How I Knew God Was with Me in My Parents’ Divorce

By Scott Armstrong

September 1993.  I was 15 years old.  My dad and mom call a family meeting after supper.  My brother and I came down from our rooms, wondering what’s going on.  We usually had the famous “family meetings” once a year when some new rule was being enforced or when a vacation needed to be planned or discussed.

This time was different.  There was an eerie vibe to the room.  My dad exhaled audibly while my mom fidgeted with her hands.  Then—BOOM!—my world changed forever.  They were getting a divorce.  They just couldn’t work things out.  They had too many differences.  Blah, blah, blah.  Although it doesn’t make sense, part of me was hearing every word perfectly even while another part instantly tuned out the drone of their voices.

 

 

Then it was my turn.  “What do you mean, you can’t work out your differences? Are you some sort of teenage fling that is on today, off tomorrow? Did those vows you made years ago mean anything?” I was furious.  I was sad. I was numb.

That is reality #1.  That actually happened.  And I will never be the same again because of it.

So here is reality #2.  God with us.  “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you…the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:5,9).  “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).  We hear a lot about this second reality around Christmas time, don’t we? The “Incarnation.”  God with us.  It kind of makes us feel warm inside, especially when things are going particularly well in life.

But what happens when Reality #1 and Reality #2 collide? As a teenager, I knew Reality #2 was true—I had heard about it every Christmas since I had been born. And I certainly knew Reality #1 was true—I was experiencing it like tumbleweed experiences a tornado.  And let me be honest: it was pretty tough to see how the reality of “God with us” could be right when the reality of the divorce was in my face every day.  The shouting. Mom moving out.  First time I had two Thanksgiving dinners, two Christmas trees, two houses where I did not feel at home in either.  Where was God in all this?

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 I have no easy answer.  I knew in my head that God was with me, but my heart and my life told me different. People at church with good intentions but little tact would come up to me and assure me, “You know, God is always with us, no matter what.  You will get through this.”  That’s what I really needed—a mini-sermon to make me feel better!  I already knew from Scripture that God was somewhere to be found in this whole muddle of loneliness and anger, but where?

I can look back now and see some indicators of God’s presence in that whole mess.  First, I learned that God “incarnates himself” in and through other people.  He is with us because other Christians give of their time and their tears to be with us too.  We always say that we are “the body of Christ” and that we need to be Christ’s “hands and feet” in the world, so why are we surprised when it actually happens? Through the love and compassion of my youth pastor and other teens and adults, I sensed God’s presence.

That does not mean people knew what to say; a lot of times they said some pretty stupid things.  It also does not mean I was not upset, frustrated, or even depressed at various points.  Yet, while some in my situation choose to hibernate and never talk to fellow churchgoers again, I had to get to church services every week.  That was where I sensed God’s presence—through music and preaching, of course, but also through God’s people that surrounded me with love on Sundays and throughout the week.

Second, I knew God was with me through my personal times with him. Before my parents’ divorce, I have to be truthful: I was a good Christian boy who did all of the right things.  Still, I did not have a deep relationship with Christ.  Well, all that changed when I found myself hopeless and with no one to talk to.  Normally in tough circumstances I would confide in my parents.  That wasn’t going to happen now; they did not exactly possess an objective perspective of the divorce!  I was able to talk to my youth pastor, but he did not really know what I was going through because his parents were still happily married.  So who could I turn to?

My only answer was God.  I started approaching my devotional times not as something to check off my list, but as the one time I could truly be myself.  I wept before God.  I yelled at him.  I began to wrestle with the words that I was reading in his Scripture.  Sometimes what I read made me mad; other times it comforted me.  I did not always hear a response.  I never heard voices from heaven nor did I receive some other tangible proof of his existence.  But in my quiet times, I began to trust him more.  In the toughest moments of my life, he became my closest friend, and he remains so to this day.

God with us.  It seems preposterous, doesn’t it? Especially when you are experiencing the reality of a life filled with brokenness and emptiness.  But that is what makes the second reality even stronger—God specializes in being with us not only in the good times when we “feel” him, but in the dark times filled with fear and loneliness. Let God speak his reality into your reality today.  God. With.  Us.

Chains Shall He Break

 

*A reflection by Julie Clawson in her book, Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices

 

The nineteenth-century hymn “O Holy Night” is one of my favorite Christmas carols, but for years I sang it (off-key and with gusto) without really considering the lyrics.  I thought it was just a pretty song about the night Jesus was born.  Yet shortly after the release of the original French version in 1847, a French bishop denounced the song for its “lack of musical taste and total absence of the spirit of religion.” Apparently its author, Placide Cappeau, faced opposition for his extreme political views, namely his opposition to inequality, slavery, injustice and other kinds of oppression. The bishop didn’t consider such stances to represent proper religious values.  Fortunately for us, the minister who (loosely) translated the song into English shared Cappeau’s values as well.  The themes of justice and opposition to slavery appear in the lines.

            “Truly He taught us to love one another;

            His law is love and His gospel is peace.

            Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother;

            And in His name all oppression shall cease”.

 

This song captures Paul’s message to Philemon, a message seemingly forgotten in most of the church by the nineteenth century.  Yet a few brave people were willing to adopt the unpopular, “extreme” views because they recognized those views in the Bible.  They grasped the revolutionary nature of the call to embrace the slave as our brother, and thus they took on the challenge of ending slavery in their own day.  This wasn’t just a social movement; this was a spiritual commitment to seek justice and love their neighbor.  And despite opposition, they succeeded.

You can listen to it by following this link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSU1hOdydxo

4 Temptations That Leaders Face

By: Dan Reiland

It’s troubling to see a gifted and talented leader give up a lifetime of ministry for a moment of temptation. We all face temptation, and saying no is not always easy.

None of us as leaders will escape this challenge. But how you handle your temptation will determine, to a great degree, the effectiveness and longevity of your ministry.

James 4:7-8 helps us know what to do. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.”

Let’s begin with three important questions:

What is your greatest temptation? If you know it, you can fight against it.

Do you have a safe friend or two with whom you can be honest? Confession is good for the soul and accountability helps keep you honest.

Do you know that God is on your side? God does not condemn you or me for our struggles, but He does want us to fight to live a holy life.

I’m not convinced all temptation is from the devil. I’m not certain it’s all spiritual warfare. Some of this is simply part of being human and imperfect, and we can take credit for it ourselves.

There is no need to start a theological debate. If you prefer to make temptation a wholly spiritual issue by asserting that we are spiritual beings, I’m good with that. If you choose to make it entirely a spiritual thing by taking it back to Genesis chapter 3, I can handle that too. My purpose here is to offer practical help.

Temptation seems to be naturally grouped into four categories for church leaders. If you know the potential temptation, you are more likely to see it coming and proactively resist what tempts you. That’s the goal here. Let’s name the temptations, own what is ours, and intentionally resist.

  1. Pressure Temptations

As your ministry grows, gains complexity and the demands increase, pressure rises. When pressure rises and your margin decreases, you can be an easy target for pressure temptations. Here are three common examples. Are any of these danger zones for you?

Loss of integrity. For example, you can be tempted to over-exaggerate something in a message you teach. Or perhaps you might bend under financial pressure to use monies designated for one thing for a completely different purpose.

Cut corners. Time pressures, for example, might cause you to knock out a sermon on Saturday night and show up on Sunday morning soundly unprepared.

Inappropriate anger. Pressure in your life can cause leaders to be impatient, harsh or even angry with others with no legitimate reason.

By learning how to use appropriate pressure relief tools such as exercise, a real day off, a good counselor, learning to say no, developing leaders to empower, etc., you can handle pressure in healthy ways.

2. Power Temptations

I’m happy to say that this temptation seems to be less common in the local church than perhaps twenty-some years ago. That’s a good thing, but it still lurks in the background and is a real possibility for any of us.

Here are three common examples. Are any of these traps for you?

Manipulate people. Using authority or position to control or take advantage of people rather than serve them. Essentially using people to build your ministry, rather than building people and let them build the ministry God gives them.

Live by different standards. Rising “above the law” so that the leader lives by a different set of rules than others are held accountable to.

Become a controlling person. All leaders exercise control for the good of the organization. This is very different than a leader becoming a controlling leader and holding people down rather than training and empowering them.

Leaning into genuine humility, owning a servant’s heart, and intentionally expressing your love for people is a great help to overcome temptations involving power.

3. Purity Temptations

It’s difficult to avoid the dominant presence of the internet and the temptations that lie within. Nearly anything is only a click away. This is a huge temptation. But not all purity temptations are online.

The following are three common examples. Do any of these temptations catch you?

Thought life not in check. Temptation begins in the mind. Scripture says to take every thought captive, but we know that is not always easy. Philippians 4:8 says: whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Marital faithfulness in question. We all know stories of friends who have lost their marriages and in many cases lost their ministry too. It’s heartbreaking and can happen to anyone. This temptation is never worth it!

“Innocent” flirting. A wise counselor once said to a group of us pastors, “Young leaders, beware of innocent flirting, for there is no such thing.” How true! What starts innocently, even while working together in ministry, can end in disaster.

It’s best to make a conscious choice not to play with fire because it’s just too easy to end up burned. Get honest about your temptation and talk with a friend or leader you respect for accountability.

4. People Temptations

This last category is not often included within the topic of temptation. It is therefore overlooked, even though it is likely among the most common of temptations that a church leader will face. We work with and serve people every day, and these common temptations are always with us. Here are three common examples:

People pleasing. This often finds its origin in a genuine heart to serve others. But sometimes that can slowly slip into behavior that is less than genuine, and a performance-orientation can begin to take over, instead of being purpose driven.

Critical spirit. Even the most loving of pastors and volunteer church leaders can lose perspective under all the demands of ministry. Then instead of loving the heart becomes critical.

Lack of forgiveness. Leaders get hurt too. If you are hurt enough, your heart can become hardened, and forgiveness is hard to find.

An intentional effort to be yourself, look for the best in people, and be generous in giving grace will go a long way to help resist common people temptations.

The good news in all this is that we can resist!

The good news in all this is that we can resist! Though difficult, we can say no to temptation. We can receive wisdom and encouragement from a friend. And we can rest knowing that when we slip or make a mistake, our Father in heaven is for us, not against us! Each day is a new day and a fresh start.

Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Matthew 26:41

 

 

Dan Reiland is the Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY.

© 2019 Dan Reiland | The Pastor’s Coach – Developing Church Leaders

14-Point Check Up for Mistakes That Will Hurt Your Leadership (II)

In our previous post, we published the beginning of the article “14-Point Check-up for Mistakes that Will Hurt your Leadership” by Pastor Dan Reiland.  Today we will continue the checklist with the last important pointers for any leader or minister.

 

5. Starting but Not Finishing

I’ll let you in on a little secret, not finishing what you start frustrates the people you work with and lead. Being a self-starter and taking the initiative is good, but not if you don’t finish. If you do this often enough it can start to reflect on your character.

If you have too many unfinished projects, it’s better to prioritize them and let your team know which ones you are going to kill so that you can finish the most important ones.

  • What important unfinished project do you need to finish?

 

6. Forgetting Kindness

The longer I lead, the more I see the importance of consistency in kindness. Kindness in many ways represents the heart of God. Yes, leaders must be strong and decisive, but that doesn’t preclude treating people with a kind spirit. God delights in kindness (Jeremiah 9:24).

In another post dedicated to this topic, I wrote: “Kindness is an essential human quality that allows trust, connection, and genuine exchange to take place. Kindness brings peace and joy into pressure-filled situations. Kindness is not a new idea, but it’s often undeveloped as a leadership trait.”

  • Would people evaluate you as a kind leader?

 

7. Too Busy Not to Pray

I know you want to pray, and if you have a strong prayer life, great!

If your prayer life is not what you’d like it to be, start by asking yourself, what is preventing you from praying? Do your best to push through the blockage. The best remedy is to start small. Take action by praying a brief prayer each day and build up from there.

Don’t get discouraged or heap guilt on yourself, take joy in a few minutes of prayer a day and let the amount of time build. God doesn’t keep a scoreboard on you; He just wants time with you.

  • Are you satisfied with your prayer life?
  • What simplechange could you make so that prayer is more part of your life, rather than another thing on your to-do list?

 

8. Under-Prioritizing the Development of Leaders

Few things are more important than developing leaders in your church. In fact, next to the power of prayer and people being saved, I’m not sure anything is more important. Regardless of where you rank leadership development, I’m confident that you know it’s essential to realize the vision God has given you for your church.

  • Do you have a plan in action for developing new leaders?

 

9. Dreaming Big, But Executing Small

This does not refer to “all talk no action,” that’s not a common leadership mistake. However, communicating big dreams without creating commensurate plans and strategies is common. That always results in poor or limited execution. You don’t need to dumb down your dreams, but make sure you build plans that can accommodate your dreams.

  • Do you have a good strategic plan in place?

 

10. Leading With a Scarcity Mindset

The best leaders are generous leaders.

They are not afraid of “running out” they figure out how to “make more.”

This idea does not imply a careless model of stewardship. It recognizes both the ability to be smart with what you have as well as the ability for you and God together to deliver more. The scope is not limited to money or the material world but includes greater breadth from the fruit of the spirit to a selfless nature. At its core, it’s about a giving spirit.

  • Do you see yourself as leaning more toward a scarcity mindset or an abundance mindset?

 

11. Winging It (doing something without planning) Instead of Being Thoroughly Prepared

If we were in a room of church leaders and the speaker asked; “Who here has ever succumbed to ‘winging-it’ in a meeting or while giving a talk?” All hands would go up. It happens, but it’s an unwise thing to repeat and will catch up with you over time and hurt your leadership.

Preparation is one of those behind-the-scenes disciplines that is essential to great leadership. I honestly don’t know one great leader who has led well for decades, that does not consistently and diligently prepare for everything they do.

  • Would your colleagues see you as a leader who consistently prepares well?

 

12.  Judgmental, Resentful, or Holding Grudges

We know that judging, resentfulness, and grudges go against the core of the gospel, (grace and forgiveness), yet they still find their way into the hearts and lives even of some of the best leaders.

The most common paths are things like hurt, exhaustion, deep insecurity, jealousy, or a critical spirit. If you struggle here, this may require more than human resolve to change. Prayer and wisdom from a good counselor may be beneficial.

  • Under what circumstances are you most tempted to judge, resent or hold a grudge?
  • How do you best overcome that temptation?

 

13.  No Longer Learning

Leaders are learners; they are life-long learners. The quickest way to irrelevance as a leader is to stop learning.  My friend and mentor John Maxwell has been leading now for about fifty years and to this day is a ferocious student. Every time we text or talk, John mentions something he’s learning, a book he’s reading or a new idea he’s thinking about.

  • Are you a student at heart?
  • What have you recently learned?

 

14. Operating Without Margin (time not scheduled)

This is one of the mistakes on the checklist that I need to work on. Saying yes is apparently a spiritual gift for me, and I need to say no more often, create margin, and focus better on my most productive priorities. How about you?

I admire the leaders I know that are laser-focused, even when they say no to me. I don’t like their no, but I understand it. Margin is needed to take care of your soul, rest and enjoy life. Margin is required to be at your best and do your best.

  • What area of your life most needs some margin?

 

So, how did you do?

Are there two or three you need to work on over the next few months? Don’t make your list longer than that. Just tackle between one to three at a time.

 

Dan Reiland is the Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. 

© 2019 Dan Reiland | The Pastor’s Coach – Developing Church Leaders

 

14-Point Check Up for Mistakes That Will Hurt Your Leadership

By: Dan Reiland

I just completed my annual physical.

Going through the process of a thorough check-up from head to toe is not much fun, but it’s a smart thing to do. My doctor is excellent and very thorough. He starts with my vital signs, does extensive blood work, and then checks for things that might indicate a health issue.

It’s a good idea to do the same thing as a leader. It’s best to focus on the positive things that will strengthen your leadership, but it’s also smart to check your habits against a list of things that could hurt you over the long-haul. 

Leadership isn’t easy, but it’s one of the most rewarding endeavors imaginable. Leadership is more art than science, more fluid than structured, and more messy than clean. Therefore, any help we can get for a quick check-up is helpful.

That’s what I’ve written for you here. I could probably list 25 things, but these 14 are at the top and a good place to start.

  • Which ones are you doing well?
  • Which ones need improvement?
  • How about the leader’s you coach?

You can take them through this as a developmental tool. Let them evaluate themselves, and then you ask questions that lead to offering insights and ideas to help them get better.

14-Point Leadership Check Up:

(These things will hurt your leadership if you do them repeatedly over time).

  1. Thinking Small

Negative thoughts, feeling hand-cuffed or unempowered, and avoiding risk are all forms of small thinking.  There are so many competing agendas, voices that must be heard, and seemingly non-negotiable expectations that when mixed with limited resources and finite energy it’s easy to fall prey to small thinking.

I sometimes catch myself praying big but then leading small, that only happens when I think small. The same can be true for you. Pray big, think big, lead large.

  • In what area or circumstance are you most tempted to think small?

 

2. Jumping to Conclusions

Fast is the new normal, and too fast can get you in trouble. There is always another side to the story. Always. Take time to get the facts. Sometimes just (literally) counting to five before you say something, or press send can keep you out of hot water. In other situations, a few days may be required.

If someone pushes your buttons, don’t over-react. Instead, when you feel your temperature rising, intentionally power down a notch. It’s much easier to respond with wisdom when your foot is not in your mouth. 

  • Do you consistently take the time to hear the other side of the story?
  • Can you resist speaking or reacting too quickly?
  • Do you find yourself interrupting others when they are talking?

 

3.  Resisting Change

You know that resisting change is a poor use of your time and energy both personally and professionally. If you don’t change, you can’t grow. And if you don’t innovate your ministries to keep up with the changes in culture, your ministry will get stuck.

 

  • What’s the last personal change you made and successfully adapted to?
  • What was your most recent change in how you operate a particular ministry?

 

4. Avoiding Risk

It is possible to avoid risk, but you can’t lead and escape risk at the same time. It’s impossible to cast vision and make progress without taking some risks. It might be a big project or a tough conversation. You don’t need to take a foolish blind leap of faith, but you’ll never fully know the future; therefore, risk is required. Pray, trust God, plan, and lead!

 

  • Is there any risk you are avoiding?
  • What is the current risk you’re taking?

 

*In our next post we will publish the second part of this article where Pastor Reiland will detail other important aspects that should be taken care of in relation to leadership.

Jesus Is Not The Solution

https://iamchrisgilmore.com/2019/08/05/jesus-is-not-the-solution/

Whenever we face despair in our country one of the most common refrains is, “People just need Jesus.”

My friends, I have bad news – Jesus is not the solution.

At least not the Jesus most of us mean.

The Jesus who is a neat little add on to our lives. The one we keep close in case we find ourselves in trouble or need reassurance that we are good people.

The Jesus who is only after mental agreement that he is God and asks little from us in return (besides inviting people to church and trying to cuss less).

This Jesus allows us to occupy pews with prejudiced hearts and systems unchecked. This Jesus allows us to pray “Thy Kingdom come” without considering the implications.

This Jesus allows us to imagine we are faithful disciples while doing most of our learning from cable news. This Jesus will make your life better if you simply pray at an altar or raise a hand with all heads bowed. This Jesus is easy.

This Jesus fits comfortably next to the gods of power and wealth and upward mobility. This Jesus doesn’t mind sharing space because this Jesus is enamored by those things too.

This Jesus allows us to harbor hate and bitterness. This Jesus allows us to distance ourselves from the world and feel good about it.

This Jesus surely didn’t mean love our enemies and turn the other check, because this Jesus is reasonable and really only wants us to be happy and healthy and make it to heaven some bright morning.

This Jesus has been invited into the hearts of slave owners, rapists, abusers, power hungry preachers, white supremacists, idolaters, war mongers, and the like and done nothing but help them feel more holy in their un-Christlikeness.

He is little more than a prop on the campaign trail and a get out of hell card should this whole thing turn out to be true.

This Jesus is powerless. And a fraud.

But there is a different Jesus.

One who is not beholden to the American dream. One who does not bend like a reed when politicians ask us to change our convictions for the promise of power. One who does not ask too little of us.

This Jesus is Lord.

This Jesus throws out the charlatans and calls the religious folk “white-washed graves.” They have the right hymns and sound bites and bumper stickers, but nothing of life and love on the inside.

This Jesus will not allow us to sit complacent. This Jesus will not allow us to settle for platitudes. This Jesus doesn’t want to just make you into a nicer version of yourself.

This Jesus will not tolerate our prejudices or violent words or the space we make for other gods. This Jesus demands we repent and turn from all things that look like death and destruction.

Even when we enjoy them. Or we want them. Or sell our souls to justify them.

This Jesus instructs us to love our neighbors, to welcome the outcast, to care for the sick, and imprisoned. This Jesus is less concerned about borders and budgets and security and constitutional amendments than we’d like to think.

This Jesus will call into question all our allegiances. To self, to family, to politicians, to country.

This Jesus is not safe. He will disrupt everything. He will put us at odds with people who follow the other Jesus and the kingdoms of the world. There will be hurt and pain and ulcers. He told us this. That following him would bring division because following him turns it all upside down.

This Jesus said, “If you want to follow me be ready to go to the death.” The other Jesus convinces us this was only hyperbole and we can go on living just the way we like.

But the true Jesus, the one from Nazareth, the one crucified under Roman rule and resurrected from the dead, he is Lord. And he is the only Jesus worth knowing.

This Jesus and all the disruption and difficulty and hard reflection that he demands is worth it. With this Jesus we find that this is the only way to truly live.

With this Jesus we find change and transformation for ourselves and the whole broken world. With this Jesus we find there is another Kingdom where the last are first and the greatest are servants and that even death leads to victory.

This Jesus pushes us outside of our walls and comfort zones and partisan talking points and air conditioned answers and confronts us with what is real and true and right and good. This Jesus changes minds and votes and spending behavior and addictions and priorities and conversations and attitudes and neighborhoods.

May we know this Jesus. May we follow him.

May we allow this Jesus full access to all our biases and comforts and brokenness to do with as he pleases. May he do his best work in places we don’t even realize need work.

May we put to death the false Jesus that has for too long masqueraded in our sanctuaries and rocked us to sleep.  May we put away apathy and comfort.  May we turn from the gods of power and wealth and personal success in order to fully and loudly proclaim, that Jesus is Lord.

And may this change the world.

A Testimony from Dr. Brent Hulett

A few months ago I had the privilege of meeting our new head of Mobilization for Global Missions in our denomination, Dr. Brent Hulett.  Officially his title is: Coordinator of Engaging and Equipping for the Church of the Nazarene.  He has taken the time to share his testimony and challenge us in the following video.  I hope that this helps you to know him a bit more, but I also would encourage you to share this link with anyone who wants to know more about missions.

I thank God for Brent and other leaders who are guiding us in this vision of engaging and equipping our churches around the world.