Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Great reading - How to be a truly 'successful' pastor

The following article is taken from

I remember a few years ago going through some pretty severe depression. I don’t think anyone knew about it. I guess I was able to keep it under wraps, but I remember very clearly going through some dark days wondering what I was doing with my life, rethinking about ministry and so many other things. During this time I happen to have come across Kent Hughes great book “Liberating ministry from the Success Syndrome”. As I read it, it exactly describe what I was going through and the emotional roller coaster ride I was on. Kent Hughes describes how he had fallen for the Success Syndrome in evaluating his ministry and because things were not “successful” he was spiraling ever into more spiritual depression. But by God’s grace he was able to recover from his depression and regain a biblical perspective in evaluating his life and ministry.

What Hughes had fallen prey to was what I was falling prey to as well. I had fallen victim to the success syndrome. A chief cause of this was my tendency to compare myself to others. I would compare my preaching to others, my skill to others, my intelligence to others, my pastoral skills to others. I would compare everything to everyone else. Not surprisingly I was falling ever into depression. But by God’s grace I was able to pull myself out of it, yet the cry to be “Successful” is an ever present taunt in my ears and it’s a daily battle to fight against it.

While the message that we are called to be faithful rather than successful is something many of us have heard over and over again, yet it remains a constant struggle. Unfortunately this is not helped when the Christian community, both near and far, have themselves bought into the ’success’ lie.

Inadvertently, in the way we talk or even treat our leaders, we can make it very hard for our leaders to focus on being faithful rather than on being successful.

So personally here are some thoughts I’ve had to think about. Firstly to us leaders:

a. When you are jealous of other people’s success work even harder to pray for their ministry and give thanks to God for them. Now I’m not so naive to know that no one is perfect and so it’s easy to punch holes in their ministry and look at their flaws. For everything good there is always a mixture of bad. That’s life. We’re not in heaven as yet. However as far as we are concerned let’s just concentrate on praying that they will stay focused on the gospel, keep preaching the scriptures and that God will use their ministry to his glory even more so than our own ministry.

b. When things are going well with your ministry and growing make it a special point to pray that God will all the more make you last in the eyes of the world so that you will be first in his eyes. And when everyone wants to talk up how great you are make it an even special point to fervently pray that God will make you a nobody in the eyes of the world so that you will be a somebody in his eyes.

Lord make me last in the eyes of the world that I might be first in your eyes.

c. Accept the fact that you are not as “good” as someone else but that’s ok. So stop comparing. The fact is that God has wired you differently and that’s OK. Remember God never makes mistakes and that includes you.

d. If someone wants to put you on a pedestal tell them they’re stupid and they need to see a doctor. (Ok maybe in a more pastorally sensitive way).

e. Finally we need to realise the fact that change is difficult and painful. The key to glory is always via the way of the cross and in this case, the cross is personally wanting that others will to be more successful than you.

OK a word to the rest of us, here are some thing to think about so that we don’t make it hard for our leaders and cause them to fall victim to the success syndrome.

a. Avoid avoid avoid, playing the “comparing game”. This is wrong and ungodly. Ok, so your pastor may not be a great preacher like……. or they might not be a great leader like…………… but don’t play the comparison game. Accept the fact that God may have wired your leader like……….. If that is the case then learn to work with what you’ve been given and be thankful. But whatever you do don’t play the comparison games. Of course there are real cases in which you leader is just not the right person for your congregation. If that is the case then it’s ok to tell the person, but just don’t play the comparison game. This doesn’t help anyone.

b. Avoid playing the “I saw……………” game. You know this game the world plays.

“I saw Keanu Reeves.”
“I ate in the same restaurant as Tom Cruise”
“I touched Matt Damon
Unconsciously we do the same thing. We can play up that we know……….. or that we had a chat with……………or that we are related to….. etc etc. All this tends to do is to put someone else on a pedestal but make your leaders feel really bad.

c. Watch what gifts you give to your leaders. I think this is great. I’m all for it, but there is a danger that we can favour one over and above the other by what we are prepared to do for one and not the other. I’m not saying that we don’t be generous to our leaders but rather we need to show equal generosity to all and not just to some.

d. Be careful not to play up one over and above the other. This only creates jealousy and makes one feel bad and the other big headed.

e. Stop complaining about your leaders.

f. Just one more thing, if you’re organising a camp, concert, or a function of any sort avoid all the soppy thank you’s at the end. Why do some get more thank you’s than others? You know what it’s like to be overlooked while others are thanked. So my suggestion is a general thank you to one and all. Give a personal and private thank you to all concerned. And don’t forget the guys who picks up the garbage.

Ok, these are just some personal reflections. So now back to my church growth book on how to be a successful pastor. Hmmmm….

Chinese Christian Church
100 Alfred St Milsons Point,
Sydney, NSW, Australia. 2061

Tiredness is a Blessing (1 Kings 19)

Once while reflecting on all the busyness of completing assignments and preparing for exams, my mind was drawn back to a study I did on Elijah a year ago. After his great victory over the false prophets of Ahab by calling down heavenly fire, he fled when Jezebel threatened to take his life. What happened? What made him come to this – from hero to zero? I think it was simply fatigue.

At the end of 1 Kings 18, it was recorded that he outran a thunderstorm all the way back to the king’s palace in Jezreel. Now Mt Carmel is 600 meters high and the distance from Mt Carmel to Jezreel is about 42 km, the distance for the Olympic marathon. Imagine Elijah’s state as he arrives. Physically, he must have been very tired. He must have also been emotionally tired too after having dealt with the prophets of Baal. And so he runs at the first sign of trouble. That is what tiredness can do. It takes our eyes off God. It makes us forget God’s power and promises.

Do we lament this aspect of our human-ness? Do we bemoan our tiredness wishing we could accomplish more work? Do we then push our bodies and think it good to ignore our fatigue so that we can achieve more? Do we think it a blight, this frail aspect of our existence that foils our efforts to squeeze more from our limited day? I know I do sometimes. Yet as we reflect, is tiredness a bane or really a boon? I have come to think it a boon, a gift of God. If we touch a hot iron, the pain automatically moves our hand away. The pain prevents our hand from being burnt beyond repair. In the same way, fatigue prevents us from going on and on until we are burnt out. It reminds us that we are human and therefore feeble. It reminds us that there are times we need to rest. It also reminds us that our strength and achievements come from God not ourselves. It helps us to be humble and dependent on God.

Do you get worn out from the cares and stresses of your daily life? If you do, welcome to the club. The demands of earning a living, our families and sometimes the burdens of friends’ needs add up to a lot of time and energy resulting in overwork, stress and sometimes burnout.

How do we avoid burnout then? Perhaps the following may be of help to us.

• Connect with God. This is most important. If we are too busy to be alone with God, we are too busy. Just as food gives our body the energy it needs, communion with God is also food for our soul.

• Decide what's really important. Everything we meet can be urgent but not everything is important. Ask God for grace and wisdom to decide what things are important and focus on them. Our role model, Jesus focused only on doing the Father’s Will, so we should do the same.

• Ask for help. Don't be a lone ranger. I believe that God has designed people to need each other. So sometimes, more is accomplished if we share our burdens with others.

• Remember people, not programs, matter. Relationships are the key to happy living. Let us not just work and forget the people around us. Let us make time for them. Sometimes merely being together is time well spent.

Sometimes the best is to just rest. That was what God did with Elijah. He did not lecture or rebuke Elijah when he complained, preferring to just let him eat and sleep. Only after Elijah regains his strength does God give him further instructions to carry out. The lesson is very clear to us. God cannot use a tired person. If we want to be useful in our lives, we must acknowledge our fatigue as a sign to rest. God can only use a tired person who knows when to rest. May He then give us the wisdom to know it and abide in it!

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Friday, September 18, 2009

The Mercy of God

This is another song that I really love. Geoff Bullock's song adapted from Ephesians 1

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Grace for the Moment: Michelle's Story (Chuck and Sharon Betters)

I was the mother of wonderful three-year-old twin boys and a beautiful little girl. But, nearly four years after our first child, Joshua, was stillborn, I was still bitterly angry with God. Because I felt He had failed to protect me from that terrible loss, I could not trust Him to protect me from similar losses.

Reading the Scriptures and honestly asking Him questions left me feeling even more abandoned, so I gave up expecting to feel His love or His presence in my life. The anger I always carried around so deep within me eventually began to break out; I started to lash out at my husband and my children, and I knew I was in need of help.

Through events only God could have arranged, I started meeting with a Godly older woman who seemed able to see right into my soul. My anger toward my family was bad enough, but this was only a symptom of the greater problem; my anger toward God was the real poison destroying my life. My friend recognized this, and she patiently began to show me the way back into fellowship with God by sharing the details of her own pain-filled life and how God had taught her to trust Him through those hard times. Yet my heart, seared and defiant, continued to resist.

Finally, one Sunday morning, the many months of loving support and encouragement from my friend and the ministry of the church broke through to me. God transformed me from a broken despairing woman into a woman who felt His presence deeply. Suddenly I knew He loved me, and never wanted to go back to my old way of living. Every day He surprised me with new revelations of His love and specific care for my family and me. I soon began to realize that He knew me even better than I knew myself.

God also patiently began teaching me to hold onto life loosely; I started to realize that my life might change at any moment, as it had the day I lost my son, and that I needed to be prepared. I began to see all of my circumstances in the context of eternity, and I knew I could count on the Lord to be with me through any hardships that might lie ahead. I had the feeling that God might be preparing me for something difficult, but I wasn't afraid because He was also teaching me that I could trust Him to give me the grace I would need when that moment came.

September 14, 1998, started out like an ordinary day for us, but it turned out to be a dramatic turning point in our lives. That was the day a pediatric oncologist told us one of our three-year-old twins, Jacob, might have cancer. I was terrified. "What will happen to Jacob if he does have cancer? Will he need chemotherapy? Will he need radiation? How sick will he get? Will he lose all his hair? How long will it take for him to get better?" The question behind the other questions, of course, was one I could hardly even contemplate: "Will Jacob get better?" The thought of an empty space at the table, of putting away his favourite things, of having only memories of him to hold onto, was more than I thought I could bear. Yet, in response to each of my questions God's gentle answer was always, "My grace is sufficient for you."

"Yes, yes," I would cry, afraid. "But what about Jacob?"

"Your times are in My hands, Michelle, past, present and future. Know that I love both you and Jacob and that I will give you the grace you will need for this moment"

As the doctor described for my husband and I the surgery needed to remove our son's cancer-ridden kidney and the subsequent tests to determine whether the cancer had spread, I thought, "How can I put my three-year-old son through the pain of surgery? What if something happens to the other kidney, then he will surely die." Again I could hear God saying, "My grace is sufficient for you for this moment, Trust Me, Michelle, trust Me in this."

Fear seized my heart again when the radiographs of Jacob's lungs indicated that the cancer in his little body might have spread. I wondered how this would affect his chances of getting better. What if they think they've cured him but his cancer returns? Each time I found my anxious thoughts running far ahead of God -into all the might-happens and what-ifs and dark and fearsome possibilities - He would bring me back to His truth. As long as I remained with God for that moment, He gave me the strength to handle whatever challenge I faced.

Our journey in this terrible land of cancer has only just begun. We are still waiting for test results to determine the extent of Jacob's cancer. We are strangers in an alien country. The language where we live includes the words "malignancy" and "terminal" and "life-threatening." We don't want to be here; we want to take our children and go elsewhere, anywhere. Our journey through grief, following Joshua's death, taught us much about God's character and His loving faithfulness, and now we know that the future, whatever it may bring, is in His hands. In this journey we are on, in this landscape filled with tubes, and monitors, and small children lying on hospital beds, we trust the Lord to teach us once again how to rely on Him for our future by giving us the grace we need for the moment - this moment.

Taken from “Treasures of Faith, Living Boldly in View of God's Promises” by Chuck and Sharon Betters. Please do not use without acknowledging the original source.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ambition Or Mission in Life

If there is one clear lesson that all of us can learn from the recent Java earthquake, Typhoon Morakot in Taiwan and other natural disasters that struck our neighbours, it is about the brevity of life. Which one of us can tell how much more time we have left on this earth? We can make plans for a long life but we have to live with the fact that life can be short. This truth makes it compelling for us to live and make our days count for something.

If only annihilation faced us beyond this life, then our choices are easy. Just eat, live and be merry because after this we cease to exist. Some do believe in this reality which is why they live for themselves grabbing and exploiting all that they can. We Christians, however, know that there is a different reality for us in eternity and that is fellowship with a loving Heavenly Father. So, knowing this is just a temporary holding area for us, we too should make our days count – benefiting not ourselves but the Kingdom of God. It would indeed be a sad day to stand before the Lord and be ashamed of the missed opportunities of service and obedience that came our way.

A book I once read had this question to ask, “In life, do you pursue an ambition or a mission?” It is a question worthy of self-reflection. Although the two may fit together at times, I think ambition refers to doing what we want while mission refers to doing what God wants.

Mission means focusing not on ourselves, which ambition does, but on how we can serve God and others, as God would want us to do. Mission is being God- and others-centred. It means being sensitive to the needs of others around us. Sometimes, meeting those needs may even cause us some discomfort and personal loss. But we should do it anyway, because it is what God wants us to do. We should expect from God situations like these, situations that will test our faith. If we respond in obedience, our faith will grow stronger. If we respond by compromising our faith, we slide farther and farther away from God.

I believe this is a Kingdom truth - when we do things we are not naturally inclined to do, we come away changed, and for the better. Further, we will praise God for that change because we would have done something we ‘naturally’ would not do. This is because God’s grace is at work. When we cooperate with His Spirit in performing others-centred acts regularly, we will be changed to having an others-centred mentality that is able to do Kingdom acts ‘naturally’. A shepherd’s heart and a servant’s spirit will come ‘naturally’ to us.

The year 2009 is ending soon and we can thank God for the past blessings of being able to give and work towards his Kingdom’s agenda. In the rest of the year ahead then, let us ask God to help us to be wise in our priorities. With only one life, our resources of time, energy and possessions are indeed important, not only to us but also to God. Let us then invest them in things that have eternal consequences, not in things that may seem important to us but ultimately be trivial from a Kingdom perspective. May God grant us the grace to know the difference as we echo the words of the Psalmist, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).


You know I still get goosebumps when I look at these pictures. God's mercy has no limits whatsoever. The only thing I can think about is this song, "Who Am I". Thanks Bryan for introducing this song so many years ago when you led in Powerhouse+ worship.