God had taught me during my time away, my wife seemed unsurprised. She gently reminded me of all of the times that we had discussed where God was leading our family. I had lost sight of my vision, but my wife had not.

A good step in curing shortsightedness is to break out of your routine and spend time with the Lord, reflecting on how he has gifted you, the passions he has given you, and the experiences that he has brought you through, so that you may know what he wants you to do in your current season of your life, and what he may have for you in the next.

What’s your white space?

What’s your white space? What vision has God given you for your life and ministry that you have yet to experience?

More importantly, how are you learning to trust God better during your season of waiting?

Faith

Will you accept the invitation?

invited

Suppose you received an invitation to a party thrown by a well-known and respected host. The invitation contains all of the details about the party: the host, the location, and how to get to the venue.

Now, suppose you have a prior commitment and can’t make it. Or perhaps you just don’t like the host and refuse to show up. Maybe you don’t even believe that the party is going to take place, so you throw the invitation in the trash and forget about it.

As the day of the party gets closer, you hear friends talking about their plans to attend. You hear how excited they are that they would have received an invite from a host of such prestige. You hear word of the host’s kindness, the great works that he has done in the community, his heart for the marginalized and the poor.

But you choose not to attend. It’s not that you didn’t receive in invitation; you did! But you chose not to go.

Do you get angry at the host? Are you jealous or critical of those who accepted his invitation?

The Parable of the Great Banquet

This is the point of the Parable of the Great Banquet that Jesus tells in Luke 14. In the parable, a great man prepares a banquet for his invited guests, but when the day of the party arrives, they make excuses for why they cannot come.

“I have an important real estate transaction.”

“I have an important business deal.”

“I’m a newlywed, and I want to spend time with my wife.” (Because what new bride wouldn’t want to go to a fancy party?)

So the host, not wanting his preparations to be in vain, sends his servants out to fill the banquet hall with anyone who will receive his invitation. Some come. Others choose not to.

You’re invited

You have been invited to a great banquet, which Jesus, our great King, has prepared for those who will receive his invitation. Maybe you’ve rejected that invitation. Maybe you just have more important things to do with your life than worry about “religion.” Maybe you just don’t like Jesus. Maybe you don’t believe that Jesus ever existed, so you’ve rejected His invitation.

Let me encourage you: as long as there is breath in your lungs, it’s not too late to accept His invitation. The great gift of eternal life with Jesus is available to all who put their faith in Him, turn from their sin, and follow Him.

The King has sent the invitation. Will you accept it?

Faith, Leadership

What’s your excuse?

excuses

Have you ever made excuses for something that you knew you should do, but you just didn’t want to?

“I really should work out more, but I’m not going to stick with it anyway, so why bother?”

“I should share my faith more, but no one likes a bible-thumper.”

“I should ask that homeless man if he needs a hot meal, but he’s probably just a drunk.”

Isn’t it funny how excuses are just that–excuses?  They’re artificial roadblocks that we create for ourselves when, deep down, we just don’t really feel like doing something.  Rather than acting in faith, we come up with all sorts of reasons why we shouldn’t do something.

Moses made excuses

In Exodus chapter 3, God calls Moses to return to Egypt to lead His people out of slavery.

“Who should I say sent me?” he responds.

“I AM WHO I AM,” said the Lord.

“But they won’t believe me,” Moses retorted.

“I’ll give you signs to prove your authority, and they’ll believe you,” said the Lord.

“But I can’t speak clearly; I have a speech impediment,” he complained.

“I’m the one who gave it to you.  Go anyway,” said the Lord.

“Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”

Moses wasn’t trusting that God would work through him; Moses was trusting in His own ability.  And he was absolutely right–if the deliverance of God’s people depended on Moses’ raw ability, they would be doomed.  But God chose Moses and promised to work through him to deliver the people of Israel.

What are your excuses?

Where are you trusting in your own ability rather than relying on the supernatural ability of God in you to accomplish the task?  What excuses have you offered to God for why you can’t obey Him in the task to which you’ve been called?  Where have you run out of excuses and finally threw in the towel saying, “God, I just don’t want to.  Choose someone else!”

God uses these moments to develop our faith and our character, and He desires our obedience even when the task in front of us looks insurmountable.  In order to follow Him, we must learn to trust that He will give us the ability to accomplish the task that he has put before us.

How is God testing your faith today?  Will you trust Him and rise to the challenge?

Leadership, Ministry

Young Leaders of the Bible: Part 2

young-leaders-2

In our last post, we looked at three young leaders from the Old Testament. Each of these young leaders were called by God to be used for great works in His plan for redeeming mankind.

In today’s post, we’re going to look at several young leaders from the New Testament of the bible.

1. The Twelve Disciples

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. – Matthew 4:18-22

We don’t know how old, exactly, the twelve disciples were when Jesus called them; the bible doesn’t say.  Some may have been in their twenties, most scholars believe that most of the disciples were under the age of 18.

During their ministry with Jesus, the twelve disciples made their fair share of mistakes.  But after three and a half years ministering with Jesus, God would use them to write the New Testament and to build His Church.

2. Mary, mother of Jesus

The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” – Luke 1:35, 38

Mary was just a teen girl when an angel of God announced to her that she would be the mother of the promised Messiah for whom the world was waiting. God’s call on her life came at great personal cost–particularly her reputation as an unwed mother–but it came with great honor and great joy.

Two things we learn from Mary: first, you don’t need to be formally designated a “leader” to lead.  Second, God uses all people–men and women alike–for His purposes.

3. Timothy

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily. – Acts 16:1-5

Timothy was probably in his late teens when he was asked by Paul to join him on his missionary journey.  Coming from a complicated family background, Timothy had some obstacles to overcome in his ministry–particularly, earning his credibility with those to whom he was ministering.

Timothy’s good reputation preceded him, however, and he would go on to be appointed by Paul to pastor the church at Ephesus into his old age.

What opportunities has God given you to lead?

God’s people are called, equipped, and gifted by the Holy Spirit to build up Jesus’ Church.  Not everyone is called to leadership, but every Christian is valuable to God and integral in building up His Church.

Has God given you the desire to lead?  Is he guiding your toward leadership positions inside or outside the Church?  How can you pursue your calling to love and serve your brothers and sisters through leadership?

Leadership, Ministry

Young Leaders of the Bible: Part 1

young-leaders

When we think of ministers, pastors, or reverends, most people think of stuffy old men in suits.  They’re called “elders” in the bible for a reason, right?

If we read our bibles, though, we get a very different picture of leadership.  In fact, many of the most influential leaders in the Old and New Testaments have been young men.

In today’s post, we’re going to look at three snapshots of young men through whom God has ministered to his people.

1.) The Prophet Jeremiah

Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying,  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.” – Jeremiah 1:4-8

Jeremiah was only around 17 years old when God called him to minister to the people of Judah.  When God tells Jeremiah that he was literally born to be a prophet, Jeremiah objects, “I’m just a kid.”

While the fact that God had set him apart for ministry before he was born should have been encouragement enough, God encourages Jeremiah by promising that He will give Jeremiah the words to speak and protect him from harm.

2.) Samuel

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD in the presence of Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision…  And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” – 1 Samuel 3:3, 10

Samuel would have been around 12 or 13 when God called him to ministry.  The bible says that the “word of the LORD was rare in those days.”  God didn’t speak frequently to His people–so infrequently, in fact, that despite being called to help in the temple, God had to call out to Samuel three times before he recognized His voice.

God would use Samuel as a prophet and as a mighty leader for His people, and he would go on to seek and appoint a new young leader for the Israelites: King David.

3.) King David

Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.”  And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the LORD said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.”  Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. – 1 Samuel 16:11-13

David was anointed by Samuel when he was in his teenage years (though estimates range from 10 years old to as old as 25).  Like many of God’s people, David was far from perfect.  Far from it.  Yet David was called “a man after God’s own heart.”

In the midst of his mistakes, David would be one of the most influential leaders of the Old Testament.  An important figure in the messianic lineage of Jesus, David would go on to write much of the book of Psalms.

Is God calling you into ministry?

All of the young men featured above have three things in common:

  1. They’re young.
  2. They’re called.
  3. They’re faithful.

The bible is filled with examples of young men who God has used in incredible ways, and the Church needs more faithful young men to respond to his called to ministry.

As the cliche goes, “God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.”  Is God calling you into ministry?  How do you know, and how can you respond?  Sign up for my email newsletter to be kept up to date with training and encouragement for ministry.

Apologetics, Faith

Contend for the Faith

In the introduction to his epistle, James’ brother Jude tells his readers, “although I was very eager to write you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing you to contend for the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

In Jude’s day, much like in ours, false teachers declared that God did not exist and, thus, we could live our lives in whatever way we chose without fear of being accountable to a God that will judge humanity for their sins.

Today, “false teachers” prefer haughty titles like “skeptics” or “free thinkers,” promising freedom from the tyranny of religion and liberation to pursue the passions of our hearts while using their unbelief as an excuse to rebel against the God who created them.

Sign reading, "There's Probably No God"

Prominent secular humanist Richard Dawkins and comedy writer Ariane Sherine pose at the launch of an advertising campaign sponsored by the British Humanist Association.

Even inside the Church, false teachers deny the gospel of Jesus Christ and replace it with a cheap message of health, wealth, and prosperity. God, they say, is more concerned with his people being happy than he is with his people being holy.  Proponents of the prosperity gospel tickle the ears of their congregations with books like “Your Best Life Now” and exploit their spiritual hunger for their own financial gain.

False teachers undermine the truth of the gospel

Whether the assault comes from within the church or from without, one thing is certain: false teaching about the person and work of Jesus are destructive heresies that separate vulnerable people from the grace and peace that Jesus purchased for us on the cross.

God didn’t break into human history in the person of Jesus and nail himself to a cross so we could go on living in ignorance and rebellion against Him; he broke into human history to pay the penalty for our rebellion and point us back to the holiness of God.

He didn’t lay down his life for your happiness; Jesus sacrificed his life for your holiness, because without his atoning work on the cross to pay for your sins and mine, we would still be spiritually dead in our sin and eternally separated from our Creator.

The truth of the gospel comes at too high a price to let it be abused by false teachers.

As Christians, we must learn to recognize false gospels when we encounter them and be prepared to clearly and persuasively present the Good News of Christ. We are called to “contend for the faith” because the truth of the gospel comes at too high a price to let it be abused by false teachers.

If, for some reason, you’re reading this and you’re not a Christian, I hope you’ll examine critically that which is presented as “truth” and “reason” in our culture today.  Many would-be prophets make a lot of noise about being “free,” but when you examine their lives, are they walking the walk, or are they just talking the talk?  Look at Dawkins.  Is he really happy?  Is he really free from the oppression of religion, or has he just created a religion of his own?

Then look at the life of Jesus, the man who claimed to be God, who laid down his life so that you could be set free from the corruption of the world, and who demonstrated that he was who he claimed to be by walking out of a sealed tomb three days later.

Who has a greater claim to authority?

 

Faith, Lifestyle, Personal Growth

On Being Raised “Christian”

raised-christian
“I was raised Christian.”

You’d be surprised how many times I hear this one.  I hear it from Christian friends and non-Christian friends alike.  “I was raised Christian.”

Sometimes, they say something slightly different, like, “I was born Christian,” “I was raised Catholic,” or “I was born into the faith.”  But the meaning is generally the same–they mean to say that they were raised in a Christian home, or that their parents were Christian, or at the very least, their parents went to church on Easter and Christmas.

Many of them are in fact Christians–they love the Lord, and they may not be able to point to any single point in time when they became Christians.

Others are non-Christians.  But both groups make a dangerous assumption about the nature of Christianity, that is, that Christianity is a culture into which you are born.  Which in one sense is true.  You are born into Christianity, but not in the way that you think.

Let’s first look at what being “born” into Christianity isn’t.

Christianity isn’t a cultural phenomenon.

Religions like Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism are largely cultural phenomena.  That is, if your parents belong to the faith, you belong to the faith.

I once had a roommate from India who happened to be Hindu.  I enjoyed getting to know him and learning about his culture.  I learned about his family, his hobbies, his food, his heritage.  He occasionally joined me for church, interested to learn what I believed and why I was so excited about Jesus.

He was a genuinely nice guy, and we quickly became good friends.

One day, as we were riding together in his car, I noticed a small statue of a Hindu god that he kept on his dashboard.

“Who is that,” I asked?

He responded that it was his family’s idol, a small statuette that represented the god that his family worshipped.  When I asked how he personally interacted with that god, he shared that he didn’t actively practice his faith but he was faithful to his religious customs and practices because if he were to depart from the faith, he would dishonor his mother and his father.

He maintained the appearance of being a devout follower of Hinduism.  He attended temple worship regularly, he displayed statuettes of his family’s gods, and he even occasionally prayed.  But his faith was only skin deep.  His heart wasn’t in it.  It was easier to fool his parents into thinking he was still actively involved in his faith than it was to deal with the heartbreak they would experience if he told them otherwise.

He wouldn’t dare tell them his parents this, but he was a merely a cultural Hindu.

American Christianity is no different.

You may respond, “Christianity is different!”  And you would be correct.  But the brand of “Christianity” that we have created in America is not Christianity–not by a long shot.

To be a Christian, one must personally repent of his or her sins and trust in Jesus entirely for their salvation.  It’s personal, not cultural.  Being baptized as a child, going to church, or being raised in a “Christian” home don’t take the place of a personal saving relationship in humble obedience to Jesus Christ.

Many American Christians are no different than my dear roommate.  They go to church with some degree of consistency, they have the Jesus fish eating the Darwin fish on the back of their cars, they know a few bible verses, and they may even pray to some being they call “god.”

But their faith is only skin deep.  They may have been raised in a Christian home.  They may have devout Christian parents.  They may have been involved in church their whole lives.

But they are not Christians, and they don’t have the heart to share with their parents that they don’t share their faith.

No one was born a Christian.

As theologian R.C. Sproul points out, no one was born a Christian.  Everyone who is, or ever has been, or ever will be a Christian is a convert to Christianity.  That’s because, unlike many other world religions, Christian faith isn’t hereditary.  It’s not something that’s immediately conferred to a child by his or her parents at birth.

Now, we’d like to treat it this way.  We baptize babies, we “commit them to the Lord” in “dedication” ceremonies, and we generally assume that our kids are Christian if they walk the walk, talk the talk, and wave the Jesus flag in their youth groups.

But this can’t be farther from reality.  In John’s gospel, Jesus tells a man named Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Nicodemus, who I imagine was just as confused as I was when I read that for the first time, asks, “How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus responds, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

Herein lies the point of clarification.  Christians are in fact born into the faith, not through their natural birth but through a supernatural birth in the Holy Spirit.

Christian is not someone who goes to church and does all of the religious “stuff.”  A Christian is a messed up human being like anyone else who has been given new life by the Spirit of God to turn from a life of sin and rebellion against the Creator God of the universe, put his or her faith in the work of Jesus on the cross, and put to death his or her sin in order to live life according to the will of God.

The true mark of a Christian is supernatural conversion.  The only difference is that a Christian has been touched by the grace of God and, while he or she was once spiritually dead and separated eternally from God, he has been made alive again by a power over which he has no control.

We must not assume that we are Christians.

We must not rely on the faith of our parents.  We must not assume that someone is Christian just because they walk the walk and talk the talk.

No one is “born Christian.”  No one is “raised Christian.”  One’s Christian parents, one’s religious practices, or one’s spending the days of his or her youth in a Christian home does not make that person a Christian.  Only the Holy Spirit can “make” someone a Christian.

So if you call yourself a Christian–or if you don’t–and you have not yet put the complete weight of your trust in Jesus–a man who claimed to be God and who died a brutal death on the cross to pay the price for your rebellion against God, being buried in a tomb and permanently defeating sin and death by being raised to life three days later–I urge you to give it a try.

Leadership, Ministry

6 lessons from my first 6 months in pastoral ministry

6-lessons

I’ve been involved in ministry since I put my faith in Christ in 2010.  I’ve served as a worship leader in a 5th and 6th grade ministry.  I’ve served young professionals at the Summit Church in Raleigh, NC.  I’ve led a small group for two years, I’ve served as a Sunday school teacher, and I’ve led the college and career ministry of a rural Southern Baptist church.

And this February, I joined the leadership team of The Gathering Church as an elder and teaching pastor.  I’ve learned a lot since I first climbed onto the stage to lead a bunch of middle school students in worship with my pitchy voice and an acoustic guitar, but the challenges that I’ve experienced in my first six months in pastoral ministry have far exceeded anything that I’ve encountered throughout the years.

Below are some of the lessons that I’m learning.  I hope that my experience will help you navigate some of the challenges that you may experience in your varied positions of leadership, in the church, in the home, and in the workplace.

1. Model your faith.

“Teaching” goes beyond the pulpit or the classroom. As the old adage goes, many things in life are “caught, not taught.” What we teach with our words must be reinforced with what we teach through our actions.

For the pastor, your people need you to model your faith. They need to see how you serve. They need to see how you disciple a new generation of leaders. They need to see you fail and watch you get back up and press on.

Is this not how Jesus did ministry? His words and his actions complemented one another. He taught in both word and deed and his disciples continued serving and teaching long after the ascension.

Rather than just preaching a sermon on evangelism, preach your sermon and then invite them alongside of you as you share your faith. Rather than simply teaching about hospitality, teach them and then invite them into your home to see how hospitality is done, and then encourage them to replicate what they saw.

Put your faith on display and your people will follow long after you’re gone.

2. Show people you care.

If I may use another cliche, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”

If you know me personally, you know that I’m extremely introverted. I need time to myself, so I carefully guard the time that I spend around other people.

I show my love for people through the work that I do behind the scenes, so I need to take special care to spend time with people, to listen to them, to encourage them.

To make that happen, I’ve changed my routine from serving behind the scenes on Sunday mornings to teaching our adult Sunday school class. This gives me the opportunity to spend time with our people in a way that suits my nature.

As a result, I find that people respond more openly to my preaching, teaching, and leadership. A small change in my behavior has gone a long way toward my effectiveness in leading our congregation.

3. Don’t make assumptions.

In pastoral ministry, you can’t assume anything.

You can’t assume that the first time guest who shows up to church on Sunday morning is a Christian.

You can’t assume that the smiling young woman in your congregation isn’t struggling with a deep sorrow that needs to be healed.

You can’t assume that the perfect Christian dad in your congregation isn’t struggling with a secret sin that his family doesn’t even know about.

You can’t assume that the homeless guy on the highway is there because he’s a drunk.

You can’t assume that the guy with tattoos and piercings is a “bad person.”

As we looked at above, spend time with people. Ask them how they’re doing. For people you’ve just met, ask them about their story.

Look for signs of discouragement or sorrow that they’re too afraid or ashamed to talk about.

Be gentle. Show that you care. Create a safe environment to talk about the things that aren’t easy to talk about. Most of all, ask, because we cannot make assumptions.

4. You can’t please everyone.

Shortly after my ordination, an older couple started attending our church. They had great things to say in public, but behind closed doors, it was a different story. They complained about the music. They complained about the preaching. They complained about my youth, my inexperience, the way we dressed.

To be fair, they raised some really good points and gave us some specific areas in which we could grow. But while they wanted us to change everything about what we do to in order to meet their expectations, they weren’t willing to invest their gifts and talents to serve the church.

It turns out, you can’t please everyone. In the face of criticism, look for room to grow, but keep your eyes on your goal and stay true to your calling. Don’t let yourself be influenced by people who are out for your destruction.

5. Pastoral ministry is lonely.

Pastors spend much of their time with people, but they have have very few close personal friends.

On weeks when I preach, I spend 20 to 30 hours of my time reading, studying, praying, and writing in order to prepare my sermon, and that time is on top of the time I spend leading my company and participating in regularly-scheduled ministry activities.

That time comes out of time with family and friends. Over time, people get used to hearing, “I can’t go out this weekend; I need to work on my sermon” and they stop asking you to do things.

Time is your only non-renewable resource, so guard it carefully. Be intentional in scheduling work time so that you have room to schedule time with friends and family.

Connect with people outside of your minsitry, work, and family environments who can speak into your life and encourage you. If you can afford it, invest in a coach to help you set and meet personal goals.

Most importantly, be on guard for signs of depression. Isolation and loneliness cut you off from the encouragement and support of those who care about you.

6. Rest.

There is always something else to do—another phone call to make, another Sunday school lesson to prepare, another budget meeting to plan.

God created us to require rest to show us that we are finite. We aren’t all-powerful. We aren’t eternal. We aren’t God.

We need rest, and to take a break when everything around you seems like it’s falling apart honors God by demonstrating your reliance on Him.

I recommend pastors and leaders and their wives spend at least one weekend out of town away from the pressures of church and ministry at least once per quarter. Don’t make it a big, complicated trip. Don’t pack your itinerary full of activities. The purpose of this time is to recharge, not to cause more stress.

Schedule time for rest into your week. Take time to watch a movie with your family, or just spend some time reading a good fiction book or watching a TV show. It’s not a sign of weakness or a “guilty pleasure” but a good gift from God to help you rest.

Lastly, prioritize satisfying personal and family devotions and prayer time to connect with the Lord. Rely on the strength and power that God provides by His Spirit to recharge you and prepare you for the week ahead.

What would you add?

I could add another dozen lessons to this post, but we’ll save them for another day.  In the meantime, how can you apply these principles in your leadership? In your work place? In your ministry? What lessons have you learned about life, work, and ministry?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Apologetics

Can the Bible be trusted? The case for Biblical integrity.

One of the more common objections to Christianity that I hear from my non-Christian friends goes something like this:

The Bible has been translated and mistranslated over thousands of years.  We can’t know what the original text said; therefore, it can’t be trusted as authoritative.

If such an objection were true, it would be an excellent reason to call into question the basis for the beliefs of billions of faithful Christians around the world.  If there is a God, and if that God did reveal Himself to mankind, it would be important to have at least a plausible understanding of that God’s nature and His will in order to put the full weight of one’s faith into following Him.

If the Bible is corrupted, our faith doesn’t mean much.

Fortunately for my Christian and non-Christian friends alike, objections like this demonstrate a faulty understanding of the history of the Bible and how the modern translations of the Bible have come to be.  There are a couple of fundamental misconceptions with this argument.  They are as follows:

  1. The misconception that the Bible was translated linearly, each translation adapted from the translation before it.
  2. The misconception that scribes significantly changed the content of the books of the Bible.

Note that whether the Bible is, in fact, the Word of God is an entirely different matter, and I’ll be addressing the issue in a later post.  Also, this post isn’t meant to be a thorough refutation of every possible argument.  Instead, in this lay refutation, I simply aim to demonstrate that the textual evidence we have available suggests that the text that we have available in modern translations can and should be deemed as reliable.

Objection 1: The Bible we have today is the product of a series of translations

My friends seem to think that the Bible has been translated through a linear process–that is, the text that we have today is the result of copies of copies of copies, ad infinitum.  The implication is that the Bible we read today can’t possibly be accurate and, thus, we shouldn’t trust what it says.

They seem to think that the Bible has “evolved” like this.

  1. Some stuffy old men started writing the Bible 3,800 years ago and finished up shortly after the time of Christ in the late 1st century AD.
  2. Some scribe copied the text.  Then another.  Then another.  Somewhere along the line, someone added their own
  3. The Bible was translated to Latin from one of these copies.
  4. The Bible was then translated to English from the Latin copy of the Greek and Hebrew copies.
  5. The Bible was then translated from “Olde English” to “New English.”
  6. In this process, the original text has been maligned, twisted, and re-interpreted.

There are a few fundamental issues with this view of Biblical translation that render the argument false.  First, modern translations of the Bible are translated from the oldest texts we have available.  As time goes on and older and older manuscripts are discovered, our translations get better, not worse.

For example, archaeologists have uncovered more than 5,500 manuscripts of the New Testament, making the New Testament canon the most well-preserved collection of documents from antiquity.  The next best-preserved ancient document, Homer’s Iliad, has fewer than 500 existing manuscripts and other ancient writings, including the works of Plato, have less than a dozen existing manuscripts.

Not only does the wide circulation of the New Testament bolster claims of its reliability, the manuscripts we have of the text date closer to the originals than any other text from antiquity. The earliest New Testament manuscripts date within a century of their autographs–that is, we can hold a piece of the text that was just one step removed from the original written text.  Specifically, Papyrus 52, a fragment of the Gospel of John, was recorded as early as 30 years after John wrote the original autograph.  

By all measures, the New Testament canon is the best preserved collection of documents from its time period.  With such wide circulation and recent transmission, we can reconstruct with remarkable accuracy the text of the original autographs.  Scribal interpolations, as we’ll explore in the next section, are easily spotted and removed from the text.

The Old Testament doesn’t enjoy the manuscript reliability of the New Testament, as the earliest manuscripts we have of the OT date to the 2nd century BC.  There are, however, several indicators that would demonstrate that the Old Testament has, indeed, been reliably transmitted.

First, the archaeological record corresponds perfectly with the OT Biblical record.  Archaeologist Dr. Clifford Wilson demonstrates:

[I]f the Bible says something is accurate, well, be very slow to suggest otherwise, because it does have a habit of proving to be right after all.

Second, non-Christian historical records support the Biblical historical record.  Despite 3,800 years of history, the Bible has not once been proven false from an archaeological or historical standpoint.  While claims of contradictions have been made, the issues exclusively fall to an incomplete archaeological record, not Biblical contradictions, and later archaeological discoveries refute the claims.

If the Bible were a late forgery, or if the Bible were tampered with or otherwise poorly preserved, one would expect to find more than a few factual or historical inaccuracies.

Ultimately, for the honest seeker, the textual, historical, and archaeological evidence are on the side of reliability.

Objection 2: Scribes deliberately or accidentally tampered with the text of the Bible

This objection is central to the Islam faith–that the Bible was intentionally corrupted to distort the truth and hence, centuries of Judeo-Christian belief are false.  Proponents of this objection seem to overlook the refutation above and would have to believe that Christians somehow rewrote 2,000 years of history, even documents that predate Christianity by three centuries.

Secular and liberal scholars also toot the “corruption” horn, arguing that scribal errors accumulated over the years to produce an end result that is unrecognizable from the original autographs.

The account of the woman at the well from John 8 is an example of a scribal interpolation and is marked accordingly in modern translations.

Let me start by affirming that scribal errors and interpolations do occur.  Most of these errors are spelling or grammar errors, similar to alternate spellings like color/colour or theater/theatre.  Rarely, short passages have been added to the text by scribes.  Since we have very early copies of the texts, translators can quickly identify any interpolations–these additions are always noted in the footnotes of modern translations.

Objections of this sort can be refuted by examining just a few facts from ancient history.

First, as we have discussed, we have a tremendous collection of manuscript evidence which attests to the reliability of the transmission of the Biblical text.  In order for a scribe to make an error–intentionally or otherwise–that would make it in the Bibles we have today, that scribe would need to edit every single manuscript in existence at the time the forgery was committed.  Naturally, this is an impossibility. Hence, the argument lacks merit.


Footnotes that explain subtle differences between manuscripts. There exist no scribal errors or additions that impact any foundational Christian doctrine.

Second, the nature of a scribe’s profession was taken very seriously.  Scribes were highly-educated, devout Jews who believed that the books they were copying were the Word of God.  Documents were routinely checked for integrity, much like quality control in modern manufacturing.  If a scribe made an error, the page was destroyed and rewritten.  If they made too many errors, their job–their livelihood–was on the line.

Still, errors made it through the scribal process, as we discussed above, but those errors can be readily identified and corrected in the footnotes of modern Biblical translations.  There remains no evidence that modern translations of the Bible contain errors or interpolations that affect any foundation Christian doctrine.

Proof or plausibility?

In any branch of modern academia, be it the sciences, history, philosophy, literature, or otherwise, a theory is deemed generally reliable if the proponents of that claim can demonstrate that the claim is plausible–that is, if the data suggest that the claim is true–and that the claimants have done their due diligence to ensure that their scholarship is based on the best available data.

Regarding the claim of the reliability of the transmission of the text of the Bible, all of the available evidence demonstrates that the text can be trusted.

Critics of the reliability of the Bible often demand proof–not plausibility–that the Bible has been accurately recorded.  Critics conveniently omit any proof of their claims, instead appealing to their own personal incredulity.

Note that we don’t claim that the Bible has been perfectly preserved.  The doctrine of Biblical inerrancy applies only to the original autographs.  There are some 400,000 errors amongst the 5,500 New Testament manuscripts alone.  We do argue, however, that amongst the spelling and grammar errors, not one error in the Bible affects a major Christian doctrine.

Honest scholars would have to view the text–at the bare minimum–as a reliable historical record from the time period from around 1800 BC to 90 AD.

Does your view of the Bible match up with reality?  Or have you put the weight of your faith in misconceptions about the Bible’s accuracy?  Add your voice to the comments below.

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Faith

Christians: What if we’re the problem?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 24 hours, you’ve realized that there have a lot of people standing up for what they believe in, whether that be on Facebook, on the news, in the blogosphere, or (heaven forbid) in real life.

The “gay marriage” debate has been raging on in our country for decades.  Back in the 70’s, the Supreme Court dismissed a case before it would even be heard because it was seen as a non-issue.  Culturally, it was understood that marriage is something that happens between a man and a woman.  Today, things have changed.

This post isn’t about the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality or gay marriage–if you’re a Christian, that question is already answered pretty plainly in the Bible, and if you’re not a Christian, it’s just not the most important question you can be asking.

Instead, this post will explore how we Christians have been “doing it wrong” for a long time and it’s ripping our nation apart.  This is “family time,” so if you’re not a Christian, you’re probably going to think I’m nuts.  I’m okay with that if you are.

The State of the Union

Any rational American can look at the state of our culture and recognize that something is wrong.  As a society, we worship money, power, celebrity, and sex and, when we devote our lives to serving those things, the tragic outcome is a nation more divided and corrupt than it has ever been.

From a Christian perspective, we get this–we know what sin does to the world.  It sucks, but we really shouldn’t be all that surprised that our families are crumbling, the divorce rate is through the roof, more children are born out of wedlock than are born into a family with a mother and father, and we’re slaughtering children by the thousands each and every day.

The Bible records dozens of examples of wicked nations that were torn apart for far less–Sodom, Gomorrah, Egypt, Nineveh, the Israelites…  Nations full of jacked up, sinful people like us generally end up finding out that their actions have consequences.

And so, as a Christian, it’s easy to look around and shake our heads at the evil, immoral, corrupt, dirty sinners that have destroyed our once-great country.

Christian friends, here’s a secret I’d like to share with you.  It’s our fault.

We’re caught up in the wrong conversation

Simply put, we’ve been having the wrong conversation for a very long time.  We’ve had the luxury of a “cultural Christianity” since our Puritan forefathers settled this great nation of ours and, for more than 300 years, we’ve been able to maintain a reasonable level of morality through cultural norms alone.

Cheat on your wife?  The rest of the guys in the neighborhood would beat the crap out of you.  It was just something you didn’t do because the culture valued morality.  The problem with such a cultural Christianity is that the central message of Christianity–namely that it’s all about Christ–gets replaced with a cheap version of “morality” that’s based on being good or bad rather than the saving love of Christ.

So it’s not surprising that we’ve morphed into a culture of “social activists” with no objective moral standard.  We’ve been lazy and, instead of sharing the love of Christ, we’ve been having the wrong conversation.  It’s really easy to look at the world and say, “This is wrong, that’s a sin, and this other thing is an abomination.”  You’re right.  Homosexuality is unequivocally sinful.  Killing a defenseless child and calling it “choice” is disgusting.  

“Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9).  

But we will never win the battle if we keep removing Christ from the conversation and framing our faith in terms of what you’re supposed to do and what you’re not supposed to do.  Works have never, in the history of man, been the basis of one’s salvation.  It has always–always–been about Christ.

A Biblical lesson in judging others

Even if my non-Christian friends have never opened a Bible before, they know one verse: “Judge not lest ye be judged.”  Don’t ask me why they quote from the KJV, but they do and they know it by heart.

Of course, they take it completely out of context, because Jesus says in the very next breath, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:2, ESV).”  The point isn’t judgment, but hypocrisy.  “Judgment” is mentioned 340 times in the Bible, so it’s pretty big deal.

Paul is pretty clear about how we’re supposed to judge others. He says there are matters of preference, like what you like to eat for breakfast, and that there are matters of God’s holiness and His objective moral standards, and that the two are supposed to be handled differently.

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. (Romans 14:1-3)

Cool.  So if you’re a vegetarian and your roommate pulls out a thick, juicy steak…  Get over it.  You need to conserve your energy.

We tend to think of sexual preference like we do our choice of cuisine.  “Don’t like homosexuality?  Then don’t be a homosexual.”

On its face, then, it seems like the whole “who are you to judge” argument is valid.  I actually saw on Facebook today a post that said something along the lines of “Marriage is like breakfast.  You like pancakes.  I like eggs.  We both call it breakfast, we’re both happy, and life is good.”

Sounds wonderful in theory, but the whole analogy is self refuting and it crumbles when you put it into practice.  What if I liked polygamy?  Or incest?  Or little kids?  Even the most liberal of liberals would recognize that there’s a line that needs to get drawn when one’s preference is no longer a valid basis for one’s actions.

So there are things that are “off limits.”  Call it sinful, call it wrong, call it what you will.  The question is, how should we respond?  Paul goes on:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—

And all God’s people say “AMEN!”  (My Baptist friends get it.)  “This is what we’re talking about!  Shun the non-believer!

—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.  But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:11-13, ESV)

And that’s when all God’s people say, “Oh, crap.  That’s not what I was expecting…”  Paul is basically saying, “Look, there are sinners everywhere and you’re going to have to move to Mars if you want to get away from them.  Let God judge them–you just take care of the Church.”

Or, “Get them into the Church. Then blast away.”  (My paraphrase, not meant to be pastoral advice.)

So we Christians get into a predicament.  God’s good.  God is holy.  God’s wrath is a real thing and we see time and time again through history that he judges wicked nations.

Naturally, we don’t want that for our nation, and yet God, through Paul, tells us, “Don’t worry about ‘them.’  Worry about yourselves.”  From a clear and straightforward reading of the Bible, it sounds a lot like we’re not supposed to judge people who don’t know Christ.

What the $&#@ do we do?!

Want to fix the culture?  Do it with the transformative power of the gospel.

Ever feel like you’re beating your head against a wall when you’re trying to explain to a non-Christian why something is immoral?  You know, you try the “Well, it’s wrong because God says it is” and they look at you like you’re nuts?

It’s because you’re talking to someone who is spiritually dead.  They’re not spiritually “sick.”  They don’t need a shot of morality to get their act together.  They’re spiritually dead and dead people generally don’t make the best conversationalists, let alone respond well to judgment.  Just watch the Walking Dead and you’ll quickly learn that if you try to reason with the dead, you’re going to get your face eaten off.

Here’s the thing.  Unless you have the power to literally raise someone from the dead, you’re not going to fix the culture.  Despite what Joel Osteen tells you, you’re not big enough, you’re not powerful enough, you’re not motivated enough, you’re not smart enough, and you’re not talented, and you’re not good-looking enough to change the world.  If you were, you’d be God, and I’m pretty sure that God just called and let me know that you’re not God.

But the good news is that there is a God, that He is alive and active in our world and our lives, and that He cares about His creation.  We’re a sinful, jacked up group of people and we’re hell-bent on destroying the world that God created for us and, for some reason that we’ll never comprehend, God came down in the flesh to patch things back together.

Our first and foremost priority, then, should be to bring people to Christ.

Want to fix the culture?  Bring the culture to Christ and let Christ change the culture.  Want to end sex trafficking?  Bring the sex traffickers to Christ.  Want to end abortion?  Bring abortionists to Christ.  Want to end hunger?  Bring those who can feed the hungry to Christ.

How do we do that?  Let’s look at some facts:

  • Jesus spent a ton of time with jacked up, sinful people like us–so much so that he was accused of being a drunk.
  • Jesus never sinned, but he unashamedly stood up for what is good and abhored what is evil.  Maybe you saw that scene on The Bible where ultra photogenic Jesus flipped a bunch of tables because people were defiling God’s temple?  Yeah, that happens in the book, too.  So much for that sissy “Jesus meek and mild” mental picture, right?
  • Yet, somehow, Jesus conquered death and sin and made a way for us to get back to God.
To me, it seems like it would come down to three things:
  1. Endeavor to be blameless and righteous through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Spend time with people outside the Church and show them the love of Christ.
  3. Speak the truth and uphold the Father’s holiness.  Remember that salvation belongs to God, not us.  

My Christian friends will recognize the entire Trinity at work in those three points.  Do you get it?  First and foremost, it’s about Jesus.

It’s about Jesus.

People don’t go to Hell because they’re gay.  People don’t go to hell because they’re greedy, or they killed someone, or they stole their neighbor’s lunch money in third grade.  People go to Hell because–for one reason or another–they reject the gift of salvation found in Christ.  

And you know what?  It’s probably your fault.  And my fault.  And your small group leader’s fault.  And your pastor’s fault.  People are going to Hell because we’re having the wrong conversations and, just like the religious Pharisees, we’re presenting our neighbors with a cheap, watered down version of the gospel.

Christians, let’s get our act together.

Win the culture to Christ.  Don’t let the world distract you and entangle you in the web of deceit.

Special comment policy: Generally, I welcome any and all respectful comments on my blog.  On this post, however, I won’t tolerate a discussion of the morality of homosexuality or gay marriage as it distracts from the core issue.  That includes accusations of hate or bigotry (when in reality I probably have more gay friends than you do) based on my position of faith.  I appreciate your cooperation.  Hugs and kisses, Rob.