8 BIBLE PROMISES TO ENCOURAGE YOU

Why do you need encouragement? *Inadequacy for a called task or responsibility?*Weariness of mind, body, and spirit?*Battle fatigue over spiritual warfare?*Discouragement over an unmet goal or unanswered prayer?*Doubts about God’s love and faithfulness?*Conflict with someone you love?*Lack of fruitfulness in your ministry? These are just a few of the factors that threaten our joy or cause us to lose heart. As a frail, depression-prone disciple of Christ, I’m especially susceptible to discouragement. But I’m not without weapons.  The weapon I wield most often to keep me from losing heart is the Word of God, particularly its promises.  Below are eight promises that I’ve memorized and which I repeatedly preach to myself. I’ll let these verses speak for themselves, without my commentary.  But I urge you tp ponder these questions in relation to each promise: What truth in this text encourages me?  Why?What typical situations do I face during the week when I need to preach this promise to myself? 1.   2 Thessalonians 3:3“But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”      2.   1 Corinthians 15:58“My beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that you toil is not in vain in the …

SURPRISED AT SUNRISE

God Penetrates Our Darkness with His Light.                                                                                        A lot of my writing strives to reconcile struggles, especially depression, with faith in a loving God.  But not even a melancholy person like me feels gloomy all the time.  No, sometimes God provides a serendipitous experience and my spirit unexpectedly soars. Like the day on my way to work when a roseate sunrise greeted me, displaying the artistic majesty of God.  Such moments of ravishing beauty make the struggles more bearable.  I was reminded of Psalm 8:1: “O Lord, how majestic is Thy name in all the earth, who hast displayed Thy splendor above the heavens.” That fleeting work of art inflated what had been a depressed spirit that week.  For that day, at least, the beauty instilled enough zest to fulfill the demands of the day with more-than-usual cheerfulness. When I gazed at the sunrise, I was reminded of a popular saying: “Life is not a dress rehearsal.  Live it to the fullest.” That morning, I lived life to the fullest by stopping to stare at the sunrise.  Later that day, I penned the words that follow.                                              Living That Makes SenseSoak up the sunrise.Work will wait.  Absorb the Lord’s art.Let eye-popping hues …

When Faith Doesn’t Work

I am not a Christian because my faith “works” for me. Talk to a devout Mormon, Muslim, or Buddhist and he’ll extol the here-and-now benefits of his faith. He’ll cite a serenity of spirit, or a sense of order that believing brings to his life. Yet his belief system contradicts mine, so logically these various faiths cannot all be true! If I were a Christian just because faith has utility for me, because my days are more likely to unfold in a smooth, trouble-free manner, I’d be a pragmatist, pure and simple. And I’d be prone to shuck my commitment to Christ the moment a different philosophy or religion appeared to offer me more. Don’t get me wrong. Following Christ is not without rewards in the present. My faith often sustains me, provides perspective for decision-making, and injects a merry countenance. But not all the time. There’s the inevitable warfare with the world, the flesh, and the devil to contend with. And in my case, either chronic depression or weaknesses of temperament sometime get the best of me. I’ll keep praying for relief and I’ll strive for sound mental health, yet I don’t want to be among the growing number of Christians who expect …

I’M TIRED OF THESE 7 LEADERSHIP BEHAVIORS

I’ll start by qualifying what I’m about to write. Most vocational church and parachurch leaders deserve more applause than they get.  They’re diligent, caring, teachable, committed to Christ and His church, and often underpaid in a job fraught with pressure and folks’ unrealistic expectations. I’ve served with godly men whose shoes I could never fill (despite my size 15-6E feet). And in my decades of ministry, I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes. But (ah, you knew that word was coming) I’m growing increasingly tired of certain attitudes and behaviors that I’ve observed among some persons in public leadership.  I’m tired of leaders who blame every instance of criticism or opposition on “an attack from Satan.”  If you don’t think God speaks needed words through unsolicited counsel, reproof, or criticism, go through the book of Proverbs.  List all the verses that call for a teachable spirit in response to such input.   These verses represent a much larger sample:   “He who hates reproof is stupid” (Prov. 12:1b). “He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise” (Prov. 15:31). “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Prov. 12:15). Father, help …

5 STRATEGIC LEADERSHIP PASSAGES IN THE BIBLE

 God’s Word is first and foremost a message book, revealing the story and means of redemption. But it’s also a method book, in the broad sense of that term. Pastors, missionaries, teachers, and evangelists may glean from certain texts how-to ideas for fulfilling their calling, or traits/principles essential to completing their tasks. If you’re in leadership, take yourself—and your staff, if you’re in such a position—through the following texts. Take time to absorb passage details, then answer the questions. Also mull over the accompanying application question(s). If you finish any set of questions in just 10-12 minutes, you’re going way too fast. There’s more to absorb in each passage than meets the eye at first. 1.   2 Chronicles 26  Peril of Pride                *What were the evidences of Uzziah’s effectiveness as a king?               *What words in the text reveal reasons for Uzziah’s success?               *How did Uzziah respond to the popularity that stemmed from God’s blessings?               *In what ways did pride show in Uzziah?               *What was the consequence of his pride?               *What timeless lessons about pride and leadership can you glean from this chapter?               *How does pride tend to show among leaders today? (in me?)               *What are some strategies for curbing pride in leaders?  2.   Exodus 18:13-27   …

7 GUIDELINES TO HELP YOU PREPARE FOR YOUR GROUP BIBLE STUDY

Do you prepare your own small group Bible studies or Sunday School lessons? Do you receive published curriculum from your church, but typically revise the lessons in view of the characteristics of your particular group of learners? Do you strive for an interactive session that involves learners, rather than merely lecturing to them? If you answer “Yes” to any of those questions, review the following guidelines for choosing learning activities.  These key words and accompanying questions will spark your thinking and help you make wise methods choices. 1.   Message What teaching approaches will clearly and accurately convey the truths in my Bible passage?  Is it realistic for my learners to discover these truths under my guidance? Should I lecture briefly on context and background to set the stage for intelligent discussion?  Is the material so complex or controversial that this lesson requires more lecture than normal? Remember:  when it comes to Bible study, methods always serve the message. 2.   Environment How does the physical environment of the meeting place affect my choice of learning activities?  Would another group nearby be adversely affected if I employed a noisy mixer or role play? What techniques does the physical setting or lack of equipment eliminate?  …

6 QUESTIONS FOR ENHANCING APPLICATION IN YOUR TEACHING OR PREACHING

The late Larry Richards, biblical scholar and Christian Education specialist, lamented that even good Bible teaching usually stops at the level of interpretation.  In Creative Bible Teaching, he viewed a focus on application as the missing element in much Bible teaching.  In The Seven Laws of the Learner, Bruce Wilkerson made the same point. To increase your sensitivity to application during your message or group Bible study, ponder the following questions during your preparation for teaching. No doubt there is some overlap among these questions. 1.   What is the relationship between the truths in this passage, and my learners? A good communicator keeps one eye on the biblical text, and the other eye on the target group. The truths in a passage are objective.  Truths don’t change no matter who we’re teaching.  But which truths we emphasize or how we illustrate them may vary with the audience.  2.   What roles, relationships, and responsibilities serve as contexts for their application of this Bible passage? Application scenarios we discuss, illustrations we offer, or life-related questions we pose will differ depending on whether the audience consists primarily of teens, businessmen, housewives, or retirees. When push comes to shove, we don’t teach lessons, classes, courses, …

4 WARNINGS FOR CHRISTIAN LEADERS

Inherent in the nature of ministry, and in our still-sinful bent, are dangers for all of us who lead or teach God’s Word.  I repeatedly preach these four warnings to myself.  1.  Beware of pride.There’s a subtle tendency for us to take credit for what God does through us.  How pride shows in leadership includes, but isn’t limited to, unwillingness to accept counsel or reproof; ingratitude; complaining; impatience with others;  subtly drawing attention to our accomplishments in conversations, and an anemic prayer life. (John Wesley said, “No one who prays, struts.”) For a sobering case study on the moral erosion pride causes, read 2 Chronicles 26.  Ask:  What caused Uzziah’s pride? How did pride show in him? What were the consequences?  What personal word is the Holy Spirit saying to me through this narrative?  2.  Beware of basing our identity on our accomplishments.What do we rely on for a sense of significance or identity?  Often it’s the number of people we lead to Christ; the number of churches we plant on the mission field; the growth in members and budget in our local church, or the number of followers we have on social media. But our basis for rejoicing and …

6 PROMISES TO ENCOURAGE THOSE WHO SERVE

 Opposition. Weariness of mind, body, and spirit. Feelings of inadequacy. Discouragement over apparent lack of fruitfulness. What instills resiliency to face these and other obstacles to ministry motivation? For me, one answer is memorizing timeless promises in God’s Word.  The six promises that follow provide high octane fuel that keeps me going.  1.  1 Corinthians 15:58   Therefore, my  beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. Paul attached his call to ministry perseverance, caboose-style, to the promise of resurrection.  That our service won’t be in vain (empty-handed) is as sure as Jesus’ resurrection, and ours.  Also see the sow-reap principle in Galatians 6:7-9.  Paul applies it positively so we won’t lose heart in ministry.  2.  Matthew 28:19-20    Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Though God guarantees His constant presence to all believers (Isaiah 41:10; John 14:16; Hebrews 13:5), Jesus applied this particular promise to those …

See All All Posts

6  TRUTHS TO ENCOURAGE PREACHERS AND TEACHERS

For 45 years, I’ve been teaching Bible in both formal and informal venues. Here are truths that  have cultivated  resiliency within me  despite the inadequacy, warfare, and weariness  that accompany a teaching ministry. You’ll profit more from this post if you read the texts connected to the truths. 1.     The basis for our confidence as communicators is the inherent power of God’s Word. Jeremiah 23:29; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 4:12Our hope and confidence as  preachers or Bible study leaders is not in our giftedness, experience, personality, or education.  It’s the life-changing nature of God’s Word that instills hope that God will use what  we say.   His Word is like a fire, a hammer, and a sword.  We sow seeds of truth within minds and hearts, giving fuel for the Holy Spirit’s work long after the teaching session ends. 2.     Bible teachers “sow to the Spirit” as they prepare and present God’s truth.  Galatians 6:7-9We equate the sow-reap principle with a negative application.  But Paul utilized this principle in a positive way for his readers.  After explaining the principle, he said, “And let us not  lose heart when doing good, for in due time we shall reap if …

3 ways to avoid relativism in group bible discussions

In a Bible study group where the leader employs discussion, “relativism” occurs when participants look inward for answers, rather than observing and interpreting the Bible text for that day. It’s a focus on “what you think the verse means,” rather than on what the text says and means inherently. Relativism occurs when learners unintentionally “create meaning” through subjective opinion about the topic or Bible passage. Here are three ways to prevent relativism, or a “pooling of ignorance,” when your group meets. 1.       Prepare the Participants – Ignorance evaporates when all participants commit to old-fashioned study of the Bible passage. Determine a reasonable amount of “homework” time and ask members to sign a covenant. Devoting thirty minutes to the passage prior to each session won’t turn them into scholars, but it may prompt them to shuck preconceived notions. When you meet, they’ll already have some rapport with the biblical text. Another option is to employ published materials. Look for a Bible study curriculum providing student workbooks as well as leader’s guides. An alternative is to prepare study questions yourself and distribute them a week ahead of time. When you meet, incorporate the homework questions into the publisher’s (or your own) more …

2 essential skills for Bible discussion leaders

During 45 years of teaching and leading group Bible studies, I’ve discovered the value of these skills to facilitate effective interaction: 1.       Qualifying My Questions A good discussion leader keeps the focus on God’s Word rather than human opinion.  When you formulate your own study questions—or adapt those from curriculum—here’s how to prevent discussion from degenerating into a pooling of ignorance.  Keep your participants focused on the Bible text, not their preconceived notions, by qualifying the wording of your questions. The verb “qualify” means “to reduce from a general to a particular or restricted form.”  Applied to questioning, it means to narrow the scope of possible answers by wording probes in a way that directs learners’ attention to God’s wording in the text.  The following examples allow the text, not subjective opinion, to sit on the throne of authority.  The questions come from an adult Bible study on King Uzziah from 2 Chronicles 26.  Notice how the wording shown in italics keeps the spotlight on what is said in the passage. *From verses 1-15, what words/phrases in the text show that King Uzziah was a success? *What reasons for his success can you find in the text? *What verse shows …

Rescuing “rabbits” – 2 ways to deal with tangents in a Bible study group

 “Chasing rabbits” is an analogy describing the activity of participants who steer a discussion off course. They chase down a thread of discussion like it is a nose-twitching, rascally varmint that doesn’t run in a straight line. They zig and zag, bolt right, then left, making it difficult for even a sportsman the caliber of Elmer Fudd of Bugs Bunny cartoon fame to hit them with buckshot. When a member of your group darts after rabbits, the direction of the discussion gets derailed. The word for this problem is “tangent,” defined as a deviation from the intended course. Any remark that digresses from the study slant or is irrelevant to the topic or Bible passage is a tangent. Here are two strategies for keeping your Bible study on track: 1.      Search for a Slant – From a single Bible lesson your group may glean numerous truths. But as you prepare, and while leading the discussion, don’t examine various points in isolation from the larger picture provided by the passage. Your observation and analysis of the text should help you identify an overarching, unifying theme. Clearly communicate the broad theme that governs the passage, and participants will be less likely to …

5 Ways to handle difficult or controversial subject matter

  Essential Strategies for Bible Study Leaders When it comes to certain doctrines or controversial verses, Christians don’t always see eye to eye. Employ these strategies for keeping disputes from demolishing your Bible discussions. 1.      Anticipate participants’ questions. In advance, identify lesson concepts or passage elements that may arouse or confuse them. This principle of anticipation amounts to a “head-them-off-at-the-pass” approach to preparation. Trying to figure out in advance what verses or points are likely to trip them spurs you to do extra spade work on the subject matter. In a session on Mark 3, expecting the inevitable question on verses 28-29 – the unpardonable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit – ensured my readiness to handle it. 2.      Employ lecture to set the stage for discussion. Even in a highly interactive, informal setting, several minutes of historical or background information may be necessary. For instance, in First Corinthians 5:5 Paul “delivers over to Satan” a church member involved in sexual immorality. Don’t ask, “What do you think this means?” Instead, delve into a commentary and be ready to tell them what it probably means. Such an approach protects your group from the snare of speculation and fruitless verbal exchanges. …

5 TIPS FOR MANAGING MONOPOLIZERS

Essential Strategies for Bible Study Leaders                                                                              Every now and then you encounter a group member who’s harder to turn off than Niagara Falls.  Though most monopolizers are motivated learners who are passionately involved with the subject matter, their verbal initiatives often cause passivity among others in the group.  Here are a few ways to increase the percentage of group members who participate.  Introduce a study question with a qualifying remark. I’ve received lots of mileage out of this one: “The next questions should be answered by someone who hasn’t contributed yet today.” (Except I wouldn’t use it if the group consisted of only two or three persons!)  Set specific conditions for learner response. Examples: “I appreciate the responsiveness of ladies in the group.  Men, now it’s your turn to answer the next couple questions.” “The next question must be answered by someone to my right (or someone in the last four rows, whose birthday falls in the spring, etc.)”  Give a couple of group members who don’t monopolize conversations a question or assignment a week in advance. At the appropriate time during the next Bible lesson, ask them to report on their research. Select individuals whom you can count …

WHat is the key to CONFIDENce WHEN I TEACH OR PREACH?

Sometimes I compare myself unfavorably with other speakers.  Their oratorical polish dwarfs mine.  Their magnetic personality appeals to people more than my melancholy temperament.  Or their formal theological training exceeds mine. On other occasions, before I walk to the pulpit to launch the sermon, Satan taunts me.  There are flashbacks to sins from the past week, despite having confessed them.  Or he reminds me of the grown son who isn’t following the Lord.  “Who are you to tell others how to live!?” he whispers. How do I handle these threats to my confidence?  What sustains motivation and passion as a communicator? I preach to myself this message: the primary reason for confidence as a speaker is not my giftedness, nor my years of experience, nor my formal education, nor my personality, nor my spiritual performance during the week.  What keeps me from losing heart is reminding myself of the power inherent in God’s Word.  I’m feeble, but the truth I communicate isn’t! I store verses in my memory bank and review them when demotivating thoughts surface.  When contrasting His words with those of false prophets, God proclaimed, “Is not my word like fire…and like a hammer which shatters a rock?” …

7 GUIDELINES FOR TRANSPARENCY IN TEACHING AND PREACHING

Something is transparent when you can see through it.  A person is transparent when he isn’t pretentious, when he discloses setbacks as well as victories.  He’s called real because he doesn’t mask everything that is going on inside.  His prayer requests are specific and honest (at least among a few trusted persons).  He’s secure enough to tell others when he’s hurting or in need.  He isn’t hampered by excessive fear of what others think of him. As a teacher or Bible study leader, she shares anecdotes from her pilgrimage as a Christ-follower.  She explains how Bible truths she’s covering sustain or challenge her. Yes, teachers and preachers must exercise discretion.  They shouldn’t convey publicly every single failure or area of struggle.  Sermons and Bible studies must keep the spotlight on the text, not the communicator.  But when utilized carefully and intentionally, there is power in the personal. Before choosing what personal things to weave into my lesson or message, I mull over these seven guidelines:1.       Will my personal anecdote accelerate Bible learning by clarifying a truth? 2.       Will sharing the truth’s impact on me increase the likelihood that others will see the relevance of the text to their lives? 3.       …

 6 THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT BIBLE LESSON AND SERMON PREPARATION 

1.       Prepare my heart, not just my head.  I ask God’s Spirit to encourage, convict, or move me to action as needed.  I use the text to inform a time of prayer before I start thinking about how to teach it.  When something in the text moves me to tears, prompts confession of sin, evokes gratitude to God, or buoys my spirit, then I am almost ready to teach it. “No tears in the teacher, no tears in the learner.”  I don’t want to peddle the gospel without enjoying or experiencing it. 2.       Pray for learners/hearers, not just for myself as I prepare and present material.  I can only reach a person’s ears.  God’s Spirit must shuttle truth from the ears, through the head, to the heart.  Teaching or preaching or evangelism is never merely a human endeavor.  Paul delivered the gospel, but it was the Lord who opened Lydia’s heart (Acts 16:14). 3.       Write timeless truths or principles in sentence form.  If I cannot write or type a precise, clear sentence for every truth in the text, how can I possibly verbalize  those truths simply and clearly?  The gift of teaching is seen primarily in the ability to simplify …

See All Bible Teaching and Small Group Ministry Posts

Dangerous Praying

Some prayers are more dangerous than others. One type of prayer that has far-reaching consequences is to ask the Lord to search your heart for hidden sin, or for wrong patterns of thought. This happened to me during meditation on Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” The problem with praying this verse is that God will answer you! For weeks after praying I became increasingly conscious of a tendency to stretch the truth; of lustful thoughts that I’d rationalized as being “par for the course” for men; of attitudes that kept me from greater intimacy with people close to me. It was as if all hell broke loose in my heart. But God was merely shining His Spirit’s light on sins that I had been tolerating all along. I was more sensitive to them–and I didn’t like what I saw! Yet their exposure led to heartfelt bouts of confession, and a state that was just a little closer to that elusive goal called purity. I just didn’t know that things would get worse before they’d get …

5 LESSER KNOWN WAYS THAT PRIDE SHOWS

Repeatedly in His Word, God warns about the encroachment of pride. That’s because, as John Wesley put it, “All pride is idolatry.” When we’re proud, how does it show? More obvious answers include boasting about accomplishments (even when we’re subtle about it during conversations); an unwillingness to accept unsolicited counsel or reproof; or an air of superiority that results in having to win every argument or promoting our own ideas without consideration of others’ input. But here are less obvious attitudes and behaviors that stem from pride.  To my chagrin, I’ve exhibited each of these five symptoms.  1.   ImpatienceWhether I’m muttering under my breath in a traffic jam, agitated over a delay in a doctor’s office, or I’m eager for the other person to stop talking so I can say what’s on my mind, a pattern of impatience reveals that my time and words are ultimately more important. To what extent does impatience describe you? 2.   AnxietyIn Humility:  True Greatness, C. J. Mahaney explains that pride births worry: “When I’m experiencing anxiety, I’m trying to be self-sufficient.  I’m acting independently of God.” He’s on to something.  Peter also linked anxiety with pride: “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace …

7 THINGS TO DO WHILE WAITING ON GOD

Puzzling. Frustrating. Gut-wrenching. When we’re waiting on God to act, those words describe us.  We may be waiting for provision of a new job; for God to woo a grown child back to faith; for Him to open the womb for a baby desperately wanted, or to bless us with a wife or husband.  From my experiences and from God’s Word, here’s what I’ve learned to do while waiting. 1.  Keep on praying. Yes, it’s easier said than done when God has repeatedly answered with silence.  But I keep praying because Jesus commanded us to do it. In a text where Jesus taught His followers how to pray, He emphasized persistence (Luke 11:1-13). He employed a verb tense calling for continuous action: “Everyone who keeps asking, receives; and he who keeps seeking, finds; and to him who keeps knocking, it shall be opened” (verse 10, translation mine). 2.  Study the lives of Bible characters who waited on God for a long time. Abraham (Genesis 12—21) waited twenty-five years for God to give the promised heir through Sarah. Joseph (Genesis 39—41) unjustly languished in jail for more than two years before God catapulted him to prominence and his administrative destiny was fulfilled. Twenty five years …

1 APPLICATION OF JESUS’ DEATH AND RESURRECTION

​So what? According to Johnny Miller, former pastor and past President of Columbia International University, that’s the most important question to ask when we study the Bible. The text says this (observation).  So what? The text means this (interpretation).  So what?   This second “So what?” should lead us to implications of the truth for our lives (application). For those of us who believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus, so what?  The events of the first Easter spawn numerous implications, but here’s one that inspires me today.  I can pray “in Jesus’ name,” not in my own name. Allow me to unpack this obvious statement. Ever had such a bad day spiritually that you doubted God wanted to spend any personal time with you?  Ever feel unacceptable to Him, hesitant to pray, because you’re doubting your acceptability to Him based on the day’s substandard performance? The demands of work or family responsibilities crowded out your usual morning devotions. You spoke too harshly to your spouse. You dropped the ball over lunch and didn’t take advantage of the opening an unchurched friend gave you to share your personal testimony. A traffic jam generated irritation and spawned a barrage of negative …

8 QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU DETERMINE IF YOU’VE REALLY FORGIVEN SOMEONE

We can fool ourselves into thinking we’ve forgiven another person, when resentment still simmers beneath the surface of our hearts.  I know this from painful experience.    Warning:  asking ourselves these questions may spur repentance toward God for our bitterness, and confession to the person who’s the object of resentment. To glean the most from the questions, peruse the Bible reference(s) before moving to the next question.  1. Have I done my part to seek reconciliation with this person?  Romans 12:18 Forgiving someone doesn’t always lead to reconciliation or renewed trust.  We can’t control the other person’s response to us, no matter how humble or winsome our attitude is when we approach him.  2. Have thoughts of revenge or payback stopped surfacing in my mind?  Romans 12:19-21  3. Do I pray for this person and honestly wish him or her well?  Matthew 5:44  4. Can I talk about this person without a hard edge to my tone of voice, and without mean-spirited nonverbal communication?   Proverbs 15:1; Ephesians 4:31  5. Have I stopped telling others what this person did to me?  Ephesians 4:29  6. Am I willing to bless or to assist this person in a time of need?  Exodus 23:4  7. Do I have more deep-seated joy than I …

10 questions your accountability partner should ask you

For Patrick Morley, “Accountability is to be regularly answerable for each of the key areas of our lives to qualified people.” According to Charles Swindoll, “Accountability is giving one or more trusted persons the permission to ask you the hard questions.” Seeking someone to hold you accountable for growth and holiness requires humility and transparency.  And it indicates that you see the danger in too much privacy.  Here are questions I gave to my accountability partner, who poses them a couple times a month.   Did you maintain a regular “quiet time” with the Lord during which you cultivated intimacy through prayer and Bible reading? Did you say or do anything since we last talked that constituted a breach of integrity? Did you spend adequate time investing in key relationships: spouse, children, close friends? Has your use of time recently been characterized by diligence and loyalty to work or ministry responsibilities? Did you take care of yourself physically through sound eating habits, exercise, and rest? Did you say, write, or do anything in relation to a member of the opposite sex that you wouldn’t want your spouse to know? Have you made yourself more vulnerable to sexual temptation by what you’ve …

20 QUESTIONS TO ASk A MENTOR

Whether you’re a homemaker, a businessman, or a vocational Christian leader, I hope you regularly pick the brains of older, mature people whose walk with the Lord you respect. Tapping into their wisdom and experience is a hinge on which your growth and effectiveness will turn. Select a few of the questions that follow to ask your mentor. The more transparent he or she is, the more valuable the input. If the replies are succinct or too general, pose follow-up probes that seek specificity, clarification, elaboration, or examples. Why do this? The person who learns only from himself has a fool for a teacher.  If you were 21 again, what would you do differently? Why? If you were 21 again, what would you do the same? Why? What book on personal spiritual growth has ministered most to you? Explain. What book on leadership or church ministry do you consider a “must read”? Why? In following Christ or in ministry, what keeps folks from finishing well? What suggestions can you offer that will increase the likelihood of finishing well? What have you learned about preventing or managing interpersonal conflict? What is the #1 thing you’ve learned about maintaining a strong marriage? …

10 THINGS I’VE LEARNED FOR SURE

After 67 years, some things life and God’s Word have taught me are lodged in my mind and regularly demand my attention and application. I’m convinced that the following ten statements pass the test of truth.If you want this post to make a difference in your life, read the Bible verses that accompany each point. Then ponder the implications for your walk with Christ, ministry, relationships, and choices. 1.God will exist after I die. (1 Timothy 1:17) I know what you’re thinking: “You earned a Ph.D. to discover this!?” But if you often push down too hard on the ministry accelerator, mull over its implications. 2.Cemeteries are filled with indispensable people. (Psalm 39:4-6, 49:8-12, 90:9-12) As John Wesley put it, “God buries His workmen, but His work goes on.” Have an extended prayer time in a cemetery and a realistic perspective will soak in. 3.No matter what you hear on so-called “Christian” television, God does not exist for your sake; you exist for His sake. (Isaiah 43:7) How should this maxim change the way you pray? Your reaction to affliction? 4.“Spiritual experience begins in the mind.” (Romans 12:2) This remark from Stuart Briscoe reminds me that you can have theology …

6 WAYS TO INSTILL GRATITUDE FOR GOD’S FAITHFULNESS  (A Step-by-Step Group Worship Experience You Can Use)

How can you tap into your group or family members’ positive memories of God’s interventions? How can you spark a celebration of His past deeds, leading to a corporate time of praise? 1.Use a Hymn. Go online and find a high-quality choir rendition of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” 2.Distribute the Lyrics and Play the Song. Ask group members to follow along on the sheet as you show the choir singing. I’m told by music professionals that it’s legal to make copies of the sheet music and lyrics for group distribution when there’s no profit-making involved or if the group is associated with a church or school which purchases the music for choir or class usage. 3.Discuss the Song Lyrics. Ask: Which words or phrases in the song mean most to you right now? Why? Words special to me include “Thy compassions they fail not,” “Morning by morning new mercies I see,” “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,” and “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.” 4.Devotional. Give a 10-12 minute devotional from God’s Word on the theme of God’s faithfulness, and the Bible’s call to remember His past deeds. The following Bible texts provide fuel for your thinking:*Lamentations 3:22-25  Words …

3 THINGS THE BIBLE DOESN’T TEACH

The late pastor Ron Dunn quipped, “Many people believe the Bible because they do not know what it says.” He referred to misconceptions some folks have about what it does and does not teach. What they think the Bible teaches, it doesn’t, or if they knew what it really taught, they’d be less inclined to acknowledge it and commit to it.Here are a few things some Christians believe that don’t stem from God’s Word. 1. “My day will go better if I start with prayer and Bible reading.” Obviously, we need the soul-food ingested during time alone with God. What God’s Spirit teaches us during a quiet time may sustain us throughout the day and inform decisions we make. But it’s a mistake to think that circumstances and relationships and ministry efforts will automatically flow smoothly because we had our devotions. The Lord’s promise of nearness to the broken-hearted and those crushed in spirit implies that our hearts will break and life will sometimes crush us, no matter how we start our day (Ps. 34:18). The next verse adds, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” Personally, some of my worst bouts with depression or most disturbing relational conflicts came on the …

See All Christian Living in the Trenches Posts

3 Principles for Change in a Church

  Integral to leadership is serving as a change agent.  Yet leaders often fail in the way they implement  new ideas.  Unwise approaches often sabotage great ideas.  Applying the three principles that follow may expedite acceptance of your changes. I’m aware of a lot more principles of change, but these three deserve top-shelf priority.    People don’t trust new ideas or programs. They trust (or mistrust) people.        A leader who doesn’t initiate caring relationships with people will be more suspect.        A leader who’s relatively new to the church will seek individuals within who have “source credibility.”  By virtue of their longevity, character, and visibility, these are persons whom the majority of members already respect and revere. Getting these folks on board to help explain and promote the change increases the likelihood of the idea’s success.      A pastor I know wanted to overhaul the Wednesday evening program of his church. But he waited to propose this change until he had spent two years establishing credibility through strong preaching and shepherding of the people.  When the pastor first broached the idea in a deacon’s meeting, an influential deacon said to him, “I’m a bit uncomfortable with your idea.  But I am not uncomfortable with you.  …

3 REASONS NOT TO LOSE HEART IN MINISTRY

Feeling incompetent for required tasksDoubts about fruitfulnessConflicts/oppositionWeariness from overworkPhysical infirmitiesPersonal burdens or family tensions Those are just some of the reasons we get discouraged and our motivation for ministry wanes.Here are three insights from 2 Corinthians 4 that sustain me when people or situations threaten my resolve. 1.    We exercise all ministry “in the sight of God.” In reference to his motivation for gospel ministry, Paul commended himself to every man’s conscience “in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2). Later in the same letter,   as part of a defense of his ministry, Paul insisted that he had been speaking “in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 12:19).  God was his—and  He is our—primary audience when we serve. How does that truth block discouragement?  Even when we’re disappointed  in outcomes of a program initiative, or others’ attitudes threaten our stamina, God sees that we gave  it our best effort.  He remembers our faithfulness to the task and rewards us accordingly.  Though others may fail to recognize or to appreciate our efforts,  that isn’t the case with God.  Hebrews 6:10 reveals His keen memory and offers a hint of divine compensation: “God is not unjust so as to forget your work, …

5 Reasons to Read FAIL:  Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure (by J.R. Briggs)

I’m gearing this post to pastors, associate staff members, pastoral students in Bible College or Seminary, members of church boards, and parachurch leaders. Wives of pastors will also benefit.  If you don’t fit any of these categories, this book will instill within you greater empathy for the pressures a pastor faces. Why should you read FAIL?​1.     Eugene Peterson, experienced pastor and renown author, endorses FAIL and writes the Preface. You can count on one hand the number of pastors or authors as respected as he is for godliness and incisive thinking.  Peterson’s enthusiasm for FAIL is all the prod you should need to digest the book. 2.     FAIL teems with Scripture.  Both painful and redemptive stories stitch together the book’s pages, yet J.R. bathes every topic in God’s Word.  His authority is God’s book, not his or other pastors’ experiences. Whether he’s discussing the definition of success, a leader’s ambition, brokenness, honest praying, reasons not to lose heart, or perspectives on failure, he employs stories or directives from the Bible to buttress his points. 3.    You’ll appreciate the author’s transparency. What J. R. writes about his own pilgrimage as a church worker will convince you that the book’s …

WHY DON’T CHRISTIAN LEADERS CRY ANY MORE?

​When is the last time you saw a Christian leader weep?  Have you ever heard a preacher or conference Bible teacher apologize because he or she shed tears while speaking?  Do you associate public weeping with emotional instability, weakness, or embarrassment?When it comes to leaders, perhaps we should rethink our association of tears with fragility or psychological problems.R.A. Torrey (1856-1928), a reputable Christian leader in Chicago, told the story of a businessman who volunteered in an inner-city rescue mission.  Colonel Clark spoke several times a week to the motley crew of drunkards, thieves, and gamblers.  Despite a dull, rambling preaching style, men listened to Clark, riveted.  Clark led many men to Christ.  These destitute men responded far more positively to Clark than to the more polished messages of highly-trained pastors, such as Torrey himself.According To Torrey, Clark’s secret was his habit of weeping when he spoke or made an evangelistic appeal.  The men, who had shed more than their fair share of tears over their brokenness, saw Clark’s sobbing as proof that he loved them.  For a while in his early years at the mission, Clark felt ashamed of his wailing in front of the men.  He steeled his heart, …

3 Books that Enhanced My Ministry

All leaders are in debt to authors whose books provide practical ministry help.  Here are three authors whom I can’t begin to repay. 1.        Larry Richards, Creative Bible Teaching.  (Revised, Updated version with Gary Bredfeldt, 1998) As a Christian educator, I’ve examined scores of books on teaching, learning, and classroom methodology.  But CBT remains my #1 recommendation for teachers. For thinkers and theologians, Larry’s section on “studying the Bible” shows how important one’s doctrine of Scripture is to how one communicates it.  Elsewhere in the book he examines how people learn, and the implications for teaching them.   The theoretical foundation he provides for the various steps in a lesson plan enables one to write his or her own lessons effectively, and adapt published curriculum materials.  Larry’s explanation of how to increase the likelihood of application is alone worth the price of the book. Put simply, CBT changed the way I think about teaching, and made it easier to apply classes that later trained me in the teaching/learning process.  Get the book.  Highlight it.  Strive to apply its ideas the next time you teach.  If you don’t agree that it helped, I’ll give you back the money you paid for the …

3 Questions To Answer Concerning How To Leave a Church Staff Position

These questions percolated within me when I decided to resign a full-time associate staff position: ·         Who should be the first to know that I’m resigning? An associate should inform the senior pastor or immediate supervisor before spreading the word among other staff members or friends in the congregation.  I know a pastor who felt betrayed when he was one of the last persons to learn of his associate’s resignation.  If you’re the senior pastor, talk to your elders or deacons before church members find out. ·         How can I facilitate a smooth transition to my successor?  Pose the following questions to other staff members, to the church board, and to key lay leaders whom you supervise:  What do you need from me during these last weeks?  What information or training will keep things running smoothly until my successor arrives?  Prepare a notebook or electronic file for your successor, chockfull of program information, office procedures, and policies integral to the job description.  Leave a record of key persons and their contact information.  Ponder ways to save this person’s time once he or she comes on board. ·         After resigning, how long should I remain in the church and community? The …

8 Questions To Ask When You’re Tempted To Change Ministries

“Feuding Cripples Church” That headline was plastered on page 1 of the city newspaper.  By a 17-6 margin, the deacons and trustees had voted the pastor out.  But the pastor refused to budge.  The board changed the locks to keep the pastor out.  The pastor countered with a lawsuit.  During one worship service, as the preacher’s supporters escorted him to the pulpit, they were blocked by a wall of detractors who wouldn’t let them by.  When a shouting match erupted 20 policemen were called to the scene.  When he finally got to preach, foes heckled the pastor and passed around a “competing” collection plate. When is it time to leave a church position?  To make sure your situation never merits adverse media attention, mull over the following suggestions. ·         Why does another job appeal to me?  “All the ways of man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives” (Prov. 16:2).  If the new opportunity paid the same and didn’t promise to escalate my reputation among peers, would it still pique interest? ·         Where can I contribute most to the kingdom of God?  How has the Lord put me together to minister in His name?  Does …

6 BENEFITS OF A TEACHER OR LEADER’S TRANSPARENCY

Do the positive effects of a leader’s transparency outweigh the disadvantages? A transparent leader isn’t pretentious.  With discretion, he shares personal stories from his spiritual pilgrimage, and how the truths he’s teaching affect him.  In the company of trustworthy people, she’s honest when it comes to disclosing prayer requests.   Consider these potential benefits of self-disclosure: 1.        Your transparency will enhance your relationship with listeners or group members and facilitate more one-on-one ministry with them.  They will view you as more approachable and feel safer talking to you, since the experience you shared resonated with them.  They will believe that you understand them and will be less judgmental. 2.       Your transparency will spawn a deeper level of sharing among listeners or group members. They will be less superficial because you have set the pace.  They won’t feel like a second-class Christian because their leader has already demonstrated authenticity.      3.        Your self-disclosure will foster deeper, more authentic fellowship among followers.  Experiencing the relational commands in the New Testament requires a level of openness that not many Christians experience through their friendships or small group participation.  Without a willingness to be transparent, we can’t bear each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2); comfort one another …

The Most Dangerous Kind of False Teaching

Scene 1 He boldly claims that the viewer will receive a transfer of wealth from the world to their bank accounts. Debts will dissolve, they’ll get their dream house or a new car—and healing from debilitating disease to boot.    If only… If only they’ll call and ask for his free packet of “miracle water”–now available in a larger size!  That’s their point of contact with his faith, the hinge on which their personal prosperity turns. I’ve viewed snippets of numerous broadcasts, and every single time he talks about  his miracle water.  Not once have I heard anything remotely resembling a Bible exposition. Hundreds, often a thousand-plus, pack his small-venue meetings across the country.  Gullible attendees and TV viewers get on his mailing list, and send him money to pay for his broadcast time, and a whole lot more. But his is not the kind of false teaching I worry about. Scene 2 She’s articulate and steeped in Bible knowledge.  She quotes verse after verse without turning to the texts in her Bible.  I’ve heard her give a clear plan of salvation and explain the efficacy of the cross.   She travels extensively to speak, often in large church venues.  Satellites beam …

Not All That Sounds “Spiritual” Really Is

Incredulous. That describes my reaction when I heard the renowned TV preacher say it. He isn’t among the materialistic media personalities who propagate a prosperity gospel in order to line their own pockets.  His sermons accentuate sin, the cross, and a need for repentance.  That’s why his remark surprised and disappointed me. “A few of you have inquired about how our church is governed,” he announced during a worship service.  Then he exclaimed, “Our church has three board members: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.”  He explained that the direction of the church and operational decisions are determined by staff who are called by God and anointed to lead it.  “And if you don’t like it, you can leave the church,” he intoned. Sounds spiritual, doesn’t it?  But my perception is that his pronouncement cloaked crass conceit. Yes, a church needs strong leaders who are visionary, who see the big picture of why the church exists, and who make hard decisions not acceptable to all members. But… Even vocational leaders whom God has called, gifted, and mightily used in the past are still sinners.  I’m afraid of leaders who aren’t held accountable by a larger …

See All Church Leadership and Ministry Posts

THERE IS A KIND OF HEALING MORE IMPORTANT THAN PHYSICAL

Chronically ill? Recently lost a loved one? Recurring episodes of depression? Physical disability? If any of these conditions describe you or someone you love, absorb the perspectives and comfort of Joni Eareckson Tada’s Beside Bethesda: 31 Days Toward Deeper Healing (NavPress, 2014). Joni, a quadriplegic for almost 51 years since a diving accident at age 16, writes a compact but powerful  devotional book marked by raw transparency and deep knowledge of God’s Word.  Each reading offers a snippet from her story, and Bible texts that sustain her. Insights I gleaned include, but certainly aren’t limited to, the following:   *Honest, desperate prayer is a means of resiliency during affliction. One of my highlighted excerpts is this: “God may not always say yes to specific requests at specific times, but He will always say yes to the cry of a hungry heart that needs Him more than anything else.”  She also wrote, “I learned a long time ago to stop asking God why, but I frequently ask Him for how.  How am I going to go forward?  How can I endure this?  How can I stay positive and productive as I battle the chronic pain?”   *Memorizing Scripture fuels persistence during suffering. She views her …

THE AUTUMN YEARS OF MARRIAGE

  Perhaps my greatest earthly support in battling depression is my wife, Dolly. Her unconditional love and loyalty anchor me and remind me of how blessed I am even on days when I’m feeling downcast.  On June 5, 2018 we will celebrate 47 years of marriage bliss (46 years of bliss for me, one for her!). If you didn’t read it in my blog on 12/29/17, you can find a post titled “How A Spouse Can Help with Depression” by clicking “Blog” on my home page or use the following link.  I used Dolly’s responses to my depression to illustrate appropriate ways any spouse can respond to his or her partner’s despondency. https://www.penetratingthedarkness.com/2017/12/29/how-can-a-spouse-help-with-depression/ If you’re single and struggle with depression, and marriage someday is a desire, start asking God now for a spouse who will strive to understand you, who won’t judge you spiritually when you have rough days, who’ll pray for you and show affection when you need it most. If you have a teen or single adult child who’s depression-prone or suffering from a different mental illness, start praying regularly for his or her future spouse, and for the strength and maturity that your child’s spouse will need. I posted the following article …

View Post

One Weapon To Wield When Combating Depression

The Life-Changing Effects of Gratitude   A good book informs you. A great book forms you. Why do I consider Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth’s Choosing Gratitude a great book?  Because its content is wedging its way into my daily consciousness and is in the fetal stages of making an observable difference in my life. Typically, depression spawns negative thought patterns: self-condemnation over imperfections; hopelessness concerning the future; doubts about core beliefs, and a greater vulnerability to complaining about inconveniences and frustrating circumstances. Though we can’t always prevent the onset of depression, God has given us as Christians the capacity to manage our responses to despondency.   What Describes Choosing Gratitude? *Biblical   Every chapter teems with principles and specific verses from God’s Word. Some pages appear to have bloodstains because Nancy “bleeds Bible” and uses it for her primary insights on gratitude. *Anecdotal   Attention-grabbing stories, showing both a thankful spirit and ingratitude, dot the pages. *Applicable   Repeatedly, Nancy links a point she makes to typical daily experiences of her readers.  She understands the human heart and the obstacles that try to eclipse a thankful spirit. *Devotional   Nancy ends her book with a 55-page 30-day devotional guide.  Each day’s reading employs a different …

View Post

How Can A Spouse Help with Depression?

What a husband or wife does or says in relation to a depressed spouse can either exacerbate the symptoms or help relieve them. Dolly, my bride of over 46 years, doesn’t understand depression experientially. She’s optimistic, outgoing. Her emotions stay on an even keel. She handles setbacks with simple faith in a loving God. Whether it’s in response to a comic strip, a humorous pet video someone sends her on social media, or part of a phone conversation, her laughter reverberates daily off the walls inside our house. What a priceless wife! And despite her inexperience with depression, she’s wise and sensitive in how she handles my bouts with the darkness. If you’re a spouse of a depression-prone person, learn from one or more of these four reactions that describe her.   1. She lets me know that she’s praying for me. When she knows I’ve had consecutive dark days, I often get a short but inspiring message on my phone at work. “Just want you to know I love you, Babe, and I’m praying for you today.” In his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Richard Foster wrote, “Somtimes people have needs that we cannot personally meet. That’s …

See All Depression and Faith Posts

5 WAYS TO HONOR THE LADY OF THE HOUSE ON MOTHER’S DAY

The majestic Statue of Liberty towers above the entrance to New York harbor.  The French government gave it to the United States.  A sculptor named Bartholdi spent twenty years and a lot of his own money to finish the project.  When he looked for a human model whose facial features he could reproduce as “Lady Liberty,” he picked his own mother. How can you “raise a monument” to honor your own mom, or the mother of your children, this Mother’s day?  1.   A Photo and VerseSelect a good photo of her: your favorite portrait, or a picture of her preparing a meal or holding one of the kids.  Arrange it in an expensive frame, leaving room for the words of Proverbs 31:28-29: “Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, he praises her, saying, ‘Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all.’ ” Don’t hand it to her.  Place it on the counter or on a dresser where she’s sure to spot it early on Mother’s Day. Letting her find it adds the element of surprise. 2.  Empty Envelope Lick a stamp and put it in the corner of a letter envelope.  Write her name and address on …

10 QUESTIONS I WISH I HAD ASKED MY DAD

   My dad, a textile mill worker in rural North Carolina, loved Jesus passionately. Forced to drop out of school in the seventh grade to go to work, after coming to Christ as a young man, he studied the Bible voraciously. Dad taught an adult Bible study class, wrote poems about faith, and often wept when he heard a gospel song on the radio. At 59, he died of kidney failure. At the time I was 29, with two boys.  As I reminisce about him, I realize there’s a lot I never learned about my father, and even more I could have learned from him, but didn’t. I wish I could go back and ask him these questions. How did you come to faith in Christ? I’d probe for who was responsible for leading him to faith, or what circumstances created an openness to the gospel.  As a teen, he was known for hard drinking and fist fights—even gashing others with his knife at times.  What is your favorite Bible book? Chapter?  Verse?  Why? What were your mom and dad like? I never met my paternal grandmother, and my paternal grandfather only once. All I recall is that he was an alcoholic.  I’d …

8 TIPS FOR GIVING CRITICISM

When you need to confront, especially as one Christian to another, or as a leader to someone you supervise, here are tips I’ve learned from 40-plus years in vocational ministry. 1.    Know the conditions for giving criticism. When is it necessary?*Is the person’s attitude or behavior dishonoring God, or in direct defiance of biblical commands/principles?*It is damaging my relationship with this person?*Is it hurting the offender?*Is it exerting a negative impact on the ministry or work environment? 2.     Criticize in private.  Do it face to face if at all possible, not through a text or email.  Use the phone only when distance prohibits a private meeting. Dignify the person by not confronting in front of other staff members.  I had the same policy as a parent:  “Criticize in private.  Praise in public.” 3.     Base the criticism on objective evidence, not rumors. If you are hearing rumors of a person’s inappropriate behavior, perhaps it’s necessary to engage the person in a conversation.  Ask if he’s aware of what is being said about him.  Let him talk.  But don’t assume those rumors are true. 4.    Criticize specific behavior, not one’s character in general.  Employing words such as “You always…” or …

9 TIPS FOR RESPONDING TO A CRITIC

The only surefire way to avoid criticism is to do nothing.  In a span of 45 years of ministry, here are response suggestions that I’ve learned the hard way.​1.     Not every critic or criticism merits a response. If I defend myself from every salvo, the effort siphons off time and energy needed elsewhere.  Ask the Lord for discernment concerning whether to respond, and how.  Be especially hesitant to reply impulsively to critical emails, texts, or tweets.  Perhaps the best response to these forms of criticism is when you don’t hit SEND. 2.     Pray for a teachable, non-defensive spirit.  Critics aren’t always right, yet God’s Word repeatedly tells us to listen. Representative of numerous verses in the book is Proverbs 17:10:  “A rebuke goes deeper into a wise man than a hundred blows into a fool.” Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, received a lot of harsh letters because he went outside the established church to launch a ministry to sailors.  He took every letter into God’s presence and said, “Lord, show me any kernel of truth in this criticism.”  Even if I’m convinced that 90% of what a critic says is off-base, I’m responsible before God to heed the …

The Autumn Years Of Marriage

A long marriage relationship doesn’t make or break one’s character; it merely exposes it. Those years constituting middle age and beyond are particularly revealing. That’s when the kids are in college or living on their own. The schedule no longer revolves around their school or sports’ activities. Then you’re forced to focus on the marriage a bit more and evaluate the status of the marriage, since it’s the primary relationship you have left. Those years bring signs of aging, causing alarm to the extent a person has relied on looks or physical prowess for a sense of significance. It’s during this phase of life that a marriage either deteriorates or grows stronger, depending on the foundation laid in earlier years and the values that control the man and wife. Hopefully, marriage between Christians will echo the qualitative relationship reflected in Proverbs 31:10-11: “An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.” To be sure, failure of the relationship is not inevitable, depending on whether the marriage is analogous to an oak tree or to a cedar. The oak’s leaves turn …

As Long As Forever

My son and daughter-in-law were wed on the beach in South Carolina in 2004. I wrote this poem for them and read it during the ceremony. May their marriage and the marriage of your children last “as long as forever.”Terry 3/31/16 How long should you love this beautiful bride?How long should you stand by Jennifer’s side?How long is her favor too precious to lose?How long should you hold her when she has the blues?How long should the Lord reside in your heart,keeping you two from growing apart?How long should you take time for a walk?Listen whenever she wants to talk?How long should she smell the flowers you’ve sent,and thank God for you when filled with their scent?How long should you keep from raising your voice?Should putting her needs first be your choice?How long should you greet her with hugs and a kiss?How long should she stay number one on your list?How long should her joy be your endeavor?The answer is simple: as long as forever.As long as the waves lick the sand on the shore,retreat, then repeat the cycle once more.As long as the leaves sprout green in the Spring,turn red in the Fall before they take wing.As long as …

FARLEY AND ME

Two Relationship Lessons from My Dachshund From my 7-year-old badger dog, I am striving to learn and apply these insights. 1.  Value of Presence    If I plop down on the couch to watch TV, Farley hops up to join me and nuzzles close.  When I stroll into my home office to study or to use the computer, he tags along.  When I go to the bathroom, he waits for me outside the door.  He wants to be with me, and that’s how I know he loves me. Dwight L. Moody was in his study when his young son sauntered in and stood silently for several minutes.  “Well, what do you want?”  Moody finally asked.  “Nothing,” replied his boy.  “I just want to be where you are, daddy.” Do others sense that I just want to be where they are? Nothing substitutes for our physical presence.  My best friend left his office just to sit with me during one of my worst depressive episodes–Christ with skin on!  (Is it any wonder he’s my best friend!?)   When someone who lives nearby receives a harsh medical diagnosis…when he or she faces serious surgery…when a grandchild is lost to an accident…when they suddenly lose …

See All Relationships Posts

8 EXAMPLES OF BIBLE HEROES WHO WEPT

​Most Christian leaders feel embarrassed and apologetic when they cry, particularly if it’s in public.  We tend to equate weeping with emotional instability, loss of self-control, and fragility that’s the polar opposite of strong leadership. But God’s Word offers a different perspective.  What follows are a few of the faith heroes whose tears made rivulets down their cheeks.  As you peruse these profiles, look for why they cried. 1.  Inconsolable.  The prophet Isaiah couldn’t stomach God’s forecast of judgment for His wayward people: “I will weep bitterly, do not try to comfort me concerning the destruction of the daughter of my people” (Isa. 22:4).   2.  Weeping Prophet.  When he conveyed God’s warning of dire consequences for Judah’s rebellion, Jeremiah admitted, “If you will not listen to it, my soul will sob in secret for such pride; and my eyes will bitterly weep and flow down with tears, because the flock of the Lord has been taken captive” (Jer. 13:17). 3.  Responsive To Revelation.  When a priest read aloud to King Josiah a long-lost copy of the Law, the stark contrast between God’s expectations and the nation’s moral climate broke the king’s heart.  The result was a spate of top-down policies for …

3 LESSONS LEARNED FROM ROBERTSON MCQUILKIN

Robertson—missionary statesman, college president, renown author—is now in the presence of the Lord, whom he loved supremely and served sacrificially. If you could look up the words “finished well” in  a Pictorial Dictionary, you’d see Robertson’s face. In the 35 years I knew him, I learned a lot from his books and chapel messages at Columbia International University.  But he taught me more important things when we verbally interacted, and when I merely observed his life.  What follows are three things he taught me. 1.     Robertson taught me how to weep.   I saw him weep in public twice.  In the 1980s, in a faculty meeting, he told the story of a young married man who had a mental breakdown and killed his infant child, then suffered brain damage when he ran in front of an emergency vehicle that arrived at the scene.  Many days later, Robertson visited the man’s hospital room. The only cards on tables or the wall were from the same relative (not his former wife). His compassion for the person, for the broken marriage, for the senseless loss of life, spilled over in his tears. He wept for the painful effects of sin in our …

The Benefits of “Waiting on God”

​The delay in fulfilling his calling was unexpected and frustrating. After six years of intensive outreach in China, at age 29, Hudson Taylor returned to England, a furlough prompted by poor health. For five years he waited to return, all the while burdened by the spiritual darkness in China, where 30,000 died daily without hearing the Gospel. In Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secrets, his son James explains how those years of waiting tempered the steel of his father’s soul. For periods of time in his London flat in a poor part of the city, Taylor and his family were “shut up to prayer and patience.” Persevering prayer became a deeply-ingrained habit. He experienced “the deep prolonged exercise of a soul that is following hard after God… the gradual strengthening of a man called to walk by faith, not by sight; the unutterable confidence of a heart cleaving to God and God alone.” As those years away from China progressed, when despondency assailed him, “prayer was the only way by which the burdened heart could obtain any relief.” Yet the value of the delay wasn’t restricted to the cultivation of deeper faith through desperate prayer. When his health permitted, he spoke in churches across …

Playing Back God’s Call: A Key to Resiliency 

​In the late 1700s, the British economy relied heavily on the slave trade from Africa. Most captives toiled on large plantations owned by Britishers in the West Indies. The annual export of slaves from Africa’s western coast exceeded 100,000.A year after converting to Christ, William Wilberforce (1759-1833), a Member of Parliament, sensed a call on his life that would keep him in politics. He wrote, “God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade, and the reformation of manners (morals).” A decade later he reiterated the conviction about racial injustice: “The grand object of my parliamentary existence is the abolition of the slave trade…before this grand cause all others dwindle in my eyes.”Wilberforce would need this strong sense of divine call, for the battle for racial justice consumed almost forty-six years of his life (1787-1833). Eleven times the House of Commons defeated his motion to end the slave trade. Opponents threatened his life. Men who he thought were good friends severed ties with him. Political pressure to back down escalated, threatening his re-elections. If they abolished slavery, West Indian assemblies announced they would declare independence from Britain and federate with the United States.One stimulant …

Frailty Doesn’t Disqualify Us

An incident in Jack Murray’s life showed that weakness is not a hindrance to usefulness in God’s kingdom. His son, George, told this story in chapel while he served as President of Columbia International University. ​Jack, a traveling evangelist decades ago, was coming off back-to-back weeks of meetings in local churches. He boarded a plane, headed to yet another week-long engagement. The intensive delivery of messages and constant interactions with people had depleted his mental and physical reserves. Craving a nap so he could recoup, he was delighted to hear that seating was “open” rather than assigned. Since the plane was only half-full, to signal his desire for privacy, he sat by a window, placing his coat and hat on the two adjacent seats. Surprisingly, a sharply-dressed business woman asked to sit in the aisle seat next to him. She tried to engage Jack in conversation, but he cited the exhausting week behind him and said he needed to rest during the flight. He pushed the seat-recliner button, closed his eyes, and leaned his head against the bulkhead. That’s when someone else started talking to him. “Jack, there’s a woman sitting next to you,” whispered God’s Spirit. “Yea, I know. And of all the places she could have …

HOW GOD GETS GLORY – PART 2

Series on Depression and Faith My last post, “How God Gets Glory,” conveyed the ironic truth that our weakness, neediness, or inadequacy provides a grand opportunity for God to receive more honor and praise. Allow me to dissect the concept of God’s glory. The Bible’s emphasis on His glory refers to His weight. That’s the root concept of the noun “glory” and the verb “glorify.” God is heavy in the figurative sense of significance or importance. God insists that He created us for His glory (Isa. 43:7). The Psalmist cried, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give glory” (Ps. 115:1). Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31). In God’s Passion For His Glory, John Piper goes so far as to say, “God’s aim in creating the world was to display the value of His own glory.” During a long-lasting depressive episode years ago, I wrote the following poem to convey the truth of Psalm 50:15. If you didn’t read my previous post, peruse it now, because there I explain the Biblical insight on which this poem is based. HOW? How can God receive most glory in …

How god gets glory

HOW GOD GETS GLORY More than a century before satellites beamed Christian TV programs across the globe, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) was a renowned British pastor.  Due to the depth and eloquence of his preaching, contemporaries dubbed him the “Prince of Expositors.”  He spoke to jam-packed sanctuaries while still in his 20s.  So many folks in London wanted to hear him preach that he occasionally pleaded with church members to stay home so unsaved visitors could get a seat and hear the gospel.  Spurgeon’s mental gifts dwarfed typical Christian leaders.  Publishers still disseminate his devotional books and sermons throughout the world. At first glance, you’d think he’s the last person to feel inadequate or dependent.  Surely the strengths of this behemoth of Church history far eclipsed his weaknesses.   Wrong. Recurring depression dogged Spurgeon most of his adult life.  His first episode descended at age twenty-four.  Here’s what he wrote about it: “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I know not what I wept for.”    Repeated incidences spawned these words: “Causeless depression cannot be reasoned with…as well fight with the mist as with this shapeless, indefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness.”   …

3 BOOKS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE 

A good book informs me.  A great book forms me.  Here are three books that have shaped my thinking and daily walk with Christ. 1.        Knowing God, by James I. Packer His treatment of the attributes of God provides a bedrock foundation for all theological study.  As a young Christian in the 1970s, the chapter on God’s wrath helped me grasp the doctrine of propitiation, or the God-ward aspect of Jesus’ death on the cross.  A chapter titled “These Inward Trials” soothed my soul, and still offers needed perspective due to my lifelong propensity for despondency.  It’s a concise “theology of suffering” that is much-needed in an era in which the so-called “prosperity gospel” proliferates. 2.        Future Grace, by John Piper What a soul-soothing truth:  the more grace we get from God for daily discipleship and ministry, the more glory God gets from our lives.  Rather than trying to “pay back God” for grace—which would nullify it—the right response is to keep going to Him for more of His grace. The chapter titled “Faith In Future Grace vs. Despondency” is my personal favorite.  No matter what causes bouts of depression, there is a spiritual battle to fight—a fight that requires …

See All Stories to Encourage and Inform Posts
View Post

A DOGGONE GOOD IDEA FOR DEPRESSION-PRONE PEOPLE

The Value of a Dog in Coping with Depression The lot on which my house sits is relatively level, but some days, as I walk from the driveway to the entrance, it feels like I’m trudging uphill with a weight on my shoulders. The figurative weight of a depressed spirt seems real enough, causing a slower-than-normal gait. But the second I open the kitchen door, it happens. Farley, My 10-year-old dachshund, greets me with a high-pitched whine of pure elation, his tail thumping loudly and rapidly against the counter, his short legs trying to climb up to me. He’s never satisfied with warm words or a pat on the head. No, the required ritual is for me to hoist him to my eye level, snuggle our heads together, kiss his cheeks, then allowing him to give my face a fresh (?) bath with his tongue. If I don’t complete every phase of the ritual, he dogs my steps until I do. (I couldn’t resist the pun.) For at least a few minutes, his greeting assuages my despair. I know without a doubt I’m loved and treasured. How does a dog help with depression? Physical touch. Who doesn’t need to feel …

WRITING IN THE DARK

  WRITING IN THE DARK Poetic Descriptions of Depression   The purpose of my blogs on depression and faith is to beam rays of light to guide your walk in the dark. That purpose presupposes that faith in Christ engenders hope, and God’s Word offers truths to facilitate endurance despite despondency. Most of my  posts offer resources, practical coping tips that I (and others) have learned, and biblical perspectives. But not this one. I’m giving you four bleak poems, written over a 16-year period, describing depression. (But be sure you read the concluding paragraphs after the final poem.) It’s important to understand the dark thoughts that even a Christian—even a vocational Christian leader like myself—experiences when shrouded in depression.   Poem #1 When depression descends, one of two different emotional states dominate me: either extreme sensitivity and heartache that spawns bouts of weeping, or a numb, robotic condition when I don’t feel a thing, when I couldn’t laugh or cry if you paid me to do it. While on a teaching trip to Ukraine in January 2000, the parched, non-feeling state overwhelmed me, spawning this poem.   Mourning Song Mourn for them. They’re dead and gone, after living so long as …

WHEN YOU DON’T FEEL THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT

Handling Depression When We’re Supposed to be “Merry” Can you identify with one or both of these journal entries? It just doesn’t feel like Christmas this year. The joyful anticipation I once had prior to December 25 has evaporated as I get older. Maybe it’s because the kids are grown and I don’t get to observe their excitement anymore. I tend to feel depressed the closer we get to Christmas. It’s as if there’s no longer any meaning in my spirit attached to this special day, yet I know there is supposed to be. It’s worse if we don’t gather with relatives or friends. The loneliness exacerbates the despondency. I can identify. That’s because I wrote both statements in my journal years ago (on separate years) as Christmas approached. But more recently, there’s a particular insight I “preach to myself” each December that assuages the angst. I’m not saying this perspective eliminates all emotional difficulty, but the reminder definitely improves my attitude each year. I tell myself that the meaning of Christmas doesn’t depend one iota on my feelings or personal experience. Whether or not I feel the religious significance of Jesus’ birth or that elusive “Christmas spirit” isn’t what …

NO MATTER WHAT

When Being Thankful Is Hard When we are needy, lacking some type of provision, worried about the future, is it still reasonable and possible to praise God? Habakkuk 3:17-19 shouts “Yes!” These verses have always resonated with me, urging me to give thanks to the Lord no matter what happens, and no matter how depressed I feel. “Though the fig tree should not blossom, and there be no fruit on the vine; though the yield of the olive should fail, and the fields produce no food; though the flock should be cut off from the fold, and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength.” Notice why Habakkuk could write those words.  No matter what, he knew that nothing could alter or erase his salvation, and that the Lord would strengthen him in (and perhaps through) the affliction. Perhaps he understood that this life is not all there is, and even in his current pain, he knew from experience that the Lord would sustain him. Recently, after reading this text, I wrote my own personal version of Habakkuk 3:17-19.  …

DEPRESSION STATISTICS AREN’T NUMBERS, THEY’RE PEOPLE

The Prevalence and Symptoms of Major Depression Usually sanguine, sixteen-year-old Chad started locking himself in his room more often, texting and calling his friends far less frequently, and attending fewer school and church social functions. He’s sleeping more, even napping during the day for the first time in years. His recent report card revealed at least a letter-grade drop in every subject but one. He’s prone to snap at his younger siblings, and vents hostility toward his parents that’s exaggerated for the occasion. Even one of Chad’s teachers told his mom, “He isn’t the same boy who started the year in my class. It’s as if he doesn’t care anymore.” If they could see inside him, they’d realize that not even Chad grasps what’s happening. He can’t point to a precipitating circumstance for the downward spiral in his mood. He can’t explain why he’s often sad, or why he wrote a poem about dying last week (which no one else has read). Depression Among Young People If 35-40 middle and high school kids attend your church, two or three probably identify with Chad’s depression, though not all depressed persons exhibit the same precise symptoms. Various studies show that anywhere from …

View Post

I Am Depressed, But God is Good

What follows is a journal entry from 2005.  The first part sounds bleak. I was knee-deep in a depressive episode  and couldn’t slog my way out.  I’m posting it to show you how depression expresses itself in the minds or emotions of some Christian workers you may know or encounter.  Yet it’s far from an exhaustive list of symptoms. The second half offers a biblical rebuttal of sorts.  It’s how I “preach to myself “ when despondency descends.  Faith, not despondency, had the last word that year.  By God’s grace, I’m still going strong as a teacher and writer almost eleven years later. Not because all depression episodes are in my past, but because God and His Word sustain me.  Bouts of depression and usefulness in ministry aren’t necessarily mutually-exclusive. Please follow and like:

See All Uncategorized Posts

Why i’m blogging 

Welcome To My Blog and Website The last time I needed a jump was at a remote parking lot at the Charlotte, North Carolina airport. Arriving near midnight, exhausted from an overseas teaching stint and long flight, I was eager to get going on the 100-mile drive to my home. But my Buick wouldn’t start. A week earlier, when I had hoisted my luggage from the backseat at 5:00 a.m., I had left on the interior lights. My frustration evaporated when a service vehicle patrolling the parking lot pulled alongside my car. The driver used jumper cables to connect his strong battery to my depleted one. He started his truck, routing energy to my weak battery. Within minutes I was on my way. That’s what I want to do through this blog and resource site: to pull alongside others and give them a jump so they keep going in Christian living and ministry. The New Testament verb translated “encourage” literally means “to come alongside.” If anything I write rejuvenates the weak batteries of saints and servants, I’ll be happy. My primary qualification isn’t my PhD, the books I’ve written, or 33 years as a full-time professor at a Christian university. …

See All Why I'm Blogging Posts