It seems the older I get, the more essay questions life throws my way.
Category Archives: Personal growth
Book Review: Choosing a Life That Matters: 7 Decisions You’ll Never Regret, by Dennis Rainey
Would you like to live a life with purpose and significance? Do you desire to leave a lasting legacy? Rather than pursuing success and possessions, the key is found in making the right choices about key areas of life.
Author Dennis Rainey has written a short, but powerful book outlining 7 key decisions that will result in a life of significance and purpose. Each one of the decisions focuses on how we view God. We are to seek God, not sin; fear God, not men; love God, not the world; believe God, not the deceiver; obey God, not your feelings; worship God, not comfort; and serve God, not self.
The book contains seven short chapters on each of the 7 decisions. Rather than merely talk about theory, the author also includes a Life Skills section in each chapter that gives practical ideas on how to implement and put the decision into practice.
Disclosure: I received this book free from Bethany House through the Bethany House Blogger Review Program http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/bethanyhouse/bookreviewers. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.
Book Review: I’d like you more if you were more like me: Getting real about getting close, by John Ortberg
Each of us wants to belong, to be respected, and especially to be loved. The problem is we don’t necessarily know how to develop those kind of relationships. We’re afraid that if we get too close to someone, we’ll end up getting hurt. Rather than open up, we keep people at a distance.
The latest offering from pastor and author John Ortberg is aimed at helping people understand how to build intimate relationships. He deals with various topics in his book such as how to recognize and respond when others seek to connect with us, how to get past our fear of intimacy, how to avoid common stumbling blocks in relationships, and how to make a more active part of everyday life.
On the one hand, the book aims to help the reader develop deeper relationships with those around him/her. On the other hand, Ortberg also seeks to aid people in applying those concepts toward developing a deeper and more intimate relationship with God.
The book is a typical volume written by the author. As with his other books, he combines biblical principles, interesting stories, personal illustrations, and self-deprecating humor to draw the reader in so he can address practical issues.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Tyndale Blog Network http://tyndaleblognetwork.com/ book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Book Review: Ordering Your Private World (Revised and Updated), by Gordon MacDonald
I was introduced to Gordon MacDonald’s work back in the mid-80’s when Ordering Your Private World was first published. I was in graduate school at the time, driven by my pursuit of education and starting out in ministry. His words were encouraging and helpful in laying a foundation for a sustainable ministry. Now that I am in my 60’s and have been in ministry for 30+ years, his revised and updated version of the book is even more helpful.
The principles of the original book are still in place—learning to manage your time, scheduling time for study, prayer, reflection, spiritual disciplines, thinking, and rest. They emphasize the importance of building your life from the inside out rather than merely focusing on skill development. The difference is that MacDonald now writes as a man in his late 70’s with a much broader and deeper level of experience. His words take on even greater importance knowing that they have been lived and practiced for decades.
The book now includes a study guide written by Leslie H. Stobble. It will aid in implementing the author’s suggestion of using a journal to help record your insights along the way. The book is well worth reading and rereading.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
One week ago, I met with our church leaders to talk about vision and direction. I shared my perception that we were a busy church, but not necessarily effective or fruitful. I spoke of my concern that we were too inwardly focused and overemphasized fellowship. I believe we need to be more purposeful and intentional in making disciples and reaching the lost.
On Sunday, I preached on Exodus 19 and how to prepare to meet with God. (It’s part of a series on the life of Moses.) I emphasized that before entering God’s presence, we should ask ourselves four questions—Am I willing to obey? Am I ready to listen? Have I prepared my heart? and, Do I respect God’s presence? Several mentioned how much the message challenged them. One said it was the best message they heard me preach in the five years I’ve been at the church. Several gave me hugs. One said as long as I keep preaching like that, I was their pastor. I continued to hear affirming comments a few days later.
On Monday evening, I began a new class, the Character & Habits of a Leader, part of a strategy for church-based leadership development. 17 people were present for the first session with two more who will join us for the second lesson.
On Wednesday evening, we launched our fall ministries with Awana, youth group, adult Bible studies, and a prayer group. We had 90 children in Awana with 30 in the youth group. A significant number came from the surrounding neighborhood. The building was hopping!
In addition, we also started two new adult Sunday School classes with a third one coming next month, as well as our women’s Bible studies starting again for the fall.
God is on the move at First Central Bible Church. So much good ministry is taking place.
So, why was I surprised when an individual wanted to meet with me to share what they perceived were my weaknesses as a pastor? Namely, that I was a “good to great teacher, but don’t exhort,” and that I was not outgoing enough and don’t work the room to greet every person (not their exact words but my takeaway.) I responded in two ways. First, I thanked them for what they shared and said I would have to think and pray about what they said. Second, I said that I have been told all my life that I don’t have what it takes to be a pastor and I am tired of hearing it because it is wrong. (For more on that topic, read my blog post on October 26, 2012, “Learning it’s ok to be me.”)
Why am I not surprised … whenever we take a step of faith … whenever we share the gospel … whenever we begin to be successful … whenever we challenge people to serve or share their faith … whenever we begin to make progress and move forward … the enemy seeks to discourage, distract, and sideline us.
On the one hand, I know that criticism comes with the territory. In the words of Rachel Dawes to Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, “You’re Gotham’s D.A. If you’re not getting shot at, you’re not doing your job.” On a more spiritual side, the apostle Paul said that we have “conflicts without; fears within” (2 Corinthians 7:5). Criticism is one of the occupational hazards of ministry, even more so in today’s culture.
On the other hand, I am human and freely admit that criticism stings, especially from those within the body who really don’t know me. To be honest, I briefly contemplated walking away into the sunset. Rather than quitting, however, I simply decided to take the day to work at home.
I am reminded once again that this is a spiritual battle. I know that I need to stand firm and resist the temptation to feel sorry for myself and/or flee the battlefield (James 4:7). Like King David, I need to find my strength in God (1 Samuel 23:16). As a steward of God’s ministry, I need to stay faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2). If I want to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant,” then I need to be faithful to serve God with whatever he has entrusted to me (Matthew 25:14-30). As my mentor Kent Hughes used to say, “I need to believe what I believe.”
Time to put my soap box away, armor up, and get back to work.
September is an anniversary month for me. It’s a time when I look back and celebrate the grace of God in my life. It’s a time when I look forward and recommit myself to following God. It’s a time when I once again declare how much I need his grace and strength in my life.
September is a milestone month for me because it is when I began my first full-time, paid position in ministry. I’ve been doing ministry for almost 45 years. But I started getting paid for it in September 1986, 31 years ago.
I began serving in ministry during my freshman year in college in 1973. From 1973-86, I taught Sunday School for kids, served as a youth sponsor, discipled high school students, led ministry trips, sang in choirs, coached sports teams, chaired committees, did a summer internship, participated in evangelism outreaches, and other ministries I have long since forgotten.
I taught one class in each of two semesters in Dallas Theological Seminary’s Lay Institute from 1983-84, and even got paid for the privilege. I also served one year as a part-time intern at Nutwood St. Baptist Church in Garden Grove, CA, in the mid-80’s.
In September 1986, I was called as the Pastor of Christian Education at College Church in Wheaton, IL, and began my full-time career in ministry. I served the first 18 years as an Associate Pastor. I served three years at College Church, Wheaton, IL – Pastor of Christian Education (9/86-7/89), and over 14 years at Crossroads Bible Church, Bellevue, WA – Associate Pastor—Singles, Adults, Missions, Senior Associate (2/90-6/04).
In September 2004, I was called as a Senior Pastor and have now served 13 years in that role. I served almost 8 years at United Evangelical Free Church, Seattle, WA (9/04-3/12), and the past five years at First Central Bible Church, Chicopee, MA (9/12-Present). If God should tarry, I would like to keep going and reach the goal of serving as many years as a senior pastor as I did as an associate pastor.
In addition, I have served as an instructor for Walk Thru the Bible Ministries for 30 years (1987-Present). I also led or participated in 18 ministry trips (13 to Russia, 2 to Ukraine, 2 to Spain, and 1 to Nigeria). I also have the privilege of mentoring students as an adjunct professor at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA.
Somewhere along the line, I developed the following purpose statement for my life.
My Mission is to serve the purpose of God in my generation, thus bringing glory to his name. My Life Vision to train and equip others through preaching, teaching, writing, and leadership development. I want to bring all to maturity and many into leadership.
To be starting my 32nd year in ministry says more about God’s grace than my ability. I am not the sharpest tool in the shed nor the smartest person in the room. I am a plodder who strives to run the race God called me to run (Hebrews 12:1-4). I want to serve God faithfully and use all of my gifts for his glory (Matthew 25:14-30).
As I reflect on another ministry milestone, I thank God that he called me to be one of his children. I thank God that he called me into his service. I thank him for the privilege of serving him at First Central. I thank God for grace.
May God grant me the grace and strength to continue serving him for many more years to come.
I’m not sure who made the statement first, “Come apart before you come apart.” I’ve seen it attributed to Vance Havner and Jan Petersen. It is generally based on Jesus’ instruction to his disciples in Mark 6:31 (KJV). Regardless of who said it, it is wise advice to heed.
As I was hiking in the Quabbin Reservoir during a staycation, it dawned on me that this was my first real break in six months. I’ve been running since early February when I went to New Zealand for my daughter’s wedding. Since that time, I have preached, taught, counseled, mentored, gone to Russia, performed several funerals, led, planned, preached and taught some more … week in and week out without a break. I took a planning day a couple weeks back, but then again, I was still thinking and planning, so that didn’t count as a break.
The past two days, I have done some hiking at the Ashley Reservoir and the Quabbin Reservoir. This weekend, my wife and I will visit Niagara Falls. (Seems like water plays a major role in this vacation.) While it is a nice break, I’m not completely unplugged because I’m answering email, thinking about next week’s leaders’ meeting, and doing work for my Regent Class. I’m not sure pastors can ever completely unplug and stop thinking about ministry. But at least I’m not preparing a sermon or a lesson, so that is something.
One thing I realized from both my planning day and my hikes is that I need to be more intentional about finding activities that will refresh and renew my spirit.
Next week, I’ll hit the ground running and press on towards the holidays.