The Danger of Isolation

I read Perry Noble’s recent article about his struggles. Noble was very honest and genuine in detailing the roots of his battle with alcohol. It’s not surprising to read that his downfall had nothing to do with alcohol.The one trait that stood out most to me was his choice of isolation over community. Noble writes that he chose to be isolated.  

Noble is fortunate and blessed to have strong people surrounding him who would not let him stay isolated. I’m afraid many pastors aren’t as fortunate and thus have been and will remain isolated, leading them to continue or begin the same self destructive habits that have destroyed countless ministries through the years. Why do we choose isolation? I’d like to offer a few observations.

1). We’re afraid to develop meaningful friendships: Let’s face it, we’ve chosen a vocation that can be highly and unexpectedly mobile. That doesn’t make fertile ground for the development of 10, 20, or 30 year friendships. I was even told by one pastor not to develop close friendships in the church.  

2). We’re afraid to be vulnerable: With meaningful friendship comes vulnerability. We’re afraid our vulnerability might be used against us.  

3). We’re afraid to be served: Do you sense a pattern developing here? We’ve been taught about pastoral authority. We’ve been taught about servant leadership. We’ve been encouraged to shepherd the sheep, but sometimes we’re afraid to let others serve us. We think our authority and leadership might take a hit if we’re seen being served by others.

4). We have our pride: this is a big one for me. I love my pride. I think I can do everything myself. I think I’m the smartest most capable person in any room I walk into. That’s my stupid pride talking. I can’t be the only one who’s pride talks to him in that way. Satan tells me I don’t need anyone else. He tells me no one has anything of value to speak into my life. Do you get the picture?  

5). We are lazy: some of us are just plain lazy. It’s easier to sit down with a book than to call up a friend and have a conversation. It’s easier to stay in bed on a cold morning than go meet a friend for coffee. It’s easier to hide our sin than to be accountable to a friend. We just don’t want to do the hard, messy work required of a friendship.

Why does isolation get so little attention? Noble’s article was the first I’ve read that even mentioned this nagging problem.

1). We’re extroverts: Many pastors are extroverts, and the thought of us choosing isolation does not occur to anyone. We like to be around people. We gain energy from being among people. How could we ever be isolated? I’m an extrovert and I was in a room Wednesday night with 60 people yet I felt completely isolated. Often times, the most outgoing person in the crowd can be the most lonely. We do not develop deep friendships very easily. I may write another post on just this topic. For now, extroverts are often isolated because of false assumptions made by themselves and others.

2). Many churches do not serve their pastors well: I serve a wonderful church made of caring, imperfect people. I am blessed, but so many are not so blessed. Many pastors are left to fend for themselves in so many areas that there’s not time to battle isolation.  

3). We don’t like to talk about it: there that pride again. No one, especially men, likes to talk about feelings of loneliness and isolation. We don’t like to tell others that we need them.  

What can we do to fight isolation?  

1). Quit being afraid: The Bible says that God has not given us a spirit of fear. Don’t be afraid to initiate and develop friendships. Will you have to leave the are you’re serving? Maybe, but the ability to maintain connections over great distances has never been better.  

2). Create a prayer list: I’m working on a prayer list of all my friends. My desire is to text or call one each day to see how I can pray for him.  

3). Confess your sins: I’m not good at this one. I rarely confess sin to anyone. If we want deep friendships, we have to be vulnerable and confess sin, and not just in a matter of fact Way like, “I had a drink today,” or “I lusted after a woman today”, but confess what’s at the root of those actions.  

Those are my thoughts on isolation. It is hideous and one of the most effective tools used by our enemy. I’m not advocating unwise choices in regards to our friendships, but I am advocating for the necessity of deep, meaningful friendships that will help pull us out of our isolated enclaves and into the joy a life lived alongside our brothers in Christ.  

What do you think? Are there any reasons you would add?  

One more note: if you’re reading this and you’re feeling isolated and alone, send me a message. I can pray with you, listen and be a friend. You don’t have to stay isolated.  

“Nailed It”

I ran across this blog a few months ago.  The blogger is working with refugees overseas.  I have enjoyed reading from someone who is really DOING the gospel.  There is a crisis in our world and it has nothing to do with refugees or Presidents or protest movements.  The crisis in our world has everything to do with sin.  Give this blog entry a read and I think you’ll agree with me that the blogger “nailed it”.

Nailed it from the Riverwalk Blog

The Pastor Blogging Politics

I’ve written drafts of political blog posts that will never be shared.  While I believe my political opinions are in line with the majority of believers, the posts themselves were neither gospel-centered, nor a reflection of my pastoral calling.

It seems unfair to have to walk the line between being a pastor and a regular member of society, but such is a condition when you accept a leadership role. James writes in chapter 3, verse 1, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. Carnal me rises up when church member so-and-so is celebrated for posting the same opinion I would have posted and been condemned for sharing. 

I want to share my political opinions,   but when I do I’ve had to ask myself some tough questions.

Do I want popularity for myself or the gospel?  I love to be popular.  I want to be popular, but the gospel I’ve been called to preach should always be more popular than me.  In Mark 9:35, Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”  This is the most important question I ask myself about my political blogging.  If the gospel is not central, then I am nothing more than another shrill voice of complaint.  

Is my political opinion necessary?  Everyone has an opinion about everything.  Sometimes, as much I am loathe to admit it, my opinion is not necessary.  Humanity will get along without my opinion.

Is my political opinion based on the Word?  My words do not give life.  They are just my words.  The Word gives life and life in abundance.  My words are just a cacophony of sound if they are not based on the Word.  Two more questions I ask myself are:  Do my words edify and encourage the church?  Do my words bring glory to God or are they just a complaint?  Paul writes in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

Do my words reflect my calling as a pastor?  I’m not called to be a political commentator.  I’m called to be a pastor.  I love being a pastor, but sometimes the political commentator in me wants to take over.  I want everything I do to be an extension of who I am.  I don’t want to be a political commentator on Monday, an artist on Wednesday, and a pastor on Sunday.  I want everything I do to reflect my pastoral calling.

Is my political commentary worth the risk of alienating some of my congregation members?  Dr. Thom Rainer wrote an excellent post on this question this week.  Thom Rainer Post  The answer to this question relates back to the answer to question number two, is my political opinion based on the Word?  We are to speak the truth into each others’ lives, but if my opinion doesn’t accomplish that, then it is best kept to myself.  

Is my opinion knowledgeable or just a rant?  Opinions are just that, opinions, but good opinions are informed and bring facts to the table.  

These are just a few questions I have begun to ask myself before posting a political opinion, but I have saved the most important question for last:  what does my wife think about my post?  We could probably avoid asking the other questions if we would ask this one first.  Ok, I’m sort of joking about that one, but my wife has stopped me from publishing some very unnecessary posts.  

Pastors we must take care that the cause of Christ is not eclipsed by our politics.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” and then in verse 5 he writes, “so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

I’d like to invite you to read my attempts at political blogging and tell me what you think:  King Saul, Meet President TrumpDonald Trump’s First Two WeeksA Neighborly Story

Hebrews 1:1-4

I’m beginning a sermon series through Hebrews, and I intend to post a weekly blog entry on the passage for the current week. The book of Hebrews is theologically rich, and I may pull out a verse or two each week to write about instead of my entire passage.  The passage this week is chapter 1, verses 1-4. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at various times and in various ways, but in these days, He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. So He became as much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is superior to theirs.”

I want to focus on the last half of verse 3, after He had provided purification for sins, He sat down. I was studying the Greek construction of this sentence, yes I’m a Greek geek or at least try to pretend I’m one, and I discovered the verb phrase translated “had provided purification” is an apricot, middle voice participle. The middle voice usually means the subject of the verb is acting upon itself, and the sense here is that the subject is acting upon itself for its own benefit.

That’s a lot of fancy words to convey the truth that Christ acted upon Himself for the purification of our sins for His glory. The same verbal clause is also an antecedent clause, meaning that it comes before the main verbal clause of the sentence, in this case, “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High” is the main verbal clause.

This is all nice to know, and for a Greek geek like me, it’s just fun to look at and twirl around in my mind, but the theme of Hebrews is: This is Christ, what are you going to do about it? Therefore, what am I going do with this information?

There are three theological reinforcements in these two clauses.

1) Jesus Christ is God: Christ and God are one and the same. Only Christ as God could act upon His own self by sacrificing Himself to make atonement for our sins. No human being could accomplish this. The sacrifice had to be perfect, spotless, and unblemished, and only Christ, being the Son of God, the exact imprint of God could provide atonement for our sins.

2) Christ is our High Priest: By acting upon Himself as Christ did, He functioned as our High Priest. The High Priest was commanded to make atonement for sins once a year by sprinkling the blood of the sacrifice on the horns of the altar. That can be found in Exodus 30:10. Christ’s sacrifice abolished the need for the High Priest. The author of Hebrews goes into more depth about Jesus as our High Priest later in Hebrews.

3) The work was not finished until atonement was made: the main clause is dependent upon the antecedent clause. The sitting down could not happen until the atonement was made.

What are we to do with these truths?

1) Worship Christ: How amazing and how wonderful it is that Christ did this to Himself and we are the recipients of His blessing. We worship in spirit because we know the truth. To borrow a phrase from earlier in the passage, we see the “radiance of God’s glory” in Christ’s voluntary sacrifice. Worship Him today for the atonement He has provided.

2) Follow Christ: we not only worship Him because of His sacrifice, but we also follow Him because of His sacrifice. We don’t HAVE to follow, we GET to follow Him. He didn’t have to provide atonement for our sins, yet He chose to.

3) Confess our sins: He is our Great High Priest. He has provided atonement for our sins, and we get to go to Him to confess those sins and receive forgiveness.

I don’t know who might be reading this blog post today. Maybe you’re a Christian, a pastor even, but you need to be reminded this week to worship, follow, and confess. I challenge you to set aside some personal time to worship, reflect on how closely you are following God, and to confess your sins to our Great High Priest.

Maybe you are not a Christian. I know there are some who don’t share my beliefs who stumble upon this blog every once in a while. If you’re not a Christian, I’d love to talk to you more about following Christ, more about becoming a Christian, and answer any questions you might have.

If you have a comment or a question, please comment in the comment area below. Next week will be Hebrews 1:4-14.

King Saul meet President Trump

I’ve been mulling this over for some time now.  I was reading about King Saul in 1 Samuel and found several points of comparison between Israel’s first king and America’s 45th president.

1). King Saul was head and shoulders above everyone else:  1 Samuel 9:2 reads, “And he had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man.  There was not a man among Israel more handsome than he.  From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.”  Before you think I’ve gone crazy or I need my eyes checked, I know President Trump is not known for his stunning good looks.  He has, however, distinguished himself among Americans.  He is the most celebrated billionaire in the world and even before he became president, almost everyone recognized Donald Trump.  King Saul, likewise was distinguished among all the Israelites.  He may not have hosted his own game show, but the text reads as though Saul was already a popular Israelite.

2). The Israelites demanded a king instead of trusting God:  Ww read in 1 Samuel 8:4, “Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, ‘Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways.  Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.’ “. The Israelites were to be a people set apart for the glory of God.  We may not be Israelites, but we are children of God, set apart for His glory.  We are not to desire what the world desires.  Did we, in our desire to have a conservative Christian president, desire what the world desires?  Did we desire a conservative Christian president to rule over us over and above God’s rule?

3). The Israelites desire for a king was an outright rejection of God’s authority: God is clear in 1 Samuel 8:7 when He tells Samuel, “For they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.”  Have our fears concerning the direction of our country caused us to settle for President Trump’s authority over God’s?

4). King Saul did not follow God:  He may have had his moments, but King Saul’s life and reign do not demonstrate a commitment to Yahweh, and despite assurances from some popular religious leaders, President Trump’s commitments seem to mirror those of King Saul.  When the chips were down, King Saul consistently showed a commitment to himself as his first priority.  I have no doubt that President Trump will show America that he is committed to himself above everything else.  He will have his moments, but when history has been written, Americans will see that President Trump does what is good for  President Trump  before what’s good for America.  I hope I’m wrong in this, but the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, most of which, in President Trump’s case, the Christian community has blithely chosen to ignore.  

5). King Saul divided the country:  King Saul’s actions toward David caused some to support David and some to support Saul.  President Trump has sown division in our country, not to mention the division he has caused within his own party.  His candidacy and subsequent election have even caused a rift among Southern Baptists.  

6). King Saul’s actions became increasingly bizarre:  Time can only tell if President Trump emulates King Saul in this characteristic.  I hope he does not because, unlike the Israelites, Americans are not God’s chosen people whom He consistently protected throughout the ages.

Do I pray for the best for our president and his administration?  Yes, I pray he will follow God.  Did God provide a king after His own heart after king Saul?  Yes He did.  Will He provide the same type of leader for America after President Trump?  We can always spend the next four years praying for such an outcome.

What do you guys think of this comparison?  Am I totally off base?  Am I being too hard on President Trump?

Is God Obligated?

I’m preaching through Esther and I’ve arrived at chapter six.  Chapter six is the turning point in the story.  Haman’s downfall begins in chapter six and ends in chapter 7.  That summary was for those who may need a memory refresher.

During my sermon preparation, an interesting question arose.  The final result is that God rescues His people from certain destruction, but the question I asked myself is, is God obligated to deliver His people?  The answer may seem simple.  I think most of us would answer, “of course God is not obligated to do anything.”  That may be the right answer, but I’d like to explore the question for a few paragraphs.  

First, God made a covenant with Abraham, thus beginning the Jewish nation.  The covenant was that God would make Abraham into a great and mighty nation.  That sounds like someone who has obligated Himself doesn’t it?

God repeats the same covenant with the next two generations, promising Isaac and Jacob to masked their ancestors as numerous as the sand on the seashore.  Did God obligate Himself with these promises?

Remember the scene in Exodus where God is about to wipe the Israelites off the face of the earth?  Moses intercedes on their behalf and appeals to God’s reputation and what would happen to said reputation if He wiped out His own people.  Is Moses reminding God that He has obligated Himself to protect His people?  

Just in case you’re wondering, I do not believe God has obligated Himself to do anything, but it is an interesting question to consider, and here are a few facts I know about God that relate to this question.

First, God always leaves a remnant of His people.  Throughout history, even I. The most horrific circumstances, God has always preserved a remnant.  

Second, God has always protected His people.  Those who have tried to mess with Israel throughout the ages have paid a heavy price.  Haman’s friends and wife realize that Haman will pay a heavy price if he continues to battle Mordecai.  

Finally, God’s character is love.  God is love, and I have concluded that God does not obligate Himself to save His people, but His past history says that He will deliver them.  

February 21 – I’ve Seen, I Know, I Care.

I ran across this one this morning and it’s author is somehow involved in the Syrian refugee crisis. It’s a good read and a good reminder.

THE RIVER WALK

Ive seen I Know I care

She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. (Mark 5:27)

Read: Leviticus 11:1-12:8, Mark 5:21-43, Psalm 38:1-22, Proverbs 10:8-9

Relate: The single mother is a fairly common sight here as well as in America and the West but for very different reasons. Here it is sometimes because the husbands and fathers have gone off to fight and die for one side or another of the mess that is the multisided Syrian civil war. More often the father has sent his family off to safety while he remained behind to work and support them, or he has gone on ahead into Germany, the UK, or somewhere else to save up and begin to prepare while the rest of the family looks to join up through more legal means. That illegal, but often necessary immigration is safer and easier for one man to…

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