One day this king, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, comes up with this great idea that he would build a ninety-foot image of himself – a statue. Then he would mandate that everybody in the land would bow down and as a sign of loyalty they would worship that image.
So Nebuchadnezzar gives the mandate throughout the kingdom. But by the way, the second part of the mandate was anybody who refused would be immediately executed. So there comes this historic day of dedication and celebration of this great statue. The mandate has gone out, the image is unveiled and king Nebuchadnezzar has instructed that when the band begins to play everyone is to fall to their knees. On this day, the band is gathered, the notes begin to sound and everyone as far as you can see falls on their knees and begins to worship.
Except three. Three young Jewish men. Three young men who had been captured from Jerusalem when it had been taken by Babylon. They’re now in training to become leaders in their new country. They’re on the fast track in their career. Really they were set for life. Humanly speaking they had absolutely nothing to gain by defying the king but they had everything to lose. So they refuse to bow down. They were ratted out, sold out by someone who is on the king’s payroll.
Nebuchadnezzar is absolutely furious. He has these three men brought to him. It seems as though he actually likes these guys. Because they entertain a dialogue and it goes something like this: Nebuchadnezzar says, “Boys, you’re not from these parts. Maybe you didn’t understand the edict. I built this ninety-foot image. It’s a replica of me. The deal is that when the band plays you get on your knees and worship. Now you probably didn’t understand that the first time so I’m giving you a second chance. We’re going to strike up the band here in just a moment. If you guys will fall down on your knees and worship everything’s ok.”
If I had been those boys at this point I probably would have thought, “Ok. Enough’s enough. This isn’t funny anymore. We’ve lodged our protest. The king seems real serious about this. So why not just go along to get along. After all just because we bow the knee we can worship the true God in our hearts.” But that’s not what happens in the story. In fact, these three young men just simply say, No.
I don’t know about you but I get excited when I read about people who live by their convictions. Those that are willing to stand and say, No. We won’t just go along to get along. I’m drawn to people who have that kind of courage and conviction. I don’t always have that. Tere have been days when I look back on my day and the decisions I made and I realize that I really didn’t live by what I said I believed. My courage and convictions weren’t as strong as I thought it was.
Let me wrap up the story. The king is so enraged at these three guys he has them bound up. So out of control is the king’s anger that he says to the guys, “Heat up the furnace seven times hotter than usual.” Then he has these three young men thrown in the fire.
The king, because he wants to make sure, he wants to revel in his victory that day over these three defiant young Jewish men, he watches the fire. But he’s confused when he looks in the fire because it can’t be what he thinks he sees. The Bible says he leaps up from his chair and he gets as close to the fire as he can and he looks in. And not only are the three men still there not burned up, walking around unharmed, the Bible says. But there was a fourth person in the fire. Nebuchadnezzar describes him that He was like as an Angel of God. Most Bible scholars think that that was a pre incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.
Here’s the thing I want you to get. When you choose to do what’s right and live by your convictions I can’t promise you what’s going to happen. I can’t promise you a fairy tale ending or that everything is going to turn out exactly like you’d hoped. What I do feel confident in promising you is that Jesus will walk with you through whatever you go through. And that’s enough. If you have that it is enough.
The Bible tells us to honor mothers, to honor our parents. Ephesians quoting from the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament says this “Honor your father and mother.” It was so important, God put into the Ten Commandments!
God would not have put that into the Ten Commandments just as a nice sentiment. Like “That’ll look good on a card someday. I think I’ll put it in the Ten Commandments!” No. God didn’t have to put it in there. God’s eternal. He was never born. He didn’t have to put it in there to please His mom. That’s not why it’s in the Ten Commandments. It is there because God knows it’s vital for our spiritual health, for our emotional health, to honor our parents.
So how can you honor your mother? Even if they’re no longer live you can still honor your mother. Even if you didn’t know your mom or you had a terrible mom you can still honor the fact that she labored to bring you into this world. We can honor all moms by seeing the importance of what they’re doing and helping them out in what they’re doing.
Appreciate the fact that she labored to bring you into this world. Appreciate the fact that you weren’t aborted. Appreciate the fact that you are alive.
Why is that important? Because the Bible says, “Honor your father and your mother.” Even the smallest amount of honor that you can give is healthy for your soul. Moms need appreciation. With most moms the truth of the matter is there are hundreds, there are thousands of things, to appreciate. If your mom is here take every opportunity you can. Don’t miss a chance to appreciate her. Say it. Say it with words, say it with flowers, say it with candy, say it with cards, say it with stocks and bonds – say it however you want to say it but say it.
In Greek mythology and in Roman mythology they had all these gods – Zeus and Jupiter and Apollo and Mars and Venus. All the Roman gods. The pantheon Greek gods and Roman gods. The one thing about those gods is they all had human frailties. Every one of them. They got angry. They lusted. They were impetuous. Sometimes the Greek gods and the Roman gods got impatient. They zapped people with lightning bolts. Or they got jealous of each other. They were fickle. They were moody. They were unreliable. All of the fake gods, the phony gods, the false gods, the mythical gods of history are inconsistent, unreliable and imperfect. They had human frailties.
But the real God, the real God, the God who created the universe is one hundred percent pure. Is one hundred percent just. Is one hundred percent unpolluted. The real God is one hundred percent perfect. That’s called holy.
God is holy. He’s perfect. He’s never done anything wrong. He’s never done anything imperfect. He’s never done anything impure. He’s never done anything polluted. God is holy. He is perfect.
An imperfect God is no god at all. An imperfect God is just another human being. And certainly not worthy of worship.
Because God is one hundred percent perfect and one hundred percent pure and one hundred percent righteous and one hundred percent holy, he cannot stand to be around imperfection, unholiness, evil, and sin. He can’t stand to be around it.
That means we’ve got a real problem, right? Because I’m not perfect and neither are you. The Bible says plenty about God’s perfection. One verse…
Habakkuk 1:13 “Your eyes [talking about God] are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.”
That’s why, by the way, there’s no sin in heaven. There’s no evil in heaven. There’s no sin in heaven. There’s no badness in heaven. Why? Because God is holy and he couldn’t allow it in his place. He can’t allow it to exist in a place of perfection. To allow imperfection to exist.
The reason why so many people ignore God and live unholy lives is they think death is just the end. They think, when I die, it’s over. That’s it. There’s no more problems. It’s not. Death is not the end of anything. Death is the beginning. It’s the beginning of eternity.
You’re going to spend far more years in eternity than you’re going to spend on this planet. You get maybe a hundred years at the most on this planet. You’re going to spend trillions of years in eternity. Death is not the end of your life. It’s the beginning of your eternal life, the rest of your life in one of two places.
One day you will face God. And you’re going to give an account to God of everything in your life. The Bible says this over and over and over. There’s going to be a judgment day; an accounting day of my life. Look at this verse.
Hebrews 9:27 “Everyone must die once, and after that be judged by God.”
That is one appointment you cannot cancel … that is one appointment you will not be late for!
The mortality rate in the world is now one hundred percent. Nobody’s going to skip death. We’re not all the same color. We’re not all the same age. We’re not all the same sex. We don’t all have the same amount of money. But the one thing we all have in common, everybody here and everybody on the planet, we’re all going to die. That is one thing for sure.
And it is foolish to spend your entire life unprepared for something you know is inevitable. That’s just dumb! In fact you’re not really ready to live until you’re ready to die.
Proverbs 24:10 “If you give up when troubles come, it just shows that you are weak.”
Failure is the path of least persistence. The problem is that often during trying times we stop trying. We give up.
If at first you don’t succeed, welcome to the human race. If at first you don’t succeed, you’re normal. Very few people make it on the first try. Oftentimes, we give up just when success is around the corner. It’s always too soon to quit. You’re never a failure until you give up. We often just give up too soon.
World class failures:
There was a guy, a general, who lost two-thirds of all the battles he fought in the American Revolution. George Washington. He won the war.
There was another guy who graduated 42nd out of a class of 43. Then he went out and conquered Europe. Napoleon.
There’s a guy who lost almost every election he ran for – 10 or 12 – until finally he was elected President. Abraham Lincoln. He lost more than he won.
Edison tried over 200 different elements before he figured out what was the right element to use in the light bulb. Over 200 failures before he had a success.
In 21 years, Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs but he struck out 1330 times. He struck out nearly twice as often as he hit a home run. He once said, “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from taking a swing.”
It’s always too soon to quit. The Bible says we need to stop making excuses, admit when it’s our fault and get on with life. I’ve discovered that people who are very good at making excuses are rarely good at anything else. They spend all their energy thinking up reasons why they can’t do what they’re supposed to do.
How do you get rid of fear of failure? Faith. That’s why the third step in starting over is Act in faith. Faith is not the absence of fear. Faith is moving ahead in spite of your fear. Faith is doing the thing you fear the most. Doing the thing you fear the most, even when you’re scared to death and you’re trembling while you do it, you move ahead in spite of your feelings. That’s faith. It’s doing the thing you fear the most.
Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt and bondage of 400 years. They’re come out, they’ve been set free by Pharaoh, and they came up to the Red Sea. There are mountains on either side, the Red Sea in front of them, Pharaoh’s army in hot pursuit behind them. The only way they’ll be saved is somehow get through that Red Sea. Then God said, “I’ll just open it up and you guys walk through it.” Would you like to have been the first person to have walked through it? You get out about a mile or two and wonder if the walls were going to hold up because it’s a long way back to shore.
You’re going to have some Red Sea problems in your life in ’16. You’re going to say, “Let’s go over the Red Sea. Let’s go around the Red Sea. Let’s go under it.” God says, “No, let’s go through it. I’m going to take you through the problem. I’m not going to remove that problem; I’m going to take you through it.” Act in faith and keep walking. Act in faith and He’ll take you through the Red Sea.
Where do you need to act in faith today? Where do you need to take steps of faith to start over?
The second most important ministry event has now ended, and it is at this time of the year, many pastors, plan for and take their annual sabbatical from ministry and spend that time, refreshing their own walks with Christ, or spend that time doting on our families who too often get overlooked or set aside for the greater good of the church and the families that it represents.
But most pastors, like me, rarely get that opportunity to unplug, getaway and put that focus back on our families. 70% of our local pastors, which represent 80% of our churches, (those with membership numbers under 100) are for the most part bi-vocational, meaning the finances of the church are not strong enough to keep a pastor on full-time and as a result, that pastor often will work another full-time job. This even further spreads that pastor’s life thin, and often results in burnout, and many times, an early exit from ministry.
It is at this time of the year, that membership, (who should be praying for and looking for ways to serve alongside their pastors), should also look to step up their game, and look for extra tasks, to find extra time to serve or just look for new ways to encourage and lift up those pastors, who have the responsibility of caring for our spiritual health and the accountability for that health.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers; for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:17
It is too easy to look at a situation from our own perspective, and see a perceived slight, and want to act out or be critical of our pastors, or otherwise become resentful towards them or a member of their families. While there are certainly opportunities for improvement in all of our lives, I would encourage all of us, to look at a situation from a neutral perspective, and realize, there are many times other things working in the lives of our pastors, that may be creating his distance or his lack of focus.
A few years ago, a pastor friend’s congregation rose up in opposition to him, because all of a sudden he was no longer available to them, was never in the office anymore and his time in the pulpit had become seemingly uninspired. He just seemed to be completely disconnected from the church family and all of a sudden taking more time away from the church and while he was there his family wasn’t. After about six months of this and after one of those (all too often) secret meetings was held, it was decided that they would ask for the pastor’s resignation.
When the Sunday came that they would ask him to stay after so they could take their chosen action, at the end of the service, he asked the congregation to sit for a moment, and began to explain to the church that after several months of seeking doctors and trying to find a diagnosis, his wife of 23 years had been diagnosed with cancer and that it was inoperable, and they had been told, there really was only a short time left. As a result, he would be resigning effective immediately to spend those last weeks with her and his family.
Not every pastor’s disconnect is going to be related to illness or grief, sometimes it is due to his own failure to stay within moral boundaries, burnout or has become discouraged from lack of help, no time for a personal life or realizing that ministry has been causing him to neglect his own family to meet the needs of another.
So, when you are tempted to meet the pastor at the back door of the church to offer advice (complain) or to point to some ministry that you think the pastor should be doing, I want you to look at that pastor and his life from a new perspective, before you complain, condemn or criticize him. While there are some legitimate areas where critique or rebuke may be necessary, there are some areas that should not. I want to point you to a few of those that are justified scripturally.
- They don’t preach the gospel.
As in, they actually don’t preach Christ’s finished work. Not that they don’t emphasize the points you would or they don’t present the gospel the way you prefer or they don’t give an altar call or they miss this angle of the good news or that one or they don’t preach like Graham or Sunday or Piper or Falwell — but that they actually don’t preach the gospel. (Titus 1:9; Galatians 2:11-14)
- They are regularly engaging in sins or unhealthy habits that would disqualify them from the office of pastor.
Maybe he’s cheating on his wife or engaging in other sexual immorality. He’s a drunk. He has no self-control. His reputation in the community is terrible. He’s inhospitable. He doesn’t know how to teach. He’s violent. He’s domineering or emotionally, verbally, or otherwise psychologically abusive. He doesn’t take care of his wife and kids. He does not submit to his authorities. He’s undisciplined or lazy. He doesn’t rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine, won’t correct heresy or protect the flock from wolves. He himself teaches doctrine in contradiction to the tenets of the faith. (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-8)
While a seemingly short list, it is not exclusive and these can be applied in various ways. But just because you may have a reason to criticize him, it doesn’t mean you can do that however you want. All correction should come gently, personally and privately first, and if necessary beyond that, include witnesses. (Matthew 18:15-18) It should be done with humility, respectfully, lovingly and with grace, as grace was administered unto you by Jesus Christ himself.
There are ways to have conversations with your pastor that will sharpen him and encourage him toward improvements without criticizing him. And there are ways to make suggestions without criticizing or complaining (but be sure you’re actually doing that, not just being passive aggressive).
And it can go the other way too! There are plenty of times you should not criticize your pastor! Here are a few of those:
- He just kind of annoys you, rubs you the wrong way! He cannot be all things to all people!
- He’s not your best friend, or you don’t really like his wife! In many of our churches, (especially those perceived pastor-eating ones) the safest place for your pastor and his family is at arm’s length. Relational hurts within the church happen, and more often than not, the ministry family just has to grin and bear it, like nothing ever happened! But it did happen and it will cause resentment if you are not watchful for it!
And on a side note: The pastor’s wife is not paid, she is a volunteer just like you! You should not expect more from her than you expect from yourself!
- He’s not as dynamic, outgoing, animated or interesting as you would like.
- His decisions aren’t really sinful or unhealthy, just not what you would do or the way you would do it!
- You are the pastor’s personal thorn, and you feel an obligation to express your every critical thought! Maybe you should be spending more time praying for him!
- You don’t understand something he has said or done. (This is cause for questions not complaints!)
- He is not ____________enough! Could be political, creative, extroverted, outdoorsy, indoorsy, skinny, fat or hairy! (Fill in the blank)
Or any unlimited bunch of things that the Bible does not condemn or forbid!
This may seem a little burdensome when you feel like you ought to be able to say whatever you feel, however you feel, whenever you feel it. But your pastor bears similar burdens. He likely has multiple people with “helpful suggestions” speaking to him every week. Measure your thoughts out appropriately, choose the right hills to die on, and pray for your pastor. He needs it.
While everyone will agree the pastor’s job is to love the people he has the God-given responsibility to care for, it is also your responsibility to love him, showing double respect for him (Scripture says they are ‘worthy of double honor’), spending time reaffirming that love and appreciation and most importantly, spending time praying for him and being devoted to praying for him!
And while he may not realize what a handful you are, you do, and that should be reason enough to cut him a little slack, especially at the back door on the way out of the church on Sundays! And if, as a result of your prayerful consideration of these matters, you find yourself, wanting more than he can deliver, you may need to prayerfully seek out a peaceful resolution and quite possibly another place of worship and service is in your future!
The Bible says “When we’re weak and we’re tired God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how to pray, [we don’t know what to pray,] it doesn’t matter. He does… [God’s Spirit] does our praying in us and for us, making prayers out of our wordless sighs and our aching groans.” God prays for you when you’re in pain.
How does God pray to himself? Oh, you never talk to yourself? You talk to yourself all the time. You’re doing it right now. You have a running commentary going. You talk to yourself all the time. When God talks to himself we just call it prayer.
But the Bible says that God talks to himself about your pain when you’re in pain. What a God! He isn’t just aware of it. He cares and he talks to himself, he prays about it. It says he makes prayers out of wordless sighs and aching groans. Have you ever been so beat up, so broken down, hurt, your heart’s so broken? You don’t know what to pray. The Bible says the Holy Spirit interprets those groans to himself. He gets it, he knows what you’re feeling. And he turns them into prayers.
Did you know that God has kept a record of every hurt you’ve ever gone through? That’s how much he loves you. The Bible says “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”