A Pastor’s Wife on Pastor Appreciation Month

You should know I count my dear wife, Margi, as the greatest gift God ever gave me besides salvation. Brave, strong, kind, true, generous, never quitting, dedicated, hard-working, smart, fun, funny, and beautiful. She asked me to share this with you… Please use the share buttons below if you’d like to encourage the pastors and ministers in your life.

October is pastor appreciation month. I am a pastor’s wife. I grew up in church. I came to hear the sermon, which sometimes I loved, sometimes I criticized and sometimes I daydreamed through. I came selfishly to hear what I needed to hear to carry me through the week. I actually never once gave a thought about what the person delivering the sermon had faced that week, that month or that year. Until I married a pastor.

I now know that my husband has to deliver his sermon extolling God’s goodness and grace, His provision, His love and kindness – no matter what.

  • When there is financial pressure and he wonders how he will ever retire, he still needs to preach that God will provide.
  • When there is bad news from the doctor for him or those he loves, he still needs to speak of God’s great love.
  • When illness hits and there seems to be no relief and no response to prayer, he still needs to teach God is the Great Healer, Jehovah Rapha.
  • When his wife cries and wonders why God doesn’t seemingly answer prayers, and his heart breaks watching her struggle with this, he still needs to preach that God answers prayers.
  • When he is sad, he must still declare the joy of the Lord.
  • When his children are hurt or wounded, he continues to preach that God loves the little children, even though it would be easy to not find love.
  • When unspeakable loss is suffered, he still proclaims that God will restore.
  • When it seems that God is taking forever to answer a prayer and he becomes impatient, he must still utter words declaring patience and longsuffering.
  • When he wants to be angry and bitter in spirit, he must reflect God’s kindness and caring.
  • When he has been hurt so deeply by someone, especially someone close to him or someone in his congregation, he must set aside pettiness and preach that vengeance is God’s and forgiveness is needed.
  • When his heart’s prayers for mercy seem to find no answer, he must still trumpet amazing grace.

Dear churchgoer, stop and take a moment to consider the person that feeds you from God’s Word. He is not a super human. He is human. He suffers the same losses, fears, sadness, uncertainties, questions that you face. He does not have a “you are godly” shield accorded to him so that the ills of life bounce off him or his family. He is not immune from the trials of life. Indeed, Satan would love nothing better than to see an effective leader stumble and fail.

In truth, I have learned that the man of God that stands before you week after week is a sensitive human being who silently faces the battles of life and bows his head and prostates himself on the mercies of God because sometimes he can no longer function under his own power. He is not immune from the battles of life that scar the soul and wrench the heart. He just needs to get up week after week and summon the Holy Spirit to speak through him to encourage, educate, challenge, mobilize, and yes, sometimes even amuse you.

This October please take a moment to thank your pastor for the incredible calling he/she answered. It is a calling that requires more than most of us would ever really give thought. It is an honor, and yet an incredible challenge. Pray for those men and women who serve God’s call. Show your love and care. Who knows? Maybe that person that has served you for years desperately needs to be encouraged and uplifted in prayer. Satan is a mighty adversary. Maybe that the man or woman that is called to meet your needs now needs your hand to lift him up and your shoulder to lean on.

And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13, NKJV).

~ by Margi Giovannetti, Facebook.com/Margaret.Giovannetti

October is Pastor’s Appreciation Month and the 2nd Sunday of each October is Pastor Appreciation Sunday. Encourage those who encourage you. Sharing is appreciated.

 

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They Always Blame the Christians

piling onThe corrupt leaders of ancient Rome wagged the finger of blame at Christians, making them convenient scapegoats for society’s ills, ranging from run-away taxation to crop-failure. Because Christians have a built-in mechanism to admit their imperfections, they didn’t defend themselves very well. This, in turn, made them food for lions.

I witnessed yesterday yet another popular Christian author piling-on the church as the “main cause of atheism.” His quote made the rounds on Facebook. If we Christians weren’t so dang un-Christian, the popular author implied, the atheists of the world would quickly bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Not so fast.

Continue reading

Three Myths about Grace

freight-train-rail-photo-0002

1980s: How are you doing? Fine, thank you.

1990s: How are you doing? Great.

2000s: How are you doing? Awesome!

2010s: How are you doing? Epic!!!!!!!

Over time, words lose their meaning. Like cars hooked together on a train, words carry freight. That freight consists of meaning and emotion (denotation and connotation, to be showy). Apparently, for some words, the freight leaks out. We use and overuse words to the point they have little meaning. If you tell me your day has been awesome or epic, I am sure you mean neither “that which produces jaw-dropping awe mingled with dread at powers beyond comprehension” or “worthy of universal acclaim and a big fat book like the Odyssey.” What you mean is “fine,” as our grandparents would say.

Word deflation. Continue reading

Dear Anne Rice

“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.” (From Anne Rice’s Facebook page)

Dear Ms Rice,

One of the qualities I love about you is your transparency. I’ve enjoyed a couple of your novels. Your testimony of conversion to Christ is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever read. Thank you for leading with your heart, and not hiding your truth.

I understand the temptation to call it quits on the church — the collected people of God. As a Dad with two kids, I understand the feeling of utter exasperation at their squabbles. God’s people have been at each other for two thousand years.

It’s frustrating.

But as your brother in Christ, I’d like to respectfully ask you to reconsider. I’d like to invite you to chalk up your “I quit” remarks to a person having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day… learn from it, and move on.  Much like an alienated daughter returning cautiously to Thanksgiving dinner with the dysfunctional family.

Please consider two central reasons to stay in community with the living, tarnished saints:

1. Jesus hasn’t quit being our Savior.

In your conversion story, you write, “I believe in what we celebrate this week: the scandal of the cross and the miracle of the Resurrection. My belief is total.” That scandalous cross wiped clean the spotty record of every child of God, both of us included. He erased our sins, once for all, and sat down at the right hand of God.

Anne, when you quit on Christians, don’t you a little bit quit on Christ? Don’t you spotlight sins he has forgiven? …sins heaven has forgotten?  Yes, they are all too real to us. But hasn’t God revealed his limitless forgiveness?

  • As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalms 103:12, NKJV).
  • Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy. (Micah 7:18, NKJV).
  • He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19, NKJV).

When Jesus hung on that cross, he effected humankind’s reconciliation with God. He did this through an atonement so deep, that the Infinite Mind of God has chosen to Forget his children’s sins.  And not through a legal fiction, but through the full payment of the ransom price via the precious blood of Christ. That humankind can fellowship with God is a mystery of love and grace we’ll never fathom.

He saved us. By that salvation, Jesus created something that never existed before: a UNITED FAMILY OF GOD.

  • There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:4-6, NKJV).

The unity is true. Jesus died to create it. It is our core identity. Our truth. Our ontological reality. Our adoption papers in heaven prove it.

  • There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28, NKJV).

Anne, as long as Jesus remains Savior, the church remains one, no matter how much we squabble. The reconciliation he effected is not only vertical, but horizontal. Person to person. Family to family. Tribe to tribe.

As Savior he made us one. That’s the first basis for my invitation to stay in the family. Here’s my second:

2. Because he hasn’t stopped being our Sanctifier, either.

As Savior he made us one. As Sanctifier he makes us united.

Jesus prayed…

  • “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: (John 17:22, NKJV).

He prayed for our oneness to be brought into reality. He prayed for the actualization of our reality. Every Christ-follower who pulls away from that oneness only postpones the answer to Christ’s prayer. Yet one more cat to be herded back to the flock.

Anne, you might follow the steps of countless others who’ve given up on the institutional church. I get it. I’m a pastor, and I’ve been pulled that way a thousand times. I live and breath church people. I see the dark side daily. But I can’t get past this:

The unity of the church is Christ’s own creation. It is his gift to the world. We who have embraced him as Savior share the same last name. We don’t act like it all the time, but it’s true. Jesus loves the church. Please don’t hate what Jesus loves. Please don’t pull away from what Jesus is calling you into.

The church contains the mystery of Christ in us (Col. 1:27). He lives in us to sanctify us — to make us into what he says we are. This is his work, his effort, his grace. He never stops. When Christ moved within, he didn’t come with an off-switch. He always lives to sanctify us — to baby-step us closer and closer to his own radiant image. We display his likeness to the world, not only as individuals, but as a close-knit body, in community. Christ, our sanctifier.

Sanctification is a process. In a sense, we build on our spiritual ancestors, but in a deeper sense, each generation starts over. We grow toward Christ-likeness, and we grow together… and when we die, it’s the next generation’s turn to model this in the world. Let’s hand down the most united church we possibly can.

Anne, doesn’t your decision echo that of the servant who received the cancellation of a debt from his master but wouldn’t cancel fellow debtor’s (much smaller) debt (Matt 18:23-35)?

To pull away from the community of believers — I don’t care what kind of community you prefer, no matter how loosely or tightly organized — is to pull away from the primary means by which Jesus delivers his love, grace, and truth into the world. I hope you stay connected. I hope you find a church, a house church, a fellowship, or a Bible study and prayer group… any group that incarnates the love of Christ, and the truth of Scripture and delivers the gospel of grace to the world.

Anne, I personally apologize to you for my contribution to the disputatiousness of the church. I’m sorry for our “deserved infamy.” I felt bad when I read your Facebook posts. I’m sorry.

Making sausage is ugly, but something delicious happens when it’s done, this I believe.

Anne, please, stay. I’d like to invite you to our imperfect community in Redding. But you really don’t need to come here. God has his outposts in every place… please don’t give up looking.

I miss you.

Your Brother,

Bill Giovannetti

Comeback!

Here’s a sermon on making a spiritual comeback and renewing your dream from God. Open your Bible to Joshua 8 and follow along…

Click here to download a sermon transcript (.pdf) so you can follow along.

God’s Power for God’s People, 2

lightning“God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s supply.” So said famous missionary to India, William Carey. We could also say, “God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s power.”  The question on the table, however, is how do we obtain that power?

I’ve suggested there are four sources, they play together nicely, and we need to know how to use them. The previous post identifies the first two: (1) the Holy Spirit; (2) the Word of God built into our psyches.  Here are the last two:

3. CHRIST IN YOU.  This is the beautiful mystery that Christianity offers the world:  Christ in you, the hope of glory.  We are not simply following a set of guidelines, we are also following a risen Savior, who, in a mystical way, has been united with us so as to indwell us.

  • ““I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” John 17:23, NKJV.
  • “And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Romans 8:10, NKJV.
  • “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,” Ephesians 3:17, NKJV.

jesusshipswheelJesus came into us at the very moment of the new birth. We became one with him, in a new identity. For the rest of our lives, he will exert an inward pressure to transform our lives. The goal is to make us Christ-like, not in our personality, but in our character: love, joy, mission, goodness, courage, integrity, and so on.

Many people fear that Christ will suck their personality out of them, and make them Jesus-people robot clones. Not so. He will only add color to your personality, and dig through the mountains of crud that bury the real you. He will make you sparkle. Christ-in-you is the greatest overlooked truth in this generation of Christians.  Only Jesus can live the WWJD lifestyle, and he intends to do it again, through you.

When Christ comes in, he doesn’t come with an off switch. You can’t make him stop conforming you to Christ. You can either fight him–and go crazy–or cooperate with him–and find your life.

You might say, “If Christ is in me, he’s not doing a very good job.” I’ve felt that way too.  How do you get things moving with Christ’s indwelling power?

  • ““I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20, NKJV.

christicon“I live by faith,” said Paul. We should too. It is faith, not magic, not super-piety, not cosmic karma, that makes the difference. Simple trust that when I need Jesus to work, he will. A repeated turning from my own power to Christ’s power. You exchange your power for Christ’s power.

I wrote about The Grace Script in chapter 15 of the Inner Mess book.  As often as you catch yourself doing God’s work by your own strength, you need to recenter yourself on Christ.  You say two words to Jesus: Oops! and Okay!

  • Oops, Lord… I’ve been working in my own strength, and I’m frustrated. I’m scared I can’t succeed. I’m smudging your glory. I’m blowing it…
  • Okay, Jesus… I need your love, your strength, your wisdom here.  So as I go forward, I’ll trust you (faith).

That is what Jesus meant when he told us to “abide in him.” He could have just as easily said, “Confide him him.”

The cool thing is that when you trust/confide/put faith in Jesus — who lives in you now that you’re saved — he NEVER disappoints you.  He never fails you or lets you down. His power immediately goes to work in your present-tense situation.  He works through you, in you, around you. He is there.

And, this is the most important truth… a genuine, bona fide paradox…

His power works in you no matter how you feel.

Because there is no official feeling of the power of God. He works in your weakness, right?

  • “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9, NKJV.

fireworksNotice… the power of Christ rests on you when you feel like crap. Quit looking for fireworks. Quit doubting God because you didn’t feel fireworks.  Even if you feel weak, scared, confused, or doubting… step forward in FAITH, and trust that Christ is at work in you, through you, and around you. He NEVER disappoints.

That moment of faith is your shining moment, especially when you feel at your worst.

It is your glory.

It is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:27).

It is POWER.

Okay… so I baited and switched you.  There is one more source of power, and I’ll post that one next time.

The Insanity and Bliss blog is featuring the Inner Mess book today!  So cool. Kim, the author, interviewed me and is giving away TWO FREE BOOKS.  So check out her blog today…  I’m really honored to be featured on her blog.   (She’s posting at noon, her time, so if it’s not up yet, please check again.)

Procrastinator

procrastinators_timeI’ve just posted a new Inner Mess Character Profile… Meet your Inner Procrastinator!  When you feel like getting around to it, click the links.  There are two versions… a colorful one for fun, and a black & white one for printing.

Click over to the Inner Mess website for the free download.

A Word to Preachers

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. (2 Corinthians 4:7, NKJV).

It will be my privilege to teach a preaching class next semester, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the deeper levels of preaching.  To me, it is the highest, most glorious calling a person can have.  I magnify the office–meaning, I make a big deal about the task and position of preaching.

Aside from personal qualifications of a genuine life with God and a thick hide, it seems to me that you can’t preach well, and certainly not for the long haul, without two indispensable qualities.  Okay, there are dozens of indispensable qualities, but here are the two I’m thinking about today:

1.  A theological system.  Preaching isn’t just about communicating, it’s about communicating “something.” Back in my youth pastor days, a guest speaker came to my church.  I’m a pretty positive guy (though years in ministry can peck that out of you), so afterwards, I commented that the speaker might have been light on content, but he was very eloquent.  My friend, Terry, shot back, “Yeah.  So he said nothing… well.”  He said nothing well.  

Have a theology, and let that shine through your preaching.

Indulge me while I quote one of my favorite authors, the incomparable Dorothy Sayers (friend of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings)…

“It is a lie to say that doctrine does not matter; it matters enormously. It is fatal to let poeple suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe.”

“It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealist aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism.”

“If the average person is to be interested in Christ at all, it is the doctrine that will provide the interest. The trouble is that, in nine cases out of ten, he or she has never been offered the doctrine. What has been offered is a set of technical theological terms that nobody has taken the trouble to translate into language relevant to ordinary life.”

Can I get an Amen?

The problem, of course, is choosing which theological system to stick with.  I grew up Dispensational and Fundamentalist.  Today I would call myself Evangelical, though that word is going the way of Fundamentalist–I don’t know what word will replace it, not yet at least.  You can be Reformed, Arminian, Calvinist, Pentecostal, Charismatic… about a half dozen Protestant, Evangelical categories.

I say, pick one.  God works through all of them (when they uphold the authority of Scripture).  There are godly followers of Jesus in all of them. There are great biblical scholars in all of them. Pick a system and master it. Learn it.  Be able to defend it. Know its authors, its proponents.  Know its alternatives and where you differ from other systems. Own it.  Be it.  Feel it.  Live it.  

You’re the preacher, master your content.

And when you preach, let it shape your preaching.  Preaching is like chipping a sculpture out of a giant block of marble, and you only get one hammer blow per week… the rest of the week, you polish and clean and soothe where you chipped.  It takes years.  Unless you work from a master blueprint in your mind, you will undo tomorrow what you have done today.  Your theological system keeps you from driving your hearers crazy with inconsistencies, whether subtle or grand.

Above all, when you preach, preach your “system” with passion, but stay charitable toward those in other systems.  The Lord knows we Christians have enough intra-mural fighting going on… don’t add to it. God uses every system that upholds the supreme authority of Scripture for faith and practice.  Pick a theological system, and tweak it if you must–it keeps you from reinventing the wheel.  

The second indispensable quality is like the first:

2. A viewpoint on sanctification.  Sanctification answers the question of HOW can I be a WWJD person? How can I do what Jesus would do?  By what power?  What is the process by which God conforms me to the image of Christ?  How does a person become more and more Christlike?

If you can’t answer those questions, don’t preach. 

Your flock gathers discouraged and weary from the weekly grind.  They long to know the power of Jesus in their lives.  Not another set of techniques to fix their budget or to ease hunger in Africa–though these are crucial.  First and foremost they wonder how to live like Jesus.  And you have to tell them.  You have to disciple them.  Or else their campaigns to fix the world’s problems will come across as just another failed Crusade. 

Because preaching should contribute to sanctification. It should both motivate and contribute to your hearers’ spiritual growth.  Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17, NKJV).

Paul said, “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32, NKJV).

We create endless frustration in the church of Jesus when we spout mutually contradictory fragments of an ill-formed view on sanctification.  So one week, your listeners hear you say that you need to walk in the Spirit, or be filled with the Spirit, or else they can’t please God.  And two weeks later, you’re telling them to tough it out and subdue their ungodly passions… and you never put that together with walking in the Spirit, and show how the two fit together.  You drive your listeners crazy… and not only that,  you make them give up on the WWJD ideal.  They’re so frustrated they think it’s impossible.

J.I. Packer’s book, Keep in Step With the Spirit, outlines and critiques four or five views on Sanctification.  I would describe mine as a modified-Keswick view.  Then there is the Augustinian view (which Packer supports), and the Charismatic view.  There are several views on the biblical path to holiness.  Once again, I say pick one.  Know it.  Master it.  Read its literature. Make a biblical case for it. Play nice with other views…

And let that view of sanctification shape every sermon you preach.  This is the only way to build a coherent view of life with Jesus in the minds of your hearers.

It is an act of love and kindness not to confuse your flock.  Don’t lead them south one week and north the next.  They’ll get seasick.  Mark out a course… theologically and practologically, and steer a steady course.  

For many, many years.

And don’t hesitate to change your mind, and say so, when God’s Word brings you around to my way of thinking!!!

Sanctification, What is It?

For Steve, since you asked.. 🙂

1. TERMS: Let’s start by recognizing that in some contexts, it is synonymous with salvation. But that’s not the norm. In most contexts, the idea of sanctification occupies the time/space between your salvation and your death. The words in both Greek and Hebrew mean “to make holy.”

What is it, and how does it happen? Continue reading

Love, pt. 2

Finally, part 2 to the love posting… you can scroll down a little for part 1.

My point is simply this: to love the way Jesus loved, a Christian must grow to maturity.

Should I stop right there, or elaborate? Ummm… Okay. Christian maturity, as a category of teaching, has kind of fizzled. I don’t hear or read much about it. Scripture abounds with apostolic and prophetic encouragements to press on to maturity:

  • “Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,” Heb 6:1, NASB.
  • “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Heb 5:12-14.
  • “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” Col 1:28.
  • “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect [mature] and complete, lacking in nothing.” Jas 1:4. Continue reading