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Ted was dead serious when he said to me, “How tough can your job be when you only work a few hours on Sunday?”
Without blinking, I replied, “About as tough as Russell Wilson’s job, I guess, since he only works a few hours on Sunday too.”
At the risk of sounding defensive, let me take that chance with the hope of helping you understand a few things about pastors.
Most of us work long hours in preparation for Sunday. Just like a professional athlete who works hard all week to get ready for game day, we invest a lot of time in study, research, prayer, message preparation, and practice. On average, most pastors devote about 15-20 hours each week preparing their talks. Why does this matter to us? Because we recognize the value of teaching the Word and realize eternity is in the balance for many who attend.
Regardless of the size of the church, every pastor invests a great deal of his time in caring for the sheep and the staff or volunteers. I lead a fairly large church, so there’s no way I’m going to be personally available to the thousand or so who call me pastor. But I oversee an amazing team of pastors and staff members (who oversee hundreds of incredible volunteers) who daily support the spiritual growth and health of our church. Equipping the saints (Ephesians 4) and investing in lives takes time.
Some chafe at this reality, but it’s true nonetheless: the church is a business. There are bills to pay, payroll to meet, toilets to fix, and floors to clean. If you’ve ever run a small business, you know about the 1,001 little things that regularly vie for your attention. If you’ve been an executive (CEO, CFO, COO) in a company, you know the daily demands placed upon you. Most pastors, at some level, are the chief-executive-financial-operations officers of the church they lead. You would be shocked to see how many hats most pastors wear.
Oh, did I mention the many extracurricular activities like weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs, and a plethora of community events we’re expected to attend? (Okay, maybe I don’t do many bar mitzvahs, but you get the point.)
Our lives are full. Most of the pastors I know work long and hard hours, and they do it with joy. We count it a privilege to function as under-shepherds in service to the Shepherd and His flock.
And when a lost individual is found . . .
Or a marriage is healed and renewed . . .
When the disenfranchised is restored . . .
Or a broken soul is made whole . . .
All the sacrifices we’ve made pale in comparison, and we wake up each morning thinking, “This is the greatest job in the world!”
“Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern
for all the churches under my care.”
2 Corinthians 11:28 (NIV)
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This blog is not just about football. It’s about life. However, this lesson comes from a recent football experience. (Hang in there with me.)
If you’re a Seahawks or Packers fan, I know where you were from about noon to 3 p.m. last Sunday. You were watching the NFC championship game. For me, it was 57 minutes of torture. The Hawks were horrible. After the game, it was called one of “the ugliest, unlikeliest, and all-around most fantastic NFC championship games in recent memory.”
My wife walked in with about five minutes left in the game, and I told her the Seahawks’ season was over. Turn out the lights. Another dream dashed. Another previous Super Bowl team one and done.
If you missed it, here are the highlights (and lowlights): Russell Wilson threw four interceptions; there was an onside kick recovered off a guy’s head by a reserve wide receiver who has been cut by the Seahawks twice (who’s also never caught an NFL pass); and a punter threw a do-or-die fourth-down touchdown that shocked everybody.
The game was wacky, weird and ultimately wonderful (unless you’re a Packers fan).
Here’s what I noticed, some 12th man fans decided to leave the game early when the Seahawks were down 15 points with fewer than 3 minutes left in the game. They probably paid hundreds of dollars for seats inside the stadium. However, they ended up watching one of the most incredible fourth-quarter comebacks in NFL history from behind glass walls outside the stadium as the Hawks scored 15 points in the final 2:09 minutes of regulation play.
Moral of this story: True fans don’t leave the stands because true fans never give up.
Sometimes we humans tend to be such fickle followers.
We cheer and root and wave the flag . . . until our heroes fail.
We scream in utter delight . . . until someone lets us down, and then we yell at him or her in disgust.
We’ll stay for 57 minutes, enduring the agony and the rain . . . until we give up, shake our heads and decide we’ve had enough.
I know, the majority of fans didn’t physically leave the stands, but I wonder how many of them emotionally gave up and lost faith.
So what? What does this have to do with real life on planet Earth where football is just a game?
I wonder how many of us give up on a friend who’s failed us one too many times because we think he or she is hopeless?
I wonder how many give up on their marriage thinking, “It’s never going to change”?
I wonder how many of us give up on a pastor or a church when it seems they just can’t get it together, and we’ve grown tired of waiting?
But what if . . . . ?
What if that friend is just one more chance away from real life change?
What if your marriage is just one or two miracles away from a radical transformation?
What if your pastor or church has struggled for 57 minutes (or 57 weeks), and yet God is about to do something that only He can do, and it’s going to be awesome?
True friends don’t give up on friends. True spouses don’t walk away when it seems like it’s over. True parishioners don’t throw in the towel and trade “teams” when they’re hurting or disappointed.
True fans stay in the stands. True friends and spouses stay the course. True partners in a community of faith demonstrate the spiritual fruits of forbearance and faithfulness (Galatians 5:22).
Because God’s specialty is the miraculous! Read the Book. Apparently, He delights in taking situations and people who seem hopeless and throwing them a Hail Mary pass that wins the game.
Maybe it’s time to learn the art of stick-to-it-iveness and not to give up so easily? Maybe it’s time to go beyond being a conditional fan to becoming fanatical about faithfulness.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged
because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him,
for there is a greater power with us than with him.”
2 Chronicles 32:7 (NIV)
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True confession number one: I drink an inordinate amount of coffee daily. It stains my teeth. It’s acidic. It’s mood altering and addictive (uh, doesn’t that make it a drug?). Coffee has been shown to inhibit DNA repair and slow the ability of the liver to detoxify foreign toxins. It intensifies my restless leg syndrome. And it costs about $30 per gallon. Nonetheless, you’ll have to pry my coffee mug away from my cold, dead fingers to get me to stop.
True confession number two: I don’t exercise enough, and I’m at least twenty pounds overweight and growing. I know I feel better, sleep better and maybe even look better when I work out on a regular basis, so perhaps I’ll start tomorrow (probably not). I do have a health club membership, but I’m a stranger to that place. Talk about wasting money. Sigh.
True confession number three: Occasionally, I don’t love people very well. People tend to get their knickers in a knot over the silliest things. (BTW, I have no idea what knickers are.) People are loyal and faithful and your friend until you do or say something that ticks them off. Then whatever relational equity you had disappears pretty quickly. People are sometimes self-centered, narcissistic, vain and mean. Think I’m exaggerating? Try cutting in line at the grocery store next week or cut someone off on the freeway and let me know how that works for you. For the record, I include myself in the “people” category which sometimes means I don’t love me either.
My point in these public confessions is simple: Often we know the right things to do or the wrong things to avoid, but we blow it anyway.
Why is that?
Why is it that we are prone to wander?
Why is it that every human on the planet shares this reality, all have sinned, and no one is perfect?
Maybe the Apostle Paul understood this battle better than most when he wrote:
Romans 7:15, 18-19, 21 (The Voice)
15 Listen, I can’t explain my actions. Here’s why: I am not able to do the things I want; and at the same time, I do the things I despise.
18 I know that in me, that is, in my fallen human nature, there is nothing good. I can will myself to do something good, but that does not help me carry it out. 19 I can determine that I am going to do good, but I don’t do it; instead, I end up living out the evil that I decided not to do.
21 Here’s an important principle I’ve discovered: regardless of my desire to do the right thing, it is clear that evil is never far away.
Why do we fail? Because we are human. Because our souls are fractured.
So does that mean we just give up, hit the moral snooze button and resign ourselves to unending idiocy?
Here’s what Paul wrote at the end of that chapter:
Romans 7:24-25 (The Voice)
24 I am absolutely miserable! Is there anyone who can free me from this body where sin and death reign so supremely?
(Insert answer here!)
25 I am thankful to God for the freedom that comes through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One!
In other words, though you and I are broken and flawed by our human nature, we can find hope and freedom in Christ. Though we are imperfect and will remain so on this side of eternity, we are perfectly imperfect because Jesus is changing us from the inside out. He is constantly helping us to become who we truly are in Him.
So rather than despair over your sin, keep your eyes on the One who understands and died to pay the price for your failures.
Rather than give up in despondency after you fail (again), just keep running to His throne of grace and mercy to find the help you need to change.
Rather than writing that person off after they let you down for the thousandth time, remember the One who promised you new mercies every morning and cut them some slack.
I will get into shape. I will love the unlovely. I will because He wills it, and He’s never going to give up on me.
As for coffee, keep praying for me.
I am confident that the Creator, who has begun such a great work among you,
will not stop in mid-design but will keep perfecting you
until the day Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King,
returns to redeem the world.
Philippians 1:6 (The Voice)
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