Benjamin W. Harris, Jr., my husband and pastor of St. Stephen's Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, preached a message this morning from Matthew 16:13-17 called "Who Do They Say That You Are?" He brought up Michael Jackson, The King of Pop, who died last Thursday. May Michael's family, friends, and fans find refuge in Jesus. May you be blessed by this video message.
Stepping into the Light: The Blog
"You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the Lord, have created it." -Isaiah 45:8
When God sends you rain, soak it up. Use every drop to make something good grow. Love Him for the rain, as well as for the sun. Love Him for the cold and the heat. Take in everything God has for you. There's a reason for whatever He presents--and it might be more of a blessing than you think, even if you already think it's pretty wonderful.
(Photograph: Afrique du Sud 1981, by Chris Steele Perkins)
When I was a little girl, one of my favorite comedians was the manic, multi-personality Jonathan Winters. Years later, I read his recounting of an incident in which he pulled his car into a handicapped parking spot, and a woman observing this began to scold him. She demanded that he move his vehicle. "You're not handicapped," she said. Jonathan's dry response was, "Madam, can you see inside my mind?"
Early in his career, Jonathan Winters did actually get hauled off by the San Francisco police to a "rubber room" in a mental hospital for a few days, so if difficulty coping with mental issues were a criteria for obtaining a handicapped parking placard, he might have qualified.
Many people have mental, emotional, and spiritual issues or handicaps that require outside help. Generally, there is less and less shame nowadays in asking for that help--unless you are the one person that so many people turn to for guidance and advice.
In his new book, "Confessions of an Insignificant Pastor" , W. Mark Elliott asks, to whom does a pastor talk when he needs help? Where can a pastor go to be real?
Elliott, a veteran pastor of twenty-seven years, gets very real about his personal temptations and attempts to join the ranks of the alarming number of pastors who are leaving ministry each year.
Unless you can see inside the mind or soul of your pastor, you cannot know how handicapped he is. But obviously pastors are troubled in droves, because 80% of new ministers coming out of seminary will quit ministry within their first five years. Fifty percent of paid ministers would leave if they knew another way to make a living.
"I'm not sure what I am doing."
"I have emotional baggage."
"I work too much."
"People get on my last nerve."
"I'm disillusioned by the ministry."
These are just a few of the "confessions" of Pastor Elliott. We may all have similar issues, but we're not expected to handle our issues plus the same issues for dozens or even hundreds of other people in our congregations as well. Pastors are expected to be wise, caring, praying for others, and not to have troubles of their own.
As a pastor's wife, I know that Christians run to their pastors, and think nothing of calling them in the middle of the night, for everything from marital distress to loan requests to hurt feelings to major an minor health issues. Pastors get called to settle arguments, preach funerals, and counsel wayward teens. They're even called on to cast out real demons. We depend on our pastors to help when we're troubled.
But, "Doc" Elliott asks, to whom can your pastor turn when he needs a pastor? The shepherd doesn't want the flock to know when he's uneasy, and is often afraid to tell fellow pastors or superiors in the church for fear of being looked at as "less than". Probably most of us would look askance at a pastor who admitted ongoing depression or confusion.
Your pastor's strength does come from God, but the pastor is still human and needs restoration and replenishment on a regular basis.
Pastors also are partly to blame for their stress, because they work so hard at hiding weaknesses in order to maintain credibility as spiritual leaders.
Fortunately, Pastor Elliott not only lays out an long list of issues, from "I'm not Billy Graham" to "I've got baggage" and "I failed as a parent", but he also has Biblical answers for all of them. By looking at the weaknesses and failures of Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Jonah, and on and on--but also reminding us how God used these people to accomplish His purposes in spite of their downsides, he reminds pastors (and the rest of us Christians) that God can and will use anyone who is only willing to serve Him.
"Confessions of an Insignificant Pastor" overflows with reality checks and real encouragement for pastors and for others in church leadership. It's about getting the ministry done without drowning in defeatism and depression. It's about faith and faithfulness working together to help insignificant people do significant things after all.
"Confessions of an Insignificant Pastor", by W. Mark Elliott, should be read by pastors, ministers, their spouses, and the church members who love them enough to liberate them to live out their God-given anointing.
(Photograph by Benjamin Earwicker)
Robin Tramble, also known as the Empowerment Diva, is a mentor not only to me, but to a multitude of other women seeking to make the most of the talents and gifts with which God has blessed us.
From June 23-July 23, 2009, Robin is producing and hosting a mega online telesummit featuring several speakers each week--13+ Christian women leaders and entrepreneurs who are also wives and moms are coming together to fire up everyone in attendance to maximize their home life, the Kingdom life and their performance in the marketplace.
If you've desired to have a successful business, ministry and/or personal/spiritual life, now is your opportunity to receive from women with the same perspective and abide by the same principles and values as women in the Kingdom of God.
Robin Tramble, Life/Marriage Empowerment Mentor/Coach/Trainer and speaker, is the host of this breakthrough event.
"I have a passion for empowering women and through my time in prayer and listening to the heart of women felt the call to sponsor this event for women across the world. Every woman that wants to experience this explosive life-changing event will have no financial barrier as the general pass is complimentary until June 19th."
Robin suggests that you register now so you don't miss out because of other activities and neglect to get your event details.
There is also an empowering resource that is Robin's gift to all new registrants.
You can click here http://www.dynamicwomenoffaith.com to register for as little as $10.
By the way, I will be a featured speaker in July, highlighting the effects of forgiveness and unforgiveness in women's lives.
Yesterday I read part of a recent USA Today interview with actress Sandra Bullock. She was hawking her new comedy, The Proposal, and also spoke a little about her life with husband, motorcycle mogul Jesse James. The thing that struck me most was her statement about being a stepmom to Jesse's three children. Sandra said that she reminds herself often that it's not about what she gets (from the children), but that she needs to concentrate on what she gives. I completely agree; more parents, not just stepparents, should remind themselves of that.
My husband's favorite book, and one of mine, is "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran. One of the poems in this book is "Children" and says "Your children are not your children." Another line is "They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you."
The prophet Samuel's mother Hannah was barren and prayed for a son. Her first son's name, Samuel, means "God heard". When God finally gave her this longed-for child, she kept him with her until he was weaned and then gave him back to God, by bringing him to Eli, the priest, to be trained as a servant of God.
Our children don't belong to us; they belong to God who entrusts us with their care until they are ready to live without us and serve Him.
Parents often have trouble being able to sit back and see that children are simply entrusted to us until God is ready for us to give them up.
Maybe it's easier for a stepparent than a biological parent to see that a child doesn't really belong to any parent; that the gift from God is not the child but the opportunity to serve God by raising that child.
I'm not sure, maybe it's just easier for me to see, as a second time stepmom whose heart was broken by my first stepson who saw fit to drop me from his life after his dad died, and then found an excuse to cut me out altogether. I no longer cry every time I talk about him, like I did for three years, but now God has allowed me to see that my need for children or attachment to them is not the point of my being in the lives of my younger two stepsons.
The point is that God needs me to provide them whatever guidance, help, and--yes--love I can during the time they spend with me and their dad. After that, it's time to let go.
If our children come back and bless us after we let go, that is a gift from God. But our job is to concentrate on what we are to give our children, not what we stand to get. Right, Sandy? (I told you--we're this close.)
(Photograph by Craig Jewell)
Just a few weeks ago, I was in a terrible state. Worry and anger were ganging up to beat me down.
One morning I could not stop crying and parked near my office, called my husband and began to let everything out that I had been doing such a poor job of holding inside. My husband incredulously questioned what in the world had gotten into me, when I started screaming at him to "understand that I'm fighting for my life."
The story of my breakdown and deliverance was posted here not long ago. The beginning of recovery and a return to righteousness in Christ was realizing that if I could hear evil more loudly than the voice of God, I was doing something wrong. I wasn't fighting with the power God had given me when I was born again into His family.
What kind of battle are you in right now? Is it financial? Is it marital? Is your trouble with an ex-spouse, or a child who is out of control?
Have you begun to think that arguing is a waste of time? Do you know that anger will get you nowhere unless it is properly focused?
In 2 Corinthians 10:4, we are allowed to know that any fighting we do in the flesh won't change the quality of our lives--at least not for the better. The real war in which we need to do combat is purely spiritual. We need to take up the weapons described in Ephesians 6:11-17 and then do battle through prayer (Ephesians 6:18) in order to stay aligned with God's purpose for us.
We need many kinds of prayers: prayers of intercession, prayers of thanks, prayers of asking, prayers of repentance. Today I offer up a warfare prayer, claiming victory over evil in the name of Jesus.
Let us pray:
Lord, I thank you for your mercy and your grace. I thank you for delivering me and giving me the strength in my spirit to follow you wherever you lead me.
For everything I have done to offend you, I apologize. As each wrong I've done comes up in my memory, with your mighty hand at my back I will turn away from the past and walk tall and steady on the straight path that leads me ever closer to you.
In the name of Jesus, I claim victory over any thought or force that disagrees with your will. I claim that my mind is sound and faith in you fills me so full that there is no room for doubt or fear.
In the name of Jesus, I claim the protection of His blood over myself, my family, my health, my home, my finances, and also over my co-workers and friends. May every person who spends time in my presence know that they have been in your presence as Christ lives in me.
Every evil that attempts to come against your will, I rebuke it right now, in the name of Jesus. You said that anything bound on earth in your name will be bound in heaven as well. You have handed me the keys to heaven, so I believe that you must have also given me the ability to free captives and open doors between my unsaved loved ones and you.
Whenever I do anything to cut off your will in my life, may the Holy Spirit bring it to my consciousness so I can repent immediately and go on freely as you order my footsteps.
I praise you because you are the One and Only Almighty and Everlasting Jehovah God. By my right as your heir, I command everything in me and around me to bow to you in the name of Jesus. Amen.
No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD. -Isaiah 54:17
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. -Psalm 23:6
Recently I read a post on Bishop T.D. Jakes' blog that asked for responses to the question, "Is God going out of style?" This was not a question from which I could turn away easily. The following is the comment I left there:
'To say God is in style or out of style implies that He is subject to our feelings about Him. He is not. The infinite can never depend on the finite for validation. God is God whether we love Him or not. God loves us whether we love Him or not.
That said, I imagine the fractiousness of religiosity has turned many against God. When His representatives can’t agree on who He is and what is His will, and as the modern church spends more time teaching people to give money and expect money in return than it teaches about the saving power of the blood of Jesus, misled people will become hurt and disillusioned. They will give up on God.
There is nothing in the Bible that says “run around the sanctuary three times if you want a new house this year.” That’s a non-Christian African tradition.
There are too many examples of half-truths and outright lies, of paganism, humanism, animism, and other blasphemous -isms being taught in churches, causing the people of God to think they are following Christ when they are going in the opposite direction.
Religions developed because we all have a need to strengthen our faith by worshipping communally and to serve God by serving each other. This is a good thing, but it is bound to be frequently perverted because that is human nature.
Ultimately, faith is personal. We are each responsible for condition of our own souls. When God is out of style, you can be sure the human soul has gone out of style first."
The joy in this song, "Father and Friend", touches my heart deeply. When I watch son Alain Clark and father Dane Clark together, I'm filled with the thought that this may be an intimate microcosm of heaven which surely involves multitudes in exuberant song, celebrating mutual love with our Father God.
"Every time I look at you, I see myself..."
One day it'll be you and Father God, face to face, I hope. In the meantime, love the father you can see here on earth, if you are that fortunate.
Sunday night the Lakers won game 5 against the Orlando Magic to clinch the 2009 NBA championship. This was the Los Angeles team's amazing 15th win in 30 playoff finals appearances. Tomorrow--deservedly--they're getting a hometown parade that will cost two million dollars (the team will foot half the bill, the city of L.A. picks up the rest of the tab). Thousands of Lakers fans will be there, basking in the glow of their team's victory and showing their appreciation for the opportunity to bask.
Maybe you're not a major sports fan, but surely you can understand the desire to demonstrate the worth you place on a team that has given you a great season of excitement. Or maybe you can better understand the desire in others to give something back to a hero police officer who saved a hostage, or a fire fighter who breathed life back into an infant overcome by smoke.
More than a million people--nearly all strangers--stood outside to watch when Princess Diana's funeral procession passed by in September of 1997, because she was so beloved.
All of these displays of appreciation and emotion are quite understandable and even Christians expect and sometimes engage in this behavior without thinking it strange.
Why, then, does it seem strange to so many Christians to display the same hero-worship and excitement for Jesus? Why do we often have to drag ourselves reluctantly to church, only because we can't come up with an excuse not to go that particular Sunday?
Our Lord breathed life into you the day you were born and continues to do so with every breath you take. Jesus died and rose again to give you a chance to be rescued from a fiery eternity. Every time Jesus faced Satan, He won. You can have infinite victory over evil because of the moves Jesus made.
Jesus deserves a two million dollar parade every day. Can you get excited enough about what He has done for you to join a few other saved sinners on Sunday morning and maybe on one night a week for Bible study, just to show how much He means to you?
Why wouldn't you go to church? Don't start with the tired old line about the presence of hypocrites there. Since when has that stopped anyone from going anywhere besides church? If you're looking for a place with perfect people in it, let me know if they let you in when you find it.
What other excuse is there? You haven't found the right church yet? I've seen people sit on their rusty well-known euphemisms for twenty years using that whiny line whenever the subject of church came up. Where are you looking--under your sofa pillows?
C'mon, what else have you got? Oh, I know--Sunday's your day to sleep in. Really? That's more important than God? Sleep in on a work day and see how that goes for you.
I'm not trying to make anyone feel guilty. I'm only trying to point out that Jesus deserves more than what we give Him. What if He'd decided to sleep in the day He was supposed to go to Gethsemane? What if He decided not to die on the cross at Calvary because there were too many hypocrites in the crowd? I'm just sayin'.
(AP Photo/John Bazemore)