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Category Archives: Personal growth

I’m glad I don’t have it all together

I used to struggle with people’s expectations. Take your pick—personality, performance, preaching—I don’t measure up to what “they” expect a “perfect pastor” should be and do. In regards to my personality, some want me to be someone different—more gregarious, more outgoing. I’ve been told to my face that I don’t have the right personality to be a pastor. One went so far as to tell me the church would never grow because of my personality.

In my lower moments, I wondered if God made a mistake. He either gave me the wrong personality when he created me, or he should never have called me into ministry. Why did he give me a task that he did not equip me for? Those were the whispers I listened to and told myself.

I was recently reading 1 Corinthians 2 for our monthly elders & wives Bible study. I was struck by the fact that the apostle Paul took great pride in his weakness. That way, the focus was on Jesus rather than himself.

1 Corinthians 2:1–5 – 1And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul explains that he gave up asking God to take away his thorn in the flesh because he learned to depend on God’s grace. He discovered that his weakness was actually a position of strength.

2 Corinthians 12:8–10 – Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Since I seem to fall woefully short on the perfect pastor scale, that must mean there is more room for God to demonstrate his power. My weak personality and preaching skills (according to some) are actually a position of strength. It means God has more room to work and that more glory will go to him. Rather than whine and complain, I need to give thanks that God wired me as he did. I need to spend more time praying that God will demonstrate his grace and power.

Thank you, Lord, for how you put me together. Thank you for the training and experiences you have brought me through. Thank you for my weaknesses and limitations. Thank you for putting in a position where I have to depend on you. Pour out your Spirit and demonstrate your power and glory. Amen!

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2020 in Bible Study, Personal growth, Scripture

 

Understanding the process of spiritual growth

Book Review: Growing in Holiness: Understanding God’s Role and Yours, by R. C. Sproul

How do you grow spiritually? How do you progress from new faith in Christ to spiritual maturity? This is the question addressed by R. C. Sproul in his book, Growing in Holiness: Understanding God’s Role and Yours. The book is drawn from his lectures and explores the doctrine of sanctification, how to deal with obstacles and continue to grow towards greater maturity in Christ.

The book is written in an easy to read, conversational style. Dr. Sproul presents practical and helpful ideas, both to understand the doctrine of sanctification and how to press forward. He talks about how to deal with the obstacles presented by the world, the flesh, and the devil. He explains how to pursue righteousness. He clearly explains how we can have the assurance of our salvation and greater confidence in Christ. He stresses the importance of displaying love and developing the fruit of the Spirit. The author concludes by encouraging us to grow up into the fullness of Christ.

This is a helpful, practical book for a new believer who wants to understand what the Christian life is all about. It provides encouragement for a Christian who is frustrated by the lack of growth and progress in their life. Whether new to the faith or a long-term believer, the book will encourage all to press on and persevere.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

 

Sandwiched between Faithfulness & Fruitfulness

I live my life sandwiched between two tensions. I want to be found faithful while at the same time, I want to be found fruitful.

As a pastor, I struggle with numbers. I watch the graphs of our attendance and chart the ups and downs of our giving. I know that people pass judgment on me based on those figures. People look at those numbers and determine my worth.

However, I know that my success is not measured by numbers. The artificial measuring sticks—bodies, budgets, buildings, baptisms, books, broadcasts, and blogs—are valuable indicators, yes, but they are not what God will use to evaluate and determine whether or not I am successful.

God will not evaluate my ministry based on the size. He will evaluate whether or not I was faithful. “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the master does not praise his servants based on their production. The one with the five talents received the same reward as the one with the two talents. Both were faithful in using their talents for the master and heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21, 23).

People may judge my success or failure based on numbers and size, but God will evaluate whether or not I was faithful to use the gifts and abilities he has given me for his service. I get that.

And yet, at the same time, I want to be fruitful. In John 15:1-11, Jesus speaks of the progression of moving from no fruit to fruit to more fruit to much fruit. In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23; Mark 4:1-20), some of the seed produces thirtyfold, some sixtyfold, and some hundredfold.

I desire to produce much fruit. I want to be one who produces hundredfold. While that may be my desire, I recognize that I cannot produce anything in my own power. Much fruit only comes as I abide in Christ and his life flows through me. God is the one who produces the size of the harvest.

This brings me back full circle to faithfulness. I must be faithful to abide in Christ and depend on him for life, growth, and fruitful ministry. I must rely on him to determine how, when, and where he will use me. I must be faithful to use everything I have for his glory. I must focus on depth—building deeply into my life and the life of others—and allow him to determine the breadth and effectiveness of my ministry.

May I be found faithful and fruitful. The one is up to me. The other is up to God. I need to live contentedly between those two tensions.

 

I can do it myself!

From our earliest days, we learn the phrase, “I can do it myself.” Whether learning how to tie our shoes, coloring inside the lines, putting together a jigsaw puzzle, walking to school, learning to drive, heading off to college, and a host of other activities, self-sufficiency is the flag that we fly.

As parents, we want to raise confident, independent, self-sufficient children. We want them to be able to stand on their own two feet as they face the world. It is a character quality and a mindset that each one needs to develop.

When it comes to spiritual matters, however, that sense of independence and self-sufficiency can become our greatest weakness. We will avoid asking others for help because “I can do it myself.” My wife and I were in a small group years ago where one of the couples was moving to a new home. They refused to ask for help on moving day until one of the group members confronted the couple and said, “You are robbing me of the chance to serve and use my gifts.”

Our independent spirit will hinder us from developing a deep relationship with God. Rather than burden God with our needs, we will attempt to solve them in our own power. Our sense of self-sufficiency will cause us to live like functional atheists who confess faith in God but rely on our own abilities.

Our independent, self-sufficient spirit will prevent us from getting close to other people. “I can do it myself” will keep one from sharing prayer requests or telling another person what we are dealing with and how they can encourage us. It can foster a sense of pride that says “I don’t need you.”

Independence and self-sufficiency can be a tremendous strength. But it can also be a tremendous weakness. We need discernment to know when to stand alone and when to ask for help from God and other people.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2020 in Culture, Personal growth, Prayer

 

Defining Moments

It seems that each generation has a defining moment, a time when the axis of one’s life shifts and you are never quite the same again. It is an event that often rallies and unifies people. It is often marked by the phrase, “Where were you when …?” or “Remember the …”

For the people of Texas, it is the siege of the Alamo during March 2-6, 1836. The phrase, “Remember the Alamo,” became the watchword for Texas independence from Mexico.

“Remember the Maine” reminded the nation of the sinking of the battleship, U.S.S. Maine in the Havana, Cuba harbor on January 25, 1898. The phrase became the rallying cry of the Spanish-American war.

For my parents’ generation, it was the attack of the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. “Remember Pearl Harbor” prompted the USA to enter into World War II.

For my generation, it was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, or the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969. Both were momentous, life-altering events.

For my children, it was the attack on September 11, 2001. On that day, al-Qaeda terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, VA. A fourth attack was thwarted by the heroic efforts of the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93. The phrase, “Never Forget,” is used to remember those who lost their lives in those attacks. “Never forget 9/11” prompts a new generation to remember that the battle for liberty is ongoing.

“Remember when” or “Never forget” are teachable moments where we can share with our children the events, people, and values that shaped our lives. It is also an opportunity to talk about how our faith in Jesus Christ helps us to respond to crises such as these. We can follow the instructions in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 to teach our children so that they do not forget about God.

For Christ followers, the ultimate life changing event is summed up in the phrase, “Remember the cross.” It prompts us to reflect that Jesus paid the ultimate price for our freedom. If we put our faith and trust in him, we can be free from the penalty, guilt, and power of sin.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2019 in Personal growth

 

Celebrate the Milestones and Keep adding to them

Yesterday, I celebrated another ministry anniversary and milestone. If God allows, I want to keep adding to them.

September is a month when I look back and celebrate the grace of God in my life and look forward and recommit myself to following God. It’s a time when I am reminded 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 over 46 years. But I started getting paid for it in September 1986, 33 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 to be 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, as the Pastor of Christian Education (9/86-7/89), and over 14 years at Crossroads Bible Church, Bellevue, WA as an Associate Pastor—Singles, Adults, Missions, Senior Associate (2/90-6/04).

In September 2004, I transitioned to the role of Senior Pastor and have now served 15 years in that role. I served almost 8 years at United Evangelical Free Church, Seattle, WA (9/04-3/12), and the past seven years at First Central Bible Church, Chicopee, MA (9/12-Present). If God should permit, I would like to keep going as long as possible. I will keep serving and preaching as long I am healthy and effective.

In addition to my pastoral ministry, I have served as an instructor for Walk Thru the Bible Ministries for 32 years (1987-Present). I also led or participated in 20 ministry trips (15 to Russia, 2 to Ukraine, 2 to Spain, and 1 to Nigeria). Since 2011, I have gone to Russia once a year to help train pastors and emerging leaders, teaching a three-day course on a book of the Bible. Carol and I will be heading to Moscow next month on yet another ministry trip. Since Spring 2017, I have had the privilege of mentoring students as an adjunct professor, teaching online courses 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 34th 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). I want to finish well.

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 in a wide variety of ministries—at First Central, Walk Thru the Bible, Regent University, and in Russia. I thank God for grace.

May God grant me the grace and strength to continue serving him for many more years to come.

 

The power of a good example

St. Francis once called to one of his young monks, “Let’s go down to the town to preach.” The novice, delighted at being singled out to be the companion of Francis, quickly obeyed. They passed through the principal streets, turned down many of the byways and alleys, made their way out to some of the suburbs, and at length returned by a winding route to the monastery gate. As they approached it, the younger man reminded Francis of his original intention. “You have forgotten, Father,” he said, “that we went down to the town to preach!” “My son,” Francis replied, “we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. We have been seen by many; our behavior has been closely watched; it was thus that we preached our morning sermon. It is of no use, my son, to walk anywhere to preach unless we preach everywhere as we walk!”

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2019 in Personal growth, Preaching, Quotes