Friday, October 31, 2014

October 31st


My family will always have good memories related to festivities on October 31.  As a child, our community always held a fall festival on Halloween night.  My gang of friends would hit the pavement after the games and go door-to-door through the neighborhood trick-or-treating.  Yes, that was way back in the day when it was safe to send your kids loose without an adult.  My own children talk all year long about what costume they will choose that year on the 31st of October.  They have donned an assortment of outfits, including Snoopy, Boba Fett, Dorothy, cowboys and cowgirl, Batgirl, scarecrow, and a host of others. 

This year, for the first time, we decided to pick a theme together.  We chose to dress up as characters from the Batman legacy.  Stay tuned, Bat-friends, at the same Bat-site, for pictures.

This week, we have already had our family devotion about shining Christ's light in our lives and not becoming imitators of darkness.  When we carve our pumpkins today we will talk some about what Christ does to change a life from the inside out.  I will remind my children of the spiritual significance of this day as tied to Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.  And, this weekend we will talk a little as a family about the theme of All Saints Day and the value of remembering Christians in the great cloud of witnesses.

Strong opinions abound in the Christian community about what to do with Halloween.  The following are related articles I have appreciated through the years . . .

Is Halloween a Witch's Brew? by Harold Myra

Bump in the Night by Charles Colson

Four Reasons You Should Go Trick-or-Treating Tonight by Ed Stetzer

An Open Letter About Halloween by Jim Daly

Shine a Light, Avoid the Sinister


Two years ago Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family, offered the following open letter about the practice of Halloween in our culture.  It is worth sharing . . .

Peanuts creator Charles Schulz made a habit of dispensing advice through the mouths of cartoon characters, especially the blanket-carrying Linus van Pelt.
Like any offering of counsel, some of it is to be heeded and some of it is not.
“There are three things you must never discuss with people,” the comic strip’s philosopher/theologian once said, “religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.”

Redeeming Halloween


As long as I have been a pastor, I have appreciated Pastor Jack Hayford's perspective on the holidays and his approach to Halloween.  For a subject that draws many varied opinions from Christians, Hayford offers a biblical, balanced approach . .  .

Introduction

"The Church is to be the incarnation of Jesus in the world (Ephesians 1:22-23). The church is to be Redemptive, Light and Life. We have biblical grounds for a redemptive mission, and a biblical call as disciples. There are hosts of Christians who don’t know that Hallowe’en was originally a holy occasion, not the horrendous event it’s become.

How are we, who were formerly in the dark, to now walk in the light?

We are to demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit (v. 9). The traits of the fruit of the Spirit always have a beauty and a dignity to them, and they never have a feisty, in-your-face spit-back attitude. The way you walk as children of light is to avoid the anger that goes on in the name of supposed righteousness so many times in the Body of Christ. And it deserves regularly to be confronted. It come many times out of being wounded, and when we’re wounded, we’re tempted to strike back. We are to discern what is “acceptable to the Lord” (v. 10).

Let something about the light in you make clear how meaningless the dark is (v. 11). To expose the fruitlessness of darkness isn’t to recite a litany of dead deeds (v. 12). So many times you’ll find people “exposing the darkness” by talking about all the things that are corrupt and rotten in the world. This is not to discount that they may be, but the fact is, we’re already pretty aware of that, and the Bible says you don’t need to build a rebuttal against the darkness. People in the dark know things are coming unglued. What we need to do is shine as light."

Read the entire article Redeeming Halloween by Pastor Jack here.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why Honor My Pastor?


Dick Lincoln once said, "Church at its best is as good as it gets, and church at its worst is as bad as it gets."  No one understands this reality more than pastors and their families.

Every October I consider writing a post about Pastor Appreciation Month.  However, being a pastor, it seems awkward.  John MacArthur said it well when teaching his church about honoring pastor-elders, "I feel a little bit awkward up here telling you that you need to honor elders of which I am one. Obviously I could be accused of a conflict of interests and I could also be accused of having a self-serving motive. So I want to put in an immediate disclaimer on any of those things. I'm trying to teach you the Word of God."

I will bite the bullet this year and write a post with the hope of eventually providing encouragement to some man of God out there serving his church.  Hopefully, persons from other congregations will read it and the article will spur them on toward love and good deeds toward their pastors.

Worthy of Double Honor

Through the years we have tried to teach our children to honor certain people.  We have explained that to honor someone means "to treat them special."  The Webster Dictionary defines honor as "high estimation, respect, consideration."

One of those persons I believe deserving honor are pastors of congregations.  Michael Miller shares great insights in his article The Importance of Honoring Your Minister.

Jesus said in John 13:20, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives [or welcomes] whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” 

There is some correlation between the way we treat those who represent the gospel and the Word of God with their daily jobs and the way that we treat Jesus.  They handle the Word of God and teach it to your family weekly.  They pray for you regularly, talking to Jesus on your behalf.  Treat them with honor.  In some way, if you love your pastor you are loving Jesus.  If you beat up your pastor, you are beating up Jesus.

The Bible says that the pastor-elders are worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17).  John MacArthur explains from this verse, "Paul here is saying then that you are to make sure that one who is over you in the Lord, who feeds you and leads you, is honored. An elder is to receive honor, that is respect and remuneration as fitting and necessary. That forms a true estimate of his worth in a tangible way." 

MacArthur shares more from God's Word on the subject of honor as he explains 1 Timothy 5:17 in his sermon The Sheep's Responsibility:

"So, there's kind of a flow here. Elders are worthy of honor. Elders are worthy of honor with remuneration...hard working excellent elders are worthy of double honor. Hard working and excellent elders who major in preaching and teaching are particularly worthy of respect and remuneration. So every faithful shepherd is to be appreciated, respected, admired, honored and supported.

The first thing that the congregation is to give to the leaders, the elders, pastors, is respect that incorporates care in remuneration...to support them, to double honor them, being generous, not just a bare minimum so they have to scrape by, but showing great generosity and respect and admiration to them knowing they will be good stewards of what you give them.

What is the congregation's responsibility? Respect, admiration, honor, appreciation. Secondly, and this builds right on that, esteem your shepherds, esteem them. He says down in verse 13, "And that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work."

Paul exhorted believers to show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10).

A godly pastor with good character who teaches the Word of God and leads the church is worthy of your honor.


Pastors are Struggling

Much has been said and written in recent years about the current negative state of affairs for many pastors.  The statistics are staggering:

  • 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • 80% of pastors believe their ministry negatively affects their families.
  • 90% feel they are not qualified to deal with ministry demands
  • 45.5% of pastors have experienced burnout/depression and had to take a break from ministry.
  • 1 out of 3 pastors will be fired or feel pressured to resign during their career.

  • In August of 2010, the New York Times ran an article about pastors.  Included in the article was the following: "Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could."

    In my own denomination's state convention, leaders have become alarmed by the suicide rate of pastors in our state. 

    Pastors leaving the ministry share that their top two reasons for leaving are (1) they are tired of dealing with unrealistic expectations of people, and (2) it is difficult for them to provide financially for their families. 

    I have heard through the years of more than one CEO of companies who became pastors.  When asked which was harder, they always say pastoring.  And the reason given is the same.  In a business you have employees.  In a church, you work with volunteers and have to deal with their emotional expectations.

    Bo Lane, author of the book Why Pastors Quit, shares on his blog Expastors, "Although there were many aspects of serving in full-time ministry that I appreciated, there were more things that happened along the way that made a negative impact on both myself and my family. It took many years of forgiving myself and others and getting plugged in to a healthy church before I really began to heal from the hurt." 

    I once heard Pastor Jack Hayford say to a group of pastors, There's not a pastor in America who doesn't wake up at least one Monday a month and say to himself, "I've got to find something else to do with my life."  No, his statement should not be taken literally, but it does raise the point that most pastors struggle periodically to stay on the altar.  They became pastors because of a sense of calling, and they have to keep that sense of calling before them.

    My first year of full-time ministry, I met a salesman for Olan Mills.  He shared with me that he was an ex-pastor and that his family got tired of living in what pastors call "the fish bowl."  I remember thinking, "How sad," and not understanding what he meant.  A decade and a half later I understand. 

    My mother, a pastor's daughter, told me years ago, I don't think anyone really understands what pastors and their families go through unless you have been one or been the child of one. 

    Because of these realities, pastors need your encouragement.

    Pastors Need Encouragement 

    The word "encourage" simply means to fill with courage.  When you encourage someone, you do or speak something into their life that fills them with courage.

    Your pastor needs your encouragement.  He may not admit it.  He may not ask for it.  But he needs the encouragement you can give him.

    He has received the anonymous letter that scalded him.  His wife has been criticized for any number of things.  He has heard "why didn't you visit me?" - a title of a chapter in one of Thom Rainer's early books on church growth.  He has been rejected by those who told him that he did not meet their expectations.  And he has looked at his wife and children and thought, "I am sorry to put you through this.  I should have been a banker."  Yes, he needs your encouragement.

    I grew up in a church that regularly honored and recognized their staff members.  I recall various Sundays each year when staff members would be called up on the platform, recognized for a specific number of years of service, and given gifts of appreciation.  I grew up hearing the story of how the young church plant that became Edwards Road Baptist Church, my home church, took up a love offering for their first pastor.  When they called him to come be their pastor, they wanted to give money to him and his family to help make a down payment on a house in Greenville.  That small congregation in the 1960's gave him $10,000.  They had a great spirit of honoring the man of God.

    The first church my wife and I served full-time worked at recognizing us in the fall.  Every year they secretly took up love offerings for my family for Pastor Appreciation Month and again in December.  Each year between the two offerings, they gave us between $4000-$5000.  For a young, newly-married couple, that was a great tangible blessing.  I remember our paying a car off with one of those love offerings.

    I still have letters of thanksgiving and appreciation in my filing cabinet given to me years ago by church members.  The current church we serve has honored us with special meals in recent years.  Some church members gifted artistically have given me pieces of original art they drew for me, which brings me joy.  A few church members through the years faithfully sent my family gift cards to restaurants each year during PAM.

    One year during October a church member realized that the windows in our house were all old and cracking.  She called around to members of the church, asking for pledges to purchase windows.  They soon surprised us and hired a man to replace every window in the house with new insulated windows.  We felt loved by their tangible gift, and we remembered that gift many times as we looked out our new windows.

    One church we served, though a good church in many ways, did a poor job of honoring their pastor publicly.  I served as the associate pastor and did not expect recognition.  However, it saddened me each year when October rolled around and the church did nothing to honor the senior pastor.  He loved the church and worked hard to serve them.  All of the years I worked for that church, the church recognized him publicly three times - and I initiated each of those recognitions for him.

    The first time I asked the chairman of the finance team to meet me for lunch.  I knew that the pastor wanted to take a cruise to Alaska, and I challenged the man to have the church take up an offering to make that happen, which they did.  The second time was when the pastor was about to have his 25th anniversary at the church.  The business administrator and I discussed the matter and knew that if we did not make it happen, no one was going to do anything publicly to honor him.  So, we got the staff together and threw him a church-wide anniversary party that we planned from top to bottom.  My wife drove to Haywood Mall to pick up the anniversary present that we picked out for the church to give him.  And thirdly, on his 60th birthday, I emailed the leaders of the Personnel Team and Leadership Team and told them, The church needs to do something special for him this week. 

    Why did I initiate those three things?  Because he deserved to be honored - and to be honored tangibly.  Because it pleases the Lord to honor the pastor.  Because it is good to show gratitude to the man responsible for leading the church - even if you don't agree with him all of the time.  Because it encourages the pastor, and he needs encouragement.

    Why don't some people think of honoring their pastor(s)?  I think for some it is simply a casual attitude that takes the pastor for granted.  They may not see the pastor as a gift that Jesus has given that local church (Eph. 4:7-12).  How do we treat the gifts that Jesus gives us?  Many people are ignorant of the stress and sacrifices that go along with the call into vocational ministry.  They have the attitude, "He chose to do this for his life.  Why should I help him out when no one helped me out?"  Other people do not view the office of pastor as a professional position deserving respect, one that he spent years of schooling and money preparing to do.  Instead, they see it as a work-for-hire one.  I have sat in the local restaurant and heard it said, "We hired him, and we can fire him." 

    The apostle Paul, on the other hand, wrote about pastors, Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor [should be respected and paid well - New Living; should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium - Holman Christian Standard] , especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,”[a] and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” (New King James Version)

    One pastoral counselor recently wrote that pastors are going through a dry season in our country.  Instead of working in opposition, church leaders, congregants, and pastors need to build bridges toward each other in love, respect, and unity.

    What Can I Do?

    Consider writing or emailing your pastor an encouraging note.  Remember that hand-written ones tend to show more thought than emails.  Pray for your pastor and his family regularly.  One year on my birthday, a good friend told me that he decided to fast and pray the entire day in honor of my birthday, interceding on my behalf.  Ask God to show you a specific, tangible way to show love to a pastor or church staff member in your life.

    Years ago, Focus on the Family began encouraging churches to recognize their pastors in special ways during the month of October.  Focus on the Family's website for pastors offers some great helps in planning ways to appreciate your pastor(s) during the month of October.  Check it out here.  They also offer a Guide to Clergy Appreciation Month.

    And now, friends, we ask you to honor those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love!  (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)

    I will set this article to run all month at the top of the list in honor of Pastor Appreciation Month.

    Tuesday, October 28, 2014

    Dawson in Clubhouse, Jr.


    Our Dawson made it into Clubhouse, Jr. magazine, one of the Clubhouse Magazines. We didn't know until he received his copy in the mail today, started flipping, and then started yelling, "I made it! I made it!"  Then he jumped off the deck and clicked his cowboy boots together. 



    Monday, October 27, 2014

    Ten Reasons Why I’m Not Giving Up on Local Churches


    The naysayers are at full throttle. “Local churches are dying!” “Churches are no longer relevant.” “The church is full of hypocrites.” “I don’t need the institutional church.”
    The naysayer nabobs of negativity are in full force. It’s easy to give up. It sadly can be easy to believe God has given up on our churches. But He has not. I am convinced He has not.
    My son, Sam Rainer, posted here his reasons why we should not give up on established churches. Indeed, he wrote an entire book on the topic. Allow me to add my own postscript with ten more reasons.
     

    Wednesday, October 15, 2014

    Stand in His Strength


    Christian Devotions ministry published a devotion I wrote about my grandparents.  Stand in His Strength describes the moment of my grandfather's death and the divine strength my grandmother received to endure that experience.

    Read the devotion here.

    Monday, October 13, 2014

    Why Homosexuality is Not Like Other Sins


    The following article is the best one I have read on the homosexual debate from a Christian perspective.  It is excellent and should be read, shared, and practiced.

    "Homosexuality is not the only sin mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10.
    Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
    It’s not the only sin mentioned, but it is different from all the rest, at least right now. At this moment in history, contrary to the other sins listed here, homosexuality is celebrated by our larger society with pioneering excitement. It’s seen as a good thing, as the new hallmark of progress.

    To be sure, the masses increasingly make no bones about sin in general. Innumerable people are idolaters, not to mention those who are sexually immoral, or who commit adultery, or who steal and are greedy and get wasted and revile neighbors and swindle others. It happens all the time. And each of these unrepentant sins are the same in the sense of God’s judgment. They all deserve his wrath. And we’re constantly reminded that 'such were some of you' (1 Corinthians 6:11)."

    Read the entire article by Jonathan Parnell here.

    Quote of the Day


    Don't think big; think small.  You can't change anything that's big, but you can change a lot of small things and collectively have an influence on the larger things. It's not your job to change the world. That has been done, or will be done, when Jesus returns. You and I have been called to be faithful. The 'greater works' of which Jesus spoke are himself multiplied in millions of believers around the world.

     - Cal Thomas in What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America

    Dealing with Failure Positively


    Failure.

    It is a word every writer learns to appreciate with time. In the beginning it is frustrating and angry-making. Along the way it becomes “meh” to the point of quitting completely. Eventually there comes the realization that it is normal and part of the business.

    Michael Jordan, basketball icon, said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

    Read Steve Laube's entire article, The Most Important Word Every Writer Should Know.

    The Four Disciplines of the Heart


    Recently, I met with a leader who was in the process of losing heart. I have seen the look in his eyes a hundred times before. (I had seen it in my own mirror on more than one occasion.)

    My friend was under attack. He had just discovered that one of his board members was campaigning to unseat him. Worse, one of his children had just been diagnosed with a chronic disease. As a result of these issues, he was struggling with the typical symptoms of stress—insomnia, indigestion, and back pain.

    He was ready to throw in the towel. And, who could blame him? Life is hard.
    This is why leaders must understand the importance of their heart and why they must guard it. In times of adversity and temptation, a healthy heart is essential to survival.

    Read the entire article by Michael Hyatt here.

    Saturday, October 11, 2014

    Wolves and the Family of God


    This week my family experienced the South Carolina State Fair.  In all my years living in SC, this was my first visit to the state fair.  Immediately after entering the gate, we took seats at an outdoor show showcasing wolves.  We learned much about the habitat and behavior of these beautiful creatures. 

    One interesting fact is that many people view wolves as primarily vicious creatures from stories such as Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs.  Wolves and wolf packs, however, actually share some honorable characteristics.

    Listening to the lady describe wolves, several spiritual lessons illustrated by these animals in the wild struck me.

    1.  Wolves take care of the elderly.  Caring for the elderly marks the habits of wolves.  They look after their older members.  They do not discard them.  The Bible exhorts us again and again to honor our older members, treat them with respect, and serve them in special ways.

    2.  When wolf cubs are born, other females in the pack in addition to the mother help care for them.  Actually, other females begin the process of lactation.  For you men, that means their bodies prepare to give milk to young.  I thought, "What an interesting parallel to the Body of Christ."  Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12 that we are responsible for one another.  When we see a new Christian or a young believer in our church, they are partially our responsibility.  We are to all come alongside of them, encouraging, exhorting, teaching, modeling, and helping them to grow.

    3.  When a wolf is thrown out of the pack, it can break his spirit.  This presentation had one wolf that had previously been thrown out of a pack.  When they found him, his spirit was wounded.  The adults had to love on him and help his spirit for a while. 

    I have seen numerous Christians who felt like they had been "thrown out of the pack" at a previous church or fellowship group.  When that happens, our spirits can almost break.  It is so important to reconnect with other believers, loving on each other, caring for one another, and reminding our brothers and sisters in Christ, "You matter to me, and you belong to me."

    All of that from the lives of wolves.  God builds a lot of lessons for us into His wonderful creation.



    Tuesday, October 7, 2014

    Same-Sex Marriage and the Supreme Court: What Now for the Church?


    "The Supreme Court has declined to take up appeals from states in which the courts have found same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right. This paves the way for same-sex marriage in many, perhaps most, places in the United States. Many Christians may be unaware of how momentous this is, since the denial of cases doesn’t come with quite the shock and awe of a ruling handed down. The effect though is wide-ranging. So what should our response be as the church of Jesus Christ?

    There are two responses we should avoid.

    The first is the temptation to listen to those who would want to jettison a Christian sexual ethic in order to acclimate to the cultural moment. We have no authority to revise what Jesus has handed down to us. Our vision of marriage is not the equivalent of a church constitution and by-laws, adaptable by a majority vote. Marriage is not simply a cultural or legal practice, but is instead an icon of the union between Christ and his church, embedded in the creation (Eph. 5:22-31). Without a Christian vision of marriage, we have no Christian vision of the gospel."

    Read the entire article by Russell Moore here.

    Monday, October 6, 2014

    7 Principles for a Biblical Response to Terror


    I shared the following with our congregation this Sunday.  These principles show how a nation and godly citizens should respond to acts of terror.


    7 Principles for a Biblical Response to Terror

    1. Human iniquity is such that sometimes a violent response, even a lethal response is absolutely necessary (Romans 13:1-5).
                Three cases in which the sword is necessary:

    a)     Defense
    b)    Deterrence
    c)     Justice

    2. Whenever violence is necessary, Christians must valiantly attempt to exact no more suffering or death than is absolutely essential to accomplish and maintain the peace.

    3. Motives of revenge, brooding anger and fury are unworthy of Christian men (1 Pe. 2:13).

    4. Christians must seek to protect those who are uninvolved (Lev. 20:1-2).

    5. Except in the rarest of cases, a social order or a constituted national entity should be the   vehicle of retributive justice.

    6. When the enemy fails and falls, godly men must not rejoice in that calamity (Matt. 6:12).

    7. The aftermath of the confrontation yields one of three things: bitterness, hatred or forgiveness.


    For the godly man, it must ultimately result in forgiveness because forgiven men have no choice in this matter
    Notes taken from a message by Paige Patterson in September, 2001 following 9-11.  Read the entire Baptist Press article from September 18, 2001 here.

    Saturday, October 4, 2014

    Seven Ways the Pastor’s Family Comes Under Attack


    Here's another article in honor of Pastor Appreciation Month . . .

    If I were to devise a scheme to destroy churches, I would find ways to attack the pastor. And as I found ways to attack the pastor, I would see his family as the area of greatest vulnerability.

    Attack the church by attacking the pastor. Attack the pastor by attacking his family.

    Perhaps the “attack” metaphor makes you feel uncomfortable. The Bible, however, clearly uses the imagery of battle to describe the challenges and issues we face due to the presence of Satan and his evil hoards: “For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12, HCSB).

    Read the entire article by  Thom Rainer here.