Pastoral Care

Pastoral Care

Responding to Political Turmoil

1. Model humble repentance.
Christians should be humbly honest about our sin. There’s too much handwringing over the state of our nation and too little honest examination of how the church has drifted from submission to God’s Word as supreme. We scream across the fence about the rusty car in our neighbor’s backyard while the ceiling in our kitchen is caving in. We tend to feel more in common with non-Christians who share our politics than with fellow Christians who view this political moment differently than we do. While Christians decry identity politics, far too many of us identify by our politics. 

2. Anchor your identity in Christ, and don’t let go.
Identity is a struggle for all of us at some point, and identity is a combination of who we are and our framework for understanding who we are. A person who succeeds in almost every area of life yet has a failed marriage can feel like a failure—because his identity is anchored in his family. Alternatively someone who fails in almost every area of life—dad, husband, church member, friend—yet succeeds at work can feel fulfilled because he identifies with his work. A right orientation to life comes from being rightly oriented to God through Jesus Christ. We must identify ourselves primarily as children of God through Jesus Christ. The gospel becomes the primary orienting reality in our lives because we’re children of God loved by a Heavenly Father, declared righteous through the perfectly lived life and sacrificial death of Christ.  

3. Lean into the faithfulness of Christ, and pray.
Hebrews 4 tells us how to approach God: Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens … Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace. When we lean into the faithfulness of Christ, we can be bold, even fearless. We can grab ahold of the legs of our Heavenly Father and plead with him. And he will hear us, because Jesus has gone before us.

4. Commit to grace-fueled, white-hot spirituality.
The so-called casual Christian is increasingly just a non-Christian. In my parents’ and grandparents’ generation, people walked away from Jesus’ church but said they still knew Jesus. My generation doesn’t even pretend to hold onto Jesus. The cultural Christianity of our parents has given birth to non-Christians—what statisticians call the “nones.” I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Romans 12:1–2). Pursue God with your whole heart and life. The greatest threat to our world isn’t a virus or a political party. It’s that millions of people are dying and entering an eternity in hell without Christ. And our most urgent mission is people filled with the good news of Jesus telling the people going to hell that they don’t have to. 

5. Remember the King of kings still reigns!
No matter who the president is, we know who our King is. And he is King of kings and Lord of lords.

  • Proverbs 21:1: Our God holds the king’s heart in his hand.
  • Isaiah 45:7: Our God forms light and creates darkness.
  • Job 42:2: Our God can do all things, and no purpose of his can be thwarted.
  • Lamentations 3:37: Our God speaks, and it comes to pass, and it can’t come to pass, unless he commands it. 
  • Colossians 1:17: Our God is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
  • Revelation 19:11–16: Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True … His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many crowns … On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Our God is the eternal king. Our King reigns, and our King is coming back!

A Prayer for Today

Father, our world is broken, and we’ve proven time and time again that we’re unable to fix it ourselves. We weep with those who weep and hurt with those who are hurting. We pray for peace and justice for the family of George Floyd, and we pray for peace and justice in communities of color. These protests are an expression of pain. Help us respond with appropriate repentance—individually and corporately.

We also pray for justice for all lawlessness, and for the restoration of property and the peace of our cities. And we ask for the peace and protection of law enforcement, national guard, and other folks who are placing their lives on the line to stem the tide of evil. Would you give government officials wisdom to balance the need for justice, security, due process, and freedom of speech?

We intercede for African American members of our congregation that you would grant them peace of mind and grace in Christ. For men, women, and families who put their lives on the line each day in service—that you will give them courage and wisdom. These are such perilous times.

And, Lord, may the church of Christ be a beacon of repentance, hope, and love, and a model for the kind of courageous peace and unity that we see in your Word. May our lives be marked by clear, compelling love for each other and the community around us. And give us opportunities to speak the hope of the gospel into the darkness around us. We ask that you would bring people into the family of God in this time of chaos.

Jesus, you are a Man of Sorrows, well acquainted with grief, and today is a reminder of that grief. You were broken, so that we might be whole; your blood was shed so we might be forgiven. We pray all of this in the name of Jesus the Savior who rose to conquer sin, death, and hell. Amen.

What Are “The Wounds of a Friend”?

Proverbs 27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

1. The wounds of a friend come from a posture of humility.
If we have something difficult to say, it’s communicated best after we’ve dealt with the beam in our own eye. It’s hard to sense humility from someone who approaches us when we’re hurting, so we tend to lash out because of pain. But a true friend identifies with us in our pain, even when they’re telling us hard truths.

2. The wounds of a friend are best built on a foundation of relational trust.
The only way to build trust in a relationship is time and personal investment. Sometimes the threat is so great that you must speak, but if at all possible, wait to speak until you’ve loved faithfully and sacrificially.

3. The wounds of a friend are rooted in a desire to benefit another,  not fix something that irritates me.
We often tend to address what’s personally annoying, but a true friend is willing to cover irritations in love, while lovingly addressing patterns that are harmful to another person. A true friend bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things, when it’s a matter of personal irritation (1 Corinthians 13:7). When a matter threatens someone’s soul or personal wellbeing, a true friend attempts to restore in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1-2).

4. The wounds of a friend are the fruit of courageous love.
It’s hard to tell people something they don’t want to hear. Someone who humbly and lovingly opens your eyes to blind spots in your life is a loving and courageous friend, one worth hanging onto.

5. The wounds of a friend come with healing balm (even though they hurt).
Wounds hurt. There’s no way of getting around this. But because we’re approaching a friend in love, we also stick with our friend to help salve the wound, bind it, and help it heal.

Looking for Margin

Margin is the space to rest, to recharge, to enjoy life with those we love … space to decompress and breathe.

As I get older, the pace of life seems to pick up more and more. Occasionally, I’ll hear someone (often a teenager) comment, “I’m bored.” I honestly can’t remember being bored—other than perhaps occasionally during a class lecture that was particularly tedious. But as far as looking for something to stimulate my mind when I had some “free” time? I just can’t remember that happening.

Life seems to bring a different problem my way—the need for breathing room. You might call this looking for margin. There was a time in my adult life when it was just me … then just me and my wife … then me and my wife and a kid … and then me and my wife and two kids … But I don’t think that margin is about the number of people involved in my life (though increased relationships and responsibility do affect margin).

Every person has the same number of hours in a day and in a week. My days and hours fill up, whether I fill them up or not. So … I’m learning that the only way to have margin is to create margin intentionally, by making sure that there is time for the most important things in life: my relationship with God and local church, my relationships with my wife and kids, and my relationships with friends and other family.

Life will run away with you if you let it; sometimes it even runs over you! Take intentional steps to create margin in your life—for worship, for rest … and yes, even for fun. God designed us to live life with rhythm and margin, and it takes discipline to create margin for the most important things. If you don’t live life with intentionality, you’ll look at your hectic schedule one day and realize that life is out of control.

My fear in life isn’t that I won’t get anything done. It’s that I’ll spend my life doing things that don’t matter or doing things that don’t matter the most.

Embracing Trials with Joy

James 1:2-4 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

We should embrace every trial with joy, because trials make us like more Jesus. How do we know we’re embracing trials with joy? The diagnostic below might help to understand how you respond to trials:

Signs that you might not be enduring with joy:

  • If your first response is to complain, you might not be enduring with joy.
  • If your first response is despair, to go into a shell, you might not be enduring with joy.
  • If your first response is anger and resentment at the people causing the problem, you might not be enduring with joy.
  • If your first response is denial, to ignore the problem, you might not be enduring with joy.

Signs that you are growing in joyful endurance:

  • If you recognize your sinful response, repent of it, and thank God for the trials … even the inconvenient ones.
  • If you can zoom out from the immediate circumstances and recognize God’s sovereign hand governing your life.
  • If you can take a long look at your life and see that you are growing in joy over time, even as you are aware of the fallenness in you and around you.

 

 

 

Transition to Morning Star Church

The last several months have been months of transition for us, as we have prayed about clear direction on next steps in life and ministry. We praise God for His kind hand in leading us to Morning Star Church in Rockford, IL. We look forward to serving them. Our transition period will be a couple of months, and we’d greatly appreciate your prayers for us and for the church. 

Here’s a letter we wrote to the church this week:

Dear Brothers & Sisters at Morning Star,

Thank you for your prayers and for the time you dedicated to getting to know us and letting us get to know you. We are excited to accept your call to serve as the next lead/teaching pastor of your body. We have sought God’s face in this decision along with you, and we have clearly seen His hand leading us to Morning Star Church.

As you can imagine, this was not an easy decision, as it means leaving people that we know well and love deeply. The good thing about the pain of saying goodbye is that it means we have loved and been loved. And we have also felt the Lord placing a deep love in our hearts for you. We have seen the Lord calling us to love and shepherd the church of God at Morning Star … that’s the joy before us.

One of our draws to Morning Star is the need of our hearts to receive care, as well as give it. We feel that Morning Star is a place where that will be true … where we will be built up in love because of the body of Christ around us. So, God is calling us to a place, but we feel most strongly His call to a people … to you. We love you. I love you and want to be your shepherd.

More than any other factor, God used the knitting of our hearts to the people who are Morning Star Church to draw us here. We are excited to get here and excited to know you better. I pray that God makes me a faithful shepherd who loves, leads, and serves the sheep, and I beg your prayers in my behalf and in behalf of my family.

The next several weeks will be emotional ones, as we leave dear friends and family. But we are excited to follow the Lord and excited to love and be loved by the body of Christ at Morning Star.

See you soon.

Grace to you, my brothers and sisters.

Joshua (for Liz too)

Your Local Church: Movement or Institution?

Is the church a movement or an institution? An organization or an organism? While each local church tends toward one end of the spectrum or the other, a scriptural church is both a movement and an institution.

Tim Keller's talk on Church Planting and Movement Dynamics is insightful in assessing the health of a church. I highly recommend it. I'll outline some of the key points of this talk below.

Church Planting and Movement Dynamics

It's true that the book of Acts describes organic church growth. BUT … as soon as the church was founded as a movement, Paul appointed elders, rather than allowing them to just arise on their own. This demonstrates that the church must be BOTH a movement and an institution. Pressing either extreme becomes a problem.

We must keep our focus on the church as a movement. A church can't stay merely movement without becoming chaotic, but over time there will be inexorable pressure to over-institutionalize. This pressure requires constant vigilance and attention, so that a church does not lose its connection to its core vision and commitments.

A Movement:

  1. Is held together by a compelling vision.
  2. Is characterized by a culture of sacrificial commitment (a culture of celebration; intrinsic rewards).
  3. Is characterized by innovation, risk, and flexibility (quick decisions made by unified leadership).
  4. Is characterized by leaders who produce results (thus attracting energetic, gifted young leaders).

An Institution:

  1. Is held together by rules and procedures.
  2. Is characterized by rights, quotas, obligations, and turf (a culture of compensation).
  3. Is characterized by predictability, uniformity, and security (slow decisions and silo-ed thinking).
  4. Is characterized by leaders who “lead” because of tenure and connection (do not attract energetic, gifted young leaders).

Movements attract and produce their own ideas and leaders and thus attract investment. Institutions run out of money, ideas, and leaders.

It is inevitable that movements will institutionalize because there is a tension between a unified compelling vision and a culture of innovation. You have to institutionalize to allow a movement to grow, but you must also guard against institutionalization … or the movement will cease to grow.

Six ways to maintain movement dynamics in your church:

  1. Revival: Grace renewal dynamics; constant spiritual renewal (a white-hot spirituality in worship); Caution: fear, pride, and self-righteousness turn a church into an overly-institutionalized organization.
  2. Vision: A good vision is distinct, simple, and compelling. Developing a distinct vision is typically the most difficult work.
  3. A culture of innovation: Make sure everyone's ideas are listened to, while maintaining a commitment to the vision. Don't shut down feedback or seem to listen, while never committing one way or the other (this kills innovation). Invite feedback, and make a decision in light of the vision.
  4. Organic systems for producing leaders: What's your leadership pipeline? How will you intentionally create and reproduce leaders? A seminary can be helpful but is not enough on its own.
  5. Church planting: There is no better way to enhance movement dynamics than to plant a daughter church. Church planting is the best research and development department possible (especially for cultures that are afraid of risk).
  6. Covenant renewal: Times of prayer and recommitment to the vision. Campaigns related to the compelling vision.

My Conclusion

There is a temptation in all of us to run to the new strategy that will enable our churches to grow. But don't forget about step one: REVIVAL. Before we allow our minds to run too quickly to clever strategies to make dead, institutionalized churches into “movements,” perhaps we should begin with confession of sin and commitment to “white-hot spirituality.” May God give us grace to pursue healthy church life in a way that reflects the gospel in every area.

 

Saying Goodbye

This evening, I read the letter below to our church family. I let the other pastors in our church know of God's leading this way in July. We would appreciate your prayers for God's guidance regarding our next steps. I am thankful to God for the opportunities that He has blessed us with as a result of our time at Hampton Park.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is hard to believe that we are in my sixth year of serving as a pastor at Hampton Park Baptist Church. It has been one of the great joys in my life to serve here and love and be loved by this flock. I thank God for the gifts that He has given this body and the way that you all have used those gifts to minister to Liz, our girls, and me.

I have known virtually no other church than Hampton Park. For the past 32 years, with the exception of a few months away for ministry at various times, I have attended and served in this local body, and I thank God for the influence of the members here in my life. This body has been incredibly generous and gracious to me and my family. Much of who I am today is a result of the ministry of people here. Thank you for your kindness. You wept with us when my dad died, and you rejoiced with us in the subsequent salvation of two of my brothers and more recently in the birth of our two daughters. Space does not permit me to recount all the grace you have shown us. I love you and will forever be deeply indebted to you.

Through a variety of circumstances, the Lord has made it evident to Liz and me that He is moving us on from Hampton Park to pursue ministry elsewhere. We are praying for the growth and continued ministry of this body, and it will always remain dear to our hearts. We greatly desire your prayers for the days ahead, and you certainly have ours.

May God's grace and peace guide you as you seek the health of this body for His glory.

Love your brother in Christ,

Joshua

 

Pursuing Peace without Man-Pleasing

How do we live at peace with everyone, without getting into man-pleasing?

  • Recognize that pleasing God is your most important priority. This takes the pressure off of other relationships.
  • Enjoy the fact that you will ultimately be judged by God, not men. But let this put the fear of God into you too. Romans 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
  • Remember that you aren't the ultimate judge of others and that your conscience or judgment could be wrong.
  • Recognize that God has established a natural hierarchy of relationships for you (spouse, children, immediate family, church, friends, etc.).
  • Remember that truly loving others means that you are opposed to anything that would threaten their good. This means you don't agree to things that are against God's revealed will, against God's design, or against your conscience.
  • Seek to have a pleasant disposition that is gracious toward others. When you disagree, don't do it in a way that stirs up unnecessary strife. We've all been around people who agree with us in a way that makes us want to distance ourselves from them.
  • When you disagree, agree to disagree. Do this in a way that recognizes the disagreement clearly (don't give a false impression) but charitably (speaking the truth in love).
  • Be quick to forgive. Colossians 3:13 Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

 

Self-Assessment for Peace

Isaiah 26:3-4 teaches that we can enjoy peace by resting on God. But how do you know if you actually have peace?

You might not be resting in God if…

  • You worry a lot.
  • You view yourself as a victim of your circumstances, rather than a child of God radically loved by God.
  • You think about your problems more than you talk to God about them.
  • You talk to others about your problems more than you talk to God about them.
  • You struggle to sleep at night because you can't stop thinking about your problems.
  • You try to manipulate situations, rather than trusting God's care for you.
  • Your view of the people around you is big, and your view of God is small (i.e., thinking about people in relation to your problems more than you think about God in relation to your problems).
  • People ask you what's wrong, and you didn't even realize your feelings were showing.
  • You are always believing that other people have it better, that your life is harder than average.
  • You find yourself irritable and impatient, when there is very little provoking you.

If you find yourself in need of peace, what can you do to get peace?

  • Ask God for grace to trust Him more. “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!”
  • Read and meditate on God's Word, focusing on the person and work of God. Ask yourself what you're doubting about God's character.
  • Stop. Listen to God and His Word, pleading with Him for faith. Psalm 62:8 Pour out your heart before the Lord; God is a refuge for us.