Vessel of Clay

broken-clay-jar-chen

Jump right in and make a way,
Do your best and seize the day,
This the advice that they all say,
But how? I’m just a vessel of clay.

What if I try and then I fail?
What if there’s suffering along with this gale?
You say blessed are the weak and so are the meek,
But I’m just a vessel in desperate need of keep.

You say ‘follow me’ by faith I will see,
I follow and struggle and try not to flee,
But through failure and trial I’m reminded that I,
Am not promised victory just because I try.

What if I stumble, what if I fall?
How will I ever then answer this call?
I need to keep pace to finish this race,
But so often I seem to just fall on my face.

In desperate need I look at Your Word,
It reminds me I’m weak but also it stirs,
Truth in my heart that brings me to light,
It’s not up to me, this isn’t my fight.

All along you’ve been present and now I can see,
By your own work a miracle in me,
I may not win but you’ve chosen to stay,
To glorify yourself through this cracked vessel of clay.

-Jeff Clawson

Soli Deo Gloria

An Open Letter To Pastors

war

Dear brothers,

I’m sure many of you have heard of the public resignation of Bob Coy in Ft. Lauderdale this month, as I have. The purpose of this letter is not to muse or lament over this pastor’s public failure. He has not offended or failed me, though I do hurt for him as I also remind myself that I’m more than capable of the same sin; or worse.

There are no shortage of news reports, all the way up to CNN, reporting about his resignation along with countless news articles and blog posts. In reading a few of them a word jumped off the screen this morning which prompted this open letter to my fellow pastors: Epidemic.

More than one article or blog post has determined that pastoral failure to sexual temptation has reached epidemic proportions. I, however, disagree with this assessment. Oh, I do think there is an epidemic. But, I believe the public failures that we read and hear about so often are but a symptom, not the whole disease. The epidemic runs much deeper than that. So many good men have been lost from the ministry and I know I could just as easily be one of them.

I received a copy of Leadership Journal yesterday and the entire issue is about struggle and failure. Like me, you probably have heard many of the gruesome statistics of pastoral dropout. Leadership Journal published that it’s even worse that many of us may have thought. In a side-bar called “Hard Calling” (Spring 2014 issue p. 24) the Journal reports, among other things, some very sobering reminders of this epidemic:

  • 80% of pastors are discouraged in their role as pastors.
  • 50% of pastors would leave the ministry if they could.
  • And, here’s the scariest of them all. For every 20 pastors who go into ministry, only one retires from the ministry. That’s 5%! That’s tragic!

So, what is the epidemic? The epidemic is that we’ve forgotten. We’ve forgotten that this calling is a calling to enter into a fight. It’s a war! And wars have casualties. Any time we forget this truth we run the risk of becoming a casualty ourselves.

Here are three things I believe we must do, immediately: (If you’re reading this and you’re not a pastor, these principles will help you too.)

  1. We must have a continual camaraderie with other men who do what we do. Not so we can develop some kind of sub-culture or help each other  cover up sin, but so we can encourage each other in the life of holiness to which our God has called us. And, the life of holiness to which we also, by the Word of God, call our churches members. (Just for clarity. We’re not called to a higher standard. We’re called to the same standard of holiness but with a stricter judgment. James 3:1)
    • Do not seclude yourself, pastor. If you do, you make yourself a sure target for the enemy. We must have friendship and fellowship with other pastors.
    • Do not push away accountability. Though it’s easier, at times, to lead without accountability around you because it keeps away opposition, accountability is necessary. I know none of us like the prospect of a blow-up in a business meeting or some self-absorbed lay person throwing a monkey wrench in to plans that we’re convinced are of the Lord. But, we must resist the urge to lead without input and accountability. It’s just too dangerous.
    • Have someone in your life that has permission to ask you anything, at any time. That type of accountability, like having your computer monitor facing the door of your office, just may be what you need to “keep it holy” during times of weakness and temptation. And temptation is going to come, often!
  2. We must pray for each other. No, seriously. It’s imperative that we begin to have times, even seasons, of prayer over each other.
    • What if the first question we ask when we meet in our fellowship is not, “how many did you have Sunday?” but instead, “Can I pray for you, right now?” Think of the spiritual difference it makes in us when we know our brothers are praying for us.
    • I have to tell you, one of the most encouraging statements ever made to me was a friend and fellow pastor who told me he was praying for me before he ever knew me. That was incredibly uplifting because I knew he meant it!
  3. We must remember.
    • First, we must remember that every day we wake up and get out of bed we are walking into to a spiritual war. A war that is as real as any conflict we’ve ever seen reported between nations on television. This war is even more vicious and dangerous because we can’t see it with our human eyes. (Ephesians 6:12) There is an enemy and he seeks to destroy. He seeks to destroy you! As soon as you surrendered to dedicate your life to the Gospel of Jesus Christ you became his greatest enemy.
    • Second, we must remember that the calling that God has placed upon our lives is not an easy one. Don’t ever expect it to be. Don’t drop your guard and don’t wish for better days or places. Remember, our calling is to deny ourselves and pick up the cross (the block of wood we will be crucified upon) and follow him. (Matt. 16:24) You can do that where you are!
    • Third, we must remember that we have the greatest power in the universe working within us. His name is Jesus. Failure happens when we rely on our ability instead of his. We must learn to live a life of, “it’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”
    • Finally, we need to remember there are success stories. There have been, and are, men who have lived long lives in service to the gospel, without failing! I know some of them. It is possible to survive and even more than survive, to flourish! There are men in the fellowship of pastors of which I take part who have been pastoring their churches, successful Gospel proclaiming churches for many, many years. Some of them have been faithful for 45 years or more. It can be done and that should be our goal too!

There is one last thing. When a brother struggles or falls that’s when he needs the love of his fellows more than ever. This is the time we reach out, not ostracize. I hope there are pastors who know Bob Coy who are calling just to tell him that God loves him as do they. When a man falls, he is still our brother.

 

Heart Healer

broken heart

Jesus was asked in Matthew 22:36 what the greatest commandment is. You probably remember His answer; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Do you think that’s a lot to ask? Really? God wants me to love Him with all that’s inside me?

Well, before we can come to any conclusions about how this can happen we need to deal with a couple of truths about the heart. First, we all have a heart that’s under attack! That’s right, your heart, as is mine, right now, as your eyes are reading these words is under an attack.

In his book “It’s Your Call,” Gary Barkalow explains that there are three aspects that every person who encounters Jesus Christ through His Gospel will live out:

1. The Truth

Every person is faced with the truth of God through general revelation and then more directly through the special revelation of God the Son. In Psalm 19, the psalmist tells of how the creation speaks of who God is and all the people of the world can see, or hear, this truth. Hebrews 1:1-2 states, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” We are all faced, at some point in our lives with the truth.

2. The Heart

Did you know that you and I were born with a broken heart. Maybe you’re like me. As I read Jesus’ words that I must love God with all, I instantly know that in and of myself I’m unable to love anyone with all; except maybe myself. That’s because we are all born with hearts that are separated from the One who gave us our heart, soul and mind. Thank God, He came after us so that can be remedied!

3. An Assault

Then, those who respond to the Gospel of Jesus and place their faith in Him, both for eternal life and this life now, will undergo an attack from the Evil One himself. The Devil wants to disrupt our relationship with God through Jesus Christ in any way he can. (By the way, that’s why it’s so important to armor up!)

So, how does a broken heart love anyone, much less God, with all?

That brings us to the second truth; it’s a process. Paul Tripp says it this way, “God has chosen that our growth be a process, not an event.” 

How do we begin on the process to love God will all? As stated above, first, armor up with God’s armor to deflect the fiery darts of the devil. (Ephesians 6) Secondly, realize that you and I have a serious tendency to compartmentalize our hearts. That is, we will choose to only give God certain parts of our heart; the parts we feel comfortable giving Him at the moment. If you’re wondering how this works just remember, we’re all master of compartmentalizing our time too. We’re very good and deciding that God only deserves a certain amount of our time. So it is with the heart.

Where do we start?  By remembering that God is the great heart healer. You can trust Him with your heart! As you realize the parts of your heart, soul and mind that you’re not giving Him, learn to trust Him with those parts too. And remember, God is always the great heart healer and He will never, ever break your heart.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

His love is greater than any broken heart.

Jesus is the Prize

I read a blog article this morning on Dan Dewitt’s blog “Theolatte.” He wrote of a new T.V. documentary that shows the life of several wealthy, possession driven, name-it-and-claim-it type pastors in LA. It makes me sad that this show is being produced and broadcast, but  of course there’s nothing I can do about that. What I can do, as Dan has, is give a reminder, biblically, as to what is important in this life. First, here’s the video trailer for this show:

Please know that God does provide for His people. This has always been true and always will be. But, the pursuit of possessions and the things of this world is a death knell to true faith. So here’s my reminder: Jesus is the prize, not the stuff He provides! To miss this truth is to miss the Savior. Here’s what the Apostle John wrote in regard to the desire for riches in this life:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15–17, ESV)

Unfortunately, the world will get yet another dose of an unfortunate side of Christian ministry (so called.) All I can do is hope and pray that this show has little effect over those Jesus can reach with His Gospel. Unfortunately, many have a skewed view of what true Christianity is because of this type of “witness.”  As Dan wrote,  “If all I knew about Christianity came from religious broadcasting I’d likely throw in the towel and join them.”

As a Pastor who lives on a modest salary and works well past 40 hours a week to earn it, (and gladly do it), let me tell you that there are many, many more of us giving our lives away for the Gospel with no care for this world’s “stuff” than there are of those who live like ministry is a means of gain. Here’s Paul’s take on it:

“But godliness with contentment is great gain,” (1 Timothy 6:6, ESV)

“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:9–10, ESV)

Jesus has called us to follow Him forsaking all the things of this world, in trade, that in the life to come, we will be compensated and completely satisfied; in Him.

Here’s a link to Dan Dewitt’s article: http://www.theolatte.com/2013/07/the-posh-pastor/

Unlimited God?

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I’m preparing for my upcoming missions trip to Jamaica. I’ve been invited by my friend, and missionary, Cletus Titus to take a trip there and guest lecture in the Bible college which is something I’m very much looking forward to doing. Of course, I’m working on my lecture notes as I’ve been given the assigment of several topics within the realm of pastoral theology.

One of my assigments is the pastor in regard to government, politics and moral issues. The textbook covers the usual suspects in regard to morality: elections, politics, abortion, prayer in shcools and the public display of the Ten Commandments.

As an introduction to my lecture I wrote this statment:

The moral problems that we see in our country and culture are not stemming from a moral problem. The problem is spiritual. The problem with mankind is always, at its root, a spirtual problem. That being said, we will never fix the moral problems by addressing the moral problems but only by addressing the spiritual.

American Christianity has often failed at this. So many statements which are made reflect the fact that we still don’t get the above truth. So often, we hear statements repeated just because they sound good. (I’m not saying that I’m not guilty of this myself.)

One such statement that ran it’s course on the social media lately was that the tragedy that happened in the elementary school in Newtown Connecticut happened because prayer was taken out of the schools. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much a ridiculous statement. The sad part was that I saw a video clip of a professing atheist who actually got it right.

Actually, the atheist said something that makes a lot more since than what a lot of Christians have been saying. He said that what Christians were saying about the killings of the elementary kids in Newtown Connecticut had nothing to do with prayer not being in schools. This guy doesn’t believe in God but said something about Him that was absolutely true. I won’t get the quote exactly correct but is was basically that God could not be constrained by the lack of prayer in a school. He was right.

The atheist presumed that this meant God doesn’t exist. His assumption is, of course, incorrect but his statement is absolutely true. God is not bound by the lack of men’s prayer. It’s important that we not forget that. This truth doesn’t make me not want to pray, it makes me want to pray all the more. Why? because God, who is, tells me that I can pray; he tells me that I should pray!

Why did those children perish on that dreadful day? Because there’s evil in the world; that’s an undeniable spiritual problem. Why did God allow this to happen? Or, maybe a better question is why does God allow this evil to continue? Well, that’s not so easy to answer is it? Maybe it’s so others, hopefully many others will have the opportunity to be born into a right relationship with Him before He calls a halt to evil with supreme finality.

I believe God is, and I believe He knows what He’s doing. I also believe that all the moral problems that we see in our world are nothing more than a symptom. Our problem is spiritual and it will take a Spiritual solution to fix it.