Saturday, July 28, 2007

Absolute Lordship

Jer. 18.6 "Like Clay in the hand of the potter, so you are in my hand"

"It's my life... I can do what I want? Right?" WRONG.

Jeremiah learns this lesson clearly as he watches the artisan shape and form the clay. The Clay has no vision, no desires, no preferences and no agenda- unlike you and I. The Clay is shaped after an image that only the Potter can see. His handiwork will display that great work of art that is his vision for your life.

We like to complain about timing, and circumstances and difficulties but the Potter is the one who will shape us. His vision guides our lives and shapes our hearts. Learning to yeild to the Artisan's touch is the key. Listening to his voice is the soul work that we must do. Knowing that he is the Potter and we are the clay- that his vision - no matter how elusive or difficult or strange to our limited senses- that Divine vision of what we will be shapes us.

He shapes us for a destiny that he has envisioned. This is not small potatoes! It is the handcrafted wonderwork of God himself. You will be fitted and meet for his purpose as you understand that his Lordship shapes you.

God forgive our willful lives- our objections to your vision, which we have yet to see it is fulness. Guild our submission to the pressure of your hand, and the perfection of your eye. We submit to your Lordship- in Jesus' name. Amen.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

First Step to Freedom- Repentance

Repentance is the first step to take in our freedom in Christ. But repentance can be falsified. There is such a thing as a counterfeit repentance.Real repentance turns to God from sin. It is a conversion (Acts 3) of thinking and attitudes toward the sin that we ahve fallen into. It is humble. It doesn't make excuses or blame - on the contrary it takes full blame for the sinful actions (Ps 51). It is godward in its focus ( Is 55.6), though it makes restitution to offended men where it can (Luke 19.9).

False repentance compromises on one or another (all?) of these steps. The danger in a quick repentance is that it doesn't fully grasp the heinousness of the sin. When that happens, we tend to fall into the sin-repent- sin- repent cycles that we are so familiar with. Real repentance sees the demonic destruction that is underlying the sins of the flesh. It, therefore, develops a contempt for that sin. That contempt becomes a hatred that serves as a boundry between the beleiver and casually falling into that sin again.

Unfortunately, we have people who think they are christians in our churches that demonstrate by their lifestyle, that they are not yet converted to God's point of view on various areas of their lifestyle. They walk in and out of the church with impunity while living in sin- not realizing that God has promised to spit them out of his mouth, and not taking seriously the offense that they cause to God personally.

Ultimately, repentance is a gift that we are given by God. To gloss over it lightly or to take it presumptuously is to miss the point of grace. Grace is supposed to lead us into freedom. Without that freedom we have no joy.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Signs of Burnout

Avoid the Crash and Burn - by Mike Gillespie Group Magazine

Some people wear it like the purple heart, others struggle with it while denying its existence. Regardless, you're never as effective in ministry when you're burned out as when you're not. Learn the six warning signs of burnout before it creeps up on you.

Learn to Recognize the Six Warning Signs of Burnout

I've logged 18 years as a youth minister—18 years learning to outsmart a ministry nemesis that's claimed many of my friends. That enemy is burnout. Two decades ago, I scoffed at the possibility; now I don't. That's because I've paid a high price for ignoring the warning signs of burnout in my ministry. As you read my story, take a moment to evaluate your ministry. Remember, if you think you're safe from burnout, you're probably its next victim.


Early in my ministry, I was sure hard work was all I needed for success. I felt confident because I already had a good work ethic. Because of my naiveté, I didn't realize the church will let you work as many hours as you want. There's always something more to do. A 45-hour week quickly stretched to 50, then to 60, then … I thought I could be everything to everybody.

I was particularly vulnerable at youth council planning sessions. We scheduled retreats, lock-ins, and trips with little recognition on my part of what it'd take to pull them off. The kids loved that about me, so I succumbed. My favorite refrain: "Sure, we can do that." One summer, I committed to participate in five group trips and lead two week-long children's camps. "Sure, I can get it done." BUNK!

I'm learning to work smarter, not longer.

ASK YOURSELF: Am I obsessed with getting it all done? Is hard work a sign of successful ministry to me?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES


How many times in the last six months has a church member said, "You look tired." Hey, there's no hiding it. All those all-nighters, retreats, program planning meetings, and visitation trips add up. It surfaces in your posture, your eyes, your energy, and your enthusiasm. It roars out at people you work with in the form of irritability, sarcasm, and cynicism.

I've leaned to appreciate people who tell me when I look tired. I take it as grace. I get some rest, lighten my calendar, and recommit to my exercise routine. I understand that I'm no good to anyone when I'm tired. Excuses such as "That's what ministry is all about" are simply dumb. Recently a youth group member bluntly told me, "Hey, you look tired. Get some rest." I did. It helped. I'm psyched again.

ASK YOURSELF: Do people notice that I'm tired a lot? Have I looked in the mirror lately and moaned, "I'm tired"?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES


All of us work with difficult people. Every church and every denomination has them. Sometimes I think God has "overblessed" me with them.

Difficult people demand a lot of attention. They're high-maintenance people. It takes patience and energy to respond well when they come at you with another passionate agenda. How you deal with them can indicate impending burnout.

I recall an intense father who had demanding views and a biting, sarcastic attitude. I worked with his two daughters. I monitored how I reacted to him. Sometimes I was highly effective and could work through his criticisms positively. Other times I was poisoned by his attacks, and lingering bitterness got the best of me.

What did I discover? It all had to do with ministry energy. When I was in "martyr" mode, I was much less effective with him. When I was energized, I never took his stuff personally.

ASK YOURSELF: Do difficult people often get the best of me? Do confrontations linger and absorb me emotionally?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES


When we balance our emotional, spiritual, and physical needs, we set in place a foundation for more effective ministry. Experience has taught me that spiritual needs are easy to neglect. That's why I started taking a yearly hiking vacation in the Colorado Rockies. God has worked on me powerfully on those back-country trails.

As youth leaders, we're always praying for kids, preparing Bible studies, preaching, and so on. And we expect we'll find nourishment by spiritual osmosis. That just isn't true.

To meet my spiritual needs, I must pursue prayer, reading, and quiet time apart from my ministry. If I don't, my kids know. How? I lead Bible studies like a dictator instead of with them. Group prayer times are legalistic and boring. And I'm pharisaical—I mean I go through the religious motions while neglecting the Holy Spirit's power.

ASK YOURSELF: Do I tend to overlook my own spiritual nurture? Am I feeding myself so little spiritual food that I'm unable to nurture others through my ministry?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES


If we don't pursue opportunities for professional growth, we grow stale. And when burnout is lurking, we lose interest in upgrading our skills.

Professional growth is important to me for two reasons: (1) I value professional relationships with ministry colleagues. When I plan activities or brainstorm ideas with friends, or when I join support groups, I stay fresh. (2) I appreciate good training opportunities. I use my continuing education allowance to upgrade my skills. I particularly like events that teach me new strategies, not just clarify what I already know.

I've not always put an emphasis on professional growth. I realize those were times when the burnout bug was like a tick trying to burrow in. Don't neglect opportunities for professional growth. If you do, that's a burnout warning sign. (Or worse, you think you know it all already!)

ASK YOURSELF: Do I see professional growth as just another impossible expectation that must be sacrificed for "the important stuff"?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES


Have you learned that ministry needs always take priority over personal needs? Then you're in for troubled times.

I know you could use "take up your cross and follow me" as debate ammunition. But I also know that, at times, I've neglected myself, my family, and my friends. And I believe that's a sin. What a joke—we punish the people we love most to do God's work. That's stupid theology.

If you make ministry your mistress, you'll fizzle quickly. I'm grateful I learned before it was too late that God's hopes for my ministry aren't the same as my own expectations. But I've paid dearly for neglecting myself, my family and friends.

ASK YOURSELF: Do I neglect my needs because of ministry demands? Do I neglect my family or friends because the church needs me?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES

Mike Gillespie is a veteran youth minister who's grappled with burnout throughout his career. He lives in Kansas. This article first appeared in the July/August 1996 issue of Group Magazine.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Still the hardest thing I do...

Not sure why this is, and it certainly doesn't sound spiritual, but in the interest of honesty I have to admit-Prayer is still the hardest thing I do. Don't get me wrong or think that I am in some fleshly way- I love prayer. God's presence is unmistakeably number one in my book. I love it. It is awesome. The presence of God is amazingly comforting when I am down, a fountain of wisdom when I am dry, and my therapist when I am in crisis! Yet the path there, into the presence, getting myself to go there on a regular and consistant basis takes alot of work.

Today I took a prayer break, began saying something like," here I am Lord, I want to glorify you in every are of my life... I want you to be pleased with the things I think, do, and say... " As I whispered those thing in a heartfelt manner to God with my eyes closed... I fell asleep. WHAT! that can't be true. I can't imagine falling asleep while talking to my wife... but I did it to God! TO GOD!

When Jesus was angry with his disciples failure to keep up in the prayer room, he reminded them that though the spirit is willing the flesh is weak. My body, AND my sinful nature conspire against me being Godly upon occassion.

Perhaps it is the limitation of humanity. Perhaps it is my own foible. Or perhaps it is common- I don't know. I just know that having a consistant meaningful prayer life is the hardest thing I do... EVERYDAY.