The Heartbeat

It is May. Soon people will be heading off on vacations. And at Burning Hearts, as at every other church in the country, there will be the challenge of finding teachers, nursery workers, ushers, greeters, musicians and, on occasion, even a preacher!

It is good that you have a secular job. Sometimes fellows enter the pastorate who, quite literally, have never had a job outside of church. And because of that, they don't know what it is like "out there." And because they haven't experienced life "out there" they have this really twisted notion that people's lives should and will revolve totally around a church schedule.

I recall, for example, back when I was selling real estate. I was, as they say, "burning the candle at both ends." I was busting a gut to make a living. I don't know how many hours a week I was working but it was a lot. I never missed Sunday morning church because of my real estate work but I can recall many Wednesday nights when I was not at the church's Prayer Meeting because of my real estate work.

I doubt there are many greater concerns to any pastor than the concern that he should be viewed as a hypocrite. But as we each know ourselves DEEP DOWN we know our hearts and minds. And as I have preached on many times, even if our mouths (words) and bodies (actions) seem in line with God's word, our minds (thoughts) betray us. In the words of the old hymn "Come Thou Fount" there are those times where we are "prone to leave the God I love." Not that we would actually do that, but our thoughts are hardly what they should be.

I wish I had an easy answer for this area. The Bible speaks of having a "sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7, KJV), or taking "every thought captive to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). Jesus addressed this sort of thing when discussing the committing of adultery and lusting after a woman in one's heart or mind (Matthew 5:28). It is this sort of inner conflict – one that Martin Luther, citing the apostle Paul, concluded that we all face – that can drive us to despair. But don't be driven to despair. Be reminded that you are like every other person, every other man (1 Corinthians 10:13). And that even though God has placed you in a place of spiritual oversight of God's flock, you are best able to lead the sheep to green pastures and still waters by seeking those for yourself. Because you need them as well.

Most people work jobs that, regardless of how they are feeling, require them to work a certain number of hours per week. I say "regardless of how they are feeling" because, quite honestly, if there were no requirements, many would simply cease working, or try and get by working fewer and fewer and fewer hours. The self-motivated, hard workers, are often the business owners: the founders, the entrepreneurs, those that got the business going. These are often disgusted with the lackadaisical attitude of those who have been hired by those under them. They cannot seem to understand why everyone doesn't have the strong work ethic that they had and which made them successful.

And now here we have you entering the pastorate, with no one to watch over you, to keep your hand to the fire. Well, not quite…

Due to Burning Hearts having many young children in it, through the years you will likely be performing lots of weddings. Weddings and funerals are both great times for interaction with families, but weddings can be particularly a time of enjoyment.

I well recall the first few weddings that I performed. I was, like anyone in my position might expect to be, a bit nervous. From the time I was a young boy I had observed my dad (a pastor) perform weddings and so, to some extent, I had almost an innate understanding of what was to take place. There is no question but that this was helpful to me and to those getting married. One thing I could not seem to remember, however, was which side the bride and groom were to be standing on. But this solved itself for me when about the 5th or 6th wedding I ever performed, one of the groomsmen fainted during the ceremony. As he was, while I stood up front, off to my left, that forever cemented in my mind which side the groom (and groomsmen) were to be on!

Back when I first started pastoring, two brothers and their families began attending the church. The younger of the brothers (about 15 years older than me) had attended seminary and was theologically a ROCK: really solid. In time, both families would join the church and the younger brother, named Dave, would become not only an elder but the chairman of the board of elders.

By my own choosing, I sought out Dave to mentor me. From that a deep relationship of reading books, discussing the ministry and praying for the church began. This continued for several years until Dave and his wife moved away.

During that time I began preaching through (as I recall) Matthew's gospel. I don't recall where we were in that study but one week he wrote me a short note (something he did not ordinarily do).

One of the real joys of pastoring is the writing of sermons. Some well-known pastors have talked about spending "one hour for each minute" of preaching in study and preparation. I have never bought into that. For if one took that to heart one would never be doing anything but studying and preparing one's sermons. On the other end of the spectrum was Charles Haddon Spurgeon, that 19th century English preacher, generally regarded back then as well as today as one of the greatest preachers to have ever preached in the English language. Not only was Spurgeon an incredibly gifted speaker, but what irked the other pastors of his time is how Spurgeon would put his sermons together on Saturday night, after supper! It was his general practice to have dinner guests on Saturday evening, and then following that time of eating and visitation with his guests he would excuse himself, go into his study, and prepare his sermon for the next morning. So not only was Spurgeon good but he was fast!

As you are a man rooted in the scriptures, you already know that you are not the head of the church. Christ is the head of the church. But under Christ you are a shepherd. Indeed the word "pastor" is related to the word "pasture." And it is to green pastures (and still waters) that you are to guide the sheep under your care. It is a great responsibility.

Many years ago I came under a period of conviction based upon my reading of John 10:3. In that passage Jesus is talking about the good shepherd (himself) and how he calls his sheep "by name." The passage bothered me because there were many people who were regularly attending the church and whose names I could not recall. I had met these people, sometimes more than once, and yet I could not remember their name(s). It was during that time that I began to question the wisdom of the large church.

Wine, women and song. Those are the three things that have often been pointed to as bringing pastors down. By "wine" is meant any addiction; by "women" is meant any affair; by "song" is meant laziness/sloth. Let's address all three here…

Wine. I don't even know if you drink. Neither Ruth nor I are drinkers, so wine, beer or any alcoholic beverage was never an issue with me. And as for drugs, I know little about them. They never held any attractiveness to me. Pornography could hold an attractiveness to me and I can only thank God that I was not even aware of it until late in my adolescence. Plus, I thank God for Ruth who has been a true help-mate to keep my heart focused on what is good. But be careful of any addiction, any vice.

Pastoral ministry, to a great degree, runs counter to most people's schedules. So while the average person may work a Monday to Friday, 9-5 kind of job, a lot of what you will be doing will be evening and weekends. The "plus" of that is that you will have more time, than the average person, during the daylight hours each week to do things around the house. Summers will be especially nice for you. If you golf, you can go golfing while most people are at work. The negative side of it is that your schedule will also run counter to your family's schedule. So when the kids finally are home (evenings and weekends) you will be tied up with church work far more than the average dad. I don't think there is any easy answer for this problem.

There is an old saying that goes "Strike while the iron is hot." Well, I will tell you, from a preaching point of view, when you are "hot." It is when you are young. Let me explain…

Name any famous preacher, past or present. Possibly without exception, that preacher became known not when he was in his 50s or 60s (or even later), but back when he was in his 20s or 30s. We all herald Charles Spurgeon, the legendary "Prince of Preachers." But did you know that Spurgeon was preaching while still in his teens? By the time he was in his early 20s he was a phenomenon. It's like those who become big names in music. Quite consistently, they became big names while in their teens or early 20s. Are there exceptions? Sure. But the exceptions are few and far between. And the same goes with preachers.

We, the elders at Burning Hearts, believe you have been particularly gifted, in terms of your experience and your heart, to be a real bridge builder in the kingdom of God. As that has been my own heart, that makes me especially excited to see you lead.

So many pastors are demagogues…little mini-popes. They treat the people in the churches where they pastor as if they are but peasants working for them in some sort of fiefdom. And because that is how they see things they are jealous for their control, their territory, their community. It is impossible for pastors of this sort to see or embrace a bigger view of the church. But you can! You have seen more of the world than most pastors. You have lived there; you have ministered there. You know that while the Baptists may be doing a good work in some communities, so are the Mennonites, and the Brethren, and the Pentecostals.

I mentioned you the other day to a really good guy. I said, "Justin is attending Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary," and he said, "Oh, that's a really good school." Schooling. Let me talk to you a bit about that…

I went to two colleges and then one seminary after finishing high school. Beyond high school that amounted to approximately 8.5 years of additional schooling. By the time I finished my Master of Divinity program at Westminster Theological Seminary I was totally shot: both emotionally and financially. If I had had the money and strength (the "umphfff") to continue on to obtaining my doctorate, that was the time to have done it. But I was shot…and engaged to be married. Getting married to Ruth sounded like a wonderful remedy and reward after all those years of schooling.

This is now the second Sunday that the Rausch family has been gone. As parents to Sarah and grandparents to those four young children, Ruth and I are going to miss them all greatly. In addition, as a pastor, I am also going to miss them: their attendance, their involvement, and their overall contribution to the work of Burning Hearts. But they serve as a reminder that in church work and life "people come and go."

Indeed, if one were to ask me what lessons I have learned after 36 years of pastoring, that point (that people come and go) would likely be near the top of my list of lessons learned. Back when I first started pastoring, I had the mindset that the only way OUT of the church was that you either move away or we carry you out (meaning, in a casket). It was assumed, in my mind, that everyone in the church was basically committed to staying involved with each other until the day God calls us home. I don't think that way anymore. For I have simply seen too many people come and too many people go to hold on to that as a workable view of what church life should look like.

I have heard different speakers try and prioritize how our lives should be. Often, they will use the acronym J.O.Y. – Jesus, Others, Yourself. This is probably the most famous. And it would seem that Jesus as well did a bit of this prioritizing when he spoke of the "greatest commandment…and the second is like unto it." So, love God, followed by a love for others sounds like the order we should follow. But the question that is most troubling for pastors is where does their family fit into this order? If God is #1 is their family #2, or is the church #2? I think it was in An All Round Ministry where Charles Spurgeon mentions his wife (whom he called "Wifey") complaining that she was feeling like he was giving greater priority to the church over her. His response was that he asked her, "When the Israelites were to offer a lamb to God, did they offer one that was injured or their very best?" She said, "Their very best." To which he said something to the effect that she needed to be willing to be offered up as the very best on behalf of the ministry. Read into that what you want, but it seemed to me like Spurgeon was saying that she needed to let the ministry take a higher priority. And certainly if you look at people like John Wesley or George Whitefield, that is EXACTLY how they saw it. God was #1, and pastoral ministry was #2, while family was #3. This is the model that many 20th century missionaries followed as they would drop their young (age 5, or 6) child off at a mission boarding school, only to not see them for the next several months. Ministry was more important than family, or so they believed, and those children came to learn.

Recently, while reading Charles Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students, I came across a line where Spurgeon said that we should see ourselves as ministers of the gospel at all times. Of course I agree with this, the apostle Paul having challenged young Timothy to "preach the gospel at all times." There is never a time when we cease to be either witnesses nor ambassadors for Christ.

But while that is the case, I do believe we need to learn how to wear different hats at different times. Let me explain… For me, among the "hats" that I own and wear are the husband hat, the dad hat, the preacher hat, the counselor hat, and the mow the grass hat, to name a few. That is to say, at different times I do different things and so I often need to put one thing (hat) aside so as to take up something else (a different hat). One cannot really be playing with the kids if one is still bothered by the counselor's hat one was wearing earlier in the day. So, while we are always "ministers of the gospel" there has to be some ability to take off one hat and put on another.

Last week I addressed the need to find a "balance" between giving things your best while, at the same time, being mindful of working for the long haul. Today I would like to go a bit further into all of this.

One of the things I often ask pastors, especially younger pastors, is what hobbies they might have. The answer I am most unhappy hearing is that they have no hobbies.

When I was about 13 or 14 years old I talked to my dad (also a pastor) about his hobby of buying, fixing up, selling or just collecting antique horse drawn carriages. What had begun as a "whim" purchase of a single buggy, had, within a few years turned into a fairly substantial collection of 20-30 carriages housed in a large "carriage house" that he and I had built. So I asked my dad about this. He said that the carriages, and in particular the fixing up/restoring of the carriages was therapeutic. He said, "So much of pastoring has no end, but with the carriages I can reach a point where I can say, 'There, that is done.' I find that therapeutic." I'm not sure I understood the word therapeutic at the time but I got what he was saying. The carriages helped take his mind OFF of his pastoral work and there was, with that, some sense of closure.

Last week I wrote you about pacing yourself. I have been thinking on that for a number of days so allow me to deal with that a bit more…

Many years ago I visited a couple who had visited the church (LEFC). They lived in a very modest, run-down house way up by the Middle Creek Wildlife Preserve. I cannot remember what the fellow's occupation was but I do remember three things quite distinctly: 1. He told me that wherever they lived and whatever church they were part of, he became the pastor's best friend, 2. He told me that he himself, for some time, had personally been involved in pastoral leadership, and 3. He told me that his philosophy of doing ministry was to "work hard for two years and then just slide." The first of those points had made me quite leary of the fellow while that final point left me driving home that day thinking, "I have little in common with this couple and I sincerely hope they don't continue attending the church." They didn't and as to whatever became of them, I have no idea.

Greetings to you in Jesus' name. Justin, I am so conscious, in this my 37th year of paid pastoral ministry, of this being my final year. It was a good fifteen or more years ago when I first laid out a plan to the elders (at LEFC) for me to "pass the baton" to a younger man. At that time I thought of that taking place at LEFC but such was not to be. But now at Burning Hearts the same plan is becoming reality.

Seeing this year then as my final year, the idea of making use of these Heartbeat editorials to write you letters pertaining to life and ministry seemed like an interesting idea. The elders agreed with the idea and so here we go. For this and the next 51 Sundays you are going to be receiving, via this format, letters from me. Some of them will be of a very personal nature while others will deal with abstract ideas, theology, and maybe even some warnings. But all will be to the end of encouraging you as you "take over the reins" at Burning Hearts.

"…You do not know what tomorrow will bring…" – James 4:14

Two years ago. Doesn't sound like an incredibly long period of time, but oh how much has changed in these past two years…

Two years ago

• Donald Trump was president, enjoying the lowest unemployment rate and the lowest mortgage interest rate in many decades. The economy was HOT! Although he was still looked at as an outsider to Washington, an offender of our friends, and in many ways a political liability, he was also one of the few presidents in modern history known for keeping his promises – a likely political shoe-in in 2020.

• Here and there we were hearing rumors of a severe flu-like virus in and around Wuhan, China. But nothing to be alarmed about. The name Anthony Fauci was unknown to most Americans.

"Yea, have ye never read, 'Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou has perfected praise?'" – Matthew 21:16b

When our children were young, Ruth and I were in a small group that met several times each month for many years. Part of our meetings always included a time of singing with the children. It was there that I learned "Father Abraham" – a children's song that began with the words, "Father Abraham had many sons; many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you, so let's just praise the Lord…" This was an action filled song that included having the children using their arms and legs to help emphasize various points. The words, "I am one of them, and so are you" fit with how we viewed our children, for although we believed (and still believe) in the need for personal repentance, faith and conversion, we viewed our children as part of our "covenant community." That didn't mean we believed all our children were saved, but we certainly did believe that these little ones were set apart (made holy, see 1 Corinthians 7:14) unto the hearing of the gospel.

"But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under laws…" Galatians 4:4-5a

The old line is business is that "timing is everything." The veracity of tarot card readers, psychics, palm readers and the like is a non-issue due to the simple observation that they are inevitably to be found living in run-down houses. How can that be if they know the future? For a single day at the races could easily turn a $2 bet into untold treasure for one who can accurately foresee but minutes ahead in time. So it is obvious that these frauds cannot see even mere minutes ahead in time yet people will pay them to tell them of their futures. Go figure.

When to buy? When to sell? Those are THE questions for stock futures investors. They know HOW to buy (low) and sell (high). But the question is not how. The question is when. Timing is everything.

Upcoming Events

Bravehearts Breakfast & Annual Trap Shoot
08 Oct 2022 - 07:00AM
Adult Sunday School
09 Oct 2022 - 09:00AM
Worship Service
09 Oct 2022 - 10:30AM
Prayer Meeting
12 Oct 2022 - 07:00PM
Adult Sunday School
16 Oct 2022 - 09:00AM