Yesterday I turned 33 years old. Here are 33 things I have been thinking about.

  1. Kids grow up way to fast.
  2. The metaphors you use will shape your life.
  3. Be intentional about the music you listen to. It is the soundtrack of your life.
  4. It is not as important as I thought it was to keep up on the latest shows and movies.
  5. Keeping up on some shows and movies can be a great escape.
  6. Hobbies can be important for keeping your sanity.
  7. The older I get the harder it is to take care of my body and the more important it is.
  8. Sometimes you really need to take a day off that is actually off.
  9. Emergencies and crises will come. They are not surprises. So try to never be too behind on anything.
  10. Some days you simply survive and that is ok.
  11. Some days the best you can do is not very good and that is ok.
  12. Keeping a good to-do list can keep your sanity.
  13. Sometimes the most important things to do is not on your to-do list.
  14. If you are not intentional in your relationships they will become distant- with people and with God.
  15. The best friends are the ones who can see your house messy and who you can go without seeing for a while and then connect like nothing ever happened.
  16. If life is a story then most people are living boring ones.
  17. Some people need alcohol to cut loose and be goofy. Life is more fun when you can get like that all by yourself.
  18. Computers are good for some things, but they are not the best things for creativity or relationships.
  19. Time spent reading is rarely time wasted.
  20. Money spent on books is rarely money wasted.
  21. Energy spent with someone different than you are is rarely energy wasted.
  22. You can learn something from anything if you are trying.
  23. No matter who signs your paychecks, you work for God at You Inc.
  24. Laugher is life’s WD-40. Shared stories are life’s duct tape.
  25. You need friends that will give you lots of grace and friends that will give you really direct truth. Keep friends close that can do both well.
  26. The Bible has a ton to say about how life works and is worth the effort to study it.
  27. Take seriously the space in which you work. The space can shape the result.
  28. I run out of energy way before I run out of time.
  29. Never underestimate the power of a good conversation, a good meal, a craft beer, or a good cigar to set your thinking straight.
  30. Marriage is not work. It is an adventure. Lean into it.
  31. God has given each person a unique message and mission in this world. It would be a shame to be too busy to miss it.
  32. Change is a part of life. That does not mean we always like it, but we should learn to expect it.
  33. Of all the skills I think people are most in need of today, the #1 in my mind is discerning God’s will.

5 Things Spurgeon Taught Me about Pastoral Depression

I admit it. I am tired right now. Not just tired. I am a little bit down and depressed. I don’t have a lot of energy. I am a bit grumpy or at least closed off. I am not normally like this. I am normally a pretty upbeat and positive guy. I just find that sometimes in ministry I don’t feel 100%.

When this first happened in ministry I fought it. After all, I was doing God’s work and God would sustain me, wouldn’t He? But the down-ness came back every once in a while.

At some point during one of these times I picked up the book Lectures to My Students by Charles Spurgeon. Lecture 6 titled “The Minister’s Fainting Fits” has been a constant companion for me in ministry ever since. In that book, Spurgeon taught me 5 really important things about pastoral depression.

1. Down times are normal. Spurgeon says, “The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience.” Pastors are people and nobody is excited all the time. But the work of ministry also offers unique demands and stresses. I find it very comforting to know that what I am going through is normal.

2. Down times come for different reasons. Spurgeon covers a number of them. Ministers faint because of physical ailments. The weight of the work makes us carry ourselves with more importance and our position lends itself to resistance and conflict. The ministry can also create bad sedentary habits. We also often feel like fainting before and after times of great success, when we are working without a break, or when troubles pile up. Sometimes people also betray or wound you.

3. Sometimes down times come for no reason. This one bothers me. What I would like to do is figure out the cause and fix it. Sometimes, however, no direct cause is there to be found. When this happens, Spurgeon says “it is all the more difficult to drive it away.” In my own language, it just has to be patiently waited out.

4. Down times do not mean you are unfit for ministry or failing.  The first couple of times I got down and depressed in ministry, I got worried that maybe I was not cut out for the work or was doing something wrong. Sometimes I do need to pace myself better. Ministry is more of a marathon than a spring. Still, feeling down does not mean your are failing. Spurgeon says, “Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness.”

5. God uses down times. This is where Spurgeon seems almost off his rocker. He insists that these ‘fainting fits’ are actually helpful.

“Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise amid overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints. Live by the day—ay, by the hour. Put no trust in frames and feelings. Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement. Trust in God alone, and lean not on the reeds of human help.”

In fact, Spurgeon thinks we should praise God for down times:

“Glory be to God for the furnace, the hammer, and the file. Heaven shall be all the fuller of bliss because we have been filled with anguish here below, and earth shall be better tilled because of our training in the school of adversity.”

For Spurgeon, God blesses us with adversity and depression so that we will trust God and not ourselves, we will live by faith and not by feelings, and so that we can be sensitive to experiencing adversity as we care for others.

How have you dealt physically and spiritually with depression in your life?

Get Your Spiritual MRI

As I write this I have just come back from the mission trip. The trip is always a special time to get away from life, serve others, and have great fellowship around outstanding food. Every year on the trip I do lead some devotions to frame the experience. This year I wrote those out of a book by my Doctor of Ministry teacher Len Sweet called So Beautiful. Here are some highlights from my talks and from Len’s excellent book.sobeautiful_lensweet

All computers (and smart phones) are based on an Operating System. This is the baseline programming on which all of the other programs work. If you have ever switched from a Windows system to an Apple system you understand how different operating systems can be. Even the same programs work differently based on the operating system. As Christians, I believe we have been using an operating system that does not work. It is the APC system.

  • Attractional- We have built our churches around the Field of Dreams philosophy that “if we build it they will come.” The reality is that this is not how Christians are called to do church. The other reality is that in a post-Christian West people are not coming to church just because you build it.
  • Propositional- We have made our faith about believing certain things. We define who is in and who is out of our circle based on beliefs. We have boiled salvation down to a set of steps you have to believe.
  • Colonial- When European countries came to the new world they wanted to make the new world like their home countries. Missionaries did the same thing. They would convert the heathens both to Christianity and to the English culture. Even today our churches are built to welcome and to form people that are like we are.

I believe that we need an MRI. In fact, the MRI is the Biblical operating system:

  • Missional- Jesus tells his disciples to go into all the world. We are missionaries. We are ambassadors to a world that needs Jesus. Yes our churches should be welcoming and well kept, but we are not in the business of attracting people. The gospel is not always attractive to people. Our job is to go and get them.
  • Relational- Jesus tells his disciples to go and make disciples. It is not about believing certain things, though beliefs are important. It is about relationship with Christ and with others. The beliefs follow and flow out of the relationships. We need people to come to our church, make a home here, and then wrestle with what they believe.
  • Incarnational- Jesus tells his disciples to go and make disciples and baptize them. The idea is that people are cleansed and reborn where they are. Just as Jesus entered the flesh, we need to be entering into the world around us. We don’t make the world around us in our image, as if the gospel was a plant in a pot that is transplanted. The gospel is a seed that might grow up differently wherever it grows. Church might look and sound different in different places. Our job is to be Christians and to be a church that authentically and organically fits where we are planted.

It is my prayer that we would live out of a biblical operating system in our lives and in our churches.

The Great Cloud of Witnesses

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.    —Hebrews 12:1-2

The book of Hebrews is written for Jewish Christians who are being persecuted and under pressure to give up their faith in Jesus. In this passage, perhaps the most recognizable of the book, the author encourages the people by referring to this Great Cloud of Witnesses. The image of a cloud was often used for crowds or throngs of people. The word witness refers to those who see and confess something, but in Greek it the word from which we get the word Martyr. The early witnesses died for their faith.

The author of Hebrews is saying that because we are surrounded by these great heroes of the faith we can find strength to lay aside the things that hold us back and have endurance in following God’s will. We do not worship these saints. The text clearly states that Jesus is “the founder and perfecter of our faith.” And they are not present with us as ghosts. They are, however, present with us by their example and because we are standing in the church and in the tradition that they built. Part of them is with us because of what they poured into our faith

I started to think about this differently in my recent visit to England. I visited a number of churches there and was astonished by the presence of the Christians who had gone on to glory. Many Christians were buried in the actual floor of the sanctuaries. Some were memorialized with statues and with plaques on the wall. You had to pass by graves to get into most of the churches. Everywhere you turned there was a reminder of those who had gone on before being there with you.

We Protestants don’t do that kind of thing. Admittedly, there can be problems with this kind of approach. In some of the chapels I saw in England it was not altogether clear who was being worship—God or these graves. But I also wonder– is there a strength that can be found if we, like Hebrews suggests, remember this great cloud of witnesses?

So I decided to represent this in my own congregation. On June 28 in worship we created a Cloud of Witnesses. It is a wooden cloud on which we are writing names of people that have died who have poured into our faith. It might be parents, grandparents, a child, a pastor, a Sunday school teacher, or a person from your church that mentored us in the faith. Many of my own mentors have not joined the cloud yet because they are still alive, but I have been influenced by writing and stories of great figures like CS Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Calvin, and Martin Luther. Maybe there is a particular Bible character or historical figure that has inspired our faith. It might even be a person like a camp counselor who we don’t remember their name but they had an impact on our faith.

Over the next few weeks the cloud will be available for more names to be added. It will eventually be displayed as a reminder of those who have gone on before us. My prayer is that it will inspire us to live our faith with endurance.

Do you think the protestant church has missed something? What are the dangers of talking to much about those who have gone before? What other ways might we represent this cloud of witnesses?