Pastoral Meditations

weekly meditations of the First Church of God

When You Get Weary

This week, in the midst of our first winter storm, I decided to walk the dog in 20 degree weather with snow blowing at 25mph. “I can do this!” I said. But a half mile into the wind, I started to grow weary and lose heart. I began to map out a route home and look for shortcuts. I was no longer committed to the journey and wished I had never started it. It was only by my furry partner’s pull and determination that we completed the journey.

The enemy of endurance in our ministry is that we can grow weary and lose heart. I know so many followers of Christ who testify that they are tired and overwhelmed. Life in this culture produces an abundance of weary believers. In the frustration of being weary, it becomes easy to lose heart. How do we deal with my weariness? How do I keep from losing heart? How do I stay passionate and energetic? How can I maintain enthusiasm with my calling?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.Hebrews 12:1-3

Be inspired by those who have gone before. We are surrounded by a great number of witnesses. Invest some time in those who have laid the foundations for you, our Senior saints. Read the biography of someone who endured through much for the cause of Christ. Take some devotional time with writing of those who have finished the race well. Lean on the inspiration of the experienced.

Lay aside the sin that easily trips you up. There are things that have historically been your Achilles heel. Don’t try to run the race in the bondage of your familiar sin. You may need to devote some serious discipline to wage war on that which drains your soul. Look for those things that are hindrances and give some attention to casting them aside.

Do not try to carry on and endure on your own. Fix your eyes on Jesus and He will help you endure. Don’t run to get the Savior. Run with the Savior and allow Him to be your endurance and your inspiration. The key to finishing well with passion and energy is your connection with Christ.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and aweHebrews 12:28

Don’t be confused by the current circumstances you find yourself in. You are on solid ground. You are part of an unshakable kingdom. You are anchored to the rock that cannot be moved. So, press on with endurance and heart, thankful for the partnership that enables you through weary days.

A Day of Hopelessness

The phrase “dark night of the soul” goes way back and originally comes from John of the Cross (1541-1597), a Spanish mystic and poet. For many, the ‘dark night of the soul’ describes a confusing time of feeling lost as if the foundation of life has been pulled out from under us. It’s a time of darkness as our spiritual life is abandoned to the shadows and removed from the light of our Lord. “The dark night of the soul is a season where the seed of our life is buried in the soil of suffering.” – Dr. Zinia Pritchard

The dark night of the soul is no ordinary fit of depression, but it is a depression that is linked to a crisis of faith, a crisis that comes when we sense the absence of God or a feeling of abandonment by Him. Spiritual depression is real and can leave us with a powerful sense of hopelessness. How then can a person of faith find hope in an hour of so great a darkness?

In writing to the Corinthians, Paul reminds the church that the treasure we have from God is a treasure that is contained not in expensive containers of precious metals, but in what the apostle calls “jars of clay.” For this reason, he says, “that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” Immediately after his reminder, Paul adds, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the deathof Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. – 2 Corinthians 4:7-10.

This passage indicates the limits of depression that we may experience and its temporary nature. The depression may be profound, but it is not permanent, nor is it fatal. Here is where our hope in hopeless times comes. Paul says that we are “afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down.” These are powerful pictures that describe the conflict that Christians must endure, but in every place that he describes this phenomenon, at the same time he describes the limits. Afflicted, but not crushed. Perplexed, but not in despair. Persecuted, but not forsaken. Struck down, but not destroyed. So we have this pressure to bear, but the pressure, though it is severe, does not crush us. We may be overwhelmed and struck down, yet we have room for hope and even joy. We can be anxious and nervous and worried without finally submitting to ultimate despair.

We are told Biblically that it is common for believers to suffer grief. Jesus, Himself was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Though grief may reach to the roots of our souls, it must not result in utter hopelessness. Grief is a legitimate emotion, but there must be no place in the soul for desperate hopelessness. We see that it is a good thing to go to the house of mourning, but even in mourning, that low feeling must not give way to futility. The presence of faith gives no guarantee of the absence of
spiritual depression, however, the dark night of the soul always gives way to hope in the brightness of the light of the presence of God.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal.2 Corinthians 4:17-18

The Good Fight

The Apostle Paul tells his young pastor Timothy, that following Christ will be a battleground of spiritual forces. If we are truly Christian, we cannot hold ourselves neutral and stand at a distance from the forces that are in conflict. We must stand on one side of the battle or the other. It would be advantageous for us to be on the right side, since we fight not against flesh and blood but against the principalities and powers of evil.

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.1 Timothy 6:12

The foundational fact of this good fight that we are bidden to join is that it is a battle of faith. Too often I find myself fighting the wrong battle. I find myself fighting a battle of unbelief and doubt. Fighting a battle of confidence and fear. The goal is too often survival rather than victory. When I do win a battle, I feel surprised! This kind of attitude does not give any courage or a winning attitude to meet the next challenge. It creates a cycle of unbelief, fearfulness, doubt and desperation. It is better to fight the good fight this way than not to fight at all, but there is a better way.

Strong faith is the mightiest of all spiritual weapons. Armed with confident faith, we can boldly go into any battle with the assurance of victory. We can face circumstances with calm confidence and the power of our Advocate and indwelling Spirit. Most of us have confidence in God’s ability and in his power and wisdom. We believe that he is able to overcome our foes. It is not God’s ability that we doubt. The question that confronts us is, “Will He use that power to help me conquer?” It is so easy to think that God would help others. They are more worthy than we are. Do you feel this way? Do you feel that if it were somebody else in your place, you could easily have faith that God would help? Then, why not have faith that God will help YOU?

We must have faith in ourselves as well as in God. We must have faith in our integrity and loyalty. Do we mean real business for God? Have we thrown ourselves unreservedly on the side of God in this battle? Do we intend with all our souls to fight the good fight of faith? So often I want to do the right, but I am not sure that I have the will to do it. This is not faith. Have confidence in yourself; not only in your relationship and calling, but also in your ability to do it. You can do it. The doubt and fearfulness that you have will only be a hindrance to you. Get rid of it. Develop confidence in yourself, not overconfidence that depends upon yourself, but the true confidence that depends upon God helping you.

Just as surely as you follow God’s instructions and trust in Him for results, He will cause you to wear the victor’s crown. Our cause is a righteous one. Have faith in that cause, and know that good must triumph. But remember that you cannot win unless you put faith into your fighting. 

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. – 1 John 5:4

No matter how weak you are, no matter how great your foe, no matter what may confront you, go into the good fight with a courage that is born of faith. Believe that God will give you the victory. Do not consider defeat at all. Let your faith mount up and throw away your doubts. Trust in God. His Word is true. You can believe it if you will, and by believing it, you shall be more than conqueror through Him who loves you.

Pray Well

            I was asked this week what I would be doing Monday morning. I responded that I would be going to the County Commissioners’ meeting to open that meeting with prayer. Their word to me was, “Well then, pray well!” I took those encouraging words and carried on. But later, I got to thinking. What does that mean? What does it mean to do a good job praying? 

            And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. – Mark 1:35

            I believe the key to praying well is actually doing it. It was Jesus’ habit to take time away to pray and thus it should be ours. In a culture that demands so much of our time and attention, in order to pray well we must take time to exercise our access to God. We cannot simply send a praying hands emoji, or wait until the last resort. It is done well when it is done – not done elaborately or eloquently or by formula, but prayer that is done with heart and a real connection with God.

            And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. – Matthew 6:7

            Prayer done well recognizes the incredible honor of entrance to the throne of God and has an element of praise to it. Our prayer should give respect to the author of all that was, and is, and is to come. We should recognize the majesty of the receiver of our prayer and give praise because God is worthy of our praise.

            Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. – Matthew 6:9

            Prayer done well finds its foundation in humility. It recognizes that we are not deserving. It understands that we are needy and incapable. It acknowledges that we cannot see the big picture, nor the full scope of the activity of the Lord. It believes that God is good and can be trusted with our most cherished cares. Praying well embraces the fact that God’s timing is different than ours, His methodology is different than ours, and His possibilities are beyond our understanding. God is greater than our best ideas.

            Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:10

            Praying done well also incorporates honesty. It brings before God our hearts desires, fears, worries, and wants. With an open heart to the kingdom agenda, it is honest with God about our expectations and emotions. God is able to bring direction to our agenda, and healing to our hurt, anger, and disappointment, if we are honest with Him. It is through or honest exchange with God that we can arrive on the same page and know the joy and peace that is promised us.

            Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. – Matthew 6:11-13

            And finally, I believe prayer done well is based on God’s Word and His Biblical promises. The Bible is the revelation of God. It reveals to us the nature of God, the methods of God, the assurances of God, and the plans of God. We can correctly order our prayers by paying attention to the instructions and promises found in the Bible. We pray well when we thank, praise, and intercede according to Biblical guidelines.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises – 2 Peter 1:3-4

Poor Labeling

            We needed some AC work done at the church last week. The technicians needed to get to a unit that is located in a closet that holds our old choir robes. The door was locked, so I was charged with finding the key to that door. Now, there exists somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 to 100 keys to varying doors and cabinets in our facility all labeled in various ways. I could not find a key that was labeled anything resembling what I knew that closet to hold. So I set about trying all the keys. As luck would have it, I opened the door with the last key I tried. It was labeled: Game Room Youth Office. To my knowledge, there is not a game room or a youth office in the building, and this closet is too small to be either one. It made me think that this key could not find its purpose, or could not open the door because it was poorly labeled.

            I see thus often in the life of the church. People get poorly labeled, or label themselves poorly and miss the calling they were created for. Early in my ministry, I came to a church that had a youth leader that was 77 years old. I labeled her too old for the job. I promptly replaced her with a young couple in their 20’s. The young couple did not work out very well because I had poorly labeled them. I came to realize that the person called by God to serve our young people was our 77 year old. 

            Jeremiah wrestled with a labeling that he had given himself. God called him to be a prophet and to speak God’s word to the nation, but Jeremiah labeled himself too young. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.” – Jeremiah 1:5-8

            God told Jeremiah that before he was born He knew him. He was created for a Divine purpose. No personal or societal labels would disqualify him from his Divine calling. This is true for you as well. You were created for a Divine purpose, for this very hour of history, to the place where God has set you. You may be told that you’re too old or too young, not properly educated, have too dark of a past, are poorly equipped, or not as good as someone else. You may label yourself incompetent, not eloquent, not intelligent, or unprepared. You might allow others to steal your calling, or disqualify yourself in order to stay in your comfort zone. But there really is no denying the call of God on your life or running from it.

            For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. – Psalm 139:13-14

            But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. – John1:12

            The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. – Romans 8:16

            Two things we must never forget – 1. No matter what label others may put on you, or what label you choose for yourself, by faith in Christ, you are first and foremost a child of God. You are wonderfully made and designed with a purpose. You cannot be disqualified by what others may say nor the excuses you make. You are a part of the family of God and a vital part of the workings of that family.

            2. God will not call you to a purpose that you can achieve by your own abilities. Your Divine calling will require the assistance of the Holy Spirit. This is so that God is seen at work through you. So, if you think God has mislabeled you, think again. God has simply placed you where you two can work together and where God may be greatly praised by your dependence on Him.

            Discover who God says you are. Wear the label that God has given you. Cast off the poor labels that you have been given in life and find your calling. The proper label will open doors to joy and impact.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10


In his early adulthood, Solomon was known for his devotion to God and his fervent love of righteousness. When he became king, he found a great purpose for his life, and he set about his calling with passion. He built the Temple in Jerusalem, and he threw himself into it with his whole strength. His prayer at the dedication of the Temple shows a deeply reverent and submissive spirit. (1 Kings 8:23-61) As the years went by, he increased in riches and honor. His name became a synonym for wisdom. Many came to him just to absorb his wisdom. Despite all his success, his heart held true to God. During these years, he had no thought but that he would continue faithfully until the end of his life. But the Bible tells us his faithfulness did in time fade away. 

There was no change in God. There was no change in Solomon’s calling. The change that led to the disaster was in Solomon himself. For political reasons, Solomon married princesses of the royal houses of countries about him. These women were idolaters. They still held to their old religions and worshiped the gods of their nations. Solomon withstood these influences for a long time. His heart held true to God, but these influences kept on working. He was in daily contact with them, and little by little they gained a hold upon him. As a result we read, “It came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father” – 1 Kings 11:4

There is an important lesson here for you and I. We are strongly influenced by the actions and words of others. Those influences (good or bad) are constantly working on us, whether we are conscious of it or not. Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. – 1 Corinthians 10:12

When we are serving the Lord and fulfilling our calling, it is natural for us to suppose that we shall go right on to the end. We do not think that we might yield to any influence that would draw us away from the Lord. But, how many, like Solomon, are having their hearts turned away from God by the influences that are poured into their lives daily! Solomon himself said, “Keep thy heart with all diligence,” but he failed to do this. The silent and subtle workings of those evil influences wrought in his heart something that he did not know was taking place. He didn’t realize that he was being alienated from God, his love had gone cold, and his flame had dwindled. 

There are influences brought to bear upon you each day and each hour. Do you know what these influences are? Do you know how they are working? Do you know what effect they are having upon your heart and your life? Are you diligently guarding yourself against every evil influence? Look into your life and see if there is any evil influence to which you have been gradually and unconsciously yielding to. Has the culture been getting closer to you through the years? Does its pride, vanity, and immorality seem less obnoxious to you than it has in the past? Does sin seem a lighter thing to you than it used to? Does the Word of God take less hold upon your conscience now than it has? Are the service and worship of God still sweet and satisfying? 

If you feel compromised in any way spiritually, what has been the influence that has worked to bring that about? It is time to do some self-examination and make a good, careful assessment of the situation. If you have been drifting, figure out what influences are working. Watch and defend your heart against them; overcome their influences; counteract their powers; stand for God. It is only in this way that you can serve him to the end faithfully.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – 1 John 2:15-17

Praise the Lord

The familiar chorus rings out, “I don’t know what you came to do, but I came to praise the Lord!” As I hum that chorus, I ask myself the question, “How often do you arrive anywhere with the sole purpose of praising the Lord?” As a local pastor, I come to church often and I meet with believers in various sized groups and at a variety of venues. There is a litany of things that I have ‘come to do’. I come to open the doors, turn on the lights, make the coffee, chair the meeting, preach a sermon, teach a class, pray with a friend, eat a meal, share in some fellowship, do some planning, catch up on correspondence, study, and the list goes on. These are all good things and of value, but the question remains for me and for you. When and where do you go with the sole purpose of praising the Lord?

It is important to clarify what I mean by praise. Praise is the expression of homage, admiration, commendation and approval. It is an expression of the greatness or value innate to the subject of our praise. When we praise God, we extol the foundational worth of God because God is who God is. This is different than giving thanks. Thanks are an appreciation of God for what God does. Thanksgiving is centered around the things God does for us. God is so good to us that it is easy to center our songs and prayers on all the benefits of God’s actions and care. Praise is focused on who God is, not what God does. Praise lifts God up because God has worth inherent to His existence.

I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. – Psalm 104:33

I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name forever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name forever and ever. Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. – Psalm 145:1-3

I was never a perfect child. I made my parents proud at times. I was an embarrassment to them at times. I was a help to them from time to time, and at other times I was of no help at all. But they loved me because I was. I received their adoration simply because I was their child. We owe God our adoration simply because God is. We should adore Him simply based of His existence.

My challenge goes out to you and me to be purposeful in praise. My challenge to you is that when you do your devotions and when you gather for fellowship or worship, take time to purposefully praise the Lord. There is plenty of time to go through your prayer list, thank God for His assistance, and share your worries and concerns. It is appropriate to make time to adore God because He is.

I don’t know what you came to do, but I came to praise the Lord!

Clean Speak

            When I was a young boy, I was prone to picking up and using colorful language that I learned from the neighbors. When I used such vocabulary in my home, my parents would wash my mouth out with soap. This would accomplish two purposes. First, it would serve as punishment. It would remind me that there were consequences directly related to the way that I spoke. My parents expected a high standard from my speech and any compromise would have dire consequences. Second, soap was a cleaning agent. It sent a message that certain words and expressions could soil my mouth. It was expected that my mouth be ‘clean’ and when I used ‘dirty’ words, my mouth needed cleaning. That cleaning was not an enjoyable experience.

            Our Heavenly Father holds us to a high standard when it comes to our speaking. We are so exposed to foul language and speech through social media, music, and film, that it is easy to start expressing ourselves like the ‘neighbors’. We must be disciplined with our speech and recognize the power of our words and our calling to purity in what we say.

            Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. – Ephesians 4:29

            It is wise not to focus on the negative and what should not come from our mouths, but to hear the Apostle’s direction on what SHOULD come from our mouths. First, we should speak words that build up. We should look for opportunities to encourage and speak well of another. We should speak in order to construct confidence and speak to the best in others. Our speech should serve to add to the good, the right, and the true.

            Second, we are called to speak words that are appropriate for the occasion. Our words should find the best time, place, surroundings, and context. Some things are good to say in public, others in private. Some words should be shared on social media, others spoken to those for whom they are intended. There are words that are justly spoken in anger, others should wait until we cool down. For every word there is a proper season or a necessary silence.

            Third, we are commanded to use speech that imparts grace. Grace can be defined as unmerited kindness. Gracious speech imparts forgiveness.  Gracious speech conveys welcome. Gracious speech communicates hope. Gracious speech builds bridges. Gracious speech reveals healing. Gracious speaking brings love to the unlovable and light to the darkness. By our words we can bring salvation to the wounded soul.

            Let’s all strive to use our words to build up, be appropriate, impart grace, and to be pleasing to the Lord.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. – Psalm 19:14

Are You A Pillar?

            I started my pastoral career in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It is a beautiful and hospitable city with two distinct structures that signify the city’s skyline. They are the two cranes that mark the shipyard at Belfast harbor. In the shipyard, great ocean going ships are built. The most famous of those being the Titanic, and the QEII. When you see the cranes you know where you are, you are reminded of the incredible history, and you think of the tragedy. The two cranes, named Samson and Goliath, tell a story by their existence.

            1 Kings 7 tells the story of two such monuments that Solomon had built at the entrance of the Temple in Jerusalem. Solomon hired a bronze craftsman from Tyre to build two free standing columns 37 feet tall and 6 feet thick, with vats on top to hold oil for flames. These two columns were named: Jakin meaning God establishes and Boaz meaning in God is strength. They served no structural purpose they were built to send a message.

            The first message was one of permanency. The place of God was no longer a tent. The days of wandering are over. God has a permanent, unmovable place in your midst. God is with you always. God is not going anywhere. He has made His home in your life.

            Their message was also one of strength and stability. God is a God of power and ability. You can do all things through God who strengthens you. The columns sent out the message that with God’s help you can. These pillars led people to a God who was strong and willing.

            The kingdom of God still needs pillars. Are you a pillar of Christ in the kingdom of God? Do you by your very existence send a message that God is strong and loving? Could there be a greater need in our community today than followers of Christ who are pillars of Faith? God calls us in all circumstances to be a lighthouse of His presence in the darkness of our world. God calls us to be a symbol of stability, not blown by every wind of doctrine or by personal whim. We are to have a faith that is not a passing fad, fling, or phase. Our Christianity is not to be likened to bell bottoms or hoola hoops. We are to stand before our family and community with a life that proclaims the permanency and power of Christ. Let’s strive to be pillars of the faith, pillars in the church, and pillars of God in our homes.

The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. – Revelation 3:12

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