5 Posts from September 2009

How to Trust When Feeling Troubled

Some of you are facing what could easily be called an unsolvable problem. (How do I know that? I’m a pastor too.) It’s you, especially, I hope to encourage today. Often the situations with no human answers form the platform on which God does some of His best work.

This is illustrated beautifully in the life of Job, who is an ongoing example of unsolvable problems. Job’s biography includes a clipboard full of questions about suffering: Is God fair? Is this situation just? What is a person to learn when going through deep waters of suffering?

In Job, we have a unique and rare look within the veil of heaven and behind the scenes on earth.

The LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.” The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”
Job 1:7–8

What would God say about you if He were to address Satan right now and tell him about your life? “Have you considered ______,” and then He calls your name. As He describes you, what words would he use? With some of you, it might fit very closely to what He said about Job—“blameless and upright.”

Job’s life was an authentic model of courageous living. He had trusted God in the good times. Now the scene was set to determine if Job would trust God in an impossible situation. He endured loss like few have known. His home . . . destroyed. His family . . . perished. His health . . . ruined. His finances . . . wiped out. His friends . . . questioned his godly reputation.

In the long process of working through his questions and struggles, Job finally resolved to trust God—no matter what. He responded, in so many words: “I accept what God has sent. I have accepted good, now I accept adversity.” Read that once more. Acceptance is the secret of his stability.

I find three real reasons Job could respond like this.

1. Job looked up and was comforted by God’s sovereignty. He saw more than God’s actions; he saw His heart. He accepted what God gave as well as what He took away. He saw God’s sovereign love, and he said to his wife, in effect: “Should we not receive both without question?”

2. Job also looked ahead and was reminded of God’s promise. In chapter 19, Job said: “I know that my Redeemer lives, / And at the last He will take His stand on the earth” (19:25). Job was reminded of God’s promise that at the end all will be made right. Looking ahead, he felt spurred on.

3. Job looked within and was shaped by God’s instruction. Job 42:6 states that he looked at his life, as he repented “in dust and ashes.” He saw that God had instructed him in his suffering and illness as in no other way. If I may paraphrase his words, Job said: “Lord, for the first time, I honestly can say, ‘I give myself to You as never before.’”

My friend, if your days have been punctuated by difficulties and nights have been like a long and dark tunnel, find your comfort in God’s sovereign control and everlasting love. We pastors need to remember that God often uses the ministry in us more than He uses us in the ministry.

Your Savior knows your breaking point. The bruising and crushing and melting are designed to reshape you, not ruin you. He’s the Potter, remember, and you’re the clay. Your strength and courage increase the longer He lingers over you. Remembering Job’s secret can make all the difference.


Pastoral Tact

Remember the teacher or seminary professor you had who lacked tact? Learning was regularly sacrificed on the altar of fear. You wondered each session if that was the day you’d be singled out and embarrassed through some public put-down. Remember the salesman you encountered who lacked tact? Once you found that out (and it usually doesn’t take 60 seconds), you wanted only one thing—to get away! Remember the boss you worked for who lacked tact? You never knew if he ever understood you or considered you to be a valuable person. And who could forget that tactless physician? You weren’t a human being; you were Case No. 36—a body with a blood pressure, a history of chronic diarrhea, and stones in your gall bladder—“and you need surgery immediately.” All this was spoken in perfect monotone as he stared at a folder stuffed with x-rays, charts, and papers covered with advanced hieroglyphics. Brilliant, capable, experienced, dignified, and respected . . . but no tact.

Ah, that’s bad . . . but you know what’s worse? A tactless pastor.

The classic example of tactless humanity, I’m ashamed to declare, is the abrasive pastor who feels it his calling to fight for the truth with little or no regard for the listener’s feelings. He seems to delight in developing a devastating pulpit that scourges rather than encourages, that blasts rather than builds. This preacher plows through the feelings of people like a John Deere tractor, leaving them buried in the dirt of blame and shame and, worst of all, deeply offended. Of course, this is supposedly done in the name of the Lord, right? “To do anything less would be compromise and counterfeit.” His murder weapon is that blunt instrument hidden behind his teeth. His favorite modus operandi is either to overlook or openly demean others . . . and the backwash is a back alley strewn with the litter of broken hearts, bitter souls, and former-church attendees.

May I remind you: “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,” writes Solomon. That which turns away wrath is “a gentle answer,” wrote he. The wise person uses his tongue to make “knowledge acceptable,” he adds. And don’t forget the impact of the proverbs, “The tongue of the wise brings healing,” and, “A man has joy in an apt answer and how delightful is a timely word” (see Proverbs 15:28; 15:1-2; 12:18; 15:23). I love the words of Paul to young Pastor Timothy:

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
2 Timothy 2:24–26

As we stand and deliver this Sunday morning, let’s intentionally guard against hurting and spend our efforts healing. We don’t need to compromise the truth of the Word of God. I’m not suggesting that. I’m urging that we be gentle and sensitive when we are touching the tender feelings of others. Go back and read Paul’s counsel once again––slowly and thoughtfully. Let’s get aboard the Lord’s bus and enjoy each other, as we leave the striving to Him.

Love and acceptance of one another are nurtured in a context of tact.


Love Them Tender

Back when I was a kid, I got a bellyache that wouldn’t go away. It hurt so badly I couldn’t stand up straight. Or sit down without increasing the pain. Finally, my folks hauled me over to a big house in West Houston where a doctor lived. He had turned the back section of his house into his office and a small clinic. It was a hot, muggy afternoon. I was scared.

The doc decided I needed a quick exam—but he really felt I was suffering from an attack of appendicitis. He had whispered that under his breath to my mom. I remember the fear that gripped me when I pictured myself having to go to Memorial Hospital, being put to sleep, getting cut on, then enduring those stitches being jerked out.

Looking back, however, I believe that “quick exam” hurt worse than surgery the next day. The guy was rough, I mean really rough. He poked and thumped and pulled and pushed at me like I was Raggedy Andy. I was already in pain, but when ole Dr. Vice Grip was through, I felt like I had been his personal punching bag. To him, I was nothing more than a ten-year-old specimen of Homo sapiens. Male, blond, slight build, 99-degree temperature, with undetermined abdominal pain, lower right side, and nauseated. Never once do I recall his looking at me, listening to me, talking with me, or caring about me. Although young, I distinctly remember feeling like I bored the man—like case No. 13 that day, appendectomy No. 796 for him in his practice. And quite likely, an irritating interruption in his plans for eighteen holes that afternoon.

Granted, a ten-year-old with a bellyache is not the greatest challenge for a seasoned physician to face . . . but his insensitivity left a lasting impression. His lack of tender caring canceled out the significance of all those neatly framed diplomas, achievements, and awards plastered across the wall behind his desk. At that painful, terrifying moment of my life, I needed more than credentials and a diagnosis. Even as a little kid, I needed compassion. A touch of kindness. A gentle, considerate, soft-spoken word of assurance. Something to cushion the blows of the man’s cut-and-dried verdict, “This boy needs surgery—meet me at Memorial at five o’clock today.”

Looking back to more than sixty years ago, I’ve learned a valuable lesson: when people are hurting, they need more than an accurate analysis. More than cold, professional advice. More, much more, than a stern, firm turn of a verbal wrench that cinches everything down tight.

As pastors, we must remember that fragile and delicate are the feelings of most who seek our help. Most of them have unspoken fears. They need to sense we are there because we care . . . not just because it’s our job.

Truth and tact make great bedfellows.



To follow up with last week’s post called, Silver . . . Sloth . . . Self . . . Sex, I want to urge you to watch a gut-level talk on the subject of lust.

I recently delivered this message to those entering ministry, but I share it with you because we never outgrow the crucial reminders. That includes me.

Please, set aside the next half hour and let me encourage you to stand firm in moral purity.

I’m in the trenches right alongside you.


Silver . . . Sloth . . . Self . . . Sex

The title of this post represents a list I received that I will never forget. A seasoned pastor passed it on to a group of us many years ago. In the room sat about two dozen pastors, all of us engaged in various roles of responsibility at different local churches. We had invited this wise servant of God to address the perils facing our church leaders. He didn’t beat around the bush. Throwing diplomacy to the wind, he looked us squarely in the eyes and warned us against those four “occupational hazards” that can easily bring down people who serve the public as God’s representatives.

Go back and read the list again. See if you don’t agree. Those are the four most common battlegrounds of those in ministry. Trace the reasons great men and women have fallen . . . search for the common threads in the tapestry of tragedies. You will find most often a breakdown in the realm of personal morality.

I realize that we may be fed up and frustrated with hearing about moral failure. If you’re like me, you are even wondering what more can (or should) be said about it. But, like cancer, if it is continuing to take such a drastic toll on so many individuals, ignoring it isn’t the answer. An epidemic dare not be tolerated.

It’s important for us to remember that a moral breakdown never occurs suddenly. It comes about slowly, almost imperceptibly, like a slow leak in one of your tires. Some things are tolerated that were once not allowed. We lose the edge . . . we begin to slip . . . we shrug it off and smile instead of facing the truth. Time passes. By and by, sneaky acts of disobedience slip in, but because they are hidden and rationalized, we deny how far we’ve drifted.

I want you to put yourself in the picture of moral erosion and frame it with your particular set of circumstances. I want you to personalize the problem—bring it painfully close to home—don’t analyze it from a theological distance. Otherwise, you will never (and I mean never) come to terms with your own need for a renewal of moral purity.

Some time back I came across an excellent list of questions a small group of men regularly asked one another. Read the questions slowly. I think you’ll agree that they are on target.

•    Have you been with a person of the opposite sex this week in an inappropriate way?
•    Have you been completely above reproach in all your financial dealings this week?
•    Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material this week?
•    Have you spent time daily in prayer and in the Scriptures this week?
•    Have you fulfilled the mandate of your calling this week?
•    Have you taken time off to be with your family this week?
•    Have you just lied to me?

I’d call that an exacting checklist! Before you pass over it too quickly, go back and answer each one for yourself. If you do it often, it will help you avoid the four pitfalls. All of them—Silver . . . Sloth . . . Self . . . Sex—are addressed in those questions.

Let me go one step further. If you don’t already have a group to whom you’re accountable, I urge you to start one. Make that phone call today. Please. Refuse to be an unaccountable pastor.

I shiver when I realize how quickly any one of us could get caught in a moral undertow and be swept into an ocean of tragic consequences.