When Life Reflects Songs

First, an apology for the lack of posts in recent weeks. Phase 2 of our re-location from Montana to the Eastern US is now complete. We have purchased property in Jeff Davis County, Georgia for Ta Ethne’s new home. This gives us access to Savannah and Jacksonville airports as well as 2 interstate highways. It also allows us to expand our donor base, something future growth will need. Thank you to all those who have been praying with us about this process.

Now, for today’s blog. At church this past week, we were singing a hymn, “Footsteps of Jesus.” One of the verses happened to strike me. It went like this:

Though they lead through the Temple holy, preaching the Word

Or in homes of the poor and lowly, serving the Lord

Why did these verses speak to me? Because I have been a pastor for the last 21 years, preaching the Word in churches across America and SE Asia. Now, as well as leading Ta Ethne’s ministries, I serve as a chaplain with a local hospice here in south Georgia. Oh, I occasionally preach and speak at churches – fill in, revivals, conferences and the like, but mainly I am in people’s homes, ministering to the dying. I have the opportunity and the privilege of meeting people when they are most vulnerable. I am able to serve families after death in learning how to cope with grief. Rich or poor, death comes to every person. Many I meet have no relationship with God. They would never come to hear me preach. I become their pastor by going into their homes and caring for them. They know I come not to get anything from them, but to serve them.

Being a chaplain has allowed me to use my whole repertoire of pastoral skills. It may not be as glamorous as preaching the Word in the Temple, but I hope it mimics my Savior in proclaiming hope to the hopeless, freedom to the captive and healing (ultimate healing) for the sick.

Continue to pray for Ta Ethne as we build community relationships and continue to grow in our mission to bring leadership training to churches worldwide.

On Counseling

It bothers me to hear from fellow pastors that they are not doing counseling, at least, no more than a session or two. It seems that they have bought into the philosophy that they are somehow not qualified to help people with their problems like a “professional” counselor is. This is dangerous thinking. A pastor usually has 4, sometimes 8 – 10 years of formal education in the word of God. Their very calling as a shepherd requires them to use Scripture to help people live productive lives that will be blessed by God. Is this not counseling? How can one justify sending a hurting, confused person that you are spiritually responsible for, from your flock, to an outside person? It is an abrogation of one’s responsibility.

Unless there is a medical problem that is suspected, there should not be a referral to an outside person, especially if the one being referred to isn’t even a Christian! Every problem has a sin component to it. It is the pastors job to help identify the problem. Without identifying the sin(s) contributing or causing a persons problem, remedy cannot be made. The pastor needs to lead them to confess and repent of said sin and make restitution where possible. The person must then be given godly habits to instill and accountability with their lifestyle so that there is not a relapse. This holds true for marriage counseling, family counseling, addictive behaviors, etc.

It is time for pastors to stop being lazy, stop buying into the lie that they are not capable of counseling, and get involved in the lives of their people. It is easy to preach, easy to lead meetings – it is hard work to actually shepherd a people and care for them. To say you don’t know how means you are admitting you don’t know how to take God’s Word and apply it to real life. You need to repent of your laziness and have the integrity to stop calling yourself a pastor or repent of your ignorance of how to use God’s Word and go and learn.

Do you care enough about your people to help them? Do you know enough to help them? Its time to stop playing church, stop playing leader and learn how to serve as God calls us to serve.

Simply. Church.

So tired of playing the church game. You know what I mean. Everyone smiles and says they are doing fine. I know better. As their pastor, I see who is hurting. This one is crippled by fear. Another is a worry wart. This guy is losing his job and his wife is scared they may lose their home. This lady is battling cancer, again. This couple desperately wants children but cannot. Another couple is concerned about their rebellious child. Still a third is separated and aren’t sure they want to reconcile.

Beginning today, our church is redoing our services. We have one simple rule – no masks. Honesty is to reign. Trust will be rebuilt. Hope restored. No fluff. No Oprah rah-rah.  Simply. Church. Where we come together to worship God and lift up each other. We will spend time in confession, testimony and the Word. We will plead with God to remake our lives, our family, our church. We will ask for the Spirit’s power to cleanse and empower us to live godly lives. Because, Christ bids us to come just as we are and He loves us enough not to leave us there.

Simply. Church.  I wonder why we ever got away from that.

Highlights Around the Word – #7 China

We have been working in China since 2005. During that time we have seen villages, who never before had a witness for Christ, not only receive the message but establish churches. From out of their own peoples, they have raised up leaders, sending them to study theology in places far away and seeing them come home and raise up still more leaders. The gospel is spreading rapidly but the need is still great. Simply put, the sheer number of people in China make it a daunting task to give everyone a witness.

We have been privileged to work with some amazing national workers who are both fearless and faithful. One of our highlights has been holding ordination services for 2 church pastors who have started churches in rural villages. Another highlight was an unplanned meeting with a group of believers who were meeting together. We literally stumbled upon them and realized that the song they were singing was Amazing Grace. We joined in, surprising them as they didn’t realize we were in the building. What a joyous time we had praising God together, English and Chinese voices lifted together. Contacts were made and friendships formed.

We have done more work in China than any other country but cannot reveal where or what for their safety. Suffice it to say that we are so grateful for the awesome privilege of working with the amazing believers in this great country.

On the Road to Share the Gospel

Crossing Barriers to Share the Gospel

Helping to build schools and garner goodwill

Highlights Around the World – #6 Rocky Boy’s Reservation, Montana

The Rocky Boy’s reservation in NorthCentral Montana is a wonderfully wild place. Beautiful mountain vistas, sweeping plains, herds of pronghorns and deer – Rocky Boy is truly a beautiful place to visit and photograph. Rocky Boy is also a place where we have a mission church. Our mission pastor for the last 12 years, who has done an amazing job, has retired. With sadness, I helped load his moving truck today as they headed off to the next adventure God has in store for them. We are now in the process of seeking another mission pastor to serve with us.

The people of Rocky Boy are Chippewa Cree, although one can find Flathead, Cherokee, Sioux, Kiowa, Crow and any number of other nationalities represented. The work here is hard, and it takes a person called by God to work with Native Americans. We have been so blessed for the last dozen years that the task of finding a new pastor for the work is daunting. Would you pray for us as we seek God’s will in finding who He wants to partner with us in the beautiful, spiritually needy place?

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