Are You Spoiled?

Spoiled or blessed, which of the two are we? Maybe we are both. In our nation, our culture of abundance, we wrestle to define the line between the two. Are you okay if God doesn’t give you what you want? Most of us should be honest and admit that our culture has not trained us for this possibility.

In order to tackle this issue within our hearts, we first need to be comfortable enough to admit we have a hard time not getting what we want. We are wired to obtain our desires. It’s part of what makes the American culture so blissful.

But, as I prepared my last sermon in Psalm 62, it became clear to me that many struggles within the Christian walk are byproducts of our will, as it rages against what God designs for us.

This challenges our philosophy on gratitude. For what are we grateful? Regarding people in our lives, you may be grateful for a friend’s sense of humor or your mother’s emotional intelligence.

As it pertains to Christ, what are we grateful for? Gratitude is not saying “thank you” when my wishes are granted. Gratitude is realizing He knows me well enough to give me not just what I need, but also what I didn’t know I wanted. My heart may yearn to be closer to Christ, but if I fail to examine myself deeply enough to determine the core of my longings, I will fail to act accordingly. In order to do so, I must walk through a personally unknown trail in order to experience the manifestation of my desires – to be with Him. These are paths of the heart only Christ knows. He holds the map to our private longings. We need his guidance on how to satisfy the depths of our own souls. 

The posture of our hearts will change what we feel about not getting what we want. First, we must come to realize what we truly desire is an unparalleled outpouring of emotional, physical, and spiritually intimacy with Christ. When we align our mentality with that truth, we will move from spoiled to grateful, for Christ is giving us that which we forgot we wanted – to experience more of Him (Ps 37:4).

Pastoring the Sufferer (Cont.)

This is the second post of a two part series that Pastor Brad Couick has shared with us. If you missed the first post, follow this link to read “Pastoring the Sufferer.” 

In my last post, I listed four truths about suffering that God has shown me. In this post, I want to discuss three ways I’m learning to pastor through seasons of suffering.

Grieve with your People. This basic concept does two things. First, it lets your people know you care, and second, it increases your love for your people. As a pastor, God gives you a special love for the flock He has called you to lead. What hurts them will hurt you. And if you don’t express that grief, it will lead to a hard heart that will damage the ministry God has called you to.

Pray with your People. Even if  their suffering may appear trivial to you, I can assure you it’s not just trivial to your people. Praying with them in person is great, but if your schedule doesn’t allow for it, praying with them over the phone works just as well. I’ve done this and received some of the most sincere “thanks” from one simple prayer.

Preach to your People. As a pastor, it’s your God-given assignment to deliver a specific message to a specific people for a specific time. I have found even in a small congregation of only 20-25 people, it’s difficult to speak to each person one-on-one and encourage them through their suffering. What better place to do this than the pulpit?

Inevitably, there are many more ways to pastor through seasons of suffering, and my list is by no means exhaustive, but these three ways have proven to be very effective in my life as a pastor of God’s people.

Pastoring the Sufferer

Today’s post is by Brad Couick. Brad is a dear friend of mine. He recently took a pastoring position in a town outside the Raleigh-Durham area. One of the many things Brad is learning as a new pastor is how to shepherd people through suffering. In this post Brad shares some thoughts on how to guide people through their darkest days based on the truth of God’s Word. He has titled his article, “What I’ve Learned About Pastoring Through Seasons of Suffering.” 

Note: This is part one of a two part series.

I’ve only been pastoring the church where I currently serve for five months, but our church has already gone through an immense amount of suffering. Our people have lost loved ones. Our people have experienced the suffering of wayward children. Additionally, many of our people are going through physical suffering. Through it all, God has shown me four truths about suffering.

Suffering is real. We live in a broken world, so suffering is one of the consequences of the fall. I realize this may seem like a no-brainer, but as a 25 year-old pastor serving a flock where the average age is 60-65 years old, suffering seems more real to me now than ever before.

Suffering is close. The last thing that our flesh wants is to be exposed to suffering. We try and avoid it all costs. But here’s the thing: Not all suffering can be avoided. Suffering is more real to me than ever before, because it’s closer to me than ever before.

Suffering hurts. Real people go through real suffering resulting in real pain. Just this past week, a dear old lady in our congregation came to me with tears in her eyes and grief in her voice and said, “Pray for my husband (who has terminal cancer), I’m not sure if he’s saved…”

Suffering is not always understandable. We would all like to know the why for suffering, but we may not always get the answer. I’ve encouraged our people to cling to Philippians 4:6-7 for peace when seeking to understand why we suffer. According to verse seven, peace comes not from understanding but from God, whose peace surpasses all understanding.

Seasons of suffering will come. They will come to the people in your church, and they will come to you. Even Jesus suffered, but He always looked to the Father for how to deal with suffering. As a pastor, it is our task to point people to Him. This is not easy by any means, especially during seasons of suffering, but it is what we’re called to do.

 

Do Your Prayers Pour Forth?

“Trust in him at all times, you people;

pour out your hearts before him.

God is our refuge.” Ps 62:8 (CSB)

At first glance you might answer “yes” to the title without actually considering the question. When you are hurting, do you pour out those hurts until they are expressed both in cries for help and tears? When you need answers, do you plead to hear the voice of God? When you fail to find peace of heart, do you seek calm in the arms of the Savior?

Or, do you settle for buzz words? Do you pray in platitudes – “God, I know you’re the Author and Finisher of salvation…”? Are your prayers neat, polished plaques of spiritual piety that lack any sign of life? Those prayers aren’t theologically incorrect, but they’re not always honest. The language might impress, contain correct theology, have sound doctrine, but the heart lies silent, unexpressed and unexamined before God. Somtimes we must tell God that we do not believe in our soul what we know to be true in our heads.

This phrase “pour out” carries with it meaning of “gushing out,” “spilling forth,” even “shedding blood.”* The prayers of the child of God in need are gut wrenching. They sound more like the cries of a drowning sailor than a polished priest. Their language may not be repeatable. It’s sometimes expressed in a tongue only heaven knows (Romans 8:26). They’re intimate, probably even embarrassing for anyone else to hear. You might sound more like a beggar than a child when you pray this way.

So, exile yourself in prayer, and when you’re overwhelmed, pour forth your heart until you have spilled everything within you…until there is no fight left…until you have communed intimately by being honest before the Lord. Do whatever it takes in your prayer to express all that stirs in you. Christ is waiting to listen and act on your behalf. Will you join Him?

*https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H8210&t=KJV

 

3 Proposed Improvements in Christian Sex Education

“Abstinence focuses attention on what we are not going. When we abstain from something, we often feel deprived. Yet a Christian view of sex, as depicted in the Song’s counsel to the young women of Jerusalem, is not about abstaining; it is about waiting for the right time and context for an experience that is so overwhelmingly beautiful and powerful that only marriage can properly contain it.”*

I am currently preparing a sermon in the book of Song of Songs, and my study has led me to some realizations about the way sex has been taught to young adults in the church. By no means do I want to share a post that is bashing well-intended sermons and counsel by caring ministers. But, some ways in which sex is addressed could be tweaked to be more centered around the way God sees sex and less about our taboos.

Read these three points, and see if you agree with my thoughts.

  1. Proper sexuality should be embraced. As the commentary above states, our focus is often on the “don’ts” of human sexuality, not God-given “do’s.” My theory is that some ministers fear encouraging proper sexuality on God’s timing because they think it will make teens and young adults with raging hormones even more driven to get satisfaction on their own timing. I disagree. On the contrary, focusing on the “do’s” inspires discipline to take those desires for intimacy to God and to allow Him to meet personal needs while we wait as singles. Such encouragement creates courage and conviction, not lustful passion if the listener is truly a committed disciple. Sure, you run the risk of the one or two using such a view as an excuse to indulge in sin, but that sin rests upon the listener, not the well intended counselor/preacher.
  2. Proper sexuality requires in-tune discipleship. My dad has always walked closely with me in this area, never probing too much or prying his way in like a bully. Now I have been blessed with additional men who continue to champion the foundation my father laid for me as a child. It takes a capable, mature support system to teach and encourage purity in the life of singles and “daters.” Often people settle for stifling and stiff accountability programs that treat participants as clients of a 12 step rehab program instead of individuals to be cherished and graciously pushed in the right direction.
  3. Proper sexuality requires guidance in directing passions. What exactly do I mean? Those men that I mention in point two carry out that discipleship by supplementing what the Bible encourages. We are instructed in God’s Word to point intimate passions towards the Lord before he provides a spouse (1 Cor. 7). Often I’ve heard ministers and married Christians tackle this point with stale instructions to pray and read more of the Bible. Instead, there needs to be an a shift of focus, not just to pray and read more, but to seek more honest, passionate, and intimate expression in our prayer lives…to trust that deep intimacy can be obtained with the Father, and then shown how to carry that out.

My desire for this post is not to complain but to encourage a little reform. I believe these three steps could change a lot of struggling single’s lives. If you are mentoring folks in this age group, please consider putting these three thoughts into practice.

*Duguid, Iain M. 2015. The Song of Songs : An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, IL, USA: IVP Academic, 2015. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2017).

The Start of Successful Pastoral Ministry

Recently, I purchased Eugene Peterson’s newest work titled As Kingfishers Catch Fire. As with every Peterson book, I am inspired to re-think pastoral ministry. He counters much of the American pastoral culture and has earned a reputation as an edgy author because of the convicting bite in his words.

While attending seminary, I love to dive into Peterson’s words because he challenges me to go beyond the academic. He prods the mind to search for the things hidden, mystical, and intangible about pastoral ministry.

There is one thing I am constantly learning from the Lord through Eugene: That pastoral ministry is one of grace, an exercise in patience and love while simultaneously challenging God’s people to see their world from the perspective of the Scriptures. 

I love being reminded of this truth. It adds depth to my studies in seminary. It brings life to my sermon preparation. It adds weight to the things I write for this website.

Peterson helps direct my focus on the spiritual formation of the minister. The calling is to do the obvious disciplines: to apply oneself to theological studies and to exercise the gifts placed inside of me. But, there is a deeper draw – one that pulls me into the presence of God and places priority on His activity in my heart…to be aware of the internal work that the Lord is doing, as He teaches me His truths through experience and revelation, adding force to the things I communicate and live.

In other words, I shouldn’t be so busy “doing” and “achieving” for the Lord that I forget the call to be with Him, and to be made more like Him daily thanks to the power of the Spirit. That is the start of successful pastoral ministry. It’s first to be with Christ. 

Will You Seek His Face?

My heart says this about you:
“Seek his face.”
Lord, I will seek your face. – Ps. 27:8 (CSB)

We have a need as believers to cry out to the Lord. If we go for periods of time without communicating with the Father, we will notice. Our moods may be off, our interests redirected, our worship misplaced, our focus lost…it doesn’t matter what the symptom, the issue lies deep within. Our hearts are in need of times where we “seek His face.”

This deep cry from within calls for an obedient response. This response isn’t easy, though. How many times have I, have you, felt the need to press in yet chosen to do something else instead—to decompress rather than to seek, to emote rather than pray, to hurt rather than to seek healing in the arms of the Father? We are all tempted to try and meet our need for communion with the Father from other sources. Still, we should discipline our minds to take our deepest needs not to the quickest fix, but to the One who knows us best. God’s help may feel less tangible, but it is as present as the air we breathe.