When the Show Must Not Go On

canceledHaving witnessed and experienced a great deal over my lifetime in parachurch ministry, I have come to the conclusion that the most important question we can ask ourselves in ministry work is this: Why am I doing what I am doing and at what cost to my health, spiritually and otherwise,  and the most important people in my life?

Those who are single must also ask these questions, but those who choose to create families and then go out and work in additional ministry are the ones who need to ask this question frequently and allow themselves to give honest answers.

There is a wrong-headed view that we are ultimately responsible for carrying forward God’s work. While it is true God works through humans, I don’t believe that abandoning our first responsibilities to our families to reach strangers is OK with God. The human toll on families can be horrific.  Ask some of the children of foreign missionaries who were left at boarding schools most of the year to be raised by strangers how that worked out for them, as some of the tragic stories have made recent headlines. God didn’t give you children to outsource their upbringing to hirelings so you could minister to others. He didn’t give you a spouse for you to be AWOL. The unreached tribes are not more important than your own children. The unreached of America are not more important than your own families. No, they are not.

A mindless obsession with busyness for Jesus ends up being counterproductive. Ministries that insist on growth at the expense of the humans running the machine will ultimately crash or at the very least, lose what impact they might have had. Also, the business that creates the busyness often becomes the subconscious focus. Keeping the gears turning becomes more interesting and compelling than the spiritual and physical realities on staff. Workaholism (even when called ‘sacrifice for Jesus’) creates burnout, burnout can maim and kill, literally and metaphorically.

A friend of mine who lived nearly exclusively for his work ended his own life last fall. He did great work, and he did it all hours of the day and night, but in the end, he died by his own hand, the same way his non-Christian brother had. It is a tragedy I am still getting over. Every life needs balance. Without even a little counterbalance to work, we are doomed.

God never calls us to do personal kamikazes for Jesus on the deck of ministry. If we’re personally self-destructing to keep gears moving in ministry, we are doing more than we are called to do. If we are imploding because of someone else’s vision and wrong priorities, we are called to say no. A sanctified, holy, NO.

God is gracious and merciful. He frequently allows wake-up calls. He allowed me a wake-up call, thankfully.  But the sobering reality is that the damage to spiritual lives, physical lives, and relationships is sometimes not easily repaired. It can be permanent and life-altering.

The “show” must not go on as usual when it is harming others. That is not the work of God. That is the work of flesh and it will fail. No person, single or married, can withstand years of burnout and be OK. Those with family responsibilities have their first calling, and any job that requires more than a decent work schedule is asking you to go out of God’s parameters in terms of priorities. Any leader or leadership structure that requires or allows you to go outside a work schedule that respects your spiritual and physical and family needs is outside of God’s parameters. Idolatry of someone in ministry doesn’t end well. And when we listen to someone else’s voice over the loving voice of our Shepherd, we are asking for trouble.

There are still birds singing, flowers growing, blue skies and love in this world, and how easily we forget that in the race. We are also doing God’s work by loving and laughing and caring for those in our families first. Everything else must come a distant second in our hearts and thinking. The payoff for right priorities is without price.  And the price for wrong priorities is too high.

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. ~ Mark 6:31

“No Man Cares for my Soul”

Since posting on the subject of the love missing among Christians, I have heard from several people who are really hurting. One woman in our area has health problems that now keep her from her large, bustling Baptist church that she had been a part of for years. In the several months that have passed since she has had to stop attending church, not one on the large pastoral “team” has bothered to call on her. There is every program you can create at church, but no shepherd has visited and inquired how she is doing physically, let alone spiritually. This is the reality of institutional churches that have everything, but they lack the most important thing of all, the real Jesus.

This clip from Richard Owen Roberts (sent by my UK friend, Teeky,) really gripped me. We have to be the love or there won’t be any. We can’t look to spiritual leadership today, much of which is bankrupt and obsessed with programs and growth and image. We have to each be the love to each other. That’s all of our job in the body of Christ.


“Take Care of Me!”

Last winter, a terrible walking pneumonia type illness swept the household. It knocked Will out for days, and then, despite our best efforts, Emily came down with the same bug.

She was miserable one night and came to find me in the kitchen. Throwing her arms up she suddenly cried, “Take care of me, Mama!” In one short, plaintive plea, all her longing for comfort came through.

As I swooped her up in my arms, I thought of how often the needs and misery in our lives force us to seek some kind of relief and solace. The cry, “take care of me” is never far from human lips. The healthiest among us can be felled by something so small it can only be seen by a microscope. Ugly surprises in life can bring down the most wealthy, successful and confident.

At those times the need for solace can drive people to find help and relief from a number of sources. Some try to find it in food, in busyness and constant motion, in the noise of news or entertainment media, booze, drugs, sex, shopping and a million other things. None of them will provide the real peace and comfort that is needed. Only God has what is needed at our deepest level. Everything else just medicates the symptoms.

At dark times in the life of a Christian, it can feel as though that cry, “Lord, take care of me!” is not answered. Long stretches of time where it seems as though there are no answers can damage the faith that your outstretched arms are even seen.

Then God does something so unexpected you are blown away. It may not be the specific answer you sought, it may not be anywhere close to the time frame that you had envisioned, but some other form of provision comes, some surprising way God reaches down to you and shows you, unmistakably, that He has seen your need and has provided.

We experienced that this week in our lives in a surprising, unexpected and frankly stunning provision by the Lord, a reminder that He does see the details of our lives and responds in love.

As a child of God, the only way to have needs met is to do what Emily did that night – to throw up our arms and cry out, “Lord, take care of me! I’m needy. I’m miserable. You alone have the answer!”

Emily’s simple trust that I would lift her up and care for her is the trust we need to have for our Savior. He alone has the answer to our needs in every area of our lives, and in tough times, we can find comfort that God is there, in the shadows, keeping watch over his own.

Hope Amid the Ruins

Hope itself is sort of like this blog over the last year and a half. It is sometimes strong, sometimes flickering and sputtering, sometimes going out completely, sort of like those trick birthday candles that blow out and then come back.

It’s been a very complex time in our lives. Everything in this world has become very strange and confusing. Christians are not exempt from experiencing those things. Old landmarks, old trusted institutions, churches, people we admired or followed, all of the old is rocking and shaking and changing.

News last week of a big name pastor among far-right fundamental Baptists who got caught after sexual involvement with a 16-year-old girl he had been counseling really wasn’t much of a surprise. What would once have been shocking is almost not shocking anymore as the sad news that yet another big name has crashed and burned in the middle of a double life made headlines.

Christian rhetoric and high external “standards” can be the ultimate smokescreen for the reality of our lives. It is very easy to appear to have our spiritual lives together if we spout the right phrases, quote a few verses, stay clean cut in appearance and windex our “windows” that people see. But internal rot cannot be hidden forever. It will be revealed in time.

There is a passage of Scripture (Jesus’s words in Matthew 24:12) that talks about how in the last days of history, the love of many Christians will grow cold because sin is so rampant. It is happening before our eyes. These evil times have even the most devout Christians looking around, trying to make sense of the senseless ruin in so many lives of professing believers. I say senseless, because it is difficult to understand how we could hold the cure for it in our own hands or promote the cure to others while ignoring it in our own lives.

This is the time when hope can flicker in our own hearts and lives. The primary problem is that a relationship with a doctrinal position is not the same as a relationship with Jesus. Rectitude in your theological position is not the same thing as having the Spirit of God within, convicting of sin, creating new life in the old person.

We are told what the fruit of the Holy Spirit looks like. There is no mystery here. And there are no special exemptions for those who have done enough spiritual work to get a free pass on a fruit check.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…(Galatians 5:22-23)

The hallmark of believers is love for others. We are told in plain terms what that love looks like.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

~ I Corinthians 13

There is no way in ourselves that we can have that kind of love. Hurt creates resentment and bitterness. Hurt left unresolved for years can created a veritable tsunami of rage and un-forgiveness. It can wash away your very view of God. Only the work of the Holy Spirit within our hearts can change this, but if we are children of the Light, this is what must happen.

The world around us is only going to worsen as the natural consequences of our culture’s and much of the visible church’s anarchy against God grows worse. Only God at work in our hearts, through His Son, can keep us in times like this. Our prayer has to be, “Lord, heal us, and we shall be healed. Rescue us from the tidal wave of sin and wrong reactions to the filth and destruction around us. We can’t handle it on our own.”

There is another part to this, however. My favorite music is sacred music. The opening lines of Elijah by Felix Mendelssohn is the great chorus singing, “Help, Lord!” The idolatry of God’s people had brought them drought and ruin. God showed himself at Mt. Carmel in a powerful way, the prophets of Baal were destroyed, and God was returned to His rightful place in their hearts. This is the area God, I believe, wants his people to address. We have to tear down these high places of idolatry, and then our prayers for healing spiritually will be answered.  The healing rains of God’s deliverance will come. Only each of us individually knows if or where we have these places, but I know this: If we ask, God will answer us and point them out.

No, the Hope Blog has not completely sputtered out. The hope in my heart that has flickered and sputtered at times over the last 18 months is still here, and for that I give the Lord Jesus Christ all of the credit. He alone is the answer to our broken state, no matter how much we may want to find the cure elsewhere, no matter how much we want to write off spiritual answers, or walk away from the faith in the face of so much treachery and ruin.

Men and women will fail us. We will fail completely in ourselves. But Jesus never fails. He shines as our ultimate hope. Brighter than the sun at noon. Take the scales from our eyes, God, so we can see Jesus in all His glory and fall at His feet and  worship.

Thy Manger Is My Paradise

bethlehem.jpgI watched a short video today on the life of German pastor and poet, Paul Gerhardt. He lived in the 17th Century and his beautiful legacy of hymns remains today. This year marked the 400th anniversary of his birth. I came across this Gerhardt hymn today, and at this Advent season I was reminded again of just what the Son of God in the manger really meant.

O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is
My paradise at which my soul reclineth.
For there, O Lord, doth lie the Word
Made flesh for us; herein Thy grace forthshineth.

He Whom the sea and wind obey
Doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness.
Thou, God’s own Son, with us art one,
Dost join us and our children in our weakness.

Thy light and grace our guilt efface,
Thy heavenly riches all our loss retrieving.
Immanuel, Thy birth doth quell
The power of hell and Satan’s bold deceiving.

Thou Christian heart, whoe’er thou art,
Be of good cheer and let no sorrow move thee!
For God’s own Child, in mercy mild,
Joins thee to Him—how greatly God must love thee!

Remember thou what glory now
The Lord prepared thee for all earthly sadness.
The angel host can never boast
Of greater glory, greater bliss or gladness.

The world may hold her wealth and gold;
But thou, my heart, keep Christ as thy true Treasure.
To Him hold fast until at last
A crown be thine and honor in full measure.

What Is Your Bible Worth To You?

bible.jpgToday on Crosstalk my guest will be my dear friend in the Lord, Sherry Goodwin. She will be telling the amazing true story of a young girl named Mary Jones. What this Welsh girl did because of her love for the Scriptures ended up impacting a world for the Lord. This is a Crosstalk that is highly recommended for children as well as adults. We will be offering a little book entitled, Mary Jones and Her Bible. This is a perfect gift for children because the Bible is our perfect gift from the Lord. Today Bibles often collect dust in Christian homes. I hope the story of little Mary Jones will inspire us to love God’s Word more than we do. The program airs at 2pm Central Time. You can listen to the show live at our website or listen to the podcast later.

Love Beautifies

this-old-house.jpgThere’s a vacant house for sale at the bottom of the hill in our subdivision. It doesn’t look as forlorn as this abandoned house in the photo, but every month that goes by without somebody to care for it, it deteriorates just a little bit more. The house has been on the market for over a year. Sometimes when I drive by, I think about what I would do to spruce up the place. Pull out the ugly shrubbery here, plant something there, new windows, new siding, some paint…and voila! A pretty home.

My husband and I toured the house recently, and I thought how sad a house is without a family inside to love it. The family photos, the little wall hangings, the cleaning and the polishing all serve to make a home a bright and cheerful place to be. But when all the furniture is gone, and all the little bits and pieces of a family’s life are taken out, all the faults that were once hidden become obvious.

Love covers a multitude of sins and imperfections within a family. My husband’s patience in overlooking annoyances and imperfections creates the foundation for our happy home. Whenever I am tempted to be cross, I find myself remembering his patience and forbearance. My complaint has a way of disappearing rather quickly. I want to remember that more with my children. It is easy to see their faults and to react to them in an unloving way. Forgiveness and patience don’t come naturally to the human heart, especially mine. But I know that the Lord can give those things to us if we ask Him. We can pick our relationships bare, and keep an unloving attitude, but our families and our lives will resemble the empty house at the end of our street, or even the one in the photo.

Each act of forgiveness, each demonstration of unconditional love serves to beautify and to make lovely what is unlovely, because we are showing Christ forth in our homes. It’s something to think about.

The Happiness of Drawing Near to God by Thomas Watson

Psalm lxxiii. 28. But it is good for me to draw near to God

This psalm is no less elegant than sacred; it is calculated for the meridian of God’s church in all times; but it is especially fit for the godly to meditate upon in times of calamity. It is entitled a psalm of Asaplt. Asaph was a man divinely inspired, a prophet; as well as one of the masters of music. It is called a psalm of Asaph, either because he composed it, or because it was committed to him to sing. This holy man seems here to have a dialogue with himself concerning providence. He was ready to call God’s providences to the bar of reason, and enquire concerning the equity of them. How doth it be just, that they who are evil should enjoy so much good; and those who are good should endure so much evil? While Asaph was debating the case with himself, at last his faith got above his sense; he considered that the wicked were set in locis lubricis, in slippery places. And like such as go upon the ice, their feet would soon slide; or like such as walk on mines of powder, they would soon be blown up, verse 18. This did both resolve his doubt, and compose his spirit.

The proeamium, or entrance into the psalm is not to be forgotten, ‘Truly God is good to Israel:’ so the Hebrew renders it certainly. Without dispute, this is a golden maxim that must be held. In the Septuagint it is vox admirantis, it is set out by way of admiration, Oh, how good God is to Israel! What angel in Heaven can express it; the vulgate reads it, veruntanern, yet God is good; as if the Psalmist had said, though the candle of prosperity shines on the wicked, they have not only what their hearts can wish, but more than their hearts can wish,’ verse 7. And though the godly are sorely afflicted, mingling their drink with weeping; yet for all this, ‘God is good to Israel.’ Here is the fountain, the stream, the cistern: the fountain is God; the stream, goodness; the cistern into which it runs, Israel. Indeed, God is good ‘to all,’ Psalm clxv. 9. The sweet dew falls upon the thistle as well as the rose. But though God be good to all, yet not alike good to all. He is good to Israel in a special manner. The wicked have sparing mercy, but the godly have saving mercy. And if God be good to his people, then it is good for his people to draw near to him. So it is in the text, ‘It is good for me to draw near to God.’

1. We may look upon the words in Hypothesi. Here is something implied, viz. that by nature we are far from God.– Drawing near implies a strangeness and distance. In our lapsed estate we lost two things, the image of God, and communion with God, Psalm lviii.3. ‘The wicked are estranged from the womb’ Every step a sinner takes, is going further from God.– The prodigal’s going into a ‘far country.’ Luke xv. 14. was an emblem of the sinner’s going afar off from God. How far are they distant from God, who have been travelling forty or fifty years from their father’s house! and what is worse, sinners are not only far from God, but they do not desire to be near him, Jer. iv. 10. ‘They have loved to wander.’ Sin doth not care to be near holiness. The wicked get as far as they can from God, like Cain, who ‘went out from the presence of the Lord,’ Gen. iv. 16. — That is, the church of God, where were the visible signs of God’s presence: he estranged himself from God as much as he could: he fell to building, thereby thinking to drown the noise of his conscience, as the Italians of old were wont to drown the noise of thunder by ringing their bells. Sinners think God’s company may be best spared, Isaiah xxx.11. ‘Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.’ Let us shut God out of our company; let him be no more named among us. A bad eye loves not to be near the sun.

Let us be deeply humbled for our fall in Adam, which hath set us at such a distance from the blessed God. Heaven and earth are not so far asunder as God and the sinner. The further we are from God, the nearer we are to hell. The farther a man sails from the east, the nearer he is to the west. Let us of returning to God by repentance. Say as the church, Hosea ii. 7. ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for then was it better with me than now.’

2. Let us consider the text in Thesi; ‘It is good for me to draw near to God.’

The text falls into these parts. 1. The person, me. 2. The act, draw near. 3. The object, God. 4. The excellency of the act, it is good.

The proposition is this: That it is a great duty incumbent upon Christians to draw near to God, Heb. x. 22. ‘Let us draw near with a true heart.’ For the illustration of the proposition, four things are to be inquired into.

1. How we are capable of drawing near to God.

2. Where we draw near to God.

3. The manner of our drawing near to God.

4. Why we must draw near to God. Continue reading

What is Dead Textualism?

A reader read my post below about the issues within conservative churches (Slice Archive Update) and asked what I meant by my references to dead orthodoxy, dead textualism and so forth. I think that the reader thought I had been sipping emergent Kool-Aid. I want to assure them and everyone else that nothing could be further from the truth. I am posting my response comment to the reader to clarify my concerns.

“For most of my childhood I attended conservative churches that had the right biblical doctrine, hymns and Gospel songs, Sunday school, and so forth but the churches we were in were not spiritually healthy. Two were actually in the process of dying. They had the form of godliness but the members were grossly complacent, largely prayerless and there was no power in the lives I witnessed. These are churches that would never have an Elvis impersonator or other foolishness. They would inveigh against such things. They were dedicated to doing things right. But there was a lukewarmness and a coldness. “Lifeless textualism” is a term used by A.W. Tozer to describe those in his denomination, the Christian Missionary Alliance, who would never compromise on the infallibility of Scripture, but for whom the Scriptures never seemed to penetrate into the reality of their lives. Pastor Noblit referred to these passionless Christians in his sermon when he was here. These are people who will go to the guillotine over whether the Bible is inspired and infallible but yet the Scriptures have no place in their everyday lives other than a cursory devotional reading. Often the fruit of these churches is found behind the scenes, in fractured relationships, in deeply troubled families, in gossip and conflict. These are churches where there is often a lack of love and concern for others. Please read Revelation chapter 2, verses 1-7. Scripture very clearly describes such churches. They may even have a discernment ministry to warn others. Christ is speaking here. Verse 2 reads,

“I know thy works, and thy labor and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil; and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars; And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake has laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”

These are the dead textualists. They have the Word. They have their doctrinal ducks in a row, they are really good at discernment, but they are lifeless because they have lost their first love. We must have the Scriptures and hold them high, but we must also have life through daily fellowship with the author of the Scriptures. Life is in the Vine. It is not optional. Additionally, such churches actually serve to scatter the sheep of Christ’s flock who are desperate to find life somewhere. Young believers can be seduced into believing that the emerging church down the street is more “real”, has more passion and more interest in others than the orthodox church they just left. This is the danger.

I hope that answers any questions that I raised. Without the Holy Spirit’s enlightening power, the Word is a dead letter to us. How we need the Holy Spirit of God to fill us and empower us. Without Him, our lamps will soon flicker and go out.”

“God Knows My Size”

size1.jpgI was sent a book a few days ago. I couldn’t stop reading one evening until it was finished. It is the story of Silvia Tarniceriu, a Romanian woman who grew up under the communist dictator, Nikolai Ceaucescu. Friends, we don’t even have a clue what suffering for Jesus is like in our country. Silvia’s story sings of God’s mercies and grace. The title, God Knows My Size refers to a prayer she prayed as a child when her poverty stricken family could not provide her needs. She decided to see if God existed as her parents claimed by praying for a pair of shoes that she desperately needed, a sweater and a warm coat. Let’s just say God provided all three in one package, and God knew her size! That was the beginning of her walk with God. I am working to get Silvia on Crosstalk to share her amazing story of courage and faith in the face of terrible persecution and suffering under communism. Let’s put it this way: Ceaucescu is dead. Jesus is alive! All praise be to our risen Lord who is on the throne and will be for all eternity. If you are interested in reading this thrilling book, here is a link to Reformation Heritage Books.