What My Ants Taught Me About Following God

We Are The Ants. ant tales

My zeal wears me out, for my enemies ignore your words. Psalm 119:139

The Psalmist who wrote this verse was excited about God! So excited, in fact, that he apparently wore himself out with service! There were so many enemies of God, that kept the Psalmist so busy! Oh that we would be found so faithful!

That reminds me…

I am marveled by ants. I know what you may be thinking, “What an awkward transition and how can anyone make a Biblical illustration with a bunch of ants?” Bear with me. Ants are fascinating.

Several years ago, when we still lived in the house where we raised our boys, if the weather was nice, I would sit on my back patio, drink my coffee, and read my Bible in the morning. For a period of months, I was captivated with a trail of ants that began on one side of my patio, and ended on the other side…a distance of about 30 feet. The ants marched in a straight line, two ants going one direction, two going the opposite direction. They were spaced no more than an ant’s distance apart from each other. All total, there were hundreds of ants on my patio at any given time.

Now, I have to be honest. When I first discovered there were ants on my patio each morning, I was not very excited. I tried spraying them with ant killer. I tried washing them away with the garden hose. I tried stomping on them. I even got creative by trying to place obstacles in their way. (Perhaps you can tell I was starting to have fun with this project.)

My attempt to rid the patio of ants went on for over a week. Guess what? THE ANTS WERE STILL THERE! Oh, they would disappear for awhile. I was very good at getting rid of them temporarily. I felt successful everytime I tried, but before I knew it, the line of ants was back again…bigger, stronger, more determined than ever. I actually decided I kinda liked those ants. They became my ants!

As I have watched the life of an ant, and spent time in my morning devotion, it occurred to me that just as they are diligent in their labor, so should I be in mine. Just as the Psalmist was diligent in serving God, I should be in my work. He pursued God’s enemies as the ants pursued my patio, as I should pursue God’s call on my life.

If I am called to serve a mighty God, I should serve Him mightily!

Even when I’m distracted.

Even when obstacles get in the way.

Even when the work is harder than I think I can do.

If I am asked to work for a God who is steadfast in His love for me, then I should work for Him steadfastly!

My ants taught me a lot about following God.

What are you learning about God these days?

7 Most Frustrating Things Pastors Experience

Frustrated office manager overloaded with work.

I received this question on my blog recently.

Ron – What do you think are some of the most frustrating things that pastors experience?

Great question. I’m sure, like most jobs, there are frustrating things that happen while doing the best you know to do. Leadership deals with people. Different people. There can always be frustrations dealing with people different from us. Even people who love each other can be frustrated by each other.

But, the question was “most frustrating”. I had to think about that question.

I should first mention that I love the local church. (I shouldn’t have to mention it, but I do.) I believe the church is the hope for the world. I am a proponent of the local, Bible-believing church. We are filled with imperfect people, but our mission is God-inspired, God-given and to be God-glorifying.

Here’s my reply:

People who abuse power or position – It always bothers me, but even more so when it happens in the church. That includes, of course, the pastor. Ultimately, we are to follow Christ, but sometimes we can let positions and power get in the way of humility and obedience.

People who live dual lives – Hypocrisy. One church face and one community face. Frustrating. It gives the church a bad name. Many of my unchurched friends won’t come to church because they know someone who comes to church already. And, they aren’t impressed.

Rumors that spread with no basis of truth. (And, yes, it happens…often)

Selfishness – People who want what they want, even at the expense and inconvenience of others. Who will allow their personal preference to interfere with carrying out the ultimate mission of the church. Doesn’t sound very Biblical to me.

Tradition – I’m not against tradition per se. I like meeting at a set time every week, for example. I love getting gifts at Christmas. I get frustrated with tradition that is adhered to only because of tradition even thought it gets in the way of making disciples.

Time wasters – I’m on a mission. I have a keen sense that time is short and moves faster than I can fathom. I don’t want to waste precious Kingdom time debating issues that simply don’t matter.

Half-heartedness – Perhaps I got this one from Jesus. He called it lukewarm. I sense it when the Spirit of God is obviously active in the room, but so many look at me as if it’s a typical Sunday. I realize sometimes this is cultural or worship style preference. I’m okay when it’s that. It is frustrating when it’s a matter of immaturity of heart, especially when someone has been in the church for many years, but hasn’t grown deeper and more passionately in love with Christ. Some days I wish we were a ballgame. With bleachers. And a favorite team. Then they’d get excited.

So, that’s my honest list.

Pastor, share yours?

And, you don’t have to be a pastor to share. What frustrates you most in the church?

You can now read my list 7 Most Exciting Things a Pastor Experiences.

A brilliant setup to the most important question ever…

question mark

While He was praying in private and His disciples were with Him, He asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am? ” They answered, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, that one of the ancient prophets has come back.” “But you,” He asked them, “who do you say that I am? ” Peter answered, “God’s Messiah! ” (Luke 9:18-20)

I am not sure Jesus cared what others were saying at this point. It was an introduction to a more important question. He was getting all the options on the table. I’m not even sure we heard all of the ones they listed.

But the real issue was, “Who do YOU say I am?”

In the end, as far as you should be concerned, that’s all that matters. Answering that question isn’t a group activity. It’s not a team consensus. It’s not subject to public opinion or popularity of the culture of the day.

But, it’s the most important question you’ll ever answer…

Who do you say the “I AM” is?

Who is Jesus to you?

A Secret to Success in Ministry You May Not Know

Norasit's Gallery (NorGal)

I might have discovered a secret to the success of Jesus’ disciples.

And therefore my own ministry.

I never caught it until recently.

Read these verses and see if you see what I saw:

They were to wear sandals, but not put on an extra shirt.

So they went out and preached that people should repent. (Mark 6:9, 12 )

Remember what happened?

And they were driving out many demons,anointing many sick people with olive oil, and healing them. (Mark 6:13)

Did you catch what made them successful? Don’t miss it?

They wore sandals.

You get it. If I want people to respond.

If I want to see success in ministry.

If I want them to repent.

Maybe I need to wear sandals.

Maybe it’s not happening as much as I wish it would because I’m not wearing the right shoes.

I should wear sandals every Sunday morning. With my jeans or with my suit.

Sandals…the missing ingredient.

And, of course, I’m being funny. Or trying to be.

Okay, not funny, but I’m making a point.

Jesus gave very specific instructions, but they weren’t unusual to the disciples. Just specific. The people seeing the disciples wouldn’t have thought they were dressed strange either.

Jesus’ clothing instructions were within the context of the day.

It’s a reminder to me.

Methods change.

The way we do ministry changes. The clothes we wear. The songs we sing.

I don’t wear sandals. To preach. Catch me Monday through Saturday, or an hour after the last service, and you’ll find me in Biblical attire.

I dress in the context of the day. To the people I’m trying to reach. Styles change.

And, of course, there are other implications of this. Not just shoes. Context changes.

Here’s the point I’m making. If we are not careful, we begin to think our practices, the ones we’ve done so long, or the one we prefer, are Biblical, when really they are contextual.

Cultural.

And, context changes.

But the fact that people need to repent doesn’t.

And, so we minister within the context of the day, and preach truth.

Jesus modeled that for us.

If not…we’d all be wearing sandals.

(My California pastor friends are confused. You can ignore this post and enjoy your sandals.)

7 Ways to Respond on Sunday after a Disaster is in the News

Emergency checklist

This was a week (again) where the news was dominated by a natural disaster. Knowing that this blog is read by many pastors and church leaders, I felt led to address the issue many of them (us) will be considering…or at least should be.

How to respond the Sunday after a disaster in the news:

This is often a delicate issue. Unless your church is super large, and probably even then, you won’t be able to respond to every disaster with money and people. Obviously there are disasters every week. Some get more national attention than others. How do you know what to address on Sunday? How do you respond as a church?

Here are some thoughts to consider:

Determine impact on the church – Consider how much this particular disaster is on the minds of the people you pastor and how long it will take to recover from this disaster. That’s not always the same. The tornadoes in Oklahoma have dominated the news. People are saying things like, “Worst I’ve ever seen.” Obviously this one has major impact on people and will be difficult to ignore.

Acknowledge the obvious – After you have discerned the magnitude of the disaster, decide what response you will make. As for this week, considering the Oklahoma tornadoes, it will be difficult not to mention it in a service. It’s on people’s minds. People almost expect you to say or do something. Again, this is not true of every disaster, but when it impacts as many people as this one does, and when the destruction is as devastating, it merits mentioning. We placed something on our website and Facebook almost immediately directing people where they can help. These are times when the church has a specific expectation and calling to respond. Sometimes it will be obvious you need to respond. At other times, follow your heart for people, but if you need confirmation or the discernment of other people, bring a small group together to help you decide if and how to respond.

Lead people to pray – The best thing we can ever do in a disaster…really anytime…is to appeal to the One who holds the answers to the struggles of life. We need to pray. We demonstrate something to people when they see and hear us pray for a situation in the news. They realize the importance of prayer. They are reminded of God’s sovereignty. When the corporate body prays together over something we’ve been thinking about all week we are able to share the burden we’ve been carrying individually. That’s being the Body.

Allow a chance to respond – Again, depending on the magnitude of the disaster, and the way it impacts the particular church where you serve, it might be necessary for you to do more than pray. Depending on the size of your church you may be able to send people (at the appropriate time), but you can always give people an opportunity to give and serve through other organizations. Many churches assume they have to coordinate their own efforts. I choose to rely on reputable groups already on the ground of the disaster with whom we can partner. It eliminates many of the administrative hurdles that get in the way of providing real help.

Preach what God has laid on your heart – I know some who alter their message after a national disaster. When a tornado hit our community, that obviously altered my Sunday message. I knew I needed to address people’s fear and provide hope. I don’t feel I need to respond that every time a disaster happens. If God has already directed my message before the disaster, I know He is sovereign enough to know the timing of the word He placed in my heart and the disaster. I usually preach the message I feel He has already been leading me to deliver. We have to help people move forward after a disaster. While we don’t ignore the pain, we can help them process the fact that there is still much life to be lived.

Have systems in place – This will happen after the Sunday, but if you don’t have them already, use times following a disaster to reevaluate your systems of response you have. If they need improving, use this as an opportunity to do so. Connect with some agencies you can partner with in future disasters. Organize teams to coordinate future efforts. Set written procedures in place that outline how and when you will respond in the future. I have even used a “decision grid” for times like these, which helps us ask questions to determine the best decision to make at the time. It is harder to think rationally when emotions are high after something is in the news all week. Most likely your response will be slightly different every disaster, but it will help make better decisions to have systems already organized.

Keep preaching hope in Jesus – Disasters aren’t going away in this world. If anything, they seem to happen more frequently. I’m not making a prophetic statement (I’m not smart enough for that), but I wouldn’t be surprised if things get worse before they get better. And, one day they will get better. Much better. Until then, we have hope in the One who is hope. Keep reminding people of that truth. We aren’t promised a trouble free world…actually opposite. We are promised we can have faith through any storm, that God is still in control.

Please understand this is an opinion post. In fact, I hope you realize this is an opinion blog. Consider the source. Be intentional. Think through your response. Shepherd the people God has entrusted to your ministry.

I realize there are many seasoned pastors who read this blog. Let us learn from you.

How do you respond following a disaster in the news?

5 Principles of Making Disciples and Enabling Spiritual Growth

growing team

Spiritual growth of believers should be the goal of any church. We are to reach unbelievers and introduce them to Christ, but the end goal according to the command of Jesus is making disciples. It would even make sense then, that as much as we count the offering or attendance on Sundays, if we want to know we are being successful as a church, we have to somehow “count” our success at making disciples.

Yet spiritual growth is a difficult subject and can be hard to measure, because a church can offer the same ministries and attention to the same group of people and get extremely different results.

Right now there are people in my church at 3 stages of spiritual growth:

  • Those that need to mature and are not maturing.
  • Those that need to mature and have stalled.
  • Those that need to mature and are maturing.

I suggest the same is true of your church. We rejoice in the last one. We all need to mature. We love when it happens. If we are not careful, however, we can allow the first two groups of people to discourage us and make us believe we are not doing what God has called us to do as a church.

How can we know we are growing people spiritually?

I don’t know that we can ever know as clearly numerically as we do with attendance or contributions. But, I think there are principles that can help us know we are on the right track to building disciples, for each of the three groups mentioned above. These principles, when understood, can bring a sense of clarity as to whether we are truly realizing the mission of the church.

Here are 5 principles to understanding the process of spiritual growth.

Growth is possible. Every believer has an opportunity and potential to experience spiritual growth. God wants to mature all believers. No one is left out of that plan. If someone is not growing spiritually, there is a reason. Either they haven’t been discipled or they haven’t responded to the opportunities they’ve been given to grow, but opportunity exists for all believers.

People are responsible for their spiritual growth. I am responsible to lead a church that shepherds them, encourages them, instructs and teaches them, but ultimately the believer holds the responsibility of their own growth. That’s a freeing principle, because it keeps me responsible for what I can do, but releases me of the burden of what I can’t do. I can create environments that help people grow, but I can’t make them grow.

Growth occurs best in community. The best spiritual growth in my life and in the life of others I have observed occurs when people are in committed, healthy and intentional relationships with other believers wanting to mature. Iron does sharpen iron. Disciples make disciples. It was the method Jesus used to create disciples. He spent time with His disciples. (At the same time, I have been in groups where some are growing and some are not, but that goes back to principle number two. Remember Judas?) As much as I can, I need to help people who want to grow spiritually spend time with others who want to grow and are growing spiritually. I can then give them tools to use where there time together is suitable for discipleship.

Developing a person’s desire for spiritual growth is key. When a person gets excited about his or her personal walk with Christ, they will want to get to know Christ better. The more they know Christ the more they will want to be like Him. The more people want to be like Christ the more likely they will be to assume ownership of their spiritual growth. So motivating people for the desire to grow becomes a key element in discipleship. This may be done by sharing stories of others who have grown, helping people understand their potential, or continually casting the vision for spiritual growth and maturity, but creating a desire to grow becomes a key goal in disciple-making.

The goal of the teacher/leader of spiritual growth should be to enable people to achieve spiritual growth. Knowing that people are responsible for their growth, and that I can only create environments where that can best happen, helps shape where I spend my efforts in discipleship. Our goal as spiritual leaders should be to introduce people to Christ and God’s Spirit, teach them the truths of faith, and then release them to serve, mature and grow in their spiritual life.

Please understand this is not a formula and principles are not foolproof. I believe, however, that understanding these principles can help us see the process of discipleship as something doable, even “measurable”, if we continually strive to create environments conducive for spiritual growth to occur.

Any thoughts?

A New Book That I Highly Recommend – Get 25 Free Gifts If You Get It Now By May 7th

My friend Frank Viola has just released a new book called God’s Favorite Place on Earth. Frank makes a bold claim with his newest release. This book “could literally change your relationship with God, help you defeat bitterness, free you from a guilty conscience, and help you overcome fear, doubt and discouragement once and for all.”

This is a book that will jar you out of your “Christian rut” and give you new eyes for looking at EVERYTHING. It’s a quick, inspiring, and entertaining read.

In addition, if you get the book between May 1st to May 7th, you will also get 25 FREE GIFTS from 15 different authors including Leonard Sweet, Jeff Goins, Andrew Farley, Steve McVey, DeVern Fromke, Pete Briscoe, Frank Viola himself, and many others.

god's fp

Over 47 Christian leaders have recommended the book, including me.

Here is my endorsement for “God’s Favorite Place on Earth”:

“Frank Viola is a powerful story teller. The story in this book changed Frank’s life. That’s a powerful statement. After reading the pages of this book, I’m convinced that learning God’s favorite place on earth might just change yours also. Do you need some encouragement? Ever feel rejected in your Christian walk? Read this book!”

The premise of the book is simple and 100% Biblical: when Jesus was on the earth, He was rejected everywhere He went . . . from Bethlehem, to Nazareth, to Jerusalem. The only exception was the little village of Bethany.

The curtain opens with Lazarus, who is now ready to die, telling the incomparable story of Jesus’ interactions with him, Martha, and Mary. God’s Favorite Place on Earth blends drama, devotion, biblical narrative, and first-century history to create a riveting book that you’ll find difficult to put down. Within each narrative, the common struggles Christians face are addressed and answered.

Go to GodsFavoritePlace.com to claim your 25 FREE GIFTS, read a Sampler of the book, and watch the gripping video trailer.