Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Soothing Tensions

With one major Holiday down and another nipping on our toes, it may be wise for some of us to think about conflict management.

If you are ever in close contact with another person, eventually you will experience conflict in your life. Really, the only way to avoid conflict is to just avoid all people at all times and just become hermits in some far away cave. If we’re going to interact with people, especially family, we have to be ready for friction every once in a while. So here are some things I keep in mind when working with others that has helped me in the past.

First things first, here are just some basic general principles for conflict I follow.

Pray about it –

James 5:16 The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

Pray for wisdom –

James 1:5 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

Pray for the words to say –

Mark 13:11 do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit.

No matter what happens, always keep your cool –

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.

Finally, resolve to win him with your life before you try to win him with your words –

Romans 12:21 - 13:1 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

All that being said, when I’m faced with a conflict in my life, the first thing I do is that I ask myself is this really something to get worked up about, or is it something I should just let go?

Proverbs 19:11 11 A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression.

When I look back at my life, I can’t help but admit that most of the blowups I’ve had were pointless – they didn’t change anything except that they made everyone more upset. More often than not anymore, when someone criticizes me for something, I ask myself "Is this true? Is this something I should consider?" If it is, I meditate on it. I try to be honest with myself first of all – because if I’m not honest with myself, people will see that and won’t take me seriously.

Proverbs 28:13 13 He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.

However, if their criticism is wrong, or its something that I don’t struggle with, then I just smile & say thank you, and go on with my life.

Second, if it is something that I’ve got to work on, I go directly to that person and talk to them about it.

Matthew 18:15 15 "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.

I think the first thing that this verse shows us is that avoidance is not the answer. A lot of people think "Out of sight, out of mind," but this just doesn’t work when it comes to conflicts. A problem that we avoid is a problem that grows. The only way to solve a problem is to confront it with loving boldness.
Since I’ve moved to Eldon, I’ve had a few problems with my neighbors. Mainly they just let their dogs run free & one is very aggressive toward both me and my wife. I could have been hateful about it, or I could have avoided the problem. But instead I just went over and had a few good conversations with them, and everything worked out great. But had I not gone over and talked to them, who knows how bad the problem could have gotten.

Third, realize that you may need help, and that seeking it out is a good thing.

Matthew 18:16 16 "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.

Sometimes a fresh set of ears is all that we need to resolve a conflict. If just talking about it doesn’t help, ask if he would like to sit down with other faithful Christians. There is a lot of wisdom in the church, and a lot of people who have been down this path before. Their experience can help you navigate through this.

Suggested Reading – Peacemakers by Ken Sande.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pride vs. Humility

Of all the virtues that I have mastered, I shall never master the virtue of humility. For if I were to conquer humility, I would be too proud of it.
- Benjamin Franklin

Pride is a creeping disease that can infect and kill the healthiest faith before its presence is ever detected – which is why we must guard against it at all times.

While pride may be endemic to the lives of all people, I believe that it is especially dangerous in the lives of pastors, where it often finds residence. Not too long ago I was listening to a speech given by an administrator of one of our seminaries who charted the course of pride through a typical student’s life. He said:

"When a new student comes to seminary, he is usually wide eyed and ready to soak in all they can. However, as classes start and their education continues, there is a change. That wise pastor back home who they respected so much suddenly doesn’t know what he is talking about. Faithful men and women in the pew become ignorant masses. Every practice of the church that he does not fully support becomes blasphemous. Until finally he becomes the sole protector of the true faith once delivered to him."

Sadly I have seen this attitude in the hearts of my fellow students while in seminary.

Devastatingly, I have seen this progression in my own heart.

Once in the world of church work, we get no better. Our conversations turn to baptismal numbers, tithing stats, membership and on and on, so everyone knows how good of a pastor we are. I suppose that we can take some comfort in knowing that this plague afflicts many ministers, even those whose reputation for holiness over towers so many. I found this gem of a quote on Timmy Brister’s blog a while back, and thought that it would be worth sharing here.

"I found, that, when I met with enlargement in prayer or preaching, or answered a question readily and suitably, I was apt to applaud myself in my own mind. I affected pre-eminence above what belonged to my age or worth. I therefore endeavored to take a view of my pride–as the very image of the Devil, contrary to the grace and image of Christ–as an offence against God, and grieving of his Spirit–as the most unreasonable folly and madness for one, who had nothing singularly excellent, and who had a nature so corrupt–as infinitely dangerous, and ready to provoke God to deprive me of my capacities and opportunities. I therefore resolved to carry my distempered heart to be cured by Jesus Christ, that all-sufficient Physician-to watch against my pride–to study much the nature and aggravations of it, and the excellence of the contrary grace."
- Cotton Mather

Pride is easy to get – humility is not, so the question has to be asked, "How can I develop the discipline of humility in my life?" Well, I won’t tell you that I have all the answers, but there are two things I focus on whenever I feel the creeping presence of pride in my life.

First, I focus on others instead of myself.

Philippians 2:3-4 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

First a quick question. At its essence, what is pride?

Essentially, pride is a focus on yourself.

So the proud person focuses on:
What do I want?
What do I need?
What can I do?
Where can I go?
What can you do for me?
What will bring me the most happiness?
What will make me more important?
What will bring joy into my life?

And through all of that, we can see that pride is essentially self centered. It begins with a belief that we are the center of the universe, and everything in the universe – whether it is people, money, or God - everything is here so that I can use it for my betterment.
When we are focused on our selves, our desires and our victories, we will naturally become prideful people.

But on the flip side of that, when we become focused on others, on their desires and their victories, then we will naturally become more humble people.

So the humble person focuses on:
What do you want?
What do you need?
What can I do for you?
What will bring you the most happiness?
What will make you more important?
What will bring joy into your life?

The humble person focuses on others.

So Paul tells us that we should regard other people as more important than ourselves.
How can we do that? By exercising what use to be common manners.

Things like holding doors open for other people.
Things like letting others go ahead of you.
Things like giving up your seats for others.
Things like being interested in what other people have to say.

And that is one point in our culture that we are failing miserably – actually listening to other people.

If you are in a conversation with someone else, do you actually stop and listen to them, or do you only listen long enough to have something for you to talk about?

This is one of my pet peeves in life, people who interrupt others while they are speaking.
Because people who interrupt, whether they mean it or not, are communicating that what they have to say is more important than what you have to say. That your thoughts and your opinions are not important – or at least not as important as their thoughts and opinions.

Second, I remind myself that whatever I am taking pride in came from God, and not my own abilities.

Deuteronomy 8:10-18 10 "When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. 11 "Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; 12 otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 15 "He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint. 16 "In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. 17 "Otherwise, you may say in your heart, 'My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.' 18 "But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.

When we have very little, it’s easy for us to look at what we have and say, "I wouldn’t even have this if it wasn’t for God." But when our stomachs are full and our minds are at ease and our bills are paid, we have a tendency to forget God. We have a tendency to think that everything’s going good for us because we’ve done everything right.

And in the same way, whenever we do something right or we preach a good sermon or get a paper published or grow a great church, it is easy for us to forget that God did all of this, and foster pride in our lives.

There are a lot of people in the world who look down at their paycheck and say, "man, I am such a hard worker." We have a lot of Christians that look at their bank accounts and say, "man, I’ve been so smart with my money." We have a lot of Christians who look at their homes and possessions and say, "This is mine. I bought it, I earned it, I deserve it."
And in reality, what we should all do when we look at this stuff is say "Man, I am so blessed."
God has given me so much, God has given me a good job and good health and everything else – I am so blessed.

We should remember that we have what we have not because we are all stars, but because we are on the right team. We have got to realize that the things we have in life is often there despite us, and not because of us.

That it all comes from God.

And when we remember this, it should drive us to exalt God over ourselves. It should drive us to humility.

"I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above another, and the taller we grow the easier we can reach them. Now, I find that God’s gifts are on shelves, one beneath another. And the lower we stoop, the more we get."
- F.B. Meyer

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Out Of Pocket Again

Question: What do you get when it’s deer season, your laptop’s busted, and the creative juices just ain’t flowin?
Answer: You get blog posts like the one’s I’ve been (infrequently) putting up.
Yet, as I’ve noted before, the odd thing is that I get way more unique visitors to my blog when I don’t post…I guess people like silence from me, I don’t know.
The plus side is that I do have several good topics I would like to discuss on this blog churning in my head, but with the season and what not, I have not yet had the time to put it into words. So stick with me, I promise something good will come along eventually.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Thoughts on the Convention

Missouri Baptists have wrapped up their annual convention – earlier I said I would provide my thoughts on it, so here they are. If you would like more thoughtful/in depth coverage of what happened though, I would suggest looking here, here, and here.

Overall, I was pleased with the convention. The election of officers was perhaps the biggest ticket of the convention as SOC and MBLA slates, both conservative in nature, faced off over the future of the convention. Admittedly, I expected officers to be elected off of both slates, but instead the SOC slate won a decisive victory over their counterparts, showing that Missouri Baptists, while roundly conservative, realize that there are limits to what the convention can control.

I know that there are some, and perhaps many in our state who believe that the SOC is only mimicking MBLA tactics, and are doing exactly what they accuse the MBLA of doing, but I do not think this is true. Right after his election, the ABP interviewed Gerald Davidson, and asked an intriguing question – "How long will Save Our Convention continue?" Davidson’s response: "As far as I’m concerned, it can stop right now,".

I believe that this is the exact kind of attitude our leaders need. Yes, sometimes you must stand up for an important victory. But when that victory is won, its time to sit back down.

Considering all of the run up to the convention, I thought that the motions presented to the floor were somewhat mild. While I personally would have liked Mr. Fries’ resolution on seeking peace among Missouri Baptists come to the floor, I also believe that the resolutions committee did a wonderful job fulfilling their appointed tasks.

The discussion on Mr. Moran’s resolution on alcohol was perhaps the lowest point of the convention in my opinion. Personally, I would have been in complete favor of a resolution that encouraged abstinence among Missouri Baptists. However, I do think that this resolution went too far in stating that all people employed by & serving the MBC must abstain.

By and large I enjoyed and appreciated the sermons preached at the convention. Though they did seem to present two distinct visions in the MBC, and among Southern Baptists at large. I didn’t even really think about it until a friend of mine brought it up. He mentioned that it seemed like everyone was aware of the fact that Christianity was in a state of decline in the United States, and that there are two major approaches that Christians are taking as a result.

First, there are those who seem to think that we are beyond hope, and so they withdraw into their own theological systems, hoping that through separation with the world & what they see as worldly Christians, they will be able to maintain their own standing with God. Then on the other hand, there are those who are responding to this problem by going outside of their comfort zones, hoping to reach the lost with the gospel, and see their lives transformed by the gospel. I believe that he is right in his estimation, and that the second option is the only option that we can pursue if we want to see our culture transformed by Christ.

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