Tuesday, April 30, 2013

How to Handle Hurts in the Church

Fern and I recently got the pleasure of hearing one of my heroes, Jim Henry, speak at the Mega Metro Pastor’s Conference. He talked to us about how to handle hurts in the ministry. 

He began by sharing some of the painful experiences he had in the ministry. If you are in the ministry very long issues will arise and people will take a cheap shot at you. It comes with the territory. It is just a matter of time. So the issue is not if but when these things occur, how do you respond? Jim's notes apply not only to those in leadership but also to anyone who may experience hurt by others in the church.

1. Face reality. Painful situations hurt. To pretend they do not simply compounds the problem.

2. Pray the Word of God. This is specially a time to stand upon and claim the promises of God. He shared that this one discipline got them through many times.

3. Do not respond too quickly when you are hurt. Sometimes a knee-jerk reaction or a word spoken too soon simply compounds the problem. Make sure you are prayed up and prayed through before you respond to anything. 

4. Remember that it is better to confront an issue than to brush it under the rug. Too often failing to address an issue simply gives it time to get worse. 

5. Try to be noble and respond with grace as best you can. How would Jesus respond in this situation is a good question to ask.

6. Get alone with God and seek his mind and assessment of the situation and how you should respond. Crises and difficult times, unfair accusations and attacks of the enemy never catch the Lord off guard. Remember this, when there is a situation and the church knows about it, you cannot hide. These things almost never go away on their own.

7. Seek wise counsel. There are godly people whom God will bring into your life who will help give you honest feedback and an objective assessment.

8. Compartmentalize. There are times when you simply have to put these things down and take care of other business. If you do not compartmentalize, it can lead to a paralysis of action. By compartmentalizing, I mean, just shut part of that world out for a time. 

9. Remember that people are watching you. By your actions and reactions, you are giving them a life lesson.

10. Understand that a crisis will often make you as a shepherd-leader. What someone meant for evil, God will have meant for good to prepare you for the next leg of your journey.

Let me add a few things that I, too, have learned from difficult situations.

First, no matter what happens, forgive. Do not hold a hurt done to you over someone's head. You can forgive without forgetting. Forgiving is a choice. A heart unwilling to forgive is a heart unable to receive the life-sustaining grace of God.

Second, refuse to be preoccupied with the past. Be grateful for what God is doing now and look forward with anticipation to what He will do in the days ahead.

Third, understand that no matter what happens to you, God either permitted the circumstances, or He will override the circumstances. At times, He caused the circumstances to prepare you for your next assignment in life. Do you think Moses ever fretted during his 39th year in the wilderness or if he had any idea that God was preparing him for his greatest assignment?

Finally, never forget, our lives with all the twists and turns, are in God's hands. He is God and we are not. He is ultimately the one who rights all wrongs and it is sufficient to leave these things in His hands.

At some point you will be hurt by someone in the church. How will you respond? 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Key to Effective Prayer

One of the most intriguing and inspiring classes I took in seminary was "Spiritual Awakenings" taught by Roy Fish. Several years later I had the privilege of teaching that same subject at Southwestern Seminary. As a follow-up to my keen interest, I (along with my wife, Fern) twice attended one-week intensive classes on Spiritual Awakenings at Regents Park College, Oxford University hosted by J. Edwin Orr. Orr, at the time, was considered the world's leading authority on the subject. One lesson I learned through this study has always stuck with me.

I hear and read friends say over and over, "pray for revival,” "pray for an awakening,” or "pray that God will intervene." It seems to me that these are general prayers and as a rule, general prayers are ineffectual prayers. 

How we can better focus our prayers? Let us trust the scripture in Philippians 4:6: "Be anxious for nothing; but in everything (greek word 'panti' meaning 'every single issue or item; all, any, every') with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God..."

We in the church are alarmed by the spiritual condition of family members, friends, co-workers, folks in our neighborhoods, our communities, the media, the sports arena, the business world, the entertainment industry, the academic world and the political world, not to mention the international scene. We are alarmed at the ungodliness that runs rampant, the shifting mores, the prominence of behaviors, attitudes, and  distorted values that the Bible clearly denounces as manifestations of sin.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ question: "What do you want Me to do for you?" (Matthew 20:32, Mark 10:36,51-52, and Luke 18:14) What do you want God to do for you? Would you answer that question in your prayers? Tell the Lord what it is that you want to see happen!

When you pray, I encourage you to pray in specifics. Instead of "Lord, send revival," pray, "Lord, would you open the eyes of our President to see that homosexual marriage is wrong?" "Lord, help the Supreme Court to see that homosexual marriage is detrimental to the nation." "God, intervene in the life of President Obama, Vice-President Biden, Speaker Boehner, and Chief Justice John Roberts." "Lord, in Hollywood, raise up believers who will challenge the hedonistic norms." "Lord, at Harvard, Yale and Princeton, raise up professors who have both brilliant minds and biblical convictions." "Lord, in my church, I pray that you will open our eyes to see the lost all around us." "Lord, I pray that you would place a hedge of protection around my Pastor and make him holy. Keep him from the destructive temptation of the evil one." "Lord, you know my family's needs. Please provide for us and open the right door for employment."

Each of these is an example of "specific" praying. If you will be more specific in your praying, I believe God will be more specific in His answers. Please, let's redirect our prayers to be more specific. I am convinced that if we pray specifically, God will answer specifically!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Q&A: On Atheism

I recently joined a discussion on Quora: "Is Atheism a crutch for those who can't bear the reality of God?"

The question is awkwardly posed due to the juxtaposition of the rational with the emotional. Atheism, by definition, has “begged the question,” as Aristotle framed it, because it assumes the posture that God (however He may be defined) is non-existent. This is a conclusion based on assumptions reinforced by experience which I would argue no matter how extensive it is still severely limited with respect to the possible scope of that which is indeed knowable. 
Atheists, and anyone else for that fact, ought to consider seriously the complexity of our universe both from a macro and micro perspective. Can any rational thinking human being honestly examining the complexity of life in any or all dimensions seriously conclude that everything we perceive just came into existence ex nihilo? The information, for example, contained in the genetic code of a single human cell in its DNA contains enough specific codified information to fill 8,000 volumes. To me it is an absurd notion to conclude that this phenomenon just happened accidently through some contrived scheme of natural selection. 
It is absolutely intellectually honest to conclude that the extent of design and balance in the universe has no other rational explanation than that some superior being designed it and I choose to call that being “GOD.”
As far as the consideration of the notion that Atheism might be perceived as a crutch for those unable to bear the possibility of the reality of God, I think a better question might be posed: “What evidence would a professing Atheist accept as proof that God just might exist somewhere in the realm of reality that they have yet to perceive or even consider as credible?” 
The notion of “not bearing the reality of God” is an emotional description while Atheism by definition is essentially a rational posture. I do think that it is possible for people to draw conclusions based upon emotions and not reason. Yet, even Anthony Flew, a famous former Atheist, came to a posture of Theism, simply because there is something instead of nothing. He concluded that Theism was a more rational posture not because as an Atheist he could not bear the reality of God, but because Theism, ultimately, was simply a more reasonable posture crutches not with withstanding. 
Any honest Atheist would be better served by taking the position of Agnosticism. Then, again, epistemological issues could be raised which might dictate that some truth claims are more credible than others and that is the subject for another day.