Understanding Your Pastor

PASTORING

I think that most of us in the Church fail to get a real grip on what pastoring is all about. And that is sad and bad. Not only do we stunt our pastors growth, but we cripple ourselves, and flunk some important spiritual lessons.

Three things (there are more, believe me)–

1) Our pastors are sinners. Surprise! They are just like you and me– definitely not superheroes and certainly not always saintly. They will have their moments, and struggles. We really need to understand this to fully receive from their giftings. Just knowing this about them, prepares us to receive deeply and sincerely from their ministries. It seems that their own battles work a brokenness and humility within.

2) Our pastors need to be prayed for. What they do is probably one of the hardest, most challenging work on planet Earth. The good pastors know this. But they still wade courageously into the thick of things. Our real prayers can buttress and stabilize their lives. They substantially encounter the darkness and do warfare for us. Most have a family to pray for, but they also have a Church they must cover too. A local pastor must have active intercessors, or they will certainly stumble and fall.

3) Our pastors must be empowered by the Holy Spirit. God’s work must be done His way. And He repeatedly insists they be filled with the Spirit. They receive power right from the true source. Again, Jesus the True Shepherd gives power and wisdom and grace for each singular moment. A good pastor over time and much prayer– develops discernment and an awareness for his flock. He learns to love them as he watches over them.

Much, much more could be written. There are so many facets to ponder. I only want to encourage you to love and honor your pastor. When you do this, it will probably activate the gift, and fresh ministry will become available. A real work will be done, inside of you and inside your pastor.

“Then I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing. I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Jeremiah 23:4, NLT

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ybic, Bryan

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Pastor Darren Williams Refuge Chapel, Homer AK

Pastor Darren Williams
Refuge Chapel, Homer Alaska

“Go and Learn” [Discipleship]

“Go and learn”

“When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Matthew 9:12-13, NLT

These two verses are a challenge. They fit together like old watch mechanism, small gears and wheels in precise motion, keeping time in a treasured grace.  My father had an old one, used once by a train conductor.  It was made of gold, and had been used for almost 100 years.

The complexity of these verses were never meant to confuse the disciples.  But for them it is simple, to go and learn.”  Certainly, there are times we will be ‘schooled’ in what we learn.  And really the only way to approach this is in humility.  Trying to extract the truth will take patience and a broken heart.

Jesus states the truth of being a doctor, and there is a singular work that a doctor does.  It is serving all who come to him with sickness or injury.  Jesus clarifies a truth that has to be in place.

“Go and learn what the Scriptures mean when they say, `Instead of offering sacrifices to me, I want you to be merciful to others.’ I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.” v.13, CEV

“Go and learn!” This implies that there are lessons for us, classes that we need to take in order to grow-up and touch sick and desperate people.  Funny, but it’s all about mercy, and nothing to do with “sacrifices.”  Mercy is what matters. I want you to be merciful to others.”

I admit that I’d rather be merciful, than to be right. (It’s good to be both.)  But mercy– and gentleness should be our driving impulse.  These attitudes assist us to move us forward. “Go and learn.”

The last verse reveals the thinking that Jesus has.  He has come to help those of us in trouble.  The good people don’t understand, after all, isn’t their ‘sparkly goodness’ enough?  As his disciples, we share our faith to all; but maybe we should consider the weak, poor and the sick already prepared for the words of Jesus? “Go and learn.”

“Discipleship is a lifelong process and journey rooted in a relationship with Jesus, whereby we become more like Christ.”

Greg Atkinson

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‘Wait for the Finals,’ [Spurgeon]

I have gained much from reading Spurgeon over the years. I read this this morning, and I could hear the Holy Spirit speaking into my soul. I need more of this “peaceful perseverance” working in me.
Eric Liddell

Eric Liddell, 1902-1945, Winner of Gold Medal at 1924 Olympics in Paris

From Charle Spurgeon’s “Faith’s Checkbook”
Wait for the Finals

“Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last.”

Genesis 49:19, KJV

“Gad will be attacked by marauding bands, but he will attack them when they retreat.”

NLT

Some of us have been like the tribe of Gad. Our adversaries for a while were too many for us; they came upon us like a troop. Yes, and for the moment they overcame us; and they exulted greatly because of their temporary victory. Thus they only proved the first part of the family heritage to be really ours, for Christ’s people, like Dan, shall have a troop overcoming them.

This being overcome is very painful, and we should have despaired if we had not by faith believed the second line of our father’s benediction, “He shall overcome at the last.” “All’s well that ends well,” said the world’s poet; and he spoke the truth. A war is to be judged, not by first success or defeats, but by that which happens “at the last.” The Lord will give to truth and righteousness victory “at the last”; and, as Mr. Bunyan says, that means forever, for nothing can come after the last.

What we need is patient perseverance in well-doing, calm confidence in our glorious Captain. Christ, our Lord Jesus, would teach us His holy art of setting the face like a flint to go through with work or suffering till we can say, “It is finished.” Hallelujah. Victory! Victory! We believe the promise. “He shall overcome at the last.”

–C.H. Spurgeon

(A Brokenbelievers favorite.)

 

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From the Faith’s Checkbook Mobile Devotional Android app – http://www.LookingUpwardApps.com/fcb

Charles Spurgeon’s Bio on Wikipedia- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Spurgeon

A Grace Suitable for Sinners Like Me

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“Who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

1 Peter 1:5, NASB

Certainty and confidence will never be permanent fixtures in our lives. Yes, I believe there are times of exceptional fortitude when everything just clicks, and we seem to be pretty victorious believers. But I assure you, this is only a temporary state. It isn’t the normal Christian life. And yet, right or wrong, we seem to strive to make this consistency our Christian life.

Gloomy thoughts may often prevail; our fears and doubts become complete seasons of time. There will be doubts and frustration.  I start to lose my passion for Christ, it just trickles away. And since nature abhors a vacuum, other desires and interests move in. I slide into something quite compromised, and often what I previously might’ve condemned.

It is not so much your hold on Christ that saves you, rather it is His hold on you that is truly matters.

It is at these times we must absorb the truth.  It is not your hold on Christ that saves you, rather it is His hold on you that is significant. It’s not how tight we hold on to our Father’s hand, but His grasp on yours. He has soaked up all our sin, and become guilty of it all. He has drawn it all away. He blots it all up with His white heart.

The mercy of God will insist on Him holding you close. Because of His profound love He seems to become overprotective of you.  Anyone who touches you, touches “the apple of His eye.” Let none question, you are His own. The blood of Jesus covers all sin.

“I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him, because He first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, One who loves me; and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted for me, and no moment, therefore, when His care falters.”

J.I. Packer

Are you broken? Flawed, and stumbling? Do you think that you are a poor example of a believer? I tell you, His love is not contingent on your outward behavior. It is a Greek word, it is an “agape” love. Narrowly defined as a “unconditional love,” not related to what you deserve, earn, or warrant. It is a love given without an expectation of a corresponding love in return. This is love, and it travels with grace. And it will end with the same grace.

“The bridge of grace will bear your weight, brother. Thousands of big sinners have gone across that bridge, yea, tens of thousands have gone over it. Some have been the chief of sinners and some have come at the very last of their days but the arch has never yielded beneath their weight. I will go with them trusting to the same support. It will bear me over as it has for them.”   

Charles Spurgeon

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Caregivers: Improving Your Serve

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One of the weightiest issues of caring for a mentally ill spouse, child, or friend, is that it is so phenomenally relentless.  The disease is so unpredictable, in its intensity and its spontaneity.  You think you have the situation in hand, and it breaks out somewhere else, and often in public and causing major problems.  This is wearing on anyone, including the Christian believer. And sometimes that can even make it more challenging.

You will need a support network, if you’re going to be a caregiver.  This support is received in three different ways.

First, emotional support.  Without someone who can listen and give words that encourage you, you’ll grow in resentment and frustration with your particular “lot”.

Second, I would suggest physical support.  You will need someone to help you make sure the practical issues are met.  (washing the car, fixing the shower, etc.) My wife as a caregiver has had to do things that she would normally wouldn’t be called on to do (fix the stove, do the taxes, etc.) because of my illness.

Third, spiritual support.  It has three concentrations. Worship, prayer, and fellowship.  These three have obvious effects on the caregiver.  Just a word to the wise–when you pray you are going into it as two people (as well as for yourself).  You must maintain and strengthen yourself and for the person you are serving.  I think this is critical to your relationship.  Try to see challenges, not obstacles. Don’t forget the power of a worshipping heart or the warmness of good Christian fellowship.

God gives special grace to the caretaker.  My advice is to take it, and then use it.  Draw upon Jesus who is your caregiver.  Present your afflicted one to Him.  Be supernatural in the mundane.  The story of the paralyzed man on his cot being brought into Jesus’ presence by his friends fascinates me.  It has many parallels for you to be a good caregiver.

“And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus,”

Luke 5:18, ESV

My last word of advice is that you don’t be self-critical or feel guilty.  Remember, it is your friend or family member who is the sick one.  Don’t get consumed by your responsibilities.  Don’t fall in the trap of judging yourself by how well you do or don’t do as a caregiver.  Remember, you are not performing for others, but for an audience of One, who sees all.

Educate yourself, use the internet to track down information.  If I can help you further, please feel free to contact me.  I’m not a rocket scientist but if I can encourage you I will.   May the Holy Spirit touch your heart. You are going to need it.

 

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Counseling Others

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Ruth and Naomi

In the last several years, I have grown very skeptical of my own ability to give out sound counsel.  For the most part I have refrained from doing so, and rather have attempted to introduce them to the wisdom and love of Jesus.  Its like a triangle– Jesus, them, and myself occupying each corner.  All I do when I counsel someone is to help them see the Lord.  Hopefully, once a dialogue has taken place I step back and let the supernatural happen.

Much of counseling is facilitating or creating an environment that you can gather information.  Your friend feels that you and your surroundings are “safe” and he/she opens up in that situation.  Almost all of the the time, a certain level of confidentiality must exist and be understood as being “in place”.  A key fact is getting your “permission to counsel.” This must happen in order for the counselee to really receive.

Job and his Three Friends

Usually when I meet with someone, I do not attempt to sound profound, or wise.  Far from it! Instead, I am wary of myself.  I think I’m like a flare shot up in the inky darkness, I  just want to give a few brief moments of illumination before the moment passes. But when God speaks he will enlighten fully and bring understanding. “In his light, we see light”, (Ps. 36:9).

Remember that Job’s friends were at their best when silently sitting with him in the ash and rubble. At that moment, they were very effective counselors.  The problem came when they began to verbally explain why Job’s personal disaster took place.  Very often I find that people have a need to be needed.  They give counsel so they can feel good about themselves.  There is a lot of Christian counseling out there that is sabotaged by this inherent flaw.

Part of speaking wisely to a friend must include the option that I might be totally off-the-wall.  Whatever I say must not be “ex cathedra“, or as truth unchallenged.  Just because I’m giving you counsel does not make me superior, wiser or more authoritative.  It really should take as much humility to counsel, as it takes to be counseled. I can think of an easy dozen encounters that I’m embarrassed by– and will never be able to retract. Yes, mistakes will be made, but we should trust the Holy Spirit to use those missteps. He is sovereign.

“Peer-to-peer” counseling is very much a blessing.  A great need exists in the church for this particular ministry.  But to be a source of wisdom to another should be both a sobering, and a clarifying experience.  We should beware of the pitfalls, and wary of our flesh and its desire for greatness, glory and fame.  To be a counselor can be quite dangerous and I should not seek this place unless its thrust on me. A good counselor is almost always reluctant.

“If you young fellows were wise, the devil couldn’t do anything to you, but since you aren’t wise, you need us who are old.”  Martin Luther

“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.”   Thomas Fuller

ybic, Bryan

 

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Overcoming Darkness: An Interview with Dr. Philip Mitchell

Dr. Philip Mitchell

Professor Mitchell, what is the difference between being depressed and just feeling bad about yourself?

Sometimes it’s easy to tell the difference; sometimes you’re not certain. I look for clinical indicators of depressive illness: whether the person’s life is becoming impaired by these bad feelings, when it’s starting to interfere with people’s sleep, appetite and weight, when it’s interfering with their work and concentration, they’re having suicidal thoughts, they can’t buck up. Those symptoms help me to sort out whether it’s just life problems or whether it’s more.

So depression is an illness?

Yes. Even though there are both psychological and physical parts to it, it makes sense to think of severe depression as an illness. There are good medical and psychological treatments that can help people get out of it.

What proportion of the population is depressed?

Figures vary, but over a lifetime about 15% of the population are prone to getting depression on at least one occasion. So it’s relatively common. Some people only have one episode, but for at least half of those who suffer depression once, it is a recurring experience.

Is depression the sort of thing that certain personality types are likely to suffer?

I think that’s true. Anybody is vulnerable to becoming depressed, if things get difficult for them, but some personality types are more prone than others. For instance, if you tend to look for your own failings and weaknesses, if you expect disasters, you are prone to becoming depressed. People who have fragile self-esteems are prone; people who are excessively perfectionistic can be thrown when things don’t go quite right; people who have long-term high levels of anxiety.

Can you describe what it is like to be depressed?

Patients find it quite hard to describe. They often use analogies, like there is a ‘black cloud’ or a ‘weight’ on them. They say that they just can’t enjoy things any more, that they can’t get the drive to do anything; they stay in bed because they just have no energy or enthusiasm. They tend to ruminate and think about their failings, their hopeless situation. But many people find it hard to communicate the experience; even very articulate people have told me how difficult it is to communicate the experience to other people.

On the other side of the fence, what is it like to be close to someone who is depressed?

I think it’s very wearing. It never ceases to amaze me how couples stay together, particularly when it’s prolonged. Even with the best of good will and human kindness, long-term depression can be a very tiring experience for a spouse or close friend. You may get little response from a depressed person, little enthusiasm, withdrawal. They don’t want to interact socially and sometimes they can be quite irritable. Within a marriage, tension may be increased because the depressed person has no interest in sexual activity. So these things exacerbate the problem.

I sometimes hear it said that depressed people ought to just ‘snap out of it’.  Can they do that?

Not when the depression is severe in the way we have been talking about. If someone can snap out of it, usually they have by that stage. In general, a depressed person doesn’t like the experience and if it was a matter of just getting on and doing something, they would have tried it. Sometimes people need to learn psychological ways of getting out of the depressed state. But sometimes there is a biochemical process going on that means the person isn’t physically able to snap out of it, without professional help.

Often there is a mixture of the physical and the psychological. It’s very rarely one or the other. The more I see depression, the more I see a complex interplay between personality, the biology of our brains and our life experience.

So depressed people can’t snap out of it, but they also can’t explain very easily what is actually troubling them. It’s a very frustrating illness!

Absolutely. It’s hard for people who haven’t dealt with it professionally to have any idea what it’s like to be depressed. So people have this difficulty understanding it, and this tendency to think that the person should be able to get out of it, and the depressed person has difficulty explaining the experience and feels frustrated and stigmatized when people are telling them to snap out of it, because they know they can’t snap out of it. There is enormous tension.

I suppose the big question is, for both the depressed person and those around them, can depression be cured?

Most people with depression can either be cured or significantly helped by available treatments. These days, we have very good treatments. We can’t help everybody, but we can help the vast majority of people we see.

Is it always a long-term cure, or can it happen quickly?

It varies. Often within a few weeks many people have benefited significantly. Some forms of depression require more long-term psychological treatment, others respond very quickly to medication. And there are grades in between.

Is depression like alcoholism, where you can get it under control but never really be beyond its reach?

For most people, that’s probably a realistic comparison. I tell people that they are always going to be prone to becoming depressed, so they need to be wary about relapses in the future. They need to be sensible about their medications, learn techniques to help them, think about whether there are aspects of their lives that they need to change. We can’t always prevent future episodes, but we can usually make them less likely.

William Cowper, Poet 1731-1800

The poet Les Murray recently has been very public about coming out of his depression. It’s interesting that some of the best poetry is written by people who have been depressed. Look at William Cowper, a Christian poet and hymn writer who wrote some of his most moving material during periods of profound depression. So depression can be both creative and destructive.

This raises an important issue for Christians. How do we connect our mental and our spiritual lives?

Cowper became very doubting at times, during his depression. One thing many Christian patients say is that God seems very distant during such periods. I’ve come to accept that as part of the depressive experience rather than a problem with their faith. I’ve seen people with a very deep faith, who yearn to be close to God, and who when depressed feel very barren and remote from God. For instance, J. B. Phillips, the Bible translator, was profoundly depressed for much of his adult life. He has described this sense of distance from God.

JB Phillips, 1906-1982

That is very distressing for Christians. They begin to worry that it is a lack of faith or lack of spiritual growth. But having seen it enough, I think it is just an expression of the depressive experience. Many Christians also feel that depression is a sign of weakness, of spiritual inadequacy, and they have a strong sense of guilt. Unfortunately, I think that often the church, explicitly or implicitly, has encouraged that—that if you have depression, it’s a reflection on your spiritual life. This adds an incredible burden to people who are already feeling guilty and self-critical. It’s a bit like Job’s encouragers, who basically made him feel worse.

Why does there seem to be a large number of depressed people in our churches?

It’s often the more sensitive people who become depressed, and there are often a lot of obsessional and sensitive people in churches. My experience is that there is a lot of depression in our congregations and that we don’t handle it at all well. We often infer, explicitly or implicitly, that the Christian shouldn’t have the experience of depression—that it’s not part of the victorious Christian life. And that causes enormous guilt and makes people less likely to talk about it. I think we have a lot of silent suffering going on in our churches. People just aren’t getting helped, because they feel guilty about having depression. We need to bring out into the open the fact that depression is a common experience, even within the church. And that being a Christian doesn’t stop you from getting depression. And that having depression is no more a failing than having diabetes.

In general, the church deals very badly with mental illness. In the middle ages, it was considered demon possession; in the late 20th century it’s considered a symptom of spiritual inadequacy. But it isn’t necessarily either of these things.

Are people in very demanding ministries especially prone?

They are prone; I don’t know about especially. They are in line for so many of the factors that contribute to depression: burn-out, demoralization, excessive demands, not looking after your own emotional needs, not having time to yourself. I see some of the casualties, and often by then it’s too late because someone has resigned from the ministry or become completely disillusioned. And it’s all too hidden, too hush-hush. We’re dealing with it no better than the secular world; in some ways we’re doing worse.

What then are the ways that a depressed person can be helped, both by individuals and by the church?

Well, especially in the early days, one can be supportive, help people get back into their lives—those normal things of friendship and support, being a sounding board, willing to listen to difficulties. These things might be sufficient to alleviate the early experience of depression.

But if we’re looking at a fully formed depression that’s been going on for a while, the person should be encouraged to seek proper professional help. That doesn’t always mean a psychiatrist; it might mean a GP or a counsellor. Just someone with the skills and training to help. So that’s the first thing, when the support networks have been stretched to the limit.

While that process is happening, it’s important to be around for the depressed person, accepting the fact that it might be a frustrating experience until that person picks up. Not feeling that you have to do everything yourself. There has to be a point where a friend accepts that they can’t provide everything the person needs. That point is usually indicated by signs like someone crying constantly, their work falling apart, withdrawing inexplicably, perhaps losing weight. These things indicate that the depression is getting severe.

Finally, do you think depression has become more of a problem today than it used to be?

It’s an area of debate. There’s no doubt that depression has always existed. The old Greek medical writers are clearly describing patients with depression. There was a book written in the 17th century called The Anatomy of Melancholy which described what we would call depressed patients. So it goes back through the ages; it’s part of the general human experience.

The issue is whether it has become more frequent. People have looked at the occurrence of depression in groups of people born in different decades in this century, and the frequency of occurrence seems to go up as the decades continue. People born in the 60s are more prone to depression than those at similar ages, but born in the 30s. Now, the significance of that is debated. It could be that people in recent decades simply have become more willing to admit to their depression, hence the higher rate of reports. Or it could be true that it is becoming a more common experience, and presumably that reflects changes in society. What those changes are is a very difficult question to answer.

So it’s hard to say whether the loneliness of urban living is a major factor?

Well yes, and it’s a very interesting area of debate. The World Health Organization has released predictions of the impact of different illnesses over the next century. They are saying that depression will be the 21st century’s most disabling condition, in terms of the impact on the individual, frequency and cost to society, on a worldwide basis. That survey included all medical conditions, including cancer and heart disease. So there is a recognition that it is a very prevalent condition, and that it is a very disabling condition to have. Whatever is causing it, we’re going to have to deal with it.

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Philip Mitchell is a Professor at the School of Psychiatry, Prince Henry Hospital in Sydney, Australia.

This article, quoted in its entirety can be found at “The Briefing” an online Christian magazine- http://matthiasmedia.com.au/briefing/longing/3959/

 

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