Can You See What I See?

pain and suffering

Over the years I have had the opportunity to labor with so many wonderful people. I have preached in Illinois, Missouri, Virginia, and Iowa. I have gone overseas to Norway and met with the saints there. I have traveled and met with saints all over the states. (Although I realize that I am nowhere nearly as traveled as others preachers I know). One thing that I have learned over the years is that Christians are often blind. We like to think of ourselves being enlightened. We like to think of ourselves of being able to clearly see the truth of God’s word. We like to think of ourselves as being able to see what ails the world. We like to think of ourselves as being able to see the cure that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But, my friends, we are blind.

While we might see the problems that the world clearly has, we often fail to see the problems that are right under our noses. Jesus alluded to this in Matt. 7 when he spoke of the one trying to get the speck out of his brother’s eye all while having a plank protruding out of his own eye. It is ridiculous to think that the one with a plank in his eye is capable of seeing clearly enough to help the person with a speck in his eye. And while the world like to say that is evidence that we ought to be leaving people’s “specks and eyes” alone, that is not what Jesus is saying. What Jesus is saying is that we need to clear our vision. We need to wake up, open our eyes, and remove anything that might be hindering us from seeing so that we can effectively help those that can’t see.

What are Christians missing? What are they failing to see? I think we are failing to see those that are silently crying out for help. In my first work I knew of a brother in Christ who had gone the better part of a year without work. It was not the church who came to his aid, but those of the world. When he confronted the church about it, they reply was “we didn’t know.” I knew of another brother in Christ who was abusing prescription drugs. He was addicted to pain killers and managed to have every pharmacist in town supplying him the drugs he convinced himself he needed. He was in desperate need of help. Most of the saints in that church thought he was just a little peculiar. What they didn’t know is that he was “off” because he was an addict. In every church I have been a member of there was a sister or brother in Christ suffering with depression. These are often ignored. Usually we think that they are just a little sad, maybe a little quiet. We fail to see the real problem is that they are dying on the inside.

Why do we not see them? Maybe it is because we don’t want to get involved. Sure, we want to see the gospel spread. We want to see the world get better, but for the most part we don’t really want to get involved in that either. (That is what we have a preacher for right?) In a similar fashion we think it is the preacher’s job, the elders’ job, or the deacons’ job to take care of those that are crying out for help. We need to open the drawbridge that we have placed over our heart. We need to fill in the moat around our heart we have created to keep people at arm’s distance. My friends I promise you that wherever it is that you worship there are those in dire need of help. Open up your eyes and you will see them; and as Jesus says in Matt. 7. As soon as you can see clearly, help them.

Advertisements

The Life of Preacher part 3

rest

The last couple of entries into my weekly blog have looked into the life of a preacher. Some might view some of my posts as rather negative. I wrote these because I wanted you to be aware that your preachers’ lives are not all fun and games. He works more than two days a week. He is often one of the loneliest members of the church. He often struggles to make friends because he doesn’t feel comfortable opening up about who he is and what he struggles with. But, with that said, the life of the preacher can be and is very rewarding.

I think many preachers have walked away from the ministry because of the hardships I have mentioned these last couple of weeks. If they kept their eye on the goal of heaven and upon the joys that come from being a gospel preacher, it puts those hardships on the back burner. No, he won’t ever forget about them. However, he will be given the opportunity to know that his efforts, his sacrifices, etc are certainly worth it. What joys might those be?

To me, one of my greatest joys as a preacher is seen/felt when I witness someone being saved. I recall to this day every baptism I have witnessed/partaken of. My first was being able to baptize my sister. I can still remember the joy I felt when she asked me to do it. I still can remember the desire to bust forth in songs of praise as she was lifted up out of the waters of baptism (that was more than 20 years ago). That same joy was experienced when I witnessed my own daughter put on Christ in baptism last year. That particular night I experienced another first as it was the first time I had the opportunity to baptize two persons in one night. The truth is none of those were more important to me than the others I have baptized. They are my children in the faith and it gives me great joy to know that those I have labored over, those that I have prayed for, and those that I dearly love have come to know God the same way that I do; to see them have a deep love for God that moves them to repent and be baptized. My joy is made full (complete) as I see lost souls coming to the Lord.

Another blessing of being a preacher is seeing the impact of God’s word upon the lives of others, no matter where they may live. I have preached the gospel in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Florida, Alabama, Virginia, and Bergen, Norway. I have, on my travels, seen the power of God’s word transverse time, continents, and cultures. It didn’t matter where they came from, who they were, the power of God unto salvation is his word and it does indeed work! Having the opportunity to see this first hand is such a great blessing. One of these days, I plan on doing some more travel. I would love to go to Columbia, the Philippines, China, or India and work with others in the spreading of God’s word. In many of these places the word of God is spreading like a wild fire. People are coming to the Lord, repenting of their sins. The word of God is what moved them. It is not fancy preaching, big name preachers with a great reputation; it is God’s word touching their hearts. This “contagious” zeal is something I get to partake of often as a preacher, and I love every moment of it.

No, preaching is not easy. But it is worth every sacrifice I have taken.

Rest for the Weary

rest

This year has not really gotten off to the best start. It began with my wife having a miscarriage. I am not sure why, but I was more emotionally invested in this pregnancy than the previous ones. Losing this baby nearly broke me. I had to be strong for the children. I had to be strong for my wife. I had to keep plugging away doing the work of an evangelist. I never really gave myself time to heal emotionally and spiritually. As a result, I heard someone say to me the other day, “That is the first time I have seen you smile in a long time.” I had become unaware of where my heart was. Add to this, the situation with my mother-in-law, and I have had a lot on my plate. Her health is failing and it breaks my heart every time I see her. I hate that outside of prayers that there is little that I can do. I can’t count the times that I have wished that I could wave my hand and make it all go away. Here we are nearly half way through the year and I am spent.

In recent weeks I have come to learn why I am so tired. I haven’t been recreated in a long time. Sure, I have gone out running. Sure, I have played games with the kiddos. Sure I have enjoyed some good movies (and sat through some really bad ones.) But, that is not the same thing as being recreated.

I think this is where many of us find ourselves struggling. We confuse recreation (hobbies and pastimes) with recreation (being reborn). Yes our hobbies can give us that feeling of escaping from our problems. We escape from reality and think that it helps. However, we have to return to our lives eventually. And while we might feel like our batteries are quickly recharged what we find is that they are just as quickly drained. Being reborn, recreated requires a different type of escape all together.

Reading through the gospels we find Christ being a diligent worker for his Father. He talked of working while it is still day, for the night was coming when we could work no more (John 9:4). It was not uncommon for Jesus to be working long into the night (Mark 1:32-34). He provides us with a great pattern for our service unto God. Paul certainly followed that pattern. As I read over the book of Acts and study his travels I am amazed at how much he accomplished in his life. It was not always smooth sailing either. He spoke of shipwrecks, beatings, whippings, and even being stoned (II Cor. 11:22-28). How can a person endure, how can a person keep it going amid so much pressure? The answer is found in the gospels. Let us go back to Mark 1. A few lines ago I mentioned that Jesus worked long into the night. Do you know what happened that following morning? Jesus go up early, while it was still dark, went to a desolate place (that is a place where no one went to) and prayed. Jesus went and really recharged his batteries. He didn’t do it with an Xbox or a Playstation. He didn’t do it with movie tickets or tickets to the big game. He didn’t do it with a game of 21 with his buddies or a casual jog through the country side. He did it with prayer. He found rest for his soul not by sleeping but by getting up and praying.

Jesus put it like this, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30).” Rest is found in God. Rest is found in coming to the Lord. Recreation, rebirth is found in bringing your weary soul to him. Too often we forget this. We spend so much time and energy trying to go at it alone. But, even our Savior took time to be reborn. He encourages you to get your spiritual batteries recharged.

This week I am going to spend the week being recreated. My wife and I are going to go to a desolate place to pray, to heal, to find rest for our souls. I look forward to meeting my Savior. I am looking forward to being reminded how light his load is. I encourage you to do the same. Take some time this week to go to a desolate place and pray.

The Life of a Preacher part 2

Today is my 13th Anniversary.  14 years ago today, my wife and I got engaged.  I remember then the conversations we had that led up to our actual wedding.  We talked about where we were going to live.  We talked about how many kids we were going to have.  We talked about what we would do for a living.  Over the last 14 years only 1 of these things we agreed upon has actually come to pass.  We agreed that 3-4 kids would be wonderful (I have four).  We intended on living near my family since most of my family were in one area and more importantly, there was a good strong church right there we could worship with.  Interestingly enough, the only career path that was really discussed was the one my wife told me she would never be.  She never wanted to be a preachers wife.  Within one month of our wedding I was preaching every Sunday at two different churches.  Before we were married 6 months I had accepted the offer from the Southside church of Christ in Mattoon, IL to work with them.  And since then, I haven’t really lived near my parents or any of my family for that matter.  Most of the time I see my family when I have to go home for a funeral.

Last week I wrote about the isolation that often comes from being a preacher due to the spiritual constraints he unfairly places upon himself (and sometimes the church places upon him).  This week I want to talk about the isolation a preacher feels because he is often so far from home.

I realize that not every preacher lives far from his family.  However, it is not the norm.  Most of his who have made the sacrifice to make our living via preaching the gospel say long goodbyes to our families.  In the nearly 13 years I have been preaching the gospel I have lived in 4 different states (Iowa, Virginia, Missouri, and Illinois).  While 2.5 of those years I was relatively close to my family, I have never lived close to my wife’s family.  So that you understand the hardships.  When a parent gets ill and ends up in the hospital, we can’t just jump in the car and run down there and sit by their side.  While my wife’s mother has grown weaker and weaker these last couple of years it has put a strain on our family most don’t experience.  My wife can’t sit with her mom all afternoon and come home in the evening.  A trip to her home requires budgeting, me requesting (and receiving) time off so that we can can down there, hotel rooms, etc.  It is no easy experience.

Holidays are another thing all together.  Many in America travel for the holidays.  They go to their parents’, grandparents’, siblings’ home and so forth.  In a small church, what I have typically preached for, going home for the holidays is a rare experience.  You see, you need someone to preach for you and teach classes for you while you are away.  When everyone else is out of town, guess who stays behind. That’s right, your preacher does.  He stays behind.  He prepares his sermons. He visits those that need visiting.  In the last 10 years I have been either to my parents or my in-laws’ home on the holidays twice.  Once for thanksgiving and once for Christmas (although I should add that the Christmas trip was actually for a funeral).  My eldest son, now nine, has never had a birthday with any of his grandparents.  My eldest daughter now 12 has had 3.  My youngest son, now 7, has had one.  In fact he was 3 before he had met both sets of his grandparents.  My youngest daughter, now 3, has had one.

The scariest thing of all is that I know what is coming.  One day, I will move to work with a another church and my daughter will say, “Daddy, I don’t want to go. This is my home.”  I will have to leave her behind.  And one by one the same thing will happen to each of my children.  (I know of one preacher whose children lived in California and Texas while he labored in Virginia.  He told me he rarely got to see his kids).  So long as I continue to preach this is my reality.  I accept it.  I am happy to.
I don’t say this in a sense of complaint.  I say this so that you understand what your preacher gives up for you.  Remember that his family is most likely not around the corner.  I say this so that you will remember the next time you are celebrating your kids birthday with your parents that your preacher’s kids aren’t.  I say this so that you might be a little more compassionate towards him and his wife.  I say this because the reality is, for the preacher, you ARE his family.  God’s family is who he ends up being closest to.  Include him into your life, because he likely has already included you into his.