Tuesday Book Review — Listening Skills

Yes, yes, I know that I normally post these on Wednesdays, but due to a busy schedule we are putting it up early this week. This is a good read for all ministers and those who desire to become better listeners. I would recommend that everyone in a church leadership position be required to read this.

Listening & Caring Skills: A Guide for Groups and LeadersListening & Caring Skills: A Guide for Groups and Leaders by John S. Savage
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A required read for a class I am taking this summer, I approached the book with some skepticism. I have been pleasantly surprised to find this book practical. While I might use different terms than the author to describe some of the skills mentioned, I have no real quibble with his observations. This book is good for both individuals and groups. What has been fascinating to me, is reading about a particular tactic used and thinking, “hey, that’s what I’ve been doing,” without knowing what the label was. Grab it, it will help you become a better listener.

View all my reviews

Is Jesus Enough? Excerpt


One of the songs we often sing at our church has a line that goes like this:

He gave His life, what more could He give?

 Oh how He loves you, oh how He loves me, oh how He loves you and me!

When we come to Jesus Christ in saving faith, we are acknowledging that He gave His life to pay the penalty for our sin. That act of supreme sacrifice makes Jesus worthy of our love and worship. Even if Jesus never does anything else for us, His procurement of salvation for our souls is more than enough. Any other blessing we receive from Him is simply extra gravy on an already overfilled plate.

When we start to live our lives based on conditional requirements rather than on the finished work of Jesus Christ, we are, in effect, saying that His death was not sufficient for all our needs. We are saying that we need more proof, more tangible benefits before we will give Him the honor He is due. Can you see how arrogant that way of thinking is? Can you see how are attitude has shifted from gratefulness of being a recipient of God’s mercy to one of an expectation of God existing to serve our wants?

We all know of people who started out on fire for the Lord and who dropped out along the way. Many became angry with God for His not answering their prayers a certain way or for not protecting a loved one from harm. If we are honest we must admit that we, too, have become disappointed in God for failing to meet our expectations.

Discouragement sets in when we become disappointed. Disappointment comes from unmet expectations. Our expectations and reality often collide and rarely do we blame ourselves as having expectations that were misguided, ill-founded or unreasonable. We blame either the reality around us or God for not changing the reality to suit our needs.

When pressed by adversity our hearts reveal the truth about us and about our relationship with God. Many believers are in love with the things of the Lord but not the Lord Himself. Despite what our lips may profess, our hearts show the shallowness of our faith. We act more like the crowds who followed Jesus for the miracles of food than the disciples. After all, when one becomes disappointed in God, is it His fault for not catering to our whims and desires or ours for not understanding His ways and trusting in His goodness?

God is good. When we cease to believe that foundational principle we open ourselves up to despair and hopelessness. Even when we do not understand the reasons why things are happening to us, we must cling to that one assurance. Job did. Job was greatly disappointed. Job could not understand why all those calamities had occurred in his life. Job, though, held onto his faith that God was good. Through everything Job never lost his faith in that aspect of God’s character.

One of the ironies of the Christian life is that so many of our prayers center on God healing or delivering us from a life-threatening situation – in effect delaying our arrival at the very place of our reward! How angry people get at God for transporting their loved one to glory instead of leaving them here to endure this sinful, broken earth. It seems that we have lost sight of heaven, that death has somehow regained her sting. Dying has become less than an entrance into eternity and our selfish desires to cling to more time on earth with our loved one trumps our desire to let God determine what is best for them.

The ultimate healing, the ultimate deliverance is from this body of decay and sin and to be with the Lord in heaven. When we take a lesser view on this it diminishes our faith and trust in a God who is good. This lesson was driven home to me in a dramatic way.

The day before my son, then 17 months old, was to have open-heart surgery, my wife and I were passing through the halls of the Ronald McDonald house where we were staying. People in those places get close to each other since all there are in similar situations. One lady we had spoken with quite often was packing her clothes. “I’m going home”, she said in response to our inquiry.  Knowing that her little boy was very ill and could not have possibly been released, we asked her why. “My boy died last night”, she answered. Seeing our hurt, embarrassment and shock plastered on our faces, she took us aside and said, “You’re not ready for your child to die, are you?” We shook our heads no.  “You need to be. Come in here and let me tell you something.” For over an hour she talked with us about how she knew her boy was in heaven, “doing that little shuffle-step dance for Jesus like he did in church on Sundays.” She told us that she was thankful for the years Jesus had loaned her boy to her and that he wasn’t suffering anymore. She thanked Him for His deliverance and healing of her boy. She praised Him for His goodness and mercy. At that Ronald McDonald house I learned that God loves my children even more than I do and that when we pray for complete recovery and healing it may be that God takes our loved ones to heaven to accomplish just that. God is good in all He does because goodness is a central characteristic of Himself.

Our faith grows deeper when we mature enough to understand that our belief at how God can best answer our prayers is different than His knowledge of how best to answer our prayers.

To be honest, even the depth of a faith that acknowledges that God is worthy because He made a way to provide for our salvation is not deep enough. You see, God is worthy because He alone is God. Even if He had not made provision to save mankind, if He had allowed us to enter eternity forever separated from Him because of our sin, He would still be worthy of praise. He did not have to save us. He made us. He made the earth for us to live on. He made colors and sounds and our senses to enjoy them. God made a universe and populated it with myriads of wonderful and incomprehensible things. He is God. He is the Creator and Maker of All Things. He is Good and Holy and this makes Him worthy to be praised.

Now, the fact that He made us with a redeemable soul and sent His Son precisely to redeem that soul is, indeed, good news. The character of who God is, though, is what makes Him worthy of praise and adoration. His holiness is the reason that He is worthy.  A faith that worships God and gives Him praise and adoration based only on what He has done for us, whether it is a family, a job, a car or even salvation is a deficient faith. God is worthy because He is God.

This was a critical point in my walk with Christ. I loved the fact that He had sent people into my life to share the gospel with me. I loved the fact that His Spirit had drawn me to saving faith in His redemptive act.  I loved the family He had given me. I loved being a minister of the gospel and leading others to faith in Jesus. But I had to ask myself if my love for Him was deeper than even that. Did I love Him just because He is?

In his book, The Painful Side of Leadership, Jeff Iorg makes this profound statement:

Most leaders easily forget their primary reason for being placed in their leadership role. The primary reason isn’t for you to do things for God. It’s so God can use your leadership setting as a laboratory for shaping the image of Jesus in you. (Iorg, 2009)


Excerpt from Is Jesus Enough? available in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and our sister site, http://www.discernmentministries.webs.com

What Does It Mean To Wait On The Lord?

So many times I hear people telling me that they are waiting on the Lord, and what they mean by that is, they are sitting still, waiting for some move on God’s part to give them a clear direction. I would argue that the better understanding of waiting on the Lord is that of a waitress or waiter at a fancy restaurant. A good waitress or waiter is very attentive to the customer. They are there, asking is everything is okay, seeking to be there when the customer is ready to order and seeking to be there when they are ready to leave, seeking to be there when the customer has a need.

I would say that we are to wait on the Lord this way. Hovering, anticipating, ready at a moments notice to spring to His side when summoned. Willing to serve, knowing that there are things we are to do that is common to all His children: serving the poor, ministering to others, edifying the body, witnessing to the lost, discipling the brethren. Just as a waiter has jobs that he does for each customer – filling drinks, taking orders, etc. There is never a time when they are not busy working, even if a particular customer hasn’t summoned them yet.

Instead of sitting and doing nothing until we hear a specific call or direction, maybe we should be actively waiting – doing those things already commanded for us to do by our boss, the Lord Jesus.

You see, the two definitions of the word wait that show two completely different ideas. The first is to be in a state of  repose or to remain inactive until something expected happens. That is how most Christians define waiting on the Lord. The second is considered archaic,  to attend upon or escort, especially as a sign of respect. I would argue that it is this archaic definition that is the more biblical one.

How are you waiting on the Lord?

Highlights Around the World – #4 Philippines

One ministry we have had the privilege of corresponding with is that of Berean Bible Baptist Church in Binalbagan, Negros Occidental, Philippines. From youth camps to world missions conferences, this ministry reaches out constantly to people who need to hear the gospel. Under the leadership of Pastor Janel Nemeno, they have grown to be shining example of faithfulness. Last year we cried with them as their building burned to the ground. The photos can be seen here: http://sphotos-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-snc6/207486_210905172268735_7362425_n.jpg

We rejoiced with them this year, seeing a new building rising from the ashes, due in part to generous donations from fellow believers all across the globe. Pictures of their new building can be seen here: http://sphotos-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-prn1/c100.0.403.403/p403x403/560415_414485561910694_2010413349_n.jpg

This ministry never lost a beat during the loss. Services and ministries continued to grow and God has blessed them greatly. A Christian academy and a bible college are just 2 of their many ministries. They have sent out missionaries to start many churches throughout the region from the very beginnings of their church. You can read more about this church here: Janel Nemeno – Info – Overview  Would you continue to pray for this ministry? Lift up this pastor and his family and pray the Lord’s blessings on their commitment to not only sharing the gospel, but also on their commitment to training Christian leaders and the sending out of missionaries.

What it Means to be a Pastor

                Being a pastor in Montana means many different things to me. Since arriving in 1995, I have served churches in Red Lodge, Columbus and Havre. Being a pastor in Montana means unloading trucks outside at work at 4:30 in the morning in  -40°F weather so that the church can still afford to have a pastor.  It means reaching out to people who have never heard basic Bible stories such as Noah and the Ark, David and Goliath or the real Christmas story.

Pastoring in Montana means enduring weeks of loneliness, isolated by geography and finances from family, friends and even other pastors. It means driving hours to conferences for the fellowship with friends and the opportunity to sharpen ones skills. It means penetrating reclusive lives and investing time into communities. It means sharing your home with people from all walks of life and all kinds of backgrounds. It means being vulnerable and authentic and living a transformed life in front of a watching world.

Pastoring in Montana means that you start laying the foundation for future works to take place.  Very quickly you learn that there is no prestige, no glory, no “bigger” church to aspire to. What there is, is plenty of is hard work, years of discipleship, mentoring, teaching and engaging. There is the joy of seeing a second generation come to know and serve the Lord. There is the joy of seeing families and marriages being put back together. There is the satisfaction of establishing stability and credibility in a community that is constantly watching to see if your Christianity is real. There is the awesome exhilaration that comes from seeing new believers mature and go out in service for the kingdom, taking the gospel to yet another place that needs to hear it.

Being a pastor in Montana is a tale of two extremes. It is a tale of hardships and frustration and of rapture and joy. It will cause you to grow closer to God than you thought possible because there is no one else around for you to turn to. It will drive you to your knees over and over seeking strength, guidance and wisdom. It will also lead you to give God all the credit because only He could possibly penetrate the darkness and hardened hearts of those who do not know Him.

Jeff Iorg, President of Golden Gate Seminary, sums up what I think being a pastor in Montana is all about when he says in his book, The Painful Side of Leadership, “Most leaders easily forget their primary reason for being placed in their leadership role. The primary reason isn’t for you to do things for God. It’s so God can use your leadership setting as a laboratory for shaping the image of Jesus in you.[1]

I pray that the image that is being shaped in me, as I pastor in Montana, is that of Jesus Christ.

[1] Iorg, Jeff. The Painful Side of Leadership. P12. B&H Publishing Group 2009