“The Easiest and Hardest…”
 

Pastor Tim Estes August 28, 2017

Rarely do I write about the pastoral ministry, especially from a personal standpoint, since I am actively engaged in it.  It is very easy for people to misinterpret what is written as being self-serving in some way.  I figure most of my pastoral writings will be reserved for some far-away day when I will be retired and sit by the fire with a computer or notepad in hand.  However, today I depart slightly from the norm, and at the risk of possible misunderstanding, decided to engage you concerning some realities of pastoral ministry.
 
Few people have ever had the privilege of seeing inside the cockpit of a jumbo jet, especially during flight.  The security measures of our day have made it virtually impossible for people to go inside.  Rest assured the flight most definitely looks different from the front than it does from a seat in the cabin.  I recall a trip I made in 1984 where I was able to enter the cockpit, at the invitation of the pilot, of a Boeing 747 aircraft during an international flight. It was amazing!  How in the world a pilot could remember the functions of all the switches and buttons was beyond me.  As a normal passenger, I had no idea there were so many things to keep up with.  From my business-class seat somewhere mid-craft, my main concern was with whom I would be seated and what kind of snacks were going to be served until I reached my destination.  I had no idea the mental toil, the stress, the focus, the weight of responsibility that was upon the pilots who had not only their own lives to consider, but also the lives of many others in their keeping.  It seems to me that being a pastor is not unlike piloting a large aircraft.
 
Pastors are largely seen in public venues, like pilots roaming the concourses.  They are usually considered to be caring people of good wit and will.  Most people have appreciation for their smile, the care, and the general positive representation of a minister.  But very, very few have any real idea of what goes on in the ‘cockpit’ and the load of bringing people safely to their ultimate destination.  I am not sure mere words could describe it adequately, but I will try.  Each day I feel the responsibility of those under my care and what it means to give them every opportunity to land safely on heaven’s shores.  For certain, it is an amazing calling and privilege.  It is also a level of responsibility few can imagine.  John Maxwell defined the office of being a lead pastor an ‘exquisite agony.’  
 
I preached my first sermon at the ripe age of eighteen, and I am fifty-one years old at this writing.  In thirty-three years of ministry, I have seen so much...so much good…so much bad… and most definitely a lot of change.  In some ways the role and work of being a pastor has become easier, and in some ways the role has become more and more difficult with the changing of the times.  Let me show you into the ‘cockpit’ for a moment and allow you to get a small glimpse at the good and the not so good parts of flying the pastoral ministry.  While I could certainly provide much more, I will only give a half dozen of each side to be fair.Things that have become easier:
1. Communications – We are blessed to live in the digital age of communication.  As such, there are many platforms from which to communicate.  An effective pastor is constantly in use of social media, email, texting, messaging, video chat, conference calls, and more to remain connected at a moment’s notice to any number of people.  The technologies have definitely allowed faster, more effective communication methods.  The ability to communicate while being mobile has also helped pastors become better at multi-tasking.  Various apps and software provide greater ease at church management as well. 
2. Advertising – Along with social media, one can gain exposure of their church to the community much more quickly than ever before.  Since 80% of the people who walk through our doors have already viewed our church on the worldwide web, it is important to advertise well and present well on social media.  Folks like to shop our churches from the safety of their homes.  The message about our church—who we are and what we believe—is easier than ever before to get beyond the doors of everyone in our communities.  The transfer and modifications of graphic design is much faster than it was a couple of decades ago too.  Advertising is generally easier.
3. Networking – I believe the growth of the Christian community has given more networking opportunities than ever before.  In the early days in America, the churches were not blessed with the ability to connect with other churches as we are today.  There are more people, more churches, more conferences, more satellites, and more venues in which believers may connect with others.  I would add there are fewer churches who are denominationally exclusive, which creates more opened doors and fewer walls.  Through networking, we can share ideas and minimize wasted time.  Networking has created positive and exponential changes in the church world and with it, many opportunities to grow. 
4. Sermon Preparation – Being a lover of books, I still have many in my library.  However, I know pastors who have gone completely electronic.  I jokingly tell them they will come see me when the electric grid goes down one day.  In years past I would spend much time combing through books and commentaries to prepare sermons.  With the incredible speed of the internet and the wealth of information at the click of a button, sermon preparation has become easier than ever.  I think it is vital to prayerfully hear from the Lord for the direction, but filling the outline with quality information for the flock is now quite easy.  There are Scripture references, cross-references, commentary, Hebrew and Greek studies, sermons, and illustrations that are immediately available.  Being able to compare insight from a host of capable, trusted leaders also helps to preserve truth and the biblical writers intended meaning of texts. 
5. Spreading of the Gospel – As a boy I used to wonder how we would get the gospel to the whole world before the end of time.  The world seemed so huge.  In my parents’ and grandparents’ generations, the world was even larger.  Before commercial air travel, it would take weeks to travel abroad on slow moving ships.  Now we have commercial jets that can get you anywhere in the world within hours.  We have translators and fantastic printing methods.  The Gospel is literally going around the world very quickly!  The end could come quickly because the Gospel is about to make it to every region as predicted in Scripture.  It seems the church has become more mainstream with the Gospel, too, meaning we have stopped fighting over the minutia of texts and devoted ourselves to the main things.  With a greater handle on the Word and a more focused mission, it seems the spreading of the Gospel is easier than ever before.
6.  Other – With a more casual church environment, it is not uncommon for ministers to wear jeans and casual shirt to speak.  I consider this an advantage of becoming relative.  The classical suit is, and will always be, in vogue, especially for formal occasions like weddings, funerals, and special events.  However, being dressed down definitely falls into the ‘easier’ category.
 
 
Things that have become harder:
1. Expectations – This one is at the top intentionally!  Few know the degree of expectations placed on ministry by so many people from so many directions.  A pastor has to intentionally work not to fall into the trap of trying to please everyone.  What is truly incredible is that a pastor has to make these changes at the risk of offending the very people he/she loves.  Most people only see the church and specifically their pastor from their own vantage point, their personal need, or the way in which the pastor may be able to help their indigenous struggle.  What they do not see often is the other 300 people who are tugging on the pastor in the same way they are, with the next call, email, or drop-in, etc.  A pastor is expected to have answers, have time, and meet the needs in a way pleasing to the one in need.  People are ready to hear you as long as you don’t cross their idealisms.  I also believe the pressure to produce great sermons, to lead leaders and teams at an executive level, and the pressure to balance the demands of personal and family time are greater than ever too. 
2. The Pressure from the Sinful – The Word of God forewarns the Christian of coming persecution.  Being a conservative Christian is not going to become more popular!  It is guaranteed the true believer will face the fire, especially during the times in which we live, as well as the times that face the next generation.  The pastor is a spokesperson for the Word of God, even God Himself at times.  Contrary to the opinion of a rapidly decaying world, God has not changed His mind about morality, about sin, about gender roles, nor about salvation.  Yet the world has drastically changed in a negative way.  Along with the sinfulness have come added pressures against those who stand for righteousness and truth.  It is not uncommon to be hit with false allegations and inferences of bias or even hate mongering…all of which are completely false!  I know pastors who have caved, not formally or officially, but quietly they have caved to the darkness of our day.  Listen to their glistening sermons of everything positive, and of self-help, and becoming Mr/Ms Wonderful, etc.  They carry a Bible, but only preach a few favorites instead of the entire counsel of God.  The ‘mod’ preacher today steps clear of anything that might offend or convict.  So being a true man or woman of God, who deems God’s eternal Word to be more important than their own reputation, Sunday crowds, or their own lives, places them in a position of high pressure.  Not easy!
3. Attention Spans – What we allow into our minds is our trainer.  The human mind is trained and disciplined, not only in content, but also in habit and endurance.  The television sets in virtually every home have stolen the books from our shelves and the family Bibles from our coffee tables.  With strong, short flashes of light, and the intermittent background of accepting laughter, and seventeen-second infomercials, they have taught our children the exact opposite of the Word.  They have also stolen from us the discipline to remain focused on a topic for any length of time. Let me say to parents, it is impossible for a pastor to overcome 50 hours of television and teaching that is devoid of truth, with a twenty-minute ‘sermonette’ of truth on Sunday.  We need strong homes.  There is also pressure on the time frames of Sunday, where services are timed to appease the lack of focus.  Imagine asking people to spend as much time studying the Word on a Sunday as they do on their hobby on any given Saturday.  People get anxious if you go beyond an hour and ten minutes.  They can certainly go to the café and eat a meal after church that takes up an hour and forty-five minutes, and then go watch a single football game for four hours in the evening.  Tell me where the priorities are.  We battle the attention spans that seem to grow ever-shorter thanks to video games and technical training via TV in the homes, and then are concurrently reinforced on Sunday.
4. Respect of the Role – In days gone by the local pastor was viewed as being essential to the good of a community.  As such, he/she was highly respected.  It is true such respect has been taken advantage of by pastors with poor ethics, and that choices of few have diminished respect for all.  Regardless, the general outlook and influence of the pastor’s role at large has been minimized in the eyes of the secular world.  The pastor represents God to the people, and the world is so vile they do not want such influence around.  A pastor has to be true to his/her convictions despite the lack of inherent respect.  I heard someone say recently that the prostitute in town has more respect than the role of the pastor these days.  If that is true, it is incredibly sad!  Such is the case when good is evil and evil is good.  This is an amazing challenge to effective leading these days.  Confidence and respect have to be earned over time.  It means we have to do a better job than ever before as leaders. 
5. People who are committed – Earlier today I took some time to reflect on the church I pastor.  In years and decades gone by, our church has been held up and kept alive by committed people.  It was not uncommon for people to be born into a church and attend throughout their whole lives, serving and bringing up the next generation faithfully.  All the work—the building of the church, the cleaning of the church, the mowing of grass, the painting, teaching, etc.—was done voluntarily by committed people.  Today one has to hire almost everything.  Within the church at-large is a serious lack of commitment these days.  It is a challenge.  Often people today, especially youth, cannot handle rebuke.  If something goes against their grain, they jump ship and are quickly looking for the next church.  Rather than work it out, they run.  Couple that phenomenon with the fact that someone is always coming along with the latest church fad, the coolest look, and subtly (or not so subtly) tempting weak people to join up.  The ability and spine to stay the course in a local church—despite disagreement or preference or ‘coolness’—is sorely lacking.  So we have a million little churches that have split and split and split, while weaker people run to the next latest religious craze.  In our world, to make it to church twice a month is considered ‘faithful.’  I am old school and purport that the church will never be its best with people more interested in worldly things than in spiritual.  We must see the value of the church…our church!  I contend that we can only have a truly great church when the cause—the ‘why’—becomes greater than our personal preferences and petty feelings or opinions.  When a committed person is found, one whom you can trust to stay the course long-term, you have something of extremely rare value.
6. Other – Prayer has been as much part of the Christian faith as air is to life in a human body.  Many churches were started with prayer meetings in generations gone by.  We may change colors, technologies, go from hymns to praise songs, change the color of the walls from white to grey and back again, but we will never outgrow the need to pray.  Here is the challenge.  If you lead a church of 300 people and announce a free bar-b-que dinner, you will get 275 of them there!  If you announce an hour-long prayer meeting, you will be very blessed to get fifteen people there.  It seems people in our time do not feel the urgency of prayer and connecting with the power of God to enact change on earth.  So we make up for it with more lights and louder music and a hipper song and a shorter sermon.  The crowds come!  Who needs prayer?  Look at the crowds!!  We all need prayer.  It is not a viable New Testament church unless the saints of God are on their knees reaching out for the help of the Divine!!
 
There will always be the standard blessings and challenges of leading a church.  There will always be tweaks in operations as we seek to meet the human needs such as funerals, weddings, sermons, counseling, and the like.  But in today’s world, things are rapidly changing—some for the better and some for the worse—and in so doing make some things easier and some things more difficult.  To function highly in today’s Christian environment one has to change with all that can reasonably change, and simultaneously never let go of those values that are written in the eternal Word.  That is how it looks from the ‘cockpit.’
 


My God-Sent Friend


In Honored Memory of Pastor Gib Clark


By Pastor Tim Estes   May 17, 2017


In the arena of friendships one discovers quickly that the level of trust often determines the depth of conversation.  Most relationships allow only for those that reach the casual depths of general pleasantries, the current weather, of politics and such.  Others attain the ability to converse of family and surface feelings on a variety of subjects.  Then, rare as they may be, there are those few friendships which, after years of trust-building, reach such a comfort level that allows the exposure of the depth of difficult feelings on any subject, the revelation of personal failure, of missed opportunities, and outright success.  All these may be ‘on the table’ at a moment’s notice with no need for preludes or qualifying statements.  Rare as gold nuggets are to a miner is the rarity of such friends in our times.  It was this golden level of friendship that God blessed me to find in Gib Clark.  What was amazing was, it didn’t take years to build it.  I can say in truth it was forged in a matter of minutes.

Actually I didn’t find Gib, he found me!  Truth is Gib was a God-sent friend.  We both knew in short time that God had allowed our paths, by His grace, to intersect – mine at midlife – his heading into the twilight years.  It was almost time for me to lock the doors on the funeral home.  As a bi-vocational pastor/funeral director, I was on duty and the evening was quiet.  Everyone else had gone home.  I was lost in my personal thoughts, attempting to answer a myriad of unspoken questions and quell an inner storm as I studied the Bible that lay open on the desk.  The squeaking of the door captured my attention and when I looked up, through the office window I could see a tall, stately man with gentle eyes and calm demeanor enter and head my direction.  Admittedly I was not sure he was not an angel.  The thought actually crossed my mind that he might be an angel sent from God!  In a way…he was.  I invited him in the office and he took a seat across from me after my first introduction to the one and only Gib Clark.

The Lord had been leading me through a religious transition.  I had believed for a season that one earned their way into right standing with God by doing good works.  The Lord was helping me understand that God’s grace was based not upon human works, but upon the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.  God had given to me a scripture that was weighing heavy upon my mind.  This background is necessary to understand the significance of that first conversation.  Gib simply asked about the headstones our funeral home sold.  He said he wanted a small stone with a simple scripture engraved on his.  I asked him which verse.  Looking me in the eyes he quoted the very verse God had placed in my heart.  Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”  It was at that moment I was pretty certain he was an angel!!  I was stunned.  God was using this man to speak to my life.

Turns out our ensuing conversation proved he was not a real angel, but was every bit as human as I was.  We both talked about our lives and God’s grace.  I learned about his sons and their families.  How proud he was of each one.  In a few minutes we were both sitting there with tears running down our faces.  What a God-moment!  So I invited him to spend the night with me.  He was hesitant, not because he didn’t trust me, but because he didn’t want to put my wife and me out.  I assured him it was fine.  I called my wife to inform her that we would have an overnight guest she had never met before.  Gib spent the first of many nights he would stay in our home that night after only having known him less than two hours!  We had dinner together, then a hearty breakfast the next morning.  We walked about my place looking at the horses and telling stories.  He asked me questions he had no other forum to ask about, and I did the same.  We talked, prayed, sang, and shared together.  Time would not permit me to share all the glorious conversations of the Bible and theology, of preaching, of singing and the old conventional songs and hymns, of old books, and an old mutual friend – Pastor J.W. Walker, Gib’s evangelist partner for many years.

Gib shared his affection for his elementary music teacher who transformed his life by giving him special attention and helping him become successful in front of others as a child.  He actually attributes his ability, as a young man, to aspire to ministry to this dear lady, over whom Gib was honored to speak words at her homegoing.  She taught him to sing…and he sang at her funeral.  What an incredible story, one that should be made into a movie!  I believe they may be singing together now!

I invited Gib  to preach in our church a few years ago.  He was so kind and Christ honoring in his presentation to our assembly.  He always asked about the church each time we talked.  On a vacation two years ago our family came through Kiowa intentionally to see Gib.  He was like an extension of our family.  We went to the church together during our visit and there we sang together as my wife played the piano.  I have those songs on video in my phone and oh do I ever cherish those moments!  A few weeks before his passing, on his birthday, I went back out to be with Gib for the final time this side of heaven.  We spoke about heaven.  We wept together as I quoted favorite scriptures about a land that is fairer than day.  One day we will meet again to sing anew some of the songs we sang in his room just before having cupcakes with the staff!

My life has been incredibly blessed and deeply impacted by this dear soul.  Today he is reaping his reward.  He abides under the Shadow of the Almighty in a place for which he has longed for quite a while.  He was prepared to go.  Now, the years, the miles, the songs, the sermons all equate to souls in the Master’s care, and many rewards for our shy and modest Gib.  Please know Gib was not a perfect person and he would not want to be portrayed as such.  He was a very modest man not even wanting pay for speaking in my church.  He was most definitely a grateful person, a humble person, a man who both sought and gave forgiveness.  He was a leader, a shepherd, an orator, and he was a wonderful preacher of the Gospel of Jesus.  And more than these I can testify he was my God-sent friend.  I am ever grateful.

With sincere love for the family and those who grieve his passing,

Pastor Tim Estes


Four Steps to the Seat of Moses

(Thoughts from Matthew 23:1-15)

By Pastor Tim Estes - May 2, 2017

Like spelunking through a cave in the mountainside, I like to explore the unique, little-known words and phrasing in the Holy Scriptures.  Within this text in Matthew’s gospel is a phrase only found once in our Bible.  Jesus mentions “…the chair of Moses.”  Was this a literal chair?  Did the Pharisees come upon a relic from ancient Israel?  What Jesus is referring to is not physical furniture, but something regarding a very special authority.  

In verse two, we find the Greek wording, “Μωσέως καθέδρας” meaning (Moses kathedras) or Moses’ seat.  Jesus was using an allegory to describe the special position, or seat, given to Moses, the one who received the law from God Himself.  Moses wielded an authority unlike any other in the sacred Scriptures.  He went into the sacred tabernacle (Num 5) and spoke with God.  He was given the sacred responsibility of handling and writing the laws of God for man.  The first five books of the Bible contain God’s way of sharing the do’s and don’ts of living in harmony with God and others.  Not only was he the recipient of the Law, but Moses was also given the task of the execution and enforcement of these laws.  As the people grew in number, the infractions of the people did as well.  Romans 4:15 states, “…where there is no law, there is no violation.”  The opposite is also true.  Soon Moses was under great duress, spending all day every day trying to keep the people in line.  

Exodus 18 is the chapter of delegation wherein Moses is approached by his father-in-law, Jethro, who lovingly inquires of all the work Moses is doing for the people from sun-up to sun-down.  Moses’ description of his own work is interesting: “… the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws.”  He was, in my view, defining the ‘Seat of Moses.’  No doubt there were grey areas of the law that required special insight for interpretation, ones for which Moses alone was prepared to judge.  The load became so great that Moses eventually delegated much of the work to other leaders.  However, there remained a seat reserved only for himself.  The ‘Seat of Moses’ was the final authority for the tough cases as indicated in Exodus 18:25: the difficult dispute they would bring to Moses.” 

When Jesus spoke of the Pharisees as ‘sitting in the chair of Moses’ He was really referring to the highest level of interpretation of the law reserved only for the one man who had spoken with God about them face to face.  Perhaps one of the great sins of our day is to make sin out of things that are not, and to call things holy that are not.  In both cases, religion-minded people seem more than ready to speak on behalf of God when they may or may not be qualified for such duty.  It may be of no coincidence that we call the final judgment, the one upon which only the Almighty God is prepared to sit, ‘The Judgment Seat.’ 

These religious zealots had taken authority upon themselves to sit in a seat of judgment that was not rightfully theirs.  Jesus lays out specific warnings to these Pharisees, ones I believe are still very valid today.  Let us learn some very important lessons from our Lord about the dangerous steps toward the ‘Seat of Moses.’  From Jesus’ teaching, we find four steps.

Four Steps to the Seat of Moses:

1.    Step One: (Matthew 23:3) - They ‘Say’ More Than They ‘Do’

The text bears out that Jesus was not against what the Pharisees were saying concerning the Law.  Indeed, they knew the very letter of the law.  At that moment in time, Jesus had not died on the cross and the Old Covenant was still in effect.  Jesus called out the problem of being all bark and no bite as we say in our part of the world.  They could talk a religious talk but were unwilling to walk it out in their own lives.    

Paul writes of the zeal he possessed.  Philippians 3:4-6 – “…although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.”  Did you see it?  Paul says he was blameless in keeping the Law…and at the same time, he was harming or persecuting the very church for which Christ died!  There is a great lesson here.  We can get involved in the ‘doing’ of the Law and completely miss the heart of the matter, which is to enhance the furtherance of the gospel.

Have you ever met someone who had an opinion on everything concerning the church?  Perhaps they could point out the flaws and may have even been quite versed in Scripture.  However, their record of giving and faithfulness to worship demonstrated they could say it…but not live it.  Have you ever met people whose idea of holiness was how different they looked from common people?  Perhaps they could look the part, but the question is, were they helping the work of God?  If there is something sorely needed in the church today it is a baptism of doers!  Not just hearers—but doers…workers!  Believe me we are up to the neck with opinions, analysts, theories, models, plans, philosophies, and grandiose ambitions.  What a blessing it is to find someone who comes with sleeves rolled up and hands ready to be soiled saying, “Here I am and what can I do to help?”  Doesn’t that sound refreshing?!  God bless the doers, those who sign up to serve and change babies and practice music and take out the trash and mop the floors and prepare a lesson, etc! 

Even in Jesus’ time, the same problem existed.  Hear the Good Master say, “The harvest is great and the laborers…well, there simply aren’t many.” (my paraphrase) Jesus was chiding the Pharisees to do more than talk religiously.  The first step to a seat that belongs to none of us is to practice religion in the mouth, and then it somehow loses the ability to get to our hands and feet.  When the head gets it but the limbs do not…we call that a stroke!  Something has blocked the work of the mind from finding action in the body.  Usually it’s the excuse of ‘too busy,’ ‘I’ve already paid my dues,’ or ‘There is someone else who will do it.’  May we humble ourselves and open our hearts, as well as our hands, to His call.

2.   Step Two: (Matthew 23:4) - They Place Burdens They Themselves Do Not Carry

Here again there is no inference concerning the idea that the burdens pointed out were not needful to be carried.  They may well have been very needful.  One thing we do know is they were heavy.  The adjective used by the One who invites us to “…take My yoke upon you, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light” indicates the burdens laid upon people by the religious folks were not light, but heavy.  

Not only that, but they were tied up in a bundle by the Pharisees and with their own hands, placed on the shoulders of the people.  This is almost unbelievable.  They tied the bundle—meaning they were burdens put together with human hands.  Trust me, the human mind has always laid more burdens on people than the cross ever did!  What is more they are unwilling to move a finger to help them carry the load.  It’s an edict we make and enforce, but won’t carry ourselves.  Oh, that people who love the church, and enjoy the church, and want their kids to have a church, and want their funeral in a church, would unfurl their fingers and help us lift the church along.  

How many times have I witnessed ministries that laid down the law with no lack of conviction, only to discover the ones laying the burdens on the shoulders of the sheep were retiring to their abodes without the slightest hint of load upon their own shoulders!  In a book I wrote years ago, I chided the ministry, especially those from harsh legalism, for preaching against everything from jewelry to jazz bands, and yet many of those very preachers were so obese they waddled to and from the pulpit.  While they may have been carrying a heavy load, it was the wrong kind.  The point Jesus was making is tantamount to the parable of the ‘mote and beam.’  It is wrong to pick out the problem in others without first addressing your own.  Likewise, it is a dangerous step toward a position of authority that does not belong to us when we lay needless burdens on others we ourselves are unwilling to carry.

I am so grateful for the New Covenant and the good sense that came along with it.  Rather than seek to enforce the more than 600 Old Testament laws, the New Testament leaders stepped down from the ‘Seat of Moses’ when they said in Acts 15:28-29, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well.”

3.   Step Three: (Matthew 23:5) - They Do Things Only To Be Noticed

I have a novel idea for your consideration.  What if we took the platforms, aka stages, out of the churches?  It seems to me that most of the problems occurring in a church often revolve around who and what goes on with those who step up on the stage, including ministers.  A stage, in our secular way of thinking, is a place of entertainment.  While I understand the need for a raised area in the church so that everyone may comfortably see, I also understand the tremendous danger and doorway to pride a stage may represent.  When one steps upon a stage, they should be sure to step down in their heart.  When small things become large and personal preferences take the place of the goal of leadership, there is a motive problem.  At the moment the stage becomes more about attention on ourselves than on the One who took nails on our behalf…we have a misplaced heart.

There is a real push, especially in novices, to get their place in front of people.  Let me say here and now, this is very dangerous and discloses a dangerous motive.  Jesus looked way past the wonderful, outward appearances of the people and right into the depths of their hearts.  Remember, ‘Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.’ Sure, there will be reward for good deeds, but only if they are in line with a good heart. Jesus said of the Pharisees and their public praying, “They have their reward.”  He meant, the accolades and praise of the onlookers is the only reward they will ever enjoy, for there will be no eternal reward for them.  Why?  Their motive is to only be seen and praised of men.

In our modern, high-tech world of flashing lights and cameras on every phone, this danger is at an exponential high.  With the social media rage, and everyone posting everything and watching every new song, new set, and new sermon, the Church has picked up what I term the Nashville mindset.  The Nashville mindset is a desire simply to be noticed regardless of the cost. Musicians and wanna-be-stars flock to Nashville, the heart of Country Music, to do whatever it takes in hopes of garnering the attention of a promoter.  They sleep in their car...play any gig, anywhere, anytime they can...write a ton of songs…meet all the people they can…attempt to get themselves a unique look and maybe a new tattoo…hang out with the right folks...just for a chance at that one moment when someone picks up their song and hits them up for more.  Then they have made it to the big time!  I see this in churches all the time.  Let’s tweak this and tweak that until we get noticed.  Then let’s capitalize on it and see if we can hit the ‘charts’ and run in the fast lanes with the big names.  In prayerful consideration of this I am reminded that one of the seven deadly sins is a proud look.  Help us, God, and set us free from the need to be noticed!

Trust me, heaven is not impressed with people who expend themselves for the purpose of being noticed, or deemed super spiritual, or super hip, or super anything!  God is looking for sincere, humble, honest, prayerful men and women who will “…do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with thy God.”  If in that place God notices us and decides we can handle being exalted before men, so be it.  Remember Joseph had to go through the wringer of suffering and isolation to get the pride out of his life and his dreams before he ever reached the throne.  It is likely that humanity has not progressed to the point that you and I don’t need the same before reaching ours too.  I am not saying we shouldn’t have dreams.  But our dreams must have a singular motive, and that being to exalt Jesus and to spread the gospel even if nobody but God knows our names.  In due season we will reap.  The honor will be His.  

4.  Step Four: (Matthew 23:6-7) – They Love the Place of Honor and Respectful Greetings

Apparently, the labels of the Pharisaical leadership were many.  Jesus, in this text, addresses at least three of them: rabbi, father, and leader.  Jesus tells His followers that titles can become dangerous as they take the focus off God and onto man.  We can elevate people and their ideals above the Word of God if we are not careful.  Jesus reminds them that only He is their Teacher, and they have only One Father, and their true Leader is not among mortal men.  While God calls and uses men to assist in this, there can easily be an overt emphasis on titles in ministry.  When our teachers, our family, or our leaders are more influential than our fear of God, we need to revisit our motives.  Let God alone be the supreme teacher and motivator.  May His Word ring true in our hearts and every word that opposes it be found a liar! 

Not long ago I passed a church and the title of the minister was so large it went all the way across the sign.  It was humorous, but I was not impressed.  Apparently he was.  I wonder if God is?  Denominations, with all the good they do, have an inherent tendency to apply titles to the many departments and sub-departments.  It is not uncommon for people to vie for positions and wind up with political chatter as to who will be the next bishop, superintendent, or the next assistant to the assistant water carrier for the director-elect of the pulpit committee.  In the past, I have been approached both for votes and to be voted for in various offices.  All the politics and titles have some level of danger attached.  The reason for this today is the very same as it was when Jesus addressed this crowd.  Folks simply like the place of honor, a badge, a trophy, a plaque, and a little respect for all the good they’ve done.  There is nothing wrong with honor.  We are taught to “…give honor to whom honor is due.”  There is nothing wrong with receiving honor.  The problem arises when honor is sought.  Let us be very careful we are not attempting to sit in a seat that is not ours.  The titles…the honor…the glory belongs ultimately to Jesus Christ alone!

In Luke 11 Jesus pronounces ‘woes’ upon the Pharisees; those who were the religious elite of the day; those who felt they had the greater revelation of Scripture.  “Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places.”  Again, there is nothing wrong with honor or influence as long as one has come by it the right way.  In my view the only right way is through humility, willing hands, and the filter of time.  When it comes, you will have earned it correctly and God will have approved it.

In Luke 14:9-11 there is the wonderful ‘Parable of the Guests.’  Jesus again teaches ‘against’ self-promotion and ‘for’ self-humility.  I have missed the mark here so many times.  One of the things I have learned in life is to allow God to do the promoting.  He simply does a much better job.  Read His words on the matter, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. “But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you.”  I can tell you from experience there is nothing like the exhilaration of being brought from the back to the front, and there is certainly nothing like the humiliation of proceeding to the last place, from the front to the back of the building.

Allow me to conclude with the words Jesus often used to end His remarks on this subject.  “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”  It was true then and it remains true today.  The ‘Seat of Moses’ and the ‘Seat of God’ are theirs and not ours.  Join me in stepping down…and not up.  The way up is always down.


Somewhere Between Wild & Reckless Sherbet and Fat-free Vanilla Frozen Yogurt

By Pastor Tim Estes - March 30, 2017

If there is one thing most Americans love it is ice cream!  For me it is one of the biggest temptations in the battle of the bulge of middle age.  Baskin Robbins is known for their variety in selections of ice cream.  They have everything in every color and taste from ‘Cherry Lime Rickey Sorbet’ to ‘Premium-Churned, Reduced-Fat, No-Sugar-Added Carmel Turtle Ice Cream.’  If you think the flavors are many within the Baskin Robbins franchise, you should check out the flavors of ‘Christian’ religion!  On the Baskin Robbins website, I found a couple of flavors that represent the religious spectrum quite well.  And like the ice cream, this week I had my attention called to both ends of the ‘Christian’ compendium.  While I am not the judge of any, let’s just say I did not like what I saw at either end and felt compelled to write to be especially helpful to younger souls who may be on a search for their place, their identity, somewhere between Wild & Reckless Sherbet and Fat-free Vanilla Yogurt.  (actual flavors)

For you to fully appreciate my perspective you must first have a little insight into my journey.  I have been looked at, over the course of my life and ministry, with serious disdain from both the conservative and liberal ends of ministry.  As I have matured in ministry, I realize what a wonderful thing this is.  I grew up in a very conservative denomination that believed separation from the world meant isolation from the world.  It was one that dictated virtually everything the constituents did or did not do.  If it was fun, fashionable, or involving people we did not attend church with, you could rest assured it was off limits.  We could not be involved in organized sports, relationships that were of another denomination, amusements considered worldly entertainment, TV or movies, and all because of their supposed ‘evil’ influences.  

While I was associated in that arena, those from more liberal and more theologically centric ideologies looked at me, and the religion in which I was involved, as a cult.  Through years of study and personal difficulty I was able to break free from the bondage of legalism and fully know the grace of God through Jesus that was purchased on the cross.  At that point my liberties of growing facial hair and wearing golfing shorts, my wife wearing jewelry, attending sporting events and more led me to be on the ‘pointed at’ end of the conservative finger wagging.  For a while I was quite an easy find on the worldwide web.   All that to say, I know the chagrin from each side and it is from these experiences I feel qualified to share a few thoughts.

The news travels like wildfire on the Internet.  As such my attention was recently drawn to a site where I had a rather large helping of the ‘Wild and Reckless.’  A very popular pastor was featured, one that is a ministry icon for many millennial-aged people.  His attire is always complete with his uber-stylish clothing, his ample jewelry and multiple tattoos.  He represents something completely away from the norm for a large majority of pastoral ministry.  But hey, that’s cool…I get it!  Remember I am a liberal to many camps.  The arguments have been capably rehearsed for me concerning the pastor in question and others of a similar ilk.  “This guy relates to his culture.”  “He reaches people that average Joe’s like you and me could not reach.”  “He’s got swag and kids today need their leader to have that.”  “He is a hipster.”  Your points are well taken!  It takes all kinds and perhaps he is being “all things to all men,” so on the surface I really have no disagreement.  Not only that, but this guy’s church absolutely rocks!  The music is stuff that people really get into.  It lifts up the Lord even though it is loud and has the lighting of a major rock concert.  Still…I am with ya!  Rock it!  

I’m with you…that is until ‘Brother Wild and Reckless’ is photographed in a bar…at the bar…doing shots of whiskey…with a music artist who is drunk and gladly removing his own clothing for one of the bar maids.  Yes, the reverend was doing shots for all of the world to see.  And here’s the deal, as popular as the actor is, he had to know the cameras would be rolling.  So without a care, because of ‘grace’ and whatever other biblical excuses one may be able to contrive, he was happy to imbibe…and for what?  For whatever souls he may be able to save, I am persuaded he is likely to become a huge stumbling block to thousands of others.  Mind you, I see this after just leaving a meeting in a detention center where we are by committee attempting to help a young man get free of drugs and alcohol.  This young man actually died because of this vice and the emergency experts brought him back gratefully.  He wars daily with this kind of thing!  What kind of message is this sending this young man and countless others?  This vice is actually threatening the very existence of hundreds of thousands of people across the land.  People are dying in epidemic proportions with this addiction.  Alcohol in Scripture is always connected to warnings about drunkenness and excess.  Amidst all this the good reverend is brazen enough to promote the usage of it, especially in public? 

Now let us look at the other end of the spectrum.  Turn a page in your mind, actually several pages, all the way to the opposite viewpoint regarding religious extremism.  About the time I saw the Internet flash on the aforementioned preacher, I was also invited to check out a YouTube video of one of the gurus of a well-known, stiff-collared, hyper-self-promoting theological group in America.  For about 25 minutes I watched, and the longer I watched the more depressed I became.  Here is a very articulate man carefully making a case for how the fast growing churches, especially ones with good music and technologies are all leading people to hell.  In his view Jesus was teaching that very few people ‘in churches,’ be reminded, and not merely those from the balance of a sinful world, would make it to heaven.  He seemed confident enough to be able to judge an assortment of mainline religious groups and damn them to hell too.  On one hand I wasn’t sure why he needed to inform anyone since his belief is that everyone’s eternal destiny is already predetermined, but maybe that is how he pays the bills.  I don’t know.  He made religion seem to be like the Old Testament Law was pretty simple in comparison to the requirements of the day.  He seemed to give little weight to the tremendous torture and death Jesus went through for us.  He gave no thought to the fact that any payment or sacrifice needed by God was fully paid by Christ on behalf of all who commit themselves to His Lordship.  There seems to be a lot more to pay!  I got the impression that one needed to know much of the Bible by heart as the pastor used many Scriptures to prove to his audience he was in the Word and he was right!   It wasn’t the Word that was offensive, but the pride that went with it did not make the Lord or His church attractive to me at all.  It didn’t feel to me that people mattered much and that deathbed salvation would be almost laughable from his perspective.  He even bragged about a pastor of a large church that started preaching the ‘truth’ and how the church shrank from 1000 to 100 people or less.  He called out my former denomination informing that they were going to hell.  I found it curious, even a bit humorous, that my former organization would also brazenly declare that ‘he’ is going to hell!  It appears one way or the other, from someone’s viewpoint, hell is going to get some religious folks and somebody’s religious group is in for a shock!  

This pastor had a stern face, a stern, monotone voice accompanying robotic gestures that barely wrinkled his nice suit and matching necktie, that was held straight with a tie clip.  He stood behind a huge, ‘powerful’ looking pulpit made of wood.  The background was bland colors too.  Ah…nature…al!  If I were to describe this scenario in ice cream flavors, it would be…well… it would not be ice cream.  It would be yogurt…low-fat…vanilla…yogurt and we would remove a lot of the vanilla flavoring.  As I watched I noted the congregants who were listening barely moved out of respect, or fear, or boredom…only lowering their heads to take a few notes.  The service was concluded with a very stoic prayer.  Again I say, ok….cool!   I say there is likely a group of people who need that depth of formalism and intellectualism to believe that they are the elect, ahead of the rest of the religious world in revelation, and the whole world as in regard to divine selection.  

You likely see where this is going.  I have a sincere question for you.  Where in the world is normalcy these days in the world of Christianity?  Extremism at ether pole is still extremism.  The Lord says, “Come let us reason together…” or in other words, let’s be reasonable.  Maybe we should say those profound words out loud.  Ready?  “Let’s be reasonable!!!”  Wouldn’t something reasonable be nice for a change?  Is there any wrong in being reasonable?  For me there is something very appealing about the fact that something God says relates well to the human mind.  I submit that most of the world does not live in either of the two extremes I described, whether saved or unsaved.  Most people, I would dare say, are living in a very normal environment, with a couple of children, trying to make a living, wanting to go to heaven when all is said and done.  Most like a little competition for entertainment, look forward to vacations, are frustrated with something in life—usually within themselves.  Most people I know are normal and reasonable and like to sleep in a little on Saturdays.  Most people believe God is love and believe Jesus to be a kind man who loved us so much He gave up everything, taking nails and surrendering to death in order to give us life.  Most of us do not drive a new Mercedes, but neither do we drive beat up 1974 Fords.  We are likely somewhere in between, like a 2001 Chevy or a 2007 Subaru, which leads me to talk about the need for the church to do the same.  We need religion we can relate to…something normal.  We have enough fringe ministries that try to garner attention with one trick or another.  

Dear God, we need a fresh touch of balance in the church!  There is no need, in my humble opinion, for pastors to be getting their ‘fresh’ dress codes from the pages of GQ magazine or other perverse fashion moguls.  In fairness, there is no need to order from a 1980’s JC Penney catalogue either.  Find the middle!  Let’s preach the Word to ‘this’ generation and not the one we want to fabricate with our minds.  Preach the Word!  A pastor should never have to apologize for speaking out with love on those things that God calls sin.  A Christian should never have to apologize for speaking about drunkenness, sex outside of marriage, defining marriage as one man for one woman, and the horrors of murder in the womb.  Speak the truth in love.  Live the life!  Then, have the sense not to make these things your only message, but do not omit them entirely either.  Find balance.  Learn to lead and nurture as well.  Both are important and one without the other is out of line.

Recall with me the gospel is quite simple.  It is the amazing death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus as a living reality in the believer’s life.  God is not trying to keep us out, but get us in!  When we believe, there is a substantial change, a not-so-subtle shift toward righteous living, as a result of the new birth within the heart.  As such we trend away from the values of the world and toward the values of the Word.  The life of Jesus calls people away from the things that Jesus calls sin, like drunkenness and carousing, causing us to avoid the very appearances of evil.  We must learn to keep our spiritual equilibrium by being able to walk the line of being “…‘in’ the world, but not ‘of’ the world.”  Most certainly there is no need to relive the 1950’s either.  God is not offended that we live in a modern world and use its technologies and conveniences to speak the gospel to our culture.  Whatever your leaning or style, please let there be a clear mark of delineation between the sinful world and the saved church.  A true Christian places the things of God as sacred in his life.  We are known by our moderation in all things, dress, lifestyle, speech, music, and entertainment.  We are modest people!  Modest and ‘middle of the road’ are synonymous ideas.  

It is our job to preach the gospel as intended and not try to make it more difficult than it is.  The narrow gate mentioned in Christ’s teaching is a reference to Himself.  There is no other way to the Father but by Jesus.  Do not complicate this and make an already narrow gate narrower with your overt additions!  “Few there be that find it…” is not intended to run people out of your church nor offer an excuse for poor performance in ministry.  Trust me, in light of the generations and generations that have come and gone from the planet over the last 6000 years, those who make Jesus Lord, in the most liberal sense, will be absolutely few in comparison to those who neglected this great salvation.  Please stop with the Pharisaical, holier-than-thou approach inferring that you have the latest revelation.  If the gospel were not a very simple plan, God would be unjust to those with learning disabilities and the brokenness we all suffer as human beings.  Salvation still requires the cross, the blood of Jesus, and a complete repentance from all sin and a saving faith in Jesus.  Some come down from your religious high horse and find your place among we, the common, everyday Christians.  Your humility will impress us far more than either your glitz or glare, your drama or drabness. 

As you gaze for your selection through the freezer glass of denominations you will see the many flavors from which to choose including the ultra-liberal where anything goes, nothing is sin, and all roads lead to Chicago.  At the other end you will see the ultra-conservative where more must be done, and the manual of their flavor needs to be consulted to aid the Bible in getting the truth to you.  Then they will decide who is and who isn’t ‘in’ their group, which is tantamount to being saved or not.  

May I suggest you find a God who knew the culture we would live in and made His gospel amenable to it?  May I suggest you prayerfully find a balanced grasp of the Bible with both old and new covenants included—the old giving powerful hints to the understanding of the new, and the new unfolding the mysteries of the old?  May I suggest you find a place somewhere between the whiskey shots at the bar…and the prideful preaching behind the bland pulpit?  May I suggest you pick something between studded leather and polyester, between nose ring and tie clips, between green gel and hairspray?  May I suggest you find a living grace that profoundly changes the heart and consequently visibly changes everything about our lives?  What I am saying is, please find a flavor between Wild and Reckless Sherbet and the Fat-Free Vanilla Frozen Yogurt.  You will ultimately be glad you did and so will God.


The Not-So-Secret Sauce of Success 

By Pastor Tim Estes - March 21, 2017

Recently I was made aware that Coke has never patented their cola.  The reason, as I understand it, is if they patented their product they would have to reveal the ingredients.  Coke’s secret ingredient makes their product successful and recognizable the world over.  Ironically, while we do not know what is in the secret stuff, Americans continue to make the original Coke a leading soft drink in our culture.  Many people look at successful churches and wonder what makes them successful.  What is the “secret sauce” that causes churches or companies to grow and become impactful community wide?  While the ingredients and flavor may differ a little, based on culture, clientele, and other factors, the real secret to success is, in my view, not-so-secret. 

When it comes to the topic of success, all one needs to do is visit their local bookstore and reference the self-help, entrepreneurial, or business sections to be amidst a copious helping of manuscripts declaring a wide array of advice on the subject.  Volumes have been written on the how-to’s of success, and yet here I am daring to add to the pile.  Most instructional books about the subject of success are full of completely secular ideas, including the shortcuts to investing, insights to markets, start-up savvy, and plenty of self-promoting suggestions to get you the look and advantages you need to get your company noticed.  However, many fail to address the baselines of success; those areas which affect not only the bottom line of the company or corporation, but which also affect the outcomes of one’s cumulative successes or failures in life as an individual.

Having served in a variety of ministry and business environments, I want to bring to your thoughts a few undeniable factors in creating true success.  Prayerfully weigh them and apply them to your daily life.  I can guarantee you, no matter the culture, genuine success will always have the following ingredients.

I.  Honesty - The Integrity Factor:  Every child must be taught not to lie because every child has a proclivity to be dishonest, especially when the heat is on.  “Johnny, did you take a cookie from the cookie jar without permission?” “Sally, did you wash your hands before coming to the table?”  Upon being asked such questions, virtually every child suddenly feels their fallen nature come very much alive in his or her heart.  One of the challenges of growing older is to grow our character at the same rate as our body and mind.  Unless we are challenged and at times disciplined, dishonesty can become a latent factor in our lives, and as such, can begin the slow erosion of one’s morality.  It can show up initially as small, insignificant breeches.  Consider those who are habitually late for work; those spending an inordinate amount of work time on social media while on the job; exaggerating stories needlessly; fabricating excuses for certain behaviors, etc.  When honesty is in place, one has a baseline that allows others to build trust in you as a person and as an organization.  No excuses are necessary in the not-so-secret sauce.

I read recently of a man who came to interview for a job.  He was late and the boss asked if he knew the time.  He lied and said he did not know.  Then the boss asked for the email that had been sent to him.  When the email was produced, the time was there just as the employer knew and the prospective employee lied about.  There was no interview.  The boss dismissed the young man before the interview with admonition that he would not waste time interviewing someone who lacked the character to tell the truth.

I think of integrity in terms of a bridge.  The strength of the metal beams and concrete give the bridge integrity.  It is able to uphold tons of weight.  However, if the beams were compromised in some way or the concrete broken off it would not have the ability to uphold the weight of vehicles crossing.  Our lives hold responsibility based upon our integrity, and it translates into our ability to uphold jobs, relationships, tasks, and financial rewards entrusted to us.  So, may I invite you to simply tell the truth with your mouth and with your life?  It is a vital ingredient to success. 

II. Constitution - Sensitivity Factor:  Every person is created differently.  Not only do we have different color eyes and hair, but we also are inwardly different.  Some are introverted and some are extroverted.  Some have strong personalities and others have weaker personalities.  Studies have proven that our home environment and the influence of those who raised us has much to do with the development—or not—of these characteristics.  They can be changed for better with effort and practice.  

When it comes to the topic of success, there is a commonality I have seen among leaders.  It is the strength of constitution.  The constitution of an individual is not their personality, not the maximum lift on a bench press, and does not concern how well they speak or not in front of others.  One’s constitution is their inner strength.  Whether tall or short, loud or quiet, every great leader is fitted, either by will or by learning, with an inner strength that is unrelenting.  When a clear path is given, and conviction of destiny is purposed, success stems from an inward unwillingness to settle or to capitulate to lesser goals. 

Constitution faces down opposition like a fighter glaring down his opponent before a fight.  Inward strength has a built-in endurance to continue when others quit, and to believe when others lose faith, and consequent heart to carry on.  Constitution is part bravery, part stubbornness, and part unshakable belief in the cause.  Many are not aware they have it until something threatens their safety, their children, their future, or all the above.  I have seen single mothers awaken to an inner strength that was comparable to a lioness.  Success requires a wake-up call to the fortitude inside your fort.

When it comes to building the Kingdom of God, all one needs to do is look to the Bible for the record of men and women with unyielding constitutions.  The core beliefs and undying convictions outlived their mortal lives.  Of these incredible warriors it was written, “…these are they who turned the world upside down.”  Your church, your corporation, your start-up will find success after some battles and after others tell you it won’t last.  Success in some cases is the reward of out-lasting the opponent.  In every success, you will discover an internal fortitude that is unrelenting.  Find it and use it to your advantage.

III. Trust in God’s Way - Elevation Factor:  Within the lives of believers, and especially concerning the work of the church, there is an unshakable belief that God will work things out.  It’s called faith!  While we must prove ourselves trustworthy to God, we know trust is a two-way street.  We then learn to trust God and He learns to trust us.  Here is where the secular and the spiritual often take different pathways.  The secular complete depends upon the efforts and wisdom of man to create progress.  In the spiritual realm, man does his best but ultimately depends upon God for progress.  This is not to say human efforts are unimportant.  God places responsibility, which is another word for success, upon the shoulders of men and women who do the work in a humble manner.  God exalts those who give their best, not for their own vainglory, but for the honor of God.  

We simply must trust that the God who called us will also promote us in His own way and in His own time.  “Promotion comes not from the east or the west…”  Promotion comes from the north…from above!  It is God who promotes and gives success ultimately.  It is great to rest in the idea that God is who will determine the outcome.  You may feel like the least in the company.  You may feel like the most unqualified on the team.  Friend, you are in good company!  David felt the same, as did Moses and so many others who found themselves highly prized and promoted by God.  Do your best and leave the rest to the One who knows and determines all things.   

IV.   Timing - Seasonal Factor:  While you may be able to name a handful of companies and churches that have exploded in growth and success in a very short period of time, I will show you thousands more that have grown slowly and steadily with seasons of growth and seasons of pruning.  Which ones are more stable over time is up for debate.  The Bible states plainly that a blessed man will be like a tree. (Psalm 1) Trees grow so slowly it is sometimes painful to wait for them.  The all-wise God of the universe established this for their own health.  They must grow roots at the same rate or faster than they grow trunks and limbs for their own survival.  Sometimes I admit to being concerned about entities that appear to grow too quickly.  In ministry, I would rather see a young person with a trajectory toward long-term success than to see them rocket into ministerial notoriety and risk burn out.  I am not saying it is not possible to succeed quickly, but I am declaring it is a rarity and not the norm.  Nature teaches that great things require time and patience.    

The timing of seasons is God’s design.  “To everything there is a time and season…”  In nature there is fall, when things turn inward and the leaves fall and the season of harvest comes.  Winter is a time of rest and re-evaluation.  Spring is the time of beginning and new ideas.  The summer is the time of maturity and ripening.  Each one is vital to long-term health and is not to be left out.  I have gone to growth seminars and conferences where I admit to feeling as if they believe the only season we are to ever know is harvest.  Health is found in the experience of all the above.  

Trust the seasons.  “In due season you shall reap…”  God knows we do not need to be frustrated out of season.  Learn to be content in your season.  “You will reap if you do not faint.”  Ministries and companies often reach the point of ‘fainting’ or quitting out of frustration.  When their expectation is out of alignment with their season they can become frustrated.  Tides go out and tides come in.  People come and go.  Opportunities come and go.  Being aligned with the seasons allows one to be prepared to maximize the opportunities.  It would be a shame to be planting in the fall and frustrated at no harvest in the spring.

Understanding the times…the season…the ebbs and flows will enable you to rise above frustration when you are not always apparently growing.  Sometimes you are putting down roots and strategies for next planting season.

V.  Staying the Course - Faithfulness Factor:  I remember the sermon I heard Bill Hybels give in Atlanta many years ago.  He was transparent about the times when he wanted to quit as a pastor.  Ministry had lost its appeal and he felt, by his admission, burned out.  He contemplated handing in his resignation many times and even went so far as to write a resignation to his board.  Before handing it in, he placed it in the top drawer of his desk and went home to sleep on it overnight.  The next day he felt differently and threw the letter away.  Later the church hit its stride and became the famed “Willow Creek Church” that almost everyone knows about.  He said, “If at any time I had given in to the thought of quitting, Willow Creek would not exist.”  His entire sermon was about resisting the thought of quitting.  

Obviously, there is a time to let go for all of us.  In my opinion, that should be at a time of success and progress rather than at a time of discouragement and depression as is often the case.  Can I just let you know that one of the key ingredients to success, no matter the forum, is a willingness to continue when you really want to quit?  I can tell you from experience the continuum of success depends on a consistency of presence and perseverance.  

The question is, how do we handle the voices that urge us to throw in the towel?  In my view, we should have someone off whom we can bounce our truest feelings.  We need accountability partners who are not put off by our struggles.  Successful people leading successful organizations always have an up-line that can speak encouragement into their spirits and vision.  

Stay the course!  Think in terms of decades not days.  Make five and ten-year strategy plans.  They may or may not work as planned, but at least you are sending a signal to yourself and your team that you are not just here until the difficulties come.  Your grace under fire will preach a sermon you could not possibly write on paper.  

VI. How You Played the Game - Final Factor:  Weird as it sounds I recall walking through an old cemetery on Houston’s southeast side during my college days.  (No, it wasn’t a depressed moment…I was simply taking a walk!)  The old dates on the headstones brought to life the pains of living that had occurred generations long before mine.  I was impacted by the words…the one line epitaphs…the statements of faith and pain demonstrating the common hurts and faiths of every era.  Among them was a quote that struck me in the heart and remains to this day.  “When the Great Score-keeper of Life comes to call your name, He marks not if you won or lost, but how you played the game.”  

 As I have moved along in age and in life, the value of this statement is ever increasing.  Most of us are so engrossed in winning we often forget how we play the game.  Winning is on our minds.  Winning looks like bottom line numbers for the quarter.  Winning looks like new churches and progress that we can share with friends.  Winning is your name whispered and introductions to those in ‘big leagues.’  Winning is the corner office and a sign marking your reserved parking place.  But at the end of the day, God is not going to be impressed with who knew your name or in what political circles you ran.  God probably is not going to be overly impressed with the size of our congregations or if we made the Fortune 500.  He is interested in how we played the game.  Were we faithful…in little things?  Were we honest?  Did we care deeply about the people…or only about the numbers the people represented?  Did we get too big to be concerned for the little guy?  Were we kind?  Did we take time for our most important audience…our families? 

The final factor of successful churches and corporations is their unwillingness to compromise on the little, yet often most important, aspects of living life.  I believe the numbers and the things we call success are an outgrowth of the way we do the small and significant things very well.  May we never graduate from these aspects of success.

I wish you all the success in the world…but only if it is the right kind.  Play the game right.  Be honest and fair.  Live with integrity.  Let God elevate you.  Be strong.  Trust the timing of seasons.  Endure.  It’s the not-so-secret sauce that is available to all but used completely by very few.