Monthly Archives: June 2013

How to Survive Going from Awesome to Awful!

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Sheep

We pastors are a strange lot. We have been called and commissioned by God, empowered beyond our own resources, and granted the privilege of caring for His flock. And yet we still struggle with fear and insecurity. We still wrestle with our own flesh. And we will always, it seems, face the reality of rejection.

Growing up as a PK (preacher’s kid), I knew that pastors were far from perfect. I also knew that the flock sometimes bites their shepherd. I’d seen my dad deal with the hurt that a parishioner can inflict many times. In fact, for that reason, in my teens I told God, “I will do anything for you but become a preacher!”  (God just smiled!)

Many times, however, I also heard the accolades my dad received from those he had impacted. Hundreds and hundreds of people called my dad “pastor” with pride. To this day, though he has been with Jesus for nearly fourteen years, I still get an occasional email or card telling me of my dad’s influence in someone’s life.

What baffled me as a child, and frankly still amazes me as an adult, is how quickly a pastor can go from awesome to awful in the minds of some.

Every Sunday I have the honor of standing before my community of faith and proclaiming God’s Word. I love my job. I love my call. I love our people. I was made to do what I do and cannot imagine doing anything else.

But every Sunday I am keenly aware that I am being evaluated as well. Some will like me and what they hear; others will not.

Some will leave after a service and think, “How did that guy ever end up a pastor, and what in blazes is he thinking wearing jeans to church?”

Others will make a beeline for me after a service and say, “That was the best message I’ve ever heard! You’re the best pastor I’ve ever had!” And I smile, not in cynicism, but in the knowledge that we humans (and I include me in that we) are a capricious clan.

I am always grateful for the encouragement and kind words but also painfully aware of the fickleness of human nature. That very same person, who patted me on the back initially, sometimes ends up punching me in the gut weeks, months, or years later as they exit our church in a tizzy.

Rejection is hard.

Here are some things I’ve learned about this along the way that apply to everyone, not just pastors:

  •  Guard your heart. Don’t be cynical. Don’t live in fear of rejection. Remember, Jesus too went from awesome to awful in the minds of many. He understands, so take your pain to Him when you are rejected.
  •  Grow through it. Without getting caught in a maze of self-doubt, ask yourself, “Is there something I need to learn through this bite?” Criticism has value if there truly is something I can discover through it. I tell our church on a regular basis, “I’m not perfect.” So what’s the point of pretending like I am? And why then would I immediately and without consideration reject criticism as if I never make a mistake? A wise imperfect person continues to grow when confronted with the opportunity to do so.
  •  When it’s all said and done, shake off the dust and move on. Rejection hurts. Even the most spiritually mature feel at least a twinge of pain when it happens. But getting stuck there is stupid. Reality 101: no one is perfect. Reality 102: your criticizers aren’t perfect either. Reality 103: the best thing is to grow and go—don’t spend too much time or energy worrying about what you can’t change. Sometimes we get derailed from the bigger picture by proud people who feel the need to smack us around. Don’t go to their level; keep moving forward, and stay focused on the goal.
  •  Speak well of the departed. This one is tough. Again, our human nature demands that we defend ourselves. We feel the need to put others in a bad light so that we look good. I really wrestle at times with a tendency to react rather than respond. Yes, there is a place for speaking the truth in love. Yes, there are times when we’ve actually done nothing to deserve the wrath we have received. And yes, sometimes we must explain or clarify something about the departed. But make sure your heart and your motives are pure rather than polluted by your own pain.
  •  Thank God for the blessers and the biters. Of course, I’d rather be blessed than bitten, but the Word challenges me to give thanks always (1 Thess. 5:18), even when it hurts. Thanking God for the pain is an act of faith that declares, “I believe You can redeem, restore, and renew any situation and anyone fully surrendered to You.”

In one of the longest chapters in the New Testament (John 6), Jesus miraculously feeds five thousand hungry people, and as a result, they want to make Him king! Later, He walks on water and blows the minds of His disciples. But after a difficult teaching, one that ticked off a bunch of people, many disciples deserted Jesus. The very people who once thought He was AWESOME now rejected Him as awful.

Jesus felt the pain. He was God, but he was also human.

He turned to the twelve, and I am certain with angst in his voice, He asked, “Do you want to leave me too?”

Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

I’m sure Jesus appreciated Pete’s loyalty at the moment, but He knew that one of them was a betrayer (Judas) and that all of them would eventually flee from His side in fear.

But you know what amazes me? Jesus loved these guys anyway. He never gave up on them. He never lost focus. He never quit.

My prayer is, “God, help me to be much more like Your Son. Help me to stay the course even if that course takes me to a cross. Help me to love even when I am not loved, and to forgive as I have been forgiven. Help me to remember, it never has been and never will be about me.”

 

 

 

“Sheep” image used by permission, courtesy of Peter Haken, freedigitalphotos.net

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4 Responses to How to Survive Going from Awesome to Awful!

  1. Been thinking of you and praying for you Kurt. So appreciate your share. Passing it on to all our pastors and friends who can use the encouragement And reminder. You are a Warrior for Him in my book! Thanks for your transparency!

  2. Kurt that was a wonderful post. The title caught my attention and I had to read it!
    Blessings.

How to Experience an Epic Life!

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BoredGod never designed life to be boring. He never intended for his kids to live a meaningless or insignificant existence. He created life to be epic. From our first breath to our last heartbeat, life is meant to be wondrous, an adventure and journey filled with challenge and joy. Boring is not in God’s vocabulary.

If that’s true (and it is), then why do so many live lives of mediocrity? Why do some wander through life with little, if any, clue about what it looks like to live the “abundant life” Jesus promised (John 10:10)? Why is it that many only experience adventure vicariously through mindless hours of reality TV? Is that the reality God planned for us?

I know what some of you are thinking, “Not everyone longs for adventure! Most of us are content to live normal lives without the need for adrenaline. Thank you very much.”

I understand. But I need you to know that I’m not suggesting that we all become adrenaline junkies. You don’t have to climb a mountain or jump out of a plane to experience God’s adventure for your life. You don’t need to buy a motorcycle (though they are fun). You don’t have to move to Africa and become a missionary. You don’t even need to leave your home to know his life in epic proportions.

The secret to living an epic life is simple: Learn to say “yes” to God and be willing to take whatever risks are necessary to follow him.

It’s in our human nature to say to God, “No thanks!” or “Not now!” or “Yes, but . . .” in a feeble attempt to avoid risk. It’s not typically normal for us to step outside of our comfort zones and into the unknown. When given the opportunity to either stay put and hunker down or to step out and go for it, we drift toward immobility because of fear.

But what if . . .

What if an adventure of epic proportions is waiting for you? What if there is a life planned by the Father that goes way beyond your expectations or imagination? What if you are just one powerful moment away from experiencing more life and more of God than you have ever dreamt possible?

I want to encourage you to ask “What if?” and to inspire you to take more leaps of faith as you learn to trust in God and his great purposes for you. By the way, leaps of faith are not foolish acts of stupidity. They are choices you make to respond to God’s Word and his invitations. It is a lifestyle of listening to him, listening to the wise and godly counsel of others, and then pursuing him with all your heart no matter what the cost or challenge.

There’s one more thing I need to be honest about before we go any further. An epic life is not always an easy life. Perhaps deep down in your soul you already know this to be true, and that’s one reason why you’ve taken a pass on life. The fact is an epic life often involves hardship and trials. There are no promises of being fat and happy all the time. There are no guarantees of a struggle-free existence. If you are always expecting a party or parade, you will be disappointed.

That being said, here’s a promise I can make: You will never regret living an obedient life of faith or taking a risk to follow Jesus. Why? Because it is on that narrow path that you will experience more of God’s presence and more of his power in and through you. Remember, Jesus said it is the narrow road that leads to life (Matthew 7:14).

A dear friend asked me several years ago, “What is your greatest regret?”

“Good question,” I replied.

Of course, I immediately thought of about a gazillion dumb things I’ve done, and I began to focus on my past mistakes. Suddenly, however, like a bolt of lightning it hit me, my biggest regrets are not just about my biggest stupid mistakes. What I regret most are times when I pulled a Jonah—the times when I directly or indirectly said no to God.

“No, God, I don’t have the time, energy, skills, or gifts necessary to do that for you.”

“No, God, I don’t feel like it right now.”

“No, God, I don’t want to forgive and bless that person because they deeply hurt me and don’t deserve it.”

“No, God, I don’t think I can give that much money to you and survive.”

“No, God, I’m afraid of failure.”

I want you to understand, there are too many times when I said “No!” and those are my biggest regrets. Honestly, we can’t do anything about the past but get forgiven and move on. And moving on is precisely what I pray for you and me.

Let’s decide to live the rest of our lives without any more regrets and without any more excuses. Let’s learn together to listen, to follow, and to obey regardless of the risk. Let’s determine right here and right now to say what Jesus said to the Father, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

That, my friends, is where the epic journey of real and abundant life begins. In the face of risk, struggle, and even death we yield to God, and in doing so, we experience more of him and his epic life!

  “Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine

by his power at work within us.” Ephesians 3:20 (CEB)

Image “Tired Man” by Graur Codrin courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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2 Responses to How to Experience an Epic Life!

A Matter of Perspective

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BinocularsI’ll be honest, the last twelve months or so have been tough. I’ve been in pastoral ministry now for over thirty years. A lot has happened in the decades gone by, but this past year has been exceptionally difficult.

Of course, in life there is always a mix of the good with the bad. Plenty of incredible things have happened as well. Getting my first book contract with Tyndale was amazing. Watching our church finish and pay for the last remodel was exciting. Seeing a boatload of people get saved and baptized this past year has been awesome. Going on an all-expense-paid trip to the Holy Land with my mom has been sweet!

Not everything has been a struggle.

But I’ve had the wind knocked out of me more than once in some pretty surprising ways. Friends have deeply disappointed me. Health issues (with my back) have frustrated me. Expectations and some personal goals have not been met.

Frankly, I’m more disappointed with myself than I am with anyone else. I live by some fairly high personal standards, and I feel like I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded.

Don’t worry. I’m fine. I’ve lived long enough to know that life is filled with the unexpected and plenty of trials. I’m not depressed or suicidal. This too shall pass. But the last couple of days I’ve been thinking a lot about a few things.

First, life is hard. In fact, recently way more of my life has been hard than easy. Like I said, lots of good things have happened along the way, but that has not been my norm. Normal for me (and most of you) is: hard, harder, good, hard, more hard, mixed in with some incredibly good things followed by more hard. Where did we get the idea that this is abnormal? Seriously, why do we expect life to always be so easy?

For the record, this isn’t pessimism; this is realism. I’m all for being an optimist, but the only thing that makes an optimist an honest optimist is seeing everything—the good and the bad. Then, from a position of reality, they choose to focus on the good. However, when an optimist ignores the bad, they are choosing to live in denial, and that’s just stupid.

Be optimistic! Land on the good. Always try to focus on the best. But don’t forget this reality: Life is hard, but it’s okay. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 14:33).

I want to suggest that living with the expectation of struggle is key to surviving it. You won’t get nearly as depressed or frustrated when the crap hits the fan if you’re expecting some flying crap.

Second, God’s not finished with me (or you) yet. It’s not like He doesn’t know what He’s doing. He always has a plan even when I can’t see it. I know there are times when we’re clueless, and we’re pretty sure God is too. But in those moments I like to remind myself, God is still working despite my inability to understand everything (or anything).

Seems like learning to trust Him will be a lifelong endeavor, and that’s a good thing. Would I, in fact, truly learn to trust God if I never had to face things bigger than me? By definition, to trust is to believe, to hope, and to hold on to Him even when (especially when) I can’t see squat.

And through it all, I need this powerful perspective—God is doing something in me intended to create the character and compassion of Christ in my life. We humans grow best in struggle. I wish that wasn’t true, but it is.

Finally, any good in my life is a gift from Him. James said, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights…” (James 1:17). Simply put, if it’s good, it ultimately comes from God. And that’s an important perspective to maintain.

Sometimes, I foolishly think, “I deserve better. I behave (usually). I faithfully serve. I faithfully give. So God owes me.” The truth is, every good thing I have is a gift of God’s mercy and grace in my life. Having this perspective is critical to living with gratitude rather than an entitlement mentality. If I get peeved when I don’t get what I want or think I deserve, then something is terribly wrong in my heart.

You’ve heard it before—perspective is everything. It matters. It affects everything about everything.

So I suggest you and I live with this view of life on planet earth: Even though life is hard, I will trust God no matter what and humbly and gratefully receive whatever good I experience as an undeserved gift from my Father.

Funny how a proper and godly perspective doesn’t necessarily change anything about my circumstances, but it sure changes me.

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