Is Peace Even Possible?

We live in a world of increasing hostilities and aggression. It’s manifest, not only between countries and ethnic groups, but more and more between groups and individuals in the same country and even the same neighborhoods.

It used to be that while people had differences of opinions about a wide variety of issues, actual hostilities were reserved for the concerns that fundamentally affected us in powerful ways. In ways that had the potential to change the basic fabric and structure of our lives.

Somewhere in the post WW II world that all changed. And the speed of change has been propelled at increasing rates by our addiction to social media.

We now live in an age of instant hostility. It takes little to set people against each other.

We seem to take offense so easily and believe that it is our fundamental right to stand up for our cause by any means necessary – even it that involves hostilities, either physical or verbal.

As Christians, how are we to navigate a culture of hostility?

The answer is Peace. Unfortunately, unless you belong to one of the historic peace churches, it’s an issue that we hear so little about.

But Is Peace Even Possible?

Here I’m addressing the issue on a personal level. Is peace possible between people? Between coworkers. Between church members. Between neighbors.

The first thing we have to understand is that the issue of Peace is something that God takes very seriously. He is a god of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33) and He is deeply interested that we be people of peace. A quick check of the Bible, especially the New Testament, will reveal many references to the subject.

The next thing that we need to know is that peace is a responsibility laid firmly on the shoulders of every follower of Christ.

We’re taught to Pray for Peace (Psalm 122:6); make peace (Matthew 5:9); live in peace as much as you can (Romans 12:18); let God’s peace be the ruling factor in our lives (Colossians 3:15); be filled with peace (Romans 15:13); strive to live in peace with everyone (Hebrews 12:14); pursue peace (1 Peter 3:11).

If you’re waiting for peace based on the actions of the other person or group of people, you’ve missed the point. God wasn’t talking to them – He was talking to you.

But here’s the real issue: When we ask the question, Is Peace Even Possible? we are asking the wrong question.

The right question is, Does God Want us to be People of Peace?

And the answer to that question is Yes.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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Why Can’t We Just Play Nice?!

I’ve written similar posts to this in the past and I don’t want to be redundant. However, it remains a problem in our culture. Not just in our culture in general, where it is a problem, but in our evangelical Christian culture, where it shouldn’t be.

I’m talking about the way we talk to people we don’t agree with and beyond that, the way we treat people we don’t agree with.

You can tell it’s a problem when you can’t tell the difference between Christian posts on social media and everyone else. And I often can’t tell the difference – even in some of my posts (this is me asking God for forgiveness).

Our evangelical posts (not all by any means) are often mean-spirited, derogatory, unkind, and demeaning of the opinions and people we don’t agree with. They get very personal. Why can’t we just play nice?

I’m sure that every mother of toddlers is tired of saying, play nice! But mothers under-stand that they have to keep saying it because toddlers will be toddlers and they have to learn.

But we’re supposed to be past that stage. We’re supposed to be spiritual adults. Unfortunately, some Christians fall into the category of people that the writer of Hebrews was talking too when he said that by now you should be eating solid spiritual food but you’re still drinking from the baby bottle (Hebrews 5:12-14).

So, what does it mean to play nice? One writer defined it this way: when you are working with someone, a group, or an entity that you may not work well with, make the conscious effort to be professional, work toward the common goal, and not cause any unnecessary strife

In other words, playing nice is just what the words say. But it’s not the words themselves that we need to work on. It’s the application of the words. Because the application is to people we really don’t agree with. People we believe are wrong, wrong, wrong. People who, we believe at the least are terribly misguided and at the worst are out to change our country in some very undesirable ways.

While neither the phrase playing nice, nor this definition are strictly biblical, they certainly agree with the bible’s description of a Christian whose responses to life are to be radically different from everyone else’s.

Paul in the book of Romans summed it up nicely when he wrote:

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.

That certainly doesn’t sound as fun as ridiculing someone on Facebook or sending out caustic Tweets. After all, if we don’t put them down, who will?

But then that’s not the point.

The point is to reflect Jesus.

So how have your recent Facebook posts and Tweets reflected the Savior?

If there is anything that evangelical Christians need to learn in the current politically divisive environment, it’s how to play nice.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

It’s a Complicated World

We live in a complicated world. As much as we want simplicity there are no easy answers. For every issue that we face there are multiple things that we need to consider. It seems that every issue is more complicated that it appears on the face.

And that causes problems between people.

We want quick answers. We have a need to know – now; to hold people responsible; to assign blame; to take sides; to make sure our side wins the PR battle.

And that means that we are often too quick to condemn those who see an issue differently and too quick to defend those we agree with. We have lost the art of reflection and deliberation.

Reserving judgment until all, or most of the facts are in, was at one time more common than it is today. But no longer. Now we rush to judgment. So much so, that anyone who seems too deliberative is considered suspect and their motives questioned.

It’s true in every arena of life.

No longer do we give people we disagree with the benefit of the doubt. They don’t deserve it. And too often we view them as the enemy.

I’m not suggesting that we put aside all of our differences or that we no longer take firm stands on the issues. Only that we do it carefully, with due consideration and thoughtfully.

For the Christian there is a standard that should guide all of our actions. It’s the standard of love. When Jesus was asked to name the greatest of all of the Old Testament commandments (Matthew 22:34f) He said that we are to love God with all that is in us. He quickly followed that up with a second commandment that was as important as the first and that is to love other people as much as we love ourselves.

I think that includes people who hold a different position on the issue.

We are to operate, always, in the context of love.

What does that mean in terms of how we related to people who don’t see things the same way we seem them?

The Apostle Paul touches on that in 1 Corinthians 13:7 when he says love believes all things. The Amplified Bible states it this way: Love is ever ready to believe the best of every person.

Always. Even when we disagree.

The New Testament scholar Leon Morris explained what this means when he wrote, it means to see the best in others . . . . This does not mean that love is gullible, but that it does not think the worst (as is the way of the world). It retains its faith. Love is not deceived . . . but it is always ready to give the benefit of the doubt.

When as Christians we are too quick to condemn; too quick to draw conclusions; too quick to take sides, we are no longer operating in the standard of love.

Imagine what our society would look like if everyone practiced love this way. Always. All of the time. With everyone. Regardless.

While the issues we face are complicated, the way to handle them is not.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

It’s Time to Take a Hard Look at Ourselves

There is something taking place in our country and it’s terribly wrong.

I’m not talking about the acceptance of same-sex marriage nor the push to allow anyone to use the public bathroom or shower facility they happen to choose.

I’m talking about how Christians are responding to these cultural issues.

You don’t have to read too many Christian blogs, Facebook posts or Tweets before you get the impression that we are M. A. D. We’ve had enough and we are not going to stand for any more!!!

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

But I believe it’s time for Evangelical Christians to reexamine how we react to our culture.

I’m not advocating for a change in our core beliefs – I’m suggesting a change in our core behavior. Because most of what I see on the internet from people who profess Christ is not Christ-like. Our behavior is toxic.

We justify our behavior in so many flimsy ways:

 They don’t respect our beliefs!

So what, the world has never respected the Christian faith. They threw the first Christians in jail for their beliefs (Acts 4). Later they fed them to the lions, cut them in pieces, burned them at the stake, drowned them, beat them, stoned them and basically abused them in the most grotesque ways they could think of (Hebrews 11). You shouldn’t expect the world to respect your beliefs.

 They’re taking over/changing our country.

This isn’t your country – you have a greater one. Abraham on this earth as in a foreign country (Hebrews 11:9) Why? Because he knew he was a citizen of something better – a city built by God. Keep your eyes on the prize (Hebrews 12:1-2).

 But it’s IMMORAL!

Of course it is – what did you expect?! Sinners act like sinners – you shouldn’t. To expect a moral culture run by people who have no moral compass is absurd. It will never happen.

It’s time to ask ourselves some serious questions:

 Since when is it godly for Christians to tell jokes that demean another person, even if they are gay or transgender?

 Since when is it godly to speak disparagingly of other people including, and perhaps especially those of the LGBT community?

 Since when is it godly to discriminate against another person based on their sexual preference or gender confusion?

 Since when is it godly to NOT love someone – even if they are confused about their gender or practice a brand of sexuality that is contrary to the Word of God?

But too often these are the ways we react.

I’m not asking you to agree with the LGBT lifestyle – it’s wrong. I’m not asking you to never speak up – you need to, but in love. I’m not asking you to change your beliefs. I’m asking Christians to get their beliefs in line with Jesus. To stop talking the talk until we can walk the walk.

Our primary purpose in this life isn’t to make sure every law conforms to the Bible, nor to make sure that every person lives like Jesus (WE can’t even do that!). Our purpose is to share the love of God with sinners – the exact people that we are often guilty of attacking.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Secret Life of a Pastor – Part 2

In my last blog I began a review of an article from churchleaders.com titled These Are Your Pastor’s Secrets: Read Slowly. The article shared the thoughts of a former pastor and the struggles and frustrations he faced in the ministry. I added a few personal comments to each of his points.

After reading the first blog a pastor friend sent me an email with the question, Have you gotten any hate mail yet? I have to honestly say that I have received a number of comments and they were all positive and encouraging!

Here’s part two.

6. We are often spiritually starving.

Probably the most closely guarded secret among pastors is how spiritually empty many of us are.

Like a worker at the chocolate factory who no longer likes the taste of chocolate, or the prostitute who gets no pleasure from sex, we deal with spiritual matters so much that they often no longer have much meaning for us.

Worship, for us, is a program that must be organized and executed. It’s work. It’s not for us. It’s for you.

And then, when we’re not ‘on,’ often the last thing we want to do is something spiritual. Because it reminds us of work.

We can’t read the Bible without thinking of sermon ideas. We can’t pray without thinking of leading prayers. We can’t meet with other church people without talking shop. So we’d rather play golf, or watch TV, or anything else.

Which ultimately leaves us empty. Not everyone, not always. But often.

    My thoughts

This can certainly be true and probably is often true of most pastors. However, it doesn’t have to be. Pastor’s have to guard themselves in the spiritual realm just like everyone else.

They also have to guard themselves in the physical realm. In the early years of my ministry I always felt guilty when I took a day off, or escaped for a couple of hours from the pressure. I’ve learned, however, that much of my spiritual emptiness came about as a result of my physical emptiness. Few men can grow spiritually when they are exhausted physically. So I’ve tried to maintain a balance. Sometimes that means that I don’t do everything everyone thinks I should do at exactly the time they think I should do it. I understand that. I also understand what I need to do to be the most effective. It’s a delicate balance.

7. We are sinful, no different than you.

We don’t just think about sinning. We aren’t just tempted to sin. We commit sins.
The same kind you do. Believe it.

But also understand that this doesn’t make us less qualified to talk to you about sins, but more.

If you’ve ever sat in the pew and heard a pastor rambling on about temptations and sin and thought, “Whatever, there’s no way she understands what I’m dealing with,” think again. It’s very likely that she does, first hand. And that what she’s saying comes from her own life, not just from a book.

    My Thoughts

Yes pastors are human and struggle with everything you struggle with. All I can say is pray for your pastor.

8. We are lonely, because it’s hard to trust.

Pastors often have trust issues.

As well they should. All pastors have heard stories about Reverend so-and-so who confided in someone in his church about his addiction to whatever, only to have that person tell the elders about it, which ultimately got him fired.

It happens. We know it does.

So every time we interact with you, even if it’s in a prayer group or some very intimate setting, we’re not 100 percent open. We can’t afford to be.

It’s not your fault, it’s not our fault, it’s just a bad system that doesn’t allow pastors to be as human as it should. You can’t fix that, but you can have understanding and compassion for the man or woman who loves and serves you week after week, who counsels you and hears your confessions, and yet often has nowhere to go to get the same healing and relief.

    My Thoughts

I agree with the first part of this point but not necessarily the second part. It’s not always about trust. Yes, there is a lonely side to the pastorate. Some of it is self-imposed; some of it is the nature of the job; some of it is, as the writer said, trust issues; some of it is fear (for a number of different reasons); some of it is our personality. Different pastors handle it in different ways – each one has to figure out what works for him.

9. Ministry is a hard job.

Sometimes it’s said as a joke, sometimes it’s said in anger, that ministers don’t work very hard. That it’s a cushy gig.

If that were true, I doubt I’d know so many ministers who have quit, swearing never to return, including myself.

The best way I can think to explain why ministry is hard is to compare it to being the parent of a young child. From the outside, it might not look like a lot of ‘work,’ but from the inside, it’s the most exhausting thing you’ll ever do.

Because it’s not just about the amount of things you do, it’s the total emotional drain of it. It’s worrying all day every day about the people and programs you’re in charge of, being on call and not ever feeling really free to be away, feeling like you live in a fishbowl with hundreds of eyes watching you all the time and never really knowing what they are all thinking of you (unless they complain, which some of them do with regularity).

It’s caring for people to the point that you have nothing left for your own family when you get home, yet expecting that they show a certain spiritually-put-together face to the church (because the church expects that). It’s often feeling empty, yet pretending to feel full. It’s presenting yourself and your work to hundreds of people, several times a week, for evaluation, and often getting no feedback except ‘constructive’ criticism.

And after all of this, after years of this, it’s looking out at the people in your church and seeing little or no change. Ministry is very hard, albeit perhaps in a different way than your job is hard.

    My Thoughts

This is one of the writer’s observations that is true of every pastor I know. I don’t need to add anything except to ask you to read it again.

10. We are more sensitive than you probably think.

Most ministers I know have one or two people in their congregations who send them stinky emails weekly, and another 10 or 15 who can be counted on to complain about things about once a month.

Then, of course, there are a handful of the angels, who hug and love and say encouraging things every week.

But guess what. The people who complain are far more thorough and specific and persistent than those who encourage, and they are the voices that keep us up at night feeling bad about ourselves, wondering if we suck at this.

Most ministers have skin that is way thinner than their congregants think it is. We have to be open and sensitive to you, because it’s you we are charged with caring for. This means that the things you say to us can reach far deeper inside than they could otherwise.

If you need to criticize your minister for something, please just be aware of this. Tread carefully, and with a lot of love and appreciation for her vulnerability. We are not above correction. Nobody is. But please make the extra effort to wrap it in as much care as you can.

    My Thoughts

It’s true. Pastor’s have feelings just like everyone else. We want to be loved and appreciated. We don’t like being criticized. It’s been my experience that the criticizers are the minority. The vast majority of people in the churches that I’ve been privileged to serve have been supportive.

There are, however, people in every church who feel at liberty to criticize and complain about the pastor. As if it is their right. They are not the spiritual people in the church. Pastors need to surround themselves with the godly people and pray for the others. But don’t let the others determine your value as a pastor.

11. We care about you more than you can imagine.

The best moments of being a pastor for me, by far, were the times the ministers would gather for staff meetings and talk about the week ahead.

Did we discuss worship and youth outings and air conditioning and budgets? Sure, for maybe 20 minutes.

And then for three hours we’d talk about the people we were serving, what’s going on in their lives, and how we might help them.
I always wished the whole church could be in those meetings and just see how much these people care, how much their hearts break for them, how much time and emotional energy they spend wanting to help them.

Those meetings are my most sacred memories of church, because those were the moments when I saw men and women who had every reason not to care, to phone it in, to even be resentful. And yet, in spite of all of it, at the end of every day, they still cared, sometimes to the point of tears.

You might have no idea how much.

    My Thoughts

It’s interesting that the writer put these last two points together. Because it is the people he described in #10 that are the hardest to care about (#11). It’s easy to care about most people in the church. It’s really difficult to care about some. This may be the hardest part of the ministry. When you pray for your pastor you can add this to your list.

I hope that these thoughts – both his and mine – have been helpful to you. Every Christian has a relationship with their pastor. A good relationship is built on understanding. The writer has tried to help all of us get a better understanding of the stress and pressure a pastor faces which should help to strengthen the relationship.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Lesson from Reality TV (Who Knew!?)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve probably heard of the Duggars – the evangelical Christian family that stars in the reality TV show, 19 Kids and Counting. You’re probably also aware of the recent confession of one of the Duggar’s sons, Josh, that as a 14-15 year old he molested five underage girls (he’s now 27), including some of his own sisters.

I’m not a fan of reality television and I quickly admit that I have never watched a complete episode of any reality program (if memory serves me I’ve seen about 10 minutes of 19 Kids and Counting). I just think that we can do better than to live vicariously through the joys and heartaches of other people, especially a family that is anything but your typical family (that’s why they are on TV and your family isn’t).

According to the news reports that I have read, Josh Duggar confessed his actions when still a teen and asked the girls for forgiveness. However that is not all that should have happened. It appears that the entire situation including reporting to the authorities, professional counseling and appropriate punishment should have been handled far differently than it was. I’m sure these issues will be debated ad nauseam.

There are so many lessons that can be learned from this sad story but if the Duggar’s situation does anything, it should make all of us stop and do a self-evaluation. None of us are without sin. Perhaps your sin does not rise to the level of Josh Duggar’s but that’s missing the point. Sin is sin and we all stand on the guilty side (Romans 3:23). Many who are criticizing the Duggars – and there seems to be plenty for which to criticize them – seem to be forgetting that they stand side-by-side with Josh Duggar.

When the woman who was caught in adultery was brought to Christ (John 8), He didn’t say Whoever has never committed adultery throw the first stone at her, He said Whoever is without sin. Adultery is certainly a grievous sin but Christ’s point was that only those who are sinless have the right to judge the sin of another. He was pointing out the reality that we are all sinners in need of forgiveness.

Yes, there are those who need to deal with the sin of others – parents, various agencies of the government and church leaders – but that’s not most of us. Most of us have no part in the Duggar scandal, except to learn from the misfortune of another. If reality television has any redeeming value it is simply this.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

You Have Value!

One of the things that people often struggle with is their personal worth. I’m not talking about your monetary worth but your value as a person. Each of us has a certain value. Unfortunately many people have allowed their value to be determined by other people who use their own personal standards to determine how much you’re worth. Many times people value us, not for who we are, but for what we can do for them. They might value you on how well you do your job, or on what they can get from you or on how you benefit them in some way, instead of valuing you for your worth as an individual created in the image of God.

How other people value us also determines how we value ourselves. Just because we are human, we see our own significance in light of other people’s opinions of us. If we sense that other people approve of us our self-esteem is high, but if people don’t value us our self-esteem suffers. We tend to judge ourselves by how other people judge us.

We also judge ourselves by how well we perform. If we do something well (our job, raising kids, singing, etc) we have a good sense of self-worth, but if we don’t perform well, we begin to doubt our personal value. Judging ourselves by how well we perform is also tied into how we perceive other people are looking at us. We want to perform in order to gain other people’s approval and recognition.

As Christians we need to make sure that we see our value, not in the approval of people or in how well we perform, but in how God looks at our life. God does not value you for what He can get from you nor in how well you perform (even for Him). God values you simply because He delights to do so. Matthew 6:26 says Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And the answer is yes, you are worth more to God than anything else in His creation and it is God’s delight simply to value you for who you are: a unique individual created in His image.

God also values you because you are one of His children (1 John 3:1). In the same way (and to an even greater degree) that a human father values his children, God values His children. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him (Psalm 103:13). God places great value on you (shown by His compassion) simply because you belong to Him.

Don’t let someone else’s opinions determine your value. The only opinion that really counts is God’s. That’s the essence of Romans chapter fourteen. Life is to be lived for God alone (Romans 14:7-8), and it is to God alone that you will give an answer for your life (Romans 14:10-11). Make sure that what He thinks about you is more important than what people think about you.

And remember, you have great value to God, not because you perform well, but simply because He loves you.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve