For ten days we walked around important historical sites in Israel, retracing the steps of biblical heroes and especially remembering the life of Jesus. In many places there would be two or three shrines near each other, each claiming to be the exact spot where some biblical event took place. It didn’t really matter to me if an event happened 100 feet to the left or the right, it was just amazing to stand near locations mentioned in the Bible.
Recently I wrote about the need to eliminate unnecessary structure so churches and ministry organizations can focus on accomplishing their mission more effectively. This requires a lot of prayer and discernment to know what to eliminate and what to keep. Tightening up the mission is critical to a ministry’s success. But is it possible to over-tighten one’s ministry focus so that it becomes too narrow? I believe it is.
“Everyone has to have a job,” a church growth guru told our group. Throughout the three-hour seminar, he repeated these instructions in many different ways: everyone in the church should have a position of some sort, even if it is only serving on a committee. In his opinion, would make everyone feel valued and help them take ownership in the church. It sounded like a great idea. It wasn’t.
My ministry requires me to do a lot of driving around New England – and in some places that means dealing with heavy traffic. Recently I was driving through intense traffic and was stuck behind two semis driving next to each other on a two-lane road. I noticed in my rear view mirror a SUV quickly darting back and forth between lanes.
I got a text message from a friend in Vermont over the New Year's holiday. She shared that a mutual friend, only a little older than me, had suddenly passed away. Though I had not talked to him in a few years, when I lived in Vermont he was a great colleague in ministry. Less than 24 hours later, one of our BCNE pastors sent me a text to say one of their youth workers, a really fine young man with a promising future, had also unexpectedly passed away that morning. So much loss. So much pain. Such a short time to process it. Many of my circle of friends were struggling with why God lets these things happen. One mused that perhaps there was no point in following Christ if we still have to endure such pain.
The middle-aged minister expressed deep frustration as he poured out his heart to me. He had started his ministry full of energy and excitement. Though the numbers were small when he started, he was sure that his faithful preaching of the Word and his clear strategic plan would turn the situation around. That was a decade ago. Now the numbers were even smaller, his excitement was long gone and the financial situation, which had never been good, was now perilous. He was not sure how long he could continue in his present ministry, but he was not a quitter, so he didn’t want to leave. He was in a quandary.
Last Sunday my wife and I were out for an afternoon drive. We were enjoying the fall foliage when we happened upon a lovely scene near a campground. At the entrance to the campground there was a river that emptied into a pond, a lovely covered bridge, and several historical items on display. But what caught our eye the most was the lovely mannequin of an old man fishing. It was meticulously set up beside the covered bridge and looked like it had been there many years. We pulled into the small parking lot and took in the whole scene. It was amazing.
Not long ago my wife and I took our grandchildren to an amusement park in New Hampshire. We had a great time. Without question, our granddaughter’s favorite ride was the log ride. She had this love/hate feeling going on about the steep drop into the water where she got all wet. She said “I loved it, expect the part I didn’t like very much.” Whether you are 4 or 40, such rides can be a lot of fun. Perhaps they are so much fun because they scare us, even though deep inside we know we are safe. It is almost like seeing just how far we can go into danger, without actually getting hurt.
I did not grow up Southern Baptist. I can hear the gasps in the Deep South ringing in my ears as I make my confession, but it’s the truth. I had great Christian parents who raised me in a Baptist church, but it was a church that was anti-denominational. Not only were we not Southern Baptists, but we thought Southern Baptists were the enemy!
When I stepped off the plane, the wave of heat hit me! Wow, it is hot in Dallas. But the breeze of the Spirit was blowing across the city as over 9,000 Baptists from around the nation gathered for worship, preaching, reports of God’s work and decision-making for America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. That included at least 31 people from New England who traveled to Dallas to represent our churches and voice the New England perspective.
I was speaking to a large group of middle schoolers. Knowing that few of them came from what my generation would consider the “traditional” family, I was trying to get them to discuss what it was like when their parents got divorced and how they could move beyond the pain of that experience. Clearly, I was not connecting well to the group. One young man, Kyle*, was sitting on the front row. He spoke up, saying, “Terry, my parents are not divorced. They were never married. I’ve only met my father once when I was little, and I don’t really remember him.”
I grew up in a church that did not believe in denominations. We were our own independent church separate from any other group. Though I appreciate the great spiritual training I got in that church, I regret the fact that we did not fellowship with a network of other churches in our area. I believe my spiritual growth was stunted because we were all alone as a church.
I often lead workshops for pastors of small churches. I typically start by asking the question: “What keeps small churches and churches led by bi-vocational pastors from being as Kingdom-minded as they would like to be?” Great discussions follow about the challenges small congregations face. Inevitably, the issue of pastoral burnout becomes a key part of the discussion. Pastors of small churches are already doing so much, and they just can’t add anything else to their agenda without burning out. So therefore, they never get to do all the Kingdom ministry they want to.
Faith. Science. God. Facts. Theories. Sometimes it seems that these words are all opposed to each other. I think they are far more intertwined than we realize, but perhaps not in the way we think. Our post-Christian culture would like to separate science from faith and scientists from belief in God. But that effort to separate these interwoven concepts often forces scientists to accept mere theories as facts ... then to ignore any facts that do not fit the theory. This is causing many young adults to question the validity of their faith, which is exactly the plan of the Enemy. Can faith and science actually complement each other instead of oppose each other?
I grew up in the Midwest in the 1970s, a time when that whole area of the country was in a deep recession. Though my dad was a hard worker, he was laid off numerous times because a company went bankrupt or was bought out by a competitor who let all the current employees go. It was a challenging time financially for our family. On more than one occasion I remember the pastor or a deacon from our church showing up with a bag of groceries, a box of Christmas gifts or a voucher to help pay the electric bill. Our church believed that part of being a healthy congregation was caring for those in need, especially if it was a faithful family in the church.
"…. But in the future he will bring honor to the way of the sea, to the land east of the Jordan, and to Galilee of the nations. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:1b-2, 6
When this scripture was written, the nation of Israel was at war -- and the war was not going well. In the midst of that time of anguish and despair, Isaiah prophesied that one day a baby would be born. That baby would be the promised Jewish Messiah, the Prince of Peace. We know Him by the name of Jesus, and the story of His birth is what makes the Christmas season so special to us all. But as is often true in Old Testaments prophecies, there is a second prophecy hidden within the first one.