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Authentic New Testament Solutions

On Being Stable

God has established two institutions to help us all live healthy and strong lives—the family and the church. Since human beings make up our families and our churches, there are glaring flaws in both. Even so, those who mature wisely draw great mental, physical, and spiritual stability from participating in these institutions. And interestingly, the two entities work well together. If the family becomes dysfunctional, the church has the ability to make up the gap. If the church becomes dysfunctional, the family has the ability to make up the gap. So ultimately, we can all live better lives and be more stable in every way by learning how to build healthy families and churches.

ABC News reports that eighty-three percent of Americans self-identify as Christians. Most of the rest, 13 percent, identify as having no religion. That leaves just 4 percent as adherents of all non-Christian religions combined — Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and a smattering of individual mentions. That means that 83% of our population shares some degree of common direction by believing that the Bible at least includes the Word of God and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who demonstrated for all of us what God is really like.

Inherent in having a foundation of Christian faith is the core value of embracing forgiveness and kindness instead of revenge and fear, and contributing to the health and strength of our families and our churches. Doing so creates a very different world than many human beings currently survive in. I believe everything we do is a combination of five desires within all of us: survival, love and belonging, freedom, power, and fun. When we do our part to create a healthy family, everyone in the family can have those five basic needs satisfied. When we do our part to create a healthy church that our family participates in, more people in our community can have those five basic human needs satisfied. In contrast, when the family and/or church gets sick, we start trying to survive without having our needs being met in a healthy way.

So how do we do our part to build a healthy family and participate in a healthy church? We read our Bibles, ourselves, to glean life-giving ideas that “teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. The Bible corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16b-17).

The first few verses of the book of Proverbs explain the purpose of the proverbs. We can apply this explanation to all of Scripture, which is a strong motivation to read the whole Bible and apply it. Proverbs 1:2-6 says,

“Their (the Proverbs) purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair.

“These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young. Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables, the words of the wise and their riddles.”

What a wonderful world we would be living in if we who identify as Christians would simply read and apply the Scriptures. To grasp this idea, read and re-read, then think about the previous two paragraphs from Proverbs. Maybe you could talk about those two paragraphs with someone. Why? Because sometimes we have a tendency to read the Bible just to pick up a few nice ideas, or maybe find good points or suggestions for addressing meetings or preparing sermons. Certainly that is better than never being exposed to the Scriptures. But generally that approach does not get rid of our ignorance of the true meaning of the Scriptures, and leaves the Bible unnecessarily ineffective in our lives. That approach engenders superficiality, both mentally and spiritually.

I’ve seen it too many times. People live their lives as they please until tragedy strikes. Then they randomly ask God to give them guidance through Scripture, or to intervene supernaturally in their situations to relieve their pain. When I see this, I’m reminded that it’s too late to think about fire prevention after your house is burning down, or to start thinking about your health after your second heart attack. You still might be able to get help, but it would have been better for you if you had prepared before your bad day.

Same with the good life God has for all of us. The Word of God was never meant merely for hurried consultations. The Bible was written for study and contemplation, and it was compiled so we can know the Word of God as a whole. Becoming a student of God’s Word can give any of us knowledge of God’s personality and dealings with others so that we can gain depth, richness, and fullness to every dimension of our lives. It teaches us, so we can enjoy full, informed, and satisfying lives. And so that during difficult times, we can stay steady.

I have enjoyed pastoral ministry with significant effectiveness most of my adult life, and I’ve experienced the stabilizing power of God’s Word and Spirit during difficult times. But I can say that the greatest sermons usually come when I am not looking for sermons but simply studying the Word of God for the sake of its own vital truth. Then I can teach the Scriptures in a life-giving way that is both powerful and effective. People love it, and more importantly, God loves it!

Begin today reading the Word for yourself and letting the Scriptures instruct you in a way that builds your life into a tower of strength and integrity. If your local church has a good discussion based systematic study of God’s Word, attend and participate. Then apply those truths so that you can contribute to the health of your family and your church. This will enable you to draw stability from the institutions God has ordained for us—our families and our churches—and within those institutions have your needs met for survival, love and belonging, freedom, power, and fun.

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Q and A

Pastors and Friendships

Pastors and Friendships

Every January at St. James Church we invite our congregation to submit questions that I then answer impromptu. This is always fun and interesting because it reveals what congregation members are interested in and forces me to reveal some of my personal beliefs and subjective opinions. Sometimes this pleases people. Other times it doesn’t.

The questions are randomly selected during the month of January to be answered publicly. You can find the videos of those services at www.saintjameschurch.com. The questions I didn’t get to in the services will be addressed here and in future blogs at www.tedhaggardblog.com. Today’s question:

What’s the difference between a pastor and friend and is it really possible to be both?

The answer to this question is different for every pastor and congregation member.

Proverbs18:24 says, There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. This type of friend is sometimes more faithful than our own siblings. This type of friend is connected through shared life and purpose. This is why I believe we will find our greatest friendships among those with whom we share life experiences; and often these people are within our own churches. They can become our most faithful friends.

This view, though, is not typical, especially for churches that hire pastors and have a pattern of switching pastors every few years. The congregation is well aware that the pastor is there for only a designated period of time and that he can be fired for subjective reasons. They also know the pastor might move on to another calling at any time, which can limit the formation of genuine friendships. This system often promotes cordial relationships that lack personal commitment.

Gayle and I are committed to serving our city for the long haul. We served 22 years at New Life Church and now 8 years at St. James Church. Both churches are in the same city. As a result, everywhere we go, we see people we have known for decades. We’ve enjoyed sharing seasons of life, watching their children grow, and now celebrating as their grandchildren come along. I often say, the only way to have a 10-year relationship with someone is to know them for 10 years. There are no shortcuts. Many of the members of St. James Church are long-term friends; and probably half of those who make office appointments with me are people I have known for years who live in the community but don’t attend St. James Church.

The Pastoral Role is Fraught with Unspoken Expectations

Nonetheless, I do understand the pastoral role is fraught with unspoken expectations by others about what a pastor should be like. Several years ago one of my staff pastors at New Life went on vacation with another couple in the church he and his wife considered close friends. After the vacation, the other couple left the church and stopped communicating with that pastor and his family. I don’t know what happened, but my guess is that the other couple had an ideal image in their minds as to how a pastor should act, and when they saw him water skiing or watched a television program with him, their expectations were unmet, and they chose to move on.

This is why many pastors do not socialize with people in their churches and choose to be more private in their personal lives. It’s why Gayle and I have learned not to stay for wedding rehearsal dinners or wedding receptions. Typically, the family hosting the event invites us to stay because we know one another, but they don’t realize the awkward situations that can quickly develop with their other friends and family members involved with the wedding, who have a distinct expectation of the pastor, or a distant or hostile relationship with God or the church as an institution.

We’ve also chosen to respect the choices people make about themselves and their relationships with us. Sometimes people involve their pastor in private and difficult events in their families. Afterwards, they are embarrassed and want a new beginning, or perhaps the sight of the pastor reminds them of the difficult stage in their lives. So, though the pastor feels connected and committed to the relationship, those individuals don’t want to be around that pastor any longer. We respect that they have that freedom.

Gayle and I are in our sixties now, so we’ve settled on this issue. There have been many times when we thought others were good friends who would last a lifetime, only to have them disappear without explanation. Other times we thought people were moderately involved, yet now, 30 years down the road, their faithful friendships are profound and notable. It takes time to identify those who are true and trustworthy. Yet what we have found is that relationships that share a common purpose happen naturally and are the easiest to maintain. Even so, we enjoy people and are willing to partner with them for the cause of Christ to whatever degree they are willing.

Paul dealt with this subject in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13. I believe he is being candid when he writes:

Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you, and our hearts are open to you. There is no lack of love on our part, but you have withheld your love from us . . . Open your heart to us.

Most pastors I know feel this way. I think it would benefit the body of Christ for all believers to take the risk and let friendships flourish.