Striking the Rock, Pt. 6: Defusing Our Bombs

In my last entry, I wrote about the need to allow God access to the hidden places of our emotional unhealthiness that hinder our spiritual effectiveness. Moses’ failure to deal with his emotional pain led to his making a critical mistake that cost him dearly. How did Moses get to this point? How did he get from asking to see God’s glory to stealing God’s glory? How did he get from blessing God’s people to blasting God’s people?

As I reflected on these questions, an image came to mind from old Western movies. When someone wanted to seal off a canyon or remove rock from a mine, they would take bundled sticks of dynamite, attach a long fuse, light it, and wait for the big boom. There was always a delay before the explosion as the slow burning fuse made its way to the TNT. The only ways to prevent the resulting damage were to 1) disconnect the fuse from the dynamite, or 2) stop the fuse from burning. In other words, explosions are not spontaneous occurrences, but are the result of the coming together of a particular set of factors over a period of time.           2pastedGraphic_page_001

Our “bombs” are potentially explosive situations such as criticism, disrespect, conflicts, elders that fight, and sheep that bite. Our “fuses” are our unhealthy attitudes. Explosions happen when our unhealthy attitudes are permitted to burn – to exist and grow unchecked. When our fuses encounter our bombs, explosions happen.

I think these two points are important for me to share:

  • We have virtually no control over the existence of bombs. However, we have complete control over the length and igniting of our fuses. We have no control over how people will react to us or what they will say to us, but we do have control over how we choose to respond. We need to take responsibility for our attitudes and actions and spend less time lamenting and stressing over what others say and do. I’ll address this issue in a subsequent entry.
  • Because bombs don’t explode instantaneously, we have time to recognize the reality of our fuses and take corrective action. The point here is that there are indicators in our lives that we are heading for an explosion. Paul exhorts us to “Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you” (I Timothy 4:16). God loves us too much to permit us to run off a cliff with no warning that the bridge is out. But if we ignore His voice, quench His Spirit, or fail to practice ruthless self-examination and personal discipline, it will be bombs away.

In my next entry, I will show how our attitudes are indicators of how close we are to striking the rock.

Jason P.

Categories: I Timothy

Striking the Rock, Pt. 5: Uncovering the Dark Side of the Soul

When you are sad, tired, and angry, where do you turn?

How do you respond to your responsibilities? How do you function?

When Moses found himself in this situation, he turned to God where he found His presence to be a source of power and direction:

Moses and Aaron turned away from the people and went to the entrance of the Tabernacle, where they fell face down on the ground. Then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord said to Moses, “You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock” (Numbers 20:6-8).

This is not surprising as this had always been Moses’ pattern. He experienced intimate communication with God and had always sought the Lord’s favor and guidance:

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16).

When I read Exodus 33 I sense a humble dependence about Moses, a tenderness in him both towards God and as well as the people he led. But this time, Moses’ response was different. How could he walk out of the presence of God and walk into self-destructive disobedience? Why didn’t the presence and word of God transform him?

It appears to me that while Moses was still faithfully engaging in his spiritual practices and performing his leadership duties, he was not personalizing the truth of what God was giving him for the people.

In a previous entry, I suggested that“pain can dull our senses towards God”. We see that in the captive Israelites who were unable to rejoice in God’s promise of deliverance because they were so occupied with their difficult circumstances: “So Moses told the people of Israel what the Lord had said, but they refused to listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery” (Exodus 6:9). Is it possible that this is what was going on in Moses’ life as well?

I am currently reading the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. The author, Peter Scazzero, is a pastor who discovered a disturbing truth about himself. He writes:

The reality was that my discipleship and spirituality had not touched a number of deep internal wounds and sin patterns – especially those ugly ones that emerged behind the closed doors of our home during trials, disagreements, conflicts, and setbacks. I was stuck at an immature level of spiritual and emotional development. And my then-present way of living the Christian life was not transforming the deep places in my life. And because of that, faith almost died. Something was drastically wrong with my spirituality – but what? (p. 44).

 I believe that while Moses was doing all the right things, he was hurting from some “deep internal wounds” – sadness, fatigue, and anger – that were not being touched by the emancipating power of God.

Scazzero points to the story in Luke 10:38-42 where Martha complained about Mary sitting down listening to Jesus while she was left with all the work to complete by herself. He states that “her duties have become disconnected from her love for Jesus” (page 49).

I have found this to be very true in my own life. I can become so focused on and overwhelmed by my work for God, that I lose sight of God Himself. My time in the Word becomes all about studying for a message, lesson, book, or article, but little about hearing God’s word for me personally. My time in prayer is for others or situations or problems, but not about my own heart. Rarely do I spend time just enjoying the presence of God for the joy of being with Him, but more often than not, I’m looking for Abba to do something for me.

One of the things I am sensing that God is saying to me is, “I need you to want more of Me.” God is calling me to work hard on nurturing an intimate relationship with Him; to serve others out of the overflow of my relationship and not just the capacity of my gifts and abilities. He is calling me to a place of spiritual vulnerability, to a ruthless examination by the Spirit and Word of God that are able to get at the very thoughts and intentions of my heart. Then and only then, can the emotional healthiness that is necessary for spiritual effectiveness take place.

Can you relate to this?

Are there dark places in your soul – places of emotional unhealthiness – to which you have not given God access? What are you going to do about it?

Jason P.

Categories: Uncategorized

Striking Rocks, pt.4: Handling Anger

“Never make a big decision when you are sad, tired or angry.”

Moses was sad.
Moses was tired.
Moses was angry.

In the face of some momentary discomfort, the people rebel against Moses. They accused him of not following God’s will; of being a poor leader; of being incapable of providing for the needs of the congregation.

Can you imagine what was going through Moses’ mind at that point? If it were me, I might be thinking:

“Really?! Are you serious? Have you forgotten everything I have done for you? Let me refresh your memories:
I risked my life (committing murder in the process) to stand up against your Egyptian oppressors.
I risked my freedom and my life, again, in going toe-to-toe with Pharaoh on your behalf.
I successfully (and prosperously) led your emancipation and exodus from Egyptian bondage.
I performed miracle upon miracle – the Egyptian plagues, crossing the Red Sea, water from rock, quail meat at night, manna in the morning).
You have never had to replace your shoes in 40 years.

And now, because you are a little thirsty, you will throw me under the camel herd! Is that the thanks I get?!”

When people hurt us, when we feel disrespected, overworked or under-appreciated, it is a natural response to become angry.

  • When those kids would not listen to me, I became angry because they did not appreciate the fact that I was sacrificing a night at home with my family to be with them.
  • When those students cursed at me, I became angry because they disrespected me and didn’t care about the level I had put into my presentation for them.
  • When that hospitalized woman criticized me, I became angry because she did not thank me for coming me to see her or acknowledge that I could have been doing something else.
  • When the member criticized my wardrobe, I became angry because I thought he was being petty and immature.

God’s word does not tell us that anger is inappropriate, but to “be angry and sin not” (Eph. 4:26). The issue is not in expressing the emotion, but in expressing it in a manner that does not produce the righteousness that God desires (James 1:20).

Some food for thought…

  • What are you angry about? Leaders fighting? Sheep biting?
  • Can you see ways in which your anger is negatively impacting your attitude in and about ministry?
  • Are you sinning in the way that you are expressing your anger and frustration?
  • What is the appropriate way to handle your anger?
Categories: Uncategorized

Striking Rocks, pt.3: Handling Fatigue

“Never make a big decision when you are sad, tired or angry.”

Moses was tired. Moses had been leading this congregation for at least 40 years. For the past 38 years, they had been wandering around the desert. Can you imagine how tired Moses must have been on every level?

Physically. I know that people lived longer then (Moses is about 120 at this point), but that doesn’t mean that they were not subject to the realities of aging.

Emotionally. Moses had led the people to the doorstep of the Promised Land, only to have them rebel against entry and be sentenced to wilderness wandering only a few miles away from their desired destination. Can imagine how frustrating that must have been for Moses? On top of that, he had been listening to the same complaints and lack of spiritual maturity for four decades.

Spiritually. Moses had experienced the presence and power of God in some incredible ways during this period of his life and leadership. That does not mean, however, that he never experienced doubt, discouragement or even depression. I would imagine that in the quietness of his tent, away from the pressing demands of the people, he had moments where he questioned the plans of God, his own calling, and his capacity to lead.

For about twenty minutes, because I could not get them to settle down, I had unsuccessfully attempted to teach a lesson to a group of Jr. High aged boys. A wave of sadness and discouragement washed over me like a tsunami. I stood before them for 15 minutes unable to speak before I finally dismissed and sent them home.

I sat in my dark office and contemplated 30 years of ministry with all of its frustrations, trials and tribulations; with all of its battles, victories and defeats. I realized just how tired I was of pushing and pulling people who didn’t really want to leave “Egypt.” The thought of this overwhelmed me, plunging me into a slough of despondency. The coming weeks only added to the darkness of my spirit as I experienced…
… being cursed at by students at a high school presentation,
… visiting a hospitalized congregant who proceeded to rattle off a list of complaints and criticisms about me and the church and
… another member complain that he could not concentrate on the sermon because he did not like my tie!

I am sure that you have your own encyclopedic index of frustrations that have deflated your enthusiasm and zapped your motivation over the years. While in the depths of our hearts we know  the positive impact our ministries have had and are having on people, we still can be derailed rather easily by a single, well-placed negative comment. Why is that?

I recently read about a report from neuroscientists claiming that there are more neural networks in the brain associated with negative emotions than with positive emotions. They speculate that the ratio may be as high as 5 to 1. I believe that neuroscience is only “discovering” the truth of God’s word. Colossians 3:5-17 tells us that we are naturally clothed in a negative, death-producing sinful wardrobe and we must intentionally and consciously redress ourselves in the positive, transformational clothing of Christ-likeness.

Are you emotionally, physically or spiritually drained?
Can you see ways in which your fatigue is negatively impacting your attitude in and about ministry?
What are you doing to replenish your heart and strength?

Jason P.

Categories: Uncategorized

Striking Rocks, pt.2: Handling Sadness

Moses had led the community of Israel to Kadesh.  There the people began to complain bitterly about both Moses and their living conditions:

In the first month of the year, the whole community of Israel arrived in the wilderness of Zin and camped at Kadesh. While they were there, Miriam died and was buried.
There was no water for the people to drink at that place, so they rebelled against Moses and Aaron. The people blamed Moses and said, “If only we had died in the LORD’s presence with our brothers! Why have you brought the congregation of the LORD’s people into this wilderness to die, along with all our livestock? Why did you make us leave Egypt and bring us here to this terrible place? This land has no grain, no figs, no grapes, no pomegranates, and no water to drink!” (Num. 20:1-5)

Moses was faced with a big decision: “How will I respond to this latest challenge to my leadership?”

I recently heard a television commentator share some advice that he said his grandfather had given to him: “Never make a big decision when you are sad, tired or angry.” Moses hit the trifecta!

He was sad. Moses’ sister, Miriam, had died. God was responsible for saving Moses from death as an infant, but He had used Miriam as the instrument to accomplish it. Throughout the exodus from Egypt, the 40 years of wandering, Miriam had been right there with him and Aaron. Now she was dead and Moses was grieving her loss. He was grieving the loss of a sister, a supporter, a leader and a friend. He was grieving the loss of stability and familiarity. Perhaps he was grieving his own mortality as the death of peers dramatically brings to light our own human frailty.

The enemy often attacks during times of grief for a number of reasons:

  • Grieving can increase our vulnerability by decreasing our vigilance because we are distracted by pain.
  • The desire to relieve our pain can lead us to be tempted to do so with illegitimate solutions to make us feel better or dull the hurt – substances, sex, more work, entertainment, etc.
  • Pain can dull our senses towards God.

The people’s challenge to Moses’ leadership only added to his sense of isolation as now he was also grieving the loss of respect and authority.

From the initial loss of her person and to eventual loss of her presence, my mother’s terminal journey with Alzheimer’s produced in me an extended period of grieving. In one form or another, I  experienced all of the aforementioned enemy attacks.  As a pastor, I am expected to have words of comfort – my own and God’s – for those who are hurting. What about when I’m hurting?

What about you? Are you grieving loss? Have you experienced the enemy’s sneak grief attacks? How have you handled them? How is it impacting your decision making?

In my next entry, I will address the second part of Moses’ trifecta: fatigue.

Please add your voice to the conversation.

Jason P.

Categories: Uncategorized

Striking Rocks, pt.1: Hitting the Wall

This year marks 30 years of ministry for me.  It has not been an easy 3 decades. I’ve had some incredible highs and some equally incredible lows. For years I’ve worked in poor ministries or poor communities that has produced great financial strain, but has also cultivated in my wife and me a great faith in the Lord’s provision. It is a faith that must extend to the future as retirement benefits have only recently been a part of the compensation packages.

I’ve met some incredible people and have built some lasting, life-changing relationships. I’ve also been involved in relationships that produced pain deep enough to plunge me into depression and the contemplation of leaving ministry entirely.

I’ve experienced the soaring highs of having books published, being asked to speak around the world and building, planting and pastoring churches. I’ve also experienced the searing lows of crushing self-doubt, rejection, marital and familial conflict and strain. In the past 3 years I’ve…
… Relocated my family across the country to help care for my Alzheimer-afflicted mother.
… Experienced her death.
… Revealed the identity of my father that I’d kept secret for 34 years.
… Left one ministry and started another.
… Entered into the trying world of parenting 2 teenagers.

I’ve hit a wall.

I find myself in a place of deep emotional, spiritual and relational dryness and fatigue. I have not stopped fulfilling my responsibilities of teaching, preaching, leading, writing, parenting, etc., but it feels as though I’m running through sand in combat boots – it’s a tiring struggle. The question is, “How will I respond to it?”

What about you? Have you been here? How did you deal with it? How did you come out of it? Did you come out of it? What did you learn?

I have always been fascinated with the Biblical account of Moses at Kadesh that chronicles what may have been the greatest failure of his leadership career when his decision to strike the rock resulted in God not allowing him to lead Israel into the Promised Land (Numbers 20:1-13). Quite frankly, this passage both fascinates and scares the daylights out of me for a couple of reasons! First, it has always seemed like a harsh response (dare I say over reaction) by God considering Moses’ stellar track record. Second, I’ve wondered what striking the rock looks like today. More specifically, I’ve wondered what it would look like in my life and ministry.

The Lord has led me to explore this passage with a goal of ruthless self-examination:

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires (Hebrews 4:12).

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 
Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life (Psalm 139:23-24).

I’m fairly confident that I am not the only pastoral type who has “hit the wall.” Whether you are where I am, have already passed this exit or are approaching it, I’d like to invite you on this journey with me to look deep into your heart and mind for some self-discovery.  Our minds, ministries and marriages may hinge on what we find and what we do about it.

Jason P.

Categories: Uncategorized

How Amazing is God’s Grace!

This morning the Lord blessed my heart and I want to bless yours.

Rembrandt’s, “The Prodigal Son”

I was reading the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 and was struck by verses 22-24 :

But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house

and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the

calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began” [emphasis added].

God’s response to my broken heart, to my confession of sin, to my coming back home from my periodic wandering is not lecture, review or condemnation but an immediate reckless, extravagant expression of grace that covers my shame and affirms my status as his unconditionally favored, forgiven, loved and accepted child. How amazing is God’s grace! Walk, bathe, soak, saturate yourself in it today.

Jason P.

Categories: grace | Tags: , , , , , , ,

American Idols?

I wrote the following post on a blog I write for my church. It was provocative and challenging enough that I wanted to share it here as well. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Reading through the prophets, it is easy for our eyes (and minds) to glaze over as we relegate these words to a people and time gone by. They can be thought of as our having an authorized peek into the God’s private letters of rebuke to his wayward children that have little or nothing to do with our present circumstances or situations. I believe that would be a wrong assumption and approach to reading the prophets. Romans 15:4 says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” It is important that as we read the scripture we remember that it is GOD’s WORD to us, not just the ramblings of some religious zealot. So what lessons can we learn from the prophets? While there are many, one stood out to me from Jeremiah 7 that I want to address today.

Jeremiah 7: 30, 31: “The people of Judah have sinned before my very eyes,” says the Lord. “They have set up their abominable idols right in the Temple that bears my name, defiling it. They have built pagan shrines at Topheth, the garbage dump in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, and there they burn their sons and daughters in the fire. I have never commanded such a horrible deed; it never even crossed my mind to command such a thing!

God is taking his people to task for their practice of sacrificing their children on the altars of their idols. What possible application does that have for us? We are far too sophisticated and enlightened to engage in such a barbaric ritual as this! Aren’t we? Before you go off on a self-righteous diatribe, I suggest that you slow down and give it some more thought.

First, let’s define “idol”. Quite simply, an idol is anything that is an object of worship other than God Himself. An idol is something that syphons away our resources of time, talent or treasure away from from being wholly lavished upon and committed to God. An idol is anything that detracts our attention away from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. An idol is anything other than God to which we look for help or hope. An idol is anything that successfully competes with God for our loyalty and passion.

What, then, might be some of our idols?
…Success?
…Materialism?
…Sensuality?
…Independence?
…Entertainment?

How are our children being sacrificed on the altars of worship to these gods?

  • When we exalt work and ministry over the emotional and relational well-being of our children, we are sacrificing our them on the altar of success.
  • When we subscribe to the life philosophy, “He who has the most toys at the end, wins”; when we fail to teach our children the vanity of gaining the whole world but losing your soul; when we mortgage our future by accumulating stuff AND debt, we sacrifice our children on the altar of materialism.
  • When we fail to live spirit-controlled lives that are marked by discipline and self-control; when we cultivate a culture that utilizes sex and sexuality to promote everything from toothpaste to television sets; when we value profits from pornography ($10 billion industry – more than the NFL, NBA and MLB combined) we sacrifice the moral purity of children the altar of sensuality.
  • When we fail to model for our children an active prayer life; when we fail to do life together as a part of the community of faith; when we fail to acknowledge our deep need for others by ignoring the role that they have played in our success, we sacrifice our children on the altar of independence.
  • When we value style over substance; when we spend more time playing than we do praying; when our weekend activities take precedence over worship; when our homes have more TV’s than Bibles; when we practice Consumer Christianity by church hopping to find the best programs to fit our needs, we are sacrificing our children on the altar of entertainment.

Have I overstated the case? Perhaps, but I don’t think so. The proof is in the pudding. The Psalmist Asaph encouraged the nation of Israel to faithfully teach it’s children the word, works and ways of God with this positive result:

So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
not forgetting his glorious miracles
and obeying his commands.
Then they will not be like their ancestors—
stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful,
refusing to give their hearts to God. (Psalm 78:7,8)

The challenge of the Word of God is to tear down our idols and false gods that promise much, deliver little and cost so much more than we budgeted to pay. Our present actions have generational consequences, impact and repercussions.

What are you worshipping?

Categories: Uncategorized

What is Joy?

I am preaching through the book of Philippians on theme of “Relentless Joy.”  This thought came to me and I would love to hear your thoughts reactions to or reflections on it:

Happiness is the self-focused pursuit of personal pleasure;

Joy is the internal satisfaction with Divine purpose.

What are your thoughts about this?

Categories: Joy

Beauty in the Desert

Yes, I know. I’ve been in a serious state of blogging slackitude (how do you like that made up word?) for a while. It’s not that I’ve not been writing (I’ve published a book, written a 12 week Bible study – dissedRespect in the Family, and outlined 2 more books), I’ve just had a lot on my plate. I have so much to share as God has been doing some pretty significant stuff in my life in the past year and I hope to start catching up this summer.

Today, however, I want to share with you a new book that has been written by one of the most influential people in my life. Eddie Broussard came into my life after my sophomore year in college. We were both involved in the Navigator ministry at the University of Illinois. Eddie became my mentor over the next two and a half years walking with me through some difficult spiritual and relational times, never letting me wallow in them and relentlessly pointing me to God. He taught me more about studying the Bible, having a passion for knowing God and pursuing Him in scripture  than ANYONE ever has and probably ever will. When I am studying scripture today, I still use the methodologies that Eddie taught me from from 1980-1982. He would challenge me to memorize, not verses of scripture, but passages and chapters. At one point, we even tackled memorizing the entire book of Philippians!

He was the first person I ever met that actually understood the Tabernacle and was able to, not only explain it, but was able to show me how to apply it to my own life and devotional time. He blew my mind then, so I cannot wait to see how God has developed this in him over 30 years and in full book.

Eddie is one of the most Godly men I have ever met and there is no question that this will come across in his book, Beauty in the Desert. He writes, “During spiritual deserts, we can find love in God’s dwelling place, the tabernacle. Applying the spiritual  realities of the tabernacle as a way of devotional life, especially during desert times, can yield a deeper intimacy with Him.”

You can pre-order the book at http://www.navpress.com/product/9781617471582/Beauty-in-the-Desert-Eddie-Broussard.

When you get it, let’s read it together and see where God takes us.

Jason

Categories: Uncategorized

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