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Several months ago, I attended the memorial service of a man I had never met. The gentleman who had died was a teacher at my daughter's school, and was the father of one of her friends.We arrived early, but the church was already filled with people who had had a relationship with Paul -- former classmates, fellow church members, students, and of course, his family. People continued to arrive, and soon it was standing-room only as people came to celebrate this man's life.
Throughout the service, people shared stories of what it was like to do life with Paul. They described amusing events and inside jokes, and they tried to explain in a few short minutes what this man had meant to them.
One person, though, made a comment that has stayed with me. As the service was ending, Paul's brother said, "I think it's safe to say that we're all celebrating the same person today."
I wonder how many events we've been to, whether it's a memorial service or an awards ceremony, where the person being described in public is different than the person is in 'real life.' I wonder how many families hear stories of great generosity or sacrifice given toward a business or ministry that they never got to witness at home. When the person being lauded on stage is unavailable, or even angry or abusive when the lights are off and the crowd is gone.
We all struggle with being consistent in our attitudes and in how we present ourselves to others. I think the tendency, though, is to work on our public image and hope that it carries over to our more private relationships. Some may think that their sacrifices or generosity toward others will somehow justify their bad behavior toward their family. Others may simply expect that their family will forgive bad behavior because they are supposed to.
We often describe integrity as being the same person in public that one is in private. One definition I read said that integrity is 'an undivided or unbroken completeness.'
Striving toward that level of integrity in our relationships requires humility. It requires being willing to apologize, but it also requires us to work to change the behavior and attitudes that drive our apologies. I think we also need to have someone with whom we can be vulnerable; who will listen, but who also has the freedom to challenge us to be better.
If we work toward that level of integrity in our closest relationships, it will naturally become part of what people see in public.
And that is something to celebrate.
Betrayed by Stan Telchin. Chosen books. www.chosenbooks.com.How would you feel if your daughter told you she believed in Jesus? This Jewish businessman felt betrayed. This is a great book to read as well as passing it on to a Jewish unbeliever. It is a easy book to read and I will tell you up front you will not want to put it down. My wife read this right after me and she read it in one sitting. The Telchins we're happy, close-knit family until the day their daughter called from college with a a shocking revelation: She had become a Christian. Judy's decision prompted her father to set out to disprove the Messiahship of Jesus in order to win her back. He had to study the Bible for the first time in his life to be able to do this. This is around 146 pages long.
The Bowden Dynasty by Charles Barnes and Bobby Bowden. Broadsheet publishers. A Story of Faith, Family and Football. I will tell you up front that I am a Seminole Fan through and through. I love Bobby Bowden. He is a class act. I came to love Bobby Bowden as we Pastored in Jacksonville, Florida for many years. I loved him deeper for his faith and for what he did for Marshall College in the 70's. If you love football you will love reading this great book for relaxation. You will get some leadership tips and you will be amazed at the success this godly man has had through the years, as well as the lives he has impacted. This book is on sale now through Lifeway for $3.50. About 450 pages long. Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom? By Matt Carter & Aaron Ivey. I love reading anything I can get on Spurgeon. If you love Spurgeon you will devour this book. It is an easy read but you will find yourself daydreaming and seeing Sprugeon in London being mightily used of God. This was the first time I had heard of ex-slave preacher Thomas Johnson. I found some good illustrations in this book to use in sermons. You can purchase this book as an E Book for $9.99.
There are a number of places in Scripture where God talks about having bodily organs, such as “eyes to see,” “ears to hear” and “clean hearts.” What is obvious in these passages is God is talking about something other than the physical body parts of eyes, ears and hearts. He is trying to raise our awareness that there are sites to behold, sounds to hear and intents to discern that exceed the capacity of physical organs to register.
I thought about this when reading Matthew 26:41. In the garden, immediately before being betrayed, Jesus spent time with the Father. He withdrew with James, John and Peter, seeking from them support as He cried out to God. You may know the story. Instead of finding his closest earthly friends having his back, they were asleep. His response was simple and direct, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Jesus’ statement points to the existence of an overlap between the physical and the spiritual. Like the shaded section of a Venn Diagram, life is a state at the convergence of the outer and inner, between the physical and non-corporeal, between what we notice and what is more arduous to recognize (could it be, that portion of reality that lacks God’s involvement and presence is Hell and that which possesses nothing but His presence is Heaven?).
Humanity is generally adequately equipped to operate in the realm of the physical. But, that of the spiritual requires extra investment on our part to discern. Never the less, Jesus’ message to Peter, James and John is, we can recognize and move in this area of the spirit. But, it requires the sensitivity of spiritual eyes, ears hearts and other parts.
This concurrent reality of the physical/spiritual can be likened to being in a large room that is bustling with activity. All around people are carrying on conversations, transactions are being made and various topics discussed. As you and those who accompany you enter the room, you engage in one of these exchanges or start one of your own. In this situation your physical senses are overwhelmed, bombarded by the sights, sounds and the atmosphere of it all. Yet, you settle into your discussion, the others falling into the background. Though there is the danger of distraction, you are able to pick out the voice and issue you are involved with.
Now, add to this scenario, the idea you brought your child with you. All the while you are having your conversation, amidst people who are having their conversations, you are sensitive to and aware of your child. So much so, out of the corner of your eye you are watching your child. Your ears are ever sensitive to the sound of your child’s voice amongst all the other sounds in the environment. Your senses reach out to such a degree that when your child moves beyond a predetermined distance, you instinctively know and look for her.
With everything going on, you are aware of your child and make every effort to keep tabs on her. That explains the interesting intersection of this dichotomous existence called life. Everybody lives here. But, particularly for the disciples, this is where we live our relationships with God. Part of us in this world, part of us in the Kingdom. Living out the reality of His Kingdom in the plane of this existence. Which is why Jesus admonished the three to “watch,” to see beyond what is there. To look for that which is not readily visible. For at the moment of Jesus’ time in the garden, more was going on than some “alone time.” A spiritual transaction was underway. For Jesus, it was the wrestling of HIs humanity with the will of His Father. For those who would soon come and arrest Jesus, it was their desires versus the predetermined will of God.
I believe every day spiritual events are taking place. Those who ask about the reality of God are blithely overtaken by these events. They take place with no or little notice by them. Why? Because, though they have eyes to see, they don’t look. Though they have ears to hear, like the crowd at Jesus baptism, they think God is merely thunder (John 12:29). Even Jesus-followers can become so unaware as to be blind, deaf and hard of heart (Rev. 3:14-22).
Let not God pass you by.
I’ve counseled a lot of pastors over the years, which is a privilege, but can also be heartbreaking. Pastors are human, and they struggle with the same pressures thateveryone does. Yet there can be an unspoken expectation that pastors have to be perfect.1 Timothy 3:2, indicates that a leader should be “above reproach” and “must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation.” Paul sets the standard high, and we are wise to follow his instruction, but we tend to drain all grace out of these guidelines. Apart from Christ, the New Testament doesn’t present spiritual leaders as flawless, even after they receive the Holy Spirit. Paul lost his temper and got into a disagreement with Barnabas that became so intense that they split ways (Acts 15:36-41). Peter turned away from those who needed the gospel in order to appease the in-crowd (Galatians 2:11-14). External pressure proved to be too much and they caved in. These examples are not an excuse for sin, but we need to be aware of external pressure so that we don’t give into internal temptation to sin. With all of the pressure to perform, some pastors succumb to stress, burnout, and even scandal.
It’s easy to become absorbed in a frenzy of activity. Leaders often take on too many responsibilities, or other people’s problems overwhelm them. A lot of ministers absorb the anxiety and stress from their congregants and staff. They say “yes” to too much and overstep their own limits. When the focus is on taking care of other people, time with God and family can fall by the wayside. How do we prevent burnout?Here are three tactics that I suggest for pastors and ministers that are feeling the strain:
1. RestFind time for rest. While we don’t have to follow a strict observance of the Sabbath, the general principle is still beneficial and restorative. In the words of Christ: “’The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’” (Mark 2:27). I suggest resting daily, weekly, and every few months.• Have a daily sabbath time, where you cut off all work at a certain time in the evening.• Also, take whole days off every week. You want at least one day off, but ideally two days off in a row. Two sleeps in a row, without having to wake up to work, can really help you recover from the week.• Take a vacation every few months. Get out of the house and get away.• If you can’t get out of town, at least plan a “staycation”, where you stay at a nearby hotel or someone’s home to get away from the distraction of work. Create space in your life so you can breathe.2. Nourish Your Spiritual LifeFocus on feeding your soul. Do this by connecting with God, connecting with family, and connecting with close friends.• Have alone time with God on a regular basis. Implement silence with prayer so that you have time to listen for God’s voice.• Make your family a priority. Carve out time to date your spouse as well as other times to spend with the kids as a family. These don’t have to be expensive outings. A trip to the park is sufficient for family day. An evening drive to get ice cream can be a memorable date. The point is to intentionally connect with your spouse and your kids. This reflects the passage we mentioned earlier where Paul makes the point that “if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:5).• Develop deeper friendships with two or three other believers. It’s great if you have friends within your congregation, but it can be beneficial to have friends outside of the church who are detached from the nitty-gritty of what’s going on. Connecting with your loved ones in meaningful ways will go far in feeling less alone.3. Set LimitsFinally, you want to set boundaries. Get over the messiah complex—you cannot do it all.• Become accustomed to saying “no.”• Don’t be afraid to delegate and ask others to take over certain responsibilities. This means letting go.• Consider getting a personal assistant to answer emails and to screen phone calls.• When you counsel your parishioners, don’t get overly involved in their problems. Only meet with them for two or three sessions, then refer them out to a Christian counselor or a trained lay counselor in your church.What should you do if you are on the edge?• Get away. An emergency sabbatical is better than just quitting on the fly. What your soul may be wanting and needing is a break.• Get some counseling. Find a Christian counselor who has experience working with pastors. Online counseling may be an option if you live in a small community, and you don’t have a counselor close by.• Don’t make any major decisions until you are able to step back, get some rest, and hear from God.• More than anything, be prayerful.• Gain some wisdom from other leaders you respect.Take good care of yourself, so that you can more effectively tend to God’s people.Tres Adames is Board Certified Pastoral Counselor and a counselor with Leader Care. He is the founder and director of Arizona Christian Counseling in Phoenix, Arizonawhere he has been counseling for the past 5 years.