Four years ago this week my eldest daughter, for an academic project, needed to interview someone relating to their profession. She chose to ask me a series of questions relating to my life as a pastor. Having been reminded of this today I read back through my answers and the answer to this question is necessary for many who are in the ministry of shepherding these days. I have already made the distinction of a pastor/shepherd and just a teacher/preacher.  The first does the second but not all who do the latter are called to the first.  This answer was given to a 16-year-old girl who has always been fascinated by the work of the Lord in our lives, and moreover, His providence in the times of great hardship.

How has being a pastor affected your life? Well, it has made my life hard. Ministry for the average “church” is just a list of things done and programs practiced, but for me it has been different. Having pastored churches of over 2000 members as well as churches of 40 members, God has allowed me to see one continual stream through it all: suffering. In suffering God is made brighter because I have not been able to qualify any success in ministry by my wisdom or hands. So, at many times pastoring is a lonely place, even though we are surrounding continually by people, the burden is difficult to express and in some ways, unnecessary. Many pastors will lie and say, “It’s a big ball of fun..” But it isn’t, it is gloriously satisfying but gravely burdensome. So, to simply put it, pastoring has allowed me to see that my life is not mine, but it is God’s and He has given it away to others for His name’s sake. This gives me great satisfaction.

This, among other things, is a great reminder and glimpse at the nature of the cross work of Christ, the continued work of laboring as Paul and the Apostles did for the sheep of Christ. We will suffer and we will suffer well. 

 

[18] And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, [19] serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; [20] how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, [21] testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. [22] And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, [23] except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. [24] But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:18–24)

The effects of constant turmoil can be burnout. I’ve experienced plenty in my life and in reality, I have “quit” the ministry many many times. The truth is though, I have never told anyone!  This podcast purposes to talk a little about the issue of ministry fatigue, its causes, its purposes and most of all, its remedy.

Our suffering as Christians is clearly a gift from God, a blessing and a way through which the Lord reveals His might to us. Consider this, rejoice in the pain and see the hand of the Lord.

And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed

While the efforts surrounding this small quotation are honorable in relation to the empowerment of women’s rights, the context in which these words were spoken are dangerously wicked. In speaking about abortion rights, this line was enforced as one of the ways in which laws would be backed with “resources and political will”. While Christians should abhor what is evil and hold to what is Good, sometimes what is good is coupled with what is evil in an attempt to placate to the deception of Satan while feeding the desires of a depraved world and the flesh that is certain to find eternal judgment.  Only blind individuals or misogynistic patriarchs would deny that our sisters are surely “second class” in so many eyes, it does not allow for the reduction of truth and the banishment of divine decrees in order to do what is right.

When one desires to change the essence and explicit dogma of righteousness by what is pleasing or “culturally” acceptable it brings many consequences. Two of them are, a hatred for resistance by the contrary and persecution of the firm.  “Rights have to exist in practice” says this leader, who doesn’t understand that her very words will condemn her when she stands before the eternal judge who clearly shows that murder, of anyone, is murder and no matter how the plane lands, the heart of the murder, if not transformed by the grace of the Lord, will remain condemned. When “deep-seated” codes of cultural religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed by the leaders of a nation in order to exercise new rights that conflict with righteousness persecution and ultimately the death of true believers is inevitable.

Remember these words beloved. We are guaranteed to share in the suffering of Jesus Christ as a good soldier. Not by fighting to win but standing as though we have already won. When the attack comes, it will come from the locals, the churches, the neighbors, the spouse, the kids, and those who love you most. The body of Christ will have to endure the persecution that follows the world’s ways and we must do it with gentleness, humility and pity toward those who would rather see us burn on a pyre than to tell them the truth of the Gospel. Keep in step with what is taught us, keep in step with the Lord Jesus (in His grace), and keep in step with the future that we know is ours; not of this world, but gloriously awaiting us who are kept by the power of God!

Do not be deceived, the culture hates the Lord, the natural man wants to do what is contrary to the Lord’s will and design and all these things we see, all the bullying against holiness and the advocating for abortion, same-sex marriage, racism, greed, monarchy and the like are preparing to see the wrath of God poured out on all unrighteousness. May the Lord grant us a heart to pray that we send forth the gospel to a dead world; not a dying one.

Lord have mercy on the souls of men. Lord thank you for the cross – Jesus was killed for preaching the words of God!

Pastor James

 

broken church building

Pastors, never forget the fragile state in which we live and serve. We are flesh, all of us, and must depend upon the mighty hand of God in all things. It is God who keeps us and holds us from the schemes of the enemy, the attacks of the world and the lust of the flesh. God in Christ Jesus seals us in holiness and steadfastness, gives us a heart to love the church of Christ with all the affection of Christ and allows us to find the greatest satisfaction amongst the deepest of suffering. We must never move our eyes from the glory of the one who can sit us upon the rock of righteousness and who has snatched us out of death, out of darkness and transferred us to the light of the Son and to the Kingdom therein. When this life is “able” we fail. When we look to our own holiness, we fail. When we feel content in our walk with Christ, we fail. When we subject our calling to the ways and ideals of this world, we fail. But even then oh brothers, Christ cannot fail and He will rescue us from the mundane, the philosophy of our minds, the brokenness of our discipline and the lacking of our zeal. Then our broken shards will cut through the dead flesh of men by the proclamation of Christ who sets the prisoners free by the blood poured from His own broken body. Remember that it is a gift of the miraculous grace of God when we suffer, when we mourn, when we are lowly so that our pride is put behind us and our very souls are endeavored to rest in His supreme hand.

May our boasting be in Christ and may our lives be a sacrifice to the praise of HIS glorious grace; not our own lest we labor for nothing.  It is far better to be no one in any historical sense and to have the mount of calvary as our epitaph in an unmarked grave than to be honored by men and praised through generations only to realize we left trash to be burned at the coming of the Lord.

Rise up pastor, bow down pastor… the Lord is true.

Pastor James

Foxes Martyr Fire Pictures

In the last month I have spent hours pouring through the pages of Foxe’s Acts and Monuments.  The stories are more than just a glimpse into church history and the faith of the persecuted before us, but an opportunity to dig deep into the reality of God’s gracious breath of perseverance for His people who laid not in fear but stood in the faithfulness of Christ while they burned, drowned and had their heads removed.  These writings are very difficult to find in print but Still Waters Revival Books has placed much of them as audio files on SermonAudio.com.  Here is that listing, please enjoy. You can read for free the entire collection at www.johnfoxe.org
Continue reading “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs | A Wonderful Opportunity for Worship and Awe”

Burned out PastorIt never fails, every few weeks I get to sit down either over coffee or on the phone with a brother-in-arms in the Gospel ministry who is ready to throw it all away and quit.  “Walking back into the world seems like the only hope I have to stay alive” one said to me recently.  Another pointing out how he just cannot go on taking the negative and thankless hatred that is spewed to his face and about him week after week.

It’s time to consider what makes a man go to the desperate end to consider walking away from what God calls him to do until his heart stops beating.  I’ve never really written about this, but boy have I lived and dealt with it many times over.  As a matter of fact, I have actually written a resignation letter more times than I can remember, the glory of it all, is that I have never printed them out and turned them in.  Thank God for His grace.

“Burn Out” is one thing, continuing to “smoke” is another.  As I entitled this post I thought some people would take this and run with it, we’ll see; however, when a pastor “burns out”, he often doesn’t even have the option of taking up smoking, because it would just belabor the problems in his life.  And when ministry knocks you down and there is hardly any breath left in your lungs, you are now just blue, but beaten to a pulp – I digress.

Really though, burn-out for the pastor is something that all too often comes quickly and smothering to the point that he is unable to overcome the pain, even if he remains, and becomes disqualified to shepherd himself, must less any flock of sheep.  As I think about these seasons in my past and know that there might well be such a season right around the corner, I think about Paul’s teaching to Timothy where he said, “preach the word in season and out of season.”  I know Paul was not lying here, but I can honestly say I have never seen an “in-season” for the word of God in many congregations.  Although one can see many in seasons in the lives of individuals and those who hunger passionately for God’s truth, as a whole, the bodies in the pews are not usually ready for the truth of God’s word.  So thinking through the seasons of a pastor’s life, I think it’s a big and constant “out of season” lesson that we must endure.

Well, I hope this helped, have a great life…

Now if I had ended this article there it would have been a mess.  So, as I move forward, I want to make very clear a few things.  There are reasons a man feels burnout and some of them can be man-made or God-made.  In this context, if a pastor, who is called of God to proclaim the Gospel of Christ and shepherd the body of Christ to maturity and love is doing everything but what God has called him to do, he has reason to be burned out because he is a wasted life.  On the other hand, sometimes proclaiming and pushing the truth to light brings some external and internal struggles that brings the frustration to a boil.  I want to mention a few things, obviously not exhaustively, that might help such a man get his bearings. Continue reading “Depression | Burned Out and Smoking… | Dealing with Ministry Blacks and Blues”