Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Too Much, Too Soon

“You are now the leader and people are looking for you to make some major changes.” “Changes,” I asked? “Yeah, things need to be updated and improved on.” And then a litany of things was listed for me to change in the church that I grew up in and was now the pastor of. This “change” was couched in such a way that for me not to make the “necessary” changes that I would be perceived as a weak leader sort of a catch-22 situation. It was a very base appeal to my own personal ego and a beckoning to the nastiness of an unholy ambition that I have to keep restrained on a pretty routine basis.

Time passed and I did not change a thing except that we baptized people at the beginning of the Sunday night service instead of at the end. Everything else stayed the same.

The point of this whole blog is that sometimes those who are church leaders can be falsely wooed into making changes that will literally cripple and perhaps even split an already healthy congregation. Woe to the man who comes into an established congregation to serve as pastor and turns the place upside down with irrational changes. We don’t like change! So if we don’t like change, what makes us think that people will like sudden and drastic changes especially in their spiritual life?

I remember well a few years ago when the hospital where I worked went to computers for all sorts of record-keeping and so forth. I still remember the duress and struggles with some of the older employees as they tried to cope with the changes that had been suddenly flung on them. The difference between the radical changes that takes place in the workplace versus the church is that in the workplace they are being paid. We who are in ministry are working with a bunch of volunteers and whether we believe it or not we need every one of them.

More times than once I have watched from the outside looking in at places where new pastors went and destroyed churches because of their drastic and unreasonable changes in the outset. It was a train-wreck and when the guy was finally drummed out of town, the poor fellow who was incoming after the train-wreck had his work cut out for him trying to re-establish trust and confidence. Additionally it had a very negative impact on the man who had to leave and it also usually affected his family, especially his wife.

The prevailing mentalities that usually cause these fellows to make such drastic changes goes something like this:

We are going to have a harvest in this place. It has been a dead church long enough. We are going to have revival!

I am going to clean this place up! These people don’t know anything about holiness! Revival! Outreach! ____________!

Boy, that previous pastor was a real winner! He didn’t know his head from a hole in the ground and I have to fix all this incompetence he had going around here!

These people just don’t get it!

Those sorts of comments are quite telling about the messiah complex that has engulfed this man. Are there churches out there that fit the bill as described above? Absolutely! But I have also discovered that just as there are mean churches (Church Trouble Part 1 and Part 2)there are some mean pastors who are going to make the gate so narrow and the path so hard to find that only about 30 are going to be saved.

A little food for thought about changing too much too soon might be good for all of us. These thoughts are in no particular order of priority.

First, if you go into an existing church, the people there already have a mindset about what they want to do and what they want you to do. They probably did not get this mindset from the devil, they got it from the man who was there before you were. If he was a great man, your work is easy, just keep doing what he did. If he was a scoundrel, your work is cut out for you and of primary importance is for you to be flexible with the flow of things.

Secondly, the majority of people who come to church are not motivated to fight. Work with those. Inspire and challenge them to grow in their spiritual walk. Be a useful teacher, preacher, influencer to them. On the other hand, there will always be a couple of people whose primary purpose in life is making your life miserable. Their demands are unreasonable, their attitude is un-Christian, and they aren’t happy and don’t think anyone else ought to be happy either. Look at the small minority that the Lord has put in your life to make you better. Let their attitude sand you down into becoming an incredible example of a Christian. These people DO NOT make up the majority. They may be the money people but God can work on them with the authority of your prayers. Pray for them and watch God do some drastic things that you will stand in awe of. They will either get better or they will make their exit. Let me tell you what will happen to you when you do this, your disgust with them will turn in to a profound sorrow and compassion will grip you as you watch them struggle through life corrupting everything they come in contact with.

Thirdly, don’t change things too quickly (as in don’t change anything for a long time). Most changes that people try to make are usually in areas of secondary importance. Before it is over, a lot of blood has been spilled over something that has zero influence over the Gospel. If you want to change something, take your time. It took C. Everett Koop, the former Surgeon General, ten years to get Congress to go along with his idea of putting a warning label on all tobacco products and tobacco advertisements. But he persisted and it happened. Now we have the warnings on the packages but we also enjoy transit systems where passengers cannot smoke. We can eat in restaurants where we can enjoy a smoke-free environment. If you think it needs to change, take your time. Furthermore, if you are only going to be there for three to seven years, you probably ought to leave it alone. If you are not committed to being there for the rest of your life, you probably ought not to insist on such radical changes anyway. Just preach the Word and pray for them and love them and move on.

Fourth, consider what malpractice is. Far too often, we have a tendency to confine malpractice to the medical field. We think of negligent physicians who are incompetent and wound more than they heal. But there can be something called ministerial malpractice also. The easy out is that we cannot be sued. However there will be a day that the Lord will look squarely at us and ask us what we did with the church we were called to pastor (Hebrews 13:17). On that day, we will have to give an answer. Radical and unreasonable change is ministerial malpractice. As Warren Wiersbe wrote one time about a church battle caused by too much change, “It was witnessed by angels, applauded by demons, but is best left unrecorded among the saints.”

Fifthly, most change is motivated by some sort of emphasis on a program. Don’t put your trust in a program to change a church. Put your trust and confidence in the preached Word and the passionate prayers of the pastor and the church at large to accomplish long lasting spiritual change. Increasingly, it is clear that activities do more to suck the spiritual life out of people and it kills the faithful few who are called to do all the work while the spectators watch.

Sixthly, don’t change because of fads that attempt to drive a pastor toward so-called success. John R. W. Stott wrote in his book The Preachers Portrait, “The shameful cult of human personalities which tarnished the life of the first century Corinthian church still persists in Christendom, and a most improper and unbecoming regard is paid to some church leaders today.” Pastors who get caught up in the numbers game will in the end be destroyed by the numbers game. Chasing numbers is going to create a great angst in your preaching because you will have to aesthetically improve some areas of Scripture to fit our American mindset.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in changing in the maddened pursuit of numbers it will cause us to sell our calling for a mess of faddage. In the end, you will not have a church but you will have a crowd. For those who chase fads, they end up like dogs chasing their tails because there will be a new method out next year and the next year and the next year. It is the job of marketers to take your money and the only way to do that is to sell you something that is new and improved. Brother Harrell in Bridge City, Texas has told me multiple times that it’s hard to beat three songs, an offering, and a sermon. You might scoff at that but a whole lot of guys preach his sermons every year at camp-meetings all over the country and this coming Sunday, they will have a full house.

Seventh, when you do begin to make changes, don’t ever create a divide between young and old. If a man does that he will pit the generational groups in a battle against each other. This is a crime. 1st John creates the pattern of spiritual maturity and the older generation needs to be stalwarts and influence the younger generation in the right direction. When you create a rift between the old and the young, you are destroying God’s biblical pattern of growth. We need elders and youth working together!

I conclude with a quote from Thomas Jefferson which just makes good sense, “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.”

Monday, April 12, 2010

Soul Fuel--Part 1

It’s Monday! Welcome to Monday! It is that proverbial day when a lot of pastors scattered about the world have already loaded up their U-Hauls and determined that yesterday was their last Sunday wherever they may be serving. I would be very deceptive if I were to say that I have never had those days before. I think that those who say that they have never thought about loading up their U-Hauls are either seriously out of touch or not telling the truth.

Think about it for a bit. Pastors are firemen who have to constantly attend to putting out brush fires on various fronts. They have to bolster sagging marriages. They put up with criticism. They counsel those who are experiencing financial calamities usually that are self-induced. They have to keep everyone encouraged. They have to look across the way and see places that are seemingly booming and deal with that gnawing self-doubt that promotes self-pity. Add to this the incredible, overwhelming burden of the harvest. Sometimes the sheer volume of the job can be overwhelming.

A lot of men feel like they are pulling a train uphill and its brakes are firmly locked in. They work under financial hardship that may be personal but more often than not from the corporate body called the church. They have to preach hard things. Things that nobody wants to hear but are eternally important that they do hear it. They endure, suffer, work, climb, and generally pour it all out trying to do the work of God. This is what a man who shoulders the yoke of the ministry finds himself called to do. So what does he do to keep his soul fit to work out such a task? There are some things a man can do to fuel up his soul to help him continue this path.

Foremost, he has to trust in the sovereignty of God. That means that God is absolutely in control of every detail of life and ministry. God knows exactly where you are and has measured out every trial and difficulty measured out specifically for you. Don’t curse the darkness you may be in presently just believe that the entire situation has been tailor made for you.

I have come to understand that God is more concerned with me being saved than being comfortable. He is more interested in my holiness than my happiness. He is more concerned with my worship than my work. Keeping this in mind helps me from getting all the priorities from mixed up. Wherever you are standing is holy ground.

Holy ground is just as much in the courts of Pharoah as it was in the desert by the burning bush. Holy ground is still present whether you are confronting Korahs’ or on the mountain top with fire, thunder, and lightning accompanying the presence of God. Wherever your feet are in ministry, it is holy ground.

Back in 1994, I just sort of haphazardly purchased a little book. It literally is a little book in both shape and size entitled The Heart of a Great Pastor by H.B. London and Neil Wiseman. Periodically I pick this little book up and glance back at the scribbling in the margins and retrace the dog-eared pages. In the first chapter, they listed seven resources that are available in every assignment that you may find yourself in. You are where you are because God has placed you there and He has given you some things that will help you and the church grow.

Resource #1: Every Place is Unique—Just like individuals, every place has unique gifts, opportunities, and problems but they are still places to grow. God places us in the places He wants us to be because there is something He is trying to develop in us as well as the church we are called to serve.

Resource #2: Every Place Needs a Pastor’s Love
—An important quote, “The sheep grow restless without an attentive shepherd.” The presence of a pastor is crucial for our generation. Your church needs to see your example of personal godliness more than anything else. Our world is constantly in change and turmoil. It is a blessing for people to be able to come in week-in and week-out and look at you and see a model of consistency. Get into their lives and impact and influence them!

Resource #3: God Provides Supernatural Empowerment—Churches that are dead will never change their world. This places a premium on having a constant flow of the Spirit. More than one time, I have heard Pastor Anthony Mangun tell of when he was a kid growing up in that church in Alexandria on 16th and Day Street that his dad and mother would take a dead service and stand it on its head. Elder G. A. Mangun take up a tambourine and Sister Mangun would take up an old accordion and they would do a victory march (when was the last time you had one of those in your church????). They would march around that church singing and praying until the Spirit started moving. To my dear readers who resorting to nifty lights, cool power-points, and neat little 20 minute “life app” sermons, you are spitting in the wind. If you want a supernatural move of the Holy Ghost, you have to get engaged in the Spirit. It will cost you some meals as in fasting, it will cost you some time as in on your knees pleading with God to awaken that dead place you are pasturing, and it will cost you some passion as in you might have to look a little unprofessional in your preaching but it will have a huge impact on your church. (NOTE: This was not what London and Wiseman wrote, I just took the liberty with their #3 Resource.)

Resource #4: Every Place Needs Bible Preaching—This takes time and discipline to develop things to preach. You will never expose your church to the power of the Word until you get invested in the Word. Sound preaching will help us to grow. Preach hard things. . . preach challenging things. . . No coach has ever won a championship by not challenging, inspiring, and lifting his players to a level beyond mediocrity. Do this to your church with your preaching. Make them hunger for holiness, help them to desire prayer, give them a passion for the Word!

Resource #5: Every Pastor Is Distinctively Gifted—It took me a little while to get this one because I wanted to imitate somebody down the road and across the country. But consider this: Amos never would have worked in the courts of the kings but by the same token Isaiah wouldn’t have made much headway with the fig-tree farmers. The courtiers would have dismissed Amos as a redneck and the fig-tree farmers would have dismissed Isaiah as a stuck-up academic know-it-all. God used both of those prophets to bring His word to the right places. You are distinctly gifted to work exactly where you are at. Take the focus off of your inabilities and look at your God-given abilities. Don’t let self-pity wipe you out!

Resource #6: Every Setting Has Potential—If you have some folks who jerking your chain and making life generally miserable for you. Consider a couple of things. First, is your heart right? When you heart gets out of sorts, you can get out of sorts with good people. But if you heart is right, then I have a second consideration. There are ten people that can replace that one who appears to be the nephew of the Wormwood, as of the Screwtape Letters fame. It is a matter of you hunting them down and picking up your evangelism efforts.

Resource #7: Every Church Has Something to Give
—You may be thinking of your limitations; lack of youth, lack of funds, lack of spiritual maturity among new converts, lack of music, lack of good lay leadership, and so forth. In fact you can get so focused on your limitations that you not only want to load up the U-Haul, you just want to throw in the towel. . . if you could just find it! “We have been lulled into believing that the small church has little to offer. We have allowed the big-is-best mind-set to dilute the fact that when the church is the Church, it is a mighty instrument in hand of God regardless of size.”

Hey Pastor, Assistant Pastor, Youth Pastor, or whatever your title may be. . . a little fuel for your soul on this Monday. . . Trust in the sovereignty of God, He has you right where He wants you. . . If you are supposed to be somewhere else, He is quite big enough to pull all the strings to get you where you need to be. . .

More Later. . .

Friday, April 09, 2010

What Do Those Who Influence You Say About You?

This is the last of the series about what different things say about us. Our stats and our schedules say much about us. In addition those things that we allow to influence us says much about us also.

Practically everywhere you look—websites, print media, television, radio—one of the dominant stories of the week has been the return of Tiger Woods to the world of golf. He is competing in the most prestigious event that professional golfing hosts—The Masters at the Augusta National over in Georgia. There is a vast array of responses that are appearing from those who feel as if he should just go away contrasting with those who hope he wins it all in what might be hailed as the greatest comeback of any athlete ever.

The Tiger saga started several months ago when some of his very private moments hit the national scene because of his marital difficulties. Very little details were spared from the national scene through various news outlets. There appeared to be a morbid but quite naughty curiosity apparently from the whole world. The thing that struck me most was the incredible amounts of money that Tiger Woods made and then turned around and spent on very expensive toys. In fact when the figures were given as to the cost of his yacht, I thought to myself that if I were to just have the money he spent on the yacht, our church building fund would escalate and we literally could build fifteen churches for what that yacht cost.

We live in culture of deception and the last few years have brought this to light. You cannot hide sin forever and it has a way of worming itself out of the soul of men after it has devoured them. Think Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme where he rooked 55 billion dollars from unsuspecting investors. Think John Edwards who had a strong run at the White House, most likely as a Vice-President, but ruined it with his dalliances with Rielle Hunter. Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and others resorted to “juicing” and they hit more home runs than ever but in the end their achievements were sullied. Ted Haggard fits in the same box with Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker as all of these men tried to compartmentalize their sins while working in the religious world. The reason that men can do this sort of thing is because the culture of deception causes them to ultimately fall to the trap of self-deception.

How does one become self-deceived? There are facts that are blatantly ignored. There is a pressure to continue to perform despite the tank being empty. There is a blind pressing on that overruns the inner voice of the conscience. Tiger Woods was living in a pit of corruption whose depths were bottomless. How much money did he waste in this pit? How much of his soul did he sell to get to that place? Will his marriage ever recover? Will there ever be the level of trust established with his wife that was present at the beginning of his courtship? As with most rhetorical questions, we can only contemplate the answers within.

As the Masters plays itself out this weekend and Tiger Woods tries to get back to his game, my mind went to some of the comments that Charles Barkley made shortly after the Tiger story hit the headlines. He was offended that Tiger would not call him or Michael Jordan because they were his “friends” and could help him more than anyone else. Apparently it was the influence of Barkley and Jordan that led Tiger into his dark world of regret and failure. There are consequences of a man’s influences. One man challenged me a few years ago with this statement, “Tell me who your friends are and the books you read and I will tell you where you will be in five years!” This fellow was not clairvoyant, it was far more than that, and it was called godly wisdom. Influences make all the difference in the world!

It is in the early stages of a man’s life that often sets us in the direction that we will follow for the duration of our lives. Very rarely do men break out from under those earliest influences that contributed so much to their lives. Whether it was parents, teachers, pastors, or friends the level of early influence set the direction for their lives and they are now following through on that path.

My own life was shaped very much by my parents who demonstrated responsibility, honesty, integrity, and persistence that to some degree are present in my own life today. My pastor who is my father-in-law influenced me in areas of ministry that continue to prevail today. I think he would give his last dollar to missions and our church has endeavored over the years to follow that example and do the same thing. I have had good friends who have influenced me in proper ways toward a greater understanding of God and His Word. The world of medicine also had a deep impact on me and promoted an inquisitive mind that wants to turn Scripture upside down and ferret out every nugget that can be found. For all of these things I am profoundly grateful.

But there have been crossroads that I have come to when I had to make choices, particularly with people that I would meet, who would have had a very negative effect on my spiritual life. Just as Jordan and Barkley were bad for Tiger, there have been those who would have been detrimental to me. As time has passed on, I have become aware of this, but when I was vacillating about whether or not to allow this influence into my life, I did not have the barometer of experience to give me the forecast of how it would turn out. But I did have the guidance of the Spirit and I learned that sometimes that the gift of discernment will express itself my making you very, very uncomfortable with the surroundings you are in and the voices that you are listening to. It was but for the grace of God that I ignored those voices and their siren calls.

Give yourself to reading the books of dead men. Men like Ravenhill, Tozer, Bounds, and the Puritans. You certainly have to read with filters but take a sermon of Spurgeon’s and compare it with the sermons of modern day preachers and it won’t take very long to discover an obvious difference in the depth of understanding in previous generations to ours today. Read Maclaren Macartney, J. C. Ryle and G. Campbell Morgan. I have some older blogs about devotional reading, sermon preparation, one created by E. E. Jolley and personal growth that might point you in a direction of growth.

Ralph Turnbull—During my ministry I was able to devote a year to reading all of Alexander Whyte. Other years were given to W. Graham Scroggie, G. Campbell Morgan, Samuel Chadwick, J. H. Jowett, and G. H. Morrison. A winter apiece was spent with C. H. Spurgeon, Jonathon Edwards, and Phillips Brooks. I read selections from the last three to gain a feel for their preaching styles, whereas the works of others mentioned were read in their entirety. Biographical studies of each were part of the investment.

Give yourself to friendships that stretch you to be godly, righteous, and more spiritual. Listen to what these voices are saying and it won’t be long before their conversation is going to give you some insight into their soul. Words are an expression of our soul.

Thomas Watson—Walk with them that are holy. ‘He that walketh with the wise shall be wise’ (Proverbs 13:20). Be among the spices and you will smell of them. Association begets assimilation. Nothing is greater in power and energy to effect holiness than the communion of saints.

Give yourself to being saturated by the Word. The only way we will become Word saturated is to spend time with it. The Word can so saturate your life that you will begin to view your world through the lenses of Scripture.

Thomas Watson—David valued the Word more than gold. What would the martyrs have given for a leaf of the Bible! The Word is the field where Christ the pearl of price is hid. In this sacred mine we dig, not for a wedge of gold, but for a weight of glory. The Scripture is sacred eye-salve to illuminate us. ‘The commandment is a lamp, and the law is light’ (Proverbs 6:23). The Scripture is the chart and compass by which we sail to the New Jerusalem. It is a sovereign cordial in all distresses. What are the promises but the water of life to renew fainting spirits?

Give yourself to prayer. This prayer business is hard work but it is what Epaphras did with his life.

Thomas Watson—These wandering thoughts [in prayer] arise from the world. These vermin are bred out of the earth. Worldly business often crowds into our duties, and while we are speaking to God, our hearts are talking with the world: ‘They sit before me as my people, but their heart goeth after their covetousness’ (Ezekiel 33:31).

I trust you choose your influences as well as you choose other things. . .

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

What Does Your Schedule Say?

In the same vein of thought with yesterday’s post about “What Do Your Stats Say?” another worthy question for us would be what does your schedule say? To be an effective person, you have to control your time. If your schedule has not been determined then days will get frittered away and wasted or they end up being consumed with the well described tyranny of the urgent. The man who masters his time will master his life. Go buy you one of the cheap Timex watches that have the number 1440 on it and then wear it. When you glance at the time you will forced to remember that every day has 1440 minutes. How you spend those minutes make all the difference in the world.

Malcolm Gladwell pointed out the 10,000 Hour Rule in his book, Outliers, and how that concert violinists, professional pianists, and master chess players were those who had the discipline to spend 10,000 hours working to become what they were. You may think that 10,000 hours is a long time but when broken down it is really a ten year time frame where you spend about 20 hours a week with whatever discipline you are pursuing. Just think what might happen to you if you were to determine to begin spending 20 hours a week on your primary calling—preaching the Word? It is the most important and effective way that you can lead and direct a church. Such efforts add to the health, vision, and general well-being of the church.

The big question for a lot of preachers would be ‘where is your time going?’ In my thoughts, where your time is being spent is a huge matter of faithfulness. It is good to develop a rigid schedule that you follow to pull every bit of the ability that God longs to get out of us. If you don’t have a schedule, you will find that the demands of small things will consume the large priority of life. I remember J. T. Pugh in a seminar one time talking about the man who couldn’t get up and get going every day. By the time he made it out of bed around 10 or so, his day was already half-way gone and little could be accomplished. Brother Pugh then shared with us that he was very big on a disciplined approach to time. He told us that we should know our time and that it is the one commodity that cannot be saved; it can only be spent during that particular time frame. I have often quoted him from that particular seminar when he told us that “time is the coin of life, don’t let a fool spend it for you.”

To be effective, you must budget your time just as you would budget your money. Last year about this same time, I wrote a series of blogs about various preachers and their habits of preparation and while they all were varied in their approaches, the key was that all of these men were disciplined with their time. (The posts follow: Jeff Arnold, Scott Graham, Doug White, Jason Calhoun, John Carroll, Ben Weeks, J. H. Osborn.)

More often than not our time can get out from under us if we are not diligent about it. I remember a time management seminar that I once went to and the speaker was talking about the necessity for ministers to have a schedule. The argument was raised by one man that he did not want a schedule because it would confine him and not allow him to respond to the needs of the people he was serving. The speaker began to dismantle that view by showing the man how much time he was wasting as he was in his self-described wait mode. This is the sin of the convenient season.

J. C. RyleLaziness and frivolity are bad enough in any profession, but worst of all in that of a watchman for souls.

Every day needs to be filled with time for prayer and study. In fact, I strongly believe that the most important thing that I do for the church I pastor are fulfilled in those two areas. The congregations need most of all to see a godly example of purity, holiness, and a life that points them God-ward. This will not take place unless a man gives himself to prayer and the Word. In addition to this there are other components of leading a church—meetings of various sorts, hospital visits, etc.—and all of these have time factors involved.

What if I were to walk with you through your week, would I recognize your passion as being focused on God and His work or would your schedule tell me otherwise?

Do you consistently set aside blocks of time to prepare yourself spiritually and mentally for the task of preaching?

Do you guard your schedule from distractions that hinder this?

Are you willing to have the courage to decline some meetings that are going to waste time even though they may not be inherently wrong?

Do your recreational pursuits overwhelm your spiritual pursuits?

Do you waste large amounts to time clicking from one website to another? (Even this blog that I appreciate you reading, it can still waste your time.)

What do our schedules say about our passions and priorities?

I will not exhaust you with further questions but I would encourage you to see where your time is going. There are many different websites concerning time management that might be helpful for you.

Monday, April 05, 2010

What Do Your Stats Say?

I have developed a ritual every Thursday morning of going to the local Barnes and Noble here in Dothan. I go in and drink their overpriced coffee and read their books. Several weeks ago, I was just browsing around and stumbled across a book and found myself hooked by the opening chapter. It was written by Michael Lewis entitled Moneyball. It has turned out to be one the best books that I have read in the last year.

The book surrounds a philosophy that was developed by Billy Beane who was the general manager of the Oakland A’s. In the decade of the 1990’s, he had the formidable task of having the lowest operating budget among professional baseball teams but still faced with the challenge of winning. He would have 30 million dollars to work with as opposed to some clubs which had operating costs approaching 100 million dollars. Obviously those teams who had deep pockets could afford to purchase ball-players that were going to place them in contention for a championship but Beane did not have this luxury.

Just to give you an idea I rounded off these figures to show you what Beane meant. In the 2002 season his budget was $42 million and he won the division with 103 wins. The second place team was the Angels at $62 million; third was Seattle at $86 million; and last place was Texas at $106 million. Beane’s A’s won 31 more games than Texas with $60 million dollars less. The lesson in this: You have to quit looking at what you don’t have and make a difference with what you do have. It is funny now but Beane said it wasn’t too funny in the developing stages especially on draft day when the A’s looked like they had lost their marbles so to speak.

So with this challenge facing Billy Beane, he found some computer wizards and started looking at the statistics of college players and a small number of high school players. He discovered very a remarkable fact. Sometimes those fellows who looked like ballplayers weren’t worth what they got paid. It wasn’t long before he started drafting these very unlikely players and in doing so put the Oakland A’s in a position to beat some of the teams that supposedly had more talent because they had guys who looked like ballplayers.

He came to understand that talent is a curse rather than an asset for a ballplayer. Over time a player who depends on his talent never develops or reaches his potential. In fact, Beane discovered that players who had little or no talent but had a good work ethic and discipline were able to exceed what the players who supposedly had more talent did. There was a great quote that I scribbled down from the book by Cyril Connolly (Enemies of Promise): Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first call promising.

As I read this book about ballplayers, I started firing off some personal questions about whom I was and what I was about and this blog are some of those observations.

What do my habits say about me? There was a chapter about “How to Find a Ballplayer” and it went into the huge thing that baseball scouts often miss. They are overwhelmed by a player’s hitting streaks, size, and personality but rarely look beyond his batting average. Beane discovered that if he would draft guys who just got on base consistently it would be more important in the long run than someone who jacked the ball out of the park occasionally but had far more strikeouts and pop-ups. One part of the book describes a scene where Beane is in a very heated battle with about 10 of the A’s scouts. He wanted to draft a catcher who they all said was too fat. Beane finally yelled at them that he was not finding guys for jeans commercials but for guys who could get on base. They drafted him and he ended up playing a role in a year when they won 90 games. All of the players that Beane drafted had incredible habits. They were consistently on time for practice and did everything their coaches asked of them and it doing so their habits shaped their success.

Our society is consumed with image. Not only was this evident with the A’s scouts but it is played out on a much larger scale in our society. There is a maddening obsession with image not character. Image leads one to believe one thing but if there is no character to match the image, the image will dry up like last year’s corn husks. The scouts were only interested in players who looked like they could play. The real test is whether they can play or not. There has to be a conscious quest for godly and righteous things to rule us. But if you take great care in the condition of your soul, time will put you in places of influence to be able to encourage and care for others.

Power isn’t everything. Lewis wrote that the tendency is to gravitate toward power hitters and a massive amount of money is often wasted. When the Beane boys sought out players who had the stats and could get on base the coaches understood these players could be coached to develop power. But power did not necessarily equate to more runs or championships. The older I get the more impressed I am with those faithful ministers who started as plodders and have spent 10 or 15 years developing their calling. If you are a young minister and you are reading this blog, don’t let those fellows who blow by you, so to speak, confuse or discourage you. Don’t be victimized by what you can see. You slog your way into greatness and persistence and dedication are so crucial in ministry. Furthermore don’t fall for the bait of a denominational position because positions will drastically limit who you are and who you can become.

Discipline is always better than talent. Talent will make treaties with the status quo and little or no growth will ever be experienced. Don’t sell your soul to talent. Keep in mind a principled approach to God and life and over the years you will have invested in the most worthy things of life.

There is more than one season. Don’t ever forget mistakes and errors are part of your life. Just because you strike out a few times or make some throwing errors, pick it up and go on to the next play. Some men let themselves become paralyzed by a past mistake and they never recover from it and go on to the next level.
Everyone who has ever picked up a bat or put on a glove is an expert. You will contend with armchair ballplayers and spectators for the rest of your life. Get your plan and work it out and stick with it. You don’t build something overnight; you do it with your life. Don’t let the subjective tide of public opinion discourage you.

These things caused me to remember an A. W. Tozer quote from sometime back:

There are preachers looked upon by their people as divine oracles, who wag their tongues all day in light, frivolous conversation. Then before entering the pulpit . . . seek a last minute reprieve in a brief prayer. Thereby they put themselves into the position where the Spirit of the prophet will descend upon them. It may be that by working themselves into an emotional heat they may get by, may even congratulate themselves that they had liberty in preaching the Word. What they have been all day and all week is what they are when they open up the Book to expound it to the congregation. . . .

What do your stats say about you?

How much time do you pray . . . not preach about it or read about it?

How much time do you read the Word . . . not preach from it or talk about it?

How much effort are you putting forth in evangelism. . . .Not encouraging others to do it but your own involvement in it?

What do your stats say about you?

How are you spending your life?

How much are you studying to bring forth meaty and weighty messages to the congregation who hears the wisdom of the world all week long but are starving from the famine of the Word in our pulpits at large?

Are my sermons more stories than Scriptures?

Am I a true man of God . . . not the American caricature but the man of God that Paul describes in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus?

What do your stats say about you?

Is my preaching my own . . . or is it something I hastily scribbled down because I wasted time all week long?

Am I more aware of the things of the world or the things of the Kingdom of God?

A Prayer Pouring Out of Psalm 119

--> I am presently preaching through the stanzas of Psalm 119 and it has been a spiritually enriching exercise.   Toda...