Thoughts on Praying for Our Leaders

Over the last couple of weeks we have heard a lot about praying for our leaders in light of the inauguration of a new president.  Obviously, this call has been heightened by the reality that most evangelicals didn’t vote for the president, and he stands for a few things that evangelicals stand strongly against.  So, appropriately, there has been a strong reminder for believers to pray for the President, regardless of whether we voted for him.

So it was fortuitous when our time in our High School sunday school class brought us to the first part of I Timothy 2.  I had read a lot of people building on the command to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions”, but not a lot else exegetically about the passage.  So when I spent some time studying, reading, and meditating on it, I came to some conclusions that I believe help us better understand not on the command to pray, but also how and why.  Here are some thoughts in no particular order.

Obviously, we all know that context is king when understanding a passage, so its helpful to notice the context of this passage.  It directly follows Paul reflecting on the Gospel’s effect in his own life.  He recognizes that formerly he was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.  But Paul, the foremost of sinners, received mercy through Christ.  This causes him to spontaneously break out in praise in verse 17, proclaiming that God is the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, and deserves all the honor and glory forever and ever.

Once we approach the passage of 2:1-7 itself, we notice that it’s actually about the Gospel also.  In verse 4 we are reminded of God’s desire for all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.  (I told the kids that Conor would be providing a discourse fully explaining this and other difficult passages concerning God’s will in two weeks.)  Paul says that there is one way to God, one mediator between man and God, that being Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for many.

I don’t think we can separate the Gospel from the command to pray for leaders.  This means, I believe that the primary concern and topic of our prayers should be the salvation of our leaders.   This fits in with the reality that we can’t transform our nation through political reform, but through the transforming work of the Gospel.  Of course we are to pray for wisdom and guidance for our leaders, but I don’t think our prayers should stop there.

That leads me to the statement in verse 2.  Paul says we are to prayer for our leaders “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  When I read this, I could see a health and wealther taking this verse and preaching that our lives would be easy and comfortable if we just follow this command.  Unfortunately, we know that this won’t be our physical reality on this side of eternity. I don’t think this is talking about a physical state of our lives.

Rather, I think that when he speaks of a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified, I think he speaking of an emotional and spiritual perspective prayer brings us.  Prayer aligns our priorities and perspectives with God.  Prayer is not just making our thoughts known to God, but uniting our hearts and minds with His.  So when we make a practice of praying for our leaders, we are reminding ourselves of God’s sovereignty over the leaders of our nations, states, and towns.  Truly this was to bring comfort to believers living under the tyranny of Nero, as was the case in this context. If they can draw comfort and peace from prayer in that situation, surely it can be a comfort to us no matter who our leader is.

FaceDown Behind the Music

This morning I was on my way into our staff meeting when someone told me they saw my video’s online.  When I gave them a confused look, they realized I didn’t know what they were talking about.  She explained that it was some type of video of FaceDown for a CORE Week in the past.  Then I realized that someone put up the Behind the Music episodes I made during my first summer out here.  So I watched the first one and I was taken back.  I had a ton of fun making them and should give a shout out to Dan Currier and Alex Wen who did a lot of the edit work on them.  I’ll throw up the videos on here, but for now, here’s the first episode!

Doesn’t God Know What He’s Losing?!

Over the next week or so I’m going to be posting some of my thoughts on my losing my job and moving out of the ministry that I have loved and still do. Its still early in the process, but God has already shown me so much. He has shown me so much that I need to work on, some things that I took for granted, and how much people here really care for me.  Just the response to the news has shown me that there are people here who care about me, and people that have truly seen what God has done through me.

One of my first thoughts was the students that I will be leaving behind.  I know that there are many that will continue to pursue God and will grow in the knowledge of God.  But there are many that I will be leaving behind who I worry about.  They aren’t normally going to church.  They don’t have other people pursuing them.  If they are going through something tough, they know that I’m going to be the one that they can call.

One of the highlites of my job is when a student that I haven’t seen in forever just randomly decides to stop by and say ‘hi’.  I know that they’re really saying ‘hi’, but that they need someone to talk to.  My immediate reaction is to wonder, ‘Who are they going to talk to?’  Whoever comes in after me isn’t going to know them.  There are two thoughts that God has comforted me with:

1. There is a parent that has been a ministry to me.  She has a child whose heart is hard towards the Gospel.  I couldn’t begin to imagine what that would be like if that were Micah.  I pray to God that I never have to deal with the horrible test of having a child that I know isn’t living under the saving grace of God.  The mother’s encouraging words to me were that we are to trust that God loves our children even more than I do.  I can rest in the fact that I cannot possibly come to love any student the way that God does, and God will do whatever He needs to do to bring people unto Himself.

2. My close friend John Milton has also taught me a lot.  His most famous sonnet has come to mind multiple times.  The background to this sonnet is that John Milton has worked his whole life for the purpose of serving God with his gifts, particularly with the task of writing the best epic ever.  His whole literary career had been spent building up to the point where he could write an epic that would not only compete with Dante, Homer, and Virgil, but would also justify the ways of God to man.

Then tragedy struck Milton.  He went blind.  It’s generally thought that he had taxed his eyes so much, particularly by reading constantly with poor lighting, that he lost his gift of sight.  Milton’s thought was that now he couldn’t do what God had called him to do.  What was God going to do without Milton’s gifts?  That’s when he wrote this sonnet:

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

The thing that Milton learned in this trial was that God didn’t need him.  God didn’t need his gift.  In fact, God has angels in Heaven whose role is to only stand by Him and wait.  The realization is that God is in control and makes us who we are for the tasks that He decides and prepares.  God knows what He is doing in my life.  He knows what He is doing in His ministry and His church.  I’m not indespensible, and God is honored with me doing whatever task He grants me.  Thank you Milton.

God’s Plans > My Plans

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”  Proverbs 19:21

I’ve been wondering how I was going to say this for some time now.  I’ve had a month to think about it and I still haven’t come to any great conclusion.  Over the last month, God has convinced me more than ever that His ways are not always going to be my plans.  The purpose of the Lord is that we no longer serve at San Gabriel Union Church and we move our family back to NH.  The elders have decided that I am no longer a good fit for the church and that it is best if we part ways.

I would be lying if I said that I agreed with this conclusion or that I haven’t struggled with this decision.  It has been very difficult to hear, as my life’s passion for the last seven to eight years has been the youth of San Gabriel Union Church.  I have had amazing opportunities to grow, be stretched, and cut my teeth in ministry, from just wanting to help out and joining Jr High staff to being able to serve as pastor for two years.  I know that I will always be indebted to SGUC for their faithfulness and patience with me and for paying for me to go to Seminary.  I would not be where I am today, were it not for the generosity of the church.

So where do we go from here?  My last day at work will be January 31st, and I will be able to hand off the ministry to a very capable and loving youth staff.  I have no doubts that they will faithfully serve with self sacrifice until someone is able to come in and take my place.  For my family, Leah and Micah will be flying out on February 10th and I will be following them a few days later, driving across the country with our belongings.  God has already proven Himself faithful to us in the provision of a place to live for free for the ime being.  As far as employment goes, I’m not sure of what I will be doing.  But I know that God will meet our needs there, also.

There are many things that I am learning, and I’m sure that I will post many of those thoughts in the coming weeks.  All I want to say at this point that this is incredibly painful and sad for me to do.  My heart breaks when I think of the friends and family that I will be leaving behind.  When I came out here, I didn’t know anyone and I was far away from anyone I could call family.  But over the proceding 10 years in California, I have made so many friends and have people I can sincerely call family.  One consolation I can take is that this seperation is only for a time.  I am confident that one day we will gather around the throne of God, praising the Lamb that was slain for sinners like us.  But it does not make it any easier at the present time.  My heart is still here, but I am working at accepting God’s plan for my life and ministry, no matter what my plans were.  And I am confident that His plan for my life is best and following him with an humble heart and an eager spirit to see what He has planned.

When Was the Last Time You Wept for Your Nation?

Lately, we’ve been going through the book of Lamentations in our high school group for Wednesday nights.  I know this isn’t a common choice, but it was voiced by the kids, and I thought it would be a good month or so.  For those of you who are familiar with the book of Lamentations, let me take a moment to set the scene.

The prophet Jeremiah was called to preach to the Southern Kingdom of Judah in a time where their hearts and allegiance was removed from the Lord.  The Norther Kingdom had already been hauled off by Assyria, who then grew more and more incapable of enforcing their empire.  Babylon comes up on the scene, and overtakes Assyria to become the big bully on the block.  They grow in power and seek to conquer the world.  Nebuchadnezzar leads a charge through the land of Israel, and they cry ‘uncle’ and are made a vassal state.  When Nebuchadnezzar finds more opposition than he was expecting in Egypt, he returns home for a year to reload.  During this time, Israel makes the tragic mistake of yielding allegiance to Egypt, which didn’t make Babylon happy.  Nebuchadnezzar comes back, sieges Jerusalem, eventually captures it, destroys the Temple, walls and gates, and hauls King Zedekiah off to Babylon.

During this time, Jeremiah is called to preach a call to repentance to his nation, but is told at the beginning that they won’t listen and he’ll find opposition everywhere.  God promises to deliver him, but its a pretty grim picture.  Jeremiah preaches his message and finds somewhat of an audience with Josiah before he is killed in battle, but nothing after that.  He was turned on by his people and false prophets decried him.  He was mocked, beaten, thrown in jail, left for dead, and accused of treason for telling Zedekiah to surrender to Babylon because God had raised them up to punish His people, Israel.

One would expect Jeremiah to react like Jonah.  To walk out of the city and wait for the wrath of God to consume it.  But that isn’t what happens.  There is a reason why Jeremiah was called the weeping prophet.  Listen to how deeply affected Jeremiah was by his people’s sin:

“My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out to the ground because of the destruction of the daughter of my people, because infants and babies faint in the streets of the city.” Lamentations 2:11

“My eyes will flow without ceasing without respite, until the Lord from Heaven looks down and sees; my eyes cause me grief at the fate of all the daughters of my city.”  Lamentations 3:49-51

“Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people.”  Jeremiah 9:1

Jeremiah was personally afflicted by his people’s rejection of God’s words.  When he preached, it was not with the primary of condemnation, but with correction and restoration.  I pained Jeremiah to see his people move so far from arms of their covenant God.  It is also interesting to see how often he lumps himself in with Israel, not content to just take pot shots from a distance, but to share in the misery.

As I was preparing to preach through chapter 3, I realized a large shortcoming in my own heart.  I could use a lot of Jeremiah in me.  I have found that it is really easy to sit back, see the moral decay in our country, and say, “Wait until you see what’s comin’ at you.”  It’s been easy for me to watch the news and see people who promote wickedness like its admirable and think, “Wait until they come face to face with the righteousness of Jesus Christ.”  I realized that my heart isn’t broken over the moral depravity of my country.

And I don’t think I’m alone.  When Prop 8 passed here in California (Gay Marriage Ban), I was afraid for what the evangelical response would be.  I imagined Christians seeking to rub the victory in the face of a crushed segment of society.  I foresaw evangelicals coming off as snobs and elitists, being more proud over their temporary political victory, thinking they have dealt a blow to the “gay agenda”.  The problem with that thinking is that the victory is more preserving the institution of marriage than being ‘anti-gay’, and it ends up alienating and severely offending people in need of God’s grace and redemption.

What we need is less true believers sitting back, waiting for God to consume Sodom and Gomorrah, and more believers weeping for the people’s rejection of their Creator.  I realized I need more Jeremiah in my perspective and less Jonah.

“When God Writes Your Love Story” by Eric & Leslie Ludy

I have never been much of a fan of Christian relationship books.  I guess we got off to a rocky start when my girlfriend broke up with me in high school some time after reading “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”.  But there have also been other reasons for skepticism, as there hasn’t been much worth reading or reccommending.  That, and I didn’t feel that I needed to read a book on relationships to receive godly instruction.

When I was in high school, it was a moot point, really.  There just wasn’t really much of an opportunity for a dating relationship.  There were certainly temptations to pursue relationships with girls that I knew weren’t Christians.  I remember being so divided in my heart with my attraction to a girl, but knowing I just couldn’t mess with a deeper relationship.  So they just remained friends, with the hope that they may turn to Christ.

When I moved on to College, the challenge shifted a bit.  I was certainly in possibly the best situation to find a good Christian girl: a solid Christian college in Southern California.  I did manage to find one that led to a horrible situation, and fortunately I was able to get out before falling to too much comprimise.  But four years passed, and I graduated without ever having a serious relationship.  Again, not necessarily due a lack of effort or pursuit, but God never brought anything into my life.

There were times when I sincerely struggled with being single, but I knew I needed to find my satisfaction and contentment in Christ alone.  I was convicted that God would bring the right girl around and that I shouldn’t rashly pursue something for the sake of a personal, fleshly desire.  But I hadn’t necessarily read this anywere, short of the pages of Scripture.

Recently, I realized the need to be able to reccommend a book to students struggling with the issue of relationships.  I had heard good things about this book, so this is where I started.  After reading it, I’m not sure I would have to read much else.  That isn’t to say that there aren’t any other valuable books on the subject, but the book the Ludy’s write thoughtfully deals with all of the issues students struggle.

The main point of the book is to trust God with your love life.  Every believer needs to come to a point where they will not make rash decisions and relationship choices they know don’t please God.  Instead, they need to trust that God, the all-knowing, grace giving Savior, to do what is best in the life of a believer.  That can be scary and difficult, but we need to understand that God has a better idea of what is best for us.  We must surrender this portion of our hearts and minds to God.

Another section of the book that I admired was the stressing that we must preserve ourselves, not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually, for our future spouses.  There is much emphasis on saving yourself for marriage, and that is appropriate, but there is hardly any emphasis on protecting themselves from giving themselves emotionally to their boyfriend or girlfriend.  That can just as damaging.  And we can’t make the mistake the Pharisees did in thinking it was just the act, not the heart or thought, that condemned a person.

This book not only speaks to how to properly pursue a relationship, but gives adivce to those dealing with singleness.  They stress the importance of that time in their lives, and how beneficial it can really be.  They not only speak to this, but also provide applicable steps a person can take to know whether the one they are with is the one that God has brought around for them.

I would say this is a must read for all teenagers, and we are going to be starting a relationship series in our high school group. I have noticed recently that more and more of our teenagers are making comprimises in this area of their life.  And if there is a dangerous area of your life to comprimise in, this is it.  Sin in this area can lead to widespread destruction, and often times leaves a wake of consequences and painful scars in its path.

Pastoral Appreciation Month

Before I start, let me mention that this is not intended for anyone involved in my church.  I don’t write this to make you all aware of this, as it is something you have already done and done well.  This isn’t me fishing for more appreciation.

October is a special month in the life of a pastor, or at least it should be.  October is officially “Pastoral Appreciation Month”.  I don’t know who named it that, why they have October, or why they just limit it to a month (ok, I understand why they did that), but I thought I would make everyone else aware of what this month is.  This is an opportunity to show your pastor/shepherds what they mean to you and to help repay the encouragement they have brought to your soul.

Obviously, this is something that should be a year round practice, but it is nice to focus on a month for this.  Our church here in San Gabriel is full of people who write in notes, give gift cards, and hugs of encouragement every year during October.  And on one Sunday, the pastors are called up on stage during the service and publicly thanked.  The wives are given lovely flowers, the pastors are given a gift card, usually to a restuarant, and this year the children’s program made folders of papers the children made thanking each pastor.  It is small, but it goes a long ways.

So what can you do for your pastor?  Here are some helpful hints from one!

  1. Write a note about what his ministry and preaching have meant to you.  The more specific you can be, the better.  A pastor can receive no better encouragement than specifically recalling ways his preaching has challenged you and helped you to understand God and His desires for you.
  2. Give a gift certificates for dates.  The family life of a pastor can be very taxing on everyone, and one of the greatest ways you can support your pastor is to give him a night away with his wife.  Find out what they like to do together, what their favorite restaurants are, and give them a free date.  If they have children, offer free babysitting!  This will do a lot to recharge the batteries of the pastor, ease the mind of the wife, and give them valuable time together.
  3. Give to the wife of a pastor.  This woman shares her husband with hundreds of other people, sometimes at the most inopportune times.  When a pastor is called out last minute, there is usually a home he is leaving behind.  Meetings add up and it usually ends up taxing the wife of a pastor.  Find out what she likes, what hobbies she has, or pay for some pampering and relaxation!
  4. Support the pastor’s study.  Each October I can always count on at least one gift certificate for my favorite book store.  That is shortly followed by a big annual sale at that store, so the timing is perfect.  Pay for a conference, a class, or just books.  Unfortunately, many pastors find themselves isolated, with not a lot of ways to challenge their hearts, souls, and minds.  Great and encouraging conferences abound, and when your pastor will get back, he will be excited and recharged.
  5. Maybe the most significant thing you could do is to put a hand to the plow!  We all know of the statistics that 10%-20% of the people do 80%-90% of the work.  Often times, this is most reflected in the life of the pastor.  Certainly they are paid, but much encouragement comes from those that also see the value of the local church, and those in the church that the pastors know they can count on to help.  Be dependable, be prayerful, be studious, and take initiative.  If you see a need, instead of making the pastor aware of it, ask yourself how you can meet or fix this need.  Of course there are things that must be run through a pastor, but often times things can be taken care of without his active involvement.
  6. Prayer.  Let them know you are praying for them, building them up in daily times of petition before the Lord.  If you don’t have money to give to the pastor, pray for them!  Wake up early on Sundays to pray for your pastor as he prepares to preach.  Find out what day he does most of his sermon preparation on and spend time that day in prayer.

I hope that some of these things find themselves useful in your desire to show your appreciation to your patsor.  I know that October is almost over, but I don’t think that they would mind if it carried over into November!