Month: August 2014

Friday RoundUp For August 29th, 2014

Here are some of the posts that I have enjoyed from other people’s blogs this week:

 

Nate Martin  –  Scared of Seminary

Tomorrow marks my first day as a seminary student at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. I am thrilled of course, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I was scared. I am scared because I am about to get exactly what I asked for and it makes me very uncomfortable. Let me explain… CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

 

J.D. Greear-  What David Platt’s IMB Presidency Signals About Our Future:

This morning, the International Mission Board (IMB) trustees announced David Platt as the new IMB President. I have no doubts that he is God’s man, chosen for this task in this hour. Personally, I could not be more thrilled. I think this is a wonderful gift of God to our Convention of churches….CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

 

Josh Patterson –  4 Leadership Lessons From Nehemiah

Leadership tends to define itself better in person than on a page. In recent decades leadership has vaulted to the forefront of organizational discussion, classroom research and publishing houses across the world. Books on the topic abound. In their work, “Classical Leadership,” Michelle Doyle and Mark Smith write, “What is leadership? It seems to be one of those qualities that you know when you see it, but is difficult to describe. There are almost as many definitions as there are commentators.” CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

 

Thabiti Anyabwile-   Is It “Goodbye Evangelicalism” or “We Evangelicals Join in Your Suffering”?

When James Cone wrote A Black Theology of Liberation in the late 1960s, he was attempting to provide a theological framework for understanding and guiding the feelings and actions of African-American protestors. He wrote in the wake of a deadly riot in Detroit. He felt a burden, a heavy weight to say something meaningful as a Christian. He felt, as many had before him, that if Christianity had no answer for Black people caught in the roiling cauldron of Jim Crow segregation and state-sponsored terrorism then Christianity had no credibility whatsoever. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

 

Ronnie Floyd The Prayer Life of A Pastor

Prayer is built on the Word of God. This prevents us from getting out of balance or off into theological error. Sometimes people think those who practice prayer are intellectual midgets or theologically inferior. Great prayer warriors base their praying on God’s Word, the surest truth in this world. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

Hope for Pastors Who Are Trapped in Depression

LincolnThis past Sunday I preached a message from the book of Job entitled “The Dark Night of the Soul:  The Problem and the Blessings of Depression.”  In this message, we examined the difficult and often neglected subject of depression in the life of believers.  I showed our congregation that Job shows the classic signs in this book of experiencing anxiety and depression.  In this blog post, I would like to extend that conversation to the problem of depression among Pastors.  Specifically, I would like to offer some hope and help for Pastors who are serving the church but who feel trapped in depression.

I understand this problem because I have struggled with depression throughout my life and have been serving in the ministry for over twenty years.  For most of my ministry I have kept my depression a secret — fearful that it would disqualify me from carrying out the call of God on my life.  But a few years ago, I began a journey that has lead me to understand that although depression presents several unique problems it also presents some unique blessings and opportunities.

First, however, let me share some statistics with you that demonstrate just how big of a problem anxiety and depression are among Pastors.  According to a a study conducted by the Schaeffer Institute among those involved in full-time ministry:

  • 50%  feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
  • 80% feel the ministry has negatively affected their family.
  • 70% report battling depression
  • 70% report that they do not have someone they consider a close friend

Obviously, this is one of the most pressing issues facing the clergy in America today.  When I first read these statistics I was both relieved and surprised.  Relieved because for the first time I realized that I was not alone in my struggle and surprised because I talk to Pastors daily and never realized so many were struggling.

The problems created by depression are rather obvious.  Pastors who battle with depression end up feeling isolated, lonely and discouraged.  Often they end up quitting the ministry or worse yet stay in and grow more and more bitter.  Over the past twenty years, I have met dozens of men who once felt the fire of God burning in their soul to preach the Word but who’ve grown despondent and jaded due to depression.  The problems are obvious to everyone, but what we often fail to comprehend is that depression also offers some unique blessings.  

I first began to think about the unique blessings of depression a couple of years ago when I came across an article in The Atlantic magazine detailing Abraham Lincoln’s  struggle with depression.  In that article, Joshua Wolf Shenk discussed Lincoln’s lifelong and public battle with depression.  As I read the article, I couldn’t help but think about how different things are today than they were in Lincoln’s day.  If Lincoln were running today there would be no way he could get elected as a member of town council let alone as President of the United States.  His battle with “melancholy” was far too public for him to be elected in our present political environment.  But Lincoln, thankfully,  lived in a different era — an era when depression was thought to be closely linked with genius.

As Lincoln grew older, Shenk argues that he moved from fearing his melancholy to engaging with it and to eventually transcending it.  Shenk points out that due to his depression, Lincoln was able to see situations with more clarity than others — an phenomenon that researchers have labeled “depressive reality.   This allowed him to come up with creative solutions to the problems of his day.  In addition to these, however, Lincoln’s depression also produced within a sense of humility and determination.  He was not afraid to fail and, in fact, expected to fail more often than he succeeded.  Harriet Beecher Stowe compared him to a wire cable that sways in a storm but holds fast.

As I was reading Shenk’s article a thought occurred to me.  A light bulb went off in my head and it dawned on me that Lincoln would not have been perhaps the greatest President in the history of our nation if he had not been depressed.  Theologically speaking, God has uniquely prepared this man’s personality and psyche for the time and place in which he lived.  But then something even greater popped into my mind — God has made me just the way I am to serve Him.   For years, I had felt embarrassed, ashamed and guilty because I struggle with depression but what if I had been looking at the issue all wrong?  What if my depression was really a gift from God rather than a curse?

Reading that article radically changed the way I looked at depression.  Suddenly, I stopped thinking of depression only in terms of being a curse and started looking at the potential blessings that it might offer.  Now I know that some of you want me to say something along the line of, “and then I got better and was never depressed again.”  We like fairy tales endings where everyone lived happily ever after.  But that’s not what happened.  Recognizing that depression was a blessing from God didn’t make it go away.  In fact, I’ve come to the realization that I will struggle with depression for the rest of my earthly life.  But that does not mean that there isn’t a silver lining.  What I discovered is that as I became more open and honest about my depression, I started to become more effective in the ministry.  Let give you some of the ways that it has helped:

  • I’ve been able to relate to those in my congregation that are also struggling with depression.
  • I’ve been able to minister to other Pastors who are struggling with the same issue.
  • Knowing and accepting that I struggle with anxiety and depression has helped me to balance my tendency to obsess on the worst possible outcome of any scenario.  This has helped me to embrace the kind of creative thinking Lincoln experienced without focusing too much on the darkest possible outcome.

If you are struggling with depression in the ministry let me offer you a couple of pieces of advice.  First, the sooner you come to grips with it the better.  Second, don’t give up.  If you are hurting so bad that you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or entertaining leaving the ministry please call someone and talk to them.  There is hope.  Third, study the issue of depression and learn as much as you can about it.  The more you understand the unique problems and opportunities it presents the better off you’ll be.  Finally, when the time is right share your struggle with others.  Don’t do this before you are ready and before you are able to help to others but when the time is right don’t hesitate to share your struggle.  WARNING: there will be some in your congregation who will criticize you for being so open but don’t let them discourage you from sharing.  Some in your congregation might think they want Superman for a Pastor but what they really need is YOU.  God has uniquely made you and placed you exactly where He wants you to be.  Your depression is not a surprise to Him.  He wants to use it to make an eternal different in your life and in the lives of the people you serve — so engage it and transcend it through the power of the Gospel.

 

 

 

Lord It’s Hard to Be Humble When I’m Discontented In Every Way

storm cloudsWe live in a society built around perpetual dissatisfaction. As I write these words on my two-year-old MacBook Pro, I cannot help but to think about how much better my life would be if I went out and bought one of Apple’s latest computers. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with my present computer; in fact, it is the best computer I’ve ever owned and still works as good as the day I bought it, maybe even better. The truth is, I don’t need a new computer, but I’ve been preconditioned by the culture around me and the genius marketers at Apple to believe that every time a new, updated MacBook Pro comes out, I need to run out and buy one. The Apple computer bug may not have bitten you, but I am certain there is someplace in your life where you’ve learned to be perpetually discontented. For some people it is cars, for others it is houses, or clothes, or books, or watches, or fishing boats. The list could go on and on. We have been conditioned to think that something will bring ultimate satisfaction to our lives, and we spend our lives on a never-ending quest to find the thing.

         Most people spend their lives looking for something that will bring them ultimate satisfaction. Like Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes, we desperately try to find contentment in wealth, pleasure, education, and success, but these always turn out to be mere vanity. In Ecclesiastes, the word translated as “vanity” is the Hebrew word hevel, which refers to something that has no weight or substance. I like to think of the word hevel like cotton candy. When I was a kid, our family took a trip to Columbus, Ohio, every year to visit the Ohio State Fair. Every time we would go, I would beg my parents to buy me some cotton candy. They would always make me wait until we were about to leave the fair before they would buy me some. Standing there in line, watching those wonderful strands of pink and blue sugar spin onto a cone, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Round and round the worker would spin the cone, then finally she would hand it to me and at long last I would bite into this luscious cloud of pink and blue colored sugar. For a brief moment, I could taste and feel the strands of cotton candy in my mouth, but before I could really enjoy the moment, it would disappear. No matter how hard you try, you can’t really savor cotton candy. It is empty. You bite into it and, for a moment, it is sweet in your mouth, but then it disappears.

         This is what Solomon had in mind when he said that the pleasures of this world are “vanity.” Like cotton candy, the pleasures of this world and the satisfaction they promise, quickly melt in our mouths and disappear. Temporal things can never satisfy a soul created for eternity. Like Solomon, the things of this world leave us unsatisfied and create in our hearts the constant longing for more, a sense of perpetual discontentedness that always leaves us empty.

         Meekness, on the other hand, produces in our lives a quality nearly nonexistent in our culture: it will make us content. The attitude of meekness comes from having an honest view of our strengths and our weaknesses. We don’t often realize it, but discontentment is often the result of possessing too high a view of ourselves, which results in believing we deserve more than what we’ve gotten from life.

         Contentment comes as the result of having an honest assessment of our lives. There is a direct relationship between our understanding of the gospel and our level of contentment. Our sinful pride tries to deceive us into believing our needs can be met apart from a relationship with God. Like Solomon, our wandering hearts go from one thing to the next in a desperate search for meaning but never finding any satisfaction. If you stop to think about it, nearly every sin we can commit represents an attempt to find satisfaction apart from God. The gospel demonstrates that the only way to find genuine satisfaction in our lives is to be reconciled to God.

Meek = Submissive (but submissive to the will of God)

Joe BuchananYesterday, I began a series of blog posts on the importance of meekness or humility in the life of the believer.  I mentioned in that post that Moses is a classic example of what meekness looks like.  Today, I would like to explore the issue further by looking more carefully at the life of Moses and then to provide an example of how God has taught me humility.

The Pride of Moses’ Youth

The story of Moses is one of the most interesting in the entire Bible. Few men have ever been born with such high expectations of what their life’s purpose was going to be, only to then have their lives redirected in such an unexpected way. Having grown up in the house of Pharaoh, Moses had all of the privileges of growing up in the royal family. He had access to the educational, cultural, and political benefits of being the adopted grandson of the ruler of Egypt. But in spite of his privileged position, Moses never forgot where he came from; down deep in his heart, he knew he was a Jew and his national identity came to a head one day when he witnessed an Egyptian beating a Hebrew.

The Bible says that Moses “looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (Exodus 2:12). The very next day, Moses witnessed two Hebrews fighting, and once again tried to intervene by saying to one of them, “Why do you strike your companion?” The man answered him, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:13–14). Moses became afraid, and it says in the next verse that Pharaoh found out about what Moses had done and put a warrant out on his life. At this point in the story, Moses did what any of us would do in his situation: he ran! He ran as fast and as far as he could, ending up in the land of Midian where he settled down and lived the next forty years of his life.

One thing that makes the life of Moses easy to remember is that his life can be broken down into three equal periods of forty years. During the first forty years, he lived in the house of Pharaoh. During the second forty years, he lived in the desert of Midian, shepherding the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro. Then during the final forty years of his life, he led the children of Israel during the Exodus. Pause and think about those numbers for a minute. Moses spent 80 of his 120 years preparing for the job God called him to do. I know guys who are so anxious to get started working for the kingdom that they can’t even take three years out of their lives to attend seminary. But Moses spent fully two-thirds of his life preparing for the mission God had in store for him. But even more significant is the fact that the first lesson Moses had to learn dealt with meekness.

Moses’ Learns Meekness in the Desert

We can see the need for Moses to cultivate the attitude of meekness in the fact that his initial attempt at leadership failed because he did not wait upon God’s timing or direction. Nowhere in the text of Exodus 1–2 does God speak to Moses and give him directions about how he was supposed to lead the people. Instead of waiting for God’s instruction, Moses acted impulsively and ended up nearly getting himself killed by his own adopted grandfather, the Pharaoh. Thankfully, God had bigger plans for Moses’ life and sent him to school on the backside of the desert.

Having grown up in the home of royalty, Moses must have been shocked by the rustic, tent life of a nomadic shepherd. Nevertheless, God was working out His plan and purposes in Moses’ life, and this required teaching him genuine humility. Nothing will humble a man like being thrown out of the royal family and forced to leave his homeland as a fugitive from justice. If there is anything more humiliating, it would have to be working for your father-in-law for the next forty years—and that is just what Moses ended up doing. For the next forty years of his life, Moses lived in the home of Jethro, his father-in-law, and tended his flocks.

It’s not hard to imagine that Moses might have felt like a total failure during this period in his life. Whatever dreams he’d harbored faded into distant memory as he went about the daily grind of caring for his father-in-law’s sheep. But what Moses could not see was that even in the midst of his greatest setbacks, God was at work accomplishing His divine purpose and plans. If we look at Moses’ life up to this point, all we see is failure and wasted potential. But God had different plans, and the fact that we know how the story ends should remind us to never give up on someone just because they aren’t progressing as fast as we think they should. It took God eighty years to get Moses to the point where he could be used.

The truth of the matter is that one of the most important traits God wants to build into our lives is the attitude of meekness. God is not looking for the most talented, or the most intelligent, or the most powerful people to use. God uses people who are wholly and completely dependent upon Him. This often means that before God can use us, He has to break our reliance on our own natural abilities and talents. In other words, God has to cultivate the attitude of meekness in our lives so that we will learn to be submissive to His will and the control of the Holy Spirit.

How God Taught A Young Preacher Humility

Early in my ministry, I had the great privilege of serving at Open Door Baptist Church in Colliers, West Virginia. Most likely, you’ve never heard of this little church located in the Northern Panhandle of the Mountain State, but I will always have fond memories of the loving people in that church who called me to be their pastor when I was just twenty-four years old and loved me through thick and thin. Over the ten years I served as their pastor, the church grew from an average attendance of twenty-five to over one hundred. While that may not seem like a large or significant church, in that part of the state of West Virginia, we were one of the fastest growing churches within our denomination. Soon I was being invited to speak at our state convention meetings and at other churches around our state.

Somewhere in the middle of this excitement, I began to think the church was growing as the result of my skill and prowess as a pastor. I started to believe that I had a unique ability to grow churches and needed to be serving somewhere where my abilities could be used in a greater capacity. So I started looking for a bigger and better opportunity. Rather than being content with where God had placed me, I began to think I was too big for a rural church in West Virginia. To make a long story short, I ended up taking a pastorate in suburban Richmond, Virginia. The prior pastor had been the son of a well-known evangelist in our denomination, and I was certain that soon I would be pastoring the next great mega church within the Southern Baptist Convention. As you may have guessed, God had very different plans for my ministry.

The three years that I spent pastoring in Richmond turned out to be anything but fun. In fact, they were three of the most difficult years of my life as God literally stripped away everything I’d been depending on for the previous few years. At the time, I did not realize it but God was humbling me so that I would learn to be dependent on Him. This was not an easy experience, but it was necessary, and looking back now, I can praise God.

What I learned during those years is that God will not use anyone who is not fully dependent upon Him. Usually this means having to come face-to-face with who and what we really are. When forced to take a good, hard look at myself during those three years in Richmond, I didn’t like what I saw. It was not that I’d fallen into some notorious or scandalous sin, but something far worse—I’d fallen into the trap of believing I was actually a good guy and a talented pastor. The problem this attitude created was that I stopped depending on God and started relying on myself. It was not until God stripped away all of my self-confidence that I could see how arrogant and self-righteous I had become.

The hardest thing for me to admit in all of this is that when I left Open Door Baptist Church in Colliers, I stepped out of the will of God. Looking back now, I can clearly see it was my own selfish pride rather than the hand of God that moved me to leave that church. Rather than being submissive to the will of God, I went looking for greener pastures. I wanted to do something for God. Something big! Something that would really show how much I loved Him and would help build His kingdom. What I didn’t understand back then is that God is not looking for me to do anything for Him, but instead wants to do something in me. That requires a submissive heart—a heart willing to submit to the will of God, but also that is yielded to the control of the Holy Spirit.

Eventually I learned the lesson, and God has since called me to a wonderful church in Southern Illinois. Honestly, I needed to learn the lesson and am grateful for God for taking me through this experience, but nevertheless, I can now see how wrong my motives were and how unsubmissive to God’s will I was in making that move.