Tent

Inclining Ourselves to the Will of God

Col 1:9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding

Summertime means camping for a lot of families like ours. It also produces one of the funniest and most frustrating scenes in all of life, putting up a tent. If you are like me you have spent many hours trying to erect a contraption made out of nylon and plastic that your family is supposed to sleep in. There is an exact way to do it and I know every way how not to do it. We can often get frustrated when things don’t fit exactly and easily give up, often using God as a culprit as to why it didn’t pan out.

One thing I am often asked as a pastor is the question “What is the will of God for my life?” People desperately want to know what God wants them to do with their life. Usually people are in a desperate situation like a loss of job or a potential move and really need some discernment in their life. I often feel helpless in these situations but try my best to help them wade through the process by praying and showing them scripture.

The problem we run into is that we try to turn God’s will into our to do list. For those of us who are task driven this gives us great comfort when we can check off acts of obedience. When we are uncertain it can throw our whole day. Let me suggest to you that knowing the will of God has little to do with what we are to do with our life but instead how we are to please Him.

In Colossian 1:9 Paul is praying that the Colossians will be filled with the knowledge of His will. From our first look this sounds great, someone else is praying that we will know what to do with our life. That isn’t what Paul is praying for. He is praying that the Colossians will know what pleases God and brings him joy. That is what the word “will” means here.

If we go from that definition then this frees us in so many ways. It is no longer about me but about what is important to God. What pleases God? I can safely guess it has little to do with where I live or where I work but in how I live. The first and foremost thing that we can do to please God is to worship Him. By this I mean true worship where we give him verbal praise and submit under his authority. If we were to focus on this I believe everything else would fall into place.

Here is the difficulty: to be filled with the knowledge of what please God means that we must incline ourselves to His will (Josh 24:23). To incline means to stretch a piece of material over the framework of a tent. If you have ever put a tent up you know this isn’t easy. Tentmakers purposely make the fabric smaller than the frame so that you have to stretch it. This produces a tight fit and helps it stand better. If we are going to please God it means that we need to stretch our lives over God’s framework. We aren’t big enough to do that but God is able to stretch us so that we fit. If we are inflexible we run into problems. Brings new meaning to the phrase “being conformed to His image.”

So doing the will of God means that we must seek out those things that please God. This doesn’t come natural to us so we must allow Him to stretch us into that framework. When we do this we start to understand what God sees and are drawn towards the things on His heart. Incline your heart to the will of God today and discover the wonderful world of pleasing Him.

broken-rope

Taking Care of Loose Ends

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” 2 Timothy 2:3-4, NASB

God uses the picture of a soldier to teach spiritual truths to His followers throughout the Bible. This is especially true concerning Paul’s mentoring of the young pastor Timothy in the above passage.  Whenever I stumble across these illustrations I feel like I have a distinct advantage in uderstanding them after serving as a Navy SEAL for 12 years.   The phrase “good soldier of Christ Jesus” surges adrenaline through my veins as I realize the similarities my new life as a pastor has to my old life as a SEAL.  Pastoring is a serious endeavor not for the faint of heart.

“Get your loose ends taken care of boys” is a phase that would circulate my SEAL platoons in the months leading up to deployment.  As the day approached and the reality of combat was setting in, teammates were reminded to insure their personal lives were in order before we left.  Having  “loose ends taken care of” was a critical element to the success of the mission.  Having your bills paid and family relations in order are far less glamorous than tasks like making explosives, jumping out of planes and other job requirements of the SEAL, but the consequences of these areas being “loose” often resulted in dire consequences.  I believe this truth is the same in the pastoral ministry—whether you are a seasoned pastor or an aspiring church-planter or missionary.

I entered the vocational ministry full time a little over six years ago.  In this time, I have come to see that many pastors have “loose ends” that hinder, if not destroy, the work of the ministry they have been called to. I would like to suggest a two big items that every pastor, church-planter, or missionary should take care of before launching into the ministry and maintain with vigilance while in the ministry if they desire to
serve over the long haul.

Family life.

He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to  manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)”, 1 Timothy 3:4-5 NASB.  Please read that verse again.  What does your family have to do with your qualifications for serving as a pastor?  Everything! The pastor’s family is a main qualifier in determining if a man should be serving in the ministry, yet it seems that this area is neglected by many “gurus” in church growth, planting, etc. circles.

I went to a very good Bible College and Seminary and am grateful for the preparation I received, yet I don’t remember taking a single class on “Strengthening Your Family as a Pastor.”  It breaks my heart to see pastor after pastor fall out because they have neglected to shepherd their family along the way.  Men, we tow a hard road as pastors.  Please, invest in your family consistently.  You are your wife’s husband and pastor—she needs you.  You are your kid’s dad and pastor—they need you.

There is no substitute for time together.  I heard someone once say that, “Quality time comes with quantity of time.”  This is so true.  You must make a habit of scheduling family time daily, taking a day off every week, and planning annual get aways. The life of a pastor is unlike any other job.  We don’t really have “hours” as we are truly 24/7.  I am not sure how some pastors are able to keep regular office hours and respond to the many and diverse crisis’ that come within the life of the church.  I am thankful that my church supports me working out of home.  I have a detached office that gives me the ability to spend time with the family when I am on study breaks.  This time at home allows me to respond to the
variation of needs 24/7 without neglecting my family.

Men, take it to heart—if you house is in order, your ability to serve greatly increases.   Every family is different.  The ministry is a calling on the whole family.  Take the time to determine what works for your family and make midcourse corrections continually along the way.

Financial Freedom!

Jesus said it best, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13, NASB).  Paul continues this thread as he grooms the young pastor Timothy, “An  overseer, then, must be…free from the love of money” (1 Timothy 3:2, 3, NASB).

Are you familiar with this shout, “I’M DEBT FREE!!!”?  You should be.  I am a huge fan of Dave Ramsey’s message to Christians to get debt free, to live like no other so you can LIVE like no other.  Are you aware that most mission agencies will not consider a candidate for the mission field until they are debt free?  I think this should be policy for every pastor who wants to run the course well.

We live in a country where huge amounts of debt are normative—Christians are no different.  If you are in debt, I highly encourage you to make it a priority to get out of debt.  This is challenging, but the rewards of the freedom to serve are amazing when you are living without debt crushing down upon you.  The journey out of debt is a hard road that takes discipline and commitment to get to the end of.  Get a plan together through resources like Dave Ramsey’s books or others out there.

The Rewards Ahead!

We pastors entered this race with great intentions.  The course before us is not a sprint it is a marathon.  The author of Hebrews exhorts believers to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1b, NASB).  Is financial debt entangling and choking the life out of you?  Get rid of it.  Pay it off.  Stop charging and spend less than you make.  Have you left your family in the dust?  As a Navy SEAL instructor leading runs, I would often have to circle back and pick up the “stragglers” (those who couldn’t keep up).  You may have to circle back to your family.  You may owe your wife and kids an apology.  You may need to have a hard talk with your family about how you can give them more of your time.

If you’re like me, you get goose bumps reading Paul’s final words to Timothy to finish strong.  At the end of my life I want to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7, NASB).  Running this race free of debt is so much easier than running with debt weighting you down.  On my death bed I pray that my wife, kids, and future grandkids will be there as brothers and sisters in Christ running their race strong.  Who’s with me?

love-thy

Saturday Reflection – Christian Social Responsibility in the Lausanne Covenant

Something to reflect upon this Saturday

Here is the paragraph on “Christian Social Responsibility” in the Lausanne Covenant (Paragraph 5):

We affirm that God is both the Creator and the Judge of all men. We therefore should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men from every kind of oppression. Because mankind is made in the image of God, every person, regardless of race, religion, colour, culture, class, sex or age, has an intrinsic dignity because of which he should be respected and served, not exploited. Here too we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with man is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ. The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist. When people receive Christ they are born again into his kingdom and must seek not only to exhibit but also to spread its righteousness in the midst of an unrighteous world. The salvation we claim should be transforming us in the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. Faith without works is dead.

door

Desire, Door & Do..

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

Philippians 2:13 NLT

I had the opportunity this morning to share with about 20 of our summer interns from the youth group at CCEsco.  It’s always a great blessing to share with young disciples that are experiencing their first real exposure to God’s call upon their lives.  I know, for me, that the three summers I spent as a youth intern at my church were incredibly formative.  With that as a backdrop I’m excited to see how God transforms the minds, hearts and directions of these teens.

Philippians 2:13, the primary text we considered today, has been a “goto” passage for me for many of the last 10 years.  Every semester at the bible college I meet students who are confronted with God’s call and challenged by what, or where, they are to go and do next.  My question – which is also my answer – when they seek counsel on the call of God is always the same, “What do you want to do?” For some reason this question is initially bothersome to most.  As I’ve talked with dozens of inquiring students in the last 7 years, I believe I’ve discovered the reason why [partly].

Sadly, we have disconnected our will, desire and enjoyment from God’s call and His glory in our lives.  Pastor John Piper does a great job identifying this unfortunate reality in the first chapter of his book “Desiring God.” Over the last 12 years of vocational ministry I’ve witnessed these things work in perfect concert as God has directed my path.  I have come to see that most often God directs me [first] by desire

Ok, so I anticipate an objection at this point.  Yes, desires can be dangerous.  My assumption is that the person seeking God’s will and direction is [hopefully] filtering their desires through the revealed will of God, in His word.  A fool might say, “I desire to sleep with my girlfriend, ultimately God created me with this desire, He created a way in which I can satisfy this appetite.  He must therefore be “ok” with me indulging.” No, God’s word is clear, the body is not for fornication (I have a teaching on this point if needed).  The word of God is always our standard.  My desires have to be measured by the character of Christ and His word.  Adam Clarke was right when he said, “The godly man never indulges a desire which he cannot form into a prayer to God.”

The Psalms are full of verses that seem perfectly suited for greeting cards and calendars.  Psalm 37:4 has found it’s way on to many of them (can you imagine the royalties King David is receiving in heaven?).

Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.

Psalm 37:4 KJV

As I’ve meditated upon this verse I’ve concluded that there are at least two ways to read it.  The common way to read it is to say, “If you delight yourself in the Lord, then He will give you the things that you desire in your heart.” I certainly think this reading is correct, but I believe it’s equally valid to read it, “If you delight yourself in the Lord then He will place [new] desires into your heart.” Haven’t each of us experienced a shifting, if not a wholesale transforming of our desires as we have set ourselves to delight in God?  God works in us to desire His good pleasure, and when we desire His good pleasure He delights to grant to us what we desire.

In walking with the Lord we are regularly confronted with crossroad decisions.  It is at such intersections that we are challenged with the call and will of God.  “God, what path do you want me to take?” In asking that question many times I have often sensed the Lord responding, “Which path do you want to take?”

Upon graduating from high school I, like so many, was confronted with such a junction.  I was interested in photography and graphic-design, had a natural ability/talent with computers, and a desire to serve God in a church setting, especially with youth.  Three doors stood before me.  I knew that whichever one I proceeded through I’d find a way in the will of God to use it as a ministry.  To be quite honest, I chose the door I liked the most and enrolled at Calvary Chapel Bible College.

A few months into my first semester at college I found myself faced with something of a dilemma.  Bible College was great, the setting was beautiful, but I found that much of what I was learning I’d already received through the school of ministry at my home church.  The problem was amplified by fact that I was hindered from being apart of body-life within a church while at the college.  A new desire began to form in my heart.

Tuesday, November 17, 1998.  That night is indelibly imprinted in my heart and mind.  Pastor Jon Courson shared at lectures from Genesis 22, on the sacrifice of Isaac.  During his message Pastor Jon said, “Perhaps the Lord has called you to leave the Bible College next semester.” Those words gripped my attention as he continued, “If the Lord tells you otherwise 3 days from now, make sure you listen.”

Five days later, following the Sunday services at my home church, myself and a friend from the college (Chuck) were invited to join the church staff as interns in the new year.  As my desire met an open door I immediately chose to return to my home church.  Chuck couldn’t understand how I could make such a quick decision without [apparently] praying about it.

The following day I was presented an alternate door when I was invited to join the internet services staff at the Bible College.  Desire won out, I returned to CCEsco as a pastoral intern in January 1999.  Since that time I have continually seen God work in this manner.  The desire to teach at a foreign Bible College extension campus was met one year later by an open door serving under David Guzik in Siegen, Germany.  The desire (given in 2002) to take over as the senior pastor of Calvary Escondido was met with an open door five years later.

In many ways I have come to expect that God will lead me by a desire, an open door and the resources or ability to do just what it is I desire, and all for His glory and pleasure.  His glory and our joy are not mutually exclusive.