Pastoral Care

Was Jesus an Introvert?

I've read a number of articles in the past few years on introverts vs. extroverts. The commonly agreed upon definition of an introvert is that an introvert is someone who gains energy by being by himself/herself. An extrovert is a person who feeds off of being around other people. People who have aspects of both introverts and extroverts are called “ambiverts.” The idea is that based on your assessment along the introvert/extrovert scale, you can more effectively recharge and work in your field.

I'd like to take just a few moments and reflect on this line of thinking from a biblical perspective. I'm not questioning that there are different personality types in the world (I tend to be more extroverted than my wife). However, I believe that God has designed every person for a rhythm of time alone and time with other people. God has called every believer to rest and recharge, and He's called every believer to reach out in love to others.

It seems fair to say that Jesus is the only perfectly balanced ambivert in the history of creation. In the gospels we see Him ministering to crowds (Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-10), and we see Him taking time alone to pray and recharge (Mark 1:35; 6:46). Was Jesus an introvert or extrovert? I think the answer is that God designed every human being who has ever lived–including God-incarnate–for a balance of pouring out to others and recharging in private.

God established a pattern of rest and work at creation. Jesus Himself engaged in personal recharge, as well as public ministry, and He established a pattern for His people to pursue both rest and work.

It's not more holy to be either an introvert or extrovert. But every Christian should spend some time in personal rest, recreation, and worship, and every Christian should be actively pursuing ministry to others. The balance will be different for each person, as those made in God's image reflect different aspects of God's creative design in different proportions. And sometimes the balance for an individual will vary based on his/her stage in life.

Pray for wisdom to know how to engage in personal worship and proactive ministry to others. Was Jesus an introvert? Sometimes… Was Jesus an extrovert? Sometimes… Remember this as you minister to others and as you seek to help those around you know how to balance life and ministry. And remember this when you are tempted to judge those with a different balance of introvert/extrovert than God gave you!

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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.

 

When Finding Peace Is a Battle

What do we do when it feels like we're trusting God, yet we still feel like we don't have peace? Our anchor for peace is what is taught in Isaiah 26:3-4 and elsewhere: subjective peace requires reliance on God. But what happens when we are asking God for faith to rest in Him, and we still don't seem to be enjoying peace? What do you do when the battle for peace doesn't seem to work?

First, we must never lose our anchor.

We often take our eyes off of God and focus them on our problems. This results in frustration and turmoil. God, our Everlasting Rock, hasn't changed, but our thinking is more informed by our circumstances than our relationship with God. So, look to Jesus, run to God in faith, asking Him for grace to trust Him and peace in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Second, we must never blame our circumstances.

Circumstances are not an excuse for our failure to trust God. It is my fault because I fail to trust God. Sin around us cannot be an excuse for our lack of peace. Think about Paul and Silas in the jail at Philippi. Their circumstances couldn't have been much worse, yet they were singing hymns to God. What is your response when you face difficult circumstances? Do you rest in God, or do you take your eyes off of the Savior?

So … we can't lose our anchor or blame our circumstances. But living at peace with others in this world still requires great wisdom. It is possible to enjoy peace with God, yet not enjoy peace with all men. What do we do at those times?

Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Paul teaches believers that we should pursue peace with everyone with great effort. The point is that being at peace with others requires intentional focus. As much as it up to us, we ought to be at peace with others.

What the New Testament says here, it also says elsewhere. Consider the following passages:

  • Romans 14:19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
    • Paul is referring to something more than a casual nod of the head. He means that having peace with others requires intentional focused effort.
  • Ephesians 4:1-3 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
    • The eagerness in verse 3 has the idea of expending every effort. We should exercise ourselves toward the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We should give our best effort and be diligent in the pursuit of peace.
  • Hebrews 12:14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
    • “Strive” is the same word for “pursue” in Romans 14:19. It is used negatively to speak of persecution–in other words, persecutors, pursue or chase after believers. We should chase after peace with great zeal.

How do we live at peace with everyone, without getting into man-pleasing? We'll consider that question in the next post.

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.

 

Benefits of Peace

Resting on God brings peace to God's children. What are the benefits of peace?

Peace doesn't mean that life will be easy, that God will make us rich and give us an easy life. It does mean that in the midst of life, God will be actively caring for us. The blessing of peace includes the benefit of God's intense care and guarding. Paul talks about the peace of God this way: Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. God guards His people with peace. When you are weary and want to give up, trust in the Lord who guards your heart and mind with His peace.

God ordains peace and acts for His people, working in our behalf. How can we see God acting for His people? The greatest evidence of this is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ–bearing our sins in His body on the tree, intervening between God's wrath and God's people. As we act, relying on God, He is actively working in us and through us. In the book of Hebrews, Christ sat down, after He accomplished the atonement for our sins. We rest in God, complete in Christ, who has credited all of His good works to us. But there are other ways that God actively cares for His people.

What does it mean for God to care for and act for us?

  • Child-rearing – we seek to raise our children faithfully, but make mistakes; God is working for us; perhaps you have a child who has left your home, turned his back on God, and now all you can do is pray.
  • Sharing the gospel – we share it in our feeble way, and God acts for us.
  • Difficult situation at work – we try to resolve an unresolvable situation; God gives us grace to persevere.
  • Peace in marital relationship – as we trust the Lord, He will act for us, bringing peace in ways that we never anticipated.
  • Peace when we're afraid – as we rest in the Lord, He will guard us, acting as our protector.
  • Peace for the single person – as you wonder when God will bring a spouse and are tempted to trust in that one, to trust in that wedding day, God will be your peace; you are complete in Christ.
  • Decision making – we are finite and imperfect and will make many wrong decisions, humanly speaking; yet, in the midst of those, God is there, working in our behalf, sanctifying us, acting for His people.

 

Obstacles to Peace

We can enjoy peace by resting on God. But what about the times we don't have peace? What keeps us from enjoying true peace? To what sorts of things do we look for peace, other than to God Himself?

Alternative sources of peace:

  • Addiction: we may use sexual addiction, drunkenness, or drug addiction as a means of temporarily forgetting about life's troubles.
  • Distraction: some of us lose ourselves in music, movies, video games, or other entertainment.
  • Workaholism: we may work ourselves to the bone, trying to forget about the rest of the noise in our life.
  • Family: family relationships–a very good thing–can be a way of escaping from heartache around us. Our society is more frenetic than it's ever been, and we use the pace of life as a way of escaping.
  • Busyness: some live life so busy that we don't have time to stop and think about our problems?

Even when we don't “create” other sources of peace, we often lack peace. What gets in the way of our peace?

Obstacles to peace:

  • Lack of faith/trust in God (child)
  • Failure to obey God in areas that are clear
  • Harbored secret sin
  • Conflict with others
  • Replacing trust in God with trust in men

Any time we replace our trust in the Lord with reliance on men, we set ourselves up for disappointment.

Have you replaced God, the Everlasting Rock, with little human rocks? Human leaders will fail, whether they are leaders in the political arena or in your local church or in your family. If you're a parent, you know the taste of failure quite well.

Saying that leaders fail isn't a defense of failure and sin or saying that human leadership shouldn't be held accountable. They should be. The fact that we should be enjoying peace isn't an excuse for human leaders, meaning they can get away with what they want, since we should be experiencing feelings of peace and harmony. However, if human failure is shaking your confidence in God, then you've got your confidence in the wrong place. You're not leaning on God; you're leaning on your own understanding and on the people around you. Leaders are accountable to God and before God, and you stand accountable before God too.

God is the source of our peace, and the way to peace is trust and reliance on Him. The result of that should be a sense of rest before God and a sense of rest in our place in the world. Perfect peace is God's gift to those who rest on Him. The leaning into, the resting is passive. In other words, God works in our behalf as we rest in Him. It's sort of like needing surgery–it's something you have done, but it's something that you rest in the power of another to accomplish.

Do you know peace in God? Peace is a gift from God for those who trust in Him.

 

Cross-Dressing and the Christian

Have you ever run into someone in an awkward situation that was precipitated by their lifestyle choice? My family and I were recently eating in town when a man whom I had known from childhood walked in dressed in drag–complete with high heel boots, stockings, and mini skirt. This friend has made lifestyle choices that go along with his dress. We grew up in the same church, under the same preaching, and have much of the same cultural and educational background. My purpose here is not to discuss what motivates someone like this to make the choices he has made. Rather, I'd like to consider what an appropriate response for a Christian should be. How should we respond to a friend or acquaintance in a situation like this? Following are four characteristics that should characterize interactions like this.

Loving

The first thing that should characterize the believer's response to any situation is love. So, we should guard ourselves from mocking, scorning, or laughing in a way that demonstrates we have forgotten this person is made in the image of God. Demeaning behavior shouldn't characterize our interactions with any person, no matter how put-off we may feel by them. We ought to ask God to replace our proud thoughts with true love, with a heart that is concerned for the soul of this person.

Friendly

It seems appropriate in a case like this to look the person in the eye, smile, and shake his hand. To demonstrate that I still value him personally and that I can relate to him as one made in the image of God. Friendliness is not the same as love. Friendliness is also not the same as wholesale acceptance. More on this in a moment.

Reserved

What I'm not saying here is that believers should intentionally act awkward and reserved around those who are different. However, I believe it's also likely that there will be some sense of awkwardness in the greeting and in the relationship. A friend living any sort of inappropriate lifestyle–heterosexual, homosexual, drug-addicted, drink-addicted, etc.–should feel somewhat awkward around obedient Christians. Not because we don't demonstrate love and kindness, but precisely because we demonstrate concern for them while recognizing that their sin causes great harm to the image of God in them. Our response to their open sin should always be moderated by recognizing that we are sinful too and that only the grace of Christ can rescue us from our sin.

Honest

I don't believe that every conversation with an egregiously sinning friend should be about the person's sin–in fact, most of them probably shouldn't be, or you won't be friends very long! However, I do believe that we should take opportunity to lovingly confront sin in light of the relationships that God has given us. Friendliness is not the same as love. True love is opposed to anything that attacks a person's good. If there's never any open confrontation of sin, we are not truly loving our friend. Because sinful choices attack the true good of another human being, we should oppose sinful choices. Sometimes it will result in relational tension, but it should never be because I have rejected a person outright because I don't like what they've done. It must always be about God's holiness and their good. I can oppose sin in a winsome way, in a way that says, “I respect you because you are made in the image of God, but you are doing irreparable damage to that image, apart from the rescuing grace of Jesus Christ.”

Summary: winsome opposition

In summary, I believe we should winsomely oppose sin–in our children, in ourselves, and in those that sin blatantly and openly. I'm giving thought to this because I've encountered several situations like this, and I'm confident I'll encounter many more. I pray that God will help me equip my family and church to respond with truth and grace as we seek to winsomely oppose sin.

 

The Church’s Responsibility in Restoration

What are some steps the church should take toward rescue and restoration?

When we think of sin and how it affects the body of Christ, we often think of an individual's responsibility to repent and restore his relationships. But what is the corporate body's responsibility when a brother is overtaken in significant sin? What kind of things should the church body do to help restore someone overtaken in a fault?

This post is an effort to outline some general steps that church leaders and church members can use as a starting point for standard operating procedure in restoring fallen brothers. May God give the church grace to build up the broken and to lift up the fallen.

The process below is built on the foundation of Galatians 6:1-10.

Repair

  • Galatians 6:1 – Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.
  • Love – assure the brother that we, the church, love him and long to see him restored as a useful member in our local church.
  • Labor – work to assist the brother through the process of repentance and restoration.
  • Build accountability – establish a team of accountability to help the fallen brother follow through in restoring his broken relationships; they should also care for his soul during the process, as he will often be hurting.
  • Care – the church body should reach out to the fallen brother (and his family, if applicable), remembering that they are sheep in need of care.

Preempt

  • Galatians 6:1-2 Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
  • Evaluate – church leadership should evaluate the process of restoration, as the church body helps to restore the brother to usefulness as a church member.
  • Help him understand genuine repentance.
  • Help him think through broken relationships and the best way of restoring those relationships.
  • Help rebuild him and his family.

Prevent

  • Galatians 6:8-10 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
  • Work toward long-term care – establish a plan for care and accountability for the fallen brother long-term.
  • Establish systems of care for all church leaders and church members within the church via small group ministry.

 

Comfort and Confrontation

“So what do you do all week, anyway?”

If you're a pastor, you've probably heard that question more than once. Some people have the idea that pastors enjoy a six-day weekend, with one day of work on Sunday. Others picture them as spending all day every day reading and studying. Others might have the idea that a pastor meets people, drinks coffee, listens, and talks–almost like a psychologist with a spiritual twist.

Pastoral work might be summarized as “leading and feeding.” Or as shepherding. Or as overseeing. Or as preaching and teaching. A good pastor does all of these things. However you articulate the overall function of a pastor, one of the main areas of any pastor's job is member care–spiritually caring for the souls of the people God has brought to his local church.

What does member care look like? There's a sense in which you can sum it up in these two words: comfort and confrontation. Here's a glimpse into some experiences in a week of member care (none of these are recent, so any similarity to you is a coincidence!!):

Comfort:

  • Praying for members: pastors gathering to pray for each church member by name, systematically and alphabetically; praying specifically and repeatedly for members that are hurting, wandering, or flagrantly sinning.
  • Visiting the family of a church member whose loved one is dying in their home; praying with the family and just being there during the last hours of a beloved saint's life.
  • Calling a church member who is out of state for the funeral of an adult child; encouraging him and letting him know that we love him, are praying for him, and are rallying around him during these difficult days.
  • Meeting for prayer and fellowship with a brother who is earnestly seeking to lead and shepherd his family; praising the Lord for His faithfulness to this brother.
  • Encouraging a father whose child has rejected the Lord and seeking to counsel him about how to evangelize this child who is still at home.

Confrontation:

  • Counseling individuals experiencing significant struggles in their home; confronting sin as it comes to light and calling these brothers and sisters to repentance and to living in light of the gospel.
  • Confronting a brother who is admittedly struggling to lead at home; encouraging him to fulfill his God-given roles and responsibilities; and exhorting him to believe that God has empowered him for this ministry.

Comfort and confrontation involve much more than this, but for the pastor, there is great joy in the process of leading and feeding church members and seeing them grow to be more like Jesus.