Pastors Need to Be Encouraged

And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. (1 Samuel 23:16 NIV)

When I accepted the position of Executive Director for Louisiana Baptists, I made this promise:

Pastors will be encouraged. Churches are essential to our work, and spiritually healthy pastors are essential to healthy churches. I have been a pastor of four churches. Each church was a different size and had different strengths and weaknesses, but all required hard work. I want to encourage pastors through public ministry to them and private friendship with them to be all that God has called them to be. This will be my daily prayer, daily goal, and daily evaluation.

Years ago, I heard the Christian motivation speaker Zig Ziglar speak. The only thing I remember him saying is, “Who motivates the motivator?”

We could adjust the words slightly to say, “Who encourages the encourager?” Who preaches to the preacher?” “Who ministers to the minister?” “Who counsels the counselor?” “Who pastors the pastor?”

Your pastor needs all of this. We all need a Jonathan to come alongside of us to help us find strength in God.

My friend Scott, at the time a doctoral student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, was taking his written examinations. Written examinations—a grueling three-day test of perseverance—occur half-way through the doctoral program. This three-day period can be a very lonely experience. Another friend of ours knew that Scott was taking these tests. He arranged with the professor to put a note in Scott’s test packet. The note simply read, “Scott, here’s a dollar. When you have your break today, buy a soda on me. I’m praying for you.”

That story has always reminded me that encouragement does not have to be expensive, just thoughtful and intentional.

I pray that all of us find meaningful ways to encourage our pastors this month.

Helping Your Pastor Find His Strength in God

James Stewart was a pastor’s friend. James is the kind of man that every pastor needs one or two, or five of, if he is going to survive. Our memories of James are many. He lived across the street from us in our first pastorate. We cut grass together, ate many meals together, went to football games together, and sometimes investigated strange noises in the middle of the night.

Though he worked long hours as a department manager in a local grocery store and cared for his numerous brothers and sisters, James was faithful. Sometimes I have said that if it wasn’t for James Stewart, I might not have continued in ministry. James encouraged us and believed in us when things could not have been worse at that first church.

Pastors need to be encouraged. The Bible records the relationship between Jonathan and David. There is a particular verse that gives great example to the kind of encouragement pastors need.

And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. (1 Samuel 23:16 NIV) Do you see that phrase?

Church, your pastor doesn’t need you to just be nice or say nice things (although, that doesn’t hurt). He needs you to help him find his strength in God.

Thoughtful Encouragement

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24 NIV)

Miss Mary Olive McPhaul, Dean McPhaul, as most called her, was a faithful member and Sunday School teacher of First Baptist Church, Lafayette, until her death. Dean McPhaul came to Lafayette, and to the university there, as Associate Dean of Women in 1957. She retired as Dean of Student Life some four decades later. Though she never married or had children of her own, she was “like a mother” to decades of students.

She realized that one of her chief callings in life was to be an encourager. She certainly encouraged me with her affirming words, but also with specific action. Once she kept telling me that she wanted to do something for me, but did not know what to do. I kept telling her that she did not have to do anything for me, but pray. She insisted until one day she called me with the established plans of what she had planned for me. Actually what she wanted to do for me would be for my son, who was about nine years old at the time and crazy about all things related to sports.  She had arranged for my son and me to have a complete tour of all of the athletic facilities at our university, guided by the head baseball coach. We saw every inch of field, locker room, weight room, and training room, all along the way meeting various coaches and athletes who happened to be in the buildings at the time.  For my son, the day is a special memory.  For me, the day holds special meaning because the sole purpose was for my encouragement.

That’s exactly what the writer of Hebrews meant when he wrote, “And let us consider…” The goal was encouragement.  If that is the goal, he instructed us to give some thought to how we seek to encourage. Do you want to encourage someone today? Give it some thought before you take specific action.

October is Pastor’s Appreciation Month. The way that you show your appreciation need not be expensive, but let it be thoughtful.

Three Significant Numbers for Louisiana Baptists

Jaromir Jagr is one of the greatest hockey players of all time. He always wore the number 68 in remembrance of his late grandfather. His grandfather, also named Jaromir Jagr, was killed in the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia during the Spring Rebellion in 1968. Though young Jaromir was not born until 1972, his grandmother told him of his late grandfather’s bravery, courage, and willingness to die for freedom.  The hockey playing Jaromir Jagr has always worn the number 68 as motivation and a reminder of his grandfather’s heroism in 1968.

So, who or what is your 68? Who is it that drives your passion and motivates you? Everyone has a number 68.

Every church has a number 68.

So, I have been guided by several numbers in my first four months as Executive Director for Louisiana Baptists.

4,652,321

This is the population of Louisiana. Every single one of these is precious in God’s sight. Every single person represents someone loved by God. Every single one needs to be evangelized and made disciples. EVERY ONE!

33

This is the number of identifiable municipalities in Louisiana with a population greater than 3,000 where there is no Southern Baptist church.

We will not rest until we have a church in every one of these 33 places. Perhaps God wants your church to be responsible for planting a church in one of these places.

1

Who is your one? If all of us would intentionally focus on one, what a difference we could make? If every Louisiana Baptist would catch the vision of “one” what a difference we could make?

What’s your number?

It’s Been a Great Week!

I have been the Executive Director for Louisiana Baptists for a little over four months now. This week was probably my favorite. The week brought a lot of firsts. In addition to preaching my first Shepherd’s Rest Sunday (our Convention’s program to offer a Louisiana pastor a month’s sabbatical) at Faith Baptist in Livonia, I also preached at my first Association meeting for the Acadia Association. This enthusiastic crowd was celebrating their 100thAnnual Meeting. This week also brought my first Executive Board meeting and first staff meeting with our entire Louisiana Baptist Convention staff. The spirit in both of these meetings was encouraging to me. Friday, I will conclude the week by travelling to Monroe to be part of the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home and Family Ministries Board meeting.

At our Executive Board meeting, in my report, I shared two critical questions for the next decade. The questions are not just for our Executive Board, but for all Louisiana Baptists, so I share them here.

Will we allow our diversity to divide us and distract us from our primary mission?

Will we require uniformity in order to cooperate for our primary mission?

What about it Louisiana Baptists? Can we agree that Louisiana is spiritually lost and desperately needs Jesus?

I hope you are making plans to join us for our Annual meeting in Alexandria on November 11-12.

Praying Today for the Southern Baptist Convention

Last evening I had the great pleasure of attending a worship service that had as one of its purposes the dedication and consecration of Dr. Ronnie Floyd as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The service was deeply meaningful to me. The service was worshipful, hopeful, and invitational. I don’t think I have ever been around Dr. Floyd when I didn’t feel inspired when I left. His deep faith in God is evident.

The service was invitational in that the service concluded with a charge to all in attendance to surrender to whatever God is calling each one to do.

I hope that you will take a moment today to pray for Dr. Ronnie Floyd.

In assuming this leadership role, Dr. Floyd has outlined “Five Keys for Transforming the Culture in the Southern Baptist Convention.” They are:

  1. Living and breathing Gospel urgency
  2. Empowering all churches, all generations, all ethnicities, and all languages
  3. Telling and celebrating what God is doing
  4. Loving others like Jesus loves
  5. Prioritizing, elevating, and accelerating generosity

Then, Dr. Floyd has outlined a clear and concise vision—reaching the world for Christ.

I believe that these are goals that Louisiana Baptists want to embrace. Let’s Go! Let’s pray! Let’s believe God for extraordinary things!

A 9/11 Remembrance

Near the end of the Old Testament, we read the prophecies of Amos, Obadiah, and Jonah. Read together, these three Old Testament Prophets challenge us to think about our national enemies as we once again commemorate the tragedy of 2001 that will forever be called “9-11.”

Amos, like all other prophets, prophesied of the coming judgment against Israel and Judah.  Amos’ message of judgment starts against the enemies of Israel and gets increasingly tighter until the message “zeroes” in on Israel. The significance of this progression is that judgment is certain. The opportunity for repentance has passed.  However, there is the hint that Israel could have avoided judgment if they would have heeded God’s seriousness toward sin. Likewise, the message for America today is “We must learn from the mistakes of our enemies.

Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament. We know very little about Obadiah or the exact perspective from which he wrote. We do understand that his prophecy targeted Edom—an enemy of Israel.

Obadiah’s preaching was likely a message to encourage Israel during the days of exile or immediately following exile. His preaching would have pointed to God’s judgment against Israel’s enemies. As we commemorate the anniversary of September 11, we should continue to find hope in God to deal justly and rightly with our enemies. So, here is the lesson: “We must trust God with our enemies.

The book of Jonah contains the account of Jonah’s call to preach to Ninevah, his refusal to go, his preaching to Ninevah, and the result. The whole reason that Jonah seems to run from God is that he knows that God will relent if the people repent. Jonah seems to be enamored with the thought of these people facing the judgment of God. Out of this story, we see God’s great love for mankind. There is no one God does not love and will not offer salvation. Let us pray that we catch God’s vision in this regard. Again, in light of the events of September 11, are we praying that God might save those who are our enemies? Or, would we be glad to see them face the wrath of God? If we cannot pray for their salvation, we have not begun to understand the great love of God. What’s the lesson? As we think about the horrible events of 9/11, “We must pray for the salvation of our enemies.

I’m Thinking about Getting a Tattoo

Ha! Now I’ve got your attention. People who know me well know that there is no chance that I’m getting a tattoo. I have my reasons, but among those is the simple fact that I do not like (Okay, it is more like a phobia) of needles. There is no way that I am ever going to volunteer to have anything to do with that which involves needles.

The other day my wife and I were having a conversation about the fact that we are increasingly in the minority of those who do not have a tattoo. So, we had this fun and silly conversation (okay it was sarcastic) about what our tattoo would say IF we were to get a tattoo. We both agreed that IF (in another universe) we were to get a tattoo, the tattoo would have to mean something incredibly significant.

Not long ago I was with a group of men of which one had a large and noticeable tattoo. As though it was as common a question as could be asked, another man in our group asked about the tattoo, “What does your tattoo mean?” The tattooed man gave a very lengthy answer. I was impressed. I was intrigued. Not enough to think about getting my own, mind you, but still impressed with the thoughtful answer.

For the believer, baptism is something of a tattoo. Baptism marks us! Baptism identifies us with our belief. Baptism is a distinguishing mark of outward appearance symbolic of a deeply held inward belief.

The first question of baptism is “Who should be baptized?” Baptism should be reserved for those who have identified with Christ.

Consider these key scriptures:

Acts 2:37-41 helps us to understand who should be baptized. Some people, in error, read verse 38 to mean that an individual is not saved until he/she is baptized. However, the record of the whole counsel of God negates this understanding. Just a few verses later, Luke tells us this in Acts 3:19.

Acts 3:19 helps us to clarify that repentance and faith result in salvation. This verse gives no mention of baptism in the process of salvation. The early church so closely associated repentance and baptism that to speak of one was to speak of the other. However, the emphasis in salvation is repentance and faith.

In giving directions, we leave out details depending on our audience. Depending on the situation, sometimes details are left out, but the assumption is that the listener would know how to understand. That appears to be the difference in Acts 2 and Acts 3.

Who should be baptized? Any person who has come to that place of understanding that eternal life is found in faith in Jesus Christ. In baptism, we identify with the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we have believed that, we need to declare that.

This Sunday, September 8, is Baptism Sunday in Southern Baptist churches. Our elected president of the SBC, J.D. Greear, has called on every Southern Baptist Church to baptize this Sunday. I can’t wait for this Sunday to see what happens in our churches. I’m going to be preaching on the subject of baptism at the church where I have been invited to preach—First Baptist, Haughton, LA.

I’m looking forward to hearing reports from our churches in Louisiana.

Labor Day Reflections

When I was kid, my dad would proudly proclaim, “We are going to labor on Labor Day.” That usually translated into using his day off to catch up on some chores that had been neglected through the summer. I’m probably exaggerating some, but my memory seems to indicate that Labor Day was all-day laboring in the yard. While others went to the lake or binged on the Jerry Lee Lewis Telethon, we labored.

In High School and College, Labor Day for me always meant an extra hard and long football practice because it was Monday and we did not have school. As an adult, unfortunately some Labor Days have meant hurricane watch or hurricane clean-up.

So, forgive me if Labor Day is pretty far down my list of favorite holidays. The History Channel webpage suggests that Labor Day is intended “to pay tribute to the contributions of the American laborer.”

Traditionally observed on the first Monday of September, the roots of Labor Day are in riots of overworked, abused, and unhappy workers. The official holiday was the attempt of Congress to repair ties with the American worker.

Today, Labor Day is celebrated (or lamented) as the end of the summer and the kick-off of football season. Can I get an Amen?

Though I complained as a kid, I am thankful for my labor on this earth. In celebration of Labor Day Weekend, let me offer these simple reminders.

  1. Be thankful for your work. Your work serves as a means to provide for your family, contribute to the work of the kingdom, and bless others.
  2. Renew your commitment to do your work as unto the Lord. Followers of Jesus should be the absolute best employees and employers. (Colossians 3:23)
  3. Ask God to help you to be an ambassador for Christ on your job. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

Praise God for the reminder that one day, in Christ, we will be at rest from our labors. (Revelation 14:13) But until then, we are going to labor . . . all for the glory of God.

The Defining Moment of Baptism

Our lives are sprinkled with defining moments—moments that shape the rest of our lives, moments that are so important that the rest of our lives hang in the balance of these moments.

Today, I want to explore with you the defining moment of baptism.

Some years ago, I was on a follow-up FAITH (our church’s organized evangelism effort) visit with one of our men. We were visiting a gentleman who had prayed to receive Christ with another team. The man had not yet been baptized, and we were going to visit with him that particular evening about baptism.

We began by reviewing the Gospel and his decision. He very clearly gave evidence of his commitment to Christ, but indicated to us that he had no intention of being baptized. One reason was his age. Another reason had to do with his hesitancy to stand before such a large crowd. We listened compassionately to his story that I had heard many times before from others and was waiting to interject all of the reasons that he should be baptized. Waiting for an appropriate place to break into the conversation, my partner said, “Well that’s ok, you don’t have to be baptized if you don’t want to be baptized.” I just about lost it. I didn’t say anything, but I was thinking about all the things I was going to say to my friend when we got back to the car.

Then, my friend proceeded with his own personal testimony. He said, “When I first was introduced to Jesus, I had the same reaction as you. I believed in Him for salvation and the forgiveness of my sin, but I said I will never be baptized. And then something happened. The Lord convicted me that I should be baptized. And then I got baptized, not because I had to be baptized, but because I wanted to be baptized. And when I came to that place where I wanted to be baptized, nobody was going to keep me from being baptized.”

My friend was instantly a genius in my eyes. The question always comes up “Do I have to be baptized to go to Heaven?” We are saved by grace. We cannot add anything to that work of grace—not even a good thing like baptism. But, there is another question to ponder. Why would a person be a follower of Jesus and not want to be baptized?

Who should be baptized? Any person who has come to that place of understanding that eternal life is found in faith in Jesus Christ. In baptism, we identify with the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we have believed that, we need to declare that.

A little girl asked her pastor, “Can I get advertised?”  She meant baptized, but she had it right, because our baptism is our advertisement, our public declaration that we identify with Jesus.