Archive for October, 2013

Tomorrow is Halloween.  I loved Halloween as a kid.  I don’t love it anymore.

Why not?  As I described in my book Church Coup, events occurred on Halloween four years ago that changed the way I view the day forever.

Simply put, in the midst of a church conflict, my family was spiritually attacked on October 31.  I witnessed the attack, along with several others.  It was frightening … custom-designed … and very, very real.

The intent?  To destroy my family and my ministry.

In the book, I chose not to reveal the details of the attack which did not originate from humans, but from the enemy of our souls.

Satan is real.  He hates God the Father …  Jesus Christ … Jesus’ church and followers … and even you.  If the devil and his hordes cannot keep a person from following Jesus, they will seek to neutralize or even eliminate that believer’s impact so that Christ’s kingdom cannot advance through them.

If you’re courageous enough to keep reading, let me share a story that I left out of my book.


Kim and I had seen Satan at work in Silicon Valley nearly twenty years before.  Santa Clara County has a much larger array of agnostics and atheists than almost anywhere in the United States, so it’s a spiritually resistant area.  We were launching a new church in a warehouse located at a busy intersection when our family suddenly began to receive obscene phone calls at home.  An anonymous caller continually left menacing messages taken from a Three Stooges short or a movie.

One time, the caller left a message taken from the soundtrack to the film The Poseidon Adventure.  Gene Hackman plays a minister trying to lead survivors out of a large ship that had capsized.  Ernest Borgnine’s character says to him at one point, “I’ve had just about enough out of you, preacher.”  That very quotation from the lips of Borgnine’s character was left on our machine!  When I consulted with Dr. Ed Murphy, a worldwide expert in spiritual warfare, he surmised that someone had put a curse on our church.

Dr. Murphy writes about this issue in The Handbook of Spiritual Warfare:

“Cursing is not used in the Old Testament with the Western idea of swearing or speaking dirty words.  Cursing in the Old Testament is a power concept meant to release negative spiritual power against the object, person, or place being cursed.  This is true even when God does the cursing.  In fact, most curse expressions in Scripture refer to God’s action or the action of His servants in accordance with His will.  It is God releasing His power or judgment.  That is why I call it negative spirit power even when activated by God.”[1]

Dr. Murphy continues:

“Many believers have been victims of the curses of the Enemy pronounced by the Enemy’s power workers…. Such curses, to be most powerful, are ‘worked up’ by invocations to the spirits and satanic magic.  They are overcome only by the greater power of God.  Sometimes God does not automatically overcome those curses on our behalf, however.  We are to learn the world of spirit power curses and break them ourselves.  Thus the importance of group spiritual warfare praying.”[2]

After our grand opening, our church quickly became the second largest Protestant church in our city, but we constantly sensed there were strong spiritual forces working against us.  When our warehouse church found itself between leases, the owner forced us to move out, and in the process, we lost one-third of our attendees overnight.  It was only then that I discovered that some illicit activities had been occurring at the intersection where our church was located.  The massage parlor diagonally across the intersection from us was the scene of a host of immoral sexual activity, and our immediate area had become a haven for drug dealers.  When our church moved into that warehouse, we were invading Satan’s territory.  No wonder he fought us so hard the whole time we were there!

Our church moved to a high school five miles away and I eventually scheduled a series of messages on controversial issues.  The night before I was scheduled to speak on A Christian View of Homosexuality, all hell broke loose in our home and church.  Without going into detail, the spiritual warfare I experienced before I gave that message was so real that I could almost smell sulfur – and I did give the message.  But I was so attacked the night before that I felt compelled to write a resignation letter because I sensed that my wife and I had become special targets of Satan.  While I never submitted the letter to the board, I resigned a few months later because, for the first and only time in our lives, our marriage had become severely strained due to events at church.


There are several more stories in the book that discuss the spiritual warfare that new church experienced.  It was like nothing I had ever experienced before.  While I’ve sensed the influence of Satan at various junctures during my 36-year church career, the occasions I’ve just described represent the two worst attacks I’ve experienced.  Satan and his minions tend to leave pastors and churches alone when the mission is muddled, few people are converted, and the church fails to make inroads into the community.  But when a church penetrates the spiritual Red Zone – to use a football analogy – the evil one begins to target the quarterback (pastor) with blitzes and cheap shots designed to knock him out of the game … all the more reason why the quarterback needs a skilled and determined line to protect him.

This is a good time of year to remember that while Satan is real and powerful … our God is more powerful still.

Jesus gave Paul a mission in Acts 26:17-18.  It’s ours as well: “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

Our Lord and Savior told Paul that Satan is real … that he has power … that he wants people to remain in spiritual darkness … that he wants people to wallow in an unforgiven state … but that he has already been defeated at the cross.

But we cannot defeat Satan by fighting each other.  Fellow believers are not the enemy.  The enemy is the enemy.

Let’s unite together and fight him instead.

      [1] Dr. Ed Murphy, Handbook of Spiritual Warfare (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), 442.

      [2] Ibid, 444.

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How much do you know about great Christian leaders like John Knox, William Carey, David Livingstone, John Bunyan, and Johann Sebastian Bach?

If you’re like most Christians, probably not much.  But these men – and their wives – paved the way for evangelical Christianity to make significant inroads into their cultures … and our world.

I just finished reading all 502 pages of William J. Petersen’s book 25 Surprising Marriages: How Great Christians Struggled to Make Their Marriages Work by reading a mere 6 pages per day … and I didn’t want the book to end.

In fact, when I was done, I immediately wrote a glowing review of the book on Amazon:


Why did this book resonate with me so much?

First, I learned so much about the accomplishments of these impactful Christian leaders.  For example, did you know that:

*Hudson Taylor shocked his missionary colleagues in China by dressing like a Chinese teacher … complete with shaved head and pigtails?

*John Knox laid the groundwork for modern democracy by challenging Scotland to fight against unjust rulers?

John Knox House, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland
John Knox House, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland

*George Muller built orphanages in England by faith and prayer … and without asking for either public or private funds?

*William Carey – British missionary to India – learned foreign languages like Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, Dutch and Italian in his spare time?

*David Livingstone sought to explore the interior of Africa because he believed that if slave traders got there first, Africans would never be open to the gospel?

*John Bunyan used to play tipcat – an early form of baseball – on Sunday afternoons?  (Had to throw that one in.)

*Francis Schaeffer was unknown outside his small denomination until he was in his fifties?

*When Johann Sebastian Bach was offered the job of music director in Leipzig, a councilman mumbled, “Since we cannot get the best, we will have to be satisfied with a mediocre one?”

*The great Jonathan Edwards – one of America’s premier thinkers – was forced out of his first pastorate?

*Adoniram Judson – an American – was imprisoned and tortured because the Burmese couldn’t distinguish Americans from Brits?

*John Calvin made so many enemies in Geneva that people used to name their dogs “Calvin?”

The Christian faith didn’t start the day you were born.  Our faith largely comes from Europe – especially Germany – through England and Scotland to the US.  The story of how it came to us is fascinating.

Second, I learned that getting and being married can be agonizing!

Did you know that:

*Hudson Taylor wrote Maria’s uncle in England to request her hand in marriage, unaware that Miss Addersley (Maria’s guardian and employer) had written to ask the uncle to turn down the proposal?

*Martin Luther married a runaway nun?  (Luther said that his marriage would “please his father, rile the pope, make angels laugh and devils weep, and would seal his testimony.”)

Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany
Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany
Place where Luther posted his 95 Theses, Castle Church
Place where Luther posted his 95 Theses, Castle Church

*C.S. Lewis married a former avowed atheist and Communist who had been divorced … and when he finally married Joy, they hid it from almost everybody?

*John Wesley did not marry Grace – the woman he really loved – because his brother Charles (the great hymn writer) arranged for Grace to be married to another man?

John Wesley Statue in front of Wesley Chapel
John Wesley Statue in front of Wesley Chapel, London

*John Wesley then married Molly, and that their marriage was “a miserable failure,” causing Wesley to write later in life, “Love is rot?”

*William Carey’s wife Dorothy became severely depressed in India … and never really came out of it?  (Some think she went insane.)

*David Livingstone disappeared for 4 1/2 years while exploring the interior of Africa … and that his wife assumed that she would never see him again?  (She did.  When I saw his memorial in Westminster Abbey, I was so moved that I burst into tears.)

*Billy Graham’s wife Ruth once dug her shoes into Billy’s shins (so he would avoid discussing politics) when US President LBJ asked Billy who his running mate should be before the 1964 election?

*John Bunyan was 31 when he married his second wife Elizabeth … and that she was only 16 or 17?

Tomb of John Bunyan, Bunhill Fields, London
Tomb of John Bunyan, Bunhill Fields, London

*Francis Schaeffer first met Edith by ordering her to break a date with another guy?

*Jonathan Edwards and his wife Sarah lived in a state of siege and rarely left their house for three years during the French and Indian War?

*Adoniram Judson’s wife Nancy developed a liver ailment in Burma and sailed to America for treatment … returning 28 months later?

*John Calvin put together a search team to find him a wife … and after three recommendations, was still a bachelor?

Third, I learned that these leaders willingly suffered for their faith in Christ.

Compared to these men and women, Hollywood knows little about love … and we Christians know little about suffering.

So many of these great leaders lost infants in childbirth and lost children to diseases.

They worried about finances … endured incredible hardships … and did it all because they believed God had called them to their particular ministry.

Missionaries like Hudson Taylor, William Carey, and Adoniram Judson and their wives sailed for months before arriving at their destinations.  Once they arrived in Asia, they not only faced hardships from the native people, but also from fellow missionaries.

And these people gave up so much to serve Christ.  For example, before Adoniram Judson sailed for Asia, he wrote the following letter to Nancy’s father:

“I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death.”

Surprisingly, both Nancy and her father agreed that she could marry Adoniram – who became the first American foreign missionary – even though she never saw her family again.

Finally, I resonated with a few of these leaders more than others.

I love Charles Spurgeon’s command of the English language … Billy Sunday’s affinity for baseball … John Knox’s courage in preaching God’s Word … and the desire of Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin to study and write without messing with “people problems.”

I could also relate to the fact that some of these leaders – notably Luther, Bach, Schaeffer, and Calvin – struggled at times with their temper.

Out of them all, I was more amazed by the stories of the missionaries – the Careys, the Livingstones, and the Judsons – than any of the rest.

In fact, some were so moving and meaningful that somebody should turn them into films.  We need to hear these stories … especially in our churches.

My prayer is that you will hear them too … by obtaining Petersen’s book and reading them for yourself.

Let me know what you think!

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Many interesting events have occurred on October 24 throughout history:

*Jane Seymour, third wife of King Henry VIII of England, died 12 days after childbirth in 1537.

*The 40-hour work week began in the Unites States in 1940.

*The charter of the United Nations officially came into effect in 1945.

*The great Dodger Hall of Famer, Jackie Robinson, died at age 53 in 1972.

*The Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Atlanta Braves, 4-3, in Game 6 to win the 1992 World Series.

But on a more personal note, events that surfaced on October 24, 2009 signified the conclusion of a fruitful church ministry for my wife Kim and me, which I’ve detailed in my book Church Coup: A Cautionary Tale of Congregational Conflict.  (If you don’t have a copy, you can order one by clicking on the picture on the right.)

Since we resigned and left the church in December 2009, I’ve started a blog (303 articles and counting), formed a non-profit ministry, written a book, conducted seminars on addressing conflict biblically, and counseled lay leaders, staff members, and pastors who are undergoing conflict in their churches.

I plan to continue doing this – and much more – as long as God gives me breath.

But I’ve never celebrated online the wonderful ministry that my wife Kim and I enjoyed for nearly that entire 10 1/2-year period.  In all my writing, I’ve never even mentioned the name of the church where we served or the city where it’s located … and that policy will continue.

Most of the time, my memory won’t allow me to mentally navigate to any time before 2009.  But just looking through pictures of happier times evokes a positive emotional reaction for me, which is why I’m glad I took thousands of photos documenting our ministry.

Rather than recount the pain, today I’d like to remember times, events, and people that the Lord blessed … and that once again bring a smile to my face.


In 1999, the Lord led my wife Kim and me to a church that we didn’t really want to serve.  The church building was invisible from the street and located at the end of a long parking lot (behind the trees in the photo) … and yet perched on a beautiful lagoon.

BFCC Building Pictures August 26, 2005 006IMG_0486

A group of 29 parties banded together and donated funds for us to have a down payment on a house … just 30 seconds from the water.

Bay Farm Bridge & Environs Aug. 17, 2007 066Bay Farm Photos Dec. 14-16, 2009 085

The Lord blessed the ministry to the extent that we became the largest Protestant church in our city and eventually built a worship center on the church’s small, one acre property.

BFCC Building Pictures Oct. 10, 2005 038BFCC Building Pictures Oct. 10, 2005 016BFCC Grand Opening Sunday Nov. 6, 2005 011

Several years later, 785 people attended our two worship services on Easter … more than maximizing the small campus.  That year, the congregation donated nearly a million dollars to the ministry.

BFCC Easter March 23, 2008 034

We hosted many outreach events on our campus, like Summer Bible Camp for kids …

BFCC Summer Bible Camp Finale July 17, 2009 013 BFCC Summer Bible Camp Finale July 13, 2007 085

and Western Fall Fun Fest for families every Halloween.

BFCC Fall Fun Fest October 31, 2007 092 BFCC Fall Fun Fest 2008 120BFCC Fall Fun Fest October 31, 2007 123BFCC Fall Fun Fest 2008 107

We penetrated our community by marching in the city’s annual Fourth of July Parade, passing out literature about our ministry, and even winning several trophies.

IMG_0138 IMG_0152BFCC 4th of July Parade 2008 150BFCC 4th of July Parade 2008 164

Our church also took four mission trips to Moldova.  The first time, I taught a course on Christian marriage – the final course in a 3-year leadership training program – with the graduates pictured below.


Three years later, I taught pastors and leaders in Moldova how to manage conflict in their ministries … right before walking into my own conflict back home.

Moldova Photos 1 Oct. 2009 490Moldova Photos 1 Oct. 2009 491

Kim also led two teams to Kenya, culminating in generous donations from our congregation and community for the building of a well in a remote village many hours from Nairobi.  Kim led a team for the dedication of the well.  In the photo below, Pastor Peter obtains water from the well, and then …

IMG_0740 IMG_0472

Kim meets Stephen Musyoka, who was then Vice President of Kenya.  He flew into the village via helicopter for the dedication.


One of the great things about Kim is that she adapts to any situation, whether it’s joking with a VP …


speaking in front of a village …


or sharing the gospel using the Wordless Book.


Throughout the entire 10 1/2 years at the church, Kim and I served as a team.  Our daughter Sarah came around at key times as well.

Easter @ BFCC April 8, 2007 024BFCC Mystery on the Menu Event 001024

In retrospect, it’s good that I left the church when I did.  While I’m still not crazy about how we left, God will handle those things.

My friend and mentor Dr. Charles Chandler says that while a church can take your job, they can never take your calling.   That’s certainly true.

But there’s something else that no person or group can ever take away: the hundreds of lives that were changed through that ministry.

When I first entered Talbot Seminary in 1975, my initial class was with Dr. Charles Feinberg, who was a legend in Christian circles.

Dr. Feinberg told our class, “If you can do anything other than being a pastor, do it.”

I’ve felt that way many times!

But I’m glad for the 36 years that God allowed me to serve him in pastoral ministry.

And I’m grateful that God now allows me to help other pastors and churches navigate their way through conflict situations.

It’s my personality to draw on past experiences to help others … and yet none of us can afford to dwell on the past too much.

As baseball immortal Satchel Paige used to say, “Don’t look back.  Something might be gaining on you.”

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  1 Peter 5:10

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What should a pastor do when the person leading the music on Sundays isn’t working out, but is someone the pastor loves?

That’s the dilemma I faced in my second pastorate.

Jim was in his mid-70s when I first became a pastor.  He chaired the deacons … headed up the search team …  and yes, picked me up at the airport.

While he chose me to be his pastor, I did not choose him to be my song leader.  I inherited him.

We became friends.  We went to ballgames together … served at the rescue mission … and were in frequent contact.

Jim was also the church’s song leader for the Sunday morning and Sunday evening services.

I liked Jim, and he liked me.

After two years, our church merged with a sister church five miles away.  Jim remained the song leader … but he was losing it … and I didn’t know what to do.

Jim was an old school song leader.  He waved his arms to piano and organ accompaniment.  In the mid-1980s, that was bad enough.

But Jim kept choosing the same songs … to the point that we never learned any new music.  He frequently sang the wrong words … or stopped singing altogether because he often lost his place.

Worst of all, Jim felt it was his duty to tell jokes between songs … and he kept telling the same bad jokes over and over again.  (“Can you be a smoker and be a Christian?  Yes … but that will make you a stinking Christian.”)

Those comments didn’t exactly lead the congregation in an enraptured state to God’s throne.

To be kind, Jim was killing our worship times.  He wouldn’t let anyone else lead the music.  He wouldn’t let anyone else choose songs on Sunday nights.

And God forbid that we would ever use a band!

And yet, Jim was largely responsible for bringing me to the church … he still had influence in the congregation … and he was my friend.

What should a pastor in a similar situation do?

How should a pastor make a move to replace a leader who is no longer working out?

First, the pastor needs to clarify his authority.

Pastors sometimes have far less authority than people think.  For example, I intentionally tried not to weigh in on who should lead the women’s ministry.  Let the women handle that!

If there was a problem with an adult youth leader, I wanted the youth pastor to deal with that.

While I wanted to stay in touch with each ministry, I didn’t want to run each one, either.

But when it comes to a church’s worship services, everybody expects that the pastor is ultimately in charge.  And if the music is getting increasingly worse, the pastor needs to take action.

So in my case with Jim, I already had the authority to do something.

I just needed the courage to use the authority I had.

Second, the pastor needs to elevate ministry standards.

If a leader isn’t performing at the level the pastor expects … and the church requires … then the pastor needs to raise the bar.

The pastor needs to have a conversation with the leader in private.  The pastor may also need to create or modify a written position description that describes expectations and benchmarks for success.  He can ask the leader he’s struggling with for input as well.

The pastor then needs to say, “I need to see improvement in the areas I’ve specified over the next six weeks or three months.  Let’s meet every couple of weeks until the deadline.  I want to do everything I can to help you succeed.”

And the pastor needs to inform the church’s governing board that he’s trying to elevate the standards in that particular ministry.

I didn’t have this conversation with Jim, and I’m not sure it would have helped.  Because of his age – he was 78 at this point – he would have interpreted any criticism of his ministry as an indication that I was trying to put him out to pasture.  In addition, he was more than twice my age, and I’ve always been deferential to my elders (1 Timothy 5:1).

In our case, Jim and I clashed before we had that conversation.

Third, the pastor needs to expect sabotage.

From whom?  From the leader the pastor is trying to help.

Sabotage comes in different forms:

*Insubordination: “I am not going to do what you want.”

*Seniority: “I was here long before the pastor … and I’ll be here long after he’s gone.”

*Passive-aggressive behavior: the leader gives the pastor the impression of cooperation but resists making any changes.

*Coalition-building: the leader tells his/her network that the pastor is “trying to remove me from leadership” … hoping that network will support him/her against the pastor.

For this reason, the pastor needs to let the leader know in advance that actual sabotage in any form is grounds for instant removal.

In my case, I asked Jim one Sunday morning if he would sing some songs I had chosen about friendship for that evening’s service.

Jim told me, “Every pastor I’ve ever worked with has always let me choose the songs.”  I replied, “That’s fine, but I want us to sing these specific songs this evening.”

Jim refused.

And then he complained to his network that I was trying to curtail his authority.

I did not back down.  This was a battle I had to win.

The issue was not, “Which songs are we going to sing tonight?”  The issue was, “Who is ultimately in charge of our worship services … as well as our music?”

And the answer has to be, “The pastor.”

Fourth, the pastor usually needs to have a replacement available.

Before the pastor moves to correct a leader, he needs to have someone else available to step in and take the leader’s place … even on an interim basis.

There are exceptions to this rule.

For example, the pastor may not want to remove just the youth pastor … he may also want to blow up the entire youth ministry.

So if he removes the youth pastor from leadership, the pastor may let the youth group flounder for several months.

Why?  Because this gives the pastor time to find a new leader … and may rid the youth group of volunteer leaders who aren’t working out.

As I recall, in Jim’s case, we didn’t have another song leader available …  but that didn’t make Jim irreplaceable.

We eventually replaced him with a band.

Finally, the pastor needs to be prepared to let the leader – and his network – walk.

Whenever I had a tough conversation with a church leader, I knew from experience that the leader might get their feelings hurt and eventually leave the church.

So if the leader stays and improves, it’s a bonus.  But too often, the leader becomes upset, complains to family and friends, and the pastor becomes their enemy.

And for a pastor, losing a leader … and that leader’s network … is painful.  In their hearts, pastors don’t want to lose anybody.

But sometimes, leaders block a ministry’s progress, and if they won’t receive correction and initiate improvement, they have to go.

Especially with a ministry as important as music.

With Jim, he invited himself to the next board meeting, where he had not one … not three … but seven complaints to register against me.

The board listened to Jim’s complaints … challenged him on every one … and Jim sensed that they supported their pastor.

The next morning, he called to tell me that he was leaving the church.  Sadly, that was the end of our friendship.

And this is why these decisions are so full of conflict for pastors.

On the one hand … here is a leader who has been faithful and effective for a long period of time … even years.

But on the other hand, the leader no longer can take the church where it needs to go, and if they stay in charge of that ministry, it might never improve.

So what should the pastor do?

If the pastor does replace that leader, the pastor may lose the leader’s friendship … the leader may leave the church, along with his/her network … and there is no guarantee that the next leader will be any better.

If the pastor doesn’t replace that leader, that ministry may continue to flounder, the pastor may lose people’s respect … and if this scenario is replicated with other ministries, the pastor may end up leaving instead.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

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October is Pastor Appreciation Month.

If you regularly attend a church, how grateful are you for its pastor(s)?

The concept of showing appreciation to our spiritual leaders is biblical.  Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica:

Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.  1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

What form might this take today?

I won’t presume to speak for other pastors … just for myself … but here are four appreciation expressions I always cherished:

First, I was touched whenever someone wrote me a note about my ministry.

When I first became a pastor, I stood at the back door after the Sunday service to greet people as they were leaving.  I enjoyed meeting “my flock,” but sometimes, the comments I heard seemed insincere.  For example, a fairly well-known pastor and his wife visited our worship service one time, and as she passed me at the door, she stopped and said. “Good diction.”  I could have done without that “compliment!”

Joe Aldrich used to call this the “glorify the worm” ceremony.  It’s almost like people feel obligated to say something positive about the service and sermon … even if they don’t mean it.

So, like many pastors, I eventually stopped greeting people at the door after the service, preferring to remain up-front, especially so I could pray with people who had a problem.  Although not my intent, this meant that if someone wanted to express appreciation for the message, they had to seek me out after the service.  By doing this, I received far less feedback – and sometimes no feedback at all.

But if someone sent me an encouraging email that night or a gracious note later in the week, their thoughtfulness lifted my spirits.  For years, I kept an email folder titled “Thank Yous” and would re-read those notes if I was doubting my ministry effectiveness.  To this day, I keep a box filled with notes of appreciation from those in past churches.

The best notes don’t say, “Thank you for your message/ministry, pastor.”  The best notes say, “God really used you to speak to my heart today.  I’m going to ask God to help me change this area of my life.”

Do that, and your pastor might break out into praise … or tears.

Second, I was touched whenever someone gave me a book as a gift.

For centuries, books were the tools that pastors used to prepare sermons.  With biblical software, the internet, and e-books, the hardbound or softbound book isn’t as popular as it once was … but books still have great value for many of us in ministry.

During my first staff position – as a youth pastor – the youth group gave me The Treasury of David by Charles Spurgeon when I graduated from seminary.  Still have that set.  (Although you can now get it on your Kindle for free.)

When I left my second staff position, a deacon gave me a book of poetry.  He wrote something inside like, “No church could ever have tested you like this one.”  (He was right!)  Another family gave me a set of commentaries by J. Vernon McGee.

In my last ministry, one man gave me a book on Joe DiMaggio signed by the author.  A woman gave me a book called Jesus CEO.  Someone else gave me an old set of Spurgeon’s sermons.

It can be a challenge to buy books for a pastor – some have extensive libraries – but even a gift certificate to buy books from Amazon is most appropriate.  Craftsmen can always use new tools.

Third, monetary gifts are welcome during Pastor Appreciation Month.

Many churches send out a letter to the congregation and ask people to give a special gift to their pastor(s) every October.  You won’t believe what a blessing this is.

During my last ministry, I took a sabbatical of six weeks after seven years of service.  Before I left, the church collected a pastor appreciation gift a month early so I could use that gift during my time away.  Although things went south at that church several years later, I will never forget the kindness and generosity of that congregation for most of my time there.

Those unexpected funds allowed my wife and me to buy some things we couldn’t normally afford.  One time, I bought my wife a large Goldilocks chair.  Another time, I purchased a marvelous recliner – one I still use every single day.

And when I see those chairs, I’m reminded of the gracious people who sacrificed so we could occasionally take time to relax!

Finally, the best gift is to know that people in the congregation are walking with the Lord.

In 2 John 4, the apostle John writes:

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us.

If your church paid your pastor $500,000 a year, but no one was growing spiritually, that pastor would be poor indeed.

But if your church barely paid your pastor enough to live on, but God’s people were truly walking with the Lord, that pastor would be rich!

Few pastors venture into ministry to become wealthy.  We enter ministry because God has called and equipped us to serve His people.

And whenever the pastor can tell that believers are growing in their faith, he knows he is doing what God called him to do.

I’m getting to the age where I don’t know how many years I have left.  Two?  Ten?  Twenty-five?  Only God knows.

But if someone has touched my life – especially for the Lord – then I want them to know now how much they’ve meant to me.

And so I thank God for three pastors who have touched my life deeply:

*For Pastor Bill Brittin, who dedicated me as an infant.  Years later, I served as his youth pastor for 3 1/2 years.  To this day, he’s the only man I call “pastor.”  He is now with Jesus.

*For Dr. Earl Grant, the first pastor I ever worked for.  I only served under him for two years, but learned enough to last a lifetime.  He performed my wedding ceremony … because I married his daughter.

*For Pastor Dave Rolph, my friend for 45 years.  Dave and I took English and Greek together at Biola, sat in the back row together at chapel four days a week at Talbot Seminary, and graduated together 33 years ago.  Dave has always been there for me, and it’s been exciting to see the way God has used him both in his churches and on the radio.

When is the last time you expressed appreciation to one of your pastors?

If they’re still around, how about doing just that … maybe this week?

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I’ve had it up to here with all the lying.

In fact, it’s getting to the point where I don’t know who to believe anymore.

Allow me to explain.

I’m currently reading a biography of a famous sports figure.  This superstar had an agent who had represented him for 8 years.  When the superstar wondered how hard the agent was working on his behalf, the agent spent an entire day with his client, spreading mounds of relevant documents on the dining room table.  At the end of the evening, the superstar hugged his agent.

Not long afterwards, the superstar fired his agent … and then began to “spread the word that he was an ineffective, immoral, pathetic, snake of a man.”

One by one, nearly all of the agent’s famous clients dropped him.  With his reputation in tatters, the agent’s career was finished.  He eventually lost his home, sold most of his possessions, and contemplated suicide.

All because of a lie.

Lies are powerful things.  For some reason, people are quick to believe bad news about someone …  especially someone in a position of power.

CEOs, executives, and leaders of all types are routinely lied about … and that includes pastors.  You wouldn’t believe the lies that have been told about me … or maybe you would.

But aren’t God’s people to be purveyors of truth?  Isn’t Jesus our Lord the One who said, “The truth shall set you free?”

Yes and yes.

But when a major conflict invades a church, some people start lying.  Peter Steinke, in his book Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, writes that when a conflict “regresses to a forceful competition,” then:

“Lying increases, taking many forms – half-truths, withholding information, inflating statistics and bloating claims, fabricating events, releasing publicly that [which] was to be private, double talk, and false attributions.”

But why would any Christian lie?

To get their way.  To win a conflict.  To defeat their opponents.

But isn’t lying wrong for a Christian?

Yes.  The ninth commandment (“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor”) stands for all time.  Since God does not lie (Titus 1:2), and 1 Peter 2:22 reminds us that Jesus never lied (“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth”), God’s people are expected to be people of truth – even if the rest of the world lies.

But in all too many cases … when Christians want to win and make somebody else lose … they resort to lying.

I’ll give you an example.  I know a man who pastored a large church.  Some conflict began to surface inside his congregation.  This pastor told me that a woman wrote a letter to everyone in the church stating that the pastor did not believe several essential doctrines of the Christian faith.  The woman’s statement was 100% false, but the pastor ended up resigning … and a Christian leader (whose judgment I trust) told me that this pastor is among the best Christian leaders in his part of the country.

But he never pastored a church again.

While God cannot lie, Satan routinely lies.  In Jesus’ words, the devil is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).  The very phrase “devil” means “slanderer.”  It’s Satan’s nature to lie.

When truth permeates a congregation, God prevails.  But when lying becomes prevalent, Satan prevails.

Let me make a strong statement: when people in a church lie to get rid of their pastor, they are inviting Satan to take control of their church.

Such people no longer trust God because they no longer trust truth.  They can’t push out their pastor unless they lie about him … so they lie … and unfortunately, all too often, the lies work.

Why?  Because Christians are naïve and gullible?

Maybe.  But the main reason that Christians believe lies is because they are unwilling to check and see whether the statements about the pastor are true or false.

Let’s say that I attend First Church and that after a year, I become a member.

One day, I hear a rumor from a friend that the pastor has stolen church funds, and has used those funds to build an expensive cabin in the mountains.

What should I do with that information?

I should not instantly believe the rumor.  Instead, I need to ask some questions:

*I need to ask my friend, “Who did you hear this from?  How reliable is the source?”  I need to be skeptical at this point.  There may be another agenda at work.

*I need to contact both a board member and a staff member and tell them, “I’ve heard this rumor about the pastor.  What light can you shed on this for me?”

*I need to contact the pastor and say, “There’s a rumor going around that you’ve stolen church funds and have used those funds to build a cabin.  Is this true?”

If I just take my friend’s word for it, then my friend controls me.  If my friend leaves the church over the rumor, then I may contemplate leaving.  If my friend jumps on the “push out the pastor” bandwagon, I will be tempted to do the same.

So I need to gather facts from others as well.  Even if my friend seems credible, I need to contact several church leaders – as well as the pastor – to find out if the rumor is true.

Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.”

You can’t believe the first thing … or the first person … that you hear.  Why not?

Because you may be believing a lie.

If Satan assigned ten big liars to every church, but every Christian checked out the veracity of the lies before believing anything, the liars would all leave in disgrace.

But if all the liars have to do is float a lie … and it’s instantly believed … then Satan wins, and at least in that church, Jesus temporarily loses.

Seymour Hersh is a famous (liberal) journalist who laments the fact that government officials and journalists in America continually tell lies.  In a recent interview, Hersh said, “The republic’s in trouble, we lie about everything, lying has become the staple.”  We live in a culture full of lies, and sometimes it’s hard to know who’s telling the truth.

I don’t like to be lied to, and I will never support any politician – of any party – who lies to me.  Lying may work in the short-term, but it erodes trust over time.  But we almost expect politicians to lie, don’t we?

But God expects that His people will be people of truth … even when there’s a conflict involving a pastor.

Proverbs 6:16-19 tells us that there are seven things that God hates, including “a lying tongue,” “a false witness who pours out lies,” and “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

Did you catch that?  God hates lying and division among His people.  Do we hate lying like He does?

Sometimes I wonder.

Nearly 40 years ago, I knew someone who served on the staff of a church.  From all indications, he seemed to be a good man.

This staff member wanted to get rid of someone in the church that he didn’t like.  Sadly, the staff member resorted to lying to get his way.

When the pastor did some investigating, he called the staff member into his office … asked him some questions … and caught the staff member in a lie.

The pastor said to him, “You know what to do.”

The staff member instantly resigned.

That’s the way we used to handle lies in the church.  There was always a price to pay.

But today?  In all too many cases, when professing Christians lie to remove someone … especially a pastor … from office, nothing happens to the liars.

And in almost every case where an innocent pastor is forced to resign, you can trace the campaign against him back to Christians who lied about their pastor.

If we’re going to advance the kingdom of God in our generation, Jesus’ church needs to be characterized by truth.  We need to adopt a zero tolerance policy about lying … especially about pastors.

And if we catch people lying about pastors … because the consequences of such lies can be catastrophic for the church’s future and the pastor’s career … we’ve got to come down hard on the liars.  They need to repent … even in front of the entire church … if we want God’s blessing.

But if we coddle the liars … and make excuses for them … and let them into key leadership positions … God help us.

Years ago, I decided that I want 5 words to summarize my ministry: HE TOLD US THE TRUTH.

May every follower of Jesus have that same desire.  As Paul writes in Ephesians 4:25: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

Not two bodies … one.

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