March – Week Ten – Daily Devos

March 5th – “Shema” 

[Bible reading: Numbers 4:1-5:31; Mark 12:18-37; Psalm 48:1-14; Proverbs 10:26]

“Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.'” – Mark 12:29-31 

This passage of Scripture is very well-known. It has been a sort of “pledge of allegiance” for Jewish people for a very long time. They call this pledge the “Shema“, which is the first word of the first line, “Hear (Shema), O Israel…“. Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. By repeating the ‘Shema‘, a person reminds themselves of their commitment to love God in a radical way, with everything they have. Some Jews teach their children the Shema at such an early age it is, literally, the first words they can put together. The word ‘shema‘ in Hebrew simply means to “listen and obey“. Listening, in our culture, is basically a mental activity. When we think of “hearing”, what we mean is that our ears pick up sounds. But in Hebrew, the word shema describes hearing and also its effects – taking heed, being obedient, doing what is asked. Any time Jesus would say “He who has ears to hear, let him hear“, He was basically telling those around Him that they shouldn’t just hear the sounds coming out of His mouth, but they should be putting His teachings into practice. As a matter of fact, almost every place we see the word “obey” in the Bible, it is translated from the word “shema.”

Once again I am reminded that loving Jesus in an authentic and radical way is much more than simply something I ‘say’, something I ‘wear’ on a T-shirt, or something I have on a bumper-sticker. It is something that I ‘live’. My actions of obedience to the words of Christ, the way I live-out Jesus’ teachings, are the ways that I truly follow Him.

“Father,  I love You with all my heart, soul (emotions), mind (my thoughts), and strength. I also want to love all those I come in contact with, just as You would love them. I read about You and I listen to Your teachings, and I want to be transformed by them. Fill me up with Your Spirit today that I might walk in obedience to Your teaching, and live radically for You.” – Michael

March 6th – “The Joy of the Lord” 

[Bible reading: Numbers 6:1-7:89; Mark 12:38-13:13; Psalm 49:1-20; Proverbs 10:27-28]

“…This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: ‘ The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” – Numbers 6:23-26 

The “priestly blessing“, sometimes referred to as the “Mosaic blessing“, is something that the priests said over the people every single morning after the sacrifice at the Temple. Today many synagogues, and even the church I attend, end the services with this blessing over the people. The entire “blessing” is beautiful, but there is one line that really catches my attention; “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you“. The word ‘countenance‘ is the Hebrew word, ‘panav‘, which is the same word used earlier in the blessing, “The Lord make His face (‘panav‘) to shine upon you“. So, to have it translated as “countenance” is a bit odd. Some translations don’t do this, they simply translate it “face“, which is a bit clearer to me. When understood this way, it reads: “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His FACE upon you and give you peace.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Michael, who really cares?” I’m a father of five children. They’re pretty much grown now, but I can recall with joy the many times, when they were babies, I would play with them and toss them up in the air. Holding them high over my head would always cause them to giggle and laugh. I LOVED those moments. Well, it’s been understood by Jews for a very long time that this line is a neat picture of  how God delights in His children. The idea of “lift up His face upon you” is the idea of a daddy holding his child up in the air, playing with it, smiling, laughing. The word picture is literally God holding you up in His arms as a delighted father might hold up his young child in joy… God lifts up His face as He holds you and I up in divine joy.

“Father, You are my God and my Abba (Daddy). It blows me away to think that You delight in me and find joy in me! I love You, Papa.” – Michael

March 7th – “Being Fake is Being Wicked” 

[Bible reading: Numbers 8:1-9:23; Mark 13:14-37; Psalm 50:1-23; Proverbs 10:29-30]

“But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to declare My statutes, or take My covenant in your mouth, seeing you hate instruction and cast My words behind you?'” – Psalm 50:16-17

The person God declares to be ‘wicked’ is one who declares the statutes (commands/teachings/covenant) of the Lord, yet truthfully, they themselves don’t listen and obey God’s instructions. They consider God’s Word something that was important in the past (“cast My words behind you“), but not something that is relevant for THEM today.

How dangerous it is when a person knows all the right things, but doesn’t live them out. Even worse, when that person stands in front of others and tells them how they should be living, what they should be believing… and they themselves are not following the very things they are declaring! To ‘know’ God’s Word is one thing, to walk it out in our daily lives is quite another.

“Father, forgive me for the times I’ve declared Your Word to others, but have not lived the very thing I was declaring. I’ve told others not to be anxious, when all the while I was sweating. I’ve told others to pray, when I’ve been prayerless. I’ve told others to treasure Your Word, when I’ve left it dusty on the shelf. Forgive me, Father. I desire to be a man that lives what I believe, and what I have read and learned about You from Your Word. Thank You that Your mercies are new every morning. I love You.” – Michael

March 8th – “An Inconvenient Truth” 

[Bible reading: Numbers 10:1-11:23; Mark 14:1-21; Psalm 51:1-19; Proverbs 10:31-32]

“Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him.” – Mark 14:10-11 

There were many people that were interested in Jesus and wanted to be near Him. Some because He was the ‘newest thing‘, others because they ‘wanted something‘ from Him. The point is, Jesus was popular. To get to Him, or to arrest Him, might have proved a difficult thing for His enemies to do (see Mark 14:1-2 and Luke 22:6). Here, we’re told that, Judas was looking for a ‘convenient‘ way to betray Him. I find that interesting.

My tendency is to find ‘convenient‘ ways to still look like I’m a close disciple, while behind the scenes I live as one who is betraying the One I say I love. “Where can I go to not be seen by others, so that my betrayal will stay secret?” “How can I look like I’m a disciple, but still work things out behind the scenes to my own advantage?” When I care more about what I want, than what Jesus wants, I am following in the footsteps of Judas Iscariot. However, the truth is, I would never come right out and admit that. It wouldn’t be convenient.

“Father,  my actions often betray my heart. Please forgive me when my heart betrays You. Again I pray, help me be the man You’ve called me to be… at all times. I love You.” – Michael

March 9th – “EGO” 

[Bible reading: Numbers 11:24-13:33; Mark 14:22=52; Psalm 52:1-9: Proverbs 11:1-3]

“When pride comes, then comes shame; But with the humble is wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2

Everyone has an ‘ego’. Ego is defined as, “a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance“. The biggest barrier to being an authentic follower of Jesus Christ is a heart that is motivated by self-importance. This is opposite of what the Word teaches; “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). A heart that is motivated by selfish interests looks at life as an “give as little as possible, while taking as much as possible” endeavor. When we are full of pride we are not those who are trusting in God and submitting to His will, we are desiring our own agenda and confident in doing things in our own strength. This prideful way of living our lives ultimately leads to shame. Wisdom comes from living our lives with humility and a reliance upon God to call the shots.

I’ve heard it said that EGO can stand for either Edge God Out, or Exalt God Only. Am I a man who strives to do things on my own, have the spotlight, receive the glory? Or do I live my life in such a way as to point others to Jesus Christ, make Him famous, give Him all the credit? I, like everyone else, have an ego… but am I driven to promote myself or Jesus?

“Father, I absolutely do not wish to edge You out of my life today. Please be the One that people are attracted and drawn to when I am with them. When I finish speaking, or leave the room, I want others to have a taste of Jesus lingering in their mouths… not a taste of Michael. I submit to Your Lordship and authority today, and I want to see You receive the honor that You’re due.  I love You.” – Michael

March 10th – “Life Sentence” 

[Bible reading: Numbers 14:1-15:16; Mark 14:53-72; Psalm 53:1-6; Proverbs 11:4]

“Then he began to curse and swear, ‘I do not know this Man of whom you speak!'” – Mark 14:71

Peter was a disciple of Jesus. He had walked with Him and lived with Him for a few years at this time. Of course he knew Jesus! A disciple was supposed to be utterly devoted to his rabbi, to love him like his own father. He was a student who learned from his rabbi, but he was also to be a servant to his rabbi. A disciple and his rabbi were very close. We see this in 1 Kings 19:21, when Elisha became Elijah’s “attendant” and then later in 2 Kings 2, when Elisha refused to walk away from Elijah and even called him ‘father’ as Elijah was being taken away in a fiery chariot. When Peter said, “If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!“, in Mark 14:31, that would have been a completely reasonable thing for a disciple to say to the rabbi he followed and loved. And when Peter later denied Jesus three times, it would have been an unthinkable thing for him to do. He would have felt terrible because of the fact that a disciple would never betray or abandon his master… and that’s exactly what he had done.

In the story of my life the Main Character should be Jesus Christ. I would consider myself a ‘disciple‘ of Jesus. I desire to be a man that is very close to Jesus and, I too, see Him as a Teacher, a Father, and One that I should serve. If someone were reading my story, I’d want every sentence of my life to reflect Him. It would seem to be an unthinkable thing for me to deny even knowing Him,… yet at times is this exactly something that I do? When I’m in the world (at the store, at the gym, in the coffee shop) am I so quiet and polite about my faith, that I might as well be denying Him? Can others look at me and see that I “know this Man“?

“Father, I am honored to follow You. I love it! But help me show this world, proudly, that I am a disciple of Jesus. Forgive me for the times I’ve acted as though I do not know You. You are the best thing going on in my life, You are the Main Character in my story, and I want the world to know it! I love You.” – Michael

March 11th – “No Wannabes” 

[Bible reading: Numbers 15:17-16:40; Mark 15:1-47; Psalm 54:1-7; Proverbs 11:5-6]

“The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, but the unfaithful will be caught by their lust.'” – Proverbs 11:6

When a person wakes up each morning and decides to live for Christ, rather than live according to their own fleshly desires, they are choosing righteousness. This choice will help them escape many of the snares and traps of this sinful world. Conversely, when a person chooses to live according to their flesh, they will absolutely be caught up in, and in bondage to, their sin.

For years, Christians have created excuses to justify living with secret sin and lust in their hearts. Gone are the days of passionately pursing God with the way they actually live their lives. Jesus followers should constantly assess and ask ourselves if we are living day to day with a head full of Christ and a heart full of sin. Are we a wannabe disciple, but truthfully a secret phony? When we do this, it can be a dangerous trap. The Word cautions us to live authentically and righteously. There are just too many stories of well-meaning, seemingly radical Christians who have given into the lusts of their flesh. Their witness become a blight on Christianity and an embarrassment to the Lord and His Bride, besides all the damage it can do to those looking at themNumbers 32:23 declares, “you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out“.

“Father, continue to convict me, each and every day, to be authentic and to not harbor secret sin. I want to be holy, as You are holy. I want to live my life as a sacrifice to You today, dying to myself and my lusts and living for Your will and Your glory. I love You.” – Michael

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January – Week Four – Daily Devos

January 22nd – “Learn It, Live It” [Bible reading: Gen. 44:1-45:28; Mat. 14:13-36; Ps 18:37-50; Prov 4:11-13]

“I have taught you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in right paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hindered, and when you run, you will not stumble. Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; keep her, for she is your life.” – Proverbs 4:11-14

God teaches us, and gives us His wisdom. When we adhere to it – live by it, we walk in such a way so as not to stumble. It reminds me of Isaiah 40:31 where we are admonished to “wait” on the Lord and we will see similar results. Perhaps “waiting” on God and “holding fast to His wisdom” are the same?

God has given us Jesus, but He has also give us His Word (John 1 states that Jesus is His Word). This is ‘wisdom’ and I must be a man that not only loves Jesus and His Word, I better be a man who also behaves differently… and ACTS like I love Jesus and His Word. In other words, I can’t be all ‘talk’ and no ‘walk’. In John 14:24 Jesus declares, “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.” We’re also admonished in 1 John 5:2, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.”

“Father, I tire of stumbling in my walk with You, and of doubting, losing my temper, and just being selfish. Forgive me and help me live according to all I’ve learned. I don’t want just a bunch of head-knowledge. I love You deeply and want to live like it 100% of the time.” – Michael

 

January 23rd – “You Presume Too Much” [Bible reading: Gen. 46:1-47:31; Mat. 15:1-28; Ps 19:1-14; Prov 4:14-19]

“Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression.” – Psalm 19:13

Presumptuous” is an adjective that means ‘failing to observe the limits of what is permitted or appropriate‘. Numbers 15:30-31 states that if a person commits a sin “presumptuously” that they’d be ‘cut off‘ from their people. In other words, it was a BIG deal!

After walking with the Lord for a while, I find that I have much greater knowledge about what I should and should not ‘do’. This comes with maturity in Him. However, this also means that I can’t get away with sin and plead ‘ignorance’. I’m accountable for what I know. Truly, ‘to whom much is given, much is required’ (Luke 12:48).

“Father, along with the writer of this psalm, I ask that You keep me from sin that I know You want me to avoid. I need Your conviction and Your strength to turn from evil like I know I should. Thank You. I do love You.” – Michael

 

January 24th – “Single Track” [Bible reading: Gen. 48:1-49:33; Mat. 15:29-16:12; Ps 20:1-9; Prov 4:20-27]

“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put perverse lips far from you. Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you.” – Proverbs 4:23-25

To “keep” something means to make sure it doesn’t get away and that it’s safe from attack. The “heart” was always thought to mean “who you are“, the “true you that directs all your thoughts and emotions“. We are being warned here to not allow ourselves to be distracted by sin, and that we should always watch our mouths… our words can show where we really are with the Lord (Luke 6:45).

I must constantly be “on guard“, watching what I say, and where I am “gazing“. There are many distractions in this life, but my main goal is to be the man God has called me to be. From this, I must not deter!

“Father, may my mouth – the words I speak – be pleasing to You. Keep my eyes on You and things that are holy. Forgive my wandering heart and eyes. It is You and You alone I wish to look upon and follow. I love You.  – Michael

 

January 25th – “Thou Shalt Not Sweat It” [Bible reading: Gen. 50:1-26; Ex. 1:1-2:10; Mat. 16:13-17:9; Ps 21:1-13; Prov 5:1-6]

“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” – Genesis 50:20

God had miraculously transformed the disgustingness of man’s evil and sinful behavior into a diamond of Divine blessing. He still does this! He can take what the devil means for harm and turn it totally around for His glory!

When I am going through a tough season and feel alone and forgotten and “sinned against”… like Joseph must have felt many times during certain seasons of his life… I can take hope in the fact that God causes “all things to work together for good…” (Romans 8:28).

“Father, help me to always trust that You are in control. Why should I fear or be anxious about ANYTHING, when You are God, You are in control, and You are on the throne? I love You, and today I put my trust in You, my King.  – Michael

 

January 26th – “Ready On The Fly” [Bible reading: Ex. 2:11-3:22; Mat. 17:10-27; Ps 22:1-18; Prov 5:7-14]

“However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” – Matthew 17:21

The context: Jesus has cast out a demon, something His disciples failed to do. It’s a hardcore ministry. Notice, He didn’t stop everything He was doing and pray and call a fast… He simply cast out the demon. This means that He must have lived a life where prayer and fasting were prevalent.

Prayer and Fasting should be in my regular routine of life. I never know when God is going to ask me to be involved in hardcore ministry. The truth is, I can keep myself ready on the fly by practicing these disciplines regularly.

“Father, forgive me for only crying out to You when I’m in dire-straits. Successful ministry will flow as I walk with You in intimacy on a consistent and regular basis. Empower me for whatever You call me to do today. Thanks for being the love of my life.” – Michael

 

January 27th – “Ssssssspeech Problems?” [Bible reading: Ex. 4:1-5:21; Mat. 18:1-20; Ps 22:19-31; Prov 5:15-21]

“Then Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ So the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord?  Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what to say’.” – Exodus 4:10-12

Moses pointed out his own flaws and all the reasons why he couldn’t obey God and do what God had called him to do. These were only excuses, as if God were dependent upon Moses anyway. God answers and reminded Moses of Who He is and what He would do.

God can do a lot… with a little. When He chooses to use us, it is an act of His grace. He doesn’t have to use us. But being a tool in the Master’s hand is a privilege and an honor. Often I fear doing what the Lord asks… especially public speaking… thinking my sssslur or stupid sense of humor will distract from what God wants to accomplish. But I must always remember that God equips who He calls!

Father, thank You for all my flaws. May I never shy away from what You call me to do. It’s not by my own power anyway, but Your Spirit (Zech. 4:6). I love You so very much!” – Michael

 

January 28th – “Feeling Sheepish” [Bible reading: Ex. 5:22-7:25; Mat. 18:21-19:12; 23:1-6; Prov 5:22-23]

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” – Psalm 23:1

God was often referred to as a Shepherd in the Old Testament (Psalm 74:1; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:11-16). When Jesus said, “I Am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gives His life for His sheep in John 10:11, He not only was declaring Himself to be “God”, but He was also showing the depth of His love for those following Him.

Just as shepherds were known for their meticulous care for their sheep, even their willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for them (1 Samuel 17:34-35), so too was Jesus. What then am I truly in “want” of? Anything I think I “need” suffers in comparison to God laying down His life for me that I might obtain relationship with Him and eternal life.

“Father, thank You for Jesus. Thank You for loving me enough to lay Your life down that I might live! Thank You for shepherding, leading, feeding, and protecting me. May I follow You today and rest in Your presence.” – Michael

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The Right Hand of Fellowship

Abide-Bear-FruitToday I was reading in the Book of Psalms and I came across the familiar passage that reads: “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).  As I was meditating on this Scripture, I began to think of it in a brand new way. One of my favorite worship songs is “Here In Your Presence” [ you can listen to it here ]. Truly, being in the presence of the Lord is the one thing that brings “fullness of joy”. When I’m lost in worship, lose track of time in a morning devotion, or simply spending time walking and praying, these are the times I’m most at peace and happy. But as I read this verse today, and looked at the second part of the verse “At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore“… I couldn’t help but think of what, or Who, exactly is at God’s right hand:

Matthew 26:64Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Mark 16:19 So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.

Acts 2:32-34This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand,

Acts 7:55-56But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!

You see, JESUS is at God’s right hand. If that’s true… and it is… then “At Your right hand [where Jesus is] are pleasures forevermore“. Pretty cool.

One of my favorite Scriptures (so much so that I have it tattooed on my right forearm) is John 15:5 – “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” Abiding is all about the most important friendship of your life. Abiding doesn’t measure how much you know about your faith or your Bible. In abiding, you seek, long for, thirst for, wait for, see, know, love, hear, and respond to… a Person. More abiding means more of God in your life, more of Him in your activities, thoughts, and desires.

In our culture… and busyness to do and perform for God, we often are lame at the task of simply enjoying His company. Yet we were created to be dissatisfied and incomplete with less. Like the beautiful Psalm (42:1) states: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God“.

Abiding begins with visible spiritual disciplines, such as Bible reading, perhaps some singing, and prayer. However, it may shock you to find out that we can do these things for years without REALLY abiding. Think about it, reading a book about a person isn’t the same thing as knowing the person who wrote the book. The challenge in abiding is always to break through from dutiful activities to a living, flourishing relationship with God.

I’m convinced that “pleasures forevermore” are really only available to those who understand that hanging with Jesus – the One at the right hand of God – is where it’s truly at. Perhaps this is why David wrote: “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple” (Psalm 27:4). It’s sort of funny how the message today is so often, “do this or do that in order to find happiness“… even in the Church many times we boil happiness down to performing some ritual or formula.

What if it’s not that difficult? What if it’s as simple as understanding what “ABIDING” is… and then doing it? What if it’s hanging out with the Lover of our soul, Jesus Christ?

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Statistics in the Ministry

preach it babyIn case you needed a few reasons to pray for your pastor:

  • 90% of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week.
  • 80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Many pastor’s children do not attend church now because of what the church has done to their parents.
  • 95% of pastors do not regularly pray with their spouses.
  • 33% state that being in the ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 75% report significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.
  • 90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands.
  • 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged as role of pastors.
  • 90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • 70% say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.
  • 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.
  • 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
  • 33% confess having involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church.
  • 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.
  • 50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.
  • 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.
  • 94% of clergy families feel the pressures of the pastor’s ministry.
  • 80% of spouses feel the pastor is overworked.
  • 80% spouses feel left out and underappreciated by church members.
  • 80% of pastors’ spouses wish their spouse would choose a different profession.
  • 66% of church members expect a minister and family to live at a higher moral standard than themselves.
  • The profession of “Pastor” is near the bottom of a survey of the most-respected professions, just above “car salesman”.
  • 4,000 new churches begin each year and 7,000 churches close.
  • Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.
  • Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month , many without cause.
  • Over 3,500 people a day left the church last year.
  • Many denominations report an “empty pulpit crisis”. They cannot find ministers willing to fill positions.

#1 reason pastors leave the ministry — Church people are not willing to go the same direction and goal of the pastor. Pastors believe God wants them to go in one direction but the people are not willing to follow or change.

Statistics provided by The Fuller Institute, George Barna, and Pastoral Care Inc.

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So… You Wanna Be A Pastor?

prayingToday I received a letter from a young man who is prayerfully considering planting a church. He feels the Lord has called him to do so. I appreciate the fact that as he is prayerfully considering this, he is seeking wisdom from those who’ve gone before him. Because I prayerfully spent some time in crafting my answer, I thought I’d pass along some of what I wrote back to him. I recognize that not everyone who’ll read this blog is a pastor, however, I pray that in the following 12 points you’ll find something that the Lord will use to speak to you today:

  1. Love. Love Jesus. Love His church. Love your family. Love the unlovely. Love the calling of God upon your life.
  2. Pray. Regularly pray for the families that attend your church. This will enable you to love them more.
  3. Read. “Leaders are readers” is more than just a cliché, it’s truth. You need to read God’s Word every day, not just to prepare a message. You should be on a regular reading program. I work out 1-2 hours, five times a week, and while I’m working out I listen to God’s Word being read to me on my smart-phone (notice, not Christian music…or even other’s sermons). I also try and spend time each day actually reading the Word and under-lining passages and jotting down thoughts. A Lead Pastor MUST be in the Scriptures. There is a serious lack of Biblical understanding amongst today’s pastors. They are all but illiterate in the Word of God. Sure they know lots about other stuff, but not God’s Word. It’s scary.  Let me also say that along with the Bible, a Lead Pastor should also be reading other things, such as: Current events (news), books on leadership, etc. But remember, these things are to be read ALONG WITH THE BIBLE!
  4. Say no. When you are the lead pastor your time will become precious – requests to speak, requests to meet, requests to hear new ideas… etc, will come out of the woodwork. Guard your time, and get used to living on a schedule. Get a day-planner… or organizing app on your phone… and live by it. Make sure the things you say “yes” to are truly part of your mission and calling from the Master.
  5. Protect your joy. Don’t allow your joy to be sucked out. Be ready for criticism and negativity. You’ll see multiple critical emails and comments throughout your ministry, and you’ll meet with more than one disgruntled parishioner. Remember, you can’t please everyone. You must stand before Jesus alone to give an account. Galations 1:10 has always been a Scripture that I had printed out and above my desk to remind me of Who I was really working for.
  6. Protect your time. Guard your calendar from people and events that divert from the key mission areas of your life and the church, and your calling to study, set vision, pray, preach and teach. Only answer those emails that were sent to you that only you can answer. Try your best not to get caught up in the “defending the faith” type emails that often come across a young pastor’s path.
  7. Be the point man. When the church is young you’ll need to be the point man for EVERYTHING. Your input will be required for ALL decisions, as it should be – for you are the one called to be the Shepherd. However, your goal is to raise up another, and then many others that can free up the lead pastor from being the contact point for all but the essential ministries and activities. The sooner you raise these people, the healthier you and your church will be. CAUTION: When the church is smaller, other control-freak, type-A personalities will come out of the woodwork and try and latch themselves onto you and your ministry. Be careful who you allow to have a ‘voice’. You’re the point man. You’re the pastor!
  8. Oversee staff (some, many, or all). This comes into play as you grow. Resist the temptation to assign another to oversee the staff. You should be seen as the ‘Lead’ pastor. This is not an arrogant thing, but an understanding of what exactly God has called you to. Read Numbers 12 to get an idea of how God looks at a godly leader.
  9. Remove growth barriers. Observe barriers to growth (facilities, systems, groups, structures, disciplines) and put in place improvements to allow growth, under God, to continue.
  10. Supplement weaknesses. Identify the areas you are weak and the activities you find draining, then surround yourself with those who are gifted and called to do them. This is a HUGE mistake that I have seen many leaders make. They’ve placed people who had the exact same weaknesses as they had, and were too much like them in gifting and calling.
  11. Be SLOW to hire help. I have learned one very important thing over the past three years that I really wish I would have learned earlier: I should have been MUCH slower to higher staff. People should be willing to serve for free, before they are given a pay check. Obviously, this can’t always be the case in larger churches. However, in church plants and smaller fellowships, watch for those who are serving. The cream will rise to the top. Wait. Pray. Do not be too quick to “lay hands on a brother” (1 Timothy 5:22). Putting immature and novice people in places of church leadership is the BIGGEST mistake I made as a Lead Pastor. Please, please, please listen to me on this one.
  12. Remember your family is in the ministry with you. It saddens me when I see a leader whose wife or children are not on fire for Jesus. 1 Timothy 3 makes this VERY clear to me: “one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)”. When a pastor has a child, that lives under his roof, who is not passionate for Jesus (doesn’t show ‘reverence’ for the Lord)… one must ask the question “Why?” I have always done my best to INVOLVE my children in the ministry with me. This doesn’t mean simply having them play or sing on the worship team – truly, anyone can do that, because it’s pretty fun to be in the limelight. I’d always INVOLVE them by explaining the calling that God had on my life, and thus on theirs… seeing as He had chosen to place them in MY family. They read the Bible with me. They prayed for people, right alongside me, when folks would show up at my home needing help. They went on mission trips with me. They preached sermons even! If you are called to be married… and then called to have children AND you’ve been called to be a PASTOR… then your family must understand that THEY HAVE BEEN CALLED TOO. If they don’t… then perhaps YOU are not called – and your ministry WILL NOT BEAR FRUIT THAT LASTS.
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Am I Too Clingy?

cling-on-orangutan-pic-solent-633420222A few weeks ago my pastor (Al Pittman – Calvary Worship Center, Feb. 7th, 2016) said something in his message that really blew me away. He stated, “If Jesus is not the Prize… then you are running the wrong race.”

This has stirred me up big time, and caused me to ask many questions: Is JESUS the reason I do what I do? Is it Him alone? Is His glory… making HIS name famous… all that truly matters to me?

I’m finding that my answers truly matter to GOD, and that He is greatly interested in whether or not I’m clinging to Him.

Jeremiah 13:1-7Thus the Lord said to me: “Go and get yourself a linen sash, and put it around your waist, but do not put it in water.” So I got a sash according to the word of the Lord, and put it around my waist. And the word of the Lord came to me the second time, saying, “Take the sash that you acquired, which is around your waist, and arise, go to the Euphrates, and hide it there in a hole in the rock.” So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me. Now it came to pass after many days that the Lord said to me, “Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the sash which I commanded you to hide there.” Then I went to the Euphrates and dug, and I took the sash from the place where I had hidden it; and there was the sash, ruined. It was profitable for nothing. (NKJV)

Basically the Lord would have people, men like Jeremiah, do some pretty strange stuff in order to make a point. In this case, the LORD commands Jeremiah to buy a linen cloth (sash) and wrap it around his waist. This was something like a belt that would be part of any Levite priest’s wardrobe.

The priests wore this linen sash as a symbol of purity and fitness for service. In the book of Leviticus, the priests were commanded to bathe before dressing so that none of the holy garments would get spoiled with water.

Leviticus 16:4 – “He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. Theseare holy garments. Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on.” (NKJV).

Just as the linen stood for purity and service, Israel was supposed to be a people of purity– a kingdom of priests– who were fit for service in God’s kingdom.

So up to this point, all is normal. The priest, puts the sash on tight. It’s clean. He’s clean. Everyone is happy. It all points to the fact that he is fit for service to the Lord.

But then the Lord has Jeremiah do something a bit awkward. He commands him to travel a great distance and hide the clean sash in the crevice of a rock… and just leave it there. He obeyed and didn’t return until the Lord told him to… many days later. When he went to retrieve the sash he found it not only dirty, but totally ruined and worth nothing.

God was trying to say something pretty powerful to these people… and to us today.

I think He was saying that Israel/Judah was completely ruined, useless to God because of her sin. Just like the sash had been ruined by dirt, so too, God’s people had been ruined and spoiled by their sin. What catches me about the wording of this story are the words: “profitable for nothing”… other translations have: “totally worthless”.

I can’t help but notice that the belt was only tarnished by the dirt when it was removed from it’s rightful place – clinging to Jeremiah.

So, because the sash represents God’s people… and Jeremiah, I believe, represents the Lord. The picture God is going out of His way to paint for us is this: When we are not clinging to God, we become ruined and “profitable for nothing” or “totally worthless”.

Luke 10:38-42 – As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. “Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.”  The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.” (The Message)

Today, as we seek to honor God by serving Him… let us remember that we are totally worthless unless we are clinging to Him.

Michael, what exactly does that mean?

It means that we are thinking about Him, talking to Him, praising Him, worshiping Him, loving Him, remembering Him, asking Him for strength… a good attitude… a smile… an opportunity.

The Main Course is Jesus. We either cling to Him…or waste away. He is truly the Reason we’re here today, doing what we are doing. He is awesome. He is all that matters.

Jesus.

The Word explains to us that God made us for His pleasure (Phil. 2:13). If that’s true… and it is… if you and I are living only for ourselves, our careers, our money, our own happiness, we’ll be miserable and useless. But if we live to walk with and worship the Lord, by abiding in Him… clinging to Him radically and passionately, then we are truly fulfilling the reason for our existence.

So, along with Pastor Al’s statement:“If Jesus is not the Prize… then you are running the wrong race” I’d like to add another simple question. It’s a question that just might help determine if it really is Jesus that you and I are clinging to today: “If heaven had everything you could ever want… but JESUS was NOT there, would you still want to go?”

Today, may JESUS be all that we cling to.

Much Love! – Michael

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