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Make the Climb- 2020 exhortation

The sky breaks just over the mountain. It’s beautiful this time of year. The urge to climb the mountain is sometimes overwhelming, especially among the young. There is something majestic about climbing to the break of the sky. The noble trudge up the hill and exhausting toil of the climb leads to tremendous beauty. In the young, the mountain is a challenge. It taunts, calling to the observer, “I dare you to scale the heights!” Many will climb the peak and feel the sense of victory as they stand atop the mountain. They imagine during the climb that they will insist that the mountain remain under them. Yet, something mysterious happens at the top of the mountain. The victorious do not stand in triumph over their conquered prey. Rather, they are suddenly conscious of their smallness. Confronted by the overwhelming reality of their own inadequacies, they stand at the top of the mountain they’ve conquered only to gaze upon the immensity of the world around them. The majestic reality will remain with them forever. They will become the wise man who stands at the bottom of the mountain and reflects on the glory and immensity of its size while making the slow deliberate hike. No longer the sprinting youth, they become the seasoned warrior who knows the challenge of the mountain and respects its strength and size. They have been to the top, they know the glory.

This time of year leads many of us to examine the new year with boldness. Like the youthful climber, we declare that we are going to conquer the mountains that lay before us and we set goals and aspirations to accomplish those goals. This is a beautiful character trait of youth. Some of us are cynical, having tried to climb mountains in the past and failed. Yet, we must not let our past failures dictate our futures. We must become the seasoned climber who slowly and deliberately climbs to the crest. So we make reasonable goals and lay out resolutions to conquer. With joy and zeal, we start the climb. We read the first book on our list, we wake early to spend time in devotion, we eat right/exercise each day for a time. We long to conquer. We long to be victorious. We long to see the view from the mountain. Many will stop their resolutions and become disillusioned with the climb. Some will check off their lists and move on to the next adventure without pause. But for those who climb the mountain and stop to observe the view, we are reminded of our smallness. Our successes become the ground upon which we see the glory of the heavens. Our failures become another rock to walk past along the path to the summit. We climb to be reminded of the greatness of the God above and the smallness of our own frame. Though we have laid the mountain beneath our feet, the view is so magnificent that it silences our boast.

I long for the silent aw of the mountain-top view that God has for us. I long to stand in victorious climb at the top of the cliff and see the greatness of God. To be reminded of my smallness. And to know that my smallness does not hinder me from seeing God. Not because I climbed the mountain, but because He made the mountain available to climb. In Exodus God gives us a picture of the mountain. The people encamp at the bottom of the mountain and God’s presence remains at the peak. A storm cloud of holy purity, He warns the people not to touch the mountain or they will die. Moses and Joshua alone are permitted to make the climb. Yet, for you and me, Christ has climbed the mountain of God on our behalf and has made a way for us to commune with the Most High God! You have been granted access to God by God-come-down, Jesus Christ! You could not climb the summit to see God. So God, in His infinite mercy, came down to you and made a way for you. So, climb! Gather up your zeal and all the energy you can! Strive to know Jesus this year. Strive because He has made a way and you CAN know Him! Stake claim that you are going to climb the difficult mountains and stand in awe at the Lord of glory from the summit!

I want to encourage you to climb the mountain this year in a very specific way. I don’t believe that you should simply set some random goal (though goals are good things). Physical goals are fine… physical training is of some value, but Godliness is greater in every way (1 Timothy 4:8). So, aim high! Aim to be like Christ in everything. Strive to commune with the Lord on such a level that you overflow with the Love that only He can give! Climb. Seek joy. Then, when you reach the top of your mountain, look around and be reminded of the glory of God how much more there is to see and glorify!

Read your Bible daily. Pray in every moment. Keep a list of prayer needs and address them daily. Challenge yourself to find your entertainment in Christ and knowing Him. Make your moments matter. Invest in a brother or sister in Christ. Create great works of art in praise to God’s glory. Write the book God laid on your heart. Share the Gospel with one person a day. But, above all else: STRIVE TO KNOW CHRIST!

Climb the mountain with me. Let’s do this.

There is Something About a Watch

There is something about a watch. Something about that leather strap with a constant reminder of progression. The ominous silence constantly calling out the warning, “time is moving!” Yet, there is a sense of control over that time when we wear a watch. The watch keeps track of the time, still, I hold the watch on my wrist in some manner holding time in my hand. As if in by some mysterious magic I am capable of wielding the power of time. Somehow it becomes me to believe that wearing a watch gives me some modicum of control over time. Or at least control over its power over me.

Still, time presses on. On my wrist remains the constant refrain that moments are sliding by, the crushing reality that I have not seized every moment and made the best use of every breath. Still, in this moment I hold the marker on my arm. Such a time-piece offers an odd sort of comfort amidst dismay. There is just something about a watch.

Sometimes I would like to disregard the time. I’d like to believe that I have some control of the passage that my wristwatch chronicles for me. I know that I cannot hold back the waters of time. Paul says that we are to make the most use of the time, “for the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). He describes the days as wicked and malicious against us. And so they are. These moments of unforgiving weight that records our wait. They propel us into a desperate need to “do” and a constant sense that we must be active and work. Yet, Christ calls us to rest. The watch can drive me to labor or… something else.

As I ponder the weight of time on the human frame- that slow back bending reality that each of us must submit to, I am reminded that the watch has not always bound me to a pressure. There was a day when the watch served to remind me of the glory of rest. “For six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it, you shall not do any work…” (Exodus 20:9-11). And again, “Above all you shall keep my Rest, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you!” (Exodus 31:13). The watch calls me to hold a vigil in anticipation of rest amidst our work. It brings to mind the sanctification of my soul by the LORD, simultaneously marrying the futile reality of this life and reminding me of the glory of that blessed rest to come.

The slow, constant click of the faithful chronicler I have chosen to bind on my arm serves to draw me into eager expectant waiting. Waiting for that day when my Lord will return to set aright all that my watch has recorded. Waiting for the day when rest from labor is constant and purified in the wake of my King’s return. Waiting with each tick of the hand pressing me further into the pursuit of Sabbath joy.

There is just something about a watch. It can propel one to dismay or joy. There is just something about a watch.

3 Tips to be Present

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and then realized that you’re not actually paying attention to what is being said? Perhaps you’ve drifted off to follow some thought squirrel that has decided challenge your intellectual consistency over something you read four years ago. As you ponder the significance of stability within the recipe for ketchup, you suddenly realize you’re not present in the conversation. Now your mind snaps back in to engage the conversation again. As you struggle to re-engage with the friend who has been patiently awaiting your response, you suddenly realize that you’ve missed the last several minutes of discussion. Frustrated and slightly annoyed, you consider your options.

Option one: continue to try and fake it through the conversation.

Option two: make an excuse to end the conversation abruptly and flee from your friend.

Option three: admit you have not been present and ask them to repeat themselves.

Being present is not always easy. Sometimes we’ve been drained of intellectual stimulus for so long that it is nearly impossible for us to focus on anything other than the thought spirals that are flying through our minds. Sometimes we’ve been deprived of human interaction (or adult interaction) that we simply cannot hold the floodgates closed and our minds just race without hope of stopping. And sometimes, just sometimes, we don’t care about the conversation we are in. None of these are valid reasons for not being present. Don’t get me wrong! Being present is hard. It takes effort to care for the concerns of other people and to lay your own cards down in effort to love and listen well. But we must be present if we are to love well.

Here are three short things to do in order to maintain presence in a conversation.

  1. Lead the questions. If you ask the questions, you are less likely to drift away from the answer. So, ask questions that matter. Try to stay away from short answer questions that lack specifics. Instead of asking how someone is doing, ask “what are you most excited about in the next month?” Instead of asking “What’s been going on?” Ask, “What is something you’ve learned recently that has really shifted your thinking?” Then ask good follow-up questions that can help progress the conversation. A good conversationalist will be able to ask questions that lead to more valuable topics of discussion. So start practicing. Start asking questions that matter. Invest yourself in others by asking good questions.
  2. Get better sleep. Without a doubt, I am awful at tracking with a conversation or a person when I don’t sleep well. I have a naturally nervous mind and I am a relatively anxious person. Now I’m a pastor… so I spend a good bit of time trying to talk with people. If I am not rested, I can go a whole conversation and miss 60% of what is said. The person begins to talk and I begin to drift off into a form of contemplation of some theological reality I wrestled with years ago. Once this has happened, it is nearly impossible to catch up with the conversation. The greater my exhaustion the weaker my ability to focus. One easy way to remedy this is to take a nap before you go to meet with someone. About two hours before your meeting, take a thirty-minute nap. That way you’ll have plenty of time to wake up and more energy to focus when in the meeting.
  3. Write down the needs and prayer concerns of others. Perhaps the root issue of your lack of presence is a genuine lack of compassion. It’s ok to lack compassion. Compassion is something that you cultivate over a long period of time. So you should make strides to develop it. One way I have learned to do this is through prayer journaling. As I talk with people about their needs, I often take notes on my phone. When I get home, I transfer those to a prayer journal. The next time I meet with that person I have been developing compassion for them and it is much easier for me to be present with them.

Is there anything specific you do to be present? Put it in the comments.

6 Lessons from Tootie the Poot!


Sometimes Daddy needs a break, so I told him to “Go out of office!”

I’m Tootie the Poots! You know, like Winnie the Pooh… except I’m not a bear, and I’m not a cartoon, and I am not full of fluff… and I’m a poot, not a pooh. I thought I’d share with you some of my thoughts on life today! So here goes… Let’s take a walk together!


1. Stop and enjoy the soda Daddy bought for you. On the first day of the week, Daddy often takes us children on a long walk to get a soda (and sometimes a cookie). Often on the return journey, I simply stop walking and enjoy my drink. Everyone else is so busy trying to be in front or climbing some tree that they miss the joy of the soda right in front of them. Daddy got me this drink and it is DELIGHTFUL! So I stop and take in the gift of delight that is in my hands. Take some time and enjoy the soda that you were given. Don’t be so worried about getting back to the house to work or put me down for a nap. Just stop, sip, enjoy.


2. Cookies are best when shared! I think we were made to share. Jo-Bits and I often share a drink and cookie when Daddy takes us on walks. He’s great! As we enjoy the gifts our Daddy has given us, Jo-Bits makes sure that I have enough. Daddy often asks us, “why do you look at your neighbor’s plate?” The answer is always the same – “to see if they have enough.” As I sit with others and share the cookie my Daddy got me, I get to see the delight on their face. Together we savor the sweetness and joy of the treat, laughing as the mess increases and chocolate covers our fingers and faces. It is as if these gifts we have were given to us so that we may enjoy and delight in each other.IMG_5953

3. Be alert and enjoy the world around you. See this cat!? I named him, but I can’t remember what I named him so I’m going to call him, Cat. On our way home from the beaver’s place, this charming fellow sought to join in our merriment. I’m closer to the ground, so I saw him first. Oh, what a delight it was to see such a funny creature looking back at me! We talked about stuff and I laughed at the jokes he told that no one else could understand. He stretched and rolled around on the ground and I think he told me he wanted me to scratch his ears. Big people, who aren’t as close to the ground, forget to enjoy these moments when we can interact with nature. Every day we are afforded the opportunity to delight in the creation. Daddy calls it the poetry of life, but I think it is just a pretty cool cat. You should take some time and talk to a cat.


4. When you’re walking on a wet road and it seems slippery, just reach up and hold Daddy’s hand. Sometimes, the road we walk is wet and muddy. Cars disregard the cute procession of children walking along the side of the road. My shoes sometimes get muddy and I need a little reassurance that the ground is not going to swallow me whole. So I reach up and grab daddy’s hand! His hands are strong and I can trust them to keep me steady. I sometimes forget He is walking beside me, but then when I need Him most, I reach up and there is His hand… it’s like He knows my anxious thoughts and how to care for them. So, when the road gets troublesome, grab on to Daddy’s hand.

IMG_59355. Sometimes you have to get close to the dirt to see the wonders! Have you ever stooped down to see the bugs in action? They are amazing! I’m closer to the ground so I see them easier, but even I have to get close sometimes. Bend down low and look close! Daddy says, “God put those there so we would see how much He cares about little things.” I think God put them there so I could be amazed! Sometimes the things low in the dirt are the most worthwhile things to look at. The littlest and most insignificant among us often offer us the most beautiful and best expressions of praise to God. Take time to get close to the dirt, that is where you will see God working the most.

IMG_59226. Don’t worry about the big bad telephone pole, Jo-Bits – the warrior is walking with us! I have a brother. He is brave and destroys those things that scare me. I saw a spider on the telephone pole and I was a little worried that it might eat my face off. Fortunately for me, Daddy brought along my big brother Jo-Bits! He leaped into action with his plastic tube (he called it a light-saber) and decimated the enemy. My brother and I also fight and argue sometimes. Daddy says that is a good thing, because “if they won’t argue with you when you’re wrong, they won’t stand up for you when you’re right.” You see, when we walk together, we can trust in the ones we walk with to stand up for us in times of trouble. Jo-Bits is sometimes difficult and makes me scream, but when there’s a scary spider or caterpillar, or ant, Jo-Bits is there!

Thoughts from the flood

I live in a small town about an hour south of Houston. We live along the Brazos river. I love our town. It’s beautiful and filled with salt-of-the-earth people. Today, the waters recede north of us. As Houston begins recovery, the river begins to rise where we live. We rejoice with our northern-neighbors, while we wait and watch as the river slowly overflows at our home. This is the insidious nature of natural disasters. While one area is affected in one moment, another area prepares to be affected days later downstream.

Last year we had a similar disaster in my area. Not a hurricane, but a river flood. I watched each day as the flood waters rose slowly, creeping closer to my house. This year is the same. River floods are frightening. They are not quick, they are not obvious, you can ignore them pretty easily. One day you are fine and go to sleep. The next morning you awake with your house surrounded by water.

I check the river each day. Walking down to the end of our street to look over the bank. The first day it starts to rise through the trees and shrubs. You wouldn’t notice it except that some of the space between the leaves is filled with brown water. The next day it is at street level, filling ditches and the back of some of the yards that descend to the bank. The next day it is on the over the road that runs alongside the river. Then comes the slow steady climb. Over the next three days, the water will rise so slowly that no one will notice. It will move into the yards. One moment your home is safe and dry, the next there is a puddle of water in your closet. Each day people will check the level morning and night. Each day people will decide to leave or remain. Each day the river comes closer and we pray it will cease.

The world is inundated with disaster. Physically and spiritually the rivers rise and overtake the world. In my own community, depression and slow degradation move aggressively into the heart of the community, drowning hope. Yet there is an answer. The message of Jesus Christ overcomes the waters of despair. Oh, don’t get me wrong… trials still come and sometimes sweep over us. But the gospel message of Christ frees us from sin and lifts us above the trials. Psalm 40:2 states, “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” Walking the way of Jesus gives the disciple the ability to live beyond their circumstances. There is a supernatural ability to overcome death. The Christian life is a life that is founded in compassion and reckless love for others. The power that drives that love is the Holy Spirit who has indwelt believers and the hope of an eternity beyond this life.

Using the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians drive back the river. We provide places of refuge for those in need. We build levees that can help keep people safe from the rivers. We live above the destruction that comes upon our lives, serving the world around us, and we walk on firm ground above the rising waters. (c.f. John 14) We labor to serve the neighbors in need, attempting to recover what has been lost and restore life where death has reigned. This is Christ. This is Christianity.

Like the inundation of a river, the gospel message is not a short work. True gospel work is long and arduous. At times there are sprints in the recovery process. Old things are torn out, cut away, and removed. Walls that held mold of sin and death are cut out and treated. But the work of the gospel is a long term effort. A friend recently told me that a year after a catastrophic flood, they were still at 40% recovered. Let that sink in for a moment. Bringing life into death takes a long time. The gospel work takes a long term investment. True gospel ministry does not end when the carpet is removed and the house is gutted. True gospel ministry brings life into death. It replaces the stains of this world with the beauty of heaven. It is a laborious and yet rewarding work.

Beloved Christian… get to work. Work hard to love your neighbor and prove the power of the Gospel. Work hard to cultivate beauty in death. Work hard to change the world you live in. Drive back the river, live above death!

When Someone Claims Divine Authority

moses_with_tabletsThe conversation began with the typical spiritual overtones I’d come to expect from this particular friend: “I have a word from the Lord for you.” I was in my first years of college, and this was a common refrain among many of my friends. Over the years, I have heard people make statements like this many times. Occasionally, the “word” they offered was productive and clearly from God. However, more often than not, what followed the opening claim to divine inspiration fell into two categories.

Let us call the first category: “Vague allusion.”

This is when the word that follows the claim is vague and can be interpreted in a variety of ways. The “word” they deliver is guised as having highly specific undertones, but the specifics don’t match any particular interpretation. I can remember when a well-meaning brother told me he had a vision for me! I excitedly sat to hear the vision as I had respect for this particular brother. He told me that I was standing before a blue background… that was it. The whole “vision.” On another occasion I was told that the “word” the Lord had for me was “peace.” No explanation… no attempt to understand the circumstances surrounding the supposed prophecy. Just, “peace.” Ok. So extrapolation and interpretation fall squarely on my shoulders. In Scripture this is the opposite of prophecy. Think about the prophet Daniel. He received the interpretation of the dreams, and that is what made him a prophet. Unexplained vague allusions are not prophecy.

Now don’t get me wrong. These are well meaning brothers and sisters who genuinely feel as though they are acting in obedience to the Lord. The trouble is in claiming the divine authority in connection with vague, easily misinterpreted statements. God is not vague. When we read prophecies in Scripture, they are not vague. And though Jesus speaks in parables, he frequently expected them to be understood by His disciples and if they were not, He often labored to explain them. Though the prophecies in Scripture may be complex and we may have difficulty understanding them, they are not vague. In fact they are often extremely specific!

The second common category is “Passively addressing offense.”

weneedtotalkIt was late and I was tired. I had been working long hours and had exhausted my mental reserves studying for various exams. My friend contacted me and told me that he had a “word” for me. He had been laboring over this for weeks and simply could not hold onto it any longer. “Brother, when you said that two weeks ago, the Lord was angered.” I can remember being mortified! I was literally trembling at the idea that I had displeased my Lord, so I asked for clarification. What was wrong with what I had said, specifically!? Can you point me to Scripture so I can know what not to do again? This was important! I asked what Scriptures I had particularly violated so that I might have some sense of clarity. None was offered. So I apologized for any offense and spent the next months in nervous fits. That is, until I realized what had actually happened. I had offended a brother and he felt the need to claim some divine authority in order to address his offense.

I spent months dealing with this particular offense. I wrestled and labored to discover my failing before God. The most difficult thing for me to understand was why God had not spoken to me, but had determined that I needed someone else’s voice.

Now consider for a moment: I’m a brash personality and I am naturally insensitive to the feelings of others. Couple that with the position of teaching the Bible, and I am a model example of how to offend people without really trying. So, it is not uncommon for me to have to explain myself to others. I don’t intend to offend, but sometimes I do. The trouble with the above example was where my friend had placed the offense. It is one thing to offend a brother. You can explain yourself and apologize and deal with the issue, but when you have offended the Lord, that is a different issue altogether. Offending the Lord requires repentance and knowledge of your own sin. In contrast to the above confrontation, The Lord is quite clear about the specifics of our sin against Him. There is no ambiguity with The Lord when He deals with sin. Consider when Nathan confronts David in 2 Samuel 12. After drawing David’s attention to the heinousness of sin, Nathan speaks directly and clearly to David. Likewise, God speaks plainly and His word cuts to the heart.

To be fair, there are times when people offer a “word” and it is actually consistent with Scripture and is legitimate. Apply those times appropriately. However, for those other times here are three things to look for.

Look for Scripture.

I’ve become inoculated to the claim to divine authority that is not accompanied by Scripture. You see, the Bible is the Word of God and He speaks to us through it. He is quite clear. So, if someone comes to me with a “word from the Lord,” I will strive to listen for Scripture or Scriptural validation of their claim. In the absence of that, I have learned to thank them for their voice, apply what is useful and dismiss what is not. It is important to remember that people who deliver “a word” to you are well-meaning, if sometimes misguided. The Lord speaks through Scripture. Test everything by the word of God (1 Thess. 5:21).

Look for specifics and clarity.

God is not vague. He is extremely direct. He does not muddy understanding of His intentions but clarifies it. When God speaks, He always brings clarity to confusion. When Nathan confronted David in 2 Sam. 12, there is no confusion. When Moses delivers the Word of God in Exodus 32-34, God’s voice is clear. When Isaiah speaks to Hezekiah, there is no confusion in His prophecy (Isaiah 37-38). Take a look at all the notable times when God’s prophets confront various kings in the Old Testament. Every time God’s prophets bring a prophecy, they bring clarity into a situation that is confusing. The voice of the Lord is no different in the New Testament. Consider when Philip was told to approach the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), or when Ananias receives a vision about Saul and argues with God about it (Acts 9:10-19), or when God tells Paul no after he asks for the thorn to be removed (2 Cor. 12:7-10). So, if someone claims to speak from the Lord, then clarity should follow. Further, when God addresses sin, He deals with specifics. The address of sin is always clear and the guilt is always obvious. He gave an entire law to His people and frequently names the specific sins and the manner in which they are committing them. So, when someone claims a word from God, look for specifics.

Look for opportunity to be holy.

The prophecies that are given to the people of God always have one thing in common: an urging to righteousness. God calls His people to repent from sin and obey Him. More than that, He equips them through His word to do so. The call of God on His people has not changed. If you believe in Jesus, He calls you to live righteously. (1 Peter 1:15)

Finally, be gracious to those who claim to speak from the authority of God. They seldom know the danger they bring upon their souls if they are found to misrepresent God. Be loving, honest, and extremely careful.

Hiding Sin?

HIDING-BEHIND-A-TREE1I stood in my kitchen feeling the uneasiness of my young friend. It was obvious that there was something the young man was not telling me. He had a look about him. A fear that he would be rejected. A slight, almost indiscernible trembling in his demeanor. He wouldn’t look up. I knew what it was. I knew the stance. I had felt the fear and shame of hiding my sin from others. I knew the fear of exposing my wickedness to Christians, even those who were kind and gentle. I also knew the freedom of exposure.

I looked the young man in the eyes and said, “how long have you struggled with (this particular issue)?” He was shocked that I knew. His response was clear and direct. He answered me honestly and we were able to talk through his struggle.
Many of us are in the same place that young man in my kitchen was. We feel a need to hide our sins out of view from the community of faith. Perhaps we are afraid we will loose our prestige. Perhaps we are afraid we will be looked down on. Or maybe we just want to hold on to our sin a little while longer. It would probably surprise most people to know that pastors are no different. Transparency is not easy to come by and the fear of rejection is often crippling. I have watched as many of my fellow pastors hide sins from their congregations. They preach with great tenacity against sin on Sunday and then expend copious amounts of energy hiding their own failures.

In Joshua 7, Achan is caught after hiding some forbidden treasures under his tent. He attempts to hide his sin. Slowly and methodically his sin is uncovered by the Lord of Hosts through miraculous circumstance. He has multiple chances to come forward and repent, but chooses to hide. This is his response after he has been caught:

And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” – Joshua 7:20-21

Note the pattern here: Achan answers Joshua, “I saw… I coveted… I took… I hid…” This is the process we all go through when we sin. First we see it, then we want it. Our desire overwhelms, so we take it. At the realization of what we have done, we hide it. There is no joy in this. There is only shame! What good does secret sin do for us? Forbidden lusts that are hidden under tents only serve to rot our innermost thoughts and hearts. They are turmoil to our souls. “What fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?” -Romans 6:21

Enter grace. 

When that young man stood in my kitchen I was able to tell him my struggles as well. I gave counsel to him and let him know he was okay. We began a process of walking through life together as brothers in arms. The truth is that we all struggle with sin, it just so happens that your struggles are sometimes more evident than mine and vise versa. But the grace of Jesus Christ has covered mine, and it can cover yours. We fear the condemnation that may come from others. What we ought to fear is the condemnation of the Lord. If we trust Him with our salvation, why not with our sins and our hearts. Indeed, it will hurt to confess… cleansing out sin always hurts a little. But if we let it fester, it will consume us. Besides, confession of sins to each other is commanded. (James 5:16)

So I offer you an open invitation. Don’t hide your sin like Achan does. His end is death under a pile of rocks… Instead of hiding our sin under our tents, let’s find a community of believers who will walk through our struggles with us and engage in war against sin along side us. Find people who will ask you honest questions without condemnation. (Romans 8:1) Achan carries all his sin to the judgement and in the end he remains only a rotting corpse buried under the weight of his sin. But Jesus died so that you wouldn’t have to suffer the same fate as Achan. You don’t need to continue to hide your sin, Jesus paid the price for it. Bring it out from under your tent and expose your soul to the cleansing grace of Christ.

If you do not have a community like this, we are working hard to build one where I live. Come join us at Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Brazoria at 10:30 Sunday mornings. We meet in the Brazoria Civic Center Conference room. (There is a map on the important documents tab at the top of this page) We all have struggles, let’s make war on them together.



5 Things Pastors Struggle With

First of all, I know some of you clicked on this because it’s a list, and we like lists.  And that’s ok, the first step in addressing a problem is admitting you have one.  You’ve got a problem, now read my list.

In light of pastor appreciation month, I thought I’d share some things pastors struggle with so you can appreciate yours more. So here goes, top 5 things that your pastors struggle with.

1. Vision.

Vision is a primary responsibility for most pastors. It is the purpose they were hired for and with good reason. Proverbs 29:18- “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law, happy is he.” (KJV) So we don’t want our churches to perish! So we hire a pastor to lead out in vision.

No matter what kind of pastor you are under or what type of personality he is. Vision is dependent on the Word of the Lord. Note the passage quoted above the lack of vision is contrasted with one who keeps the law, a set of directions given by God to His faithful. This makes for an interesting dilemma when we are placing the responsibilities of vision and direction for a church on the shoulders of one man. You see, God does not always share the details of the vision with the people He calls to follow.  Abram was just told to start walking, Jeremiah was told that God would give him words, and the disciples were promised that Jesus would send them help. So vision is not always something crystal clear to pastors and we need to be patient for them to hear from the LORD.

Sometimes it’s the other way around though.  Sometimes the pastor has strong vision but has an obstinate congregation that won’t follow, such as when Moses called the people to move camp and Korah saw it as arrogance and rebelled against him. That does not go well for Korah (Num. 16). Sometimes the struggle with vision is simply that people don’t want to follow God, this is equally frustrating and causes a great deal of stress for your pastors.

You can help your pastors by encouraging them to stay in the Word. The more time they spend in prayer and study, the stronger their vision will be. You can also ask them what they are learning about God and genuinely listen to their answer. Focus our conversations and thoughts on Jesus and His mission and we will be encouraged to seek out and communicate His vision for the church. Then listen and get behind the vision. When the vision is unclear, pray and ask the Lord to give it clarity (your pastor cannot bring clarity to a vision he does not see clearly and to expect him to is wrong).

2. The desire to be liked

The desire to be well thought of. Most pastors have a deep desire to love people and to be loved by people. Now, those of you who know me might be surprised that I am including this one. I am one of those rare individuals that can honestly say that it does not bother me if you disagree or like me. I will do what I will do with little regard for what you think about what I should do. But, I know this about myself, so I am in constant touch with wiser men and women who can help to direct my steps and give wise counsel with regard to others. However true this quirk may be within me, this is not the case for most. Most pastors want people to think very highly of them.  When you couple that desire with the struggle for vision above, you have a recipe for a pastor who is a nervous bundle of emotions primed to explode at any moment.

Many pastors are swayed by the opinion of others because they have a sincere desire to be liked. Often you can identify the type of people who will sway your pastor. I have noticed that, in general, pastors are swayed by one of four groups of people.  1. Those who look to him as the head and hero (e.g. the guy that tells me I’m awesome). 2. Those who think of him as the enemy (e.g. the one who avoids me at all costs and attempts to undermine my leadership). 3.Those who match some sort of authoritative archetype from their past (e.g. the woman/man who acts like my mom/dad or someone who had a major impact on my life). 4. Those who work really hard at the church and ministries we lead (e.g. the one I can count on to do what I ask). There are some others, but for the most part, those who appeal to your pastor’s desire to be liked are one of these four. The trouble with these four groups swaying your pastor’s resolve is that none of them are the Word of God. If you want a powerful prophet-like pastor who will lead your church to change the world, then you must help him to overcome this desire and focus only on the One Voice that matters.

You can help your pastor by making sure he knows you like him regardless of what he does. Let him know you care about his family, listen to him, and spend time with him and his family. Refrain from giving your opinion. Try to share more scriptural insight than opinion. As a pastor, I can tell you that when someone tells me what they have been learning in Scripture, I am lit up like a Christmas tree! When they tell me their opinions I want to throw rocks at them.

3. Numbers

Your pastor knows the numbers issue. He checks rosters, attendance charts, and takes note of low attendance Sundays. However, your pastor is stuck between a rock and a hard place. You see, in the Old Testament the kings are told NEVER COUNT THE PEOPLE!!! When they do count the people, it goes really bad for them, when they don’t count the people things go pretty well. Further, did you ever notice, Jesus seems to be anti-numeric growth in the gospels? He’s constantly trying to get away from the crowd. With this in mind, your pastor also wants to keep his job and knows that smaller numbers typically means less impact and less impact means less influence, less influence means less excitement over our vision, less excitement over our vision means less likely to keep your job. Further, we want to reach millions for Christ! Your pastors are acutely aware that “there were not as many people here today.”  Further, even if your pastor is not bothered by small numbers, he knows you are and therefore he is bothered.

The trouble lands in the counting. The Lord urges your pastor to trust Him, but we often urge our pastor to do something about it. In 2 Chronicles 2:7-8, the king of Israel takes a census of the people. As a result, the people of Israel are punished. (I wonder sometimes if our obsession with numbers and counting is why we cannot seem to foster the Spirit in many of our American churches. In other words, perhaps we are being punished?) No one wants their congregation punished.

You can help your pastor by inviting friends. This is not particularly hard to do, but it is something we American Christians are HORRIBLE at doing. Invite your friends, neighbors, and acquaintances to church. You can also commit yourself to aiding the pastor in his work whether or not you agree with his decisions. Don’t bring up the numbers, let him do that. If you are kind and have worked to know your pastor, he will ask for your opinion on the numbers issue eventually. Poorly placed opinions kill souls of pastors. Keep your opinions to yourself, give him Scripture, and you will one day develop the trust necessary to give input.

4. Time

Time Management! Your pastors feel pulled in so many different directions that we often want to quit. We need to be active in the community apart from the church, we need to be visiting the sick and elderly, we need to be active in every program at the church, we need to be spending significant time studying, we need to organize the people, we need to take this mission or that trip, we need to make sure we provide for the spiritual needs of our own family, we need to, we need to, we need to… all needs. All too little time to accomplish those needs. Then you pile on the wants and there is no time to sleep or eat! The truth is that we need to say no.  We need margin, that is the space between the load we put on ourselves and the ability we have to accomplish or address that load. Most pastors are exceptional time managers, what we lack is the ability to say no, or prioritize in the midst of a culture that says we must have every hour full!

This is overtly anti-biblical! The idea that every hour must be full is absurd and defies God’s constant refrain in Scripture to rest in His provision. Your pastors need margin and so do you.

You can help him by giving him space or by taking care of small things for him. You see something needs to be done at church? Go do it.  Also, make sure he knows he does not have to be at everything! If he show up to something, great! But if for some reason he cannot or does not, be OK with that. Don’t make him feel like he must be everywhere and as a result you’ll see him more places.

5. Maintaining a relationship with the Lord

A non-professional relationship with God. Pastors live in a privileged position and all pastors know it. They are paid to study and teach about the most Magnificent God of the Universe. Because of this professional relationship with the Word, we have a hard time maintaining a personal relationship with the LORD. We spend a great deal of time studying for Sunday, Wednesdays, prayer meetings, classes, counseling sessions, or small groups and we often forget to make time for our own relationship with the LORD.

Contrary to popular belief, pastors do not have any more of a direct line to God than you do. We are people, just like you. As such, just like you we need the discipline to wake up early or stay up late to know the Lord, just like you.

You can help your pastor by talking about the Lord more than this church. Show him you value the distinction of his professional life from his personal life. Show him you desire for him to love the Lord more.  Talk to him about Jesus.  You can also help by giving him a retreat. Let them get away from the church for a week, a weekend, a month, or several if that is necessary.

If you’re a pastor or have some idea of something I did not include, post it in comments below.

The “I Am” Statements in John

I’ve been gone from this blog for a few months now for various reasons.  The main reason I’ve been absent in writing for you is because I have been writing a book… maybe someone, someday will read it.  No, I’m not done, yes you may read it and give your opinion, no I am not going to post it online, and yes eventually my wife will edit it which will make it a much better book.  So if you want to wait, I don’t blame you…  but it might be 20 years or so. (I have no desire to be a prolific writer, I just want to write one book that matters before I die.)

Having said that, I wanted to share something.

There are 7 “I am ______” statements in the book of John.  The Bread, The Light, The Door, The Good Shepherd, The Resurrection, The Way Truth and Life, and finally The True Vine!

The first three we will deal with today, the last three on another day, and we will deal with the middle statement last. These first three are always repeated, and are delivered in the face of religious leaders who hate Him!  They are repeated as a form of call to repent, which is important to note!  Understanding the character of Jesus IS the call to repentance.  When we learn the character of Jesus we are exposed before Him and must either repent or reject Him.

The Bread is mentioned in John 6:35, 48, and 51.  This claim is placed within a story in which Jesus feeds 5,000 people (at least), miraculously walks over a body of water with His disciples, and ends up with people complaining about Him.  In this way John connects Jesus with Moses freeing the slaves from Egypt and thereby designates Jesus as the savior that Moses promises would come in Dt. 18:15-22.  Jesus stands on the other side of a miracle and makes a clear statement, “I am the bread of life come down from heaven!”  In making this claim Jesus is explaining that the true miracle of sustaining provision and nourishment is Him!  So Jesus is here claiming He is the sustainer of life.  Agreeing with Isaiah 55 Jesus explains that true sustaining power in life is The Lord Himself.

Jesus next calls Himself, “The Light.” (8:12, 9:5) This claim is found in two settings, which is rare in John.  In a simple reading of John you will find clearly delineated points told through stories and subsequent discourses that are interconnected by the setting.  However, in this particular one the setting changes.  First Jesus stands in the temple treasury following a great feast in which there was a large candelabra to commemorate God’s guidance through the wilderness.  It is in this context of a pillar of fire that Jesus makes the claim, “I am the Light of the world!”  Then Jesus argues with the religious leaders until they try to stone Him!  Don’t worry, they don’t get away with it… because Jesus “hid Himself”… in an open courtyard… while surrounded.   The second time Jesus makes the claim is in the midst of healing a blind guy in chapter 9.  After healing the blind guy Jesus makes the point that the religious leaders are blind but claim they are not, and therefore “their guilt remains.” (9:41) By claiming to be the Light, Jesus connects Himself to Isaiah 42:6-7.  In Isaiah God states that He will guide His people and He will give them sight and free them from blindness.  Thus, Jesus is explaining, The LORD will be your light and will give you sight.

Next Jesus makes the claim that He is The Door! (10:7,9) This statement is made in the context of explaining the role of a sheep gate.  In order to understand this, you’re going to have to bear with me.   In ancient Israel, shepherds would need to bring their sheep inside a gated area with a gate keeper and other sheep herds.  Multiple herds would be kept in the same gated area.  When a shepherd came to the gate, the doorkeeper would open the gate, the shepherd would call out his sheep and they would come out to follow him.  Jesus calls Himself The Door effectively claiming that He is the way in which we find protection from death and calls us out of our religious protective systems into safe pasture under His guidance.

All three of these will make amazing since in light of the last three which we’ll talk about next week.

How to Keep a Youth Guy: ten ways my church encourages me to stick around

youthpastorThe current reality of tenure in youth ministry is atrocious.  I’ve see youth guys come and go at a rapid rate since I started in the ministry and have mourned the losses to my fellow churches.  I have been at my church for almost 8 years now as the Student Pastor (official title).  I serve at First Baptist Church in a small town south of Houston Texas.  Last weekend I was privileged to stay with some great friends and through the course of our conversation it came to light that their church has not been able to keep a youth pastor for more than 2 years.  They asked me why?  Why is it that Youth Pastors leave so soon?  What can they do to help them stay?  How do we change the paradigm when the average tenure for a youth pastor is 17 months and 3 years for a senior pastor?  (I know, you’ll find different numbers everywhere.)

Well, my church is awesome!  So I thought I’d share with you 10 things they do that encourage me to stay.  They are not in any particular order.

  1.        Treat the youth pastor the same as all the other pastors.  When my church looks at me, they see a pastor (or at least that’s what they communicate in their discussions with me).  I am asked about theological issues and Biblical issues by youth and adults.  I am asked how I would structure things and my input is valued as a premium.  Church members listen when I give instruction and I don’t have to fight for authority.  When I speak, the members grant me the same respect and gravity that they would my fellow pastors.  So respect your youth pastor, he’ll stay longer.
  2.        Make sure your staff gets along.  As a congregation you can give them opportunity to get away together.  This will breed fellowship among the leaders that is invaluable.  Nothing will kill a youth pastor quicker than an unbalanced and contentious staff relationship.  If your senior pastor micro-manages your youth pastor, he will leave.  If your staff treats the youth pastor like he is second fiddle or a child and refuses to take what he is saying seriously, he will leave.  Now, to be clear, there are youth guys who fit the stereotype mold and they might need to be kicked a little by their other pastors.  But, most of us are hard-working, have some semblance of what makes a good leader, and we do what needs to be done.  My church provides time for the staff to get away and enjoy each other and we are very connected as a result.  I frequently feel as though I am serving with brothers who are laboring along-side me.  I am never second fiddle and they include me in decisions.  I am not treated as a child, but as a brother.  We are colleagues and friends, and that’s what most youth pastors want and need in a staff.
  3.        Help without being asked.  Assume he needs you to do what you notice needs to be done and then go let him know you want to do it and do it without needing him.  This doesn’t happen all the time, but my church is great about helping when it looks like I need help.  One of my favorite memories was when some adults came to me and said, “we love your emphasis on teaching our students, we see this need, we’re going to do it for you.”  That was an incredible blessing.  Take note of what your Student Pastor does well and fill in the gaps without being asked.  If we don’t want you to, we’ll tell you.  While this is awkward it is far better than standing back and being upset at him for not asking for help.  By nature Youth pastors tend to think that they are supposed to do EVERYTHING.  When you come along-side them and just start doing the work, it frees them up to focus on what is important.  My church is awesome at this!
  4.        Pay him the same scale that you pay the other ministers.  A horrific reality of youth ministry is the pay scale.  I know of Pastors who make well over $100,000 serving with youth pastors who make less than $30,000 with no benefits!   This is an atrocious wrong.  My church pays me well and the rest of our staff is paid well too.  Pay your youth guy equitably and you’ll see marked improvement in his attitude toward the position.  I know a youth guy that makes $25,000 a year and is expected to work 60 hours a week (we counted them) under the supervision of a pastor who makes $75,000 a year, has less education, less experience in ministry, works a flat 40 hours a week, and has all benefits paid.  Needless to say, I have his resume if any of you are looking for a hard working youth guy.
  5.        Don’t ask your youth pastor when he is going to get a real pastor job.  You may mean well, implying that he is a great leader or preacher and you think he should take a greater leadership position.  But your complement comes with a devaluing of the position he is already in.  We are pastors already.  Value the position he is in as well as the job he does in it.  Treat the position as a permanent one and do not assume a corporate ladder mentality.  Most of us are not seeking to climb the invisible ladder of supposed success.  Most of us are just happy to work in a church and genuinely feel as though God wants us where we are.  So remember, he is called youth “pastor” because he is already a pastor.  Complement his preaching or leadership, ask him about his future, but be careful not to assume he is only there to step his way up.
  6.        Have his family to your home for dinner and/or go to his house.  Relationships are incredibly valuable for youth guys.  We don’t have many deep relationships because our career is built around relationships with 12-18 year-olds.  Believe it or not, hanging out with a bunch of 16 year-olds on your free nights is not as fun as it sounds.  The only adult fellowship most Youth Guys get is the staff at the church.  Student pastors need adult fellowship beyond the staff.  You can accommodate this need by providing a small group opportunity for him and his family or you can just be intentional and eat with the guy.  Invest your time in your youth pastor as a friend and he will be much more likely to rethink leaving.  Another positive to this is that he will take your advice more readily.  We are much more likely to listen to people who know us and who we know well.  So, love your youth guy and he’ll stay longer.  There is a particular man at my church who took me aside when I got here and said, “what do you need in ministry.”  I told him I needed a friend.  It is partly because of him I have turned down some positions, so that I could maintain that friendship.
  7.        Submit to his leadership in public and discuss disagreements with a humble heart in private.  By nature of the position, youth ministry is filled with leaders who are self-conscious about their abilities to lead and insecure about their authority.  We are very aware of the criticism of others and are extremely sensitive to disrespect for our position.  If you have a disagreement with your youth pastor, model humility for him.  He needs to learn humility, model it by submitting yourself to his leadership, even if it seems unnecessary to do so.  In doing this you will show him what humble leadership is, and will encourage him to learn well how to lead well.  He will stay longer.  My experience at FBC has been loaded with people who will submit to my decisions even if they think I am wrong.  They will respect my position and give me latitude to make mistakes.  As a result, I am still here.
  8.        Forgive his mistakes; he will make a lot of them… especially if he is good at his job.  Let me explain.  If you’re a youth pastor who loves students, you’re going to take some risks.  You’re going to over-plan, under-budget, and offend EVERYONE in the process.  (if you’re a youth guy reading this and you haven’t offended someone yet, you must be young or dense.) But these mistakes are done out of love for the students and a deep desire for Jesus’ name to be made great.  He is not intentionally offending anyone, unless he has stated that offense is his objective (lol, sometimes it’s necessary.) So, he is going to make mistakes.  He is going to be obnoxious.  And he is going to fail you.  He needs to know, failure is ok.  He needs to have the freedom to do so.  Let him run with abandon after a new idea and let it blow up in his face!  Let him fail and you will have a much stronger youth guy in the position.  He needs the freedom to exercise his creativity and the tenderness to be taught when he fails.
  9.        Don’t give him pointless tasks that are unrelated to his passions and/or job.  I remember my first weeks at FBC.  I was incredibly nervous I was going to upset my senior pastor because I was unaware of some unknown task I needed to do.  I was sure that I was going to be asked to set up tables, organize a party, fix some problem.  I was very concerned and was even getting jittery about it.  I walked into my senior pastor’s office and asked “Jim, what is it you want me to do!?”  Jim Doyle sat back in his chair and said, “Teach our students the Bible and run a comprehensive youth program.”  In a rather irritated tone I asked, “when are you going to ask me to set up chairs, or plan a party!?”  Jim smirked, “I’m not… I want you to teach the Bible and run a comprehensive youth program.”  After clarifying my job description, I left his office before any tasks could be added.  It was then I realized how much FBC values this position.  I’m not asked to do menial tasks.  FBC asks me to do things that are related to my job and I’m not asked to do things that are inconsequential.  Often I am told that I don’t need to do certain things because they would take time away from the teaching of the Word or the Students.  Find your youth pastor’s passion and assign him any extra tasks that may relate to that passion, otherwise, let him work without any additional weight.
  10.    Overlook offenses.  Youth pastors can be extremely busy dealing with students and are incredibly emotionally involved with their students.  Further, good youth pastors are much more concerned with your holiness than your happiness.  As a result, we will often offend and sometimes forget that we need to shepherd adults as well.  We may be inconsiderate, callous, or just plain unaware of and toward offenses.  Forgive them without having to be asked.  Model humility and mutual submission by forgiving and forgetting offense without having to bring it up.  He will feel the love from you and you just might be what keeps him there.  I cannot tell you how many times I have been forgiven offense without having to be asked.  It is probably why I am still here.

So, I hope that helps…  If you’re a youth pastor, what are some things that your church does to encourage you to stay?